Sunday, November 09, 2008

Notes from an East Coaster.

Most of the other contributors on this blog have the good fortune of living in such splendid locales as, well, anywhere in the Western half of the US. Mountains, good snow, mountains, and well, mountains are the supreme benefit of this. For some of us however, we must make use of the (comparatively sized) molehills on the other half of the nifty fifty. Now, these hills are nothing to scoff at; Mt Washington can pack a punch when the breeze is blowing – aka always, and Tuckerman’s ravine offers up some superb spring skiing.

In the summer we must look elsewhere for adventures, and elsewhere is Maine. Our quest led us to the Bigelow Range, a stretch of the Appalachian Trail just across the way from Sugarloaf/USA, one of Maine’s premier ski hills.

The range consists of a series of approximately 4000’ peaks, traversed along the ridgeline. It offers splendid views of Sugarloaf and the lakes and mountains in the surrounding area. It covers 18 or so miles from one end to the other. So in early August my friend Rusty and I set out to hike some AT along the Bigelows.

Rusty near the summit of Avery Peak.

To borrow some words from Summit
“In May 2005, Backpacker Magazine named the Bigelow Range Traverse the tenth most difficult day hike in America in an article titled America's Hardest Dayhikes. Backpacker cited the 17 miles of black flies with attitude and 10,000 feet of elevation gain as reasons for inclusion on the list.”

In our infinite wisdom Rusty and I decided to set out at 1 AM in the morning. Our reasoning at the time was that, since we had just one vehicle and didn’t know how long the hike would take us; we needed to budget sufficient time to hitchhike back to the car at the end of the day.
The forecast called for scattered thunderstorms, but as a couple of college kids we were just amped to hike and reasoned that they “would scatter elsewhere.” We set out from a rutted dirt road off Route 27 and into the darkness.

The hike went smoothly until about 3 AM when Rusty’s headlamp battery went. On the drive up we had intended to get fresh batteries, but in our anticipation of a nighttime hike we had completely forgotten. So there we were. Halfway up a mountain in the middle of the woods at 3 in the morning, with one headlamp. Our first strategy was simply to hike close together so we could both benefit from the lamp, but as the terrain got more and more difficult this was less and less effective. Then we decided to scrap the lamp altogether and let our eyes adjust to the low moonlight. This worked relatively well, with only a few real tumbles between us.

As it turned out the hike didn’t take us very long. We emerged into the sunlight where the AT crosses Route 27 after hiking the traverse in about 7 and three quarter hours. This included the distance on the trail itself, as well as the hike up from our launching point.

This left us walking along an out-of the way, 2-lane highway at 8:30 AM on a Sunday morning. Needless to say, we didn’t have very good luck with hitching a ride. After ambling an additional 5 or so miles along the road, a friendly traveler stopped and brought us the remainder of the distance to the dirt road where we had began earlier that morning. All told, we estimated that we covered about 27 miles, a portion of which was in the car that gave us a lift.

We ended the drive home with a stop in at the busiest diner we could find, satisfied with our Maine adventure.

NOTE: Photos taken from separate day hikes to the area. Neither of us remembered to bring a camera that day…

The view.

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