My hiking friends and I had plans for doing a multi-day hiking trip traversing the Great Range in the Adirondacks, but after some difficulty with the coordination of the hike we cancelled the trip. Instead we made plans to hike from Saddleback to Sugarloaf over three days. A trip that would have included Saddleback, The Horn, Abraham, Spaulding and Sugarloaf, some of the premier mountains in Maine.
As we closed in on the first weekend in October I was unsure if I would be able to do such a hike. On my previous hike traversing the Sandwich Range in New Hampshire I had hurt my ankle. After some discussion with my friends Michael and Jeff we decided to base camp at Cathedral Pines Campground in Eustis and do dayhikes around the Carrabasset Valley instead. That way if my ankle hurt too much I could take a zero day without ruining everyone’s trip.
Michael and I arrived late at Catherdral Pines and the temperature had dropped below freezing. We had arranged with the caretaker to be let into the campground after the gate was closed and the lady that met us was very chipper. She told us we could settle our arrangements in the morning. When she heard we were going to be hiking she told us of her mountain, Avery Peak, and how a moose spent an autumn with her at the campground in Avery col when she was a caretaker there.
We drove along a very narrow road, weaving in and out of massive pine trees and stopped at our site next to Flagstaff Lake. The site, the lake and the Bigelows illuminated by the moon were amazing. We set up camp and enjoyed dinner, a hot fire and some beer before heading to our tents in the wee hours of the morning.
We met Jeff at the trail parking on Caribou Valley Road at 9:00 am the next morning. There was one other car in the parking lot and while we awaited Jeff’s arrival a lady in hiking gear approached the car from up the road. It turned out that she was had planned on hiking Sugarloaf that day but the South Branch Carrabasset River was running too high and hard for her to safely cross. We offered to help her across but she declined because she didn’t want to get stuck on the other side unable to cross back after her hike.
When Jeff arrived we started up Caribou Valley Road until it intersected the Appalachian Trail. A few hundred feet down the trail we found the swollen South Branch Carrabasset River. We looked for a good place to cross up river and then headed down river. We found an okay place to cross eventually. Unfortunately, Jeff’s water bottle fell into the river and he had to run down the shore to retrieve it.
Shortly after the river the trail climbed steeply up a rocky ravine wall. On top, the trail followed the lip of the ravine and afforded views to the west of Reddington Mountain and the Crockers. Once the trail got beyond the ravine it swung around the cone of Sugarloaf mountain and leveled out.
In short time we came to the intersection with the Sugarloaf Spur Trail. My ankle was feeling okay so we decided to do Spaulding as well as Sugarloaf and to head to Spaulding first. Between Sugarloaf and Spaulding the Appalachian Trail followed the steep ridge between the two mountains, but the trail only dealt with mild elevation changes. At one point the trail came to a vista looking to the east where there were views of Mount Abraham and the southern side of Sugarloaf.
As we stood on the vista I couldn’t help but think about Geraldine “Inchworm” Largay, the Appalachian Trail hiker who went missing two years previously, close to where we were hiking. The drop off beside the trail was very steep, it dropped for a long way and the bottom was very isolated from the nearest towns and roads. I could see how someone could go missing from the area. Little did we know that Inchworm’s remains would be found two weeks later just a couple of miles from where we were.
At 12:30 pm we took the short spur trail to the forested peak of Spaulding Mountain. The official elevation of Spaulding was 4010 feet, but the sign on the summit said 3998 despite it looking fairly new. We had some snacks while we enjoyed the limited view toward Reddington Mountain and then headed back to Sugarloaf.
Back at the spur trail to the Sugarloaf summit we started the rocky and moderate hike to the top. A few hundred feet below the summit the trail broke out of the trees and onto the talus that made up the peak. It was 2:15 pm and the wind was gusting. After taking some photos on the summit we ducked out of the wind behind an antennae array on the summit to have a snack. To the south we could see the impressive peaks of Mount Abraham.
We explored the summit for a little while as it was a large, wide open space. We even went into the old gondola building and saw decommissioned gondolas laying in the dust and rubble. From the north side of the summit we could see across the Carrabasset Valley to the peaks of the Bigelows.
When we couldn’t take the cold gusts of wind anymore we headed back down the mountain. We took our time hiking down Sugarloaf’s rocky cone as well as the ravine wall heading down to the parking lot. When we came to the South Branch Carrabasset River we crossed it in the same location as earlier in the day.
By the time we got to the last half a mile or so of flat walking along the Caribou Valley Road my left ankle was killing me. I wasn’t sure at that point if I’d be up for more hiking the following day. We got to the parking lot at 4:50 pm and drove back to Cathedral Pines Campground which left Jeff enough time to set up his tent before sundown. After seeing the Bigelows from the top of Sugarloaf, I hoped that my ankle would be up for more hiking the following day.
Mountain hikes instilled in me a life-long urge to get to the top of any inviting summit or peak.
—Paul D. Boyer
Date Hiked: 02 October 2015
Trail Conditions: Dry, river crossing was high
Weather: mostly sunny
Wind: NE 20 mph
Highest Elevation: 4250′
Elevation Gain: 2460′
Distance: 10.2 miles
Book Time: 6:20
Actual Time: 7:50
Sugarloaf and Spaulding Mountains in other blogs:
Dailey7779 – 03 January 2015
Summit Hiking in New England – 11 July 2013
DMOutdoors – 07 October 2012
The Pursuit of Life – 28 August 2012
Matt’s Hikes – 21 July 2012