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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

#55 and #56 - South and North Crockers, Maine, August 19, 2011

South Crocker (4,050') and Crocker Mountain (4,228) via Caribou Valley Road and Appalachian Trail (AT) August 19. 2011 (Updated June 26, 2016).

Distance:  8.8 miles (traverse)

Elevation gain:  2,300'ish

Trailhead: This hike intercepts the AT where it crosses Caribou Valley Road (CVR - also called the Caribou Pond Road) in Carrabassett Valley, Maine.  CVR is off Route 27 near Stratton, Maine just past (or before depending on your direction) the Sugarloaf/USA Ski Area access road (on the same side). The road is not well marked. Park at the barriers and proceed over the bridge .5 miles by foot down the road to the AT crossing.  The hike ends at the AT parking lot on Route 27 several miles before the town of Stratton (well marked).  CVR road condition update June 2016 - with the exception of one rough bridge, the CVR is in okay shape, with just a few ruts and several bumpy culverts.  The bridge is sturdy but with many 6-pack size holes in it.  It's best to get out and look at it closely before driving over it. When driving in we stayed to the left. (A Prius and Lexus sedan were parked at the end so you don't necessarily need a vehicle with high clearance.)

This was the weekend of the Mountain Mommas annual hike.  Nine of us stayed at a ski house near the Sugarloaf Resort.  Only three of us opted to hike the Crockers, which turned out to be a lovely hike through sweet, sunny woods with areas of dramatic vistas. 

Hiked with Rich and Norm.  We would start at the AT crossing on Caribou Valley Road (CVR) and end at the AT crossing on Route 27 east of Stratton. 

We arrived at the Stratton Motel (AT hiker accommodations) about 6:50 a.m. and followed the shuttle to the Route 27 AT crossing where we left our car.  After parking, we got in and rode to the CVR trailhead.   Since this hike is a traverse from one AT road crossing to the next, taking the shuttle eliminated the need for a second car. 

But the real reason we took the shuttle was the condition of the Caribou Valley Road.

An old logging road, the CVR is falling into disrepair, particularly the culverts and bridges. I imagine hikers would have had to backpack to bag these peaks prior to the building of this road. 

The day before this hike, we found the road (which is 1.6 miles from the Route 27 AT crossing) and tried to see how far we could take our Highlander (4 WD but without the high clearance and skid plates).  We got 2.5 miles in; the AT crossing is several miles beyond that.  Rocks, ruts and half fallen in bridges kept us from going any further.  Sue from the Stratton Motel drives that road many times each week and her Land Rover was able to negotiate the terrain much better, even over the grate bridge but she stopped before the next wooden bridge, .2 miles before the AT (Note - the grate bridge has been blocked off, park there).   The AT is not hard to find if you are looking for it and soon we saw the subtle break in the trees along the road and the familiar well-worn path and white blazes.


Looking down the CVR


A view of the AT crossing at CVR

Grade is moderate for the first mile, then steepens during the second mile. We passed the sign for the Crocker Cirque campsite and after a few steep areas, emerged from the woods into the open with a slide in front of us.  No scrambling necessary, footing is pretty good going up the slide, it was fun and the view of the Bigelow Range is lovely. Saw a cairn and small path heading down just before the slide. Not sure where it went.

Norm hiking up the slide.
Soon after, we arrived at another small slide (and views) - this time we simply crossed it. When we reached sign for South Crocker we headed to the side trail to the summit, which has a spectacular view of Sugarloaf Mountain. Because of the large cell tower on Sugarloaf, we had cell coverage and I proceeded to send my friend Sandy a photo of the three of us on the summit of South Crocker.  After a bit of poking around, I found the herdpath to Mt. Redington but decided early on that I would take a different route to the summit of that peak, through a series of more old logging roads further down on the CVR.  That was for another day (and another year -see report).



