Monday, September 30, 2013

Tumbledown Mountain and Little Jackson Mountain

I never heard of Tumbledown Mountain when I moved to Maine seven years ago.  I first became aware of it when I saw a series of mountain photos of Maine.  Most of the photos were of the Katahdin area, a few of the mountains in Acadia National Park, and several of Tumbledown.  I considered hiking there for years but never made the trip.  Talking with the J Man about a destination for a hike Sunday, we decided on Tumbledown.  We both heard good things about the hiking and scenery in the area but neither of us had been there.  With a stupendous forecast for Sunday, we made the trip to Tumbledown.

We decided on hiking the Loop Trail up the mountain.  When we arrived at the trailhead we had difficulty finding the trail.  After searching for twenty minutes or so, we found the trail tucked in the woods just before the parking lot.  The loop trail climbs steeply.  As it approaches areas of cliff, the trail seemed to disperse in several directions.  We apparently took the wrong turn and found ourselves facing cliff bands.  There seemed to be ample foot traffic in the area so we didn't realize we were off-trail.  There was even a fixed rope in a crevasse between rocks.  The rope wasn't very sound so we scrambled over the rocks sans rope.  We found ourselves faced with several class 4 maneuvers to get through the cliff sections.  The views from the cliffs were attractive looking to the west.  We found ourselves above the cliffs in a fairly thick spruce forest.  Within a few minutes of moderate bushwacking, we stumbled upon the trail.

Making my way up a section of cliff

Looking up cliff

J Man working his way up cliff

Looking across section of cliff

View from cliffs

The remainder of the trail to the peaks went smoothly.  There are some impressive features along the Loop Trail.  After getting back on the trail we reached the "Great Ledges" and the views towards the 700 foot cliffs on Tumbledown.  It climbs quite steeply near the top.  One section has hikers crawl through a small cave called "Fat Man's Misery" and climb out of it on steel rungs placed in the rocks.  Several sections of scrambling are necessary as the trail makes its way up the craggy mountain.

View of Tumbledown's cliffs from Great Ledges

700 foot cliffs from Great Ledges

Steep section of Loop Trail

Fat Man's Misery

Rungs inside Fat Man's Misery as J Man climbs out of cave

Looking across large cliffs

The Loop Trail ends near the top of the mountain.  We took a left and climbed the West Peak.  After admiring the views we backtracked and headed to the East Peak before descending to the pond.  The view of the pond from the surrounding peaks is one of Maine's classic mountain scenes.  Tumbledown Pond is quite impressive as it sits nestled between rocky peaks.

Looking toward Little Jackson in background

Webb Lake

Little Jackson beyond rocky Tumbledown peaks

Tumbledown Pond

Tumbledown Pond

Our next destination was Little Jackson Mountain.  At 3470', Little Jackson is less than 100' lower than Jackson.  However Little Jackson has an open alpine summit with endless views in all directions.  We didn't climb Jackson but the summit is wooded, with the exception of a small clearing that houses a shed with radio towers.  From Tumbledown Pond, an unofficial trail leads to Little Jackson.  The end of the trail was marked, however, the trail itself is not marked.  Several places the trail becomes overgrown and difficult to follow.  Several trails lead off of it where previous hikers made a wrong turn.  After a little of trial and error, we reached a cairn that confirmed our route.  The trail became more prominent as we climbed.  Near the summit the trail was easier to follower as the vegetation thinned. 

North Peak from trail to Little Jackson

Tumbledown Pond from ledges high on Little Jackson

Approaching Little Jackson's summit breaking into alpine area

Last look of pond from Little Jackson

Looking over alpine vegetation toward Tumbledown's peaks

Little Jackson has an impressive summit.  It's open summit offers spectacular views in all directions.  Just below the summit, Tumbledown Pond is framed by rocky peaks.  To the south is less mountainous with Webb Lake and Mt Blue close by.  To the north and west, the views are most impressive.  The Bigelows, Crockers, Sugarloaf, Abraham, and Saddleback are easy to spot.  Toward the west the ridge with Bemis, Old Blue, and Elephant are close.  Beyond is Baldpate mountains around Grafton Notch as well as the Mahoosucs.  The Presidentials are easy to spot with many other White Mountain Peaks visible in New Hampshire.

Final stretch to Little Jackson summit

Looking north

Distant mountains with Jackson Pond below

Webb Lake

Tumbledown and Little Jackson have amazing scenery.  To add to the already impressive views, the fall foliage was near peak in the western Maine mountains.  The valleys were in full color. 

