Merck Forest: A New Year’s Cabin Adventure

Nenorod Cabin

There’s nothing quite as inviting as a snug cabin on wintry day. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com)

For the past three years, Marilyn and I have celebrated New Year’s by hiking into a remote cabin with friends. Two winters ago, seven of us hiked into the AMC’s Cardigan High Cabin for an overnight. Last year, four of us ventured to the Black Mountain Cabin, on the White Mountain National Forest in Jackson, New Hampshire. We were scheduled for two nights but only stayed one because the temperatures fell well below zero and we couldn’t get the cabin even slightly warm.

This year our friends David and Susan joined us for an adventure which lasted three days and two nights right after Christmas. Our haven was “Nenorod,” the most remote of seven cabins (which rent for $45-$75/night) at Merck Forest in Rupert, Vermont, right  on the New York border. Nenorod supposedly sleeps eight—it was perfect for four people with winter gear.

We met in Manchester Center, Vermont, for a hearty breakfast at the appropriately-named “Up For Breakfast” (802-362-4204). Climbing the long, steep stairs to this eatery was a good warmup for what was coming. As we ate, we watched the cold rain pouring down. Not exactly the weather we’d hoped for.

As we drove into Rupert, most hints of snow disappeared. All that was left was a few heavily crusted patches in the darkest woods. We’d planned on testing a Nordic Cab pulk as part of a pack and pulk combo, pulling some of our gear behind us as we hiked in on snowshoes. The lack of snow forced us to spend an hour sorting and repacking to leave the pulk behind. The good news: the rain slackened a bit as we adjusted.

The ground had been cold when the barely-above-freezing rain had started, so the trail we had to walk on was a slanted skating rink. Instead of wearing our snowshoes, we strapped them to our packs (there was snow in the forecast) and put on traction aids. Without the creepers, we’d have had to wear the snowshoes for traction. I don’t believe we could have walked safely with backpacks without some traction assistance.

Nenorod is 2.5 miles, mostly uphill, from the Merck Forest Visitor’s Center, and it took us about two hours to hike it with heavy packs. Along the way, we passed several spots that were supposed to offer spectacular views, but all we could see was fog. This is intensively managed forest, and we did see evidence of their sugaring operation—tubing, collection tanks and a well-cared-for sugarbush.

Just about the time the packs started feeling REALLY HEAVY, we saw the cabin materialize in the fog, looking very cozy. Hallelujah!

The cabin appearing suddenly through the fog and rain as we trudged up hill with heavy packs was a welcome sight. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com)

Once inside, we divided up chores naturally. David carried in firewood from the supply on the porch while I split kindling with the Gerber Axe I’d packed in. Marilyn and Susan emptied packs, laid out pads and sleeping bags on the wooden bunks and organized the kitchen. A few minutes later, we had a fire blazing in the woodstove, the cabin was warming nicely, and it was time for lunch and an afternoon nap—one of the many joys of cabin camping.

Later, we watched the weather clear in time for a spectacular sunset, then we sat and drank wine and talked. Dinner was a hearty stew (no freeze-dried glop on these trips!) and pre-cooked rice eaten by the soft light of an LED backpack lantern. From the cabin porch, the only electric light visible was a beacon on a faraway ridge.

Bed time came very early; we let the stove go out, allowed the cabin to cool and reveled in the coziness of warm mummy sleeping bags through the long night.

It’s amazing how fast you can decompress and let the stresses of civilization melt away in a remote cabin—especially when you are warm, well fed and completely comfortable.

The Fun Continues

A few minutes of unpacking and starting the woodstove turns an empty cabin into a warm and inviting refuge. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com)

The next morning we were up before the sun (which seemingly slept late in a blanket of clouds and falling snow). The woodstove quickly re-warmed the cabin and we lingered over a breakfast of Eggbeaters (easier to carry than eggs), scrambled with fixin’s. The wind was up, the snow was starting to fall heavily and Marilyn and Susan decided to keep the woodstove company while David and I trekked back out for more water (there wasn’t enough snow to melt) and some food we had left behind.

Taking a longer trail, we made it down to the cars in 50 minutes, grabbed what we needed. As we headed back up, the snow was starting to build up just enough to clog our creeper cleats and prevent them from digging into the ice, which made the walking even more treacherous.

We arrived at the cabin famished, just in time for a hearty lunch of leftover stew. Then we read, talked, played a spirited game of Parcheesi on a tiny game board and enjoyed another afternoon nap. A perfectly relaxing day . . . Outside the temperature continued dropping and the wind picked up as the snow fell sidewise.

After appetizers (smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers) and another spectacular dinner (sautéed chicken breasts and sweet potatoes), we sipped wine and listened to the wind trying valiantly to hurl the cabin off the ridge. Then we banked the fire for the night and headed once again for snug sleeping bags.

All Good Things Must End

The thermometer read five below zero the next morning, with a howling wind. Some of the snow drifts were waist deep.

Though packing in snowshoes in the rain had seemed silly, having them made the walk out much easier. The views were indeed spectacular, but it was too cold to linger–it would have been brutal without proper clothing. We were chilled by the time we reached the cars, but had more warm clothes available if we’d needed them for safety or comfort.

On the way home the radio weather weenies were blathering about staying home in the “dangerous cold.” We laughed. We’ve already reserved the cabin for next year.

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About Tim Jones

Tim Jones, Founder and Executive Editor, started skiing at age 4 and hasn't stopped since. He took up Telemark a few years ago and is still terrible at it. In the summer, he hikes, bikes, paddles and fly fishes. In addition to his work at EasternSlopes.com, Tim also writes a pair of syndicated weekly newspaper columns.