Finishing the New England 4000ers

Posted on October 16, 2016 by Chris Lumens in , , .

On October 15, I headed north to Sugarloaf one more time with Sarah and Rik to finish off the New England 4000ers. I had only three left - Abraham, Spaulding, and Sugarloaf - and they’re all along one ridge so it made sense to do them as one hike. Sarah came along to help with the logistics. I had her drop Rik and me off at the Firewarden’s trailhead and we would then just hike all the way back to the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel. That would save us having to do any weird out and back stuff.

Here’s the GPS track for this hike. There weren’t any pictures this time due to needing to cover a lot of miles quickly, plus consuming the extra time with radio from the summits. I need to figure out a better way to illustrate these trips.

Abraham

We got an early start from the hotel, on the road just after sunrise. It took us about 45 minutes to get to the trailhead from the hotel, though. It was smooth driving all the way around to Kingfield ME and then the first several miles down the (signed) road. That road turned into dirt, and then into a rockier dirt road, and then after going across two bridges into mostly rocks. At the start of this mostly rocky section a car was parked, but I didn’t buy my Crosstrek to have it sit at the beginning of tough roads. So we drove on maybe another half mile to the trailhead where Rik and I got out and Sarah drove away.

The trail got off to a pretty average start, trending uphill with good footing and a couple easy stream crossings. It was chilly but we were moving fast enough to stay warm. We crossed an ATV trail before long and continued angling up and around the side of the mountain for another couple miles. Before we knew it, we were at the tent site that marked the end of the easy section and the beginning of the steep stuff.

I don’t really know who the target audience for this campsite is. It’s several miles down from the summit of Abraham (which itself is several miles away from the AT) so no through hikers would come here. At the same time, it’s only a couple easy miles away from the road so it doesn’t seem likely many people would come up to camp here. Regardless, we appreciated the well-maintained outhouse and the opportunity to take our first real break.

From here, it was a completely different trail. It turned straight up the mountain climbing very steeply up a small ravine. In standard New England style, there weren’t any switchbacks, just occasional spots where the trail briefly leveled off. We kept climbing for maybe an hour through this rocky below treeline stuff. If we were just starting out, this might have been discouraging but we are both pretty frequent hikers so it was just the standard stuff.

At the surprisingly low altitude of maybe 3000’, we broke out of the treeline at the base of a scree slope. I figured this might be the base of a slide but as it kept going, I saw it was the usual above treeline look. I was really amazed to see how far down it came on the northern side of the mountain. It looked like a miniature Mt. Adams, just like I’d read.

We slowed down here both due to the views and the more difficulty shifting rocky terrain. In one direction we could see all the way across Kingfield and further into Maine (though not to the road we drove in on), and to the north we could see the rest of the hike. The drop and climb up Spaulding already looked intimidating, and Sugarloaf was very far away.

This ended up being my favorite part of the hike and I could tell from looking at the ridge ahead it was likely to be the only alpine section we’d see, so it was too bad it had to end. On the other hand we had another eight or nine miles to hike so I tried to keep a steady pace. Once the summit came into view, I hurried the rest of the way to set up the antenna and tag peak #65.

The wind at the summit was much colder and nearly knocked me over so after reaching the top I came down just a bit to hide and put the antenna together. I called down to Rik to come up and we did the first of three SOTA activations. I think we knocked out more than the required four contacts in under 30 minutes, which was a pleasant surprise given our time crunch.

Doing the activation also gave us a chance to look around a bit. Down the ridge towards Middle Abraham (where we wouldn’t be going) looked very interesting due to lots more alpine terrain but there was no trail that way. The other way along the ridge revealed several little bumps we’d have to hike over. Sugarloaf still looked a long ways away. Spaulding still looked uninteresting. We figured we could see Mt. Washington if it wasn’t so cloudy off in the distance.

Spaulding

After collecting ten points for the successful activation and another snack, we packed up and hauled off away northwest along the trail. We crossed several more bumps in the alpine zone and saw two groups of two people. These would turn out to be the only other people we’d see all day. On one of the bumps, everything lined up to where we could see almost every other 4k in Maine. Saddleback and the Horn had been hiding earlier, as had the Bigelows to the north and the Crocker ridge to the northwest. We enjoyed this last great view before ducking back into the trees.

The trail dropped a bit more and then began a long flat stretch towards the AT. The leaves were all gone up here which made it look nice, and the easy footing meant we could really move. We made up a lot of time we lost due to the radio activation through here. We signed in at the mystery trail register in the middle of nowhere, hit the AT junction, and turned north.

Now on the AT, the trail was much more of a highway. We saw the signs of campsites here and there. It remained easy walking for the next mile or two, though. It had been threatening rain on us since hitting the flat stretch and we got a couple sprinkles but never more than that the whole day. Before too much longer, we were at the Spaulding shelter down in a little hole below the summit of Spaulding. I filled up a water bottle from the slow trickle of a stream that was left and we took a more serious snack break.

And then it was time to go. The trail got a lot rockier and the climbing started almost immediately after the shelter. We got a couple views back to Abraham as well as out to the Crockers and Caribou Pond. I filled Rik in on the details of the Redington bushwhack since we could see it all here. We then reached a sharp right hand turn and the trail got much steeper as it headed straight for the summit. This was really a slog and seemed to take forever. We were also getting pretty tired and hungry.

