New England 4000 Footers: Another Epic Adventure Completes the List

Last week, when Debbie described the itinerary for the trip that would cap our New England 4000 Footer quest, I figured it would be easy. No problem, a “rest week” is what I told my friend, Will Kirousis, who has been “advising” me on my IMLP preparation. Coming off the Harryman Half Iron Triathlon, I needed a little hiking. Well, it didn’t turn out to be a rest week and both Deb and I got more than we bargained for–but, we did get the last five summits as planned.

It was an incredible weekend in the mountains of Western Maine. 

Debbie and I have been trying to get this trip done for more than three years. We started climbing 4000 footers in 2001 after making the commitment to do all of them together, or else they wouldn’t count. The quest to climb mountains has connected us to the land and introduced us to wild places like nothing else. It has fueled our environmental ethic, philanthropy, and bonded us together forever. When we were close to completing our New Hampshire 4000 Footers (48 of the 67 total in New England), we decided to hike the five in Vermont. At the time, to make things interesting, I pointed out that all five were on the Long Trail. That led to our 2005 End-to-End hike in 13 days, which is our most epic adventure together to date. 

2009_Rangeley Lakes Trip 186 - Version 2

This past weekend trip to Western Maine completed the circle for us. We traveled to Maine on Thanksgiving Weekend in 2005 with the intention of climbing as many mountains in the Bigelow Range and Rangeley Lakes Region as we could. It turned out that Debbie wasn’t feeling so hot and that early snow had set us back. Now we know that she had recently become pregnant at the time. We did end up bagging Bigelow-West Peak, Bigelow-Avery Peak, North Crocker, South Crocker, and Sugarloaf over the course of three days, but never got to the others. The plan was to get back there in the spring of 2006 before the birth of our first child, in order to complete the task.We also had to bag Old Speck, which requires its own trip.

We didn’t get back to the mountains of Maine until last year when we climbed Old Speck on Labor Day Weekend with our good friend, and uber-hiker, Matt Schomburg. When Debbie got pregnant again last fall, we knew that the clock was ticking, otherwise, we risked another multi-year wait. It turned out that fortune smiled upon us. We got great support from my in-laws, which allowed us to go north and close out the list in style. 

Travel

We drove up after work on Friday night. We did that a lot when we were banging out six to eight mountains a weekend in the White’s back in 2002-2005. We camped in a church parking lot in Farmington, figuring that it was safe. Little did we know that the church was adjacent to a dairy farm. We also didn’t know that the “farmer” was going to round up his cows with an ATV at 3:00 A.M. All I could hear was, “Come here girls,” over the sound of a two-stroke engine. Shortly after the cows were herded away, some “locals” thought it would be fun to do burn-outs right next to the van. They were just messing with us. We slept OK. When dawn broke, the skid marks proved the case and we realized that we were parked 25 feet from the pasture. Who put that church so closed to the electric fence?

2009_Rangeley Lakes Trip 7 - Version 2

Day 1

We drove to Bigelow where the Appalachian Trail crosses Route 27. Just before the AT, is Caribou Valley Road. That is the road to Redington, so to speak. We stashed our bicycles a half a mile up the dirt road. We locked them to a tree 20 feet into the woods and threw a tarp over them. We left our cycling shoes, helmets, a Clif Bar, and a watter bottle under the tarp. Then, we drove around the mountains to Rangeley where the AT crosses Route 4. We parked at the lot, geared up, and hit the trail.

First, we climbed Saddleback Mountain (4120 ft.), which was beautiful. There is tremendous exposure on Saddleback with an above treeline ridge extending to The Horn (4041 ft.), our second mountain of the day. We had sweeping views in all directions. It was a great section of trail. After going over Saddleback Junior (3655 ft.), we hit the Poplar Ridge (3142 ft.) then descended before climbing Lone Mountain.

2009_Rangeley Lakes Trip 59 - Version 2

It was already a long day and the light was fading, but after a trail supper and short break, we decided to leave the AT and continue on the Mount Abraham Side Trail to climb Mount Abraham (4040 ft.). Debbie wasn’t sure how she would feel, but it saved us two miles of back tracking on Day 2, which turned out to be fortuitous. We also got to climb Abraham in the gorgeous twilight. We ran 90% of the 2.7 miles from the summit back down to the AT and our resting spot, the Spaulding Mountain Campsite. A simple lean-too was our home for the night. Debbie was super strong, which is unbelievable after 11 hours and 10 minutes of effort.

Day 2

We slept OK, but not great. It was chilly and damp in the morning after some overnight showers. We filtered water in a nearby stream before heading north again on the AT. We took the short spur trail to the summit of Spaulding Mountain (4010 ft.) which had the least spectacular views of the five 4000 footers on this trip. The section of the AT between Spaulding and the Sugarloaf Mountain spur trail had the most snow of any section on the trail that we hiked. It is in between the mountains with northern exposure, and in thick tree cover.

