I write this from the back of my Subaru; wrapped up in a sleeping bag and munching on bananas, fresh off the trail and spending the night in Maine – which is quite fitting as I am recounting my excursion from last weekend.
The name of an old time favorite back in the Adirondacks, I’ve seen that Great Range gem in every season – and it never gets old in my humble opinion! But with an epic steep climb up an old landslide resulting in some of the finest views one could possibly hope to find anywhere in the Adirondack state park.
However, this is of a different Saddleback, this is the Saddleback of Maine! Turns out this was not even my ‘first pick’, in all honesty, I suppose I had just simply not thought of it! All of my sights were tuned into the big brothers in the area, with names like Bigelow, Sugarloaf and Redington (which is an almighty bushwhack!).
As per my typical planning regime: I began checking the weather the instant that I returned to work on Monday morning. Knowing that most accurate mountain weather apps generally do not broadcast that far out into the future, I just could not resist the temptation to day dream even for just a moment on this Monday work day!
Weather looking good, my sights quickly switched to researching trails – I was in the mood for something out of the ordinary – my destination didn’t have to be the steepest trail, or even the longest hike imaginable, sometimes I just want different – such as several weeks ago – Ciara and I went for a spontaneous sunrise hike in Vermont, turns out not far off the trail was an old airplane fuselage from a mountain-side crash landing many moons ago (spoiler alert: the pilot lived!).
When I realized that I was contending with a +4 hour car ride one way to hike any of these far away four thousand footers, I knew I had to re-organize my thoughts.
Saddleback was the closest of them all; I sat there at my laptop with several tabs of google-maps open thinking nearly out loud, “why had I not looked into this by now?”
At about 3 and a half hours one way (still seems crazy as I type and hear the words aloud in my head!), Saddleback would afford me an extra hour and a half of time back into my day – which was perfect because this was one weekend when I need to get there and get back to spend time with Ciara and the doggies!
So.. what’s so ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ about this Saddleback place?
First off, it’s a ski resort. I really didn’t look into the details, but after returning from hiking via the ski slopes.. I almost want to dig in deeper! The resort is closed, but all of the quickie google.com searches for Saddleback Mountain have informed me that there is a person or group actively trying to re-open the resort for the 2020 season.
The resort itself appears to remain in great condition, only a wee-bit eerie when I pulled into the lot with not a soul to be found, no sounds, just pure silence – and as I peered into the windows as I passed, the chairs were all up on the tables but everything else has been removed: 110% eerie.
Second cool factor is that there are multiple ways to hike this hidden gem! The Appalachian Trail traverses the summit ridge and continues over to other series of bumps and rocky outcrops, the nearest being also one of the 4000-footer summits of Maine, wicked Bonus!
As I returned from my morning jaunt up along the ridge, I had several people (from different groups of hikers) asking me where the pesky trail was! Trying to be helpful, I pointed them to the slopes around back of the lodge to where I began my ascent, “it’s back there, you can’t miss it.. but if you do.. just keep climbing until you can’t climb no more!“
The talus-filled ski slope that made up my trail.. and it was much like a trail after all, began as a muddy single track width of boot and trail runner prints quickly sprawled out onto a poorly maintained maintenance access road – and got steep, real quick!
About 20 solid minutes of warm up climbing was all it took, and within minutes the once sprawling fall foliage vistas were completely shrouded in white mist as I quickly ascended into the blanket of ominous cloud cover – but for those few brief moments of incredible views – I could tell Maine was darn close to Peak Foliage around there! The yellow birch leaves and deep reds mingled with the rusty orange hues, all offset by the spruce and evergreen needles sprinkled throughout just seemed to spread out and unroll across the countryside like the most vivid quilt ever quilted!
Nearing the ridge line, the winds masked the sounds of thru-hikers who made their beds in one of the shelters just off the crest of the ridge – the scent of their bacon and maple syrup wafted through the air. Now over 4,000 feet, the air was growing more and more tumultuous, whipping the heavy cloud layer all around, whirl-winding that sweet maple syrup right up my nose!
