Haskell Hut is perched on a wooded bluff overlooking the East Branch of the Penobscot River in the unorganized township bearing the original land grant designation of T5 R8 WELS. Rushing downstream from Stair Falls a half-mile above, the unfettered river slows here and broadens into Haskell Deadwater before churning wildly through Haskell Rock Pitch a half-mile below.

Protruding 20 feet out of the river’s middle, Haskell Rock is a striking pillar of conglomerate, a type of sedimentary rock made of pebbles and stones that were embedded in mud or sand and hardened into solid rock over the eons. Below, the whitewater continues unabated for 3 miles over Pond Pitch, Grand Pitch, the Hulling Machine and Bowlin Falls.

The curious rock, deadwater stretch, roaring rapids and hut are named for William Haskell, a 25-year old Maine lumberman who drowned at the spot in June 1841 while working to break up a log jam. It was three weeks before Haskell’s battered body was recovered, and he was buried in a riverside grave near the accident site.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (KAWW) encompasses all of this natural beauty and rich history and so much more within its 87,500 acres, most of which lies between the Penobscot River’s East Branch and Baxter State Park. And wintertime, buried under a thick blanket of snowy white, may well be the best time to visit this primitive wildland.

From the monument’s north entrance, it’s about 5 miles by skis or snowshoes to Haskell Hut, and with a loaded sled in tow, the trek takes about three hours with breaks for snacks, sightseeing and investigating animal tracks. The mildly undulating route through the scenic river valley follows Messer Pond Road and the markers of the International Appalachian Trail.

Haskell Hut makes a great base camp for exploring the northern reaches of KAWW. It’s a worthy day trip objective on its own, but better is to spend several nights there in the basic comforts of the log cabin with its camp-like furnishings, wood stove, bunks and privy. And that’s exactly what a friend and I did just after the Arctic deep freeze had passed in early February.


After firing up the wood stove and getting settled into the cabin, we set off in midafternoon to check out the neighborhood, beginning with Haskell Rock, of course. Then it was out across the frozen expanse of Haskell Deadwater, where we reveled in a panorama of snowy summits ranging from Katahdin to the Traveler peaks and Bald and Billfish mountains.

Nighttime at Haskell Hut, enveloped in the warmth of its old vertical log walls, is a special experience indeed. Outside, the heavens above are inky black while the surrounding woods thick with pine and cedar are profoundly quiet. The nearest other humans are 4 miles north at Matagamon Wilderness Camps or the same distance south at Bowlin Camps.

Messer Pond Road, from the north entrance to Haskell Hut, is regularly machine-packed and groomed. Normally, the road to Big Spring Brook Hut is also packed and groomed, but since the cabin is temporarily closed due to storm damage, that section will remain ungroomed this winter, as will K-Comp Road to the suspension bridge over the East Branch near Bowlin Camps.

With the deep, unconsolidated snowpack, the trekking south of Haskell Hut on the second day was slow going but enjoyable just the same. We skied into Little Messer Pond and around its perimeter in the wake of a gray fox, all the while enjoying big mountain views. After zigzagging down through the glades to Pond Pitch, we looped lazily back along the river to camp.

The following day, Steve headed out, while I stayed on for another glorious 24 hours on my own, snowshoeing in the morning, skiing in the afternoon, and lounging in comfort the rest of the time. On the final morning, I cleaned the cabin, loaded the wood box, packed the sled and was off at 10. By lunchtime I was all smiles with a burger and beer at Shin Pond Village.

For info on planning your own KAWW winter adventure, trail conditions and a map of the cross-country ski trails, visit nps.gov/kaww. A call to the park office at 456-6001 is a good idea, too. Reservations for Haskell Hut are required and can be made through recreation.gov.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is an award winning member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. His new book, “Beer Hiking New England,” will be out in print in March. Follow more of Carey’s adventures on Facebook and Instagram @careykish

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