Four Fine Peaks in Maine
And a not-too-shabby Waterfall
May 8 - May 11, 2005

by Papa Bear

(Photo of Spencers)
Little and Big Spencer Mountains across Moosehead Lake
Seen from Big Moose Mountain
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)

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Four Fine Peaks (and a Waterfall) in Maine

Saddleback Mountain, Brownville Junction: May 8th
Big Spencer Mountain, Kokadjo: May 9th
Big Moose Mountain, Greenville: May 10th
Moxie Mountain, Caratunk: May 10th
Moxie Falls, The Forks: May 11th

Four Fine Peaks


tarting on Sunday, May 8th, Spencer and I did some bagging of peaks on the New England Fifty Finest List (or the fifty most prominent peaks in New England). I had arrived in the Bangor area the night before and Sunday morning we headed for the North Woods (via the local super market). We hoped to climb 5 NEFF peaks and had a few extra peaks in mind as back ups.

For some background, here's an outline of what prominence is all about on Aaron Maizlish's excellent site: Topographic Prominence. The list I follow is derived from a list developed by Roy Schweiker and Andy Martin: The Most Prominent Peaks in New England. And here's a prominence map by Aaron Maizlish of the Northeast (New England and New York) showing (most of) these "Fifty Finest" peaks: Northeastern U.S. Prominence Map.

We were worried about muddy logging roads, but except for one solitary spot (see this) the roads were generally hard and dry. OTOH, they had not been graded since the winter, so some driving was pretty rough. In credit to Plum Creek, the land owner, graders were working on several of the roads, starting the spring ritual.

The weather was great for hiking, except for the first day which was chilly and rainy resulting in very wet, cold hiking. This turned an easy bushwhack into a rather unpleasant day.

All the peaks had snow on top starting at between 2000' and 2500'. This was an issue only on Saddleback (where we should have brought snowshoes, but left them in the truck) and Big Spencer (where we used snowshoes to great advantage). On the other two peaks we bare-booted easily over rather consolidated spring snow, with the occasional post-hole to keep us honest.

By and large we had a great early season expedition. We were able to fit our trip in between mud season and bug season and are grateful for our (fortuitous) timing. We topped our trip off with a walk to a spectacular waterfall (Moxie Falls). If you are ever traveling Route 201 near The Forks, this is a very worth while side trip.

Saddleback Mountain, Brownville Junction: May 8th

(Photo of Saddleback Ponds)
View of the Saddleback Ponds just southwest of the ridge
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)


addleback Mountain (no, not the 4000 footer near Rangeley) is a 2998' peak reached via the KI Road.

It rained all night Saturday night, so Spencer and I decided to forego the early start we had originally planned, and sleep in a little later. So we loaded up his truck, did our shopping for the upcoming 4 to 5 days of car camping, and got moving around 8:30 AM. We drove west and got onto Route 11 and headed up past Brownville Junction for the K.I. Road. This road turns left off Route 11 and there is a sign "Katahdin Iron Works". We drove about 6 miles on the K. I. Road. At all turns we stayed on the main road and watched for signs to Gulf Hagas. We Took a right onto a dirt road after a gradual turn to the left (just before the K. I. Road gate house). According to DeLorme this is "Merther Road" although I did not notice a sign. We stayed on this for 4.0 miles, and then took a sharp left. This well built road heads along the Saddleback southwest ridge. If you're lucky you will see the mountain off to your right. We had a low cloud ceiling and we saw nothing but fog and clouds. After 1.6 miles, there was a turn to the right (north) blocked by several boulders. We parked here.

We got going about 10:30 and walked about 15 minutes along the road until we started seeing skid roads up to the right. We walked on the road until we felt we were close to the ridge line, and then started up a skid road. It petered out in about a quarter of a mile and then we headed up perpendicular to the slope to reach the ridge line. The vegetation changed from hardwoods to fir and spruce of varying sizes from 1 foot in recently cut areas to full size trees. Once on the ridge, we followed the topology up rather easily (skirting occasional thick spots), crossing 3 or 4 skid roads coming up from the north side of the ridge (our left).

