Caribou Mountain from the logging road
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Consolidated July Blitz Albums|
Consolidated August Blitz Albums
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Peakbagging in Maine|
Monday July 11th - Mount Blue
Wednesday July 13th - Caribou Mountain
Thursday July 14th - Tumbledown Mountain
Saturday August 6th - Baker Mountain and its two sub-peaks
Sunday August 7th - Little Spencer Mountain
Sunday August 7th - Big Spencer Mountain
Tuesday August 30th - The Traveler
Maine: Hundred Highest - all done, Fifty Finest - 4 to go
Vermont: Hundred Highest - 8 to go, Fifty Finest - 1 to go
New Hampshire (not including Carrigain): Hundred Highest - 14 to go, Fifty Finest - all done
This report is the second of four which cover my hikes and climbs during two weeks in July plus an August weekend. It covers the 3 peaks in Maine done during July plus 5 more peaks in the Moosehead Lake region I climbed on a weeekend in August.
The first "blitz" report covers the peakbagging I did in New Hampshire from July 5 - 10 and the 11 peaks I climbed that busy week, The third covers the AT Section hike I did on July 12th and the last report is of the 3 last peaks on my New Hampshire to-do list which I did on the weekend of July 15-17. To go to the other reports, click on the entry below:
Blitz part 1: New Hampshire - 11 peaks in a week|
Blitz part 2: Peakbagging in Maine (this report)|
Blitz part 3: An AT Section Hike in Maine|
Blitz part 4: A Long Weekend in the White Mountains|
For a discussion of the New England Fifty Finest list (including links to maps for each peak) and prominence, see my New England Fifty Finest Peaks web page
I left Hikers Paradise in Gorham at 7:45 after Bruno's excellent breakfast. Traffic was delayed by two spots of road work in Bethel. Why is there always some road work on the roads I need to travel whenever I go to Maine?
I made my way through the old rusty Androscoggin mill towns along Route 2 and then up to Weld, where I found the entrance to the state park. This involved about 3 miles of driving over county roads and 6 miles over the park's dirt roads. The mountain and directions are well described in the AMC's Maine Mountain Guide. In spite of good directions, I managed to take a wrong turn on the dirt road and ended up back on Route 142 about 3 miles north of Weld. The Map in the DeLorme Atlas is quite clear and accurate (if I had only bothered to look at it!). I tried again and arrived at the trailhead parking lot at 9:55 AM and was off and hiking 10 minutes later. A ranger showed up as I was leaving, and assured me that there was no parking fee to just hike the mountain.
The trail was short and easy and the day was sunny and clear. But it was good I got going early since the weather would get hot and humid by mid day. I started up along an easy woods road (this was an old fire tower mountain and this must have been the firewarden's trail). It got steeper and rockier and about halfway up the old firewarden's
The high point seen through the old tower
The trail then became steeper and more eroded but never difficult. In just over an hour I arrived at the open summit where there was the old tower with no cab or ladder and a small solar powered communications building (which seem to be on all Maine prominent peaks!). There were short trails going off in various directions affording good views of the surrounding area and I took a few photos. I had a bite to eat and then made my way back to the car.
On the way down I passed a few tourists going up. They were showing the affects of the heat but I'm sure they would have no real problem with this little mountain.
I got back down to the car at 12:20. It was a nice morning hike in a little visited area and now I was off to meet my car shuttle on Route 17. Tomorrow I would be AT section hiking.
Mount Blue: #49 on the NEFF list
Elevation: 3180', Prominence: 1840'
Distance hiked: 3.2 miles
Elevation gained: 1800'
Topo Map (Lists of John): Mount Blue
Photos: Mount Blue Album
USGS benchmark data: Mount Blue benchmark data
Today the four of us plus Jeannie - Audrey and Pat's six month old Yellow Labrador Retriever - would tackle another of the New England Fifty Finest peaks: Caribou Mountain. Caribou is way up near the Canadian border north of Route 27. It's about 15 or 20 miles (as the crow flies) northeast of Boundary Peak (the one on the NE Hundred Highest list) and about 4 miles west of Kibby Mountain (described in the AMC's Maine Mountain Guide). For more on the New England Fifty Finest List, see my New England Fifty Finest Peaks web page
On the Fifty Finest List, Caribou is "tied" with Kibby for #26. It's not really a tie: one or the other is the real #26. But uncertainties in the elevations on the topographic maps makes it uncertain which peak is the prominent one and which is just a subpeak of the other. In this game, the strategy in such a case is "hike 'em both!" I did Kibby last year and this year it would be Caribou's turn.
