On my second full day of hiking, I climbed up and over the Saddleback Range with its three peaks: Saddleback, The Horn, and Saddleback Junior. All three peaks extended above treeline (about 3600 ft) and into the Alpine Zone. There, specialized plants and mosses made for a dazzling display of color. The day started off socked in, but opened up to the beginning of fall foliage down in the valley.
I woke up to a windy, gloomy day. I had about 2 miles to hike to a small pond just at the foot of the mountain, where I planned on refilling my water and having second breakfast. Most of the trail to Eddy Pond was very rocky and rooty, but the last few hundred yards were smooth sailing. This is what most of the trail in Maine looks like, despite its bad reputation.
A remarkable thing about Maine are the number of boats just lying around for anyone to use. These boats had been free to use for a long time, but someone must have abused the privilege and now they’re locked up. This is a shame. I came across free-to-use boats every few miles on the trail in Maine. I’ve started seeing these in the Adirondacks too. Its very generous and trusting of people to leave their boats out in the wilderness for others to use. Please don’t do anything that would end this privilege for others!
When I saw these iron rungs after climbing for just a few minutes, I thought I must be in for a punishing climb. It turns out, it wasn’t that bad. I think they’re starting to put these in for conservation reasons. When these slabs are wet, hikers scramble up and down at the edges, trampling the fragile soil and pulling on plants, roots, and trees. With the rungs in place, its easy to walk up without causing any damage. There are places where hikers have intentionally destroyed rungs out of protest because they don’t want the trail to be “too easy.” Remember, it isn’t just about ease, its about conservation!
The climb up the south side of Saddle back went pretty quickly. I hit treeline after hiking about 45 minutes. That’s Eddy Pond down there and the Rangely Valley beyond. You can usually find descent cell-service right above treeline and along ridges. I was able to get a weather report here and send photos to my family and friends. You should be careful to keep your phone in airplane mode when not use use in order to save the battery. I also find that it helps to keep the phone warm so that the battery doesn’t suffer reduced output.
Crossing the tree-line is like entering another world. The plants at high elevation are specially adapted to harsh weather, long winters, and poor soil. You’ll see a lot of red pigmentation in the alpine zone. Believe it or not, the chemical giving plants this red tint is similar to sunscreen. It helps protect plants from burning under direct sun on long summer days.
Descending from Saddleback to the Horn Col was made tricky by a series of drops and steep ledges. I had some worry the entire length of the ridge was going to be like this, but the rest wasn’t so bad. A SOBO promised that the views opened up down in the col, so I was excited to get down there. The hiker in front of me is Prometheus, who I would get to chat with a few times over the next 2 days.
From the col we can see the beginnings of fall down in the valley and a path of exposed granite leading to the next peak. The valley seemed to get more colorful every time I glanced down. Other hikers were complaining about the bogs along this stretch, but honestly you don’t know alpine bogs until you’ve hiked though them in late-spring / early-summer.
Remember that red pigment that protects Alpine plants from the sun? Trees down at ground level have it too, but in lower concentration. You only see it in regular leaves in fall when the green chlorophyll is used up and the other colors shine.
I saw a lot of this all weekend, and I should have known what it was. I got confused because I thought it was one plant. I kept calling it “the parade float.” Do you know what it is? Low Brush Blueberry growing up from a base of reindeer lichen. There were even berries present.
I almost stepped on this little guy. The sun was breaking through in the afternoon and quite a few snakes came out to bask on the warming rocks along the trail. Snakes are cold-blooded, which means they need heat from the sun or other sources to help digest their food. This is a harmless garter snake, but you should be careful not to step on or startle snakes.
This is a spruce grouse. I ran into a flock of 4 or 5 of them just below Saddleback Junior. They don’t really work hard at getting away from humans, either because they’re used to being fed or they just don’t mind us. They’re slow, clumsy birds either way. I find them very hard to photograph because they blend in too well and the iPhone won’t focus on them. Doesn’t it look like a mountain chicken?
After about 11 miles, I pitched camp along an old railroad bed near Oberton Stream. I had planned on camping at Poplar Ridge LT, but I got there too early in the afternoon and it was cold and windy up there.
This site is near the location where a surveyor found the body of missing thruhiker Inchworm. Inchworm had gone missing in 2013 and remained unaccounted for for 5 years. She was finally found in her tent just a few hundred yards from the trail and nearby woods road. She had continued to write in her journal every day while she waited to starve. There is a new book about Inchworm called “When you’ll find my body.” Check it out.