The bushwhack up the ridge was about a mile and a half as the crow flies and would have been the easiest of our 3
(Photo of Pb at Saddleback Summit)
Papa bear at the Saddleback Summit
bushwhacks were it not for the snow and cold wet conditions. Above about 2500' we really could have used our snowshoes (which were safely stowed in the truck) and the wet post-holing and wet vegetation gave us a very cold unpleasant experience. At one point I post-holed about 18 inches deep into some wet snow, and found my foot just plain stuck. The wet snow had consolidated around my foot and it was just not coming out without a fight. With some help from Spencer and some frantic digging I finally extracted myself, but the experience gave me a brief episode of panic.

We slogged on over a fairly open false peak and then through some thicker stuff and deeper snow, finally reaching the summit at 12:30. My gloved hands were freezing and Spencer's bare hands were freezing so we celebrated our first triumph for about 15 seconds and started down.

We got down in a little over an hour and as we threw our wet stuff into the back of the truck, the rain had stopped and the ground had dried a bit and it was hard to believe the yucky conditions we had just endured at the top.

Saddleback Mountain
Elevation: 2998', Prominence: 1848'
#48 on the NEFF list

Total distance on foot (round trip): 4.0 miles (road: 1.0 miles; skid roads, bushwhack: 3 miles)
Total elevation gain: 1485'
Total trip time: 3:09

DeLorme Atlas: Maine, map 42 C3
USGS quad: Big Shanty Mountain
Saddleback map

Photos: Saddleback album

Big Spencer Mountain, Kokadjo: May 9th

(Photo of Katahdin from Big Spencer)
Katahdin seen from Big Spencer
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)

ig Spencer is a 3260' peak which rises prominently near the shore of Moosehead Lake about 10 miles north of Kokadjo.

We left the Saddleback trailhead around 2:00 PM and headed back to the K. I. Road. We went north on this road through the Appalachian range, crossing the Appalachian Trail and on past the road to Little Lyford camps, recently purchased by the AMC. Of all the major logging roads this was the most pot-holed. It was in rough shape and could really use some grading.

We got to Greenville and threw our wet stuff in the dryer at the Laundromat and had a nice, if early, dinner at Flatlanders. Then we headed out on the Greenville-Kokadjo Road to find the trail for Big Spencer where we would camp for the night so we could get an early start the next morning. The road turns to dirt right after Kokadjo where it turns left. After about 8 miles on this road we crossed the bridge over Bear Pond Brook and turned left onto Spencer Mountain Road. The trail head was a bit over 6 miles of travel on this road. We got there about 6:30 PM, and since there was still plenty of light we thought we would explore the road past the trailhead. It circles around towards Little Spencer, which we hoped to climb if we had some extra time, but the DeLorme Atlas showed a washout. We though maybe this had gotten fixed.

This turned into a big mistake. About .5 miles after the Big Spencer trailhead we hit a sink hole in the middle of the road and got struck in the mud. The right rear tire was almost up to the axle and nothing we could do would get us out of there. So we made camp and settled in for the night. We figured we would have to walk the 6 to 7 miles to
(Photo of Tow Truck)
Moosehead Towing in action
the main Kokadjo Road in the morning, and hope for a hitch to Kokadjo or Greenville where we could engage a tow. If we were real lucky we might hope to find a truck that was both willing and equipped to pull us out.

We got walking just after 6:00 AM the next morning and got to the main road around 8:00. We were waiting for about a half hour without seeing one vehicle, and started speculating about when we should start the additional 8 mile walk to Kokadjo, when a pickup came by and picked us up. The guy would have driven in to help us but neither we nor he had a chain or a tow rope (Note to self: bring a tow rope next time). We got to Kokadjo after 9:00 AM and while breakfast was cooking, I called AAA for a tow. They said there might be an off road charge. About an hour later a truck showed up from Greenville and the guy said yes there would be a non-covered charge since we were on an un-maintained road. Well we couldn't very well argue about this, so we jumped in and he drove the 15 or so miles back to our mud hole and pulled us out in less than a minute. We paid him $75 and we wondered how much he also collected from AAA?

Now we had a mountain to climb! While we were going through these unpleasantries, the clouds had lifted and we could now see the mountain. Great news just when we needed it! We started up the easy lower trail at 11:45 and in about half an hour reached the old fire warden's cabin where we took a break. Past this point the trail got much steeper and the snow much deeper. We put on the snowshoes (hah! We brought them this time!) and we were actually climbing ladders almost covered with snow. The sun was warm and it was great going, in contrast to yesterday's miserable climb.