We got going from Audrey's cottage about 7:20 AM, went up through Oquossoc, took Route 16 across to Rangeley and then up to Stratton and headed up Route 27 towards Canada. From Stratton it was around 17 miles north on Route 27 (3 miles past the road leading to Chain-of-Ponds Snow) at which point we turned right on Beaudry Road, a major logging road. In the DeLorme Atlas this road is called "Gold Brook Road" but all the signs say Beaudry Road. The DeLorme map of the area (Maine map 38) is quite accurate. This road has logging operations in progress and at one point we had to pull way over to let a logging truck pass. They have the right of way and they drive right down the center of their roads. They don't pull over for you, you pull over for them!
After about 4 miles, the road follows Kibby Stream (on the left) and at 6 miles makes a left turn over the stream. Wahl Road turns off to the right at this point. DeLorme now calls the road "Skinner Road" but the signs still say
The damaged bridge on West Branch Road
This road is shown quite accurately in DeLorme. There is a primitive campground on the left after the turn. This road is a bit narrower and rougher than Beaudry Road but has no active logging on it at present. Follow this road for about 3 miles. There will be several roads up to the right just before a bridge that is "out". We parked here. The bridge is not really "out". It has two sets of timbers which appear quite sturdy but they are twisted and it didn't look safe to attempt to cross the bridge. This would not be a good place to have to call for a towing service. Some of you out there might attempt this bridge. It's probably safer than some bridges many of us have crossed, but today we did not risk Audrey's Subaru to save a few miles of walking. If you did cross here, you could drive all the way to the base of the peak, but what fun would that be?
We then got organized and at 10:05 set off. It had turned into a typical July, hot sunny day, with a bit of haze. This would be a potential sunburn day. Our strategy was to follow this road all the way around the valley. DeLorme shows it skirting along the north side of the valley below a ridge to the north, then turning south with the border peaks on the right, and finally ending just at the base of Caribou. Our peak is actually the third and highest peak of a ridge marked "Caribou Mountain" on the topos. Those pursuing the 3Ks would want to hit all three of these peaks
The end of the main logging road
The road walk was about 2 1/2 miles. The road itself seemed to be in perfect shape. It had a very solid bed, drainage ditches on each side and was cleared of trees on each side. It was wide open to the sun and afforded many views of the surrounding peaks. It turns out there are a number of 3000' peaks surrounding this valley (including one on the boundary) and I know one group which climbed 6 in one day and another group that did 9! The only significant turn was to take the right fork about 1/2 mile from the car. The left fork was another good road that headed down into the valley. Our road stayed on the side of the ridge, which was good since we would have little or no elevation to make up. The forest in the area looked to be 10 or 15 years old, but this is just a guess as I'm not a good judge of this. The sides of the roads were dense with wild flowers and all in all it was an extremely pleasant walk.
We did no know what to expect at the end of the road. An old topo map showed a road that went right up over the col between Caribou and the border and down the other side, but recent topos and DeLorme showed no such road. We hoped to possibly find a remnant of this road so that the going would be easier getting up to the ridge. The Terraserver aerial photos (from 1998) also showed our logging road to where it ends and possible some faint tracks not only up to the col, but up to the peak itself. We would see when we got there.
At about 11:25 we reached the end of the road. There was a clearing and sure enough there was an old grassy road heading up towards the col, so we were in luck. This was long abandoned with a narrow bed which nevertheless still showed a distinct two track nature. It was overgrown but certainly not eroded. They built these roads well in the old days. At a point perhaps 2/3 of the way up to the ridge the nature of the road changed. It angled up steeply
The cut up to the peak
When we finally realized we were "there" we started scrambling around the thick brush next to the cut to find the highest point, and after about 10 minutes I cried "I've got it!". There dangling from an old tree was the 3000 footer canister (it was in reality an old jar tied to the tree with a string). So our long bushwhack turned into a bushwhack of about 10 yards. Did we feel cheated? Hell no! We were delighted.
The first entry in the register was from John and Bea Paisley dated 11/11/87. These were the folks that had introduced Audrey and Pat to the 3000 footer list. The last entry before ours was of E. Schlimmer dated 6/5/04. Erik Schlimmer is a VFTT contributor who recently finished the 770. It was like old home week up there. And we were the first to hit this peak (or at least to sign the register) in over a year. I liked the entry from the Paisleys - it had a poem they must have written on the spot:
This is Caribou West|
We like it best
It's near the car
I couldn't figure out what the cut was doing there. It was much wider, straighter and better cut than a typical ATV or snowmobile trail and it didn't connect to anything (not to the border swath and not down to the other side of the ridge), nor were there any signs of ATV tracks here or for that matter on our logging road. Considering how much the trees had grown in since the last harvest in the area, it must be recent or at least brushed out once in a while. It was suggested by "dms", a hiker who had climbed this peak several years ago, that it may have been an access route to an test wind tower which was there a few years ago and has since been removed. Anyone know for sure?
