Maine Trip Day 4 – Old Speck Mountain

After 3 days of taking on whatever Maine could throw at us we decided to head over to Old Speck Mountain to finish out our trip.  We knew it was going to be a little bit of a drive to get to the trailhead so we decided to get up a little bit earlier to head over there.  We checked out of the Spillover Motel at around 6:30 in the morning before making our way out of Stratton and towards Rangeley.  We were fortunate enough to stumble upon a solid Bagel Shop for a quick breakfast before ultimately heading towards the trailhead.  I had completely given up on my GPS for the week so Andrew was co-piloting with a road map which proved to be a much more effective method of navigation than getting led to your death down an unpaved hunting road…

After driving through a windy road for over an hour we arrived at the Old Speck Trailhead which much to my surprise was a paved parking lot at around 8:45 a.m.  We could see the task at hand right in front of us as the summit of Old Speck is visible from the parking lot.  Looking at a map in front of us we knew it wasn’t going to be a long hike (7.6 miles) but exactly how the terrain would shake out was to be determined.  After looking for a spot to pay the parking fee we figured out that there in fact were no parking passes or anything of the sort so we just sort of started hiking at that point.

Having never hiked more than 2 days consecutively in my entire life prior to this week and this being day 4 in a row my legs felt like sludge.  The entirety of our hike would be on the Old Speck Trail which coincidentally was also part of the Appalachian Trail.  Even though the trail briefly started out flat it did not last for long, and my body was not so appreciative of this fact at first.  We started what would be a 1 mile ascent to a trail junction where the Old Speck Trail and the “Eyebrow Trail” would meet.  The trip up this 1 mile ascent was absolute murder on our legs.  On any other day this would have been cake for us, but considering the fatigue that we were both experiencing it took a while to make it.  Nonetheless we soldiered on only really stopping to admire a few waterfalls along the way.  Another factor although insignificant for this time a year were a few stream crossings which were very easily navigated.

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After what seemed like forever (in reality it was like 35 minutes) we finally reached the trail junction that we were looking for.  We took the opportunity to get a needed rest for our legs as well as hydrate.

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After the junction we did seem to level off for a little bit, but that was ultimately very short lived as expected because we were less than halfway to the summit and had plenty of elevation left to gain.  Andrew and I kept on walking until we reached some boulders that gave us a little bit more of a perspective as to where we were in relation to the summit.  From the looks of things we looked like we were further away than when we started.  The idea when this trail was blazed was clearly to make the ascent/descent a little more forgiving but in doing so made it kind of ass-backwards.  We also noticed a pattern where it looked like we would rapidly ascend plateau and repeat until we would reach the summit.

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One of many Appalachian Trail Markers we found market with an A and T forming an arrow

Andrew and I really did not take many extended stops up to this point but we also weren’t breaking any records either.  We continued to ascend and plateau for another 20 minutes or so before we finally took the packs off to take a real rest.  While I’m not one who likes to stop too often this day was different.  I was perfectly at peace with just taking our time for a change since the day was so short on mileage, it was perfect outside, and we earned the flippin’ right to just chill for once.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Getting closer

 

We knew from where we sat that there looked like we had one steep spot in front of us followed by a very gradual ascent to the summit.  Not having a lot of mileage to go we started on a slow pace once again.  The trail actually took a brief descent before rapidly gaining elevation once again.  Surprisingly Andrew and I did not have too many issues getting up this steep portion despite the fatigue we were feeling.  With our legs somehow getting a little juice back into them we kept on pushing for the summit.  About a half mile away from the summit we came to a point where there was a nice lookout into the Maine wilderness.  Up to this point there were really no major obstacles that we had to manage other than your basic hike along a trail.

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Eventually I heard Andrew who got ahead of me whilst I was busy vlogging.  I wasn’t sure what he said at first but I thought I heard him say trail junction or something of that sort.  I then saw what he was talking about as he beautifully presented the following sign.