After a few photos, we headed toward North Crocker, a dip and subsequent climb of about 300' - there we had lunch and met two young thru-hikers headed down toward the campground where they were staying.
Viewless summit of North Crocker

The hike down was longer than the hike up. It took 3 miles to get from the CVR AT crossing to North Crocker, and just over 5 miles to get from there to our car at the Route 27 AT crossing.  After a few initial steep areas (and more great views), the route became a moderate descent, almost gentle, with sunlight playing off the leaves and moss. It was quiet and pleasant with muddy spots here and there. 

Total hike time was under 6 hours for about 8 miles (2300' total gain).  It would have taken less time if not for our chats with northbound thru-hikers excited about Katahdin and their last 200 miles.  We picked up a thru-hiker hitching into town on our way back to the house.

North and South Crocker are two of the New England 4ks, making numbers 55 and 56 of the 67 needed.  I woke up at 3 a.m. the next morning with the Maine 4k peaks swimming in my head.  Later in the day I would bag Sugarloaf Mountain (see report) but Redington and Spaulding mountains were on my mind (see Spaulding report).  Redington does not have an official trail, one of only two NE 4ks that can make that claim (Owlshead in New Hampshire is the other one).  The Caribou Valley Road, which leads to a series of old logging roads to the top of Redington, is certainly on its way to being reclaimed by the forest. Will I find the way to the top of this remote peak?  And Spaulding Mountain whose route typically starts on the Caribou Valley Road is usually done in conjunction with Sugarloaf Mountain. Should I be combining these two?  My Sugarloaf hike that day would provide some insight on my hiking plans for my next Maine visit.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Mt. Katahdin - Baxter Peak and #66 Hamlin Peak July 14, 2013

 
 
Mt. Katahdin - Baxter Peak (5,267') and Hamlin Peak (4,751') via Saddle, NW Basin, Hamlin Ridge, North Basin and Chimney Pond trails, 7/14/13

Mileage:  6.4 miles (loop)

Elevation gain:  2,954'

Trailhead: Hike begins at Chimney Pond campground in Baxter State Park, Maine.  From the park's Togue Pond Gatehouse take Roaring Brook Road to Roaring Brook campground. (It takes about 30 minutes to get to Togue Pond Gatehouse from Millinocket and another 25 minutes to get to Roaring Brook campground.)

Chimney Pond trail begins at the Roaring Brook ranger station.  Hike 3.3 miles to Chimney Pond campground (CP), which offers lean-tos and a 10 person bunkhouse.  (Pack in, pack out, water is from the pond and must be filtered).
 
Lesson learned:  Don't let the short distance and elevation gain fool you. There is no easy way up Mt. Katahdin. We had the best of circumstances and this short trip challenged us!
 
Rich and I are working on AMC's New England Four Thousand Footer list which includes three peaks in Baxter State Park, Maine.  I'd hiked Baxter Peak in 2006 (see previous report). It was the turning point in my hiking obsession!  I had yet to bag Hamlin Peak (one of Katahdin's three lower peaks) or North Brother, a 4k in the park that's also on the list. 
 
Rich needed all three.  He researched the trails and decided we would hike to Baxter and Hamlin Peaks via the Saddle Trail from Chimney Pond (up and back). Mark, Becky, Lindsley, Sandy and Joe joined us for four sunny days in the park.
 
Trip planning:
 
Baxter Park reservations.  Day hike.  All we wanted was guaranteed parking at the trailhead.  There are only a handful of day hiker parking spots at Roaring Brook and Katahdin Stream parking lots (trails to Katahdin peaks).  If you are a Maine resident or a non-resident who can be flexible with dates and plans (I am neither), you have hiking options.  After April 1st Maine residents can reserve a parking spot online for anytime; non-residents can reserve within two weeks of their hike (see Baxter State Park site).  Hikers can also drive to the Togue Pond Gatehouse for 6 a.m. opening, wait in line and hope to get a parking spot.
 
Camping.  Because I wanted a guaranteed parking space ahead of time I decided to reserve space at CP; a campsite or space in the bunkhouse (staying at CP would cut 6.6 miles from our hike). BSP rules state that reservations can be made no earlier than 4 months prior to your stay. 
 
