Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hiking Mt Isolation via Glen Boulder Trail: New Hampshire 4,000 Footers

Mt Isolation is another very difficult hike in the White Mountains that is often only done to complete the famed Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain 4,000-Footers List. On the particular day I did it, there happened to be a Nor-Easter... just to make sure the misery was complete.
Clouds over the Glen Boulder Trail on my way up Mt Isolation
Mt Isolation.... sounds like a great hike huh? Another day, another 4,000-footer under my boots. Of course, there are no easy 4,000-footers. There are only hard ones and harder ones. Isolation falls into the latter category. The one day I had to hike Mt Isolation also happened to be the day a furious Nor-Easter rolled through as if to make the day more difficult.

For the record, although the hike of Mt Isolation is long from any direction, many will say that this is one of the better hikes in the White Mountains. I can see their point too- it is a great summit in a great wilderness and unlike the clogged trails of Mt Washington and Moosilauke, you may not see a soul for the whole day. On a clear day, there are even some great views! This wasn't the day...

So you want to hike Isolation eh? Well pick your poison. There's the 14.5 mile Rocky Branch trail which plows through the wilderness, ascending to 3,100ft before dropping back down to 2,800ft with an notoriously dangerous river crossing before ascending back up to 4,003ft. That route is somewhat less direct but involves less elevation and is one of the most frequently used trail up Isolation. The second option is what I did- ascending up to 5,200ft on the Glen Boulder Trail before dropping to 3,800ft and up to the summit once again. Total distance is about 12 miles but, as you can see, its a series of grueling ascents and descents. There's also the 17.2 mile (roundtrip) ascent through the valley of the dry river which has been reportedly wrecked by Hurricane Irene. 

I should mention that the Glen Boulder approach up Mt Isolation does have some stupendous views on clear, sunny days and even with the storm I did catch some-
View from the Glen Boulder
Starting at the Glen Ellis Falls Picnic Area, the trail immediately ascends 1.6 miles up to the Glen Boulder. This is somewhat of a famous sight with a massive, precariously perched boulder with sweeping views of Crawford Notch and the Wildcat Mountains. Its a great hike in its own right. The trail enters somewhat of an alpine zone at this point where it zig-zags around bare granite and stunted pines. I found this to be enjoyable; the alpine zones of the Whites are a rare and beautiful environment. Even the rain, wind and fog couldn't conceal it.

Wrapping around the Gulf of Slides, the trail continues another 1.6 miles to eventually top out at a point 400 vertical feet below Boott Spur. Perhaps on a better day I would have liked to have climbed up to the spur and enjoyed the view of Tuckerman Ravine. However this was very exposed and I feared thunderstorms so I quickly turned down the Davis Path and made way towards Isolation.
Classic alpine zone trails in the White Mountains
The trail stays above treeline for a while then dips below as you lose more and more elevation. In 1.6 miles you come to the junction of the "Isolation Trail" which can be confusing because this does not ascend to the summit! If you're coming south on the Davis Trail as I did, bear LEFT! Bearing right will drop you down into the Valley of the Dry River and you'll be far from the summit. I imagine that even if you did make this mistake, you would realize your error because this trail is maintained and probably destroyed from Hurricane Irene and Sandy. The trail continues 0.3 miles to the junction of the east branch of the Isolation Trail. Stay RIGHT this time and in another 1.0 mile, you're at the summit of Isolation!

The summit is mercifully clear and has views. Too bad for me, the fog was too thick to see anything except a few stunted pine trees. Oh well... here are some more views from the way back down (AND UP!).
Even in a Nor-easter the White Mountains are gorgeous

Looking Down into Pinkham Notch 
The seemingly impossible Glen Boulder. I wouldn't want to camp on the downhill side of that rock!
Well goodness, I only have a few peaks left on the pursuit of all the 4,000-footers! I've done all of them in Maine and Vermont and just have a handful of the White Mountains left! 

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Hiking Crocker Mountain and South Crocker: Maine 4,000 Footers

Mt Crocker and South Crocker were the last of the Maine 4kers that were on my list. The glacial cirque along with the views of Sugarloaf and the Bigelows made for a nice last hike of the summer.
View from the Crocker Trail on the Appalachian Trail
After climbing Mt Redington, Sugarloaf, Spaulding and Abraham, it was time to round out this weekend with a hike of the Crocker Range. This was relatively tame compared to the other hikes but it was rigorous in it's own right. (Writing about this in November, its clear this post is long overdue). This would have been my last hike of the Summer 2013 season which was a great way to end. I started hiking the Maine 4kers a long time ago when I first climbed Katahdin. When I moved to Maine in 2011, the first thing I did was hike Old Speck. It was a nice touch to be finally finishing this goal, especially towards the end of my graduate school program.