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Seeing .3 miles to go was just what I wanted to see as my body had just about enough up to this point.  We took it easy for the last 10 minutes until we saw the clearing and firetower marking the summit of Old Speck Mountain.  The area on the summit was left kind of a mess from people who apparently elected to camp there.  I saw a great deal of trash which Andrew and I attempted to clean up along with fire pits that people had created on the summit.  Although seeing this stuff does bother me I was not about to let it sour this great mountain for me.  I made my way up to the top of the fire tower where I could get some of the best views Old Speck had to offer.

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Andrew and I spent 45 minutes on the summit.  We deserved the rest and the opportunity to admire the work we had done the last 4 days.  6 peaks over the course of 4 days was a nice achievement for us while I’m not sure we would do that again it was great hiking a new part of New England and getting away from life for a little bit.  All of that aside we began our leisurely descent of Old Speck Mountain.  It took us 2 hours and 10 minutes to reach the summit from when we started and it was not much more to make our way back down.  When we reached the parking lot I looked back up one final time to take in the day before we headed back to Massachusetts.  57 down and 58 to go.

Recommendation to hikers:  If you want to make the trip to Old Speck it will be worth your while regardless of your hiking experience.  If you want to ascend the firetower on the summit you will be rewarded with some fantastic 360 degree views, but even if you don’t youll find Old Speck to be a pretty easy climb with a nice spot to look out from the summit.

Old Speck:  Views – 7  Difficulty – 3

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

Mt Garfield

 

After yet another long winter Andrew and I were tired of waiting and decided to go out for our first ever April climb.  The weeks leading up seemed to just drag along with us messaging different hiking plans back and forth almost every night.  Andrew arrived at my place in Chelsea the night before and we decided to go with none of the other ideas we discussed and hike Mt Garfield instead.  By the looks of things we figured a 10-12 mile day (depending on the parking situation) and a pretty gradual ascent seemed like the way to go.  All things considered we made our way up to the White Mountains pretty early leaving just after 6:00 a.m.  I had a general idea of where I was going although really I probably could’ve used a GPS, but the 5 seconds required to enter the coordinates seemed like far too much effort at the time.

We arrived at the Gale River Loop Road (after passing it) right around 9:00 a.m.  We realized we were going to have to add 2 miles to our day since the gate to the actual trailhead was still closed.  This was not much of a concern as a mile walk down a dirt road reminded us to walking down the AMR road near the Ausable Club in Keene Valley.  We would ultimately reach the trailhead after a quick 20 minute walk where we saw a nice map of the trail we would be taking.

 

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Trail Register for the Garfield Trail

 

 

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5 Miles to the summit

 

After checking out our route (which had already done the night before anyway) we began to make our way up the Garfield Trail.  We knew it was only going to be a quick 5 miles to reach the summit and by the looks of the contours on the map we did not expect the hike to be all that steep.  Surprisingly things were incredibly dry at the start with leftover foliage from last fall littering the trail and nothing else.  We were moving along pretty quickly until we came to our first stream crossing.

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With little to no trouble at all we made our way through that first stream crossing in the process hopping said stream in two places before heading up the trail again.  Still the trail conditions were dry and relatively flat as we made our way to yet another stream crossing which we expected to be the last one we would encounter on our ascent.  After yet again making our way through with little to no trouble we just kept on going.  We continued along for about 2 miles before finding a nice place to sit down and take a break.

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Andrew approaches another crossing

The break was short, just enough to catch our breath and intake a little nourishment.   The day the far had been a piece of cake with not much in the way of an incline, mud, or really any sort of obstacles so we were pretty happy, but also reserved with the though being something is eventually going to get in the way.  It wasn’t too long before that thought came to life in the form of winters unfortunate excrements scattered along the trail and surrounding areas

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sigh…

Facing what we knew had the potential to be a major nuisance the rest of the day we continued down the snowy trail with our snowshoes ready to go just in case.  We found ourselves walking on top of the snow with relative ease.  Assisting this was a nicely packed “monorail” a term I learned the night before reading various trail reports.  We continued our walk along the snow noticing that it was gradually getting deeper as our elevation increased.  The trail itself however was not overly steep as we began to approach the switchbacks we saw when looking at the map.  This portion of the trail reminded me of the Ridge Trail on the way to Giant Mountain in the Adirondacks with the zig-zagging along until reaching higher elevation versus just going straight up.  After navigating this portion we noticed the trees were beginning to thin out so we stopped to peak through the dwindling trees.

