One day after Andrew and I returned to the White Mountains in New Hampshire we decided to take on the Hancock Loop off the hairpin turn on the Kancamagus Highway. Sarah had made her way up here late the previous night to join us on the rest of our trip. We woke up at around 6:30 in effort to be on the road by 7. Andrew was curious about Tripoli Road and insisted that we take it to 93 North. I knew it would eventually get there, but knowing the road is closed during winter I wasn’t too sure what to expect. Turns out there a good reason for the road being closed in winter as the majority of it is unpaved and sketchy as all hell. It seems to be a common theme for us trying to navigate some sort of potential disaster every single time we go hiking, but at this point its just part of the fun for us. Anyway after a few miles of slower travel we got by the road and made it to I 93 where we would continue into Lincoln for our breakfast.
We stopped at Flapjacks in Lincoln for a big breakfast. I always remembered this place from when my parents would take me as a child. It was pretty much the same as I remembered with some kick ass pancakes and toy trains moving in the rafters. After loading ourselves with starch and carbs we headed off to the hairpin turn on the Kancamagus where we would come to our trailhead. The trailhead parking just seemed to be filling up as we got there. Fortunately we were able to find ourselves a spot before the lot got full. From there we threw on the gear and got ready to start our hike.
The weather seemed like it may or may not hold off for us that day but I’m not overly accustomed to caring too much about some minor weather. Nonetheless the three of us took off down the trail towards the Hancock’s. We would follow the Hancock Notch Trail for a little over a mile before reaching a trail junction that would head toward the loop. The hike up to that point was about as easy as it could get with the trail being very flat and very well maintained with pretty much no notable obstacles to speak of.
The conditions that day seemed to be constantly improving which was a welcome surprise for us thinking that we would ultimately get rained on. The trail was still flat, the sun was burning off the clouds and life was good for the time being. The portion of trail between the Hancock Notch Trail and The Hancock Loop Trail was called the Cedar Brook Trail. This much like the Notch Trail was overall very well maintained and pretty flat. The only real difference between the two sections were a few water crossings that still did not act as much of an obstacle.
Before long we came to a sign for the Hancock Loop Trail which we would ultimately follow to both of our peaks for the day. At this point we knew that the climb would start to gain elevation pretty quickly so we decided we would get a little fuel into our systems before making our way up to the summits. Eventually we reached the actual loop portion of the trail where we had to make a choice of either hiking the South Peak first or Hancock.
We figured we would take the trek up to the South Peak first that we would be able to accomplish in .5 miles. The trek up to South Hancock was about as steep as it gets for hiking standards. We found ourselves sucking wind and pausing frequently on the way, not to mention I was hacking up a lung from the cold I had the previous week. Before too long though we made it to the summit of South Hancock. The summit area had a nice outlook where we did manage to get a nice view, but other than a height of land the was no real feature there marking the summit.
We spent sometime on the summit getting a bite to eat and socializing with some other hikers. While on the summit we noticed some Gray Jays were lurking around us. Rumor had it that these little guys were pretty bold little birds and are known to eat right out of your hand. Knowing this I had to give it a go and see if one of them would take the bait. Sure enough after holding out some granola long enough one of those little guys perched itself on my finger and took a beak full before taking off to enjoy their little snack. As amusing as this all was we knew we needed to get going to our second peak of the day Mt. Hancock.
We got going down the trail which looked to be a 1.4 mile ridge hike we no real exposure but fortunately the drop in elevation was not going to be too over bearing. It was a pretty straight forward walk with some slightly muddier sections along the way but I wasn’t too long before we started approaching our second summit of the day. We noticed the trees thinning out a bit but never any bald portions until we ultimately reached a sign which signaled that we were at the summit. Much like the last summit there wasn’t really any obvious area to observe the surroundings other than a small outlook just off the summit. Once again we took time to get a bite to eat and feed some Gray Jays.
After taking about a half hour to rest we figured it was about time to head back down the mountain. According to the trail junction it was going to be .7 miles down point where the Loop Trail split. The trail going down to the split was very steep and treacherous. The trail gave me flashbacks of the Macomb slide with a lot of loose rocks and gravel on a very steep gradient. We took it slow on the way down to ensure we didn’t injure ourselves at least until we reached the loop.
We gathered ourselves once reaching the loop before making our way out as quickly as we could. The trail going out was just as easy as it was coming in although when you have no more summit to look forward to it always seems like its longer. We eventually got back to the road and once there we were all in shock about what we were witnessing. Let me start by saying that I love hiking at this time of year but there volume of cars out there blew me away. Why people come in droves to watch leaves die I guess I’ll never understand. Anyway we knew we had one day of hiking to go so we headed back to get some food and rest.
Recommendation to Hikers: The Hancock’s are a fun day with nothing too challenging getting in your way. While the views aren’t outstanding you do get an opportunity to get a few nice pictures out on the trails without hiking too many miles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
This was the day I had been looking forward to for the better part of the last 4 years. 8/13/17 would be the day I completed every mountain on the Adirondack 46ers list. All I had to do was travel 17.5 miles up and down mighty Mt Haystack in the middle of the Adirondack High Peaks. Yeah not that easy, never is. I had spent the weekend up to that point with Sarah up in Brasher Falls, NY but the hike had been on my mind for weeks leading up to that point. Sunday morning we woke up just before 6 am and wasted no time getting on the road. The plan was to meet Andrew at Marcy Field around 8 am and hop on the shuttle to The Garden in Keene. Once we arrived at Marcy Field the shuttle driver informed us that there was still 5 spots left at The Garden. We decided to take a chance at getting one of those spots since taking the pressure off making the final shuttle was worth the gamble to me. Sure enough we made it to The Garden with just 2 spots remaining. I paid the $10 to park at The Garden (not before the douche at the gate told me I was driving too fast, I was going 15 mph in a 15 mph zone so he can piss off) and unloaded the packs.
