Our first sign that things were not going to go smoothly was when Brian's flight got delayed on Thursday. He ended up getting to his hotel in Portland at 2:30 AM Friday morning. We received a second signal, when the remaining crew headed to Reagan to catch a 5:50 AM flight. The flight ended up being delayed because the Pilot overslept. Amanda miraculously knew that before-hand and arrived at the airport around 6 after having a mini-adventure of her own. (we were all asking "Where's Amanda?") Not taking chances as we had a connection to make, we successfully hopped on a direct 10 AM flight. But Greg - our shuttle guy - isn't available then. In the end, he helped us locate somebody else who would shuttle us to Sugarloaf. Pheww!
The seven of us - that's Brian, Amanda, Marika, Steve, Misun, Kylie and me - managed to get to Sugarloaf Outdoor centre at 3 PM and the Airport trailhead at 4 PM. Success finally! Time to forget about the world and ski.
For some of us beginners, it took some time getting used to. I remember being super excited - it was so much fun to ski. The trail was a bit challenging as we gained 500 ft. elevation gain over the next 3 miles leading to Poplar hut. We came across a nice bridge crossing an icy river.
Some of us ended up skiing in the dark with our headlamps out. It was a nice, serene evening to be out. The other fantastic part was not to wait for food as soon as we got to the hut. Delicious food was served and we were all regretting eating so much by the time the desert - mixed fruit cobbler- was served. Gotta make extra space for that :) The huts were really nice - spacious, kept warm at about 50-60 degrees, having toilets, showers. These huts were also completely off the grid - i.e. no electricity usage, just solar energy. Pretty eco-friendly. Tired from the lack of sleep, we all headed to sleep earlier than usual.
The next morning - Saturday - we were treated with the first of the awesome breakfasts. They even provide packed lunches every day - so good! It was snowing when we hit the trail. Just a little ahead of our hut, we took our skis off and checked off a cool, frozen waterfall.
The temps were around low single digits, but didn't feel too bad when we were moving. Brian and I hung at the back and did some gradual hills multiple times to practice. 5.5 miles later, a long climb took us to the halfway point - a Yurt, with a lot of wood to burn. The early group was already here and had warmed it up for us by feeding the fire. We had our lunches here. It was a good, cozy (the small Yurt fit in 15 people at one point!) spot to take a break.
When we hit the trail again, we were treated by a good, long gradual downhill grade. Obviously, I fell more than once on this. After that, the trail was flat as it skirted around Flagstaff lake. At some point, the Maine Huts trail crossed AT - we all missed that though. There were some side trails leading close to Flagstaff Lake which some of us checked out.
We made good time to our destination - Flagstaff Hut. This hut was fairly crowded. Around 5:30, we also decided to check out the sunset by taking a short trail to the frozen lake . It was around 0 degrees air temperatures and the winds were blowing really hard, all worth it as we were treated with a really nice sunset. We rushed back to the hut soon after.
It took us some time to fully warm up. Dinner, drinks, card games, book reading and then we were ready to go to bed. It was a tiring day - 11 miles of skiing with decent amount of elevation gain.
Sunday was going to be challenging. Not because of the 11.8 miles of skiing -it was going to be mostly flat skiing wise, but because of the temps. When we hit the trail, it was a whopping -17 degrees! We were nervous, but prepared (yay, balaclava!) Covering our bodies very well, we hit the trail. At some point, we all had frozen eyelashes.
We were warmed up as soon as we started moving - we just had to do that all day. There was going to be no Yurt today. There were some nice views on the trail - the pines, mist rising from Dead River.
There weren't much people on the trail. As per the experienced skiers, the snow wasn't great - but still it was snow at least. We made few breaks on the way - just for a quick gulp of water or a quick snack. Most of us got our ski goggles foggy when we put them on. I wondered what's the best technique to use ski goggles and balaclava together (seems like the ADK crew had the same issue as well). It was expected to be windy and we were extra nervous because the terrain was exposed, but the winds were subdued eventually. The Grand Falls were really grand - such a monster in the winter conditions. More so with a breathing Dragon close by.
The last stretch to Grand Falls Hut seemed to last longer than we hoped, but we all made it there in good time. Having plenty of time for the rest of the day, we solved a 700-piece jigsaw puzzle by night (led by Amanda)!
This hut was less crowded than the other ones - so we liked it having more to ourselves. Drinks, dinner followed by more card games, group chatter. We were all happy to be in our cabins by night. Didn't have any food munching incidents though, hah!
Monday was our last skiing day. We were going to retrace our paths from yesterday for ~8 miles to Big Eddy where Greg was going to pick us up. It was still pretty cold when we started (just below 0), but warmed up significantly to 15 degrees in the day.
Yes, that's warm. Overall, we timed ourselves well and got to the road around noon. We didn't knew, we had another adventure ahead of us. On our way to Portland, ME airport, we checked our mails and realized our flights were cancelled due to bad weather. It was snowing/icing in DC - and they had cancelled the flights because of that. 6-7 hours before the flight was actually supposed to take off. Crazy! Also, all of us were booked on the same flight. We got to the airport, talked to AA staff - realized there was no alternative for the day. In fact, our next direct flight option from Portland would be on Wednesday! Whoa! We scrambled for some options - eventually agreeing to renting a van and driving home.
We left airport around 5 PM amid non-stop light snow, stopped for dinner in NH, drove for a few more hours. It wasn't too bad driving on the roads as the temps were around 20 degrees - the flurries were coming down - but it was going to get warmer and closer to freezing point which would make roads icy. Not wanting to take risks (there were tons of accidents around NY as Google showed), we stayed in a hotel in CT.
When we resumed driving early morning the next day, Tuesday, the weather was already warming up. And pretty soon, we crossed the freezing point temps without any concerns. It was easy driving from here on. NY passed by. Misun brought a puzzle question which had us struggling for the next 2-3 hours. The good thing was it made the time fly by! (As promised, here is the solution) And pretty soon it was over. We were finally in DC around noon. Victory!
Overall, It was a grand adventure! The huts were awesome with modern facilities and fantastic food. The company was awesome too - I loved seeing the fighting spirit when morale was a bit down due to the flight cancellation. Oh there aren't any flights to DC?, We'll drive. In your face, storm! That's the DCUL attitude! Special thanks to Brian for guiding us based on prior experience. I am hooked - looking forward to this DCUL annual tradition next year!