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Monday, July 30, 2012

#62 and #63 The Bigelows (Maine): Avery and West Peaks, NEHH #78 South Horn July 28, 2012

The Bigelows: Avery Peak (4,090'), West Peak (4,145'), South Horn (3,805') and North Horn via Firewarden's, Bigelow Range (AT), and Horns Pond trails July 28, 2012 (UPDATED June 25, 2016).

Mileage:  11.4 miles (loop)

Elevation gain: 4,294'

Trailhead: (From mainetrailfinder.com) To access the Firewarden's Trail, enter via the rough gravel Stratton Brook Pond Road which leaves from the eastern side of ME Routes 16/27 4.6 miles south of the junction of ME Routes 16 and 27 in the Village of Stratton, or 0.6 miles north of the Appalachian Trail crossing of ME Route 16/27. At 1.4 miles from the highway, Stratton Brook Pond Road crosses the Appalachian Trail; however, the parking and trailhead for the Firewarden's Trail is 0.7 miles further.
The road is in good condition to the first parking lot. Vehicles with higher clearance can make it to the pond lot.

Lesson learned:  Weather predictions have little meaning in the mountains of Maine; this can be a good thing!

Today I hiked with Rich, Barb, Becky and Mark.  I wanted to hike at least five of the Maine 4k peaks this summer.  These hikes are too far from home for a day trip so the plan was to book a hotel in the area.  Five of my peaks, Saddleback and Horn (July 5th entry) and the Bigelows and Horns, are best bagged in good weather.  

I vowed not to plan the Bigelows ahead of time; I'd wait for perfect weather and book lodging on a day's notice. But the weekends of summer started filling up fast, leaving me one weekend (one day actually) to hike the most beautiful of ridge hikes this side of Mt. Katahdin.  So two weeks in advance, I booked two nights at the Mount Blue Motel in Farmington (cheap with great reviews on tripadvisor.com).  The plan was to arrive Friday night, hike Saturday and head home on Sunday.

My friend Barb also needed the peaks for her New England 4ks and Hundred Highest, and friends Becky and Mark weren't peak bagging at all but they'd heard of the Bigelows and they too were looking forward to experiencing the Bigelows' famous summit and ridge views.

A week before the hike I started to track the weather.  noaa.gov predicted blue skies, sunshine and temps in the 70s (I like noaa.gov because you can click directly on the summit for the forecast).  I'd planned well; things were going to be great! 

But by Wednesday things weren't looking so good and on Friday we were heading up north with rain gear to a Saturday forecast of rain, thunderstorms and in general, unsettled weather. 

100 Classic Hikes in the Northeast suggests hikers go up the Horns Pond trail and down Firewarden's trail (clockwise) as Horns Pond trail is gradual compared to Firewarden's steep rock "steps."  Since the two peaks I wanted to bag were at the top of Firewarden's trail I opted instead to hike up Firewarden's, across Bigelow Range and down Horns Pond (counter-clockwise), bagging my prizes first and hopefully continuing on the Bigelow Range trail to summit South Horn (which is on my New England Hundred Highest list). Besides, if the day was going to be wet, I'd rather negotiate up slippery rock than down. 

Saturday morning's sky was gray and overcast.  We got to Stratton Brook Pond Road around 7:45.  Any vehicle can reach the first parking lot, but there are dips and rocks beyond that point. Barb's Outback made it to the pond without a problem.

Someone left their boots on the trail.  
We crossed a stream and headed along the pond, passing a few campers (Update - the stream, which can be tricky in high water, is now bridged - see photo).
 
New Bridge!
 
Path runs along the pond.

Skies were brightening as we arrived at the Horns Pond trail junction. We saw more campers at the Moose Falls campsite.  Soon after, we were heading up the rock "steps." The path shows some signs of erosion; overall this trail is well cared for.

The steeper part of the trail.
We got a bit confused at the Avery Memorial Tent Site as the blue blazes we'd been following led us to the spring and not up the trail.  The trail is obvious though, and we soon got back on track. Avery peak looks so close and so steep from this section of trail.



To the right of the path Avery Peak looms.