We decided to descend to Tumbledown Pond via the unofficial trail on Little Jackson.  From there we headed down the Pond Trail to avoid descending the cliffy Loop Trail.  We walked along the road back to our car.

Descending Little Jackson

In the beginning we saw few people.  We didn't see anyone along the Loop Trail.  We did pass two groups on the way to the pond but nobody else.  We had Little Jackson to ourselves.  When we reached the pond on the way down, the pond area was very crowded with people.  This area is known to see a lot of people, and for good reason with its stunning scenery.  Descending the Pond Trail we passed many people in both directions.  To avoid the crowds, an early morning start or midweek trip would be best.  A sign along the road also indicated that the road to the trailhead is closed November through May. 

For anyone that enjoys hiking and great mountain scenery, Tumbledown won't disappoint.   I can't believe I waited so long to visit.  Having hiked most of Maine's mountain areas, I would put this on a list of must see mountains in Maine.

Another Great Day Mountain Biking the Sugarloaf Area Trails

In my last post I wrote about mountain biking in the Sugarloaf area.  I rode mostly on the Maine Huts and Trails system and was impressed with the singletrack.  I was eager to explore the area more.  With a nearly perfect fall weather forecasted on the weekend, I decided to return a week later.

Several groups have been taking charge to create an impressive trail system in this region.  Maine Huts and Trails is building a system that will eventually extend from Bethel, ME to the Moosehead Lake Region.  About 50 miles of the MHT is in place with several side trails in addition to the main trail.  NEMBA (New England Mountain Bike Association) is continually working hard to improve and expand an already nice trail system.  The Sugarloaf Outdoor Center, known more for cross country skiing, has a very impressive system of trails that can make any level of mountain biker happy.  On Saturday, I utilized trails from all of these groups and had a great day.

After last weeks ride, I looked more into riding opportunities in the region.  I found a loop that seemed promising.  The Carrabassett Valley NEMBA website suggests the Carrabassett Valley bike shop at the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center as a source of information.  I started my ride from the Outdoor Center so I could ask the bike shop for trail information.  Part of my loop wasn't mapped and I needed local knowledge to make sure I found my way.  Despite being busy with rentals, the attendant was happy to fill me in on trail knowledge.  He also gave me a map that covered all of the trail systems previously mentioned.

My loop was about 18 miles in length.  After a short jaunt on the Narrow Gauge Path, a local rail trail following the Carrabassett River, I began climbing to Stratton Brook Hut on a trail called Newton's Revenge.  This trail climbs about 600 vertical feet in two miles or so to the hut.  The trail is mostly double track and climbs nearly continuously to the hut with a few steeper sections.  The trail seems to be newer as the tread isn't always well packed along the way. 

After a short stop at the hut where I asked about trail info, I continued on my way.  I followed a very short trail from the hut to a nice view overlooking the Bigelows before descending on the hut service road.  The service road is a steep dirt road that is heavily washed out, perhaps the trickiest part of the entire day.  After a mile on the road I descended to Stratton Brook Pond trailhead on the unmapped trail dubbed "the Dead Moose Cut-off" by locals.  Despite being unmapped, it was easy to follow although slightly overgrown in a few spots.  It appears to be a snowmobile trail in winter but is marked with MHT markers.  I was now at the trailhead for the Bigelows.  A mile or so on the Fire Warden's approach trail led me to the Esker Trail.

The Bigelows from Stratton Brook Hut

Avery and West Peak over fall color

A nicer section of the Dead Moose Cut-off

Looking over Stratton Brook Pond.  Stratton Pond Hut is on the higher hill in the picture.

The Esker Trail is a fun stretch of singletrack.  This trail is built for mountain bikes and maintained by NEMBA.  It is fast and easy singletrack that follows Huston Brook.  There is never much elevation change on the trail.  Except for a few small water crossings, the riding is pretty straightforward.  I saw as many moose tracks as I did tire tracks along the Esker Trail.  A few boggy sections near the trail appear to be prime spots for moose.  A couple of good views of the Bigelows are visible along the trail.  I don't have the distance of the Esker Trail but it was at least five miles of continuous singletrack before ending on Huston Brook Road.