Returning to the car was uneventful, except the day was hot and the sun was scorching on this long open walk back. When we finally got to the car a little past 2:00 PM, I scrambled down to the stream under the broken bridge, rinsed my things off and cooled myself a bit. It had been a long though easy walk to what we had expected to be a tought peak, but I'm sure glad we got it done.
Caribou Mountain, West Peak: #26 on the NEFF list
Elevation: 3640', Prominence: 2260'
Distance hiked: 6 (approximate)
Elevation gained: 1110' (approximate)
Topo Map (Lists of John): Caribou Mountain
Photos: Caribou Mountain Album
We got off at the late hour of 8:30 AM and after a few errands headed down Route 17 to take the dirt Byron Road over to Tumbledown. I was actually in this area just days before when I climbed Mount Blue, but I had approached that peak from Route 142 to the east and went through Weld. The turn to Byron Road is a left turn in the village of Byron and we stopped on the bridge which crosses the Swift River there where there is an impressive gorge. A solitary rock climber was practicing his skills on a rock face above the stream far below and his solitary dog was watching anxiously from below. Just how did that dog get down there and how would he get back up?
Leaving those questions unanswered, we drove along this fairly good road and stopped at the trailhead to the Tumbledown Loop Trail. Cantdog and I would hike up from here while Audrey and Pat would approach from the other side on the "tourist route". Actually they were heading up to Little Jackson, a peak just to the northeast of Tumbledown, and we would all meet there.
View of the cliff face
We got to the cliffs and worked our way up to the right where there was a low spot in the ridge high above, and scrambled up over a number of ledges with several switchbacks. We then got to the "crux" and were stymied as to which way to go. The group with the kids was exploring something off to the right they called the "Fat Man's Misery", which one of the mothers said was a place you squeeze through to get to an interesting lookout. We asked her where the trail went and she said up to the left over there. Hoping to get the jump on the gang while there were occupied, we started up but could find no safe way up the narrow notch either left or right. There were no paint blazes and we had neglected to bring the book. Even so, the book is not exactly clear (I just read it) and even after reading a discussion of this point on VFTT several weeks ago, I had no clear picture of how we were supposed to go. I had thought the Fat Man's Misery was an alternate route with the iron rungs and the regular trail just went up.
We were almost at the point of giving up when the kids came to the rescue. The head guy (one of the fathers) said you just go up there and then crawl under that big rock. We had not looked far enough under the rock to see this. They then proceeded to scramble up, disappear under the rock and pass up packs, little kids and all their stuff up under the rock, all the while having a great time. I was reassured that the 5 year old girl had no problems and the wives showed no sign of concern. Either they were all crazy and suicidal, or this was really an easy spot after all. I gave them my pack and poles, which they passed on up with their stuff and then proceeded behind them on up. When you get under the rock there is a fairly roomy space going over a long slab which angles upward. The slab has a couple of iron rungs which make it an easy scramble. The ascent through the "Lemon Squeezer" (as the head guy called it) took all of one minute. So much for the crux. Just don't lift your head up too soon as you come out, or you'll
The North peak across the pond
The ridge trail goes to the West Peak, a few tenths of a mile west, and to the East Peak and Tumbledown Pond, about a half mile to the east. We quickly went over to the West Peak and got good views of the North Peak (the highest point, which we would not be doing) and the whole area.
We turned and went back along the ridge and down to the pond. This was crowded with families swimming, cooking food, lounging in big tents, etc. We passed by and found a quiet spot past the pond, where the trail over to Little Jackson (where we would meet Audrey and Pat) turned off, and took a break. It was just after 1:00 PM. After a short break I started out followed by Cantdog. The trail didn't look quite right. It had little red dots on the rocks and flagging on the trees and the treadway looked "new". Cantdog said this didn't look right so we backtracked to where we had eaten lunch, and sure enough the correct trail went off at a different angle. We were lucky to catch this wrong turn sooner rather than later. We figured out from the direction the "wrong" trail took and by a spray painted sign on a rock that this was a new trail to the North Peak (formerly a bushwhack). Audrey lamented this when we told her, since she said this was always a very pleasant bushwhack. Such is the advance of civilization!