The Crocker Range is crossed by the Appalachian Trail and there are two ways to accomplish this range. One can either take the more difficult and longer route which starts from Route 16/27 and heads south (out and back, 12.4 miles total) or one can drive 5 miles up the Caribou Valley road, walk to the Appalachian Trail junction and head west (out and back, 6.2 miles total). I went with the lesser of the two since I was still sore from the Mt Redington and Sugarloaf, Spaulding, Abraham hikes.

Mt Crocker from the Appalachian Trail
This was a pretty straightforward hike, not nearly like the confusing path that leads up Mt Redington. As such I was able to let my mind drift as I steadily climbed up the eastern flank of South Crocker. It is kind of silly to want to hike all the 4,000-footers in New England but the whimsical nature of it makes it a fun excuse to travel all around the mountains. The views were always great too.

The Crocker Range doesn't quite have the views like the nearby Sugarloaf and Mt Abraham however there were little clear pockets here and there which showcased the large glacial cirque of the range. Off in the distance, puffy clouds floated over the Bigelow Range, another epic adventure. It was noteworthy that at one point or another I could see every 4,000-footer in the state save for the Katahdin Peaks and Mt Abraham. 

Looking towards the Rangeley Lakes Area
A nice walk through the woods!
It was about 2.1 miles to hike to the summit of South Crocker from the Appalachian Trail junction on Caribou Valley Road. There was a little side trail which lead to a smaller viewpoint. The trail continues on and drops about 300-400ft before ascending to the summit of Crocker Mountain which is the high point of the range. There are no views to speak of at the summit but if you search around, there are some clearings with views to the Rangeley Lakes area. 

Its a short but steep out-and-back hike. I turned around and hiked the way I came. While it would have been nice to have some jubilee and celebration back at the trailhead, there was nobody around to congratulate me on the accomplishment of hiking all 14 of Maine's 4kers... oh well!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Mt Redington: Guide to Maine's Infamous 4,000-footer Bushwack

Mt Redington falls into the same category as Owl's Head and Mt Isolation as far as 4,000 footers in New England go: its difficult to get to, there are hundreds of horror stories and most people only do it because its a 4,000-footer. However, it is actually and unexpectedly delightful hike with abundant wildlife and relatively straightforward directions.
The road to Mt Redington, Maine
Well I better just bite the bullet and do it. I've climbed almost all the 4kers in Maine and New Hampshire with a few frustrating stragglers. I'll freely admit that the thought of hiking Mt Redington was not exactly appealing at first and that I was just doing it to say "I've hiked all the 4,000-footers". For those who are not from New England, the 4,000-footers are all the tallest mountains in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine that we dirtbag hikers hike purely for bragging rights. There's 67 of them and while most are great adventures, there are a few notable summits that are notoriously difficult and are often saved for last... and not because they're the best.

Here's a general guide for hiking Mt Redington-

View Mt Redington, Maine Hiking Map in a larger map

Mt Redington is located just west of Sugarloaf and south of the Crocker Range. Occasionally some masochistic hikers like to try and bushwack from South Crocker to Redington but I've been told that is one of the fiercest bushwacks in New England. The route I describe is based mostly on abandoned logging roads and a few herd paths. Its actually a delightful hike.

The parking lot for Redington, the Crockers and the western approach up Sugarloaf is located about 5 miles up Caribou Valley Road. This road was more-or-less doable in a low-clearance vehicle. On the map it appears as if you can drive all the way to the Appalachian Trail crossing but the road is barricaded past the only parking lot on the road. From here, its either by foot or by bike. Please note that by strictest Appalachian Mountain Club standards, you may not use anything motorized or a bike to hike Redington or any other 4,000-footers. You would be surprised how seriously this rule is taken by us hardcore AMC hikers...

Most of the hike is along old logging roads
This website has an excellent GPS guide to Redington. The hike starts by passing the car gate on Caribou Valley Road. Hiking 0.5 miles further will bring you to the Appalachian Trail junction which is surprisingly easy to miss but marked nonetheless. In another 1.1 miles is the first major fork, bear left. Going to the right will lead you up a dead-end hill. The road become more-or-less of an ATV road at this point and it ends in another 1.5 miles. At this point, you make a very obvious right turn to bring Redington in full view. (This all makes sense if you use the map above or bring your Maine Gazetteer Map).

Its just under a mile to the next turn off and this is probably the most gorgeous part of the hike. I was calling it "The Valley of Wildlife". Most other trip reports I've read on Redington also mention seeing abundant wildlife around this area and the pines open up for uninhibited views. It really makes the hike worthwhile!
"Wildlife Valley"
As you hike across the Valley, another obvious fork in the road appears and you turn right to finally start gaining some significant elevation. This goes on for about 0.6 miles and a few cairns mark the turn-off for the Redington herd path. At the time of the hike, there was even an arrow made of wood marking the way. Clearly this is becoming an actual hike and not a bushwack.

