Old Blue and Mount Elephant, Maine

July 8, 2003

by Papa Bear

(Photo of Old Blue and Elephant)
Elephant and Old Blue seen from Moody Mountain
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)

Click here for a complete set of albums of photos from this hike

Back to Papa Bear Home Page


O

n Tuesday July 8th, Nadine, Sectional Scot and myself bushwhacked to both peaks of Elephant Mountain. Elephant is one of the New England 100 highest peaks close to the AT, between Old Blue and Bemis Mountains.

We met the night before at Pine Ellis B&B in Andover, Maine and got started around 8:00 AM on Tuesday morning. The plan (overly ambitious as it turned out) was to hike in on the AT from South Arm Road, summit Old Blue and then approach Elephant from the north-east, from the height-of-land of the AT as it crossed the side of Elephant on it's way to Bemis. We were optimistic that the AT would rise to about 3500' - close to the NE summit, based in part on a GPS readout that was posted to VFTT (an internet hiking forum). Then we would retrace our steps back to the AT and finish the section over Bemis and come out on Route 17. Or so was the plan.

On the Trail

(Photo of old growth)
Old Growth red Spruce
W

e summited Old Blue around 10:00 AM. Unfortunately it was foggy with no view. It had actually rained very hard early that morning so I guess we considered ourselves lucky. We hiked down to the Old Blue - Elephant col and found the place where the now-defunct Clearwater Brook Trail had entered from the left. There was a sign showing north and south features of the AT but the C-B Trail sign was gone and the remnant of the trail was a bit obscure with blowdowns. The col itself has a stand of old growth Spruce so it was nice to see this small remnant of the vast forests that once blanketed the area.

We hiked up the AT along the side of Elephant but we found that the trail stayed lower than we were hoping and only rose to about 3300'. The side of Elephant is very cliffy here and as someone on VFTT had warned, that GPS track looked "fishy". Well it was. We also hoped to find the county boundary cut, but the trail started dropping again before we got that far, so we decided to start our bushwhack at the 3300' mark where we were. We got "into the woods" around 12:15 PM.

Into the Woods

N

ow the fun began. Both of my partners had GPSs and we got a heading for the NE peak. My map and compass heading
(Photo of NE peak)
The Tree on the NE peak
where the canister used to be
agreed. It was rather tough going both due to blowdowns, thick young Spruce and the upslope. After about 30 minutes we came upon the county boundary line, which was marked with blazes on every tree and a narrow cut. We followed this cut up to the height of land, which was much easier going. We were able to climb to about 3600' along this line, and then we cut directly in to the right towards the NE peak. We followed the slope in the upward direction, although we also had a heading from the GPS which confirmed our direction. The actual peak was rather open and we spotted something on a tree at what seemed like the high point so we went there. We found an old board nailed to a tree, and some ziplock bags with old log pages within which was stuck into an old rusty metal bracket. The NE peak is now considered the lower (false) summit at 3770' on the topo maps. This tree and bracket is where the canister used to be located. We got here about 1:30 PM or about 1 hour and 15 minutes into the bushwhack. Things were looking a little doubtful that we would actually finish both peaks and get back to the AT and do another 8 miles out to Route 17. We put our names on one of the pages (I guess just in case they move the summit back here in the future). And started towards the SW peak, the "true" summit.

Crossing the Ridge

(Photo of blowdowns)
Tough going
W

e hoped crossing along the ridge line would be relatively easy going, in part based on some recent trip reports. We were wrong. The going was very tough with a combination of thick spruce and continuous chest-high blow downs. We found it easier working our way along the right side of the ridge and circled around towards the right (north) since the ridge circled that way. Occasionally we would find an open area, some times mossy and boggy, but mostly it was just tough. We found if we steered away from the standing dead trees (a fir wave perhaps) which were generally towards the southeast side of the ridge, we could move a little better. We finally passed the low point of the col and started to climb again and were lucky to find more mossy open areas. Finally we found a herd path as we neared the SW summit and followed it, circling around to the south and approaching the summit from the southeast. At last I spotted the canister! Pay dirt. It was 3:10 PM. It had taken us a very tough 1 hour and 40 minutes to cross between the two peaks. With no dissension, we agreed going back to the AT was out. We would head out via the traditional route down from the col towards the southeast and pick up the C-B trail or the logging road.

(Photo of the canister with the VFTT patch)
The Canister with the VFTT patch

So we signed the log, ate some food and took a little break. The weather had gotten almost sunny, but it was rather humid. We were more than a little beaten up.

The Way Back

A

t about 3:30 we started back, working towards the center point on the southeast side of the ridge. We made the mistake of going in a straight line and soon discovered we were running into cliffs, so we back tracked and took a more circular route on the northwest side of the ridge. As before, it was tough going but finally we started going down hill and (according to the GPS readings) we were at the center of the slope. At one point Sectional Scot said we were descending at 1 foot per minute. A mental calculation told me that it would just take 5 more hours at that rate, so I just chuckled. After a good deal of work we found ourselves at the top of a clear cut area and found a
(Photo of loging yars area)
Loging yard area
definite herd path down in the right direction. Compared to what we had done up till this point, this was like Interstate I-95! We worked our way though open areas, skid roads, and tall raspberry bushes. Nadine later said she was glad the raspberries were not in season or else we could have run into a bear and disturbed his or her snack time.

By 5:00 PM we were near the road and I called our ride, Paul Traynor from the Pine Ellis B&B, and told him where we were and where we would meet him. I said we would try to follow the path of the old Clearwater Brook trail down to the road. He said that trail is in bad shape and I said I know, it's from the logging, so I indicated we would try the logging road if the trail failed.

We reached the yarding area at about 5:20 PM and we were out of the woods. That was a little over 5 hours of bushwhacking and we were all rather bushed.

The logging road was in very good shape and the trail was no where to be seen, so off we went. We had about 1500 vertical feet to drop to South Arm Road and I guess the logging road was about 3 miles long. Sectional Scot was worried that this road was not going exactly the right direction and might take us to who knows where. Nadine said it was obviously such a well maintained road that it had to come out to a major road, and South Arm Road was the only one on that side of the mountain. For me it went down and that was good enough. After about an hour it started first to sprinkle and then it became a downpour. It rained so hard it was hard to see much in front of me. But at around 6:45 PM I saw a white van with it's lights on facing me on the logging road. There was Paul just at the right spot. He said we must be on this road since the trail would be impassable so here he was. It was good we had a person who knew the local area well and even knew which route we "just had to take".

Home

W

e climbed into the van, and then picked up a very wet AT thru-hiker at the AT trailhead, and were back in town in about 20 minutes.

A hour later we were warm, clean and dry and eating pizza and drinking beer!

Lessons:

1) The approach from north from the AT is not such a hot idea.
2) The traditional route looks much easier (we did it on the way down).
3) The logging road is perfect, forget the old trail. Paul said he was sure the company didn't mind walkers on the road but he didn't think they would allow vehicles. If you go you might check this out.
4) It pays to plan a bit about where the routes you don't plan to take go. You never know - plans can change.

But we did both peaks of Elephant plus Old Blue and we're happy to be done (to say nothing of 5 more miles of the AT).


Click here for a complete set of albums of photos from this hike

Back to Papa Bear Home Page