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Shortly after stopping we noticed the elevation gain was starting to get a little more rapid, making the traction on the bottom of my boots get a little less reliable.  It wasn’t too long before we noticed a little sign marking our location in relation to the summit and the campsite that is just .2 miles from said summit.

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Andrew and I continued along at no point post-holing but slipping a little more frequently with the steeper gradient.  Eventually we reached the trail junction for the Garfield Ridge Trail to the summit and the Garfield Ridge Tentsite.  We knew from here it was just under a quarter of a mile until we would reach our first summit of 2017.

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The sign was a little confusing as there was nothing that really just said Mt Garfield.   Fortunately common sense and the fact that we had already seen the map earlier we knew that we wanted to go towards Mt Lafayette as the summit of Garfield is along the same trail.  The last stretch was by far the most challenging part of our day.  The trail was steep and the snow was very slick and despite having snowshoes we did not really feel like putting them on for such a short distance.  In our typical fashion we were just winging it.  As we approached the summit I had begun to gain on Andrew and if not for me doing so we may have had a situation.  While trying to navigate the steepest portion of the trail Andrew lost all traction and began to slide down the mountain.  If not for me being there to break the momentum there wasn’t too much stopping him from sliding down another 75-100 feet through a bunch of trees.  Long story short we should have worn traction for this part.  Fortunately we broke through the snow and got to bare rock and from there it was just a quick easy walk to the summit of Mt Garfield.  Mt Garfield marked my 50th peak and for Andrew his 46th.  The views were spectacular offering a full 360 degrees of White Mountain wilderness to admire on top of a foundation of what used to be a fire tower.

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Nice Panorama looking towards Owls Head, Liberty, Flume, Lincoln & Lafayette

 

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Andrew On Garfield

 

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Enjoying my first ever April climb

 

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Nice panorama to the North of Garfield

After thoroughly enjoying the summit we decided to make our way down the mountain.  This time however we were not going to leave the traction devices on the pack.  Andrew affixed his microspikes to his boots and I did so with my snowshoes.  I liked this for a couple reasons, the first being it would certainly be safer than what we attempted going up and the second being we would get a nice comparison between the two.  Andrews spikes seemed to be the winner as he was able to get down much quicker than I wearing snowshoes although the teeth on the bottom of my shoes provided plenty of added friction in the snow.  After about a mile of hiking with the snow shoes I took them off as they were only slowing me down and we were well past the worst of what Garfield was going to throw at us.  We made our way down until we reached the end of the snow line and stopped to get a quick drink before making our way out.

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Andrew fuels up for the final push

 

 

At his point we reached that point we do in almost every hike where we just wanted to go full speed back to the trailhead.  That was just what we did stopping only when we reached the trailhead only slowing down to hop over the streams which were surprisingly not much higher than they were at the beginning of the day.  We walked back to the car feeling pretty good about the day with nothing more than some wet boots to fuss about.

Recommendation To Hikers:

Mt Garfield is about as easy a hike as I can remember as far as the trail conditions go.  If there wasn’t snow there wouldn’t really be anything to stop us.  Given the conditions we found out that traction devices would be highly advisable but even so the hike would have been plenty possible without them.  You really get the bang for your buck with a beautiful summit offering 360 degree views.

Mt Garfield:  Difficulty:  5 (3 without snow)  Views: 9

 

 

 

 

Mt Pierce & Mt Eisenhower (NH)

A beautiful Saturday plus a three day weekend almost always means I’m hiking.  This time I was ready to take on the Whites again with Sarah tagging along.  The plan for the day was to take on the Mt Pierce and Mt Eisenhower loop by ascending the Crawford path and coming back down the Edmands path to the trailhead.  Given the relatively short distance of the hike we weren’t too concerned about getting an early start for this one.  We made the 2.5 hour drive up 93 and down rte. 302 just past Bretton Woods to the trailhead.  Given the amount of cars parked on the side on the road on the way up I figured the lot would be packed.  Sure enough we were stuck parking off the road and yet still needed to pay the $3 parking fee.   After figuring out that little debacle we got going down the Crawford Path to Mt Pierce.