South Horn reflecting in a bog along the Esker Trail

Singletrack along Esker Trail

The remainder of the loop was easy riding on mostly road and rail trail.  The ride seemed to descend almost all the way to the Narrow Gauge Trail.  The last few miles of the loop follow the Narrow Gauge Trail.  Along the way however, NEMBA has constructed several side trails for mountain bikes that offer short and windy stretches of singletrack.  None of the side trails are too long but they offer a nice alternative to the flat and smooth Narrow Gauge Trail.  Several of the side trails follow closely to the Carrabassett River offering views of the rocky river and its many swimming holes.  Before returning to the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center, I detoured on three of the five NEMBA singletrack trails.  Here is a map of my route.  I started from the Campbell Field Trailhead rather than Stratton Brook Trailhead

I had some time and energy to spare, so I decided riding the Outdoor Center trails.  The trails are well marked with numbers that correspond to the map.  They are rated like ski trails with the green, blue, and black designations.  I rode roughly the perimeter of the trail system on the eastern half.  I rode a variety of trails that ranged from technical, rooty singletrack to easy double track.  Plenty of singletrack can be found on this trail system.  Nice views can be found along the trails as well.  Readington Pond was an attractive spot to take a break.  Several views of the ski area and surrounding peaks were found along the trail.  I rode nearly ten miles total on the Outdoor Center trails.  There are many more miles of riding there that I didn't get to explore.

Readington Pond

Sugarloaf Mountain over bright foliage

Singletrack at Sugarloaf

More singletrack

Sugarloaf reflecting in pond

Here is a brief outline of my route that can be followed on the link to the map below.  I crossed RT 27  following trail 102, left on 105, left on 108, right on Highland Road, Left on 119, 118, Highland Rd, left on 117, right on 116, right on service road, left on 110, right on 123, 104, 103 back to bike shop. 

The numbers correspond with trail numbers on map.

I rode a total of 27 miles on just about every possible type of trail.  I highly recommend Sugarloaf as a destination for mountain bike riding.  I think riders of all abilities can find something here.  Advanced riders can easily spend a couple days exploring the miles of trails the region has to offer.  For those that participate in numerous outdoor sports, a great weekend can be planned with some of Maine's best hiking just down the road in the Bigelows combined with some of Maine's best mountain biking. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mountain Biking the Sugarloaf and Bigelow Region

Last month I headed to the Maine Huts and Trails (MHT) system in The Forks, ME. (See  It was a great let down as the trail was terribly overgrown and unridable.  After that ride I went to the MHT website and did some research.  The section I attempted to ride was not recommended for bikes.  The MHT trails in the Sugarloaf area seemed much more promising, and in addition to the MHT, there are numerous other side trails that are able to be ridden as well as numerous dirt roads.

I gave the MHT system another try.  I chose the Sugarloaf Airport trailhead as my starting point.  After looking at my map I decided to ride to Flagstaff Hut and back.  After a short connector trail, I was on the MHT trail.  From the beginning, the trail was mostly singletrack.  This is something I have not found much of in Maine.  Majority of the places I have ridden are comprised of logging roads, rail trails, and ATV trails.  I have found only a few short stretches of singletrack on any of these rides.  Nearly all of the MHT is singletrack.

I stuck to the main MHT trail most of the way to the hut.  Not too far from the start, I took a short side trail called Larry's Trail that followed Poplar Stream and passed by Poplar Stream Falls.  Although there is a short section of rock steps that a bike must be carried, the rest of Larry's Trail was able to be ridden despite some challenging sections with numerous roots.  Larry's Trail is a worthwhile side trip to view the falls.

Poplar Stream Falls

A wider shot of the falls

While most of the singletrack is fairly straightforward riding, a few sections are technical with numerous rocks and roots along most of the path.  The tread was well worn but somewhat soft.  I don't think the trail has seen enough bike use at this point to firmly pack the trail tread.  Because of the soft trail, the riding is somewhat slow, although some sections seemed more used than others.  The trail was generally rolling but never saw any big climbs or descents.
Rockier section of singletrack

Typical trail along MHT trail

The trail had a detour at one point.  Before entering the Bigelow Reserve, a sign warned of no bike traffic in the Reserve and had directions for a bike detour that took me onto paved Long Falls Dam Road for a few miles.  The MHT trail is accessed again after the detour on Long Falls Dam Road.Hut.  I followed the MHT to Flagstaff Hut.  Much of the trail near the hut seemed to see more use and was firmer and faster.  I reached the hut after 13 miles with all but about 4 miles on singletrack.

I stopped at the hut briefly.  The hut seemed very similar to the AMC huts that I visit when cross country skiing in the 100 Mile Wilderness.  I asked the hut workers a few questions about what trails were ridable before continuing my ride.  Leaving the hut, I rode the Shore Trail that follows Flagstaff Lake.  The Shore Trails overlooks the lake and provides great views of the Bigelow Range.  The Shore trail, while relatively flat, consisted of windy and technical singletrack.  This was probably the most technical riding that I saw during the day.  The trail was tight with plenty of roots and rocks to navigate.

