Allen Mountain

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

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

 

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

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

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This was pretty typical of this day

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

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Follow this sign to the bridge over the Opalescent

 

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Bridge Crossing the Opalescent

 

 

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

 

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so helpful…

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Turn left at the cairn towards the herd path for Allen

 

 

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Walking towards the clearing marking the beginning of the herd path

 

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

 

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Ouch.

 

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

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

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1 To Go!

 

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

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

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

Ratings:

Difficulty – 10

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

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

Sugarloaf Mountain – Maine Trip Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A look up our final push to the summit

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

 

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Yay At&t

 

 

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Failed assassination attempt of the cell tower

 

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

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

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

Sugarloaf:  Difficulty – 3  Views – 7

 

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 Redfield

About 1 month since Andrew and I tried our hand at snow covered Mt Garfield we decided to spend part of our Memorial Day weekend in the Adirondacks.  With only 3 peaks left to go in the Adirondacks we decided to go for Mt Redfield which has proven to be elusive to us in the past.  To explain what I mean by elusive….We have intended to climb Redfield on 3 different occasions.  The first was the day we got to the Loj only to find out we had no parking options to which we left and hiked Basin and Saddleback instead.  The next was when we attempted to hike Redfield with Cliff Mountain last year only to be short on daylight and we were forced to leave only bagging Cliff.  The last was our October trip from last year where Redfield was going to be the third day of a three day trip, it rained. hard.  So the hope was our 4th try would be the charm.  Fortunately we arrived at the Adirondack Loj around 7:30 a.m. which was early enough to get a spot to park.  We paid for parking and got ourselves situated before throwing on the packs just before 8:00 a.m.

Andrew signed us in to the register which seemed to indicate Redfield was not a popular option for the day.  Except one person apparently thought it was wise to hike Redfield, Cliff and Marshall in one day.  This led me to believe that this was one of those psychotic trail runners, an idiot, or a liar but I digress.  Almost immediately Andrew decided to go track star on Patrick and I by setting a ridiculous pace to get to Marcy Dam.  35 minutes later (has to be a record) we were there at which point Patrick decided he needed liquids.

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Patrick looking directly into the sun

We signed in at the 2nd register again noticing minimal company headed to Redfield before taking off on our torrid pace yet again.  It was another mile or so of flat ground until we crossed a stream right before our trail junction.

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Stream right before our trail junction

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Typically I have heard of people climbing Mt Redfield from either Upper Works or going via the Lake Arnold trail.  Naturally we were doing neither and instead going via Avalanche Pass although this was not without reason.  From DEC reports issued just a few days prior we were under the impression that the Lake Arnold trail was virtually impassible along with some questions about Calamity Brook from Upper Works.  With all of this in mind we thought this would be the only option.  That being said we started to ascend towards Avalanche Pass which was a little bit steeper than I remember.  The crazy pace that we set early on was already taking its toll on us as we started to get pretty winded in short order.  Fortunately just as we were feeling pretty lame we came to the massive Avalanche Pass Slide and its many wooden victims at its base.  Contrary to our last visit to Avalanche Pass (see Iroquois & Algonquin) trail maintenance had done some serious work on the trail throughout the Pass

 

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This is a little nicer than the video

After making though the initial flat portion which had been generously planked out by maintenance crews (many thanks)  we got to the oh so fun boulder hopping which we have come to really know and love with Avalanche Pass.  Despite the slow go of it we always enjoy our trips though Avalanche pass as it provides unique scenery in the Adirondacks.

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Upon reaching the end of Avalanche Lake we saw that there was a nice bridge there for us which was a significant improvement from the last time were we walked right into the lake in order to continue with our day.  From there we kept on going until we reached the interior outpost register near Lake Colden.  We once again signed in and hung a left towards the edge of Lake Colden.

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For the most part we really had not stopped at any point during the day despite the fact that we kind of burned ourselves out early on.  We decided we would take our first real break at the junction where the Mt Colden trail meets Lake Colden before ultimately pushing onward for a long time.  After paralleling Lake Colden for a considerable amount of time we reached a trail junction indicating we had only 1.5 miles to go to reach our herd path at Uphill Lean-to.