We wasted little time at the trailhead and decided to make a break for Johns Brook Lodge where we figured we would take our first real break. Immediately Andrew and I started reminiscing about some of our previous hikes to pass the time. The walk to JBL seemed a little longer that I remembered but regardless we seemed like we were keeping a pretty good pace. The walk ended up being a blur as the thought of finishing the 46 was firmly entrenched inside my mind and not much else was going on inside my head at the time. After about an hour and fifteen minutes we made it to JBL and took a seat.
We sat and hydrated before someone staying at the Lodge recognized Andrew and myself. Turns out we had met him on our previous hike of Allen Mountain so it was a brief but funny reunion nonetheless. After that encounter we got back on our feet and headed off in the direction of Slant Rock which we knew was going to be about 3.8 miles away from where we currently sat. We didn’t really eat anything at JBL instead opting to get this next section of the hike done as quickly as possible. The walk to Slant Rock started off relatively easy meandering in and out of a stream bed before ultimately crossing Johns Brook. From there we went on about another mile and a half of very straightforward easy hiking.
We sat at a trail junction contemplating between eating a quick snack now or waiting until we reached Slant Rock. Me being kind of stubborn decided I could make it without food although nobody put up much of a fight about it so we just took off again. I knew from my recollection of our hike to Saddleback and Basin that the trail was about to get a little bit steeper, and slightly muddier. As we anticipated it did get steeper, but this really did not slow us down too much. It really wasn’t too muddy for the most part and just as I noticed this my foot went into what was 2 foot deep muddy hole resulting in my entire leg being coated in a bunch of wet gunk.
After being laughed at for my hilarious misfortune we kept on going until we reached a small stream crossing. I used this as a chance to clean off my boot and leg which really just resulted in my sock getting soaked so I gained no benefit from it. Just after the stream we came to big old Slant Rock. I sat down and got a bite to eat before Sarah kind of walked around the corner where the trails split. Andrew followed her before I heard him say something along the lines of “oh now shes climbing the rock”….sigh. Not knowing quite what possessed Sarah to climb the rock Andrew and I just kind of watched her go. It turned into quite the ordeal as once Sarah got to the top she had one hell of a time trying to find her way down.
The comedic moment was a nice distraction but Andrew and I had a much larger rock to climb so on we went. From this point I could really start to feel how close we were getting, but this did not make the rest of the way any easier. The climb began to get much steeper and even so we knew from all the reports we had read that it would only get more intense the closer we got. We pushed on until we reached another trail junction from which point we only had a mile to go until we reached the summit.
We stopped and snacked one final time before we gathered ourselves for what would be the last push to the summit. I started to get very anxious as the thought of the accomplishment began to take over my mind. I had to get that though out of my mind very quickly as the trail in front of us started to get rocky and steep. It was clear to me at this point that the final part of Haystack was going to take a lot out of us as each breath was very labored, and I was not in the kind of shape I was in the spring.
Before too long we approached another sign marking .5 miles until we reached the summit. This was it “The Devils Half Mile”. I’ve read about it many times, and while I didn’t expect to scale a shear cliff I also knew it was about to get really tough. From here all we could see was bare rock in front of us as we were nearing the top of Little Haystack. This had some tricky sections as the rock was very steep in most parts, but fortunately the rock was very coarse making the footing very good going up.
Once we reached the top of Little Haystack we had the real deal sitting right there in front of us. We made our way down the back of Little Haystack which had a shear drop just off the yellow trail markers making the though of tripping and falling slightly horrifying. Despite this we all made it down to the col between Little Haystack and Haystack just fine.
At this point it was all uphill until we reached the top. We all kind of went our own way up just generally following the yellow markings. It was hard to get excited as I was breathing so heavily and my legs were on fire. Sarah got a little ahead of us, I was in the middle with Andrew tailing behind just a little bit. About 500 feet from the summit I turned around to look behind me, and there was Andrew with both fists in the air. I waited for him as we both wanted to make sure we crossed the finish line at the same time. We couldn’t help but be pumped those last few hundred feet as this day was over 3 years in the making. This was it. We made it to #46.
I knew we had a long walk out but I though it would go smoothly. One piece of advice I would give anyone making their way out from Haystack is to look at a map marking specific trails. There are many junctions between Haystack and our intended destination of Slant Rock and we ended up going back a different way…by accident. I was kind of confused as to where we went wrong but I knew we were going the right way regardless. We made our way to Slant Rock, adding about a mile of unnecessary travel to our day before making the trip out. We stopped one more time at JBL to collect our thoughts before getting our tired legs back to The Garden. Only this time out Andrew and I were Adirondack 46ers!
Recommendation To Hikers: This is a hike that is not the most suitable for someone who isn’t in shape or is new to the Adirondacks. The views from the top offer you some of the best in the Adirondacks. As I mentioned it would be wise to study the trail map a bit as there are several junctions and many trails in this area so plan your route accordingly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Difficulty – 10
Views – 1 (5 from a lookout just off of the summit)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.