By Louise Jensen
It felt like a late summer day when four early morning risers and one spunky black lab named Shyla arrived at our meeting place in New Portland. From there we consolidated cars and drove another 30 minutes to the Appalachian Trail trailhead located on East Flagstaff Road. We had a beautiful day ahead of us to hike Little Bigelow Mountain.
Little Bigelow is part of the Bigelow Range in Maine’s Bigelow Preserve. The Preserve is made up of over 36,000 acres of publicly-managed land near Stratton in Western Maine. This beautiful mountain range encompasses 7 summits including the 3,040 foot peak of Little Bigelow. The first section of the hike rises gradually through a dense forest of hardwood alongside a brook that, under normal conditions, would be gushing along but in near-drought conditions showed many sections of the brook to be dry or at a trickle. This was not welcome for some very late-season northbound through-hikers in search of a decent water supply whom we met later in the day.
We continued along the trail in a shimmering canopy of gold leaves overhead and then across some beautiful ledges where we had gorgeous views of Flagstaff Lake, eventually arriving at the East peak. From the East Peak we had amazing views of Sugarloaf and the rest of the Bigelow range. The warm temps, blue bird skies and the autumn fall colors all contributed to an idyllic setting for a long lazy lunch break on the ledges.
Before venturing out to the “true” and viewless summit, 2 southbound hikers stopped and chatted with us for a few minutes telling us that they did not start in Baxter park but just outside it which was rather curious. We soon learned why: a cat was traveling with them in a backpack! Pets are not allowed in Baxter State Park, hence the outside-the-park start. The A.T. is filled with all sorts of wonders.
The hike along the trail to the summit was still quite lush and green for this time of year. We ventured a little further in search of another view of the Lake but instead found another ledge with yet another fabulous view of the range. As this supposed lake view was nowhere in sight, we opted to turn back before this hike turned into a 10 mile affair instead of a 6 or 7 mile one!
Tired but happy we headed back to the trailhead. Everyone agreed that we had one of the most perfect days to be in the Maine mountains.
The Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust was fortunate to once again receive a donated conservation flight from LightHawk, an organization whose mission is to accelerate conservation success through the powerful perspective of flight. Practically speaking, they get really awesome pilots to fly over some amazing landscapes and take conservation people with them so they can gather data, take photos, inspect properties and get a new and comprehensive view of the landscape. We were fortunate to have pilot Scott Cianchette take us on a flight over Redington Forest and Maine’s High Peaks. As part of our acquisition of a conservation easement, we are required to complete a baseline documentation report outlining the conservation values and features of the property. Seeing all 10,000 acres from the air goes a long way towards doing that.
Thanks to Jonathan, Audrey, Scott and everybody at LightHawk for helping to get us up in the air.
The latest in our fall edition of the Next Century Hikes was up Cranberry Peak, the western-most of the five mountains comprising the Bigelow Range. While not a difficult hike, the last trip up in March was in difficult conditions and we did not reach the summit. This time, with much better weather, more daylight and repainted blazes, we were able to reach the summit in about two and a half hours.
We headed up through the foliage, which was at peak or just past at the lower elevations, and then up on the ridge. Arnold’s Well, a crevasse on the ridge in some boulders which is named for the man and his ill-fated expedition to Quebec, was empty of water and dry, as was the trail for most of the distance. Once we entered the higher-elevation spruce/fir area, things were a little slippery and there are a few scrambles up some large boulders. The March expedition had to turn back in these areas due to cold, ice and not much guidance on the route of to the summit. The blue blazes denoting an official A.T. side trail have since been repainted.
The summit was cool and windy, with temperatures in the high 40’s. The group sheltered behind some rocks and had a nice lunch in view of Flagstaff Lake. On the descent, things warmed up a little once we reached the south side of the ridge, and it was a pleasant trip down.
Stay tuned for our next hike on Saturday – Little Bigelow, at the other end of the Bigelow Range.
Every year, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club hosts a hike for partner organizations who do work along Maine’s A.T. This year, there were attendees representing MATC, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the National Park Service. The purpose of the hike is to get partners out on the A.T. for a day of catching up, seeing the trail, and mostly unwinding from a busy season in the field. This year the hike was up Little Boardman Mountain in the 100-Mile Wilderness, right in the KI-Jo Mary Forest. A spectacular area for outdoor recreation, there are several ponds near Little Boardman and the views from the top are pretty good. It was a great day in the field and a nice chance to reconnect with some good folks.
Saturday was a fine day for our next A.T. Next Century hike, and the destination didn’t disappoint. Old Blue Mountain is right on the A.T. between Grafton Notch and Maine’s High Peaks, in a stretch of 3600-foot peaks that also includes Elephant Mountain (3,772 feet, trail-less, not the one near Moosehead Lake) and Bemis Mountain, a long ridge with a high point of 3,592 feet. This is not a section of the A.T. that sees many day hikers, as they tend to favor the areas above. Nonetheless, the terrain is as rugged and the scenery as spectacular as it is elsewhere.
