Trip Report: The Bigelow Range (West Peak, Avery Peak, and South Horn)

After last weekend’s adventures on The Grafton Loop, I decided midweek I wanted to return to Maine. The drive is long and the bugs are out in full force, but I’m so close now and there was a big AMC group camping event at the Rangley Lake State Park that was too tempting to decline. We headed north on Friday to beat the traffic and arrived at the park and got set up. I scored a fine campsite right on the lake and hung my hammock there. In the morning we drove out to the Stratton Brook Pond trailhead.

We decided to do the loop clockwise, as to head up to The Horn’s first. Parking was a bit of an issue as we got a late start and there was some kind of mountain bike race happening. There is a lower lot here, and then a more rugged road leads down to the first river crossing, and a handful of cars can park there. I saw a Corolla there, so any car should be able to make it, but we parked in the lower lot anyways. The route here is well marked and we quickly arrived at our first junction, staying right to head up to Horn’s Pond. That camp site is really nice, there’s a few lean-to’s and many tent sites, I bet there’s ample moose viewing at dusk. We pumped some water here and slowly ascended South Horn. From here you get great views out to the bigger peaks we were heading to. The higher we climbed the less the bugs were a problem, but down low, was the worst I’ve ever had to deal with. Eventually we popped out on West Peak, and had some snacks and enjoyed the alpine breeze and endless views. The trails in here were in great shape as we moved on down to the col to pump more water. The sun was very strong and we needed all we could get. There is a care taker at Bigelow Col and it seems as though he has been asking everyone to take down loads of roofing shingles to help him out. We only had day packs and politely declined. We got up Avery Peak and again had a rest and took some photos, relaxed and enjoyed the views. The building I remembered here is gone, it looks like it might of burned down. As we headed back to the Col and began out ascent down Fire wardens Trail, I was glad we chose to use this for descent. It drops to elevation very quickly, maybe 2500ft in a bit over 2 miles, and it was rather taxing, but I always prefer to come down the steeper sections. Once down to the junction

Distance: 12.60 mi
Time: 9:45:12
Avg Pace: 46:26 min/mi
Avg Speed: 1.3 mph
Elevation Gain: 4,154 ft









Trip Report: 4 Day 3 Night Grafton Loop

“The Grafton Loop Trail is a 38.6 mile, backcountry hiking experience in the Mahoosuc Mountains of Maine. The trail, which connects to the Appalachian Trail at Old Speck and the East Peak of Baldpate Mountain on either side of ME Route 26, highlights the natural features and mountain peaks of the area encircling Bear River Valley. Because of its length and the terrain it traverses, the trail is strenuous and requires appropriate equipment and preparation.”

I’ve had my mind set on trying some new longer loops this year, and The Grafton Loop was at the top of the list. The mountains of Maine are inviting and remote compared to the high peaks of New Hampshire that I am used to. They’re not as crowded, and the woods just have a whole different personality up there. We tackled the loop as a team of 6, we drove up to Gorham NH to spend night 0 at Hikers Paradise, a hostel I’ve stayed at a few times when hiking in the northern parts of NH.

After checking over all the gear and getting organized and a hearty breakfast, we set off for Maine, spotting a car at the Northern TH on RT26 before heading back to the Southern TH to start our loop. We traveled clockwise; our intention was to go all the way to Bull Branch tent site. We ended up getting caught up in a scary lightning storm atop Sunday River Whitecap, but the rain wasn’t too bad, and we got to Slide tent site and set up camp. This was a nice camp with good water sources and a bear box. After a hearty dinner we went to bed and int he morning we set out on the trail again, heading for Old Speck. The woods here were really nice, and soon we came to the fire tower at the summit. We spent time here taking in the views and eating some lunch. Just after Old Speck the Grafton Loop Trail joins the Appalachian Trail, and we met a few south bound hikers. There are some really nice views back to Old Speck on the way down, as well as some really nice waterfalls. Eventually we made it back to the parking lot, and we quickly did our resupply, crossed the road, and re-entered the woods for the eastern half of the loop. We pushed hard and gained elevation up to Baldpate lean-to. This was my favorite camp, it’s a large lean-to, great water source and privy, and a small fire ring. I think some group had been up there the night before having a 4th of July party, it was sad to see they left so much trash behind.

Day 3 was going to be difficult, we knew it from the get go. We got an early start and headed up towards Baldpate. This section is very ledgy and has some ladders in places. I really like this terrain and the views are fantastic from East Baldpate. Again we met more south bound hikers at the summit and chatted with them for a bit. We couldn’t stay long as we had a long day of hiking to get to our final camp, Stewart. We hiked up and over Long Mountain, and along the ridge, going past some very inviting campsites. Lane is right along the river and looked like it had some great swimming hole potential, but we really needed to push on the Stewart to ensure we’d have a nice easy 5 mile hike out on Sunday. This section was very overgrown in some places, and the bugs were much worse than the rest of the loop. It was a good 13 mile push, with an unwelcome climb halfway up Puzzle Mountain at the end, but we arrived at Stewart and met 1 solo Grafton Loop hiker. We set up our camp and made dinner again, and had a wash up in the stream. In the morning we packed up and headed for the summit of Puzzle. Again there’s some fantastic views of the whole park from the top, it really is nice to look back and see all the places we’d hiked over the past 2 days. We got down and back to our cars, had a celebratory beverage and headed to the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center for some much needed showers, and then onto Moat Mountain Smoke House & Brewing Co for a big lunch.

This was a great trip, my first time camping out for 3 nights. Surprisingly my legs weren’t even that sore after! East Baldpate was my 89th summit for the New England Hundred Highest list. I’m getting close!!

Distance: 37.93 mi
Time: 73:11:48
Elevation Gain: 12,710 ft

Photo Slideshow