The trail we were on was a link trail which went across to the Little Jackson Trail. Audrey and Pat had taken this from a campground, reached via an old road from Byron Road about 2 miles further on from our trailhead. We realized
The link trail was longer than I thought (actually I was getting tired) and alas it dropped a fair amount of elevation which I knew I would need to make up. Finally I reached the Little Jackson Trail, left my hiking poles, and headed up. This trail goes up to the col between Big and Little Jackson and then turns up to the left. Audrey had said little Jackson has an open rocky summit with great views.
Finally about 3 o'clock, I got out to the open rocks and found the rest of the group waiting, but the summit, alas, looked to be about a half mile away. So I said "I don't need to hike up there" and the group looked relieved. What a great liberating feeling (for a peakbagger) to say "I don't need to do that!' So we rested and related our adventures to each other and then started down. It was a long slog on a day that had gotten rather hot and sweaty, and at the bottom where the car was parked, all the roads around the old campground were dug up by a back hoe to prevent vehicular access. Audrey said the place had become terribly littered and semi-permanently occupied by "gypsies" and so the owner had obstructed the numerous roads to the area to keep all traffic out. One thing they didn't keep out today however was mosquitoes! It was the buggiest place we had been to all week in Maine and we hurriedly changed out boots and got back into the car.
The day ended on a very positive note. We drove to Rangeley and had a nice dinner at a place overlooking Rangeley Lake while a local group (a father an 2 daughters) played fiddles and guitar. The next morning I would head back to New Hampshire. As always it had been a great - but too short - time hiking in Maine.
Distance hiked: 8.3 miles
Elevation gained: 2450' (approximate)
Topo Map (Lists of John): Tumbledown Mountain
Photos: Tumbledown Mountain Album
Photos: Consolidated July Blitz Albums (Blue, Caribou & Tumbledown)
We went up Friday evening to Greenville and followed the Greenville-Kokajo Road up to a point where we found a logging road which leads in towards Baker Mountain. Baker is part of a range that includes 3 peaks on one ridge which runs approximately north-south (Baker, Middle Baker and South Baker) and 2 peaks on an adjoining east-west ridge (Lily Bay and West Lily Bay). Our hope was to do all five peaks in a large loop starting with South Baker and circling around to West Lily Bay and then back down to the truck which would be in the valley, right in the middle. Anyway, that was the plan. It was dark by the time we found our road and we followed a moose along the road for a half mile or so until he finally disappeared into the woods. There were signs of lots of ongoing logging activity on this road. Finally we got to our "spot", did a little exploring of other logging roads which might help us in the morning, set up the tent and got to bed. The stars were out bright and clear that night. It looked like it would be a perfect day on Saturday.
We got an early start, had a quick breakfast of bagels and OJ and were off around 6:40 AM. Lucky for us, there were two old logging roads going off from our spot: one (not drivable) went east roughly towards South Baker and the other (drivable for about 1.5 miles) went north, roughly towards West Lily Bay.
South Baker and the old logging road
So we started into the woods at about 7:10 AM. Unfortunately we had to cross a bog before we even got to the clear-cut, and that was slow. Slow as in getting your leg stuck mid-calf in muck and slowly pulling it out. Then when we got to the clear-cut it was still slow going since a huge amount of slash was left on the ground. This bears an uncanny resemblance to a large blow-down field. We thought this would be a "short cut" but probably we should have bypassed this entire open area and just gone into the woods further along our road. The only amusing thing about this area was a Moose skull that Spencer found.
We finally got ourselves onto the ridge and headed up the slope, bearing slightly to the left of the gradient so as to get onto the rather broad ridge line. There were some tough spots where there was nothing to do then just push through the thick spruce/fir. We both had on long sleeves and long pants, which, while protecting us from scratches, made progress very hot work. Luckily, there were not any significant blowdowns in this area.
Papa Bear with the
South Baker register
The last register entry was dated 6-20-03 by E. Schlimmer. He said he found the old register broken and replaced it, and also mentioned an old paint can (which was still there - with the broken register bottle inside) which he thought may have been left by a surveyor. There was one other "entry", a business card dated 8-25-00 on the back. So that's two parties made it here in 5 years. Not exactly Grand Central Station!
We had taken a bit over two hours (not counting the road walk) and it was one down for the day. We took a break and then started towards Middle Peak around 9:30. We had been told there were animal tracks along this ridge and heading down towards the col we found one. In fact it was so good and seemingly well traveled that you would swear it was a human herd path. But with so few hikers climbing this peak, we discounted that. Perhaps it was surveyors, since there is a town boundary line shown on the map that goes close by and we could see some very old cut stumps and axe blazes. But these signs seemed much older than the path, so we left it as a mystery.