In another 0.3 miles there is another cairn which marks the path up to the summit. It is pretty well marked as of August 2013. As you can see on the map above, there appear to be several different smaller paths to get to the summit. The reports differ at this point but it is actually pretty clear when you're out there. Several cairns and orange taped trees make the way clear. At no point was I lost or confused although don't expect anything but a herd path. It would be a bit difficult to explain online, at this point, you really have to just follow the cairns and have a good GPS or compass and map. 

Clearly marked path to Redington
The "official" route up Redington
Eventually the trail pops up on the bare summit and you're there! The summit has been cleared of trees but there is not much of a view. The Crockers are somewhat clear from the summit but its not like the view from Sugarloaf or Abraham. After a bit of searching, I was able to find the famous canister with the incorrect elevation.
Not a great view, but a view nonetheless!
It can be surprisingly difficult to find the place you popped out of on the summit, so keep mental notes of where you came from or make a carin. Once I was back on the herd path, I was able to get down without trouble. I wandered back through the valley of wildlife and took my time. Redington turned out to be a wonderful hike. In fact, I might actually do that one again.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mt Abraham, Sugarloaf and Spaulding Hike: Maine 4,000 Footers

Mt Abraham, Spaulding and Sugarloaf are the backbone of Maine 4,000-footers and are three of the most spectacular summits in the state. Mt Abraham in particular has the largest alpine area outside of Katahdin. 
Mt Abraham's extensive, alpine summit
I confess that I've been a little backlogged in writing about my summer and fall adventures. I was busy with writing about my Maine Island Trail trip and haven't written about all the other wonderful places I traveled in New England. On this particular three day kick, I set out to climb Sugarloaf, Spaulding, Abraham, the Crockers and Redington which all went quite smoothly.

I actually climbing Mt Spaulding last year at about this time but I did not follow the AMC's strict code for 4,000-footer hiking by taking the ski lift. Oh well, I would be back. Anyways, the weather was wonderful and I was feeling great so I hiked from the Sugarloaf resort onward. Here's the map:

View Hiking Sugarloaf, Spaulding and Mt Abraham in a larger map

There is another trail which climbs Mt Abraham from the southeast and is well marked but difficult to get to. The roads out to the trailhead are rough and unmarked and I've read that the bridges are washed out. Its longer to hike Abraham from Sugarloaf but the trail is better.

Leaving from the Sugarloaf parking lot, its a slog up the trails to the summit of Sugarloaf. While the views are incredible, it's just not the same to be hiking up ski trails. There's really nothing much to it- just keep hiking up some ski trail until you can't climb any higher. I've actually climbed Sugarloaf so many times that I've become a little numb to its grandeur. 
Looking off towards Mt Abraham from Sugarloaf
From the summit of Sugarloaf, you have to poke around for the side trail which descends to the Appalachian Trail. This is about a 0.6 mile trail which descends rapidly. At the AT junction, head left to make your way to Spaulding. Its a hilly trail which cuts along the ridgeline connecting the two summits. Its not too steep and not too far to Spaulding, just about 2.2 miles. It is a particularly gorgeous section as it meanders through alpine forests and precipitous cliffs. There is certainly enough to see to keep your mind off of the up and downs. Mt Spaulding itself is not much more than a little elevated pyramid on the backbone of Sugarloaf but the view is nice. 

From here, it is about 3.7 miles further to the summit of Abraham. There is a small lean-to which could serve as an overnight site for either tents or just a sleeping bag. The lean-to was abuzz with activity from thru-hikers and weekenders. It was a nice place to have a little siesta. 
The bare summit of Mt Abraham, Maine
Great view of Subarloaf and Mt Spaulding, Maine
There's a pretty clear turn-off trail for Mt Abraham about a mile past the Spaudling Lean-To. From here, is about another 1.8 miles to the summit of Mt Abraham. The trail crosses through deep woods before coming out on the bare and massive summit. Its quite dicey clambering up the summit because its not a trail but rather a route up basketball sized rocks. Its a bit of an ordeal but the view from Abraham is phenomenal.

Mt Abraham really is something special. Although I was on the summit proper, the rest of the mountain was in view and I wished I had planned on more time to hike the 2-3 miles of bare ridgeline. It reminded me much of Katahdin except that I was the only person around. My camera had no time to rest-
Wish I could have hiked the whole ridgeline...
The Appalachians seem to go on forever
Appalachian Sunset
I hiked back the same way I came which was arduous but I enjoyed sunset on Spaulding and saw billions of stars on Sugarloaf. I wasn't even bummed about coming back so late!

