Mt. Jackson

For the final day of our weekend trip to New Hampshire, we decided to take a trek up to Crawford Notch to hike Mount Jackson. I can’t speak for the other two, but I was a bit drained from the first two days of hiking, and made a big pitch for doing a shorter mileage hike for the third day. Also, the weather forecast for the day had improved dramatically from what we were initially anticipating at the beginning of our trip, so we all thought that going to a nicer summit like Jackson would be a cool idea to end out the trip. The nice part about hiking Jackson at about 2.8 miles was that we could get a little bit of a later start, so we stopped for a quick breakfast in Lincoln and got to the trailhead a little before 10 to finish the weekend off strong.

The trailhead for Jackson is probably one of the more interesting trailheads we’d been to in any of the states we’d hiked in so far. There is a decent sized welcome center for Crawford Notch right at the side of the road, and a really picturesque pond on the other side of the road. We could tell this was a pretty significant tourist spot, and it was also featured a confluence of hiking trails as the trailheads towards Pierce/Eisenhower, Tom/Field, and Jackson were all along that small strip of the highway. We got what appeared to be the last two spots on the small parking section at the welcome center, walked around for a second to see the sights, and then headed a couple hundred feet down the road to get to the trailhead that would take us to Jackson.

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Our plan for the day was to hike up and down to Jackson only, ignoring its neighbor Webster since it wasn’t on our list of mountains to climb, but we also decided on the way to take advantage of a couple of lookout opportunities on the steeper side of the notch. The first side trail only veered off within the first tenth of a mile on the trail, and it led an additional tenth or two to a spot called the Elephant Head. Even from the road, we could get a pretty clear idea of what the Elephant Head was since it stood out clearly on the side of the mountain and looked exactly like it was called. The elevation of the spot wasn’t terribly high, but it still gave a nice view of the train tracks and the visitor center where we came from, so it was worth a little detour for sure. The second lookout came after we started ascending up the cliff pretty steeply; only this one was not terribly far off the marked trail. This one was called Bugle Cliff, and offered similar views to the Elephant Head, only a bit more expansive and dramatic thanks to the higher altitude. Neither of these lookouts really took too much time out of the day and provided some pretty nice views, so I’d definitely recommend making the detours on the way up.

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Atop the Elephant Head

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The trail took a steady turn from this point, since we’d basically gotten over the cliff-side by this point, paralleling up the side of the cliff at a more gradual pace than before. The trail condition was very good in this part, with very little mud or loose rock, so we made it up to our next junction without incident. We stopped at the junction where the trail forked either straight towards Webster or east towards Jackson. We could see clouds starting to roll in from across the road, but they all seemingly evaporated by the time they got to us, so we never got any of the rain that we thought might hit us in the morning. We took a break at the junction like we usually do and took the fork towards Jackson with only a little over a mile to the summit left to go!

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As expected, the trail did start to climb a bit quicker once we turned off and we found ourselves quickly ascending for the last push to the summit. Very much like the rest of the sections before, the trail up to the summit was really well maintained and easy to climb right up until the last push, which got a bit more dramatic. I think we’re all still getting over the shock value of some of the trail-less peaks in the Adirondacks and the difficulty of the trail conditions there, because I keep thinking as I climb these peaks in the Whites about how much nicer the trails are then some of the worst I’ve seen. This kind of talk is also great filler for this blog entry because there were no really exceptional moments on the way up ‘til the summit (you can read that as I have nothing good to talk about). Right before you get to the official summit of Jackson there are a couple of steep spots that felt like hell on my legs after 3 days of hiking, but luckily it was probably less than a tenth of a mile of steep pitches before we got to the large summit area of Jackson for our fifth peak of the weekend!

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The summit of Jackson is nice and spacious and has views from all sides as it is bisected by a ridge trail going up towards the Presidentials. We settled on a spot that gave us a stunning up close view of Mount Washington and took off our packs to rest for a little bit. While the weather coming up was pretty ideal for October, it was notably blustery about tree-line, so the jackets had to go back on when we got to the top. At one point my hat even lifted off my head in one of the strongest gusts, and I thought to myself how much worse it must’ve been on the gigantic mountain we were checking out from our vantage point. I’ve seen videos and heard stories about the rough weather conditions on Mount Washington, and seeing it from just a few miles away really invigorated my interest in summiting it, which we’re going to try to do next summer on a warm, calm day! Nonetheless, Jackson was definitely a nice summit experience, with a lot to see and ample room to accommodate all of the weekend crowds that flock there.

After the winds started getting intense, we decided to get going off the top of the mountain, and ducked under tree line quickly to start our final descent of the trip. Five peaks and some very dramatic views later, our trip was just about over, but we did still have a good 3 miles of descending to go. We took our time on the way down since it was a fairly quick day hike, and enjoyed what would be our last hike of the year. Coming down was about as uneventful as going up was, and once we got to the road we only had a short walk over to where the cars were. At the parking area we took another second or two to look around, since it was a fairly interesting trailhead area with various touristy buildings and dramatic views of the mountains on any side of the Crawford Notch. Climbing Jackson was a nice way to cap off the trip, since it’s a fairly short day hike with a pretty nice payout up top with some dynamic views in every direction. Overall, it was a pretty successful day to cap off a big hiking season for us!

 

Recommendations: This is definitely a great day-trip for just about anybody enthusiastic about climbing. It’s a quick day, with some great views, and just a few challenging spots to make you feel like you earned it as you get to the top. The fantastic up-close views of Washington make it worth the trip alone.

Ratings: Views – 8, Difficulty – 2

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Liberty & Flume

After a bit of time off from climbing, Chris and I set off for New Hampshire on a Friday morning in October to start a long weekend of climbing. After finishing up the Adirondack High Peaks in the summer, we thought it would be a cool idea to try to dive a little deeper into the New Hampshire High Peaks list by trying to grab 5 or 6 of them in one trip. I drove into Boston the night before like I had a few times before so we could get an early jump to the morning hike. We left a little bit before 7 AM with our eyes set on climbing Liberty and Flume in the Franconia range of the White Mountains. These were climbs Chris had his eye on, and I thought they would be a good place to start the trip, given its relatively short mileage (10-11 miles round trip, depending on the route) and reportedly excellent summit views. I was pretty pumped to get away for a few days and hopefully double my peak count in New Hampshire in one quick trip, so there was a little extra motivation to get back out on the trails and see some new peaks!