We got to the col and headed right along the Bigelow Range trail (AT) toward Avery Peak, 4/10 of a mile away.  Craggy, ill-placed rocks had us hopping at odd angles but there are no real scrambles on this route.  

There are incredible views on this peak.  We could see in the distance the foundation of the old firetower - there's an easy path to it.  I'd recommend taking the trip over to it as that's where the three USGS summit markers are.  

Handsome group on Avery Peak.

Remnants of the fire tower.
USGS summit markers in the firetower foundation.
Rich looked nervously at the skies; there were some dark clouds in the distance and it was hard to tell if things would clear up. I was so happy it wasn't raining and Becky and Mark got their Bigelow summit views!  

The Bigelows are sometimes referred to as "the Bonds of Maine" by White Mountain enthusiasts and looking at the 360° views of mountains and below it's hard to compare one lovely rugged ridge walk to the other.  They both have their own unique, outstanding beauty.

We headed down Avery Peak back to the col and continued to West Peak, a shorter, milder hike up (though it is just a tad higher than Avery).

Avery Peak in the background as Rich is headed to West Peak.

West Peak.

The skies had cleared and there wasn't a dark cloud in sight.  We were surrounded by beautiful mountains and landscapes; from Flagstaff Lake to Sugarloaf and beyond (no problem with cell service here with that huge cell tower on Sugarloaf!).

AT thru-hikers Papatatts, Goat and B-Rubbles were at the summit. They were section hiking southbound.  We talked for a bit, got a few photos, drank in the views and then continued descending toward South Horn.

B-Rubbles and Goat.


The walk from West Peak is spectacular with the ridge (and the Horns) in the foreground and mountains in the distance. Over two miles to go before we reached the Horns but for now we were on top of the world! 

The ridge above treeline (Horns in the background).
This is a magical place. We ducked back into the trees and here and there we'd pop out in a clearing or near an edge to see great views.  

A well cut path led us up the ridge.
We met several north-bound thru-hikers as we headed to The Horns. I shared my Gatorade with one of them (not much for water up on this ridge; even the springs were dry).  


Nice views from South Horn.

And then we were on South Horn.  It came up quickly; if not for the sign I never would have known we were there. South Horn is on my New England Hundred Highest list so I took a few photos for my album and we hung out for a while.

Sign is hard to read but it's South Horn!
We still had miles to go so no one wanted to trek over to North Horn. It wasn't on any list after all and the views here were fine. And besides, our legs were tired.....
 
Well okay, yes, Becky and I went to North Horn - the sign said .2 miles and the path looked soft, rock-free - inviting.  The others headed down to the Horns Pond campsite and trail junction. Within minutes Becky and I were on top of North Horn (didn't seem like .2 miles at all).  I highly recommend you do this one no matter how tired you think you are, who knows when you'll be back!  






On North Horn.



View of Horns Pond from North Horn.

When we caught up with Barb, Rich and Mark they were joking around with the campsite's caretaker, who was giving Rich a hard time because he had a GPS (too much technology I guess).

Caretaker and a few buddies at the lean-to .
The caretaker went off to harass a new visitor so we headed down the path to the Horns Pond trail junction. (Note: Pond Loop trail is not Horns Pond trail, continue down the path past the lean-to and you'll see the signs). 

Horns Pond trail is quite mellow.
The rest of the hike was uneventful.  About an hour before we got to the car we heard thunder in the distance and it started to rain.  

We had dinner at Tufulios as it poured outside, toasting to a fabulous hike. 

The weather held off for us and allowed us to experience the beauty of the Bigelows with mild temps and little wind - can't believe our luck! 









Sunday, July 22, 2012

North and South Twin July 21, 2012


North Twin (4,761') and South Twin (4,902') via North Twin and North Twin Spur trails July 21, 2012.

Mileage:  11.1 miles RT

Elevation gain: 3,634'

Trailhead: Haystack Road off of Route 3 in Bethlehem, NH (heading toward Twin Mountain). Trailhead parking is at the end of the road.

Lesson learned:  Warm, clear, sunny conditions beat wind, rain, sleet and snow any day!