Well there goes a few more 4,000-footers on the list which never disappoints. Tomorrow I would be attempting the infamous Mt Redington followed by a bid for both Crockers.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Maine's Best Drive: "The Airline", State Road 9

"The Airline" is the rugged stretch of highway that runs from Bangor to Calias, Maine. Of all my Maine travels, it is probably my favorite drive. There are ample opportunities for short hikes and great pictures.
Near the peak of Bald Mountain, Hancock County, Maine
After kayaking almost the entire coast of Maine and spending a bunch of time up in Eastport/Lubec and Machias, I was about ready to head home and sleep in my own bed for a while. Ahead of me was my absolute favorite drive in Maine- "The Airline" or the stretch of Maine State Route 9 from Bangor to Calias which heads deep into the heart of rural Washington County. (I'll be damned, it even made its way into an article in Men's Journal) The first time I drove this road was when I went up to New Brunswick for a kayak trip. I was on a tight schedule at the time but I couldn't wait to return and take the highway at a more leisurely pace. This would be my opportunity. With my Maine Gazetteer riding shotgun and not even a hint of cell phone reception, I took as much time as I could to drive back from Machias.

Here's somewhat of a rough idea of the route I took from Machias to Bucksport:

Starting in Machias, I took the connector road back up to Route 9. I would recommend at least having a half tank of gas before driving through rural Washington and Hancock counties. Its not as if there are no services, but they are few and far between! I think there is one gas station/rest stop in about 90 miles. 

Right where route 9 hits Wesley, Maine, the road open up and the road crosses what seems to be a bare mesa in an ocean of pines. Its quite a change in scenery, especially if you've been driving up from Bangor. Its one of the only panoramic views on the entire route to Canada. There are plenty of opportunities to just pull over and take pictures. Cloudless skies and great swaths of evergreens made me stop for an hour-
Route 9 is usually as empty as a back-road
Washington County, Maine
The Maine Gazetteer is probably one of the best investments that any Maine traveler can make. Whenever I'm on these types of trips, I always look up the side trips and adventures that are in the Gazetteer. All of these hikes were listed and I wasn't disappointed. Lead Mountain was my first hike and it was one of the higher mountains in the entire region (Page 24, A-5). The turnoff is not exactly marked but it is just east of the intersection of Route 193 and Route 9. There is a trailhead and a forest service station but it is not staffed. I decided to park in the lot right off the freeway but I discovered that you can drive all the way to the trailhead. The road to the actual trailhead is just past the forest service station and to the left.

The hike is pleasant enough although mostly wooded. Anyone looking for sweeping summit views would probably want to skip this one but as for me, it was a nice walk in the woods. Total round-trip distance is roughly 5 miles. There are some directional views along the way.
Lead Mountain Trail, Maine
Next was Little Peaked and Peaked Mountain which provided those sweeping summit views I was looking for. These are located in the hills just due east of Bangor and there are even a few neighborhoods which are somewhat strange in an otherwise vast stretch of wilderness. The trailhead was located in a little neighborhood which had grown off of fire access roads. The trailhead is clearly marked and on the map above (Gazetteer Page 24, B-1). The trail itself is very straightforward and easy to follow. Its about 2 miles round trip and once it gets towards the top, its a walk along bare granite cliffs. Its a nice, short hike and only a half an hour from Bangor-
View of Peaked Mountain from Little Peaked Mountain
Bare, granite slabs of Little Peaked Mountain
The View!
At this point, Route 9 heads into Bangor and away from the coast. The entire route actually heads on down through Central and Southern Maine and all the way though New Hampshire and Vermont. However I wanted to take the coastal route back I turned south on Route 46 and on to Bald Mountain.

There are perhaps three dozen "Bald Mountains" in Maine and this one happens to be in Dedham, Maine (Gazetteer Page 23, D-4). It used to be a ski resort apparently and this hike had the best views of the bunch. It was almost sunset when I was walking up the slope and by the time I hit the top, I could see for 50 miles. The mountains of Acadia National Park were clearly visible to the southeast as were the Appalachian Mountains to the north. Dozens of small lakes and ponds were also in view- this was one of my favorite hikes on the coast. Again, this was just about 2 miles total and just due south of Bangor. 
View from Bald Mountain, Dedham, Maine
Bald Mountain, Maine
Turning south again, I made it back to the head of Penobscot Bay and the town of Bucksport. The newly famous Penobscot Narrows Bridge was lit up and striking. I suppose its sort of Maine's Golden Gate Bridge. One of these days I'll take the elevator to the top of the bridge and visit the Penobscot Narrows Observatory. 

It was an uneventful drive back from here. I crossed by Camden, Boothbay and Brunswick thinking about my recent kayak trip and eventually landed back in Portland. Although Route 9 hadn't been the focus of my entire coastal trip, it sure ended up being a nice "cherry on top". If I lived in Bangor, I'm sure I would travel this way more often.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!