We got into Lincoln, New Hampshire bright and early and stopped for a second to grab some food for the trails before heading north to try to find our trailhead. From what I could see from the map, it looked like we were basically going to start our climb from the Flume Gorge Visitor Center, so that’s where we decided to pull in to park. We grabbed our packs and Chris started filming as I decided to take in the surroundings a little bit. I didn’t see anything in the parking lot that indicated a trailhead towards where we would be going, with the exception of a bike path heading in the right direction. After a while of walking, I decided it would be best to try going up the road a little ways as there might be an obvious parking area down the road. My intuition was right, and we noticed the real parking area signed just down the road from where we parked, and we decided to drive down there instead. We got going a little bit after 10 AM, walking the Whitehouse trail from the parking area for about a mile until we reached the Appalachian Trail, where we started our true ascent.

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We started the steady ascent up towards Liberty and Flume, witnessing some unique carved graffiti on trees as we started off. In all my time climbing I can’t recall seeing trees defaced the way we did on that particular trail, and it was kind of disappointing to see. Nonetheless, we continued on after making a point of this on the vlog, and quickly reached the fork in the loop trail. Going straight would take us up steadily towards Liberty, while the right fork would level out and head towards the Flume ledges where we would have a quick and dramatic ascent up to the summit of Flume. Even though it was going to add some mileage to the day, I decided it would be best to take the steady approach up to Liberty and then walk over to Flume and back instead of going up the steep slopes because I wasn’t sure if I was in the greatest shape for that after not climbing for a month and a half. After taking a quick break at the junction we worked our way up the Liberty Springs Trail, crossed over a few small streams, and started our ascent in earnest.

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The real ascent begins

 

I quickly figured out that my hypothesis about my hiking form was right on the money. I felt like my legs were pretty dead after about half an hour of steady, unrelenting climbing up towards the Liberty Springs Campsite. I was glad we took the steady approach because I would’ve been struggling badly trying to work my way up the Flume ledges. While I would’ve preferred a bit more of a staggered approach up to the summit, the Liberty Springs Trail was at least consistent and easy on the feet, with very little mud or loose rock in the trail. Overall, from our experiences in Maine and New Hampshire, it is very enjoyable to hike along the Appalachian Trail segments because they are usually well-designed and steady in approach. It may have taken me a bit longer than I would’ve liked, but we did eventually reach the summit ridge, where we took a quick right turn and headed about a quarter mile down the trail until we reached Mount Liberty.

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The dramatic approach to Mt Liberty

 

Liberty was really quite a fantastic summit area, and its dramatic features were evident just before we reached the top. The summit itself is on a very steep ledge that features a large slide that basically starts from the edge of the trail. It’s a harrowing look down from the slide at the base of the summit rock, as it probably drops down a hundred feet or so. Once we topped the summit rock, the views were outstanding all 360 degrees around. We could see the whole Cannon, Kinsman area on one view and then the Lincoln, Twins, and Owls Head view on the other side. Liberty is a very rewarding summit, and combined with the foliage and nice autumn weather, it was one of our best summit experiences of the year 2017 so far for sure.

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Mt Flume from Liberty

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By the time we had worked our way off Liberty and headed towards flume my legs had started to feel a little more adjusted, so I made some quick work down towards the col between the two peaks. I waited there for Chris to catch up, and we made our way quickly up to Flume. From Liberty, Flume is not really a challenging hike at all, and we ended up on the summit a lot quicker than we had anticipated. From the Flume summit we still managed to get the same spectacular views towards the west, and could even get a nice reference point of Lafayette that we couldn’t get from Liberty. What was even more interesting was the clear view you get of the Flume ledges and just how steep the trail ends up climbing up to the summit from the Flume Trail. Flume really looks like one hell of an adventure to get up, and a bit of a dangerous proposition to try to get down. Once we stopped to get some pictures and a snack, we decided to double back over Liberty on our way out, since that trail looked liked an accident waiting to happen.

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We took another second to take in the sights on top of Liberty the second time, and then continued on our way down. The hike down was fairly uneventful, but it was fairly easy thanks to the large sections of smooth stone steps on the Liberty Springs Trail. Seriously, I can’t recommend this trail enough, it’s really easy on the joints, offers a nice hiking challenge that doesn’t take too long, and offers wonderful views up top. Once we got down past the loop junction, it was just a quick walk back, first down to the bike path that doubled as the Whitehouse trail for a section, then on to the rest of the trail that lead us back to the parking area. All-in-all the day hike only took about 7 hours, and it was definitely a fantastic way to start off a full weekend of hiking!

Views: Liberty 10, Flume 7

Difficulty: Liberty 6, Flume 6 (from Liberty; climbing the ledges would make it more difficult)

East Osceola & Osceola

After finishing up our 46er quest earlier in the month, Chris and I wasted very little time setting our sights on our next hiking conquest, the Northeast 115. I headed on out to Boston to meet up with Chris, and we set off for New Hampshire to get a couple more peaks off the White Mountains list. We decided on doing a smaller day hike in the Whites that day, tackling East Osceola, and Mount Osceola which would get us two more peaks with only a 7 mile or so roundtrip. We initially intended to do this climb in April, but opted for a less rocky trail for our first early spring hike, so these peaks had been in my sights for a while, so they seemed like the right ones to check off the list that day!

We left around 6 AM in the morning and headed north towards Lincoln, NH where we would start our climbing. It was a Sunday, so the traffic wasn’t too bad getting around, and we were able to start at a reasonable hour. Finding the trailhead wasn’t terribly hard either, even though we managed to get just the last parking spot at the trailhead. We took a quick look at the map at the trailhead just to get our bearings, even though we knew this would be a super straightforward day.

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From the trailhead we were going to make our way towards Greeley Pond, before taking a right at the trail that climbs up to East Osceola. From there it would only be about an extra mile to get to Mount Osceola, which from all accounts had some pretty nice views. The first mile and a quarter toward Greeley Pond was basically flat, and relatively uneventful. There were a number of small stream crossings in that beginning section of the trail, but those were the only points of note along the way to the trail junction.