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As has been the case with most of the White Mountain climbs Ive done to date there was not much of a warm up period to this climb.  Instead the ascent began almost immediately.  Sarah and I set a pretty fast pace right out of the gates.  We kept at this pace until we reached a sign for Gibbs Falls.  We decided to take the brief detour to check it out and it was not disappointing but at the same time not the most spectacular waterfall I have come across in my hiking escapades.

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Gibbs Falls

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After the waterfall we got back on the Crawford Path and headed off towards Pierce.  The climb was very steady, never too steep yet never flat almost the entire way to Pierce.  There were a few trail junctions on the way however you never really make a turn off of the Crawford Path, rather just stay straight until you break tree line.

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Once we broke tree line it was not long before we reached the summit of Mt Pierce.  The summit is marked with a very large cairn along with a geological summit marker on 2 different rocks.  We took some time on the summit to really enjoy the view as we had done the entire ascent in just under 2 hours.

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Cairn marking summit of Mt Pierce
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Geological Survey marker on Pierce
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Sarah and I on Pierce
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View Towards Eisenhower and the Presidentials

After fueling up on Clif Bars and Gatorade and getting our picture taken a few times we kept on going to make our ascent of Mt Eisenhower.  Just looking at the terrain in front of us it appeared we would be above tree line for the majority of the hike to Eisenhower.  Turns out I was right, we gradually descended from Pierce really only stopping to shed a layer of clothing before once again clearing tree line on the way up to Eisenhower.

The walk to Eisenhower was not that difficult and we seemed to be getting there rather quickly.  Once we reached the col between Pierce and Eisenhower we started to realize the last bit would be pretty intense as the gradient increased rather dramatically.

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“oh….hey Eisenhower”

The trail would go in kind of a zig zag pattern for most of the way up Eisenhower with a few scrambles mixed in.  Cairns clearly mark the trail until you reach the summit of Eisenhower.  Once on the summit which was clearly marked by a giant cairn and well over a dozen people we decided to sit down and catch our breath for a little bit, while enjoying the spectacular views of the Presidential Range.

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Sarah and I on Eisenhower’s summit

After enjoying the summit for a good while Sarah and I finally began to make our way down Eisenhower towards the Edmands Path.  Sarah seemed to think  we were supposed to go back the way we came to access that which to me sounded wrong given my research of the trail.  We went with my gut instinct as opposed to Sarahs which turned out to be the right call.  The way off the rocky summit was steep and windy.  We knew we were close to the Edmands Path when we reached a section of trail where we could see what looked like 5 or 6 trails meeting at the same point from above.

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From the trail junction we knew it would be a 2.9 mile trek back to the road and another 2.3 until we got back to our car.  Before we made our trek down we stopped at a sign warning hikers of the potential weather conditions near the summit.  We paid very little mind to it since we were not going to be spending any more time at the summit, but it raised my eyebrows as to the kind of weather that occurs in this part of the mountains.

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Beware of weather
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There was a moose sticker with the state of Texas cut into it on this sign…

The way down was easy straightforward hiking. For most of it Sarah and I were almost jogging, passing easily over 20 hikers on the way down.  Before long we had reached the road.  We were pretty tired and hungry up to that point considering we had really gone at a fast pace and hadn’t stopped much for anything.  We made the 2.3 mile walk down to the trailhead while Sarah kept track of the Sox Yankees game on her phone. (Sox won!)  Once there we threw the gear off and headed to Lincoln NH for some chow.  All in all a successful day climbing 2 mountains in 5.5 hours!

Recommendation to hikers:  Pierce and Eisenhower is a great loop hike suitable for all shapes and sizes.  The summits reward you with spectacular views all the way around.  Just be mindful of the weather conditions on the day you go as it can get pretty nasty!

