Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hiking the White Cap Range- Solitude in the 100 Mile Wilderness

White Cap Mountain is located on the Appalachian Trail in the heart of the 100 Mile Wilderness. Because it's the first time north bound thru hikers get an unobstructed view of Katahdin, it is a memorable mountain to many thru hikers.  The views are quite impressive in all directions. I am also drawn to this mountain since I see it nearly everyday when I drive to my house.  In the winter, its white summit stands out prominently among the other mountains in the area.   

Getting to White Cap is not an easy feat.  Because of its location in the 100 Mile Wilderness, road approaches are somewhat difficult.  The shortest approach to White Cap from the road is via the White Brook Trail.  Depending on road conditions and the vehicle, a round trip hike of 5 miles is possible to the summit and back.  This involves more than 16 miles of travel over increasingly rough dirt roads that can be difficult to follow on a map it you are not familiar with the area. The summit can be reached by the AT from the north on a 6 mile round trip hike but the drive to the trail is even further away from civilization.  From the south on the AT, it is nearly a 12 mile hike to the summit from the nearest road.

I have hiked to White Cap a couple times via the White Brook Trail.  This hike is straightforward but not worth the abuse to my vehicle.  I haven't been to White Cap in about four years and wanted to revisit.  I have not hiked the other summits on the AT in the White Cap Range since my AT thru hike in 1999 and wanted to hike them again as well.  After looking at some maps, I found a loop that would take me over all four summits of the range by connecting the AT with other trails and logging roads.  The route would avoid driving the worst dirt roads. 

My hike would cover more than 20 miles.  If you have read my blog in the past, I enjoy the occasional long day hike, so I was up for the challenge.  To add to the challenge, I was faced with a short November day and the start of winter conditions.  Saturday's forecast sounded promising so I got an early start and headed to the mountains.

I  started my hike near High Bridge about 710AM.  High Bridge is a drive in camping area.  I followed a logging road about two miles to its end at Hay Brook where there are a few campsites.  A short side trip upstream along Hay Brook took me to Hay Brook Falls, a scenic waterfall with a drop of about 30 feet.   After stone-stepping across Hay Brook, the Pleasant River Tote Road begins.  The Pleasant River Tote Road is a relic from logging days and is now a trail.  After .75 miles, the AT is reached.  With the exception of a short detour at Gulf Hagas, I was on the AT for the next 11 miles.  This was also the lowest point of the trip at 700 or so feet in elevation.

Hay Brook Falls

The trail stays relatively low in elevation for a while.  Where the AT section starts, it passes through an area of old growth forest called The Hermitage containing very large pines.  In a little over a mile I arrived at the trail to Gulf Hagas containing numerous waterfalls.  I made a brief detour to Screw Auger Falls, just a short distance from the AT.  The trail meandered with little significant climbing as it followed Gulf Hagas Brook.  As I hike higher and deeper into the mountains, a dusting of snow started to cover the trail.  The trail reached a lean-to where I stopped for a bite to eat.

Screw Auger Falls

Screw Auger Falls upper falls

10-12 foot cascade on Gulf Hagas Brook

Snow starting to cover the trail

After the lean-to, the trail finally started to climb steeply.  Gulf Hagas Mountain is the first mountain climbed in the White Cap Range.  At 2683', Gulf Hagas Mountain is the runt of the range.  Despite its lowly elevation, it is probably the most interesting summit after White Cap.  Some partial views of the surrounding mountains are seen through the trees from the higher reaches of the mountain.

Boggy upper reaches of Gulf Hagas Brook

Gulf Hagas Mtn summit

West Peak coming into view

The AT continued over West Peak and Hay Mountain.  The mountains became progressively higher as I hiked.  Trail crews did an impressive job building stone steps on the steeper sections of trail. The trail never seemed to steep compared to most other mountain ranges on the AT in Maine.  West Peak and Hay Mountain have wooded summits with very few views beyond the thick forest.