Today I hiked with Eileen, Rich, Charlotte, Norm, Barb and Mike.  I've done the Twins before (see October 2009 and July 2010 trip reports) but not both in one hike and I looked forward to hiking with Eileen, who is so close to finishing all of her New Hampshire four thousand footers (the Twins will be her 43rd and 44th).  

Charlotte needed North Twin for her NH 4k list but had already summitted South Twin during an earlier hike. She and Norm planned to hike the single peak and wait for us at the top as we hiked over the North Twin Spur trail to South Twin (North Twin will be Charlotte's 34th).

The first time I summitted North Twin conditions were cold with snow, sleet and biting wind. The first time I summitted South Twin it was chilly with a thick fog and no views. The weather for this hike couldn't have been better and I was excited to summit in good weather and to explore the North Twin Spur trail to the South Twin summit.  

We got on the trail at 8:30 sharp and in no time we were at the first water crossing. I remembered how tough the water crossings are on this trail.  Recent trip reports indicate a bushwhack which eliminates the first two crossings (the trail crosses over the river and then back, which accomplishes not much more than providing an opportunity to practice water crossing skills). 

This is the trail to the water crossing; photo taken at the entrance to the bushwhack.

This is the nicely cut bushwhack to the left of the trail (photo taken from the same spot).  

The bushwhack is located to the left, just before the first water crossing.  The group was hesitant to take it as it was unclear where it ended.  We carefully crossed the river instead (fortunately the water was low, particularly compared my last hike on this trail). When crossing the river for the second time, I got my boot wet (stepped on a wiggly rock) but it didn't penetrate into my sock (thankfully - after all the hike had just begun!).  

Norm did some scouting and found where the bushwhack came out. We made a plan to take it on our way back, eliminating two of the three water crossings.  The third water crossing was easy and after that the hike up had a bunch of small stream crossings that were no big deal.  Footing was good and the trail was very dry; only a few spots near springs were muddy.  The grade alternated between near flat, moderate, and steep - all at just the right times.  In fact, some of this well cut trail was downright sweet, with ferns and soft footing.

Lush ferns and smooth footing.
 As we gained elevation, the trail got steeper with several large rocks to hop up and over.  We made our way up the trail; occasionally we would catch a glimpse of a view.  The steepest part of the trail spilled us onto a ridge, where we walked on relative flat for a while before coming to a spectacular overlook.  

The overlook just before the summit of North Twin.
On this day the views were beautiful - and hikers plentiful.  The overlook was crowded with day hikers and back packers so we moved on to the summit.

The summit is nothing to write home about.  A cairn sits on the corner of the trail junction, signifying the summit, the end of the North Twin trail and beginning of the North Twin Spur trail to South Twin.  Across from the junction is a sign indicating a viewpoint, and pointing in the direction where we came (4.3 miles to the parking lot).  We took a few photos and headed down the very short path to the second viewpoint.


Eileen, Rich, and her new friend Bill (Orange Man) at the summit.

This second viewpoint looked over the Franconia Ridge, Mt. Garfield, and Galehead hut.  I remember well shivering on this overlook over two years ago when we hiked here in October, wishing to get out of the sleet and the wind.  Now, on this calm, clear, beautiful day I couldn't get enough of the view, the wilderness, the warmth of the rock I was sitting on.  


We had our lunch at this second viewpoint, which was also crowded.


Amazing views. 

That little building down there is Galehead hut.
After lunch (and after leaving and then returning to get my trekking poles which I'd forgotten) we headed toward South Twin, a 1.3 mile hike through a shallow col.  The col between North and South Twin is noted for huge snow accumulation in the winter- covering most of the tall trees! This makes for tough winter hiking in this region.  

Hiking the ridge headed toward the summit of South Twin (see people standing on the summit).
The trip between the Twins is lovely with a steep descent at first, then mellow grades with some flats, and finally a dramatic rocky hike up to the bare summit of South Twin. Eileen was delighted with the views and the stark appearance of the South Twin summit, such a contrast from the uninspiring summit of its sibling to the North.

This summit was also quite crowded, mostly with new friends we met on North Twin (including Bill, who was kind enough to take photos for us). Today everyone had the same idea: hike the Twins!  South Twin was #44 for Eileen and she claimed her prize, hung around for a bit and then we headed back to North Twin and Charlotte and Norm.