Once out on the ridge line, visibility narrowed to a slim 15 feet in any direction, the whipping wind was alive and in full force now with 40-50mph gusts forcing me to brace each step with my trekking poles – mildly nerve-racking to say the least while trotting down open granite slab with a drop off to the right that disappeared into who-knows-what kind of abyss far below.
I was very pleasantly surprised with my inaugural break-in of my first pair of Altra Lone Peak 4.0s! They seemed to grip the bare rock better than any other shoe I had hiked in, I expected them to give up their hearty traction and send each of my legs flailing in varying directions.. I can pleasantly say that the Lone Peaks did stellar – now I just need a bit of snow and ice to test them in!
It really was not difficult at all to follow the ridge despite being shrouded in a thick undulating cloud layer – the AT was marked very well – and the notorious white blazes almost appeared to have been recently repainted! There were of course large rock cairns every so often to follow when the snow flies and the visibility is reduced to footprints.
I thoroughly enjoy a hike where I can employ my arms and legs both – and Saddleback was definitely the hike for that! Heading over to The Horn just over a mile away saw a lovely granite sidewalk that was easily runnable (even when wet!), rocky scrambles, a deceptively thin wrought iron ladder that looked as if I would step through each rung, and boat loads of rocky outcrops that would have made great resting view points had I not been over four thousand feet up in the clouds!
Once up the last steep pitch to the summit rocks of The Horn at 4041′, I quickly spotted the burnt orange MATC signage surrounded by boulders helping to keep it upright in these torrential wind gusts. I have grown accustomed to the dark brown signs with yellow text found in the Adirondacks, the rough wood plank signs of the Whites, but the uniqueness of these bright orange trail signs found on Maine mountains still seem so exciting and new to me!
The summit of the Horn is one that there could be fifty people stuffed onto the summit rocks, and with such an open summit, there would be plenty of space between groups as to not be jammed on top of one another.
After several photos and slamming gusts of wind later, my fingers made the call that it was time to pack up shop and head back to warmer pastures found in the treeline!
After a run through the col, and beginning back up the Saddleback side I was quickly stopped dead in my tracks. Just several quick moments of when the sun began to shine through the clouds, even from up so high the views to the west began to shine through the cloud that I reluctantly called my ‘home on the ridge’ for this morning.
I could literally see the water droplets that made up this cloud wiz past my face, but now they were so few and far in between that the most colorful artists palette of fall foliage shone through – to the untrained eye, a passerby may assume that the cold wind was whipping tears across my face, I might just say that it was such a magical experience to be there in that moment!
The mind blowing color shots did not last long, as I traced my steps and ascended back to the peak of Saddleback, I found myself alone again on this pile of rock. I did some exploring now though, checking out the old stone shelter that rose several feet off the backside of the peak. I was able to find an old USGS survey marker and for a change, just simply stop in time, walking slowly and intently, simply taking in the sights that surround my feet; looking at the colors of the alpine moss, watching grasses sway in the breeze, even birds all around that tried to defy wind speeds – it was all an incredible experience.
When I had my fill of playing explorer, I recalled my three and a half hour drive home. I met many families with youngsters making their way up, I wished them all a safe and fantastic trek up to the summit; most saw me still wrapped up in my Black Diamond wind jacket and eventually asked about the weather up top. It was only then that I admitted how strong the gusts were, how bone chilling the water droplets screaming by any bare skin had felt, but most importantly – I wanted each person who ascended after me to have the same magical experience that I had, whether they saw the clouds part or not!
The Altra Lone Peaks make super quick work running down the boulder and mud slopes while heading down to my car, I have been thoroughly impressed by them – and not too sure why it took me so long to get around to taking them for a spin on the mountain-side!
Another hugely successful and enjoyable day – Saddleback along with the epic Horn traverse was my 5th and 6th four-thousand-foot peak in the incredible wilderness of Maine.
I am truly excited to venture back here again soon and see what other gems lay waiting for me and my Lone Peaks!
Overall stats for the day:
Recorded with COROS Pace
- 6.8 miles
- 2hr 29 minutes
- 3,255′ elevation gain
- Saddleback Mt – 4120′
- Saddleback Horn – 4041′