Pierce:   Views – 8  Difficulty – 4

Eisenhower:  Views – 9  Difficulty – 4

Mt Marshall

On a hot day in August Andrew and I decided it was about time to get back out on the trails.  In the week leading up to the hike we had initially intended to finish the Dix Range.  However the night before the hike Andrew informed me he had been feeling off for a couple days and wasn’t sure that was in the cards.  Given how Andrew was feeling we opted for what we felt would be a simpler hike.  With that in mind Marshall seemed to be the best fit for us on this day.  We managed to get on the road a little after 5:00 a.m. and get some breakfast along the way.  We arrived at the Upper Works trailhead just before 8:00 a.m., but not before enduring some interesting sections of road work along the way.  We got a nice glimpse of what used to be an active iron mining area of Tahawus and found the New York history pretty interesting.

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After signing in at the register we got going down what was a pretty well maintained trail until we reached our first junction about a quarter of a mile into the hike.

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After the first junction we found another one in very short order, and it had a special reminder for anyone wishing to crap in the woods.

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From this point you want to make sure you follow the red trail markers toward Lake Colden.  The trail from this point on was very simple with mostly flat sections and planks to help you get through some muddy areas.  At one point we got to an area with a large clearing which we stupidly thought was the flowed lands (nope), but it did give us a little scenery to start the day off.

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It wasn’t long until we made it to a bridge at which point we switched over to some blue trail markers that would lead us towards Lake Colden.  I should mention that while you are supposed to go towards Lake Colden you don’t actually reach the lake, if you do you have gone too far and will need to double back to get to Marshall.

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The trail up to this point had been very flat with virtually no obstacles making it a good warm up for what we would have in store for us the rest of the day.  Knowing that we would have to start gaining some elevation at some point we figured we shouldn’t get used to things being so easy.  Gradually we started to hit some inclines but even so it was not overwhelming so we just kept up our leisurely pace we had established to start the day.  One obstacle we started to encounter more of the further we went was the mud, several sections were sopping wet, and when stepped onto would leak over the top of my boots which resulted in wet socks for most of the day.  We kept on going through mud and all until we got to a portion  where the trail forked in two different directions at a steadily moving brook.  We figured this was a decent spot to assess the map and get a drink of water.

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Turns out the reason the trail forks is because of the stream.  The foot bridge you can see in the distance was put in place for the potentially high water.  Given the dry year we have had there was no such issue and no need for us to take the bridge.  With this in mind we kept on going until we reached what looked like a blank trail sign.  The trail went in both directions so we decided to take a left.  While it really wasn’t the right way I am happy we ventured there as it took us to the David Henderson monument.  Long story short this monument is in honor of David Henderson who accidentally shot himself over 150 years ago.

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The Henderson Monument
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Calamity Pond

After admiring another piece of New York history along with scenic Calamity Pond we turned back and headed in the right direction.  The trail after this was once again just a very gradual incline until we reached a second register near the Flowed Lands.

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In reality you don’t really want to follow any of the arrows as you don’t want to enter the Flowed Lands or Lake Colden.  Instead go left towards a small campsite (if you look at the register there is a campsite marker pointing left you’ll want to follow that)  The red trail markers will mark this area until you eventually get to a cairn marking the start of the herd path for Marshall.

Shortly after finding the herd path towards Marshall I was rudely greeted by a hornet.  For anyone allergic to bee stings please carry an epipen on your hikes because you really never know what can happen.  Fortunately for me I am not and just had to deal with some substantial burning in my leg for the next 30 minutes or so.  I kept on going until we started to parallel Herbert Brook.  We meandered along this brook for quite some time crossing it more times than I can count until we made it to another rock cairn.

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The trail forks at that first cairn, look for this second one to the left which will mark the correct direction

Now according to our map which Andrew had recently purchased it looked to be about a quarter of a mile from this point until we would reach the summit.  However after going through and climbing it I am pretty convinced that it is in fact more than that.  Nonetheless after a few muddy spots and a couple of trickier rock scrambles we made it to the summit of Mt Marshall.  Marshall stands as the 25th tallest peak in the Adirondacks, and for Andrew and I our 37th high peak climbed.  The views from the summit sign were non-existent, but after a little bit of exploring we managed to find some rock outcrops that gave us some very nice views towards the South and East.

