The guide is describing the 32-mile section from Maine Hwy. 4 to Hwy. 27.
Because of the level of difficulty, Jim and I figured out how to divide it into two
portions so I could do it all safely in daylight.
Today I covered just under
half the distance, thanks to Jim's tireless efforts to find a logging road that
is drivable all the way to the AT. More later about Jim's grand adventure today on the
We had gorgeous weather again today, as you can see from the photos above. I
was near or above tree line for three miles in the Saddleback Range. Although
the mountains played hide and seek in the clouds, each summit was clear when I
was there. The views in every direction were magnificent. I could see where I've
been and I could see where (I think) I'm going.
What I couldn't see was Katahdin; it was blocked by Mt. Abraham, a local told
me. I'm anxious for my first glimpse of The Goal.
Up at 5:00 AM, we were on the road in 50 minutes with the camper in tow.
That's a record for us, I believe. Jim
dropped me off at the Maine 4 trail head and was able to get a spot in the next
campground at 7:00. He called in transit and the owner was a bit surprised at
the early hour! She understood when he explained why he was so early and she
told him which spots were available.
We saw another moose along Maine 17 this morning, near the turn-off for
Rangeley Lake State Park. Jim and Cody later saw their second and third "trail"
moose in the late afternoon as they came in to get me - a mama and baby. They've
seen two more than I have! The Honeymooners (Birdie and Muskrat) pointed them
out to Jim as they passed him going the other way.
When I started hiking at 6:30 AM it was 53 degrees. Although it was supposed
to be about ten degrees cooler today, it felt warmer than that. There were nice
breezes along the three lakes I passed and 15-25 MPH winds on top of
Saddleback, The Horn, Saddleback Junior, and Poplar Ridge, the four mountains I
The 2,520-foot ascent to Saddleback Mountain began gradually up to the Piazza
Rock lean-to at 1.6 miles. From the description of this rock ledge I envisioned
something like McAfee Knob near Roanoke, VA, where the ledge extends
dramatically over the valley.
Nope. Piazza Rock is a flat 40-foot rock cantilevered out from the cliff and
supported by another boulder underneath, with perhaps 20 feet extending out into
the woods, not over a valley. It's worth the 1/10th mile uphill hike to see it,
though. There are also
boulder caves farther up the AT but I didn't go see them.
Since it was still early I found six of the hikers who had spent the night
at the Piazza Rock shelter still there, eating breakfast: The
Honeymooners (Birdie and Muskrat), The Laugh Factory (Giggles and Box o' Fun),
Patch, and Dave, a section-hiker I've seen several times this week. Muskrat
asked about my gel flask so I told the group about my nutrition system. I think
hikers could take advantage of the gel and Perpetuem.
MORE PRIVY HUMOR
What I really wanted to see at this shelter, however, was the privy. No, not
because I needed to use it but because I'd read that it was unique. It
definitely is. For one thing, it's a composting privy that has no foul odor like
the privy I passed later in the day (worse than any portable I've ever used in a
race or other event).
The large sign on the outside of the log privy reads "YOUR MOVE." Inside is
this cribbage board between two seats:
You saw it here first!
The real fun began after the shelter. The next two miles past Ethel and Eddy
ponds were dominated by large, moss-covered boulders. The Trail wound around
them, not over them, thankfully. I'm sure the Trail designers were trying to
enhance the experience for hikers but by the summit I was thinking, OK,
enough enhancement already!!
Miles five and six were outright steep and featured lots of granite slab,
glacial erratics, and five or six false summits to the top of Saddleback
Mountain. Knowing what glacial erratics are made the hike more
interesting but didn't make the climb any easier.
The AT guide describes Saddleback like this: "The wind-swept ridge is
dominated by exposed bedrock on which scattered glacial erratics are perched.
(Glacial erratics are rounded boulders left at random on the exposed bedrock as
a glacier retreats.)"
I loved the part of Saddleback Mountain above tree line despite the numerous
false summits going northbound. To the south I could see the mountains I've
already climbed and the lakes I passed a little bit earlier. To the west I
could see billowing white clouds coming my way. To the north I could see The
Horn and mountains I'll be climbing the next couple days.