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At the junction we took our first break of the day, and I decided to grab an energy chew from my bag while we stopped. I bought a Gatorade chew instead of the normal Clif ones I usually get just to try it, and that turned out to be a bad decision. I did not like the taste of that at all, so needless to say I’ll be going back to my usuals from now on. Once we got back going we started ascending as we head towards East Osceola. We knew it would only be about 1.5 miles or so uphill in the segment, so we would be going uphill at a good clip. Still, it was a bit of a shock to the system just how steep the climb up to East Osceola got. In certain segments it reminded both of us of our Dix Mountain hike, with the unrelenting steep walls of earth to climb up. We made our way steadily up the climb, segment by segment, taking breaks on the flat spots and keeping a steady pace as the trail made its way up to elevation in very short order.

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Small lookout on the way to East Osceola

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The trail eventually leveled out and we knew we were getting close to peak. Based upon everything I’d read about the climb, I knew this peak would basically have no views and would instead just be a peak noted by a large cairn. The peak itself didn’t really even seem to be a height of land, more or less just a spot on a large plateau, but nonetheless it was pretty hard to miss the summit of East Osceola. We took a break at the one lookout we could find on the summit, even though there really wasn’t much of a view at that spot either.

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What a summit…

 

After maybe 10 minutes, we continued on our way to Osceola, which we knew would be a greater spot to take an extended break on anyway.  The trail started descending at a good clip down from the plateau of East Osceola, and did so until we reach the col between the summits. It was there where we encountered one of the more interesting spots on the trail, the famous Osceola Chimney. It really didn’t disappoint at all, it was a very steep, sudden wall of rock that we had to get over as the trail started climbing again. There were 2 options on the Chimney; going straight up the steep way, or going up a bit more steadily around the side of the cliff. I chose the steady shortcut, and Chris decided to go straight up.  Realistically both ways take just the same amount of time considering the shortcut is a little longer, but I happened to like the way I went, so the choice is really up to you when you hit that spot of the trail. From the Chimney on, the rest of the climb up to Osceola seemed pretty easy and uneventful comparatively, and in just a few tenths of a mile we ended up on our second summit of the day, Mount Osceola!

 

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Happy to bag peak #2 and get a view

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Upon arriving at Osceola, we noticed two things; 1) the summit was very large and had spectacular views on one side looking down towards Waterville Valley and 2) there were a lot of people climbing that day. For the past few years we’d been used to climbing on weekdays, and climbing some of the more remote mountains in the Adirondack High Peaks, so it was a bit different to run into a crowd on a summit, but we were able to enjoy a nice view nonetheless. Just as much as climbing east Osceola reminded me of climbing Dix, the summit of Osceola reminded me a bit of Giant in Keene Valley since both have a similar size and view from the summit, and both seem to gather a crowd on a weekend! Osceola was definitely worth the trouble of getting over East Osceola for, it’s a very nice peak to summit on a late summer morning!

We probably spent about 20 minutes up top admiring the scenery and grabbing a bite to eat, and then headed back the way we came. Going down Osceola seemed like it would be a relatively uneventful thing to do, at least until we got to the Chimney section, but as I pushed on ahead, maybe about 5-10 minutes after leaving the summit, I heard a well-pronounced cry of pain behind me. Turns out Chris managed to roll his ankle over on an unstable rock, and was in some pretty good pain. It was really kind of a bad spot for an injury, right in between two peaks, but, as we’ve experienced before, sometimes the mountains reach out and grab you just to remind you that Mother Nature is still the boss. We kept on going (because what choice did we have anyway), maybe a little bit slower than we were going before, and despite his pain, we managed to keep going without any other incidents. We stopped for one more second to get a picture on the actual summit of East Osceola, since we basically spent no time there on the way in, and cruised on through to our last descent of the day.

The way down East Osceola was just as unrelenting as it was going up, only now we were both watching our steps a little more than we normally would. Since it was a relatively short day of hiking for us there was absolutely no need to rush things on the way back. We just walked down cautiously and carefully until we got to the trail junction around Greeley Pond again.

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View of Greeley Pond on the descent

 

One interesting thing we did note was how seemingly inaccurate the maps were on the trees noting the protected forest area around Greeley Pond. The way the first map we saw was drawn made it seem like we were a full mile away from the trail junction when we were actually only about 5 minutes away from it. So the lesson there is obviously don’t believe randomly drawn maps on trees, keep your own bearing and carry a map instead!

The last mile and a quarter out from the junction seemed like forever as we both really wanted to just get off our feet and grab some lunch. It probably didn’t take us anymore than 25-30 minutes, but it kind of felt like eternity as we made our way over the bog bridges and small stream crossings until we got back to the roadside trailhead. It was another one of those days where it started well, but after someone gets banged up you just kind lose a little bit of your zeal afterwards. Either way, we still managed to get another 2 peaks in the books, and I got myself about halfway to my goal of 115 peaks in the northeast, so it was a pretty productive day when all was said and done!

Recommendations: Osceola and East Osceola make for a relatively short day, but there are a few tough sections going up to either mountain. The views are well worth it on Osceola, but I would mainly recommend the climb to people already familiar with 4000 footers (basically don’t make this someone’s first climb, otherwise, yeah, climb it – it’s a fun one to do for sure).

Views: East Osceola – 1; Osceola – 7

Difficulty: East Osceola – 6; Osceola – 5

Allen Mountain

I’ve consistently seen Allen Mountain ranked as one of the toughest climbs in the Adirondack High Peaks in all of the research I’ve done preparing for climbs over the years and it’s definitely developed a mythical place in 46er lore. I’ve seen numerous reasons why people disliked climbing Allen ranging from length of the climb, to tough trail conditions, confusing directions, or lack of payout at the summit. All of the negative comments regarding the hike kind of lead us put this climb off until the very end, but since Chris and I were sitting on peak #44, it became time for us to finally take a crack at Allen this summer.

