Chowderheads Ski Hidden Valley

Chowderheads don’t like meetings. When Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society (PPCS) meetings are required, members employ exceptional efforts to include recreation before reluctantly attending to business.

Like any organization, the PPCS needs meetings to plan their schedule, review finances and discuss topical issues. Normally, that’s three times a year for the PPCS; winter, summer and fall. We’re far too busy paddling high water on streams and rivers during spring runoff to bother with meetings irrespective of issues. When meetings are mandated, outdoor adventures are scheduled before and sometimes after to ensure that the otherwise onerous experience is a little more palatable.

Our summer meeting is usually part of a weekend of paddling at West Forks. A club picnic and whitewater trips on the Kennebec and Dead Rivers are always part of the summer agenda. Swiftwater rescue classes and flatwater paddling are usually scheduled. The fall meeting is normally held on Mount Desert Island over the long Columbus Day Weekend and includes sea kayaking, mountain hiking, bike trips and a traditional seafood chowder supper. Two outdoor events were slated prior to our recent winter meeting. President Ryan Galway led a snowshoe trip in Bradbury Mountain State Park and Vice President Eggman DeCoster decided on a ski excursion at Hidden Valley Nature Center (HVNC). I signed on to the ski trip.

Operated by Midcoast Conservancy, HVNC is located in an undeveloped area west of Egypt Road between Alna and South Jefferson. Consisting of 1000 acres and more than twenty-five miles of trails, there are four rustic cabins and two pond-side campsites for tenting. Seasonal activities include skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, biking, camping, fishing and paddling. HVNC also provides a number of educational programs. In short, it’s an exceptional place to recreate or learn about the outdoors.

Four chowderheads joined Eggman at the Egypt Road trailhead for his planned ski adventure. Arriving at a nearly full parking area, a five dollar per person donation was suggested by the center. An older group with an average age over sixty, we were three HVNC veterans from adventures past while Eggman and I were aging debutants. A warm sunny day, there was modest snowpack as a result of a recent storm.

HVNC has a wide assortment of trails with varying levels of difficulty ranging from easy to difficult. Some trails were groomed while others weren’t. Since we had decided on a fairly aggressive outing and more remote trail conditions were unclear, we elected to use backcountry skis.

Beginning on the busy, groomed Service Road, we skied a short distance to a kiosk where recommended donations were made and trail maps obtained. An experienced HVNC skier in our group proposed Bowl Loop Trail, intermediate in complexity with one section rated difficult. Not groomed, Bowl Loop was an enjoyable trek that meandered circuitously up and down small hills and around much of the northern half of the trail network. The snow depth was only adequate and some steep sections were bumpy with minor exposed areas that required attentive skiing. I had an oops moment on a descent when one ski went left around a rock and everything else turned right. Only my pride was damaged.

Completing the loop, our group persisted south on the Haybale Trail past Kidney Pond to a picnic table in a clearing at a trail junction. Stopping for a snack, a very helpful and knowledgeable passing skier enthusiastically recommended climbing part of Sugar Hill and turning right on Ridge Trail for a long entertaining descent to Couch Hill Trail. Following her advice, an added benefit was a close up view of South Yurt, offering very tempting overnight accommodations.

Shortly after reaching Couch Hill Trail near the southern terminus of the center’s system, we were confronted with an option; a steep descent to the right or a more measured gradient left on Couch Hill Connector. Gradual was the choice for this old man with a plastic knee and one other wary participant.

Back on Couch Hill Trail proper, our group formed up again and proceeded north to a junction with Moose Alley. Angling right on the alley, we dropped steadily down to the Service Road and parking area.

Our unanimous opinion, HVNC is a great place to ski. With another six inches of snow it would have been superb. The center also appears to be an excellent location for mountain biking when the snow has departed. The prospect of spending a night in the wood-heated yurt is very appealing.

The business meeting went smoothly and we’re now free to play until the summer picnic in late July.

Ron Chase

About Ron Chase

At age 70, Ron Chase is old. But, he’s not under the grass…yet. Retired from a career with the Internal Revenue Service, he has embarked on a new life as a freelance writer and tax consultant. Don’t be misled; in reality, he works a little and plays a lot. When not busy kayaking, canoeing, biking, mountain climbing and skiing, he sometimes finds time to write and assist his tax clients. A lifelong Mainer now living in Topsham, he is the recent author of The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery, a biography of Vietnam War hero and bank robber Bernard Patterson.