And I could RUN up there! Most of the rest of the Trail today was too gnarly
to run but the smooth granite just begged to be run. I ran down the north side
as long as it wasn't too steep, then had to be more careful. As it was I fell
three times today but didn't get hurt badly - just more scratches and bruises to
add to my fading collection.
Saddleback was today's high point literally and figuratively at 4,120 feet.
The Horn is almost as high. Saddleback Junior is 3,655 feet and Poplar Ridge
just over 3,000 feet. All had the same kind of bedrock and alpine plants on top.
All had great views. Despite the rugged trails leading to the peaks I can
recommend this section for a great hike or run on a sunny day.
Total elevation gain today was about 3,920 feet; loss was about 4,200 feet.
There were some very steep sections both up and down, especially just before and
after Orbeton Stream.
I talked to Jim from the top of Saddleback Junior. He was just leaving the
camper to scout out another way to reach the AT at Perham Stream, two miles up
the Trail from the railroad bed above Orbeton Stream. He found a side trail to
the railroad bed but I wanted to go farther so tomorrow's section isn't so
long. Our Topo software and the information we got from Bear at The Cabin showed
an "unimproved" road to Perham Stream that we hoped was drivable.
Our plan was for me to call when I got to the railroad bed so I'd know if Jim
had found the road farther up or if I needed to go down the railroad bed 1.5
miles to the truck. Wouldn't you know, Jim didn't have a signal and I did. I
left two messages that I was at the rendezvous point but he couldn't access
I was to wait there until he hiked in one way or the other.
I waited. And waited. Talked to hikers who went by. And waited. Asked The
Honeymooners to tell him where I was if they saw him up the Trail. And waited.
Waited for two and a half hours, getting increasingly worried. Mostly I
worried that we got our "signals" crossed and maybe I should go on up the Trail
to Perham Stream.
But what if he wasn't there? Then what?
Meanwhile, Jim was having a misadventure. He took a right turn on one of the
unnamed old logging roads and came to a decrepit wooden bridge over a creek. He
got out to inspect it. If decided that if he steered carefully, he could get
across OK. That worked.
He discovered it was the wrong road, however, so he turned around. This time
he didn't hit the boards correctly and this is the result:
Jim hit a rotten board and dropped about a foot. He couldn't move the truck
forwards or backwards. He's lucky he could get the door open on the driver's
side. He had no phone signal to call me or to call for help. He started worrying
how the heck he'd ever get out of there and how he'd get to me before dark (it
was about 1:30 PM).
Jim remembered seeing a couple houses back down the road. He and Cody got out
and ran five miles to the first house. No one was home. He ran to the next house
and found a woman (Betty) and her teen-aged daughter at home. They let him use
their phone to call a tow truck to extricate our truck from the bridge.
The tow truck owner first said no, that the logging roads were too rough for
his truck. Jim expressed frustration and Betty got on the phone. She knows the
tow truck owner and driver. She convinced them the road was passable, and the
tow truck arrived in twenty minutes. Jim and Cody hopped in. (Cody had fun
playing with the family's pit-bull pup while visiting, and was most interested
in their guinea hens and goat.)
The tow truck driver used a winch to lift our truck straight up into the air
and put it back down on solid wood. Then Jim drove it off. The only apparent
damage is a slightly bent steering arm that we'll have to fix.
Jim found the right road to the AT and hurriedly ran down the two miles to our
rendezvous point. The Honeymooners told him where I was and pointed out the two
moose. Cody got in four more miles and several creeks, quite an exciting day for
him. (Tater got a nice long nap in the camper while they were gone.)
Jim and I were both very glad to see each other. I'm glad he wasn't hurt and
the truck damage is light. He's glad I stayed put as we'd planned.
We've talked many times about what we'd do in an emergency like this, and the
best we can do is have a plan and stick with it in case our phones don't work.
We consider ourselves lucky this time and hope nothing else quite so exciting
happens the rest of the trip!