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Shortly after continuing from the junction we reached a small suspension bridge over what I believe is the Opalescent.

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We crossed this one at a time as we did not want the bridge to reverberate and knock someone into the raging stream below.  After gingerly crossing the bridge we continued onward on a gradual ascent towards Uphill Lean-to.  We were paralleling the Opalescent for a pretty good distance which provided us with some incredible scenery down into a chasm like area flowing with a high volume of water.

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After being distracted by the power of heavily flowing water I managed to get my attention back to the task at hand and make my way towards our herd path.  In what was roughly 45 minutes we made it from the trail junction to the herd path.  The trail ascended pretty consistently for that entire stretch with a quick drop just before Uphill Brook/Lean-to.

 

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Cairn marking the herd path for Redfield, right across from Uphill Lean-to

 

From the cairn marking the herd path for Redfield and Cliff we continued until we would eventually reach a second cairn marking the point where the path forks in two different directions.  Once we reached the second cairn we decided it would be wise to take in some calories as we were faced with the toughest part of the day, that being the main ascent of Mt Redfield.  To this point we were all feeling pretty good as the day really had not put too much stress on our bodies although we did travel quite the distance to reach this point.

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Fueled up and ready to go

 

We began the ascent towards Redfield going at a pretty good clip, but it did not last for long.  The herd path itself was very nice and scenic as it paralleled a stream for a large portion of it.  However the trail itself got much steeper than it had at any point during the day and we were beginning to feel the effects on our legs.  Patrick in particular was having a major struggle getting to the summit.  I kind of felt bad for him since it had been a solid year since bringing him with me on a hike and Mt Redfield isn’t exactly a casual hike.   I took a minute to admire the surroundings with Patrick before providing some encouragement “were almost there”….”well sort of”.

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Final push time

 

Andrew kind of went off on his own pace while I hung back with Patrick as leaving him behind would probably be a little demoralizing.  A little more motivational talk and a couple tenths of a mile later I could hear Andrew having a conversation on the summit.  I let Patrick know the good news as we approached our summit.  I could see the relief on my brothers face as I knew the day had taken a lot out of him.  It was time to enjoy the summit and a well deserved break.

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Summit number 44 for Andrew

 

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Patrick conquering his 10th Adk High Peak

 

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Only 2 to go in the Adirondacks

 

 

 

 

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Great panorama from the summit of Redfield, our next Adk High Peak Allen Mountain in the center

 

We were happy to have the worst of the day over with.  It took just 9 miles to get to the summit of Redfield and we knew we would have the same distance just to get back.  Mustering the mental energy to get through the rest of the day is always a challenge on hikes like this, but its what it takes to become a 46er, and the reality that Andrew and I are just 2 away from achieving our goal from 3 years ago was more than enough to push us through.  We decided to take it easy going down from Redfield before once again stopping at the junction for Redfield and Cliff before getting a little more nutrition for the 8 miles that remained.

The rest of the day from here on out was simple slow and steady with the only real obstacle being Avalanche Pass and a bunch of black flies that decided to make an appearance in the afternoon by feasting on my face.  It took us about 5 hours to reach the summit and 5 and a half to make it back to the Adirondack Loj.  My whole body was sore but it was another well earned victory for the three of us.

Recommendation to Hikers:  The casual hiker will find Mt Redfield to be a pretty unappealing option although a nice outlook at the summit does provide somewhat of a reward its just too long of a day for someone not looking to become a 46er.  Aspiring 46ers will want to try and get this done with Cliff if possible, but if that cant be accomplished there are multiple approaches you can take to get to Mt. Redfield.  The most popular seem to be via Lake Arnold trail of from Upper Works however if given the choice I would go the same route we went through Avalanche Pass.  It offered us pretty forgiving terrain and a gradual ascent which I found to be pretty easy until reaching the herd path.

Redfield:  Views – 5  Difficulty – 9