We set off around 5 AM on a weekday in July, knowing we’d have a tough 18 mile day to get to the wooded summit of Allen. Nothing about the thought of climbing to Allen that early in the morning was particularly appealing, but we were getting so close to finishing the 46 that it made the task seem just a little bit more exciting than it normally would be. Going into this hike, we weren’t even sure if we would really be able to do this climb successfully because there was a forecast for storms for that day. I told Chris point blank that climbing Allen under a chance of storms would be uncomfortable and borderline dangerous because of the notoriously slippery final ascent of Allen, and the muddy conditions present on the flat sections of the climb, but luckily the storms had passed the night before and the forecast had improved. I knew in the back of my head that even if the skies were nice for the day, the ground was still going to be wet and treacherous, and let’s just say that Allen didn’t disappoint at all!

 

We managed to get to the trailhead by about a quarter to 8, which would give us plenty of time to get the hike completed in daylight, barring any catastrophic injuries or bear encounters. While driving in, Chris put the over/under of how many people we were going to see on the trail at 4.5, and while I took the under, I was adamant we would see at least one other party doing the hike on a nice summer day. The ADK 46 is getting pretty popular and even on the most remote hikes on the randomest days of the week, there always a good chance of running into other hikers doing the same thing you’re trying to do. It didn’t take us any more than a few seconds to see somebody else pull up to the trailhead trying to hike Allen too, so my theory about hiking in the High Peaks in 2017 was proven right immediately. We quickly signed in, and got going on what would be a long day’s work getting to the summit.

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After only walking for a few minutes from the trail register, we already reached the bridge to cross over the Hudson River. Once we reached the other side of the river, the trail quickly deteriorated into a muddy, bog-like condition on and off for a while. We spent the majority of our day trying not to get our boots stuck too badly in the mud, but it was unavoidable and deep in certain spots. The mud deterred our pace a little, but luckily there were some spots on the trail that managed to be a bit better than others. The trail around Lake Jimmy had some nice bog bridging, even though I must admit it would’ve been a little cooler (not to mention quicker) to be able to walk across the lake on bridging, and the trail around the Mount Adams trailhead had some interesting cabins to explore. We stopped to check out the cabins for a brief moment then continued on past Adams.

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This was pretty typical of this day

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The trail descending towards Lake Sally was extremely muddy and eroded to the point where there were clearly established cut-arounds in the woods next to the trail. I do understand the mystique of climbing Allen from Upper Works given all of the hardships needed to get to it, but I’m 100% in favor of the DEC developing another trail to get to Allen from the south because this trail is hardly sustainable anymore. We begrudgingly made our way through the slop and ended up on another one of the old logging roads in that section of wilderness. The nice gravel road that the trail follows along the Opalescent offers some nice respite from the muddy conditions, and it offers some interesting glimpses into the logging past of the woods. As you walk through there, you can make out faint logging roads and old paths that have long since been abandoned, which are some of the only exciting points of interest on the way to the herd path. After passing a steel gate and continuing on, we crossed the Opalescent River on a nice new hanging bridge instead of fording the river like you would’ve had to before. Even though our boots were already wet enough by this point, it was still nice to be able to cross on a bridge versus going over the river, so we do have to give a special shout-out to the trail crews for working diligently on such a remote trail as the East River Trail is.

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Follow this sign to the bridge over the Opalescent

 

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Bridge Crossing the Opalescent

 

 

The trail junction leading into the true herd path towards Allen were much easier to find than I had expected. The East River Trail does not seem to be travelled beyond the Allen turn off that frequently, to the extent that the established trail actually seamlessly leads off into the direction of Allen without even looking like much of a trail beyond that point. From this easy turn off it’s only maybe a tenth of a mile (probably less than that actually) until you reach a dirt road where this trail ends. You can basically see the gravel pit where you sign in to hike the herd path from this junction to the left, so all you really have to do is turn quickly towards the left and you’re at the start of the climb. We took a quick break at the herd path right around 10 AM or so and let the groups behind us actually go ahead. In my mind, it would be nice to see some fresh foot prints on the trail anyway in case it got hard to follow, but it really wasn’t a problem following the herd path for the most part, even though it certainly wasn’t the best defined or best maintained path in that part of the woods. The 13 point plan that I jotted on a piece of paper from a list I found on a forum was fairly helpful as we got on to the meandering herd path. I followed along every milestone I should see on the way, and it allowed me to pace the climb nicely and keep at ease as we moved through the thick woods west of the peak of Allen. Despite the rain, none of the brooks we had to cross along the way were in any way hard to rock hop, and even the mud levels on the herd path were no worse than the ones on the “maintained” trail to the base of the climb. In about an hour and a half’s time, maybe a little bit less, we reached the waterfall on Allen Brook where we stopped for a second to gear up for what would be a taxing final ascent to the top.

 

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so helpful…

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Turn left at the cairn towards the herd path for Allen

 

 

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Walking towards the clearing marking the beginning of the herd path

 

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As Chris dunked his hat in the waterfall like he typically does on a hot day like this, I took out the map for a second to get a general idea of where we were. It looked from the point where Allen Brook drains into Skylight Brook that there would be roughly one more mile to go to the summit, and almost all of it would be steep and unrelenting. This is where I knew we would have to start being careful because all trip reports I’ve seen indicated that the rock along Allen Brook is unusually slippery, and if you’re not careful you could find yourself going on an unwanted slip and slide ride on jagged rock. I kept this in mind as I made my way up the trail as it swerved on and off the rock faces and into the woods numerous times. I made sure to stay off of the reddish colored rock because that would be the spots where there would be little to no grip. It was hard to get around the running water and slippery rock, but taking it one step at a time made it doable. At one part the trail ended up on a drier, gravelly spot where you could get a good view on the slope you had just climbed. I took a seat on a smooth boulder and looked behind to see where Chris was at, because I didn’t hear him behind me at all. So I sat and waited looking down the trail for a good minute, but still there was no sign of Chris. Even though I’m admittedly less athletic, I do tend to get a little bit ahead of him as he films portions of the blog, especially if I have some good leg strength like I did on this day, but I kind of thought that he shouldn’t have fallen that far behind me under these conditions, so I decided to walk a little ways back down until I managed to see the reflection of the sun off his sunglasses as he climbed up. I never really get too worried on these climbs, but the conditions on Allen might be some of the most dangerous in the High Peaks, so I did get a bit concerned for a second that he went for one of those unwilling water slide rides I’d referenced before. Sure enough, once Chris caught up to me  he told me just that, that he took a fall and if not for a helpful tree root, he would’ve went flying down the mountain in the wrong direction. His hip was hurting pretty bad from the fall, and his elbow was decently cut up as well, but he said there was no way we’d be turning around this close to the summit. I wouldn’t personally recommend continuing climbing if you’re in pain, but we’d been anticipating this climb for a long time and we were pretty close to the summit, so we just took our time and made it up as fast as he could manage.

