Bruce Weik struggles to climb ledges on South Branch Mountain in Baxter State Park. Ron Chase photos

Following three days of remarkable spring-like weather, the final three days of our six-day Baxter State Park expedition in the South Branch Pond region was dominated by challenging weather. On day four, six of us awoke in the South Branch bunkhouse to a rainy forecast. After enjoying exceptional mountain hikes during the previous two days, low-elevation treks were our choice.

Unusually warm weather and heavy rainfall preceded our entrance into the park. The result was unpredictable trail conditions that varied between moderately deep snow in some locations to ice, exposed rock and muddy surfaces in others. Except for park roads, skiing was not a realistic option. During our ski in on day one, we met park rangers who reported that South Branch Pond was heavily puddled with dangerously thin ice in places. That negated the opportunity to ski the winter Pogy Notch Trail across the pond, a prized goal for several of us.

Five members of the group decided to hike south on the normal Pogy Notch Trail and then follow Howe Brook Trail to a succession of waterfalls at the far end. Nursing an arthritic knee, I chose a couple of less ambitious nearby treks.

A hiker hauls his sled out of Baxter State Park.

After my companions departed carrying snowshoes and micro-spikes in anticipation of varying trail conditions, I completed some bunkhouse chores before beginning my mini-adventure. Ashes needed to be removed from the woodstove, the wood box required filling and a fresh supply of water had to be hauled in from the outlet of South Branch Pond.

The domestic tasks completed, I began my outing. The trails in the area were covered with ice or a shallow layer of snow, so I elected to wear micro-spikes. The Ledges was my first destination.

A hike to the Ledges entails following nearby Middle Fowler Pond Trail for a short distance before joining Ledges Trail on the left. From there it loops for less than a mile to a trailhead high on the South Branch Pond Road. During my wanderings, the path consisted of snow, ice and stretches of bare rock. An overlook on the Ledges provides an excellent view of South Branch Pond.

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Following completion of the Ledges Loop, I proceeded farther north on South Branch Pond Road to the trailhead leading to South Branch Falls. The half-mile slog to the falls was very wet with soft snow of varying depths. Tall rubber boots were ideal footwear for the conditions. I didn’t have any. The picturesque falls were worth the effort.

During my return to the bunkhouse, it started to rain. When the rest of the gang arrived, they described marvelous views of several waterfalls during their damp journey to the upper reaches of Howe Brook.

As evening progressed, the rain changed to mixed precipitation. We awoke to steady snow. Concerned about the possibility of insufficient snow for our sled haul and ski out on the last day, the white gold was truly manna from the skies.

When the snowfall diminished, a variety of plans ensued. Three members of the group decided to climb South Branch Mountain, possibly continuing to Black Cat Mountain. Given the new snow accumulation, snowshoes were their footgear of choice.

Two others opted to take advantage of the increased snowpack to enjoy an extended ski on park roads. Pacing myself for the demanding final day, I decided on a shorter version of their excursion.

A scenic winter wonderland was experienced skiing South Branch Pond Road.

Skiing South Branch Pond Road was an exhilarating experience. Heavy wet snow clinging to trees provided a scenic winter wonderland. The recent rains had an obvious impact. Viewing Trout Brook from a bridge on the Perimeter Road, I found the usually inconsequential stream resembled a sizeable river.

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The mountaineering trio reported moderately challenging conditions on South Branch Mountain. Snowshoes were required throughout and they encountered steep ledges near the summit. Given unplanned delays, they decided to forego continuing to Black Cat Mountain.

The strenuous 2.2-mile sled pull out to the Perimeter Road on our final day went well thanks to the fresh supply of soft, wet snow. The 11-mile ski to the Matagamon winter trailhead was the culmination of another exceptional Baxter State Park expedition. Despite inclement weather during the second half of the outing, we managed to make lemonade out of a lemon.

My book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine,” narrates numerous mountaineering and skiing exploits 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.

A succession of spectacular waterfalls are found on Howe Brook Trail.

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