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4 classic hikes in Rangeley-Stratton, ME

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  • 4 classic hikes in Rangeley-Stratton, ME

    I spent several days in the Rangeley-Stratton area, Sept. 7-11, & did four classic hikes there. I stayed at the state campground at Rangeley Lake & did day hikes. It’s a good campground with free hot showers and a fair amount of space between most of the campsites. I also discovered a great place to eat dinner: Forks in the Air, a small bistro in Rangeley with really good food, friendly staff, and the very useful feature (for someone getting back from hikes very late) of being open until 9:00 & serving almost up to then. Rangeley is far from a late-night town.

    On the first day I hiked up Sugarloaf by the ski slopes, where I saw wildflowers, a pair of accipiters, and either one Merlin several times, or several Merlins. Then down & along the ridge to Spaulding. Spaulding was as unexciting as before, but I’d forgotten how nice the ridge walk is – one of those open ridge forests with mossy floors. A Gray Jay checked me out. Sugarloaf isn't a favorite summit of mine, either, with its ski buildings & communications towers, but I'm slowly chipping away at finishing a second round of the NE111, and there it was. The ski slopes are fun in summer, and the ridge walk was great (wooded style; few views.) Total time: 8 hours, 20 minutes (incl. 50 minutes stops at summits.)

    The second day I hiked up Abraham by the Fire Warden Trail. The old bridges on the logging road have been replaced so I could drive all the way to the trailhead in my subcompact. Like the Bigelow loop the next day, it’s a succession from maturing deciduous forest, to mixed forest, to boreal forest, and finally open alpine areas. I love the open summit ridge with its quirky rock structures and alpine vegetation. There was steady rain falling two valleys over, but moving very slowly and parallel to my ridge. There’s a campsite halfway up at the old fire warden cabin site, a useful feature for anyone doing a traverse, or who just wants more time on the summit. Total time: 7 hours, 10 minutes (incl. 1 hr, 10 minutes on summit.)

    On the 10th I hiked a loop of Bigelow, up the Horns Pond trail, along the ridge to Avery, and down by the Fire Warden’s Trail. I was pleased to find that the Stratton Brook Pond outlet near the start now has a bridge. Last time I was there I had to wade across. The trails on Bigelow have the same classic sequence of deciduous – boreal – alpine, and the same abundance of tree species, wildflowers, lichens, etc. I met a through-hiker couple I’d seen on the trails near Spaulding two days earlier; they told me on Bigelow that they’d just passed the 2000 mile mark. The summits of the various peaks were cold & windy. Total time: 9 hours (incl. about 50 min.s on summits)

    Last I did Saddleback and the Horn. Both the guidebook & my memory failed me, since it was much longer & harder than I’d remembered, and it took me longer on the outgoing part than the trail guide estimates (which I’m usually faster than, or at least equal to). It was also the only hike this trip where parts of the trail weren’t in great condition, esp. the section near the ponds. There was an extensive rerouting in that stretch – not for the first time, I reflected on the irony that maybe it should be spelled “re-rooting”. Not hardened yet at all. On the way back, I hurried from the ponds on, and got back to my car just as it was getting dark. But my memory was correct in recalling it as one of the best ridge hikes I’ve done in the Northeast. Lots of through-hikers here, too – moving along to get to Katahdin in time to beat winter. One of them, on Saddleback, pointed out to me that both Mt. Washington & Katahdin are visible from there. Total time: 9 hours, 40 min.s (incl. 45 min.s on summits.)
    I’ve been very short on hiking & paddling time this year, for various reasons, and it was a joy to get out on the trails again. These trails in particular are in much better condition than the loved-to-death ones in the ADK high peaks. There was lots of good & meticulous trail work showing. But I think the difference is mostly a matter of use volume: not that much of the trail work here seemed new (there was some) -- whereas in the ADKs there's new work all over. It's just that the trail crew efforts, no matter how heroic, can't keep up with the rate of wear.

    There's a photo album at:

  • #2
    Glad you enjoyed it, that's one of my favorite stretches. I patrolled that area back in 02 as an MATC caretaker, it's a pretty awesome stretch, including Saddleback which is a jewel. I also cleaned the famous double-barrel "Your Move" privy as a caretaker at that campsite. I always loved the ford at Stratton Brook pond, so I'm sad to see it go.
    The caretakers at Horns Pond manually compost the privvies there, which is a task I would recommend to no one.
    46er #9404


    • rickhart
      rickhart commented
      Editing a comment
      That video is fascinating. Is that a common procedure? I always assumed the privy contents (not just there, but all over) were just buried nearby, or if necessary taken out somehow. It never occurred to me that this kind of elaborate composting was being done.

    • All Downhill From Here
      Editing a comment
      They have to compost the waste because at 3500 up, in Maine, the cooler temps and thinner soil won't provide a good environment for it to decay in the ground. They have to do all the bark mulching, pile turning, temperature monitoring, etc, then they go spread the new 'dirt' around in the woods. If you take the Firewardens trail up in the earlier parts of the year, you'll see piles of bags of mulch, that the caretakers and other MATC folks pack up to the shelter area to replenish what composts. I don't know of any other manual composting done in Maine; at Piazza Rock the privy has been there for at least 20 years and never filled - but there's a good drainage on the back side of it, and it's in a lower, sheltered valley.