Soaking in nature by day and indoor comforts by night in western Maine
I stepped into the crisp chill of a Maine night and padded to the edge of darkness. Clouds dancing across the moonlit sky cast eerie patterns on trees guarding the expanse of Flagstaff Lake. I glanced back at the warm glow coming from the lodge and smiled. I’d found my happy place.
Getting nine women, all writers with conflicting schedules, to agree on a location for a rip-roaring, wild-and-woolly, let’s-catch-up overnight wasn’t easy. We wanted to be off the grid but not off the map; we wanted wilderness, but refused to sacrifice creature comforts; we were willing to work to get there, but not to work up a big sweat. Which is how we found ourselves at Flagstaff, one of four full-service huts along the Maine Huts and Trail system. Launched in 2008, the network cuts through some of the state’s most spectacular backcountry, with the main trail stretching about 45 miles between Carrabassett Valley, best known as the home of Sugarloaf ski area, and The Forks, renowned for its Kennebec River rafting adventures. Despite being off the grid, each hut has lights, heat, hot showers, and composting toilets—our kind of roughing it.
We gathered at the Long Falls Dam Trailhead, piled our overnight bags for a prearranged shuttle, and headed off on the 1.8-mile trail to the hut. The main trail, an 8-foot-wide maintained pathway, cuts through the wilderness, but we detoured onto the Shore Trail to walk through the woods alongside Flagstaff Lake.
Carolann and Suzie, both Registered Maine Guides, gave us some history. In 1775, Benedict Arnold marched north, following the Dead River through this rugged wilderness; and the white-capped mountains dropping to the south shore are named for expedition scout Colonel Timothy Bigelow. In the 1950s, the damming of the Dead River submerged a village as the rising waters created the 20,000-acre Flagstaff Lake. The 1976 Bigelow Preserve Act protects 36,000 acres and 20 miles of shorefront from development.
Home sweet home
Aromas of freshly baked bread and cookies welcomed us to Flagstaff hut’s main lodge. “Dibs,” Nancy called, flopping onto the leather couch facing the woodstove. Kathy snagged the rocking chair, and the rest of us wedged in around them.
“How do you like our wood-burning TV,” the hut manager quipped. Our overnight bags awaited us at the back door. Bunkhouses were steps away.
As day turned to night, wine and beer lubricated a gab- and gossip-fest in the main lodge. Our circle by the woodstove grew as other guests arrived; Flagstaff Hut can sleep 44 people. One group had come in from Poplar Hut 11.4 miles south; another was bound 11.8 miles north for Grand Falls Hut the next day. We shared adventures over a feast of squash soup, house-made bread, beef cabernet pie, and chocolate cake.
We awakened to the promise of a bluebird day. After scarfing down eggs, bacon, and blueberry muffins, we geared up and hit the trail. This time, we followed the main trail, breaking into camp songs as we marched back to civilization, happy wanderers, all.