Our favorite hiker chick flashing a palindrome on South Twin's summit.
The trip back went fast and when we got to the summit of North Twin, no one was there. We did catch up with Charlotte and Norm by the river though, waiting to bushwhack with us.

Norm by the river.
A note about the river crossing bushwhack: 80% of this path is wide and easy to follow. There are portions however, where you have to go up and over a bit, still easy to follow but a bit narrow and rough. So long as you are following the river, you will spill out on to the North Twin trail.  Our GPS indicates that it is the same length or even slightly longer than that section of the North Twin trail.  The time and effort should be less, particularly in high water and if your group is having trouble with the crossings.

We got down to our cars, changed clothes and headed to the Woodstock Inn and Brewery in Woodstock. Barb was headed back to Connecticut but we convinced her to have dinner with us. Mike left early.

My initial impression of North Twin was on a cold gray day.  Today I was able to see what a beautiful mountain North Twin is and a great hike the two peaks are!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

#60 #61 Saddleback and The Horn (Maine) July 5, 2012


#60 and #61 Saddleback (4,116') and The Horn (4,023') via Ski Trails/AT Traverse, Maine July 5, 2012

Mileage: 10.6 miles (traverse)

Elevation gain: 2,986'

Trailhead: Hike started at Saddleback Mountain Ski area main lodge.  Hiker trail begins to the left of the lodge on the access road between the double chair lifts.  

Hike finished at the AT Route 4 crossing 10 miles south of Rangeley.  Parking lot is across the street and well marked.  

Lesson learned:  Hiking Saddleback ski trails up and the AT down, rather than hiking the AT up and back, cuts 3.5 miles from this trip.

Hiked with Rich and Charlie.  The clouds and mist from the storms the day before were still hanging around when we reach the Saddleback Ski Area.  The plan was to hike up the slopes to the connector trail to the AT and the Saddleback summit, continue to the summit of The Horn, and then hike the AT back to the Route 4 parking lot, where we left Charlie's car. 

Several online trip reports mentioned hiking Saddleback and The Horn via the ski slopes, and 100 Classic Hikes in the Northeast suggests ski slopes as a shorter option over the AT for day hikers.  We opted to hike both.

Armed with a map of the ski trails we hiked up to the top of the first double chair, then to the second. The area was lush with fat colorful lupine. 

The lupine was everywhere, very pretty.

At the second double chair we headed up Grey Ghost ski trail, a steep ski trail that connects to Tri-color ski trail.  The ski trail map from Saddleback's website was extremely helpful.  

Ski slopes have lots of divots and long grass in the off season. Here a hiker path marked with yellow blazes keeps you out of these areas. 

Yellow blazes mark hiker trail but use your own judgement too.

As I climbed I imagined the view behind me to be spectacular when skies are clear, which they weren't that morning (see photo below).  Funny thing about ski slopes, you're never 100% sure you're on the right slope until you get to the top; all signs are made for skiers heading downhill. At every junction it's wise to turn around and look at the junction signs to get your bearings.  

When we got to the end of Grey Ghost, we checked our ski map and figured we had found the Tri-color trail.  At the top of that trail we came to the Governor trail, which was below Tri-color on the map. 

No view from the slopes today!

We figured the map wasn't accurate and just headed up (after all, that's where we needed to be).  Soon I could see the top of the last lift and a few small buildings. 


The lift barely visible through the fog (eerie).
To the right of the buildings was an unmarked path, the connector path to the AT.  We hopped on, followed the path and the cairns to the AT junction (the sign is missing) and to the summit of Saddleback.  It had taken us just over one hour to get here.

Still cloudy on the summit.

It was windy and damp as we headed down the rocks toward the saddle that would lead us up to The Horn (1.6 miles between summits).  The going was steep in places and the rocks wet. We met an Outward Bound group having lunch; we'd heard their voices in the mist.  

Silly metal ladder up one of the steeper areas.

Rich on the summit of The Horn (still cloudy).  

After lunch we started back down the AT toward Charlie's car on Route 4.