Stone stairs climbing West Peak

Hay Mtn summit

After 11 miles on the AT, I reached White Cap.  At 3654', White Cap is the highest mountain in the 100 Mile Wilderness.  It's the highest summit on the AT between Katahdin and the Bigelows, a distance of 180 or so miles.  White Cap's summit has wonderful views.  The southern half of the summit is completely exposed and bare.  Scrub covers the top of the peak while the northern part has another open area.  Looking to the north on  clear day, Katahdin dominates the horizon.  Parts of Moosehead Lake are visible to the west as well as most of the higher peaks in the area including the Spencers, Lily Bay Range, and Big Moose.  To the south, the Barren-Chairback Range dominates the view.  In the distance to the southwest, the Bigelows are easily identifiable.  With a temperature in the mid 20s F and windchills dropping below 0F with gusts, I didn't linger more than 15 minutes at the summit.

White Cap summit, book elevation is 10 foot higher

West Peak and Gulf Hagas Mtn in foreground, Baker Mtn to right, Moosehad Lake just beyond Baker (Click on pic for clearer view)

Bigelow Range is the tall peaks on the horizon in the center (click on pic for clearer view)

Looking south over Big Spruce Mtn.

Saddleback Mtn beyond the shoulder of Little Spruce Mtn

Big and Little Spencer Mtns beyond Roach Ponds

Looking north over West Branch Ponds toward endless lakes

I retraced the AT for a short distance before descending to the valley.  I descended on a discontinued trail that eventually reaches the White Brook Trail.  The trail, which I have used in the past, has become quite overgrown at places.  The trail had occasional old blazes in blue and white.  It must have been an old section of AT at one time.  At one time a fire tower stood on White Cap.  Perhaps this was originally the old trail to access the tower.  I soon reached the White Brook Trail.

Last view descending back down White Cap toward Baker Mtn

Descending discontinued trail in a heavily eroded section

Very overgrown section of discontinued trail.  I was full of snow passing through here.

The White Brook Trail ends at an old logging road.  The logging road was overgrown and a little difficult to follow at a couple of spots.  Eventually the logging road became more prominent before reaching High Bridge near my car in a few miles.  Along the logging road there were some good views looking back at White Cap.

Looking back at White Cap's exposed southern face

I reached my car right around 3PM, almost 8 hours since I started.  The hike was about 21 miles.  For the distance, the hike wasn't extremely difficult.  Several miles of the hike were on logging roads which allowed for quick travel.  While I gained over 3000 feet of elevation, the elevation gain was relatively gradual compared to other Maine mountains.  The cold and snow however added a little challenge to the hike.  With a brisk windchill, I didn't care to linger in one place too long.  The snow, while not more than a dusting, covered most of the trail. Because of the snow, roots and rocks along the trail were more slippery than normal.

Despite seeing several cars in the High Bridge area, I didn't see anyone the entire time.  All of these cars were most likely hunters.  I did see a few deer early on which made uneasy with hunters in the area.  Because of the snow I saw nearly endless tracks.  Most were snowshoe hare or squirrel.  I did see a few cat tracks, most likely bobcat.  Numerous deer, moose, and coyote tracks were seen in the snow along the logging roads.

Although the forecast called for a clear day, most of the trip was under mostly cloudy skies.  A few short snow showers fell along the way.  Because of the clouds, the views from White Cap were a little obscured.  The visibility was decent most directions but unfortunately Katahdin's summit was in the clouds and obscured by snow showers.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Borestone Mountain

At 1981 feet in elevation, Borestone Mountain is not among the highest mountains in Maine.  In fact there are more than 400 summits in Maine that are higher. Despite Borestone's lowly elevation, its rocky and bare summits provides grand views in all directions, giving it the feel of a higher mountain.

The summit is gained just over 2 miles.  Because of the short distance and big views, Borestone Mountain is a very popular hiking destination.  It is also a prominent landmark in the area.  Borestone's rugged profile is visible from many vantage points in the area.