We reached the old Fire tower a bit before 2:00 and the views were nothing less than spectacular. There was Katahdin to the north. Jo-Mary and the White Cap range to the east with Lily Bay and Baker in front of them. Towards the southeast was the Barren-Chairback range. Towards the northwest, the lakes and forest went on for ever. If you do no other peak in the North Woods, do Big Spencer!

But the highest point of the ridge was a short .3 mile bushwhack further on, so we got going. A few herd paths around the communications towers dissapeared and we were on our own. The snowshoes mostly were of help, but they
(Photo of Papa Bear at the canister)
Papa Bear at the canister
also slowed us down when the going got thick and they would get snagged. At 2:45 we reached the summit and found the 3000 footer canister.

There were but a few modest views to be had, so we got started back and made our way first to the tower, and then down the steep slope. We glissaded down some of the steepest spots and I managed to take a few face plants, but we made it back to the cabin uninjured. After a short rest there we got back to the truck just before 5:00 PM. It was sunny and must have been close to 60 degrees. What a difference from yesterday! All thoughts of gloom and doom and mud had been put to rest by this spectacular mountain and this gorgeous day.

We planned to hike Baker the next day so we drove down on the road which runs west of First Roach Pond. But alas, the only bridge to this area was being repaired and we couldn't risk being stuck on the wrong side of this bridge, so we gave up on Baker.

We drove back to Kokadjo, had dinner and then drove on through Greenville and parked for the night at the base of Big Moose Mountain, tomorrow's new objective.

Big Spencer Mountain
Elevation: 3206', Prominence: 1916'
#45 on the NEFF list

Total distance on foot (round trip): 4.6 miles (trail: 4.0 miles; bushwhack: .6 miles)
Total elevation gain: 2210'
Total trip time: 5:06

DeLorme Atlas: Maine, map 49 E4
USGS quad: Big Spencer Mountain
Big Spencer map
USGS benchmark data: Big Spencer benchmark data
Reference: Christopher Keene's North Woods Walks

Big Spencer album

Big Moose Mountain, Greenville: May 10th

(Photo of Big Moose Mountain)
Big Moose (and Little Moose) Mountains
Seen from Little Spencer Mountain
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)

ig Moose is a prominent landmark rising 3196' near the shore of Moosehead Lake a few miles northwest of Greenville. It's name was changed from Big Squaw in 2001 by the Piscataquis County commisioners which, in one stroke, changed all instances of "Squaw" to "Moose" in place names in the county.

Of the four peaks we climbed this week, Big Moose was 1) the easiest, 2) the closest to a major (paved) road and 3) had the most bang for the buck. So what are you waiting for? Get up there quick before bug season!

From Greenville (where the Greenville-Kokadjo Road ends at Route 15) we drove about 5 miles up Route 15 to a dirt road on the left just after crossing a bridge over Squaw Brook (Moose Brook?). There is a sign for "Maine Public Lands, Little Moose Unit". We drove in a couple of miles on this road to the trailhead. We parked and camped overnight right at the trailhead, so we had no trouble getting an early 6:15 AM start the next moprning. Although the morning was cool, we soon warmed up and stripped to shorts and short sleeves. It would be another warm sunny day. And yes, we brought our snowshoes, although with the trail and ridge both facing the south side of the mountain it turned out there was little snow and we didn't need them.

As usual on fire tower mountains, this one had an easy lower section of trail leading to the old fire warden's cabin, followed be a steep section up to the ridge. The steep part was extremely well engineered - one might say over-engineered. There were stairs, bridges, ladders and many, many vertical feet of rock stairs. It seems the Maine Conservation Corps had spent a good deal of effort on this trail when the state took over ownership of the area recently.

With little difficulty we reached the ridge line, which was a pleasant walk through patches of consolidated snow. Bare booting was fine here with hardly a post-hole. We reached the summit just before 8:00 AM and enjoyed the views over Moosehead Lake to the east and north. It was again an awesome peak. We could see Big Spencer to the north across
(Photo of Specer on Big Moose)
Spencer relaxing at the Big Moose tower
the lake, and it was a nice complement to the views we had had the day before from that peak. We ignored the usual communications towers that surrounded the peak, but at least they were positioned so you could not see them from below. Unfortunately they did dominate the local scene at the top.

We took the trail past the tower towards the ski area, but almost gave up since we found no view points, but then suddenly there was one. If you climb this peak I recommend you keep going past the clutter on the summit and find this beautiful spot.

On the way down we checked out both lookout points that had signs and were rewarded with views of Sugarloaf and the Bigelows from the upper point, and of Greenville and the lower part of Moosehead from the lower one.

