The second day of our hiking trip in Maine started eerily similar to our first day, with us making a u-turn on a remote dirt road and trying to figure out what to do next. One thing is for certain, hiking in Maine is not quite as simple as hiking in the larger mountain ranges, and getting to the trailheads was far more complicated than the climbing itself. It’s all part of the adventure though, at least as far as Chris and I are concerned and we managed to grab another couple of 4000 footers that day, just not the ones we initially set out to grab.
Our day started a bit later than usual, since we were already staying quite close to all the trailheads we were trying to hike. We hit the road around 8 am or so, only heading a few miles down the road to reach Caribou Pond Road, where we would hike South Crocker, Redington, and Crocker Mountains to add another 3 peaks to our list. To get all 3 mountains would only take us about 8.6 miles of travel, so we figured it should be a fairly easy day for us. Once we found our turn-off, we started travelling down the road to the trailhead, and almost immediately we started seeing signs indicating roadwork that was supposed to commence that week. We had seen online that the first two bridges heading down the Caribou Pond road were dilapidated and in rough condition, and the signs indicated that those bridges would be replaced and that people trying to access the trailheads would do so at their own risk of being blocked in by construction vehicles. Since the construction wasn’t scheduled to start until 2 days later we figured we would be fine to go in and out on a day hike, but once we got to the first bridge we decided to have a look and see how bad the road situation actually was going to be. From my perspective, the wood planks in the road that were passing as bridges had slumped a good bit as the natural processes of stream erosion took place seasonally, and going over the bridge looked like an accident waiting to happen. Without any really good spot to park along the road, I offered the second option of crossing the road and hiking the Bigelow peaks instead, and waiting to come back some other time, once the roadwork had been finished. It was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned, and Chris agreed that that would be the new plan for the day.
After re-grouping and checking out the trail map and directions for the hike, we headed for the Stratton Pond Road to find the trailhead for the Bigelows. This road was actually a bit narrower than the first one we went down, only capable of accommodating one-way traffic at any time. You could really get the feeling driving down any of these access roads (we haven’t gotten to the worst of them yet by the way) that not a lot of people are coming up to the Carabassett Valley for peak-bagging trips, because the infrastructure really couldn’t support the kind of traffic you see in the Adirondacks or the Whites for example. The parking area for the trailhead could probably handle a maximum of 6-8 cars, but luckily there was only one other there, so were able to finally start our day after a slight delay and change in plans.
We made our way down about 0.4 miles down the road to Stratton Pond on foot, and crossed over a nicely made bridge over the outlet of the pond where we started the hike in earnest.
It would be about 4 miles uphill on the Fire Warden’s Trail until we would reach the col between the two Bigelow peaks, Avery and West. From the col it would be just a few tenths in either direction to either summit, which both supposedly had great views of the valley towards the west and of Flagstaff Lake towards the east. The trail started out fairly flat around the lake and then turned towards the summit of Avery Peak at a diagonal, ascending very gradually. The first 2 miles or so of uphill was fairly straightforward, with the exception of a few steep kickers, some blow-down, and a little bit of overgrowth (which was all to be expected anyway). Overall, we felt pretty good going uphill for the first half of the hike, so it seemed like we were in for a very easy day.
We kept ascending steadily until we got to a fork in the path. At this point there was a trail register on a tree that invited hikers to sign in. It wasn’t quite like any trail register I’d seen, it was more or less a spot to take a postcard, give them your information, and put it into a collection slot, instead of just signing your name on a piece of paper like I’m used to seeing.
From there, we signed in and kept going on the path that took the diagonal path up the mountain towards Avery instead of going the long way around to the Bigelow Horn. Starting just after the register section, we could start seeing glimpses of the summit from the trail as we got closer, and Chris kept noting how it looked like the giant slab of Earth in front of us wasn’t really getting any smaller, it was just getting closer. This lead us to believe that maybe, just maybe, our easy hike was about to get hard very quickly. Judging by a map I’d seen of the elevation gains, this didn’t look to be the case, but it turns out I was wrong. The trail soon turned into a series of stone steps, which we seemingly didn’t stop ascending until just below the col. After a difficult climbing day the day before, it was especially tough trying to drag my body up that last steep kicker, but we managed our way up one step at a time.
Before getting to the Appalachian Trail juncture, we started seeing a few campsites popping up just off the trail, at a decently high altitude, which was strange to see, but also indicative that our mad final ascent was about to level off just a bit. Soon enough after passing the campsites, we arrived at the end of the Fire Warden’s Trail as we’d reached the ridge line and the Appalachian Trail.
