We were greeted with another remarkable late-winter day when six of us arose in the bunkhouse at South Branch Pond on the third day of our Baxter State Park expedition. Based on a forecast obtained the day before on North Traveler Mountain, this was the last quality weather of our six-day trip. We were committed to making the most of it and spectacular Barrel Ridge was our objective.

Last winter, three of us trekked to Barrel Ridge in stormy, cloudy weather. The barren summit was socked in. A few years earlier, I was part of a threesome that hiked to the top in a snowstorm. On that occasion, we struggled to see each other. This time, it appeared we were going to be the beneficiaries of a scenic windfall.

Recent warm, rainy weather resulted in unpredictable trail conditions. During our trek on North Traveler, we experienced ice, snow and long stretches of exposed rock. We decided to begin with bare boots while carrying snowshoes and micro-spikes.

The trail leading to Barrel Ridge leaves South Branch Pond Road a short distance north of the bunkhouse. We began hiking Middle Fowler Pond Trail on patchy ice and hard-packed snow in a mixed hardwood and conifer forest.

As we gained elevation on the south slope of Little Peaked Mountain, the ice and snow diminished to a dirt, mud and rock surface. After some deliberation, three of us elected to leave our snowshoes behind. The remaining members of the group wisely chose to continue carrying them.

After progressing farther uphill high above a mountain freshet in the valley between impressive Little Peaked and Big Peaked Mountains, the snowpack reappeared and soon deepened. Members of the party carrying snowshoes changed into them. By the time we passed Little Peaked Mountain, those of us who had imprudently left our snowshoes behind were sporadically post holing.


Shortly after leveling off, the trail narrows and follows the rim of a north-facing escarpment. From that vantage point, we paused to embrace an extensive view of Barrel Ridge. Those without snowshoes were encouraged when observing that much of the partially barren ridge was free of snow.

From the overlook, the path soon drops precipitously into a col between the lower north slope of North Traveler Mountain and the foot of Barrel Ridge. A sign marks the beginning of a spur trail to the summit.

Proceeding in a sparse conifer forest, we immediately ascended steeply in snow and ice with some exposed rock. The snow and ice diminished and the trail surface transitioned to primarily rock. Those who wore them removed their snowshoes. Scrambling higher, the marvelous views we wistfully anticipated became reality.

After rounding the east shoulder on rugged terrain, we climbed abruptly to the majestic summit. The 360-degree views were phenomenal. Of particular interest was alpine-like Bald Mountain situated a few miles southeast. Contemplating a future ascent, we consulted the park map, which suggests bushwhacking from Middle Fowler Pond is a feasible approach.

While lingering at the summit, we were able to obtain an updated weather forecast. Rain was predicted for the following day then turning to snow during the night and the next morning. Since we were concerned about our ability to ski out on the final day, the probability of snow was welcome news.

For most of us, the return to the bunkhouse was uneventful. However, my son, Adam, and Shawn Higgins, decided to bushwhack to the summit of distinctive Big Peaked Mountain. They left Middle Fowler Pond Trail near where the east ridge of the peak begins.


Shawn and Adam had an exceptional mountaineering experience. They persisted westerly up the sparsely wooded ridge to the ragged summit where they enjoyed views rarely seen by park visitors. To my knowledge, theirs was the first winter climb of that remote peak.

That evening, we consumed the first of two dehydrated meals thoughtfully prepared by my wife, Nancy. Plans for the following day were the primary topic of conversation. Given the rainy forecast, low elevation hikes were anticipated. I was on the losing side of a feisty game of cribbage.

My book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine,” narrates many more winter escapades in Baxter State Park and around the state.

Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is available at northcountrypress.com/maine-al-fresco or in bookstores and through online retailers. His previous books are “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals — New England.” Visit his website at ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at ronchaseoutdoors@comcast.net.

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