The plan was to hike to CP on Day 1, hike the Katahdin peaks on Day 2 and hike back to the car on Day 3.  We chose July 12th-14th to execute our plan.
 
On March 12th (exactly four months prior to our stay) I called BSP at 8:00 a.m. sharp to make reservations for the CP bunkhouse for two nights (July 12/13) only to learn that the bunkhouse was already fully booked!  I spoke to Nancy at BSP (she was wonderful btw):
 
Me, "Oh NO! The bunkhouse is full on that date?  How about the following day?"
 
BSP, "You would need to call tomorrow morning to try and reserve it (that damn four month rule!).  Once you reserve a spot, you can reserve other spots in the park for up to fourteen days' duration."
 
Me, "Hmmm. So if I reserve a spot for July 12th at another campground in the park that's not fully booked, can I then reserve the CP bunkhouse for the following days?"
 
BSP, "Absolutely!"  
 
And that's what I did.  I booked us a night at Roaring Brook Campground for July 12th just so I could be guaranteed the CP bunkhouse for July 13th and 14th (space was available), moving our plans back a day.  
 
Unless weather pushed up our hiking date, we would not use the Roaring Brook reservation for Friday night.*
 
Complicated, isn't it? But it worked out well.  The extra day's reservation guaranteed another day's entrance into the park should circumstances cause us to hike a day early. 
 
Once reservations are made to hike the mountain you'd best get crackin' with prayers to Pamola, the Abenaki bird spirit/ghost in charge of weather on Katahdin! 
 
Bunkhouse.   The Togue Pond Gatehouse staff checked our reservation carefully before letting us in. Parking was very tight at Roaring Brook - I think we were the last to park that day. 
 
The CP bunkhouse has a table, wood stove, counter top and two bunkrooms.  Two propane wall lamps helped us with meal preparation. Windows are screened and there is a screened-in porch in which to store gear. 
 
The bunkhouse is in the trees near the Outlet (swimming hole).
Be prepared to hang all your food and food waste.


Two bunkrooms, bring a pad to sleep on.


Becky and Mark opted for a lean-to, food hung from a bear line. 

The hike.  Day 1, Rich, Sandy, Joe and I hiked the 3.3 miles in to CP. 
 
Once the cars were parked we quickly ate lunch, hoisted our packs (way too heavy - you could tell we're not backpackers) and signed in the hiker register.  Baxter Park keeps track of all hikers coming in and out of the park and entering/exiting trails
 
I am sure the trail up to Chimney Pond is very lovely but it was hot and we had so much crap in our packs that we just wanted to get there and get them off our backs!  It took almost two hours to go 3.3 miles!
 
Very sturdy bridges on the way up.
Nice views motivated us to chug along.
Bed of rocks, was it a washout or an outlet?

Our friends Becky, Mark and Lindsley arrived earlier and "reserved" our bunks with hiking poles and crocks.  They too thought the trip was tough for just 3.3 miles! 

Chimney Pond is the most beautiful tarn I've seen (not surprising since I just learned of the word "tarn" ten minutes ago - means lake at the bottom of a cirque).   The mountain cirque is quite dramatic with steep walls topping out with a series of pyramid-like formations. 


"Pyramids" are visible up top.

It is so magical up there. Everywhere you walk everything you see is different; we were on Mt. Katahdin. 

First order of business was to secure the food. Mice get into packs and chew just about anything so we hung our meals and snacks on lines in the bunkhouse (see photo above).  

Next on the list, get water. Out came the filters.


No, it's not some native spaghetti dance. They're filtering water.
 
With the hike to Baxter and Hamlin Peaks scheduled for the next day, we scouted out the ranger to help us with our route plans.
 
Chimney Pond ranger station.
 
Rich went over his plan with the ranger; up and back down the Saddle Slide. The week before I'd suggested taking the Hamlin Ridge trail down but Rich had seen a video of the trail on youtube and didn't like the steep drop-offs. 
 
That sandy part up the middle? That's the slide.
 