Looking north over Flagstaff Lake

Clouds closing in on the Bigelows over Flagstaff Lake.  The twin peaks of the Horns on right

Tight singletrack on Shore Trail

Shore Trail 

I skipped most of the road detour on my return trip.  The hut crew said that the detour section permitted mountain bikes.  I followed the MHT trail through this section but the trail clearly saw little traffic the further I traveled.  The trail had very little worn tread and was extremely slow riding through mostly grass.  I took a short detour on the road one more time to skip this slow section.  The remainder of the ride back, I followed Carriage Road.  Carriage Road is a little traveled dirt road marked for use by bikes on the MHT map and provides a quicker return to the Sugarloaf area.  I started later than I would have liked so Carriage Road got me back to my car quickly.  My ride totaled 27 miles in just under 3 hours with more than half of the trip traversing singletrack.

This was one of the best mountain bike trips I have ridden this summer.  The plentiful singletrack was definitely appealing.  There was some good scenery along the way.  Despite the morning starting off with a heavy fog, the weather turned out beautiful and sunny with temperatures in the mid 60s and a nice breeze. The leaves are starting to change color which added to the appeal of the day.  With exception to the flat trail sections close to Carrabassett Valley and Sugarloaf trailheads, I didn't see any other people for such a nice day.  While I didn't see any wildlife, plenty of moose tracks followed the trails.

Bigelow Range view near trailhead

I would like to ride this area again.  The MHT system is fairly new and a work in progress.  There are several "coming soon" trails on my map that may be in place by now.  There seems to be plenty of exploring to do on the trail system.  This trail system seems to have good potential as a mountain bike destination as is it grows.  For more info on Maine Huts and Trails see:   Here is an interactive map to get a basic idea of some of my route:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Katahdin Lake

Katahdin Lake is a fairly new addition to Baxter State Park.  Only the newest trail guides have information about the trails in this area.  The lake is located on newly acquire park land on its eastern side.  I planned a hike here a couple of years ago with Puma but never made it.  The road that reaches the trailhead for Katahdin Lake was closed for the muddy fall season.  We ended up hiking Sentinel Mountain that day.  For whatever reason we never made it to Baxter State Park together last year.  The weather has been perfect the past few days. I suggested the hike to Puma on Tuesday.  Wednesday morning we were in Baxter State Park to finally hike to Katahdin Lake.

Reaching Katahdin Lake is not difficult.  The trailhead is along the Roaring Brook Road about five miles from the parks southern gate.  The trail stays in the low country the entire trip to the lake.  At times the trail is wet and muddy, however, plenty of bog bridges along the way keep you out of the worst of the mud.  There were quite a few animal tracks along the way including several spots of moose tracks.  In just over three miles, we reached South Katahdin Lake Lean-to and a day use area with a small pavilion and picnic table.  Just beyond a couple of canoes are available to rent for use on the lake.

Katahdin Lake Trail, easy section

One of several bog bridges

By the canoes, we finally reached the lake.  There is a small strip of a gravel beach.  From this point the lake is pretty, but you can't see any big mountain views.  It is a quiet relaxing spot.  The water was softly lapping on the shore and the occasional loon call was heard.

Following the beach a short distance the views changed dramatically.  Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps, a privately owned  primitive backcountry lodge, operates their facility not too far from the end of the Katahdin Lake Trail.  As you approach the beach area by their camps, the views open dramatically.  To the north, the bare alpine summit of  Traveler Mountain (see last blog post.)  However, the most stunning view is that of Katahdin.  The Knife Edge is easy to see.  The Great Basin and true summit are somewhat obscured from the angle but the North Basin is in full view.  A unique and beautiful view of the Katahdin area with the attractive lake in the foreground.

The Turner Mtns are the first to come into view

Katahdin coming into view

Traveler Mtn to the north

Turner and Katahdin

Close up of Katahdin Massif over Katahdin Lake

There are several trails to explore in the Katahdin Lake area.  We stuck primarily to the Katahdin Lake Trail because of a late start and were rewarded with stunning views.  North Katahdin Lake Trail will take you to another lean-to and beyond to remote Twin Ponds.  Another Trail leads to Martin Ponds and another lean-to.

As far as Baxter State Park goes, this is a fairly easy hike.  With a few short side trips we covered nearly 7 miles but never had any significant elevation change.  We reached the lake in just over an hour.  For anyone exploring Baxter State Park looking for a shorter, easier hike that would be possible with children, Katahdin Lake is a nice break from the large mountains.  There is a definite feel of remoteness at the lake.  Despite seeing numerous cars at the trailhead, we saw only two groups on the hike but seemingly had the lake to ourselves.

Puma relaxing along Katahdin Lake