We returned to the truck by 10:20, picked up a few supplies in Greenville and headed down Route 15 towards Moxie Mountain, our next objective.

Big Moose Mountain (formerly Big Squaw Mountain)
Elevation: 3194', Prominence: 2124'
#37 on the NEFF list

Total distance on foot (round trip): 4.3 miles
Total elevation gain: 1920'
Total trip time: 4:08

DeLorme Atlas: Maine, map 41 D1
USGS quad: Big Squaw Pond
Big Moose map
USGS benchmark data: Squaw Mtn. benchmark data
Reference: Christopher Keene's North Woods Walks

Big Moose album

Moxie Mountain, Caratunk: May 10th

(Photo of Moxie Mountain)
Moxie Mountain from Town Line Road
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)


oxie Mountain is a rugged 2920' peak about 5 miles southeast of Caratunk. Although close to Route 201 and to Caratunk and Bingham, Moxie is relatively hidden. We were unable to see it from Route 201 and only managed to glimpse it from the dirt Town Line Road as we approached it from the south. I imagine it can be see from Moxie Bald Mountain (which the AT crosses), but to be honest I didn't look for it when I was there in 2003.

When we left Greenville we had two choices: take the logging road known as the "Wally World" Road which goes southwest from Greenville to Moxie Lake or drive down Route 15 through Monson to Abbot Village and then go west on Route 16 towards Bingham and pick up the dirt Town Line Road about 6 miles before Bingham. Spencer opted for the later since the time we could make on the paved alternative would more than make up for the shorter distance of the dirt roads.

So we headed down Route 15 and made a quick stop in Monson to see if the Shaws were home (they weren't) and turned right (west) on Route 16 and found Town Line Road about 4 miles past Mayfield Corner. Town Line was in fairly good shape and we made good time on the 9.6 miles up to the bridge which heads over to the Big Dimmick Pond campsite. We took a left over this recently re-planked bridge, past a small trailer colony of squatters, and drove 3 miles on the road which heads between the two Dimmick ponds to the campsite. DeLorme shows this route and it was fairly obvious. There was however a very rough rocky section of the road about half way in, which would probably do damage to a low clearance vehicle. We took the left fork at the campsite and parked, since it was too soft and muddy to proceed and we had had enough of mud for this week.

As we were getting to this spot, which is a few miles directly east of Moxie, Spencer said "We're going to do it today, right?". To tell the truth I wasn't contemplating this at all, but since it was still only a little past noon I said "OK", keeping my reluctance to myself. We had mapped out a route to the mountain which involved climbing the slide on the east side which topped out fairly close to the summit. The trouble would be the bushwhack to the bottom of the slide. Some old maps and DeLorme showed a road which looped south from where were parked and headed for the slide, so we hoped to find that road. Our hopes were dashed however when we found new logging activity and numerous skid roads heading not quite the right direction. All traces of the old road were lost.

We set a bearing from the map from the road to the slide, but the uncertainty of our starting point put us too far south of the hoped-for starting point, and our bearing led us up one drainage farther south than intended. We decided to follow the same bearing anyway, which would put us on a parallel course and we should actually just end up further up the slide. Spencer also thought as we started to rise up the steep slope before reaching the slide, we could contour around so as to hit the slide at the desired spot. Although this plan worked, I was getting rather tired by the time we made it. Spencer said "You either trust my route finding or you're too tired to argue". I'm afraid it was a bit of both. But after 2 hours and 25 minutes from the truck we finally reached the slide (about 1/3 of the way up) and my spirits and confidence rose considerably.

Although steep, climbing the slide was easy and we reached the top (about 600' of elevation gain in about .3 miles) in about 30 minutes. Now it was simply a matter of bushwhacking the half mile or so (and 320' of elevation) up along the ridge following a bearing towards the peak. I was concerned that it would be easier to find the summit that it would be to find the slide on the way back, so we made a point or leaving lots of footprints in the snow. The going was pretty easy along
(Photo of Pb on Moxie)
A well deserved rest at the summit of Moxie
the broad ridge. We didn't know what to expect at the top; since this peak was only 2920', we wouldn't expect to see a 3000 footer canister. I said "One thing I don't want to find here is more communications towers".

