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