The path soon disappeared and that was the last path we found for the rest of the day. We passed through several areas with standing dead wood as we climbed Middle Peak but the blow downs were not terrible as we skirted these areas. In fact the going was, if anything, less thick in these areas than elsewhere. And these open areas afforded us a good number of views both of the peak in front of us, and of the surrounding area.
Middle Baker from South Baker
We didn't doddle
We didn't diddle
We came from South Pk
To the Middle
Someone should make a collection of her peak bagging verses.
Spencer attached the canister to a tree and after a lunch break, we got moving. It had taken about an hour and 20 minutes to get from South to Middle, and after our break we were off again at 11:10.
The route to Baker was more complicated, since the ridge line makes a turn to the left (just west of north) at the col. So we set a bearing to the col which we would readjust it once we got there. This was also the longest gap between peaks. The peak itself is complicated: there is a shoulder on the south side (from which we were approaching) that had a bump with about 60' of prominence and which stood about 75' lower than the main peak, about .4 miles away. But because we were approaching this shoulder from below and the bump was closer, it looked like it was almost the same height as the main peak behind it.
The going was rougher than before. I think the change in the direction of the ridge line, and the slightly higher altitude led to more blow down areas. We endeavored to work around these, but the heat of the sun together with the
Baker Mountain through some standing deadwood
As we got up to the South Shoulder, we found that it had a narrow rocky cleft across the top, in affect creating 2 minor bumps. The second was a bit higher and was extremely narrow (although not rocky) at its summit. There was literally room here for only a few trees there (plus us) and the views were great in all directions. To the northwest we could see Big Moose across Moosehead Lake and to the northeast, there stood Katahdin in all its glory. We got a good look at the main peak, about .4 miles away, and saw that it consisted of 3 minor bumps. The first (nearest one) is shown on the map but the other two were close together and don't show up on the map.
Baker Mountain summit with its three bumps
We crossed over the second bump and found nothing and then finally summited the last bump. It was 1:10 PM, 2 hours from the Middle Peak. Spencer found the canister, a glass jar. Alas it was broken and empty. So he got to donate a new canister consisting of a Gatorade bottle (Lemon and Lime ). I donated a zip lock bag and some note pages and we made our entry and took a break.
Lily Bay showing fir waves along the ridge
The bushwhack down to the road was the easiest of the whole day. Although it was over 2 miles, the woods were mostly open and the going was quick. My worst complaint was getting my tired feet tangled in the Hobble Bush! The lower section was actually rather striking - an old growth area of hardwoods which Spencer said looked like it had never been cut.
Old growth hardwoods
We hit the road just after 4:00 PM. About 9 hours of bushwhacking. Spencer said that we probably wouldn't have made it to the col until 4:00 if we had gone that way, so we (really Spencer) had chosen the optimum route off the mountain.
We walked the mile or so back to the truck. We were both parched and out of water. The only thing we thought about was getting to the truck and getting a drink.
We reached the truck at 4:20. We had been hiking 9 hours and 40 minutes. For me it was the toughest bushwhack to date. Not so much because of very tough spots, although we had plenty of them, but because of the aggregate length of travel and the slow going, especially along the ridge. The hot sun certainly added to that as well.
We got changed, drove to Greenville for dinner, and then drove out to Little Spencer Mountain and found a spot to camp for the night. Tomorrow would be another perfect day!
Baker Mountain, elevation: 3521', prominence: 2129' (#31 on the NEFF list)
Distance on roads: 2.5 miles (approximate)
Distance bushwhacking: 5.5 miles (approximate)
Total distance: 8 miles (approximate)
Elevation gained: 2500' (approximate)
Topo Map (Lists of John): Baker Mountain and Subpeaks
Photos: Baker album
Little Spencer - Yes, the trail goes up that face!
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)
The trail was originally laid out by one Dr.Richard A. Manson in the 1960s for the benefit of the clients who stayed at the nearby camp. Since the trail goes up on the steepest side of the mountain, it was no small accomplishment that he found a route that an average hiker could climb at all. It is tough and not a little scary, but non-technical.
The trail rises through a lovely mature pine forest, crosses several rock slides and then passes up through "The Chimney". Having read the trail description and heard from a few others who had climbed it, I was anxious about this.
The Chimney (Spencer is
just visible at the top)
Above the chimney there were a number of steep ledges and another slide to cross. The views opened up and they were magnificent. Finally the trail wends its way through some short scrubby spruce/fir and the summit is reached. Although not quite 360 degree views as advertised (maybe 340), it was spectacular.