The view back to Saddleback.  Clouds are starting to break up!
Back on the summit of Saddleback the skies were clearing and we were treated to amazing 360° views.  Rich was tired (we'd hiked Redington the day before) and considering going back down the ski slopes but Charlie and I convinced him to make the 5.2 mile trek on the AT (going down the ski slopes would have been a steep 1.7 miles to his car).  

Breathtaking views as the clouds cleared.
After the Saddleback summit the AT continues on exposed rock slab for a while and then ducks into the woods.
Heading down the AT.
Some of the slabs are steeply angled, which required more care in descending particularly when wet. Overall the path was pretty wet from rain the day before but the varied terrain kept us interested.

Metal staples in the rock helped the descent.
Our legs were toast by the time we got to Piazza Rock but we did check it out. 

Piazza Rock
 We got to the car just before 6 p.m. and went to Sarge's in Rangeley for a beer.

To hike Saddleback and The Horn up and back via the AT is about 14.3 miles and about 3,700' gain - a long day for us given our drive home.  Using the ski slopes cut significant time and miles from this trip.  The ski area's elevation starts at 2,446'; the AT parking lot on Route 4 is located at 1,668'  - almost 800 feet lower.  Either way on a nice day this is a beautiful hike, well worth it.  

Saddleback ski trail map





Saturday, July 7, 2012

#59 Mt. Redington Maine, July 4, 2012

#59 Mt. Redington (4,010') Maine via Caribou Valley Road, Logging Roads and Herd Paths, July 4, 2012 (Updated June 21, 2015 and June 25, 2016)

 
Mileage: 11.5 miles RT

Elevation gain: 1,703'

Time: 5 hours

Trailhead: Trail starts at the end of Caribou Valley Road (CVR), which is off Route 27 in Stratton, Maine just past (or before depending on your direction) the Sugarloaf Ski Area access road (on the same side). Road is not well marked, but is shown on a car GPS as "Caribou Pond Road."

Redington is one of two trailless peaks on the New England Four Thousand Footer List (the other being Owlshead). The mountain never wanted to be a four thousand footer. For years it was measured at 3,984' (this number is still on the summit canister).  At one time a wind farm was proposed for the peak but yielded to push back by the community.  As technology improved, it was determined that the summit elevation was actually 4,010' and that's when Redington started having company.  Many summit Redington by bushwhacking across the col from the Crockers.  I chose to take the logging roads and herd paths to the summit.  
 
Since last year's visit to Stratton I'd been both excited and stressed about bagging Mt. Redington; excited because it looked like a labyrinth of roads on which to navigate, stressed because of the condition of the CVR. Last year's hike was a traverse of the Crockers from the CVR Appalachian Trail crossing to Route 27.  We'd driven partway down the CVR the day before that hike and the bridges and culverts were almost non-existent they'd deteriorated so - not good for our vehicle.  
 
In my mind time was running out for the CVR and Redington would soon (again) become a hard-to-reach peak.  We had to do it this year. 
 
I researched extensively, printing out trip reports and grabbing gps tracks.  I got a great deal of narrative from Andrew Lavigne's website and Amateur-Hikers.com had a good list of coordinates -  except instead of taking the "rightmost of the three branches on the third fork," as indicated, we took the middle, which was clearly the better path (more on this later).

The weather was unsettled at best; we woke up to rainy skies.  Our mood brightened as we turned on to the CVR as it had been repaired and we were easily able to get our car to the parking area at 3.9 miles.  (2016 update: the road has deteriorated somewhat since the 2012 repairs but we were able to get all cars to the metal bridge. There is just one rough bridge with sixpack size holes in the planks but the underpinnings are sturdy enough.  I had someone get out and guide me around those holes.)



Culverts and bridges have been repaired on the CVR. It is still slow going though.

At the parking lot there are two barriers and a sign indicating on-road vehicles are not allowed beyond that point.  The metal bridge behind the barriers is in poor shape. (2015 update: the barriers have been replaced by a gate that's chained).  We got out and put on our rain coats and pack covers. 

Just beyond the barriers is a damaged metal bridge.
 
At 3.9 miles (the parking area), we walked over the metal bridge and started down the road. The rain was steady.