 

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Ouch.

 

I figured we should stop and regroup for a second, but Chris said it was better for him just to keep pushing through it anyway because his hip would just start locking up, so he really just powered through until we reached the summit. It was probably the least triumphant we’d ever felt reaching the summit of a high peak, but we were just happy to finally get to the top of Allen!

The summit of Allen was just as non-descript as it’s billed to be, just a height of land in the woods with a plaque on a tree. There is, however, a very nice lookout to the northeast of the summit with pretty cool views of the surrounding mountains like Haystack and the lower great range, so all-in-all it’s actually not the worst summit of are of the High Peaks (Blake still wins that competition I think, though Couchsachraga is a close second). The lookout was a nice spot to stop and enjoy the summit before heading back down into the sloppy descent and long walk out that was between us and the parking lot. The group ahead of us on the mountain was happy enough to offer us some first aid supplies, as I hadn’t packed too much with me for the hike, so Chris bandaged up his cuts as best as he could and it didn’t end up being too serious of an issue from that point on. One thing is for certain though; I’m definitely bringing a better stocked first aid kit next time just in case of emergency. We may have spent 15 minutes on the summit overall since we were a bit too anxious about the descent to really enjoy the triumph of reaching another peak, and we headed back down eager to get that slippery descent behind us.

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1 To Go!

 

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Going down the steep section of Allen was just as treacherous, and on the way down was my opportunity to wipe out as well. I decided I was going to walk across a stream instead of finding a drier route, and I did my best Charlie Brown kicking a football impression, falling flat on my pack faster than I could even realize what was happening. It was a bit of a wake-up call to really slow the pace to a crawl, and we spent the rest of the descent taking it at an extremely casual pace. Once we reached the waterfall again we both breathed a sigh of relief knowing our risk of further injury just decreased significantly. We both really bemoaned the standing water and mud on the trails coming in, but to a small extent we welcomed the return of the mud over the slippery rocks by that point. We kept going after stopping for a second, and went on for a while before we made our way back to the herd path trail register right around 4 PM.

It was a tiring and frustrating walk back to the car after all of the slipping and sliding of the day, but we trudged on nonetheless. This was one of those moments where you wish you could just snap your fingers and be back at the trailhead, but no, we had to drag ourselves back unassisted (sigh). It was an extremely uneventful walk back comparatively, even though it was interesting seeing dozens of frogs and even a couple of snakes in the marshes that were passing as marked trails. I don’t think I’d ever seen a snake on a trail before, so that was kind of a fun surprise on what was overall a generic walk back. The mental exhaustion of the day was far greater than the physical exhaustion, in both of our opinions, so we managed to find our way back slowly and steadily without breaking stride for any photo opportunities or extended breaks like we normally do. Climbing Allen wasn’t the greatest hiking experience we’d ever had, but at least we managed to get our 45th peak in the Adirondacks and got it in with plenty of daylight to spare, arriving at the trailhead a little bit before 6:30 PM. It was a long day, but at least it was another interesting experience to share as we got that much closer to completing our 46!

Recommendations: Allen Mountain isn’t a fun hike. I’d only recommend it to people seriously interested in the 46 because it’s a somewhat unpleasant experience. If you do plan to climb Allen, make sure you read up a little bit on the trail before you go up, and be careful on the final ascent because it is no joke. Allen really isn’t terribly steep (with the exception of the slide section near the summit) or overly challenging from a physical standpoint, but it’s a taxing hike nonetheless, so be mentally prepared for a long day.

Ratings:

Difficulty – 10

Views – 1 (5 from a lookout just off of the summit)

Mount Bigelow (Avery Peak & West Peak) – Maine Trip Day 2

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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2.3 from the internal register to the col

 

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.

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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.

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Caretakers hut through the trees

 

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!

 

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Avery Peak “selfie”

 

 

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Flagstaff Lake

 

 

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Andrew looks off of his 50th summit Avery Peak

 

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A view from our make shift wind shelter

 

 

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!

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On Top of West Peak with the valley behind me

 

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Andrew Checks out Flagstaff Lake

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55 down 60 to go

 

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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.

Ratings:

Views – 9 (for both)

Difficulty – 5 (for both)

Saddleback Mountain & The Horn – Maine Trip Day 1

On a cool, rainy Monday in early June, Chris and I set off for what would be an interesting week of climbing in the Carabassett Valley area. Since we’ve been getting close to our goal of finishing the ADK 46, our minds have been shifting focus beyond 46 and onwards to the Northeast 111. Since the 14 peaks in Maine are kind of out of the way, Chris suggested we take a week and just go up there to climb as much of them as we can, and I was happy enough to come along. Even though 4 straight days of climbing was bound to be a tough test, it was undoubtedly going to be a better time than going to work.

We took off from Boston around 6 AM or so knowing it would be a bit of a trip to get up to where we were going. The forecast called for light rain throughout the day, but considering it was calling for a washout just a few days before, we decided to give a shorter hike a try, so we set off for Saddleback Ski Resort to climb Saddleback and Saddleback Horn. The book distance on the hike was only about 6.8 miles, so we figured it wouldn’t be such a bad climb to do in the rain. As we drove up and the rain continued on steadily, I began to think we were kind of crazy trying to go out in weather like this, but I knew we were going to try it regardless, just because that’s how we do things. Besides, hikes with a little adversity make for great stories (and this one was no different).

The first indication that this was going to be a strange day was when we got close to the mountain and Chris’ GPS decided that the best route to the trailhead would be to take a shortcut down a relatively unmarked, unpaved hunting road. It was a random, sketchy trip for a mile past no trespassing signs before we reached a metal gate and realized the GPS was sorely mistaken. It felt like a bad omen to start the day, and more or less it actually was a sign of things to come for our trip through Maine (but more on that will come in later blogs). We turned around, found our way to the ski resort eventually, and were on our way in no time.

