Maine Appalachian Trail: Flagstaff Lake to Bigelow Col Campsite

Today I was dropped off at Flaggstaff Lake and began my hike south again. Now hiking in the opposite direction as I had all week, I began to run into hikers I had met earlier: Promethius, March 4th, Go Forth, The Germans…. It was a fun recap. I had already completed the AT from here North all the way to Katahdin, except a few miles in the HMW I missed due to an injury.

Flaggstaff Lake
Flagstaff Lake

Maine Earns its Reputation

Until today, I had found this section of Maine to be far easier than expected. Today the trail earned its reputation. The first few miles were easy – a moderate but continuous ascent up smooth and well maintained trails. After maybe 2 of these nice miles, I met a trail maintainer and congratulated him on how nice the trails were in Maine. That’s when my fortune changed. The Bigelow Range is no joke.

Bigelow Range from Little Bigelow
Bigelow Range from Little Bigelow

I covered the 3 miles and 1800 feet of gain from Flaggstaff to Little Bigelow in about 1.5 hours. That’s a good pace for me. When I arrived here and saw the twin peaks to my west, I had a feeling of dread as I realized how far and high I still needed to go. I’m not sure if the trail really got harder past this point, but I feeling of gloom came over me and I surely slowed down.

Bigelow Mountain
A huge boulder near the base of Bigelow Mountain

Gloom sets in

Feeling gloomy, I didn’t take many photos between Little Bigelow and the beginning of the climb up Bigelow’s eastern peak. Now near the final climb to Avery peak – the east peak of Bigelow Mountain – I walk under an enormous boulder which had crashed down from above. I don’t know how long ago this thing fell. There was a pile of smashed debris at its base. I’m glad I wasn’t around.

little bigelow from avery peak
Little Bigelow from partway up Avery Peak

On my way up Avery, I look back east toward Little Bigelow. You can see Flagstaff Lake to the left. It certainly doesn’t look like I’ve gone as far as I needed to go – but I’m not at the top. This was a tough climb, 2000 feet in 2 miles.

One Bite (and sip) at a time.

My strategy for big climbs is to reward myself every 500 feet of gain. Every 500 feet I get to stop and take a drink of water. Every 1000 feet I have a small snack. This might not be an efficient use of time when hiking smaller mountains, but up in Maine and New Hampshire, progress is measured in feet of gain, not in miles of travel.

Avery Peak
Avery Peak is carpeted in red vegetation

Arriving in the Alpine Zone on Avery Peak, I can now see to the West. Those are the Crockers on the far left of the screen. West Peak is a little further right, then the sign post for Avery, and finally Flaggstaff lake.

Northern Forest Canoe Trail

I’d love to go on a canoe trip on Flaggstaff. Its enormous and dotted with campsites on the shore and islands. I’ve learned recently that this lake is part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. The NFCT is a 740 mile canoe trail that traverses New York’s Adirondacks, Vermont, Canada, New Hampshire, and Maine. Even though I haven’t completed section hiking the AT yet, I want to start the NFCT as soon as I can!

avery peak
CampingJay at Avery Peak

Avery Peak

Here I am, holding my flag in the Alpine Zone. I ran into Kurt, a section hiker from Upstate NY who I had met at Reddington and again at the Hostel of Maine. He was doing a trip very similar to mine.

avery peak
A summit selfie

Summit Selfie. I was pretty happy to be at the top and high from the combination of fresh air and brilliant view. This was one of the most beautiful places I had seen along the Appalachian Trail.

Bigelow Col Campsite
Tarptent Stratopsire Li on a platform at Bigelow Col Campsite

Camp at Bigelow Col

Descending into the col between Avery and West Peak, I found an open platform and set up my tent. Despite requiring stake-out points, this tent is easier than expected to pitch on a platform, especially with my little platform anchors.

Tent Platform Anchor

Platform Anchors

If you do enough backpacking, you’ll probably eventually run into tent platforms. These wood platforms are constructed in overused back country sites where constant use has eroded away the soil and left nothing but exposed rocks to camp on. They are OK if you have a self standing tent, but could pose a problem for tents that need to be staked down. When I expect to use one of these platforms on a hike, I carry a few Platform Anchors. These handy little anchors can be cooked to the edges of wood planks or crammed between the boards to put a tie down point just about anywhere you may need one.

snowpeak gigapower stove
Snowpeak Gigapower Stove and 900 ml pot

Dinner and a Show

After setting up camp and picking up water, I headed back to the peak for dinner and a show. I brought the dinner, God brought the show! As evening came, I realized how few hikers were staying at the col campsite. Most thruhikers I met were “slack packing” this section. That means they leave their gear at a hostel in town and they do the whole 17 mile Bigelow Range in one day. I guess that’s OK if your goal is just to do the trail as fast as you can, but personally I think you’re missing something by skipping some of these campsites.

I have been using my Snowpeak Gigapower Stove since I started backpacking 7 years ago. It has never failed me. I was even able to get it burning again within 5 minutes of fishing it out of a lake.

sunset at avery peak
Sunset at Avery Peak

As the sun neared the Horizon, the scenery took on brilliant colors. The unique alpine vegetation seemed to glow while the granite turned shiny white. Glancing at at my Peak Finder app, I was excited to learn that the sun was actually going to set exactly on the tip of West Peak. At this point I said a little prayer, thanking God for the Math that made that prediction possible.

avery peak
A would-be “stealth” camper with Little Bigelow in the background

No Camping!

Down at the col, I ran into Speedbalz, a Canadian thru-hiker with a strange fondness for his warn out water bottle. He was excited to sleep with a view of the stars on one of the few remaining bald peaks. (no, you’re not allowed to camp here!) He set up his tent, but the wind almost blew him away. He moved on.

To the left, you can see the shadow of the mountain I’m standing on. It has such a sharp line that I think makes everything seem miniature. The ridge rising to the right is Little Bigelow.

Math and Sunsets

Pefect Sunset over West Peak!
Predicting the Sunset

And there we have it. The sun sets almost due west, exactly on the tip of West Peak. This is the first time I was disappointed at only having my iPhone 7 as a camera. The graphic above is a screenshot from my Peakfinder App. It costs a few dollars, but this is a nice app for identifying nearby peaks. One of the cool features is that it shows you where the sun will rise and set. This is nice for positioning your tent for optimal sunrise glory!

bigelow west peak
A view towards Bigelow’s West Peak.

The sun set, I wander back down to camp in the col. Here’s a white blaze amidst the colorful lichens and shrubs. After a day filled with gloom, I had an evening filled with aww and wonder at the natural world around me. These emotional highs and lows make solo hiking different from hiking with a group. I find groups of people to be a kind of “emotional anchor,” especially when they’re people I get along with. I don’t get extreme emotions when hiking with a group. This was a nice change.

How Great Thou Art

“O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayedThen sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou artAnd when I think of God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sinThen sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou artWhen Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And lead me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow with humble adoration
And then proclaim, my God, how great Thou artThen sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art” (Carl Boberg / Stuart Hine)

Rangeley (Maine 17) to Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to

Sabbath Day Pond Lean-To to Piazza Rocks Lean-To

Piazza Rocks Lean-To to Sluice Brook Logging Road

Sluice Brook Logging Road to Spaulding Mountain Lean-To

Spaulding Mountain Lean-To to Crocker Cirque Tent Site

Crocker Cirque Tent Site to Stratton / Carrabassett Valley (Maine 16/27)

Flagstaff Lake to Bigelow Col Campsite

Bigelow Col Campsite to Stratton / Carrabassett Valley (Maine 16/27)

Rangeley to Maine Summary / Trip Planning