At 4.4 miles we passed the AT crossing, where we started our Crockers hike last year. Right went up the Crockers; left crossed South Branch Carrabassett River and headed up to Sugarloaf and Spaulding Mountains. We continued straight.  By this time, the rain had drenched our shoes and faces. 

At 5.5 miles we reached the much reported fork in the road. There is a fire ring on the side. Go left of the fork.

At the 5.5 mile fork. Fire ring is on the side, just off the road.  Take the left of the fork.
Mile markers on the CVR.

At about 7 miles the road ends - go right. A dilapidated bridge lies to the left and there is a sign in the woods ahead with an arrow pointing right.  Given the amount and type of signs here, it looks like improvements were made to the CVR and this area to accommodate ATVs and snowmobiles - a benefit for hikers too.

Bad bridge off to the left. Don't go here.

Walk this logging road for about .8 miles. The rain had stopped; we were soaked through but determined to get to that summit canister.
 
Walk this road for about .8 miles (2015: those signs are gone).

We saw two moose on this road, a mother and her baby.  We took photos and waited for them to move on. Many wildflowers were in bloom and we hopped over a few crushed culverts and one large puddle. This road had not been used for logging in quite some time.  

Take a right at the cairn and walk about .6 miles.  The first road continues straight but a cairn lets you know of the turn.  There are remnants of a large arrow made of sticks on the ground near the cairn. This second road is grassy in spots, with ruts and gravel. Stately conifers make for a very serene scene.  This logging road ascends toward a third road, this time on the left, well marked with ribbon and cairns.

Take a left onto this grassy road and walk about .3 miles.   The second road continues straight but your route to Redington is left on this smaller, grassier road.

 

  
Take this left. Road levels out and even descends a bit.

The road dips and swings to the left.  Cross over the brook at the low point and head back up to where you see three paths.
 
Take the center of the three paths.  The Amateur-Hiker.com report suggests the rightmost of the paths.  However, the GPS track we had showed the middle to be the easiest way to our destination.
 

With two arrows and a cairn this must be the way to go!

 
Sometimes called "working trails" these paths were cut as part of the wind farm project. 

The path you take is wide (as you can see in the photo) but narrow enough to brush by the trees as we advanced, soaking us further.  The good news was we were already soaked so it didn't matter; we thought it was funny!

We eventually we came to a very small wooded clearing where we turned right. This was not on anyone's instructions or on any GPS track but it's clear you bear right up a narrower path.

The orange ribbon marks this narrow herd path.

This second path is narrower (and wetter) than the last and soon we were winding our way up through old forest.  It got steeper and we skirted around one very old blow down. Looking up at the trees we kept thinking we had to be close; we were skirting the side of the mountain at a deceiving angle. 

We knew we were at the summit when we saw a guide wire anchor in the ground off in the woods to the left.  As we rounded the corner we were greeted by a cairn. It isn't a pretty summit and it was cold and foggy so I immediately started hunting for the canister. 

The canister is partially hidden in the woods.  At the summit clearing look for a second guide wire anchor in the ground (right on the top) and turn right at it. There's a little path and the canister is on the back side of a tree in the woods there. Several have indicated they could not find it (understandably). 


Rich opening the canister.

We registered (signed our names on the back of someone's directions), closed the canister, snapped a few photos and quickly headed down (somehow lunch on the summit didn't have its usual appeal).  

Just a little wet! (The camera was wet too.)

Carefully retracing our steps, we were down to the logging roads in no time. Note there is a sharp right turn a few minutes into the descend - can be confusing as the path seems to also go straight (don't).  The sky cleared and we were treated to fine views. We stopped for lunch and to admire the wildflowers.

A bit of Redington peaking through the clouds in the background.
 We headed down the CVR and changed into dry clothes back at the car. 

Trip reports I've read since this hike also mention wet conditions.  Redington is for the most part viewless and sheltered - a hike you do when bad weather keeps you off the steeper, rockier, exposed peaks (a "back pocket" hike, a good "plan B").  I can't help but feel this would be a lovely walk in the woods in better weather - though with the CVR walk the total distance is high: 11 miles.