Sugarloaf Mountain – Maine Trip Day 3

After 2 interesting days in the Carrabassett Valley Andrew and I got up and ready to head to Mt Abraham.  After throwing out a lot of ideas for the day we figured this would be the best plan as our other options down the Caribou Pond Road were crushed (literally) in the form of a bridge demolition.  We made the small trek to Kingfield where we looked for our right turn onto West Kingfield Road.  Much to my relief this was the first paved road in Maine I had seen thus far that was not a major route.  This did not last for too long as just over three miles we were back on dirt.  Per some vague directions we found online we went straight at a 4 way intersection shortly after the road turned to gravel and continued down this road known as the Rapid Stream Road.  To say the Rapid Stream Road sucked would be a compliment as I spent most of my time white-knuckling the steering wheel dodging large rocks and muddy dips in the road while trying not to bottom out or skid off this “road” into the raging stream we were paralleling.  After about 2 miles and what seemed like an hour drive we came to a fork in the road.  The diretions online indicated we were supposed to make a left at this fork so we did.  Big mistake…the road here turned into soft dirt and mud and your suspension needed to be 2 feet high to avoid bottoming out.  We continued down here for a few minutes before I just could not do this piece of crap road in my little Ford Fusion anymore.

It was at this moment where we established an ongoing theme for the day, and that was to completely stop caring.  We turned around in what looked like the only place that was possible and headed back down the road where we came from.  We spent some time lamenting the fact that yet again the roadways kicked our ass before coming to the decision to drive to the Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Area.  We were a little bit disappointed with how the day was going so far, but that didn’t last for too long.  We knew that it was not the ideal hike but given how nice the day was and our desire to get a climb in we decided to make the most of it.

We arrived at the Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Area just after 11:00 a.m.  We walked around a little bit near the base lodge, not that we wanted to waste any time we just really didn’t know where we should park or start.  After going into the lodge we ran into someone who directed us where to park and for us to check in at the reception area at the hotel.  Checking in at the desk just seemed pointless to me but nonetheless we went over at the attendants request and informed them we would be hiking.  They wanted to know where we were for “search and rescue” purposes (eyeroll).  The attendant at the desk advised us to take the “Tote Road” ski trail to the top which given our lack of any sort of plan we figured we would give it a try.

We walked past the parking lot and found ourselves a trail map.  We made our best guess at that point as to where “Tote Road” and got going.  The incline started almost instantly as we kind of expected since this was a ski area.  We found out pretty quickly that hiking 3 days in a row was going to be brutal on the legs.  I cant say that we were feeling pain but the lack of bounce in our step was definitely noticeable as our legs were more or less lifeless.  This lack of power in the legs made this first portion more daunting than it needed to be so we ended up taking frequent breaks right off the bat.  Fortunately we figured out we were on the right trail as we came across a sign for Tote Road.

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Tote road was definitely good to us for a little bit.  What started out as a grassy steep hill turned into a gravel road that was relatively flat for a short period of time.  The quick break from the ascent did not last too long as Andrew and I started to make our way back up the mountain again.  We found ourselves paralleling a little bit before we decided it was time to just start winging it.  We took a moment to devise some sort of strategy which ended up being “screw it lets go straight up”.  This in theory seems like a great idea, but we found out quickly why some trails have a lot of switchbacks worked into it.  It was f—ing steep.  I found myself struggling mightily to make my way up the soft grassy trail choosing to ascend it by doing a diagonal route across the trail numerous times.  Andrew did not seem to have any better plan so he followed suit.  We must of stopped on this thing at least six times before the top was within a realistically attainable distance.  Finally we made it to the top before my suspicions that we just ascended a double black diamond trail was confirmed by the following trail sign.

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Good ol’ Skidder was quite the bitch I must say as I think descending this on foot would be equally if not more horrifying than it would be on skis.  Anyway from that point we managed to get back onto another gravel road who really knows what it was called.  Regardless it gave us a chance to catch our breath again and look for our next path up the mountain.  Sadly for my legs we still had some ascending left to do before we reached what looked like the top of the ski lift we seemed to be paralleling.  Thankfully the climb to the next trail map took a lot less out of us…not that there was much left at this point.  Once Andrew got a look at the map he noticed that there were only a few more trails to get to the summit so we opted to just take the first one we came across, again just winging it.

 

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A look up our final push to the summit

At this point of the day our legs were spent but strangely working well enough to carry us through this last little bit.  After 5 minutes going up this last ski trail we finally broke tree line for good and made our way up to the rocky summit of Sugarloaf.  On the way I could help but notice an abundance of trash and other crap, and oh yeah cell towers which for me didn’t ruin the experience but it did make it feel weird.  It didn’t take us all that long from when we started but I was happy to be at the summit and get in a peak despite Maine throwing us infinite curveballs.  We must have spent over a half hour at the summit, and despite the horrible bugs we managed to enjoy ourselves.

 

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Yay At&t

 

 

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Failed assassination attempt of the cell tower

 

After touring the strange yet still impressive summit of Sugarloaf we decided it was time to head back down.  We decided we were just going to wing it for the entire descent so with that in mind we made our way to the comically named Cinder Hoe.  We decided the name made us laugh hard enough (yeah I’m immature I guess…whatever) that we would grace the trail with our presence.  That lasted a short bit because before long the trail became overgrown with vegetation that I could not really identify so we cut through some trees and walked directly under the ski lift until we were back on a gravel road.  We followed this for some time and it was pretty easy going until we decided to get back on the grassy ski trails.  We came to a sign for Tote Road again as well as a few other trails which meant it was time to make another decision.

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Well you can probably guess that we did not take the suggested route down because to us it seemed less direct and less fun.  So we decided to literally run down the Double Bitter trail which was rated a black diamond for skiers.  To be honest the running was sort of fun as we don’t typically have conditions available to condone such methods of descent.  I honestly wouldn’t recommend running down a mountain although I guess all of you psychotic trail runners do so who am I to suggest its not the safest.  Anyway this did help to cut more time off our descent.  We kept jogging off and on down random trails until we finally saw the base lodge again.  After all that transpired earlier in the day we were happy to get one closer to the Northeast 111 and successfully complete our third straight day for hiking.  We decided to make our way back into “town” and relax for the night.

Recommendation for Hikers:  Sugarloaf Mountain can be hiked pretty easily from the ski area but many may try to hike this from the Caribou Pond Road for a more conventional hiking experience (this option was not available to us since they were constructing new bridges on the way to the trailhead).  For peak baggers it may be wise to combine this climb with Spaulding Mountain and Mt Abraham especially if you need to make a long trek to get here.  All in all the hike is not crazy difficult at just over 4 miles but the views are slightly soured by the presence of the summit cell towers.

Sugarloaf:  Difficulty – 3  Views – 7

 

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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)