From the station, the ranger pointed to the slide in the distance. It looked mighty steep!  He said, "Go up the slide and at the top turn around, look back down and ask yourself, 'do I want to go down that way?'"  If not, he said Hamlin Ridge will offer a more gradual route down.
 
And that's how the day went.  Day 2, we hiked in two groups.  I went up the Saddle trail with Rich and Lindsley.  Becky, Joe, Mark and Sandy climbed the Cathedral trail. 
 
From center of the slide it looked (gulp) really scary but once we got to the steepest part it was easy to see a stable route and up we went. 
 
Great shot heading up the slide (Lindsley's photo).

At the top of the slide Rich stopped, looked down the slide, turned to me and said, "We are doing Hamlin Ridge down."  I'd heard the trail was beautiful and looked forward to it.
 
Rich looking back down at the slide (Lindsley's photo).
 
At the top of the slide we turned left and headed up the trail to the summit of Mt. Katahdin (Baxter Peak).
 
Hello Tablelands!
 
The trek up to the Appalachian Trail terminus is tableland flat and gravelly.
 
 
Meanwhile, Becky, Mark, Sandy & Joe were scrambling on the Cathedral trail (Mark's photo). 
 
Katahdin's summit cone is made of all-too-familiar rugged boulders but a clear path takes you through them.  I would hardly call the last leg to the summit a "push."
 
Lindsley and Rich just below the summit.
  

Look at that blue sky!  Thanks, Pamola!
  
At the peak we high-fived, enjoyed lunch and took some photos.  Lindsley went over to explore the thirteen foot cairn and the Knife Edge. 
 
A thru-hiker and his brother celebrate with cigars.
 
Okay enough celebrating; the summit was crowded, it was getting really hot, and I needed Hamlin Peak on the other side of the saddle to complete my list.  Down we went back to the saddle, heading toward Hamlin Peak.
 
Things are flat for a while before the trail swoops up toward the junction of Northwest Basin and Hamlin Ridge trails.  We turned onto Hamlin Ridge trail and walked the gradual up to the peak.
 
We walked around the top for a while looking for the sign.
 
The trail junction sign is also the Hamlin Peak sign and it's so weathered I walked right by the peak looking for the peak!  It wasn't until we checked our map that we realized the junction is the peak.  Hot, sweaty and pretty tired - with a whole lot more hiking to go - we smiled for the camera.
 
Feeling a bit dizzy from the heat but very upbeat (really, how lucky were we to have this kind of weather?!), we started down the Hamlin Ridge trail.
 
Ridge trail.  My hiking companions explained later that for them, the term "ridge trail" conjures up visions of a more moderate trail (like Franconia Ridge trail).  Not in this case.  Like all things Katahdin, this ridge trail takes things up a notch.
 
The dragon's back that is the Hamlin Ridge trail (Lindsley's photo).
 
This trail reminds me of the Castellated Ridge trail. It reminds me of Lion Head trail.  It does not remind me of Franconia Ridge trail.  There are some exposed spots to get through as well as interesting scrambles  - but, oh the views are beautiful!
  
Whoa. Does the path just drop off up there? (Mark's photo)

For what seemed like hours we negotiated up down and around boulders on this path. The sun was burning my face and shoulders; Rich loaned me his spare t-shirt.  Our energy was spent and our water getting low.

Eventually we found ourselves out of the sun and in the trees - and at the trail junction. 


Just the pertiest sign I ever did see!  .7 miles to the bunkhouse!

Signing in at the hiker register at CP, we weren't surprised to see our friends were still on the trail. The Cathedral trail is more challenging than the Saddle trail and I knew they'd be spending more time enjoying Baxter Peak than we did. 

Back at the bunkhouse we raced to the Outlet and plunged into the ice cold pool as deeply as our skin would allow.

Becky, Sandy, Mark and Joe soon returned from their hike having also descended via the Hamlin Ridge trail.  We compared experiences.



Our friends were about an hour behind us on Hamlin Ridge (Mark's photo). 