The Appalachian Trail section was nicely marked with some maps and commemorative plaques, so we took a few minutes at the junction just to look around and take in a few of the sights and catch our breath. We did notice there was a caretaker’s hut located right up on the ridge line, which was not something we were used to seeing near any of the summit’s we usually hike. We thought about checking out the hut, but decided to just keep on walking towards the summit. It was sort of a coin flip as to which peak to climb first, but it kind of felt like our momentum was taking us up to Avery the whole way up, so it felt fitting to get up to that peak first. The climb over from the col is not particularly steep, but it is sort of a treacherous boulder hop along the ridge line. It was a little bit reminiscent of the kind of terrain you see at Avalanche Lake in the Adirondacks, except the lake is down a massive cliff instead of right next to you. On this section of trail, it’s particularly advisable to watch your step, but it’s not terribly challenging overall. After a short while, we ended up on the summit of Avery Peak, which I figured out later was my 50th peak of the Northeast 115!
The peak area itself was pretty nice, with spectacular views on either side of the ridge line. There were two separate peak areas, one with a sign and another one a little ways up the trail that had the remains of a foundation. Because the winds from the coastal storm were still reaching us pretty ferociously up on the summit, we enjoyed our time on the Avery summit in the foundation atop the summit, which acted as a great wind shield. I wish we could’ve enjoyed the views from that peak a little more, but at the time we were there the winds seemed to be particularly bad, so we really didn’t feel like sticking around for too long. After a quick drink and a few pictures up top, we decided to head back down and up towards our second summit of the day, West Peak.
The trail up to West Peak from the col was a bit more forgiving than the one towards Avery since it didn’t involve any boulder hopping, and stayed within tree-line right until we got to the summit. It seemed like maybe 10-15 minutes of walking was all it took before we got up to the summit of West Peak, which had just as good of views as it’s brother Avery. The winds, while still strong, seemed to be a little less crazy while we were on West Peak, so were able to drop our packs and enjoy the views up top for a little while. We found a really nice overhang just off of the summit to the west that managed to shield the wind completely, so we rested there and took in a complete view of the Carabassett Valley below. Not only was it a remarkable view from that spot, but it was also a remarkable view straight down as the mountain dropped fairly dramatically just below our feet. It wasn’t a spot for the faint of heart for sure, but I find it kind of fun to be on the edge of a steep drop like that sometimes. It’s life affirming if you ask me!
Even though West Peak was a nice spot to spend some time taking in the scenery, the wind was still a bit too obnoxious to spend a long time up top, so we headed back down the trail after about 15-20 minutes or so. Going up, the stone step trail leading up to the summit was agonizing to try to get up with tired legs, but it did make for a much nicer descent than we’re used to. A lot of times, we bank on getting down mountains quicker than we get up them, but with uneven terrain, mixed with having tired legs, it usually takes us just as long from summit to trailhead as vice versa. On this day, there was no ankle-rolling, or watching your steps on the way down, as the trail was really nicely laid out for leisurely hiking. Time seemed to fly by quickly as we made it down the trail, past the campsites, and back to the register again, where unlike usual, we did not have to actually sign out.
As we got lower in elevation, which coincided with the afternoon heat kicking in, we started to notice swarms of flies coming after us as we tried to make our way back to the pond below. I’ve hiked on many warm, muggy days before, but I don’t think I can recall being swarmed as badly as I was on the latter half of that descent. There were dozens of ‘em, and they followed both us down like a dark cloud just raining on our parade. Even though it must’ve been in the upper 60’s outside, I felt compelled to throw my windbreaker on, simply just to protect my arms from the bites. Even though I was getting hot walking down with a jacket and long pants, it seemed to do the trick in keeping them off me, as I really wasn’t giving them anything to bite. We kept managing our way back down the trail as it evened out slowly, and worked its way around the pond and back across the foot bridge towards the road. From there we only had a short walk back to the car, and once we got there, we got in and left within a minute of stopping. Usually we’d like to take a second to change shoes, socks, whatever after the hike, but staying around any longer than we had to be was just inviting bugs to eat us alive, so we rushed away from the Bigelows in record time. Still, the hike was very enjoyable, and we were rewarded with two pretty great summit views for a hike that only took about 6.5 hours or so. We were honestly just happy to get a good hike in after a miserable day to start our trip and the Bigelows delivered!
Recommendations: This is a really nice moderate hike in Maine that offers two really rewarding summits in a relatively short day. It is worth noting that the last mile of the hike up to the col between the two peaks is a bit steep, but the trail is in really good condition (especially higher up). If you enjoy a nice challenging hike that won’t take you all day and won’t leave your legs covered in mud, this is a good place to hike.
Views – 9 (for both)
Difficulty – 5 (for both)