Borestone is a fairly quick trip from my house.  I can leave my house, hike to the summits, and return home in about three hours.  Because of this, I sometimes go to Borestone Mountain if I am looking for a quick outing with great scenery.  After taking care of my morning chores on our farm on Monday, I had a couple hours to take advantage of a beautiful fall day.  With darkness coming early this time of year, Borestone Mountain seemed to fit the bill for a quick mountain escape.

Borestone Mountain is in Elliotsville, Maine on land owned by the Maine Audubon Society.  From the trailhead, hikers have two options.  They can hike the Base Trail or the access road.  I usually choose the access road.  It is slightly longer but more straightforward.  The Base Trail and access road meet just before reaching the Visitor Center on the shore of Sunrise Pond, just over a mile from the start.  During the summer, there is a caretaker and interactive displays in the Visitor Center.  In the off season the Visitor Center is closed.

Looking over Sunrise Pond at the West Peak of Borestone

From the Visitor Center, the hike becomes more strenuous as it climbs the Summit Trail to Borestone Mountiain's two summit.  After passing the pond, the trail begins climbing steeply.  Several spots on the trail are climbed via rock steps.  About a half mile from the Visitor Center, the trail traverse the first section of steep rock below the cliffs of the West Peak.  A few sections have iron rungs and railings to help climb the steep rock.  After .7 miles of hiking from the Visitor Center, the West Peak of Borestone is reached.  From the summit, the 360 degree views are far reaching.

Rock Steps along the way

Scrambling is required as you near the summit

Rungs and railings to help hikers in steep stretches

Looking down on Sunrise, Midday, and Sunset Ponds below the West Peak

Looking toward East Peak from West Peak

Leaving the summit, the trail drops slightly over rocky terrain before climbing the higher East Peak of Borestone in just .3 miles.  The 360 degree views from the East Peak are slightly better with the higher elevation.  Immediately at the foot of Borestone is Lake Onawa, 1500 feet below.  Directly across the lake stands Barren Mountain with Barren Ledges and Slide prominently visible.  The Lily Bay Range and Big Moose Mountain are quite prominent in the Moosehead Lake region.  Beyond the Moosehead Lake mountains, Boundary Bald Mountain is easily seen just a few miles from the Quebec border.  The Bigelow Range's sets of twin peaks stand out to the southwest with Sugarloaf, Abraham, and Saddleback just beyond the Bigelows.  Low terrain dominates the landscape to the south and east with distance peaks visible beyond the Penobscot Valley.  On the East Peak there is a sign that shows what mountains are visible on the horizon.  To return to the trailhead, just retrace your path down the mountain.

Barren Slide and Ledges with Baker Mountain in background

Close up of Slides and Ledges

Looking over Lake Onawa toward Barren Mountain

Looking back to West Peak with Big Moose Mtn in distance and Boundary Bald Mtn to its right on the far horizon just a few miles from the Quebec border

The Bigelows are the furthest peaks visible in the middle (click on pic for better view)

Sign on summit labeling the landscape 

Another look over Lake Onawa toward Benson Pond and Benson Mountain

One last view before dropping of the summit

With such great scenery, I don't go to Borestone as often as I should for how close it is to my house.  In the summer it can get crowded and there is a small fee to hike the trails.  However, in the off season, there are rarely any other hikers.  On my hike, I saw just one other hiker on the access road. I was lucky enough to have beautiful blue skies without a single cloud.

For experienced hikers, Borestone is a great place to get in a quick hike with big views.  The summit feels much higher than it is with its far flung views.  For less experienced hikers, Borestone is a good place to hike before tackling a more ambitious hike on a bigger mountain.  The hike climbs about 1100 feet and tackles some rocky terrain giving the feel of a bigger mountain without covering huge mileage.  On a clear day, nobody will be let down with the summit vistas.

See for pictures of Borestone from an earlier trip kayaking on Lake Onawa.