That night, caught up in the post-Katahdin euphoria, we celebrated by the pond drinking wine, taking photos and exaggerating our adventures (well, maybe I was the only one exaggerating!).  The ranger was nearby, binoculars in place keeping tabs on a woman still on the Tablelands, allegedly without water. He kept tabs on who was still up there as the evening approached.  From the pond we could see headlamps moving around and down from the top of the cirque, hikers finding their way in the dark. BSP's policy on hiker whereabouts is reassuring to me. The park has had their share of unprepared hikers this year.
 
The next morning we packed our gear and hiked back to our cars.  It was hot and yes, the trip down seemed just as long as the trip up even though we descended with lighter packs.
 
Back at the parking lot and in our air conditioned cars we headed to Millinocket to stay at Katahdin Cabins. The temp was over 90° when we reached the town and the cabins didn't have air conditioning.  We wound up leaving our cabin and booking a room in the air conditioned Katahdin Inn and Suites.  Lindsley stayed at the AT hostel.  Not much for accommodations in Millinocket (not a lot for restaurants either). 
  
We reserved these cabins (Mark's photo).

Katahdin forces hikers to "take it up a notch" with its remote setting and challenging trails. The group was in good physical condition for this hike.  Prior to the trip each of us participated in a "training" schedule that included the Baldfaces, Mt. Hight, and Mts. Sugarloaf, Spaulding and Abraham. 

Logistics make it tough to plan this trip in advance but it is definitely worth the extra effort to execute a fabulous three days in Baxter Park.  That written, weather is EVERYTHING (see above - re: praying to Pamola). 

*We cancelled our Roaring Brook stay early on Friday, forfeiting $55 but allowing BSP to resell our bunk spaces.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

#65 Mt. Abraham, Maine July 5, 2013

Mt Abraham (4050’) and Lone Mountain (3,280') via Barnjum Road, and Appalachian (AT) and Abraham Side Trails, July 5, 2013.

Mileage:  11 miles (RT)

Elevation gain:  3,000'ish

Trailhead: This hike begins at the rock barriers off Barnjum Road  - actually two sets of boulders with a ditch between (shown below). 

Barnjum Road is located off of East Madrid Road in Phillips, Maine. Take Route 142 south to Phillips, go right on E. Madrid Road and right on Barnjum Road.  Stay on this road. Avoid a logging road that forks left uphill (at about 2.2 miles).  Turn left shortly thereafter (do not turn right onto the road with the blue and yellow ATV sign).  Drive over a sketchy looking bridge at about mile 2.3.   Stay on the main road past the two forks (bear left  at 2.8 and bear right at 3.2).  At mile 4 the road veers to the right. At that curve you will see the rock barriers on the left. Park there, hop over the two rock barriers and head down the old road.
 
Lesson learned:  What a difference a day makes!

Roads created by the logging industry provide options for hikers.  Trips that were once long and arduous (and involving a bushwhack) are now more moderate thanks to the many wide swaths cut into the north country.  Several peaks on the lists I'm working on are accessible via logging roads or clear cut areas (Redington, Peak Above the Nubble, the Crockers to name a few).  I recommend purchasing The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer by DeLorme; it will assist you with your logging road adventures.

Hiked with Rich, Norm, Sandy, Joe, Barb and Charlie today.  Charlie's lived in Maine many years, knows the area and has offered to be our guide.  The traditional routes to Mt. Abraham are 1) via the Fire Warden trail, or 2) via the AT (southbound where it crosses the Caribou Valley Road -see my Redington report - or northbound coming up from Saddleback Mountain).  Our route intercepts the AT via an old logging road (Barnjum Road)- a third option.  DeLorme shows it clearly, and Charlie's done it before.

This rock barrier is very obvious - you won't miss it!

We arrived at the rock barriers around 8:30 and started down the logging road.   At about 1.1 miles in we came to a very washed out bridge over Rapid Stream.  The AT crosses just before this bridge, which is a good thing because half of the bridge is missing!  (The road beyond the bridge continues on to Caribou Pond, which is just off of Caribou Valley Road.)