We got started hiking around 10:45 AM after trying to figure out where it was we supposed to park. The whole resort was a ghost town with the exception of a few construction crews off in the woods, so it was a little confusing trying to figure out what we were supposed to do. We learned a valuable lesson on Day 1 of this trip; you really have to earn your peaks in Maine because there’s not a heck of a lot of guidance out there outside of the Appalachian Trail trailheads. We ending up parking downhill a ways, and went off to find the ski lift. From there we were going to read the trail map and look for the Grey Ghost trail, which was supposedly the best trail to take to get uphill.

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Not the Grey Ghost trail but whatever

 

Without knowing it at the time, we ended up taking a different trail up, the Green Weaver, which zigzagged a little bit on a more gravelly trail the whole way up the side of the mountain. To be honest, it really didn’t make much of a difference which trail we took up because they all lead to the same place anyway (a logic we would use again on Day 3 of this trip) so we just pushed on uphill. It was a steep and taxing effort trying to climb up the trail we did, and I found myself needing to stop every 100 feet or so to catch my breath. It was a tough push for the first hour of the day, but we did manage to get up top in no time. Eventually, after taking the second wrong trail of the day, we ended up at the spot where we would leave the ski area and hop over to the ridge line where we would meet the Appalachian Trail en route to the summit.

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The connection path is not well marked at all, but if you keep your eyes open heading up to the highest point of the ski trails then you should find it without much hardship. It was probably about a tenth of a mile from there before we got on to the exposed ridgeline of Saddleback, and that was where our day became an even bigger struggle than we imagined.

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Getting up to the ridge line seemed like a relief after going straight up ski trails for about an hour, but that relief lasted only a few moments, because we were quickly overtaken by the harsh conditions of the day. While climbing up the mountain, we were mainly blocked from the wind, but there was no escaping it on the ridge line. The wind was gusting to probably 30-40 mph by the time we started taking off to the summit, and the wind was whipping the rain around, making it far more uncomfortable than it was before. The calendar said it was June, but being up there and facing the cold wind and rain, you could’ve easily mistaken it for October or November. We knew the conditions were bad going in, but we were not prepared for how bad it was going to be. My glasses kept fogging up in the rain, making it hard to put one foot in front of the other, and the swirling clouds made following the trail on the exposed parts more difficult than it really should’ve been. Luckily enough, I did manage to pack my hat and gloves at the last second before I came out, just in case, and they really came in handy because it was that cold up there.

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This wasn’t a pleasant walk stroll through the woods on this day, this was grin-and-bear-it peak-bagging at its best! Once the shock wore off and we geared up a little, Chris and I continued on the Appalachian Trail and walked over to the summit of Saddleback Mountain for our first peak in Maine. I’m sure the views would’ve been wonderful, but all we got was clouds and wind gusts, so we didn’t stick around the summit for too long. Instead, we basically went straight through, heading towards our final destination of the day, Saddleback Horn.

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Thankfully the path between Saddleback and the Horn was extremely simple to follow and even featured a few heavily forested sections that braced the wind impact. I’m sure if our entire trip between the two peaks was exposed we may have seriously considered turning back, but the conditions were a little more comfortable under tree cover. The trail descended a little bit from Saddleback to the col, but never to any real extremes. There were no steep parts along this trail section, and only one small ladder to traverse along the way, which was much appreciated.

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By the time we started ascending again towards Saddleback Horn we could start feeling the winds getting even more abrasive in the exposed sections. I knew the forecast had called for some potentially steadier showers in the afternoon, and we ended up feeling a little bit more of a kick as we approached the summit. To our astonishment, we actually passed a couple of hikers as we got up towards the Horn, which we certainly didn’t expect on a day like that. We stopped for a second to talk about how crazy we all were for braving these conditions, and went along our ways again. From there, it was just a few more minutes until we ended up close to the top.

 

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The cold wet walk towards the summit of The Horn

 

Arriving towards the summit of the Horn was a remarkably unpleasant experience in many ways. Getting above tree-line again exposed us to the deteriorating conditions, as the winds swirled just a little bit harder than they did when we were on Saddleback. Because of that, my glasses started fogging up again, and without a clear sight line I walked right off a boulder with my left leg, which left me in a painfully contorted split with a banged up knee. It’s hard to properly describe the kind of contortion I ended up in, but it seemed a fitting fall for a hike like this. Chris caught up to me right as I was trying to extract myself from in between the boulders, and I’m sure it made for a pretty comical sight looking on. My knee throbbed for the rest of the hike, but thankfully I wasn’t too hurt and we made our way up the last few sections of the trail to the summit.

The summit of Saddleback Horn didn’t have a marker like Saddleback, but it did have a gigantic stump in a rock outcropping that basically acts as the summit marker. It’s a good thing that was a blatant sign for the summit because it was so cloudy up on the summit that it was hard to see too much around. If you watch the vlog we did for this climb, you’ll see that I had zero interest in enjoying a moment on top of the peak like I usually do because the conditions had gotten way too miserable to stand still. We quickly got our pictures at the top, and headed back down for tree cover before we stopped to grab a bite to eat.

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“Jesus Christ get me off this thing…”

 

Even though I didn’t time it, I’m confident in saying we set new personal record for least time spent at a summit, and I’m not ashamed of that in the slightest. I knew it was going to be a bad day, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so cold in June, regardless of elevation. Every hike seems to have some sort of learning experience along the way, and this one was certainly no different!

After a quick break halfway back to the col, we decided to press on and make our way back and out of the bad weather.  I knew the conditions would improve drastically once we got back over the mountain to the ski trails, so it was worth pushing through until we got there. By the point in time we started climbing back up to saddleback my hat and gloves were soaked and useless so I was fairly miserable for that last half hour of the ridge walk. Once we were back on Saddleback the clouds had gotten just bad enough to confuse us a little bit on which was the trail lead, but we quickly found the route and got back to the trail junction a few minutes later. For some reason that trail junction seemed to have the worst wind situation of all the exposed parts on the trail, perhaps because it was a flatter section along the ridge-line, and we were astonished to feel some of the rain turning over to ice in that one section as we got to the junction sign. It was June and we were getting pummeled with ice! Such a weird experience, but it stopped pretty quickly once we got down the trail and back to the ski trails.