The peak, the views and the trail were nothing short of stunning! And hey, no bushwhacking. This one is highly recommended, but pick a clear day. You can see forever from up there: Big Spencer, Katahdin, Whitecap, Baker, Lily Bay, Big Moose, Kinneo, and lakes, no end to the lakes!
It took us 2 hours to hike the 1.5 miles and 2000' of elevation and 1:15 to get down. A great mountain.
Little Spencer Mountain, elevation: 3040'
Distance hiked: 3.0 miles
Elevation gained: 2000' (approximate)
Topo Map (Lists of John): Little Spencer Mountain
Photos: Little Spencer Album
Big Spencer Mountain from Lazy Tom Stream
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)
So drive around we did. We got to the Big Spencer trailhead about 11:10 and we were off hiking by 11:20. Big Spencer is on the New England Fifty Finest List but Spencer and I had climbed it last May when there was still snow on the top. But we had failed to climb the second 3000 footer on the mountain, so-called South Big Spencer, about 1.2 miles further along the ridge line from the high point. The trail and directions to Big Spencer are given in MMG so consult that volume for details.
Papa Bear ascending a ladder
We got going, moved past the communications equipment and moved into the woods. Boy, this was not how I remembered it from just 3 months ago. Maybe it was the snow that we had in May, maybe it was today's hot sun, or maybe the fact we just had climbed a tough peak with 2000' of elevation gain that very morning or maybe it was just bad luck. But this was slow, and I mean sloooooow going. A combination of very thick vegetation, blowdowns and very rough terrain with rocks and ledges (some over your head) that seemed to get in the way, made it very tough. In May when we did the .2 miles to the high point I wrote "tough slog - slow but easy/moderate bushwhack". Today I would say "slow and very hard bushwhack". It took just over 25 minutes to reach the high point but the work and the hot sun really bushed me. When we got there I said "Spencer, I'm going back - you go on". He said fine, and gave me the truck keys. It was about 1:30 PM and he said he should get back to the truck by 4:30.
Big Spencer high point
from the Tower
I got going down over the steep section and when I got to the cabin (about 3:40) I rinsed my shirt off in the nearby stream, and took another break. 5 minutes later who should show up, but Spencer. Instead of saying "I did it" or "I didn't do it", he said "Have you got any water?" I had a bit left, so he collapsed on the ground and drank for a minute or two. Then he finally said "Big Spencer kicked my butt today". It turns out he had made it about 2/3 of the way to the South Peak and finally decided he couldn't make the peak and get back. He was hot and tired and was running out of water. So alas, the score was Big Spencer: 2, team VFTT: 1 for the day. He said when he tries it again he will come in from the southwest. The ridge (described a "open" by one peakbagger who did it some years ago) was just too much for us today.
We made it down to the truck in short order, drank to our hearts content and headed back. A hour later we got a bite to eat in Greenville and in 2 more hours we were at Spencer's place in the Bangor area. In spite of what we didn't do, what we did do was fantastic. It had been an extremely productive and enjoyable weekend. And guess what? - now we have to go back!
Big Spencer Mountain, elevation 3206', prominence: 1916' (#45 on the NEFF list)
Distance hiked: 5.0 miles
Distance bushwhacked: .4 miles (me), 2.4 miles (Spencer)
Topo Map (Lists of John): Big Spencer Mountain
Photos: Big Spencer Album
USGS benchmark data: Big Spencer benchmark data
Peak of the Ridges seen from The Traveler
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)
I had reserved two nights at the South Branch Pond Camp Ground and two at Nesowadnehunk Camp Ground. The first priority was climbing The Traveler, and after that I wanted to climb OJI and the Owl. Then on Saturday I hoped to meet up with a group who would climb Katahdin with Tramper Al, who would be finishing the New England part of the Appalachian Trail.
The Traveler was the last peak on my New England Fifty Finest list - excepting Carrigain, which would be my finish-up-all-the-lists peak that I was saving for Columbus weekend. A couple of weeks ago I had also finished the New England Hundred Highest list (except again for Carrigain). The Traveler also has the distinction of being the only peak on any of my lists that had actually turned me back while I was part way to the summit. Last year I was attempting to climb it with Spencer and Rambler, but cold rain and blustery winds had chased us away when we were about a mile from the summit. So The Traveler was a must.
