Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Climbing Old Speck and Mt Baldpate in a Day, Grafton Notch State Park, Maine

"...just can't wait to get on the road again"
Mt Baldpate from Old Speck
I am proud of myself- I lasted a full 2 weeks staying in one place. That has to be a record for me. Somehow, I have asphalt running through my veins and I just couldn't resist taking a long study break and bagging a couple summits on my New England list. Memorial Day is a perfect day for enjoying out great outdoors. Its just one wonderful part of the long list of American treasures which have been preserved by servicemen and women. I can't think of a better way to celebrate freedom!

I love living in Gorham, Maine. I'm only an hour away from the White Mountains and only 2 hours away from Grafton Notch State Park. This state park preserves the mountain pass that separates two of Maine's most prominent mountains. This is a geologically fascinating area and its full of waterfalls, rivers and cliffs. The great Appalachian Trail bisects the park and takes the hiker up both Baldpate Mountain and Old Speck. Both mountains are part of the Mahoosuc Range of Maine which is known as one of the more difficult parts of the AT.
Atop Old Speck
I arrived at the trailhead at 930ish and hit the rather empty trail. Right from the start is ascends the flanks of Old Speck and takes you across several stream crossings. I'd recommend wearing some hardcore boots and gators, especially in the spring. The Appalachian Trail was actually the Appalachian River on Memorial Day. It was the first nice day up in the mountains in weeks. I met more than one backpacker who had taken the weekend to enjoy 2 days of awful weather only to end their hike on a gorgeous, 70 degree day!

The trail up Old Speck mountain is about 4 miles, one way and it mostly wanders through the dense forests of Maine. There are a few points where the trail goes through a clearing and the hiker can enjoy views of Baldpate Mountain. But really, its a destination-based trail. The woods are serene, but if you're looking for sweeping views, you'll have to wait until you reach the top!

Fortunantely, some kind souls decided to provide a fire tower at the top of Old Speck which offers a full 360 degree panorama. This is surely one of the most scenic mountains in Maine. From the top, you can see for 50 miles in almost every direction- all the way to Mt Washington! You will also have the satisfaction of knowing that you've climbed Maine's 4th highest mountain and #13 on New England's 50 finest mountains.

After chatting it up with a couple other peak-baggers, I made my way down the trail, river and onward to Baldpate Mountain. Doing them both in a day is a pretty difficult affair as it involves 16 miles of steep hiking and about 5,000ft of elevation gain. I figured this challenge was worthy of a western peakbagger like me! I was able to hit the trail up Baldpate at mid afternoon.
Mt Baldplate from West Baldpate
Baldpate is shorter than Old Speck, but man is that trail steep. The higher you climb, the steeper it gets! There are several sections towards the top that require some hands and feet climbing. The Appalachian Trail is also tough on the ankles and joints; most of it is on smaller rocks and uneven terrain so be prepared! The trail crests at the west summit of Baldpate which is NOT the high point. Its a bit discouraging because you have to descend another couple hundred feet which you quickly regain on the final approach to the true summit. Your struggles will be rewarded though! Baldpate's summit, unlike Old Speck, is completely clear of obstructions! If you climb mountains for the view, I'd fully recommend Baldpate!
View of Old Speck from Baldpate Mountain
It was just about sunset when I started my way down. It wasn't too bad to be hiking in the dusk; the insects calmed down and the trail is easy to follow. Although it was tiring, I was glad to be back out on a trail with mountains to climb. Moving from California to Maine is somewhat of a culture-shock, but at least there are still some challenging mountains to climb!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

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