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#37
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Andrew on Marshall
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Typical 2 course summit meal for me

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Standing on an outcrop near the summit of Marshall
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Andrew looks to the Flowed Lands below

As far as the pace of our hike, we managed to get through about 6.5 miles in just over 4 hours which is relatively slow for us.  However given the heat and the fact we knew it was only a 1 peak day it was mostly our intention to go slow.  We packed up the gear and trudged our way back down muddy Mt Marshall.  Along the way I did stop to get a picture of Iroquois Peak, and also remember the stupidity we were guilty of on that day.

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View of Iroquois Peak my halfway point

After the brief stop we went back down the Herbert Brook trail until we reached the marked trail again.  It had taken us about an hour and a half to get back to the second register which was about the same as it took us to ascend the mountain from that point.  From there we continued down the straightforward marked trail until we reached the bridge we had crossed earlier in the day.  From there it was only going to be 1.2 miles until we would reach the parking lot.

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Almost back…yay

After drinking the last of my water we just booked it until we got back to the trailhead.  It was just after 5:00 p.m. when we reached the lot making this a 9 hour day for us.  Overall I was happy with the day and we decided to make our way to Keene Valley for some food to celebrate number 37.

Recommendation to Hikers:  Mt Marshall did not really present too big of a task for us despite the fact that you will encounter some sloppy trails while hiking this mountain.  Once you reach Herbert Brook try to stay on the herd path as it started to meander a bit and you will cross this brook numerous times so make sure you pay attention.  On another note the water levels are quite low for the time being. Make sure you are careful crossing especially in spring when the water is higher.  The average hiker may find all the mud and lack of summit view as a draw back, but there are some spots near the summit that will offer you some great views towards the Southern Adirondacks and also towards the East.

Marshall:  Difficulty – 5  Views – 5

 

 

Santanoni, Couchsachraga, Panther

Well due to some bad luck, work, and other stuff I hadn’t been able to hike for about a month and a half.  So its fair to say that I was having some pretty intense mountain withdrawals for the past month or so.  I also decided to try something new with this hike and make a vlog.  I have to say it was a good bit of fun filming a lot of the hike.  Not to mention I think it gives you a better idea of exactly what you can expect when you’re out on these trails.  So yeah I waited until high peak number 34 to do one, but I’m just a person…The video is above.

Anyway we got the day started at about 5:00 a.m. when Andrew picked me up at my parents place.  We ate our breakfast at the house, and normally you would think cooking eggs at 5:00 would be annoying to everyone else.  However my father was up at about 4:30 as this is a daily thing for him, in fact I got crap for “sleeping in”.  After eating, we got on the road a little after 5:30 and headed up the Northway and into the high peaks.  From the Northway we took exit 29 and headed down snaking roads for several miles before taking a right when we saw a road sign for Tahawus.  From there we continued on until we made it to the Upper Works trailhead.

The hike started off down a gravel road for 1.8 miles.  This part served as a nice warmup to the real hiking that would take place after this point.  The walk along this road was absolutely brutal with horseflies.  I’m not sure if that’s atypical, but nonetheless it was very bothersome.  After about 25 minutes of walking and swatting flies we made it to our turnoff which is marked by a blue foot trail disc and an arrow.

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To my knowledge this is the only marked trail of the entire hike and the plan we had was not to follow it for a particularly extended period of time.  Our plan was to hike this marked trail until we reached a cairn marking the start of the Santanoni Express.  We started down the marked trail and kept up a fast pace until we reached sign that said “bridge out”.  To neither of our surprise we came across the sad remains of what used to be a bridge.  It wasn’t too long after that when we reached a second bridge which had about a quarter of it missing as well.  Despite the bridges we kept on moving.  We hiked until we reached a small stream which we figured was a good spot to catch our breath and take a peek at the map.  This was also nice as it gave me a chance to take some pics, and upon looking at our map we saw that the turnoff for Santanoni was not much further ahead.

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Andrew catches his breath and checks out the map

We quickly got everything back together and got back on the trail.  It was only about 10 minutes until we reached the cairn for the Santanoni Express.  The trail was initially pretty easy to follow but it quickly opened up into a swampy area in which we noticed small herd paths leading everywhere.  It took a little walking around to figure out the right one but eventually we got on the right track and started really climbing.  We really only took one break on the way to the summit of Santanoni which I was pretty proud of considering the lack of physical activity both Andrew and I have exhibited over the last couple months.  Before long we made it to a false summit where I was able to get a couple pictures.

