Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hiking Mt Spaulding and Sugarloaf, Maine: New England 4,000 Footers

Hiking Mt Spaulding is an opportunity to bag a 4,000-footer but also hike an especially historic trail. Just between the summits is a boulder with a small monument marking the final completed section of the 2,184-mile Appalachian Trail. 
The final section of the Appalachian Trail, between Mt Spaulding and Sugarloaf
My final day spent in the Rangeley-Carabassett Valley area was spent hiking Mt Spaulding, a "just-barely" 4,000-footer in Western Maine. I really didn't know how historic this part of the trail was until I saw advertisements for a celebration of the Appalachian Trail's 75th birthday. What a wonderful way to celebrate- hike the final leg which created a 2,000+ mile long trail! I was excited with this coincidence.

I decided my last day would be a nicer, more relaxed day so I took the ski-resort route up to the summit of Sugarloaf and then on to Spaulding. I'd been up here on a late fall hike and it was much different with all the leaves gone but no snow. The summit of Sugarloaf is developed but nevertheless has incredible views. At this time of year you might be sharing the view with a dichotomous crowd of weather-worn thru-hikers and families with small children! 
Overlooking the spectacularly rugged Bigelow Range
Its about a 6-mile round trip from the summit of Sugarloaf to Mt Spaulding and is relatively tame by AT standards. The trail stays mostly on the ridgeline between the two and offers some nice little windows of views. Just about halfway between the two lies the monument to the workers who completed the trail. Its not much of a monument but then again, the natural environment is more beautiful than anything that could be build here! I thought it was perfectly appropriate.
Just a mossy boulder with a small description!
As I trudged up the trail to Mt Spaulding from this spot, I thought what a crazy idea it must have been to invent a 2,000-mile trail that was built to see the wild country rather than as a means of transportation. I don't know my trail history well, but I imagine this was the first time such a trail of the AT's size was ever made. Its spawned many other long distance trails from Florida to California so I was feeling very grateful. Just like the National Park Service, it was a unique idea and a wonderful contribution to the people from this country.
Summit of Sugarloaf
Looking towards the Quebec border
The 4,009ft summit of Mt Spaulding was nothing special, just a few open vistas among the thick forest but I was content. Little areas of wonder and historical significance always seem to pop up with this quest to hike all the 4,000-footers. I think that's the real reason why the 4,000-footer list has any significance. Otherwise its just an arbitrary list of slightly taller mounds. 

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Hiking Saddleback Mountain and the Horn, Rangeley, Maine: New England 4,000 Footers

A classic Maine adventure on the Appalachian Trail which climbs Maine's 8th highest peak. Saddleback Mountain also has an extensive alpine zone with views all the way to Katahdin and Mt Washington.
Saddleback Mountain, Maine
The second stop on my little Western Maine road trip was Saddleback Mountain! I stayed the night in Rangeley and ate at a nice little bar with a bunch of Appalachian Trail hikers. Rangeley has been profoundly shaped by the AT. In fact, nearly everyone there was either hiking the trail or on a multi-day fishing trip. It seemed like Alaska.

The trailhead for Saddleback Mountain is near the height of the land on Route 4 and is well marked. From here, I crossed the road and followed the Appalachian Trail for a relatively gentle first 1.4 miles.

I soon came upon Piazza Rock campsite which was not far from the actual rock. Piazza Rock was not to be missed- this massive outcropping looked somewhat like a turret and provided enough of an overhang to shelter an entire troop of campers. You can also climb to the top of it and look over the precipitous overhang. It was a nice little break in the action along the steep trail to Saddleback.

Continuing onward from Piazza Rock, the trail stays pretty flat for a while until it begins its steep ascent to Eddy Pond. There were a few picturesque lakes which made the brutal ascent worthwhile and Eddy Pond was absolutely stunning. Just a small, clear blue alpine lake reminding northbound AT hikers that the most beautiful section is coming up. It seemed like I was the only person out on a day hike- I saw several Southbound AT hikers from all across the country. Hiking this trail is always such a social affair!
Piazza Rock, Rangeley, ME
Eddy Pond
Eddy Pond is a great place for lunch or a snack before heading up the murderous trail up Saddleback. This trail is pretty brutal but eventually it gets above treeline and has epic views. Don't assume you're close to the summit though! There are a half dozen false-summits before the true one. Some folks who chose to hike from the ski resort on the mountain will also start to crowd the trail. Nevertheless the summit is every bit as wonderful as Katahdin with the Rangeley lakes below!

From here you can head back down the way you came or go on to the Horn which is a 500ft nubble that qualifies as one of Maine's fourteen 4,000-footers. Most people who hike the Horn are, of course, trying to complete all the 4,000-footers but the views from the top make it a worthy destination in its own right. The annoying descent and re-ascent of the Horn trail may discourage some, but it is a full 1.5 miles of uninterrupted vistas which rival those of the Presidential Traverse. I'd recommend it whether or not you care about 4,000-footers.
Just above Treeline on Saddleback
Trail from Saddleback to the Horn
Overlooking the Rangeley Lakes on the AT
The total distance is just over 14 miles and well worth the distance and elevation gain. Its impressively large alpine zone and prominence offer one of the best vistas in Maine. I probably say that about everything I climb these days but this was outstanding. Can't wait to do this again in the winter.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hiking Mt Blue State Park, Maine: New England 50 Finest

Standing at the very edge of the Appalachian Mountains, Mt Blue is a classic hike which offers great views of the Northern mountains and central Maine. 
Sunset and Thundershowers on Mt Blue
Its been too long hasn't it? Summer is a prime time for adventure and blogging and I've had much more of the former. This summer has been full of both rock climbing and university work which has left few opportunities for writing. While rock climbing is certainly has outdoor blog-worthy material, I didn't feel like I could contribute much to the already large amount of information available on routes in New Hampshire. However I recently spent 3 days drifting around the lovely town of Rangeley and the lakes which has been an endless source of relaxation and interesting hikes!

First up, hiking the Mt Blue of Mt Blue State Park!

Mt Blue Rd
After finishing yet another grueling semester of grad school, I quickly hit the road bound for Rangeley. Mt Blue State Park is on the way and includes a fantastic mountain which also happens to be on the New England's 50 Finest Mountains List. I particularly enjoy climbing mountains on this list because they are, by definition, the most prominent mountains (tallest in relation to the surrounding terrain) of New England which often means they sport the best views. Mt Blue would not disappoint.

Arriving in the tiny town of Weld, Maine, I drove right into the state park and up the windy, one-lane road which takes you to the trailhead. Its not rough by 4-wheel drive standards but it might keep you on edge if you're not used to dirt roads. Thinking that this road might have been too much for me, I arrived at the top to see both a Prius and a school-bus parked neatly at the top.... apparently I'm a wimp!

Hiking in Maine always feels like hiking in a rainforest
Its not a long hike to the top of Mt Blue- 1.6 miles to the summit from the parking lot. It is a very steep hike though. At the same time, it was a pleasant hike through the Maine woods which are lush and remind me of a rainforest. There were no views on the way up but the summit had three sweeping views of the Appalachians. This summit had to be one of my favorite views of all the mountains I've climbed in Maine. 
Summit Views on Mt Blue
More views
The fire tower at the top is also open which allows for more epic pictures and places to contemplate the meaning of life. I was not expecting Mt Blue to be anything special but I found it to be surprisingly easy and enjoyable. I would come back in a heartbeat!

I came down from the mountain just in time for a thunderstorm and headed out to Rangeley. Next stop, Saddleback Mountain and the Horn!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!