Bridge is washed out - road continues to Caribou Pond.


AT southbound.


AT northbound - we went this-a-way.
Bog bridges over the muddy parts in the beginning.

Found this on a bog bridge. AT thru-hiker humor?

We hopped into the woods on to a damp trail that hugs a very rapidly moving Rapid Stream for about a quarter mile. The trail takes us up moderately at first but steepens and our "second day" legs were feeling it, our heel blisters sore. 

But WAIT!  This will not be a whiny sourpuss repeat performance of the previous day's hike to Mt. Spaulding.  While still a hot day (high 80s), today seemed a bit less humid. We were armed with ample water this time and knew most of our hike would be in the cooler woods under tree cover. Read on.....

Moose droppings were everywhere and we were hoping for a siting. The morning sun shone through still maturing leaves, creating a honey glow. The trail got steeper still until we hit Lone Mountain, a 3,000 footer in the woods. 





Rich took this photo of us on Lone Mountain.

On the Spaulding/Sugarloaf hike the day before Charlie described the trail between the Sugarloaf and Spaulding side trails as flat. This was not so, which prompted a discussion about hiker amnesia.  After yesterday's chiding he was cautious today lest he be called out on it again, and checked the map before talking about this trail. 

It's quite possible I may be suffering from a bit of hiker amnesia right now writing that this trail is delightful, a few ups and downs (small ones) and before we knew it we arrived at the side trail junction!  If you check Appalachian Trail Map #6, you'll note the profile for this stretch of the AT has the bulk of the steepness occurring just prior to Lone Mountain. Perhaps the moose poop and the honey glow put me in a euphoric state - no matter. 

I'm telling you it is a SWEET section of the AT!

At 1.1 mile from Lone Mountain (oh wait, it's on the sign below) we reached the trail junction for Abraham Side trail.  We took a short break (bugs were heavy at the junction) and headed up the side trail.

6.3 miles is why we didn't choose to bag this peak from the CVR.

The Abraham side trail very much resembles the rest of the trail until the woods open up a bit.  A register is located just before the trail breaks out of the trees altogether. 


Barb signing us in at the register.

The trail continues on to a steep section with lovely views (and the start of exposure to weather).  We proceeded up and onto a talus field. 



We'd heard about the talus field and knew we were almost there!

Looking back at the talus field.

Looking up (we're almost at the top right?) we could see the remains of the fire tower that marks the summit quite a ways in the distance.  I saw shoulders droop and heard groans.  We were hot and tired and thought we were much closer.  And the remaining trail to the summit required rock hopping up the cone; (not a fan of rock hopping).


The top is waaaay over that way!  Ouch!

But, like all markers in the distance, it really is much closer than it looks. The summit cone resembles the northern Presidentials in our native New Hampshire - with a difference. These rugged alpine rocks are more accommodating; seemingly placed right side up providing a hospitable path to the summit.   We slowed our pace and eased our way to the summit.





What happened to the tower cabin? Guess it was old and fell down.


The weather was fabulous and bugs at a minimum up top so we had lunch and explored the area. There is a shelter near the fire tower, perhaps to retreat from bad weather.


Inside the shelter.  Is there a body in that trash bag? I wasn't about to find out.

Beyond the summit is a large cairn and leaving nothing to chance (what if that's the actual summit over there?) we headed over there.

Norm chilling at the cairn; was it a structure at one time?

The views from the summit are spectacular.  We took a bunch of photos, packed up and headed back down.
 


The group picking through the rocks.

  
Down we went over the rocks, the talus field, back to the junction and back over Lone Mountain.  We enjoyed the wildflowers on the logging road, the last leg of our hike (okay maybe I was the only one who enjoyed the wildflowers; the others had visions of ice cold drinks occupying their thoughts).




Heading back down Barnjum Road to a cold beer.


This is a pleasant route to Mt. Abraham and I enjoyed it so much, I'd hike this route again.  Thanks for leading this hike, Charlie.  Open peaks nestled in spectacular settings are often enjoyed more than once!