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A view of where we came from

We would reach another false summit but from that point it was only another tenth of a mile through some muddy areas and rock until we reached summit number 34 Santanoni Peak.  The views weren’t much to speak of but it was great to check off another high peak.

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Andrew pondering the summit sign
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#34

After refueling on cliff bars and Gatorade we took off for Couchsachraga.  The way we planned to get there was to go about a quarter mile back where we came from and take a left turn down the trail towards “Times Square”.  The way down Santanoni was initially pretty rocky and wet so we went slower than I was hoping for.  However the descent overall was not too severe as the hike seemed to stay on top of a ridge line that connects the Santanoni Range.  It was only about 45 minutes until we made it to a small cairn marking Times Square and the turnoff for Couchsachraga.  After continuing to descend we made it to a very muddy bog which I had heard about from reading other blogs.  We proceeded very slowly through the bog as losing a boot didn’t feel like the greatest thing.  After making it through we began our climb of Couchie, but not before we got our boots caked in mud.

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The aftermath of the bog

From this point we would begin climbing until we made it up to the summit of Couchie.  The trail along the way was never overwhelming, but more of a gradual steady climb without too much scrambling or steep rock.  In just about 25 minutes we would reach the small summit of Couchsachraga the shortest of the 46.

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Andrew takes out Couchie for 35
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finally crossed off Couch

To this point Andrew and I were a bit ahead of schedule from what we were anticipating so from Couchsachraga we decided to take our time heading to Panther.  It was a good thing too as I was feeling a little dehydrated and sluggish heading down toward the big bog again.  After trudging through the large area of slop we took another break so I could hydrate and get some nutrition in myself.  Almost immediately I felt more energized as we made our way back up to Times Square.  From Times Square we found the letter P scratched into a tree with a directional arrow, which logically we followed.  From here the walk to the summit was extremely gradual and short.  Just before the summit we got some outstanding views towards the rest of the Santanonis and into the Adirondack wilderness.  From the lookout the summit was right around the corner covered with trees.  Upon reaching the summit Andrew and I are down to 10 peaks left.

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10 to go!
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Andrew on Panther Peak
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View from just below Panthers summit

 

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After sitting on Panther for a while Andrew and I decided that it was time to pack up and head out.  The goal was to make it back to the car for around 7:00 p.m.  Our plan was to head back to Times Square and from there make the trip down to Bradley Pond and follow the foot trail back to the road.  We made our way down to Times Square rather quickly before making a slow descent down towards Bradley Pond.  The long day thus far was starting to wear us out now that the motivation to climb was pretty much gone.  After about an hour of walking we reached a cairn marking a spot where we needed to cross a stream.  We figured it would be a good spot to take one last break before making one big push back to the car.

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hard to miss this cairn, fortunately the water was dead low

After we caught our breath we picked up the pace to try and get the heck out of the woods as we were both tired and hungry.  It wasn’t too long before we reached Bradley Pond although we never walked off the trail to check it out.  We eventually made it around the water and found the foot trail marked with a blue disc.  From there it was just a long walk out until we would reach the road, by our calculations about 2.6 miles.  Once we reached the road I really started to feel the effects of the day.  I was done. So done.  We hauled ass for another 40 minutes or so before we saw the gate marking the end of our day.  It took us just under 11 hours as we made it out just 10 minutes before 7:00.  10 more to go!

Recommendation To Hikers:  The Santanonis while not overly extreme or difficult do not offer you anything particularly rewarding for views.  While I know the popular route is to go up the route Andrew and I went down I feel like our approach worked the best for us. As the steepest part of the day was done and over with quickly which was advantageous to us.  If you aren’t seeking to join the 46ers maybe you skip this one unless you want to make the trip up to Panther which was the easiest in my opinion and offered the best view.  I would also caution anyone hiking this in the spring months as the snow melt and high water content will serve to make a lot of the muddy bogs a lot worse.

Santanoni:  Difficulty – 6  Views – 4

Couchsachraga:  Difficulty – 5  Views -2

Panther:  Difficulty – 4  Views -7