The Traveler stands apart from the giant mass of mountains around Katahdin and consists of three peaks on a series of ridges forming a U-shaped mass of granite. The North Ridge leads east from Lower South Branch Pond to North Traveler Mountain (3152'), and then the Traveler Ridge leads southward to The Traveler (3542'), the high point of the range. The ridge then swings west to Peak of the Ridges (3254'), the last of the three peaks. Center Ridge, a sharp rocky ridge line, leads down from Peak of the Ridges to Upper South Branch Pond, about a mile and a half south of the North Ridge.
The Traveler range is supposed to be the largest volcanic mountain in New England and you might imagine the ridges forming the rim of a giant extinct crater. But the rock is of a type of granite known as Rhyolite. I’m no expert on volcanoes, but I’d like to know how the volcanic rocks were turned into the hard granite that is there now.
I had to enter the park at the north entrance (which is an adventure in and of itself). You must drive up on I-95 about 20 miles past Medway (the usual Baxter exit) to exit 264 and follow secondary, tertiary and finally dirt roads for about 20 miles to the gate. I got to the gate about 3:15 PM, got my paperwork checked and then proceeded another 10 miles or so to the camp ground. I arrived there about 4:00 PM. I had passed through a few heavy showers on the way up and the weather looked threatening.
I had reserved a spot at the bunkhouse, and expected a few others would be there, but the camp ground had only a few other groups and I had the whole 8-bunk bunkhouse to myself.
That night it rained, and it poured, with lots of thunder and lightening. In the morning, I planned to go up via the North Traveler Trail , which was an easier climb, so if I had to turn around I’d have an easier escape route. The trail guide recommended starting at the other end (the Center Ridges Trail) but since I was unsure I’d make the whole loop and I didn’t want to have to retreat down that trail, I took the contrarian approach.
I got up at 20 to 6:00, ate some breakfast, and packed for rain. I was later told that over 4 inches of rain had fallen Monday night and the streams were so high that a large group of hikers we stranded at Roaring Brook who couldn’t make it to Russell Pond. I put on my rain gear and got hiking at 6:30
Low lying fog in the valleys
I wasn’t raining, but as I climbed I could see low lying fog in the valleys. The vegetation was soaked and very soon so were my boots, but the trail was relatively easy. I climbed the steep ledges and rock fields that form the ridge that you see from the shore of the pond. After I mounted this steep face, I found myself on a long, mostly open ridge line leading up to the North Traveler peak. The rock fields were punctuated by Dwarf Birch forests and Spruce/Fir forests further up and it was an altogether beautiful walk. But there were rocks, rocks and more rocks. This was an easy climb but very tough on the feet.
As I got higher and higher, I could see that the clouds were in two layers: a high thin layer with patches of blue overhead, and a thick layer hugging the valleys to the east which topped out around 2000 to 2500’.
This low lying layer was lapping against the ridge I was on and some of the clouds were spilling through the cols and drifting down to the ponds I had left below.
The North Ridge leading
to North Traveler
As I moved down off of North Traveler, the clouds on the east side of the ridge were starting to spill over the col, and this raised my anxiety a bit. The trail between North Traveler, where I was, over to The Traveler and on to Peak of the Ridges, was newly constructed, having been opened only last September. So the part I was starting on was not well trodden. It started with cairns down the south side of the open summit, and within a few minutes I managed to lose the trail twice. The first time was when I was going through an Alpine meadow and the second when going over some rocky ledges. Each time I had to back-track to the last blue paint blaze I had passed, and look carefully for the correct route. What was missing was the ever-present treadway that most trails have, even over open rocks. That unmistakable dirty path, the missing lichen, the broken branches had just not had time to form on this new trail. Maybe doing the loop the other way, which was recommended, would be easier. I don't recall anyone going that way complaining of losing the trail.
When I dropped down from the peak and the trail went through a wooded area of primarily dwarf birch, there were no route finding problems, but in the open areas, of which there were many, one had to be very careful and observant.
The ridge drops to a col and then climbs to a long open ridge and then drops again to a second col before the final climb to The Traveler summit. The open ridge consisted of a series of rock fields and ledges punctuated by clusters of scrubby vegetation. I would be very easy to lose track of the trail here so I had to pay careful attention to the blazes. These rocky areas were slow and tiring, but not difficult in a technical sense. Both cols were fairly dense Spruce/Fir forests and having to bushwhack this route would not have been easy.
It was a good feeling and the views were spectacular. The dense clouds below creeping up, and the partly sunny sky above made the scene all the more dramatic. Katahdin lay to the south, dark and foreboding sitting in a sea of clouds. North Traveler lay close by to the north and Peak of the Ridges to the west with sunlit summits and clouds crowding around the lower levels. To the far north were the great flat lands of Aroostook County with layers of clouds over lakes and forests with the occasional solitary mountain rising. To the east the land was shrouded in clouds and to the west, some of the smaller peaks of the park, South Branch (Black Cat) Mountain behind Peak of the Ridges, and beyond Pogy and Center Mountain peeked above the clouds.
