OverviewPerhaps best-known as the site of C-54 cargo plane crash that killed seven souls on June 20, 1944, this fine peak in Baxter State Park, Maine is an outstanding hiking destination for peakbaggers who enjoy a little off-trail navigation. Fort Mountain rises to an elevation of 3,867 feet according to the most recent measurements and is a required peak for those seeking to complete the New England Highest Hundred list of peaks. It comes in as the 17th highest peak in Maine and the 78th highest summit in New England. It is separated from its higher neighbor North Brother (elevation 4,151') by a distance of approximately .61 miles and a 199-foot col. Notably, the col depth now falls one foot short of local requirements to be considered an independent peak, but Fort been retained on New England Highest Hundred list. There is no official trail between North Brother and Fort, but the route is marked by cairns and a herd path that should pose little difficulty for the experienced bushwhacker. The summit ridge is long with little elevation difference between the various bumps on the ridge. According to the most recent data, the second bump from the left (western edge) of the plateau has been given recognition as the true summit.
Getting ThereThe southern entrance to Baxter State Park is approximately 17 miles north of the village of Millinocket. To reach the Park, follow Central Street (Route 11/157) through Millinocket to the obivious intersection with Bates Street at the western edge of the village. Turn right on Bates Street and then bear left on Millinocket Road. From here, simply follow the signs to Baxter State Park along the rough road. The southern Togue Pond Gate offers the best access for the hike over North Brother to Fort. Once inside the Park, follow the Perimeter Road for another 14 miles to the old Slide Dam Picnic area for access to the Marston Trail. Start early and allow ample time for travel along rough roads and passage into the Park at the Togue Pond Gatehouse. As of September, 2013, there is a $14 gate fee for entrance to the Park (waived for Maine residents and active military).
RouteFrom the trailhead at the Slide Dam picnic area one must first climb the 4,151-foot North Brother via a well-marked four mile long trail to the summit. The Marston Trail is the only trailhead at this parking and picnic area and one must only remember to bear left at 1.2 and 3.1 miles for the North Brother summit. Bearing right at the lower trail junction will take you towards Mount Coe while bearing right at the upper junction will take you to South Brother. If you are interested in the New England Highest Hundred peaks, you may want to consider the Marston Loop as all four peaks in this area are requirements for this list.
However, as much information is readily available on the trailed route to the summit of North Brother, the author of this page will only describe the route between North Brother and Fort. As trailess peaks go, this one isn't so bad. The col is fairly shallow, the distance comes in at well under a mile and the route is obvious. From the top of North Brother, if you look to the left you will observe a series of cairns leading to the tree line. Once one reaches the trees, a well-trodden herd path leads in the direction of Fort. While this peak is often described as a bushwhack, it really isn't. It should be noted that in several spots, the pine branches spread completely across the path from both sides and it becomes difficult to see the foot path below but such sections are short in duration. The herd path stays true all the way to the summit ridge of Fort, where it emerges about halfway in between the true summit to the right (east) and the western-most bump to the left. Unlike many non-trailed New England Highest Hundred, there is no summit register atop this peak nor any kind of summit sign. Garbage free.
The author of this page spent a good bit of time exploring the summit ridge and its various bumps. While the western half of the ridge is open and exposed, as one moves east and ever so slightly down, the forest becomes thick, before opening up again at the eastern end. Once one enters the trees along the ridge, there is no solid herd path and a good bit of effort is required to push oneself through the spruce. As will be briefly described below, about 2/3rds of the way along the ridge if moving east, there is a herd path that subsequent research indicated leads to the sight of the 1944 plane crash on the southeastern slopes of the mountain. At the time of my visit, however, I was unaware of the exact location of the crash and wasn't interested in down-climbing off the ridge towards the unknown. As such, this author did not visit the site and soon made my way back to the west end of the ridge and then back to North Brother.
Red TapeStandard Baxter State Park Rules and Regulations apply. A visit to the official park website should answer any questions you might have. Start early, be prepared and have fun.
When to ClimbThis peak can be climber year-round but significant logistical difficulties exist during the colder months as the Baxter State Park Tote Road is not plowed or otherwise maintained during the wintertime.
The Plane CrashNo page on Fort Mountain would be complete without some information on the June 20, 1944 plane crash that claimed seven lives on its southeastern slopes. It is a truly fascinating piece of local history and it is notable that it took an intensive two-day search before the wreckage was spotted from above on June 23. Large sections of the plane remain in tact, forever abandoned on Fort Mountain.
For the full story of the fate of the C-54 cargo plane that strayed off course in a storm while traveling from Newfoundland to Washington DC as well as recent photos of the wreckage, see the link below:
Seven Perish as Cargo Plane Collides with Fort
As mentioned in the route section, the author of this page located the upper part of the herd path marked by faded orange flagging leading off the ridge to the crash site on the southeastern slopes of the mountain. It was purely by accident and if I had known what I'd stumbled across at the time, I would have most certainly visited the site. However, if you are comfortable with bushwhacking and choose to continue easterly across the ridge from the true summit, just stay slightly right on the ridge and you will eventually intersect the herd path.
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External LinksPeakbagger page on Fort Mountain
Wikipedia page on Fort Mountain