Spencer was a little ahead and he broke through to a rocky area and kept saying "I don't believe it, I don't believe it". I didn't know what he didn't believe until I got there and there was a helicopter pad and the usual clutter of towers! It seems that the engineers had beaten us to this peak. There was no sign of any trails from any direction, so one must assume they just air-dropped this stuff here. It was an open rocky summit however and it had a USGS benchmark (without an elevation) so this peak had seen its share of humans over its history.

In view of the work it took us in route finding, bushwhacking and climbing I decide to refuse to step on the ugly platform. But then with the height of inconsistency, I went and used my cell phone to tell my son where we were (since he was keeping our itinerary and we hadn't planned on being here today). Reception was great - just 10 yards from the tower . Spencer just shrugged disapprovingly.

Getting down was much easier than getting up. With Spencer setting the bearing and with some foot prints to follow, we hit the top of the slide on the dot.

We followed the slide all the way to the bottom - considerably farther than what we had climbed (since we had hit it part way up on the way in). We then calculated a new bearing from the map, disregarding the old road (which we never found anyway) and took a straight shot for the truck, but erring slightly to the north to avoid a cliffy section. There was another road on that side (or so we hoped) heading roughly west, so there was little danger of missing the target.

To make a long story short, what had taken well over 2 hours on the way in took less than an hour on the way back. We were back to the truck before 7:00 PM and made haste to set up camp and cook supper before it got too dark. It had been a great day of hiking - more than I expected. Moxie was perhaps the toughest peak of the week principally due to the route finding and length of the bushwhack, but in an absolute sense it was not bad at all.

Moxie Mountain
Elevation: 2920', Prominence: 1823'
#50 on the NEFF list

Total distance on foot (round trip): 4.2 miles (roads: 1.0 miles; skid roads, slide, bushwhack: 3.2 miles)
Total elevation gain: 1780'
Total trip time: 5:59

DeLorme Atlas: Maine, map 30 B4
USGS quad: Caratunk
Moxie map
USGS Moxie benchmark: BM data, BM image

Photos: Moxie Mountain album

Moxie Falls, The Forks: May 11th

(Photo of Moxie Falls)
Moxie Falls
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)

oxie Falls is a hidden gem just off Lake Moxie Road, a couple of miles east of The Forks. With a main drop of over 80', it is the highest waterfall in Maine.

Tuesday had been a long day with two climbs and a fair drive between them, so we stayed the night at a lovely campground on Big Dimmick Pond, east of Moxie Mountain. Since we were very close to Route 201, we decided we would go for Coburn Mountain on Wednesday. In the morning, we drove the 3 miles out to Town Line Road and then returned south about 7 miles and turned right onto Dead Water Road for another 7 miles or so to Bingham and Route 201.

Coburn lies a few miles west of Route 201 about mid way between The Forks and Jackman, some 32 miles north of Bingham. It was great to get back on a paved road and we made the drive up to Coburn in what seemed like no time. But we were stymied by a washout on the dirt road into the trailhead. There was a deep cut across the road and after the mud experience earlier in the week we were in no mood for attempting this crossing. I had been on this road last November with Bob and Gerri and it has seriously deteriorated since then. Spencer decided this would be a good peak for a winter ski expedition so we turned around and headed south.

As we headed back down Route 201, we looked through Christopher Keene's North Woods Walks for an alternate destination. We found an inviting description of a waterfall close to The Forks, so we decide to go for that.

Just after the bridge over the Dead River, as we entered The Forks, we turned left on Lake Moxie Road. The parking
(Photo of Rainbow)
A Rainbow over the Falls
lot is on your left about 2 miles east on this paved road. Since this was a "tourist walk", we left our packs in the truck, grabbed our cameras and started out in the cool morning, clad in sneakers and Tevas.

An easy 10 minute walk over a broad path with steps in appropriate places brought us to Moxie Stream (which flows from Moxie Pond about 2 to 3 miles north into the upper Kennebec). The spring snow melt had fattened this stream and the waterfall was truly spectacular. We had seen Katahdin from Big Spencer and we had seen what seemed like the whole north woods from Big Moose, but this was equally inspiring. But forget my words, just check it out!

We reluctantly got back into the truck and in a couple of hours arrived back in the Bangor area. We had driven over 420 miles, summited four fine peaks and seen one not-too-shabby waterfall in 4 too-short days. When can we go again?

DeLorme Atlas: Maine, map 40 E3

Moxie Falls album

Click here for a complete set of albums from these hikes

Click here for my New England Fifty Finest List

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