We only saw one moose the entire weekend, but we saw a lot of moose tracks and moose dung. We didn’t even see our moose on the hike. We saw him on the drive to the trail head and saw him again on the bike leg in the same spot. I was able to grab a few photos the second time. We kept thinking we would bump into one on the trail. We knew they were there, but we couldn’t see them. 

2009_Rangeley Lakes Trip 90 - Version 2

We thought about a complete bushwhack to get back to Caribou Valley Road and headed off trail into the thick woods. We had shot a compass bearing and figured that we would dust off our adventure racing skills, and hope that the terrain wouldn’t be too difficult. After 15 minutes of flailing through the thick underbrush and pushing rotting branches aside, Debbie noted that it was “opening up a bit.” Next thing you know, she declares, “We are back on the AT.” So much for the bushwhack! It was an omen. Stick to the trail.

So we did. We took the trail all the way back down to the South Branch of the Carrabassett River. We figured out a way across with only getting one foot (each) wet. Then it was back on Caribou Valley Road, which has to be the least attractive dirt road I’ve walked on. The trail to Mount Redington’s (4010 ft.) summit is unofficial and doesn’t appear on the map, but we had directions.

We walked the various logging roads that got us to the ridgeline. From there, we followed the unofficial markings to the top, which was really ugly. There was an abondoned and collapsed telecommunications tower and a lot of stumps where they had cleared a spot. It was kind of weird to finish our quest on such an unattractive mountain, so I’m glad I saved weight and left the Champagne at home. Redington proves that irresponsible logging practices can deface nature. 

We had only seen seven people and one dog up until the Redington climb, and they were all headed south. On Redington, we were joined by a couple of guys who were also working on a list (the New England 100 Highest). Who else would climb Redington, other than a cell phone tower repairman or a logger? Of course, they would likely use an ATV or snow machine to get within spitting distance of the top. We walked and chatted with our two friends and traded photos on the summit. 

We wanted to get to our bikes by 3:00 P.M. so that we wouldn’t end up riding in the dark. The day was warming up, but so was Deb. So, we ran the seven plus miles from the summit back to our bikes, using the roads. I started to fall apart and my feet were hurting badly, but we slogged on. We reached the bikes on time and changed shorts and shoes.

 

We set off on the bike leg and into a fierce northwesterly headwind. That wind stuck with us the entire way around the mountains. We went through Stratton, then Eustis, then Rangeley. It was 35+ miles of suffering. I swore it was downhill when we drove it a day early. It was awful, but we made it in three and a half hours. The total day was 12 hours for a combined 23+ with one night of rest in between. We covered 22.2 miles on foot on Saturday, 15+ miles on foot on Sunday, and 35+ miles by bike on Sunday. An easy week? Hardly.

I’ve concluded that Debbie isn’t human. She is a machine. Seriously, she is a big inspiration. Unlike me, you get no whimpering from her. She carried her extra weight as if it was part of her training regimen.

Travel

Back at the AT parking lot, we loaded our bikes onto the rack while chatting with a local fireman. 20 minutes before we arrived back at the lot, ambulances went screaming by us. Now, they were clustered at the trailhead. Apparently, someone had broken an ankle on the trail up near the Piazza Caves. Fortunately, that is like a mile in from the road. Still, they had all kinds of gear for the rescue. He proceeded to tell us that he had been coming to Western Maine for 30 years and had never been on the AT for anything other than the three rescues that he had been on in the past year. I couldn’t believe it, but remained silent. I was either spent from our effort or shocked by his comment. It might have been both. If I lived in Rangeley Maine, I would be on the AT every week. It blows my mind that some people are so close to nature gems like the AT and never explore it.  There are a lot of kids out there who never experience wilderness. In my opinion, that should change. If it did, a lot more people would care about our environment.

We camped our second night (in the van) at Rangeley Lake State Park, which was beautiful. What a setting. We slept well and motored home in the morning, stopping for some incredible views on the way. Maine Route 17 is a stunning drive. 

Our 4000 footer quest has been so much fun. We were really impressed with the trail work that the Maine Appalachian Trail Club has done on their section of the AT. The trail maintainers are the real heros of the AT. It was nice to complete our list, but the fresh adventures await. 

Everyone wants to know what is next. Well, I know I want to climb them all in winter. I don’t think Deb is interested in that. We want to climb the Adirondack 46 together. We also know that we will return to the New England 67 again some day so that we can climb them with our kids. There is always another mountain to climb!

6 Responses to “New England 4000 Footers: Another Epic Adventure Completes the List”


  1. 1 Road Tripper 25 July 2009 at 7:27 am

    Well, this post answers my question. Congratulations on completing the list. Great blog you got here! thank you.

  2. 2 SL 28 July 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Thanks again. What do you think? Should we do them all in winter?


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