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The good part about climbing down the ski trails was that we could see the signs for the trail labeled clearly. We managed to find the proper Grey Ghost trail on the way down, and took that to get to the bottom of the mountain.

 

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Oh…there it is

 

We quickly figured out why this was the preferred hiking method because there was an actual, defined foot path on this trail that we could follow. We made our way down the trail, descending pretty quickly despite the rain, and got down the mountain about as fast as we’d ever descended one before. Only about 4 hours after we started our hike, we had arrived at the base of the ski lifts and made our way around the base lodge and back to the parking lot. At no point in that hike did the rain cease for even a moment, and it seemed to even get worse as we walked back to the car. Still, we were pretty relieved to get out of the rain for a moment and get some heat to dry off with. I’m pretty sure I spent the first 15 minutes of the car ride over to Rangeley shivering, but at least we got to cross a couple peaks off our list! All-in-all, it was a pretty memorable hike, and a decent start to our 4-day hiking trip in Maine!

Recommendations: I definitely would recommend this hike, although it would behoove you to climb it on a nicer day so you can enjoy your ridge walk. It’s a fairly easy day to grab two peaks, and I believe the views towards the east should be pretty nice when you can see more than 20 feet in front of you. It’s also worth noting that this particular trip shouldn’t be attempted during ski season unless you enjoy being run over by skiers. Instead, you can access Saddleback and the Horn via the Appalachian Trail from Route 4, although it will be a slightly longer day to do so.

Views: N/A

Difficulty: 3

Macomb, South Dix, Grace, and Hough – The Dix Range Traverse

After a solid, if not spectacular hike up Seward just half a day earlier, Chris and I started on what was bound to be a long day in the High Peaks. It was going to be Day 2 of our 3 day trip and the plan was to hike all of the lower peaks in the Dix Range; Macomb, South Dix, Grace, and Hough. Since we stayed overnight in Lake Placid, it wasn’t going to be much of a drive, so we decided to get a little more rest than usual, getting on the road around 7:30 AM or so. It was a cool morning, but the conditions were fairly ideal for mid-October, so we thought we had a great chance to pick up 4 additional High Peaks on our way to completing the 46. If all went well, we planned on leaving the Dix Mountain Wilderness with 43 peaks crossed off our list!

Once we found our way to Elk Lake Road in North Hudson, we encountered our first major huddle before we even got out of the car. It turns out an early Wednesday morning in October is a great time to repave an entire road, and thanks to the construction crew’s eagerness to get stuff done, we were forced to wait probably 10-15 minutes while they laid down fresh gravel over the entire road. It was an extremely annoying moment for us, and it got me a little worried to start out the day like this. I wasn’t honestly too sure how this climb was going to feel, considering all of the elevation changes, the herd path conditions with the leaves falling, and given the fact that this was the first time we tried climbing on back to back days, so I began getting nervous. Nonetheless, the friendly construction workers flagged as through after a short wait, and we were at the parking area shortly after that and were off on our way to Macomb quickly thereafter.

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Perfect fall day in the Dix Range

The plan was fairly simply for the day, even if we weren’t overly sure how the trail conditions were going to be. We would take the marked trail leading towards Dix Mountain, and head off to the Slide Brook Lean-To where we would find the Macomb herd path. From there we would just make our way up to Macomb, then to South Dix from there. Once on South Dix it would be a fairly gentle ridge line walk over to Grace Peak before turning around and retracing our steps back to South Dix. On South Dix, we would take the path heading north to the col between South Dix and Hough, before ascending our fourth peak of the day. Instead of going the long way around to the Beckhorn, we decided we would descend off Hough via the Lillian Brook herd path, one that neither of us were too familiar with in any of the blogs or hiking posts we read. It was on the map though, so we figured it shouldn’t be too difficult, and would take some mileage off our overall trip. After just now typing all of this up, I’m actually realizing that that’s not quite so simple of a trip, but it all made sense in my head at least! The first 2.3 miles or so of the trip were fairly simple, all on really smooth, flat, marked trails as the path basically moved around the Elk lake area through private lands before we got into the Dix Mountain Wilderness Area. We took a pretty steady approach on the flat trails, stopping only once we got to the Slide Brook, where we knew the turn-off was right around the corner.

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Slide Brook….not much water

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We stopped and grabbed a drink at the bridge, and I began looking to see where the trail was going off to. There was a cairn directly next to the brook, but it also looked like that was leading off to a campsite, so I wasn’t overly certain what trail we wanted. We took off a ways down towards the lean-to before realizing we probably wanted to go where the cairn was (because of course we would). The trail does kind of lead through a camping area, but that’s just the way it is, and on the other side it was pretty simply to follow as it ascended steadily alongside the brook.

 

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Cairn located just over the Bridge at Slide Brook

 

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2 Cairns side by side marking the Macomb Herd Path

 

 

 

Given the number of momentary delays we faced already, I decided it was best to start hustling up the side of this mountain. I had it in my mind that we really should get up Macomb by 11 AM in order to complete the loop in broad daylight. I think I kind of surprised Chris with the pace, but I was on a mission and he was more than willing to follow along. We made really good time up the side of Macomb and it wasn’t too long before we reached the behemoth that was the Macomb Slide.

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This was one hell of a sight to see up close, and we decided to admire the task ahead of us for a second. We precariously started up the slide after a moment, with the two of us taking different approaches. Chris just went right at the slide, going towards the middle of the rock and finding the best spots to ascend up. I tried a different approach by hugging the left side of the slide and trying to climb any segment of earth I could since the rock was so loose and gravelly. In short, my approach didn’t work too well because I lost my footing and my handholds about 3 or 4 times in a 5 minute span before I decided to just follow Chris’ paths up the rock slide. It was really quite a challenging trail to get up because it was 1) steep and 2) very loosely packed and unsteady. This trail up Macomb is not for the faint of heart for sure. We took our time, making sure we didn’t plunge to our deaths down the slide, and finally got off of the slide after a little bit of work.

