I woke up to an early alarm, eager to get started this morning. It was going to be a big day which includes climbing to the top of Bigelow Ridge with a full resupply of food, and I wanted to get an early start. When I ventured outside it felt almost cold, so I put on my down puffy before heading down to the road. I needed to get a quick ride back to the trailhead, but it was early and there was no traffic on the road. I don’t usually bother keeping track of the day of the week because out here, it just doesn’t matter, but a quick check revealed that it was Saturday morning. Most of the people around here work at the Sugarloaf Ski Resort so I hoped that a few of them had to work on the weekend. I walked down to road towards a convenience store and I was about to go in when a truck pulled over and offered me a ride.
This morning’s agenda included a 2,750-foot climb to the summit of the Bigelow Mountain West Peak with a steep climb up and down the South Horn thrown in for good measure. The first couple of trail miles are relatively flat which compresses the climb to a 2.5-mile section. Even with a full load of food, it was an enjoyable climb and I felt stronger than I had for weeks. On the way up, I passed a scenic beaver bog and passed through a section where the trail winds around huge moss-covered boulders.
As I neared the top of the ridgeline, the trail climbed steeply before leveling off for a half mile and then it came to a short side trail to a rocky outcrop with a stunning view of Horns Pond and The Horns. Just a short walk past the view I came to the Horns Pond Lean-to’s where I stopped for a break. The area around the Horns Pond Lean-tos is heavily visited and sports a resident caretaker. There are actually three lean-tos in the area. Two of them are modern structures holding eight campers each and are located off the trail. The third one, built in 1937, is directly on the trail and only open for day use. While I was eating lunch inside the shelter, I discovered that someone had left behind a hat embroidered for the 2017 Student Orientation for Tufts University. Since I hadn’t had a hat since leaving mine at the Farmhouse Inn, I put it on my head.
Feeling re-energized from my break at the old Horns Pond Lean-to, I tackled the one-half mile 600-foot climb to the summit of the South Horn where I took the picture that you can see as the featured picture for this blog post. I skipped the side trail to North Horn and descended steeply only to start climbing again towards the summit of Bigelow Mountain West Peak. Once again, I was above the treeline and loving every minute of it. The climbing was fun, and the 360-degree views were incredible. At the summit, I met a day hiker and avid climber of peaks named Eric who was quite knowledgeable about the area, and he pointed out some of the peaks on the horizon for me. Eric had taken a couple of pictures of me coming up the mountain, so we traded Facebook information so that he could send them to me. It was nice to chat with Eric and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to meet him.
Because I was directly across from the cell tower on Sugarloaf Mountain, I had a great cell phone signal on the West Peak, so I called and spoke to my wife. She was asking if I could please nail down a completion date so that she could make travel plans and I tried to impart to her how difficult that would be. But I owe it to her to at least provide due diligence on that information, so I told her that I would look at it this evening and get back to her tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Bigelow Range is the last big mountain range until Katahdin and I’m looking at this view towards where I’ll be in a couple of days, and I tell her, “I have seen the promised land, and it looks pretty flat ahead.” There is some hope up ahead that I might be able to accelerate my progress.
From the summit, it is a short descent to the Avery Memorial Campsite at Bigelow Col where I’m spending the night. It has been a long and tiring day, but it has also been one of the most pleasurable hiking days that I have enjoyed in a long time. Has the joy returned to hiking? I hope so. But for now, I’m content to end this day camping at 3,838 feet at this gorgeous campsite. The tent pads are built into a steep mountainside, so each site feels like a private outdoor high-rise apartment with a spectacular view. The only downside is that I had to go to three different springs before I could find water that was acceptable to me for drinking (after filtering). After dinner, I’ll pull up all my maps and itineraries and try to figure out how long it is going to take me to get to Mt Katahdin.
Date: August 26, 2017
Starting Location: ME 27, Stratton, ME
Ending Location: Avery Memorial Campsite
AT Miles Today: 8.1
AT Miles To Date: 2,009.7