The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a 2,155 mile footpath that spans from Springer Mountain in Georgia, to Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine. Out of the fourteen states the famous trail encompasses, Maine is considered by many to be the most difficult, rugged, and beautiful. Maine was not even supposed to be part of the trail; New Hampshire's Mount Washington was originally considered to be the northern terminus. That was never to be, thanks to the efforts of Myron Avery and his colleagues. Avery was the first 2000 mile hiker of the trail, and he spearheaded the undertaking to make the trail across Maine a reality. His efforts included creating locations for camp sites, measuring the original 269 miles of trail, and recording data on the path. In 1937 the trail in Maine was connected to the trail south to Georgia (in the two miles between Spaulding Mountain and Sugarloaf Mountain) by the the Civilian Conservation Corps, thus accomplishing Avery's goal. Myron Avery was activly involved in Trail maintinence up until his death in 1951 at the age of 52.
The Trail is a little different today than it was in 1937. In 1968 the MATC reviewed the trail and relocated 180 miles of it, to enhance the its appeal. The Maine section is now 281.4 miles in length, stretching across beautiful and rugged country. From the tedious Mahoosuc Notch, to the massive Bigelow range, through the speckled lake country, to Baxter Peak on Katahdin, the Maine Appalachian Trail is sure to amaze all who walk its path.
The Mahoosuc Range to Maine Highway 17
If one decides to take on the challenge of treking the 281.4 mile venture, I would suggest starting at the New Hampshire/ Maine Boarder. However this means you would be tackling what some believe to be the most rugged section of the entire Appalachain trail in the first 4 days. With nine peaks over 3,500 feet in elevation, the Mahoosuc Range to highway 17 certainly forces the hiker to work for the spectacular views offered in this stretch of trail.
The first string of peaks are part of the White Mountains. These mountains include Mt. Carlo (3,565'), East Goose Eye Mountain(3,794'), North Goose Eye Mountain(3,675'), Mahoosuc Arm(3,765'), and Maine's third higest peak, Old Speck(4,180'). These mountains are all a challenge in themselves, but the most infamous part of this section is the Mahoosuc Notch.
Nestled between the sheer faces of Fulling Mill Mountain(3,395') and the Mahoosuc Arm, lies a mile and a half long track of giant boulders that have fallen from the tops of the oppsing peaks. In order to pass through this trechery, one must scramble, duck and crawl, in a hike that can last a lot longer than you would think for being only one mile long. To make things even better, once you have completed the notch you must hike what seems to be the never ending asent to the top of the Mahoosuc arm. Its a challenging climb, but worth the effort, Speck Pond Shelter offers a nice refuge not far from the summit of the Machoosuc Arm.
Old Speck offers great views from a fire tower at the top of the wooded summit looking South west to the Presidential Range north to Baldpate mountain. The East peak of Baldpate Mountain(3,812') offers outstanding views as well, of the Mahoosucs and the Tumbledown Jackson Range. After you pass through the sub 3,000 foot peaks of Surplus, Wyman, and Moody Mountains, you will summit Old Blue mountain(3,600')with great views in all directions.
Then comes the Bemis Range. If you do not enjoy continuously going up and down, you will not appreciate what Bemis Mountain(3,592')has to offer. There is only one small view on the top of wooded summit of Bemis towards Tumbledown Mountain in Weld. After you leave the summit you will trek across the sub peaks of Bemis, here you get some of your first good glimpes of the Mountains rising over Carabasset Valley, particularly Mount. Abramham which resembles a canoe in the distance.
After you finally desend Bemis, you asend to up Spruce Mountain to the Height of Land on Rt. 17. Here there are outstanding views of Mooselookmeguntic Lake. My Advice for hikers: don't attempt a 22 mile one day trek from Wyman mountain past the Height of Land, it only leaves you describing things you don't like, using the word Bemis, for example: "Man today was Totally Bemis!"
Maine Highway 17 to Caratunk
After crossing Maine Highway 17, you will embark on a section of the trail that is full of rugged beauty. You will pass over six 4000 foot peaks on four mountains, not including side trails that lead to three more. The first mountain you encounter is Saddleback. Nestled in the Rangley Lakes region, Saddleback looms like a giant serpant on the Horizon. At 4,120 feet, the main peak offers views in all directions, as does the Horn (4,041'), and Saddleback Jr.(3,655'). These peaks are all completely open and have a great amount of High Alpine vegitaion, third only to Mt. Abraham and Katahdin. After completeing Saddleback you will begin your asent up the string of mountains that frame Carabasset Valley. You will come to a junction Side trail leading to the summit of Mt. Abraham(4,049'). I highly suggest taking the side trail if you can spare the three mile round trip. Abraham has a four mile ridge that is mostly open and can be explored for hours. Excellent views are all around facing Spaulding, Sugarloaf, and Avery Peak on Bigelow, as well as Saddleback and the White Mountains, worth the hike. After you pass the Abraham side trail, you will pass 150 feet directly below the wooded summit of Spaulding Mountain(4,010). There is a side trail leading to summit, but views are minimal. Sugarloaf is next in line, with a 0.6 mile side trail leading to the 4,237' summit. Sugarloaf is Maine's premier ski resort and also the states second highest peak(not including the sub peaks on Katahdin). Making the trek to the summit can give the Thru hiker their first possible view of Katahdin, depending on the weather. After you pass the Loaf, you will make the steep descent down the backside of the mountain, which can be quite hazardess in nasty weather, take extreme caution to aviod walking too far towards a rock slide that looks like a viem point, a stumble down this might end your hiking career indefinately.
You then will cross the Caribou Valley road and begin the steep climb up South Crocker Mountain(4,010'). Views are limited to the rock slide encountered early on. The summits of both South and North Crocker(4,168') are entirly wooded which is strange, considering their elevation. Reddington Mountain, which has just been declared a 4,000 foot peak can be accessed through a bush wack from the summit.
