Thursday, September 11, 2014

Maine's Beautiful Rough Terrain

Heading out from Rangeley after a nice layover on Wed 9/03, I started the last section of tough mountainous terrain leading from Saddleback through the Bigelows. Even when the profile maps look like elevation is not an issue, rarely is the AT in Maine smooth sailing. In the case of the four mountains--Saddleback, Spaulding, Crocker, and Bigelow--there are still some elevation changes close to 3000' and rocky climbs making it all the more challenging.

Saddleback is actually a small range including several peaks: Saddleback, the Horn, and Saddleback Junior. Climbing over the range took me above treeline again and afforded some great views back to Rangeley Lake, but it was very blustery.

Peak of Saddleback looking west
Life above treeline

Fortunately I was feeling well and rested and determined to get through this section so I pushed on the next day over Spaulding and Crocker. Easier said than done. The Trail winds past Sugarloaf (the ski resort) and steeply down to the Carrabasset River. More scary stuff. The the climb back up the other side to Crocker Mt. is equally rough. Even though I made it I think it was my toughest day: I did about 6500' of climbing and 9000' of total elevation change. Ooof!
The next day I made a quick dash into Stratton for breakfast and resupply then started the ascent into the Bigelow Range, the last of the 4000-footers until Katahdin. Along the 2-mile approach trail I passed the official sign for the 2000 mile mark on the AT, a big milestone indeed.
Not very wisely, I started the 2000' climb up right around noon on the hottest day of the year in Maine with temps around 85 degrees. I've never sweated so much in my life and had to stop twice due to overheating but fortunately water is abundant in Maine, both for drinking and swimming. I had to dunk in Horns Pond to cool down before my final climbs over The Horn and Bigelow West Peak.

As difficult as many of the climbs above treeline are, I have to admit that the trail to Bigelow West was beautiful. a nice ridge walk without too much chop. And the peak itself is spectacular--a rocky outcrop with full 360 views. I camped in the saddle between West Peak and Avery Peak at the Avery campsite but it was not very restful with threats of bad weather and high winds, camping at 3800'.

The climb down from Avery Peak is a very steep 2000' down that further pounded my already achy knees. After a tedious run down Little Bigelow the reward was some awesome Trail Magic. Some members of the M.A.T.C. has set up a weekend camp at Flagstaff Lake with a huge spread including burgers (veggie burgers even), cold drinks, snacks etc. Quite the reward for making it through 45 miles of abuse.


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