We started out right at 10am – another factor in favor of this part of the A.T. in Maine is the accessibility. No logging roads to drive on and exactly 2 hours each way from Portland. We didn’t see anybody else on the trail except for three sets of thru-hikers. One group was just being picked up by a shuttle service in Andover, another was just being dropped off, and the last was a guy from Tennessee section hiking to Dalton, Massachusetts. The weather was warm for this time of year and there were plenty of vehicles headed up to South Arm Campground just up the road.
Since the hike is only 2.8 miles each way, we took it slow, enjoyed the scenery and each other’s company. There are several steep sections sandwiched around a nearly-flat climb, so we were on the summit by 1pm. We spent about 45 minutes on top eating lunch and talking. The weather by this time of day was actually hot, despite the summit breezes.
The trip down is easier, but the terrain is so steep that it’s more of a challenge than it is on the ascent. More than any other hike, it almost feels like you are on a different trail due to the differing views (it’s an up and back hike). Even the view of the Black Brook valley down to Andover and Ellis Pond seemed to be different. We somehow missed seeing the Andover Earth Station on the way up, but it was prominent on the way down!
It was another great hike to round out the summer season. Check back on our website for additional hikes for the fall!
We had a great hike up Puzzle Mountain for Labor Day weekend! As you can see we had a large group hit the trail and the weather was perfect. Normally we’d have trip leader Mike Morrone do the write up but he’s getting married in a week. So instead, we posted lots more picture than we normally do. Enjoy! See you out there on the trail!
The High Peaks region recently celebrated two A.T. communities with all-day celebrations featuring games, giveaways, food, music, entertainment and more. A.T. towns are considered assets by all that use the A.T., and many of these towns act as good friends and neighbors to the Trail. Rangeley was designated an A.T. community in 2012 and Kingfield just last year. The two other Maine A.T. communities are Monson and Millinocket. Millinocket will be holding their annual Trails End Festival from September 15 to 17th.
Here are some highlights from the Rangeley Trail Town Festival on September 2nd:
And some from the Kingfield’s A.T. Community Celebration:
By Louise Jensen
It was a perfect late summer day for a hike. Our destination: Avery and West Avery Peaks, the two highest on the Bigelow range, via the Firewarden’s trail. Although, the shortest route to the col (lowest point between two peaks), it is probably the steepest way to go, but that did not deter us. The three of us arrived before 9am to find the parking area overflowing but we found a nice little pull off where we tucked the car in and geared up and headed out. We passed the Stratton Brook Pond, the Moose Falls Campsite and then began our steep ascent to the col. Several sections of stone “steps” are there to make climbing a bit easier and if you turn around for a moment, you will get some great views of Sugarloaf. Finally, reaching the col, we took a quick break to layer up, have a snack and, of course, take a few pics of the trail signs and the AT blazes.
We headed east to Avery peak first where we met a few other hikers (but no through hikers yet), and settled down below the stone remnant of the fire tower for a lunch break. Cool, breezy and sunny, we enjoyed the much needed rest and nourishment as we took in the spectacular views of Flagstaff Lake and West Avery peak. Another feature on this peak is the plaque honoring Myron H. Avery, a Maine native, who was instrumental in extending the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail from Mt. Washington to Katahdin and he also founded the Maine Appalachian Trail club in 1935. A nice reminder of the history of the AT in Maine.
After chatting with another hiker who was working on his NE 100 highest, and the usual picture posing, we headed back down to the col to head over to West (Avery) Peak, the higher of the two peaks. We met two through-hikers in the col, one from North Yarmouth, ME and one from Pittsburgh, PA, but they were moving along rather quickly and did not pause long to chat. When we reached the summit, we found it pretty crowded with mostly boy scouts and other groups so we continued past the packed peak to sit and relax while taking in more of those amazing views. After about 20 minutes or so, we reluctantly gathered up our packs and headed back to the col to make the steep descent down the Firewarden’s trail. The whole hike took just over eight hours and we all agreed that it was yet another glorious day on the trails in Maine.
As part of the recent Maine 2017 A.T. Conference, Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust Executive Director Simon Rucker led a group hike to one of the Land Trust’s past conservation projects: Mount Abraham. Conference attendees had been going to seminars to hear about A.T. maintenance issues, threats, successes and, yes, land conservation, and many were eager to get out on the fabled Maine landscape to see what it had to offer.
Our group was composed of members from all over the A.T. landscape: Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Maine and Quebec. We headed up to the summit via the Fire Warden Trail, the most common route. Though some of the group had travelled in Maine before, none had hiked in this rugged landscape. And they were pretty impressed. Abraham has the largest alpine zone in Maine and we had a spectacular day to enjoy the views in all directions. The weather was brisk above treeline and the southern contingent compared the Maine climate to that of the southern Appalachians. There were lots of questions about the conservation status of the landscape: from Sugarloaf down the Rapid Stream valley – almost the entire viewshed from the Fire Warden Trail – is unprotected, but spectacular and remote.
Once on the summit, the group explored the alpine zone between the two summit cairns – “there’s nothing like this in ________” was heard fairly often. On the way down, we left the alpine zone, headed through high-elevation spruce/fir forest, and then were back in mixed spruce/fir and hardwoods until re-emerging at the trailhead.
The special nature of Maine’s Appalachian Trail is a an asset to be treasured and used, and our hike exemplified that.