The Northeast Kingdom of Vermont is a term “used passionately throughout Vermont and beyond when referring to the corner of the state against the Canadian Border and the upper Connecticut River” (Vermont.com) This rural corner of the state is definitely one of our favorite areas in Vermont, with remote and often undisturbed land, fantastic recreational opportunities, and cabin rentals with snowshoe trails located right out the door. For the past few years, we have been fortunate enough to rent the Hadsel Mares cabin at Wheeler Pond ( though the Green Mountain Club) for the site of our year’s end, and New Year’s Eve celebrations. For reports of prior such celebratory stays, please check out our blog posts from Jan, 31, 2017, and Jan. 6, 2018. In these postings, you can clearly see that the winter weather can be quite variable, and we always wonder, right up until the day we depart for the cabin, what Mother Nature will hold for us.
This year turned out to be pretty fine! Our November and December weather had been marked with lots of snow, great snowshoeing conditions, and not too much oppressive cold. The week before we left for Hadsel, we saw a bit of fluctuation…some warming weather, rain, and icing…but our experience had told us that in the NEK the snowpack is pretty durable. So we packed our microspikes, a few different pairs of our Tubbs snowshoes, and dog and human gear and attire suitable for a range of temperatures and conditions.
Since check-in time at the cabin is after lunch, we stopped along the way to spike hike a local trail network; trails had crusty snow and ice, were a bit firm, and it was chilly…but we enjoyed exploring the trails through the sugaring operation, adjacent to a lake we paddle in the summer.
After a few hours on the trails, we headed off to the Kingdom. The winding, narrow road up to the cabin was a bit slick, but we saw that the woods had good snow cover. The dogs have been to this cabin quite a few times, and seemed to recognize our destination, as they were getting quite excited when we pulled into the small parking space. Our homemade pulk was used to haul much of our gear; backpacks and portage packs went on our backs.
Inside, it was time to get the fire going; the cabin had been used the previous night, so the temperature inside was balmy, in the 40’s. Our settling in consisted also, as usual, of unloading gear, making up bunks, getting the dogs settled in, and checking log entries from those who have stayed here since our last visit ( which had been in October). This rather rustic and rough around the edges cabin, was in fine shape; the Green Mountain Club insures it stays clean, safe, and welcoming!
After lunch, we decided to head up to the Moose Mountain Trail, which has a nice overlook above the Wheeler Pond and the cabin. A ¼ mile road walk, and we were at the trailhead. The trail was packed out and firm, despite a good deep snow pack, so we used out spikes. It was cold ( teens), but sunny, with little wind. The trail has a few scrambles, and as I stepped a few feet off the trail to photograph Edgar and his dad heading up this area, I sank into 3 feet of snow….at least I was stable when taking the photos!
The trail above the lookout was unpacked; it was firm, but as Griff and I climbed further up, I did begin to sink a bit. As we were beginning to lose the sun as it lowered over the nearby mountains, I opted not to stop to put on my snowshoes. Instead, turned around to rejoin Edgar and his dad as they had headed down the trial after the overlook.
So back to the cabin; bringing in more wood, shoveling out the outside fire ring ( full to the brim with frozen snow, ice, and unburned wood), and getting our dinner prep started. Easy dinner prep for this first night…the second night we would have Aunt Jackie join us, so a New Year’s Eve feast was planned! The dogs settled in for the night, and in our toasty cabin, sleep came easily.
The final day of 2018 was sunny, with temperatures in the 20’s. We headed ½ mile up the road, and up Wheeler Mountain trail, using spikes as we negotiated up the trail. The snow began to soften up, and was getting a bit clumpier, so I opted to switch over to my Tubbs Mountaineer snowshoes; great traction, and security on loose snow as well as a few icy spots. I was able to bushwack around a few tricky spots, enjoying the deep soft snow in the woods.
Knowing that we would be heading off to a different hike that afternoon, we turned around after about 90 minutes…have to save some energy for the next hike!
While back at the cabin preparing lunch, the dogs suddenly alerted, excitedly running around and looking out the window of the cabin, thrilled that…..Their beloved Aunt Jackie had arrived!
Once Jackie had unloaded her gear and settled in, we had lunch, and decided to take a short (30 minute) road trip to get to our next hike. We had stumbled upon Sentinel Rock State Park in October, impressed by the expansive views. At that time we had not explored the developing trail network, but in December we had snowshoed in this new state park, guessing our way around the freshly blazed trails. The snow had been 3 feet deep in places, marked only by lots of moose sign…it was apparent that no one else had recently trekked on these trails! So we thought Jackie might enjoy these trails, as they are not too difficult, rarely used, and have lots of wildlife spotting opportunities. We arrived, to discover that the exposed field (leading to the trails) was now windblown, mostly devoid of snow, but with open marshy areas and icy patches. Spikes got us safely to the trail’s entrance to the adjacent wooded area…alas, lots of snow in here! Snowshoes on, and time to explore! We found beautiful conditions, and look forward to more snowshoeing on these trails, as we have been told moose do frequent this area, (confirming our belief after all the scat we saw in December.)
After returning to the cabin, it was time to prep our New Year’s Eve feast; we would not be waiting until midnight, but rather celebrate a bit earlier in the evening. A nice fire was started outside, and as a light snow began to fall , we cooked up some filet mignon and chicken. Inside, the lobster meat was being thawed, and the rice boiled up. A little melted butter, and some sparkling and cool champagne, and our feast was ready! Surf and Turf, winter cabin camping style…does it get any better?
A late evening trip to the “House de Potte ” (privy) revealed that a steady snow was falling; however, the temperatures were rising, and by morning, the rain and sleet had arrived. We had enjoyed 4 delightful hikes so far, so rather than get soaked while hiking the trail around the pond ( our planned morning excursion), we decide to have a nice slow paced bug-out, and then head off for a nice breakfast.
Our favorite local restaurant is closed on Tuesdays, so we would not be enjoying our breakfast there. Plan B worked out just fine, and we had a nice hot morning repast, bringing in 2019 in culinary style (at a great Vermont diner).
So now it is 2019! The new year has seen a return to nice snowfall, and more fantastic snowshoeing conditions. I hit 50 days snowshoeing on January 9th; last season, it was mid-February before that number was attained. We hope that some of the local dog-friendly x-c trail networks are groomed soon, so that we can get in a little skijoring. We will have some more cabin camping trips, as well as our annual early March snowshoeing trip to Maine or the Adirondacks. Though winter is firmly entrenched ( it is -12 degrees today) , we remind ourselves that we will be paddling again in less than 4 months! Happy New Year!