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Unfortunately for us, the trail continued on relatively steeply for a little ways before finally leveling off near the top of Macomb. We got up to the top of our 40th High Peak and I checked my phone to see the time, and it was 11:05. We basically hit our goal perfectly, and we started to get really pumped about our day. The summit of Macomb is fairly wooded, but there is a nice sized rock outcrop that overlooks the way we came up and the entire Elk Lake area. The views from here were pretty good, actually a little better than we had anticipated. We spent a few minutes on top catching our breath before heading towards peak #2.

 

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#40!

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Heading over to South Dix from Macomb was a much easier journey than travelling up the Macomb slide. It’s a short, gentle descent to the col, on a very well worn herd path before we reached a trail junction. One path lead down towards Lillian Brook, and the other lead to the large rock face we figured we were supposed to climb. South Dix looks pretty spectacular as you’re climbing it, with a good bit of exposed rock to climb and some nice close up views of Macomb as you ascend.

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In almost no time we were up the rock face of South Dix and ended up back in the woods before reaching the real summit. The summit was completely wooded, as we’d known it would be, but it did have a nice rock outcropping looking out towards the south, so it wasn’t all a wash. I’ve seen South Dix mentioned as being unspectacular from other reviews, and while I understand why people may say that, I disagree with that assessment. South Dix is a pretty fun climb with some nice views before and after the summit. We took another break here, caught our breath, and headed on to Grace Peak (formerly known as East Dix).

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Andrew On South Dix

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41!
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Felt good to get #41

The trip from South Dix to Grace was a little bit longer than the trip from Macomb to South Dix, but it was basically just meandering on a ridge line the whole way, so we didn’t have to expend too much energy. I was actually fairly surprised with how nice the herd paths were, considering how remote these peaks were (we didn’t see a single person all day!) The mile walk went by fairly quickly and we got to Grace Peak in good time for our 3rd peak of the day, and 42nd overall. Of the 4 peaks we visited that day, I think Grace may very well be my favorite peak. It has some very interesting features, like a very large rock outcropping on the western summit, and a secondary summit area to the east of the summit with sensational views of Hough and the valley to the east of the range. We spent a good amount of time on the summit just checking out all the different outcroppings and ledges, and seeing all the views. Grace is probably a top ten mountain for me in terms of uniqueness, I was really pleasantly surprised by the payout from this, one of the tiniest of the High Peaks.

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Admiring the view from Grace Peak

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Ready to go kick Hough’s ass

After enjoying our stay on Grace Peak, and grabbing a few pictures, it was time to keep going as we still had some work to do on the day. After initially descending into cripple brush, I quickly course corrected and we were on our way back to South Dix. Retracing our steps was one of the more annoying parts of the trip, but it’s what had to be. We got back to South Dix pretty quickly and descended off the mountain heading towards Hough Peak. We wasted no time descending and ended up in a flat section where the Lillian Brook herd path intersected our trail. I took a second to look around because I knew this was going to be the spot where we’d want to turn off on the way back, but as we travelled through I couldn’t really spot the turnoff from the trail. This was the point in time where I started to get a bad feeling about the final descent we were going to face, but we’ll get to that later. Going up Hough, after 5 hours and 3 peaks in our legs, was a pretty tough challenge. It was a lot of starting and stopping due to fatigue and a few sketchy decisions thanks to fatigue as well. I went off course at one point and ended up trying to squeeze between thick brush for about 20 feet trying to get back on the path, but other than that we managed to find our way fine. We got to Hough Peak around 3 PM, still in good time, and took a second to catch our breath after bagging our fourth peak of the day. It was one hell of a trip up Hough given how tired we were, but getting the last of our peaks for the day was a great feeling. The summit itself was pretty small, but it was also fairly exposed on a steep ridgeline, so we got some cool views and a very tense sensation with the wind swirling and the drop-off being as severe as it was. Hough was a nice place to catch a breath though and take in the beautiful scenery of the Dix range!

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our fourth and final peak of the day
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Hough peak #43 for us

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We made our way back to the car slowly and steadily, heading down Hough before turning down the Lillian Brook herd path that neither of us had heard much about. My thinking here was that if it’s on the map it can’t be too bad of a trail, and I was very much wrong about that. Once we got back to the wooded field, I started looking on the western edge where the trail was supposed to descend and surely enough I found it after a little bit more searching. From there it was straight down a tough, eroded trail as we lost elevation quite rapidly. It definitely wasn’t the nicest trail I’ve ever taken, it was very steep and eroded as it went down the side of Hough, and by the time we leveled off it became extremely hard to follow. I kept looking for the trail fork that would lead up to Macomb, but to this day I still don’t know where the hell that trail fork was. The one thing I do know is Chris and I ended up losing the trail and just meandering aimlessly through a marshy flat land just above Lillian Brook. It was a frustrating moment for us considering we’ve hiked a few mountains in our day and usually are good with directions, but there were a good few minutes there where we didn’t know what the hell we did wrong. Chris finally spotted the trail about 50 feet down from where we initially lost it, and we kept going with very few other delays. Once we actually got parallel to the brook it was (sort of) simple to follow the trail from there, even though the falling leaves made it a little more challenging than it usually would be. Despite all of our challenges on the herd path, we made it back to the marked trail still in good time. From there it was a simple 3.5 mile victory march back to the car, knowing we got 4 peaks in and had quite an adventure to share!

Recommendations for Hikers: The Dix Range hike is a really awesome experience that I would recommend to any serious hiker. Given some of the extreme parts of the herd paths, I wouldn’t recommend it for casual hikers or family trips though. Also, it’s worth noting that while the herd paths between the peaks were in good shape, the Lillian Brook herd path was very confusing and hard to follow in some places, so I wouldn’t recommend using that trail. The best way to go would be to do all 5 of the peaks in the range together, starting with Macomb and ending on Dix. It’s very much doable in a day hike if you’re in good physical shape and you get an early start.

Macomb: Views – 7, Difficulty 8

South Dix: Views – 3 (1 from the summit itself), Difficulty 6 (easy climb from Macomb, but if you factor in the earlier difficulty, it’s a decent challenge)

Grace: Views – 7 (quality and quantity make this a high score), Difficulty 6 (same note as South Dix)

Hough: Views – 6, Difficulty 8