In my plan to hike all of the New England 4000 Footers I still had a bunch of peaks to do in the Carrabassett Valley area of Maine. So, in late January I decided to tackle a few from Route 27 just north of Sugarloaf Ski Resort. The plan was to hike the Appalachian Trail from the road to North Crocker Mountain and South Crocker Mountain, and if the bushwhack was broken out to Redington Mountain (and I felt up to it) do it as well. I chose to do the Crockers from the north because they were accessible from a major road that I knew would be open. I could find very little information on trail conditions and road closures online.
I left home at 4:30 am for the two and a half hour drive north. As I approached Carrabassett Valley the full moon was setting just above the ridge line of Mount Abraham. I looked for a good place to stop to take a photo of it from Route 27, but failed to find one and didn’t want to take the time to explore side roads for a better vista.
I got to the Appalachian Trail parking lot at 7:15 am, it was clear, calm and 1 degree. A loop was plowed through the lot but none of the parking spaces were, so I carefully pulled off to the side. As I was searching around for the trail (it starts on the north end of the lot between some boulders), I heard a hunter’s gun shot. I realized I wasn’t wearing any blazes so I scrounged around in my car until I found a fluorescent orange paddleball (the toy that is a ball attached to a paddle with an elastic band) and tied it to the back of my pack. Better than nothing.
The hike started like a punch in the gut, not gaining a terrible lot of elevation, but doing it in the first half a mile. I stopped to put on microspikes because I was having difficulty climbing the slope and stopped a few minutes later to shed my jacket. I couldn’t tell if I was just out of shape or the slippery trail and extra layers were kicking my butt. At least I had a nice view of the Bigelows basking in alpenglow whenever I stopped.
At 1 mile I switched from microspikes to snowshoes because the trail wasn’t well packed and I was slipping all over the place. I was pretty psyched to final hike in my Tubbs Flex VRT showshoes. I had purchased them a year and a half ago and had only used them on two occasions on flat ground when snowshoeing with the family. My pace and spirits rose as the traction was finally suitable and I wasn’t wasting energy in slipping.
The first 1.5 miles of the trail were broken out by someone with a dog. The rest of hike was unbroken. It started with just a few inches of snow but got up to knee-deep near the summit. My excitement waned as my legs got more tired from breaking the trail.
A few miles in I hit birch forest as the trail looped west of Stoney Brook Mountain (I had short-lived dreams of bushwhacking this peak on the way back as it is a New England 3000 Footer). The snow covering the floor of the hardwood forest was covered with animal tracks. A whole bunch of the markings looked to be from rodents being snatched by predatory birds.
In the hardwood forest and then continuing up the mountain I was following the trail of moose. Occasionally the tracks wandered off the trail but would return later. Much of the trail also had moose hair laying in it. I guess it never occurred to me that moose shed their hair as it was not noticeable without snow on the trail.
As I approached the cone of North Crocker Mountain the scenery became more and more beautiful. The sky was deep blue and the sun was shining intensely; focused from the lack of moisture in the atmosphere. The trees were caked with snow and drooping under the strain.
Near the top of the mountain the trail leveled off which was a huge relief to me. It was the first time I had to break trail through snow and it was more tiring than I imagined. The snow had deepened as the elevation increased and just below the summit the snow was over my knees despite the snowshoes. To add to my exhaustion, my new snow pants were sliding down and adding resistance to my exhausted hip flexors. It was all I could do to lift my feet.
I followed a slew of large cat prints to the summit, there must have been a family of lynx calling North Crocker home, unfortunately I didn’t see any. I got to summit at 11:00 am, completely exhausted. I had my lunch and wandered around the summit looking for views and taking photos.
The trail to South Crocker Mountain was not broken as I was hoping. I figured that since no one had broken the trail up to North Crocker Mountain that most people must hike it by driving as far up Caribou Valley Road as possible and hiking both South Crocker and North Crocker from the south. This wasn’t the case so I decided to return to car after my lunch and photos.
I left the summit at 11:30 am. My legs were still exhausted, but it was easier going down than up. I basically slid and stumbled through the snow at a fast walk/jog. There-and-back hikes are usually uneventful, though at one point I tripped over my snowshoes and couldn’t get my arms up in time to catch myself and did a face-plant in middle of trail. All I could do was laugh at myself for my clumsiness.
I got back to my car at 2:15 pm where it sat alone in the parking lot. As popular as the White Mountains are even in the winter time, it surprised me that the Maine 4000 Footers weren’t as popular and no one else was on the trail on this beautiful day. I finally completed a New England 4000 Footer in the winter time, with snowshoes and an unbroken trail, but I got more than I bargained for. I’ll be more prepared for the same next year, and I’ll get a belt for my snow pants.
The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches.
Video of North Crocker Mountain hike
Music from Free Music Archive: “Trophy Endorphins” by Andy G. Cohen
Date Hiked: 24 January 2016
Trail Conditions: 6″-18″ powder snow
Weather: clear and sunny
Highest Elevation: 4228′
Elevation Gain: 2800′
Distance: 10.4 miles
Book Time: 6:35
Actual Time: 6:30
Hike: Spaulding/Sugarloaf – 02 October 2015