This was long in coming and it was nice to finally climb this peak solo in such weather. I saw not another soul hinking this day and this seemed appropriate for this moment.
A new sign had evidently been placed here and a canister was partly hidden in the summit cairn. But it had but one entry – from 1997: “Bushwhacked from Peak of the Ridges – A piece of Cake!”.
The traverse from The Traveler to Peak of the Ridges was about half the length of the traverse from North Traveler. But the pattern was the same. Down off the peak, crossing many rock fields and then moving through the dense Spruce/Fir forest in the col. It was here I saw the fox. It looked for a moment like a yellow cat, but too large. Then I could fully see it walking quietly about 10 feet away through the woods. It stopped and looked at me and we made eye contact. It had something in its mouth, probably prey. Then it turned and disappeared. It was a magic moment.
As I was moving across one of the rock fields, I slipped and fell and hit the ground hard. My left butt hurt and I banged the right side of my face on a tree when I hit. I was going neither up nor down; It was more of a traverse.
The Little Knife Edge
The Peak of the Ridges has the most dramatic shape of the three peaks. It has a gradual slope on the north side but a avery steep sheer face to the south. This shape is a glacial effect known as “Roches moutonnées”, smooth on the north side where the glacier wore it down, and jagged on the south side where the glacier tore off chunks of rock.
Along the narrow ridge top there are a series of pinnacles which form a vertical spine of Rhyolite rock. This is called the “Little Knife Edge”. A recent report suggested that this was more like the Air Line Ridge on Mount Adams than Katahdin's Knife Edge, but I would beg to differ. Perhaps because I was climbing up the ridge rather than down, I found it “interesting”, with at least one exposed stretch where the trail went around to the left (south) side of a pinnacle which had a sheer drop-off, whereas most often the trail would pass to the right (north) side which had a gradual slope. It was much shorter, but more like Katahdin's Knife Edge than Adams' Air Line.
Peak of the Ridges
I reached the summit at 11:49. It was the last of the three rocky peaks and the only one I had climbed before – only this time I could see more than 10 feet in front of my face! I could now see down to the Ponds where I was headed and I could see the long steep ridge which last year I stumbled down in the rain without seeing where I was going. The clouds were blowing across the peak but there looked like there was little danger from them after all. The ridge line was mostly in the sun, and in fact it got rather hot and humid once I got down out of the wind.
I got started down just at 12 noon and I took it very slow and easy. The trail guide cautioned against going down this trail, but at least in the upper sections it was no different than going up or down either of the other two peaks. Just rocks and rocks and more rocks. Perhaps there were more of them but they were the same rocks I had been stumbling over all day. In fact even in the woods there were rocks on this ridge. I saw a Perigrine Falcon flying over with its wild call. I was very tired and this was one time that going down was definitely slower than going up.
Center Ridge with the
South Branch Ponds below
Once at the bottom, I took a short break and enjoyed the view across Upper South Branch Pond. Then I made the 1.5 mile
trek back to camp along the Pogy Notch Trail. I arrived back just after 3:00 PM. Just over 8 ½ hours. But it was one
of the most satisfying climbs of all the Fifty Finest or Hundred Highest, and Washington or Katahdin notwithstanding,
it was the wildest, roughest and rockiest of them all.
The Traveler Range over Lower South Branch Pond
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)
The scene was just lovely chatting with the ranger that evening as the sun shone on the ponds and the peaks surrounding Pogy Notch. The North Ridge and the Center Ridge and the steep flank of South Branch (Black Cat) Mountain across the notch to the west were at last clear and stunning. I slept well that night and got moving about 6:00 AM. And at that very moment the rain started. It would continue non-stop for 36 hours. It was the last hurrah of Hurricane Katrina. My plans for the rest of the week were washed out and I decided to call it quits while I was ahead and spend the Labor Day weekend with my family and grandchildren.
But The Traveler, The Traveler - It was mine!
The Traveler, elevation 3542', prominence: 2342' (#22 on the NEFF list)
Distance hiked: 10.6 miles
Topo Map (Lists of John): The Traveler
USGS Traveler benchmark: BM data, BM image
Photos: The Traveler Album
Photos: Consolidated August Blitz Albums (Bakers, Spensers & Traveler)
Consolidated July Blitz Albums|
Consolidated August Blitz Albums
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