We eventually reached the little spur trail for the summit. Again, I ran off (much slower this time) to summit #66. The old sign on the summit let me know Spaulding hadn’t always been considered a 4k. I dropped my pack and looked around - there was a trail running off northeast to a cleared but limited outlook to Sugarloaf, and another little use trail or two right around the summits. I didn’t worry too much with the views since we’d be going to Sugarloaf soon enough anyway.

When Rik got there, we once again fired up a SOTA activation. We got a couple of the same guys from Abraham, which was nice. Things seemed to be slower than over on Abraham until we pointed the antenna in just the right direction. We could hear KB1WDW and KB1WEP on the summit of Mt. Washington, talking to our friends KB1RJC and KB1RJD in Madison NH. I horned in on their conversation and was able to work three people on Washington as was Rik. We got them to relay a message to Herm and Merle to point their antenna in our direction, but we were never able to hear them. So that was a little disappointing.

Sugarloaf

And then it was time to be off again. We had two or three more miles left to cover to Sugarloaf, plus a couple miles down the ski trails, plus dinner and a long drive home. Back at the base of the spur trail, I exchanged a couple quick messages with Sarah to let her know when I thought we’d be done. Then we got moving. The trail dropped steeply down the other side and soon we were looking back up at the summit of Spaulding. I don’t need to go up there again.

From there we just cruised across the easy ridge. There were three or four minor climbs that felt a lot less minor given the rest of the day and a lot of easy walking between them. Views were not frequent and we talked a lot about how nice Abraham had been. At one point in here we decided we were both very hungry so we sat down and split a pound of gummy bears.

We stopped at a little outlook to the east that had a great view of Sugarloaf and Abraham, and from here we heard what sounded like a dog barking (though we never ran into anyone). A little further around and we were at the junction where the AT heads down to Caribou Valley Road and a spur trail heads to the summit. A sign at the spur trail was very encouraging, and I was getting really excited about standing on my final summit.

I had Rik lead the way to the top with the Arrow this time. I stopped at the AT boundary clearings with the summit towers just in view and he sped off. It was much cooler and windier here and I knew the summit would be much moreso since it just peeks above the trees. After several minutes, I got a call from Rik on the radio and I headed up the final couple tenths to the summit.

And then I was standing on top of #67, the last 4000er I needed in New England. This was a project that I started back in 2005 with Mt. Garfield, actually started thinking about in 2007 on Katahdin, and really worked on in earnest starting in 2012 in Vermont. I was definitely glad to be done, though. We broke out our flasks and enjoyed some rye while calling on the radio for one final activation. This one was a lot tougher due to all those towers on Sugarloaf doing their own thing but we eventually got our fourth contacts.

Aside from all those towers, the view was fantastic. We could of course see everything we’d hiked today. We could also see all of the Caribou Valley, the Bigelows, and I assume both Mt. Washington and Katahdin. We could also see lots of fast moving clouds overhead threatening us with rain and maybe some lightening. I wanted to sit around and enjoy the achievement but I also didn’t want to get caught up here in a storm. Once the activation was complete and we’d finished our drinks, we got moving.

Descent

The way down was entirely on ski trails. We followed the lift down for a while until I decided it was probably leading us too far west and then we cut down one of the easier trails straight for the base lodge. It was a long hike and despite the views, ski trails aren’t any fun to hike down. Add to this the fact that Sugarloaf is a very big ski area. There’s a restaurant halfway down the mountain, though of course it was closed in the off season. I think it took us about two hours to get down.

I hiked right into the hotel where Sarah was waiting at the bar. I got the keys from her to get a change of clothes out of the car, walked outside, and it was raining. We just barely missed getting very wet. Overall, this was a fantastic hike. I got some surprise above treeline time, hiked my final three peaks, got another Maine county high point, and got 30 more SOTA points. I couldn’t really ask for a better way to finish up.

Now what?

I loved doing the New England 4000ers. I enjoyed just doing the New Hampshire ones, but they’ve become so busy over the past several years that it’s really diminished my enjoyment of them. Just the idea of the half mile of parked cars in Franconia Notch or the full overflow lots in Pinkham makes me want to go somewhere else. The Vermont peaks were nice but overall not spectacular. With the exception of Mansfield, though, they were much quieter. The Maine peaks were both extremely quiet and spectacular (with the exception of just Spaulding). It was a great list to work on. I came to view the long drive up to Maine not just as an annoyance but as what made them so quiet.

What do I do next? I still want to enjoy the higher summits of New Hampshire, but the drastically increased traffic means I’ll need to either find weekdays to hike or take more obscure routes. My strategy of hiking any hundred highest near a 4k means I’m at 81 on that list and I’ve already done Fort in Maine, which I believe is supposed to be one of the tougher ones. So that’s the obvious next thing to do. I will probably make slow progress on that.

And then I’d like to do more backpacking and take my radio with me to farther out there peaks. More backpacking would be nice and is a goal of mine every year. I’ll continue hiking, of course. I have set an extremely simple goal for 2017: to hike farther and higher than any previous year. Doing that will take me all over the place.

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