After you complete the Crockers, you cross highway 27, and begin your approach up the valley's most majestic mountain range, the Bigelows. The range is nestled in the State's Bigelow perserve, which is a 36,000 acre area protcting the wilderness from developement. In 1976, a ski resort was proposed for the mountain that would rival Sugarloaf as the "Aspen of the East" luckly the citizens of Maine wouldn't have it and the Mountain was saved. The trail passes over three of the range's peaks, South Horn(3,831'), West Peak(4,150'), and Avery Peak (4,088'). The Horns Pond Lean-tos offer a great nights stay. The Bigelows are truley a stunning string of peaks. Little Bigelow(3,040) has great views, and great blueberry picking in mid August. From here you will follow the trail past numerous ponds and streams. Be sure to get breakfast at Pierce Pond camps, Tim makes the meanest 12 apple blueberry and raspberry Pancakes you will ever have for 7 bucks!
Caratunk to Katahdin
After pierce pond, comes the crossing of the Kennebec river into Caratunk. The Kennebec is certainly not your little mountain stream. It is a major river, and cannot be crossed with out the assistance of the ferry service that runs, provided by the MATC and ATC. According to the captain of the ferry, Steve Longley, if you try to ford the river, you are skipping a section of the trail; there is a white strip painted on the bottom of his canoe. Perhaps this is how they convince people to not attempt to swim across. After you cross the Kennebec you will pass by the small rafting village of Caratunk. There is a general store about 3.2 miles away, and Bingham is 18 miles south. After leaving Caratunk you pass over two more prominent peaks before arriving in Monson. The first is Pleasant Pond Mountain(2,477'). Before you reach the trail up the mountain, there is a nice beach a short distance away down a marked trail. Views from the top of this peak are pleasant. Moxie Bald Mountain is very similiar to the previous; the views at the top are spectacular. To the North West, the mountains of the Moosehead Lake region are the most distinctive. The politically correct Big Moose, once Big Squaw Mountain, with Little and Big Spencer Mountains in the Background frame the lake, which is only barely visible.
The next big stop is the famous AT town of Monson. This town offers hikers a refuge from the refuge they seek on the trail. Shaw's presents hikers a nice bed and great breakfast, but I also suggest the Laundry mat which is also a Bed and Breakfast, as well as a pub. After the vacation in Monson, the 100 mile wilderness is next. This stretch of the trail is the most remote section of the entire Appalachian Trail; once you leave Monson, there is nothing but trees and trail until Baxter State Park. As my trailmate once said, the 100 mile Wilderness is just an example of Maine showing off. The trail twists and turns to present the hiker with some of the most unbelieveable beauty they will encounter in Maine. The Barren-Chairback range (2,670') traverses over five sub 3'000' peaks for 15 miles. This section is quite difficult and should not be underestimated, especially after refilling a pack.
Gulf Hagas is the next natural wonder the trail presents to the AT wanderer. Screw Auger falls is a fine place to stop off and take a dip in the crisp mountain stream. As one exits the gorge, the trial begins to become steep. The next string of mountains lend beauty and difficulty to the hiker. Gulf Hagas mountain is first in a string of four peaks culminating at the summit of White Cap (3,644'). The asent up West Peak is by far the most difficult, being very steep. The views at the top of White Cap are spectacular offering scenic vistas of the surrounding Moosehead Lake region, and the big mountains to the North, including Katahdin.
After exiting the White Cap range, the land begins to become rather flat and the trail winds around a number of Lakes, accordingly this section is called the Northern Lake country. Perhaps the most fasinating point of intrest is Nahmakanta Lake with Nesuntabunt Mountain at the end of the lake. At the summit of this small mountain, the whole Katahdinauguoh range can be seen in all its glory. This is a truly impressive string of mountains, with no equal in the east in my opinion.
There is really no more challenge to the hiker after the summit of Nesuntabunt mountain is breached. Although, the trail does not lack in spectacular Maine beauty. Rainbow Lake, as well as the Rainbow Ledges offer great views of Ktaadn. Only about 3 miles from the Ledges is the end of the 100 mile wilderness, and the beginning of the last section of the trail. As the hiker exits the wilderness, they find themselves on the Goldn Road, only a short distance from Abol bridge. Here one can replenish themselves at the Abol bridge store, which unfortuanatly is rather pricey.
From here the hiker will probably meet Dave, Baxter's official greeter. He'll help in directing one to the Birches sign-up sheet further down the trail. The end of the big hike is almost over from this point, only about 16 miles of Mountain streams and forest are between the hiker and the summit of Maine's highest mountain.
From the Birches campsite, which is reserved for thru-hikers, the only way is up. Katahdin Stream campground is only a short distance from the birches, and is the beginning of the famous Hunt Trail on Katahdin. About 1 mile down the trail Katahdin Stream flows crystal clear just picking at the hiker to take a sip of the jewel like liquid. The falls is only a little ways ahead. Once the treeline is reached, the whole journey finally has its reason. The mountains of the Katahdinauguoh rise up to the left as giant boulders pose quite a scramble ahead. The views are unbelieveable. However the mountains to the left that looked so big before grow continually small as more elevation is gained. Only the tableland seperates you from Baxter peak and the Gateway. The tableland is huge and looks like it goes on forever, Katahdin is Massive with huge drop offs and cliffs on every edge. The view is endless from Baxter peak, even Sugarloaf and Bigelow can be seen on the right day. Looking down, Chimney pond sits peacefully in the Great Basin. I could spend hours expounding on the beauty at the top of Maines highest peak, but its best to expirenece it first hand-Happy Hiking.