My third day of hiking started with a steep climb out of Obereton Valley up toward Lone Mountain on the Spaulding Ridge. It was another short day of less than 10 miles and just a few thousand feet of gain. I first summited Mt Abraham on a side trail, and then came back to camp for a long afternoon of reading. If you don’t count my side-trip to Abraham, my total progress this day was only 5.2 miles. My next day would only cover 6.3 miles, not counting a side trip to Sugarloaf Mountain. The day after that would be only 7.4 miles not counting a side trip to Reddington. This entire section could be done in far less time if you were really committed. There is some serious elevation gain along here, but the trail is in such good shape that it isn’t that hard.
As mentioned, I made a few side trips to Abraham, Sugarloaf, and Reddington. All of these mountains are on the Maine 4000 footer list and lie not too far off the Appalachian trail. Still, most thru-hikers don’t make this kind of side trip, especially when they’re getting so close to the end of the AT. I found it worthwhile.
These berries are from a Mountain Ash, a tree that grows near treeline in Maine and the White Mountains. There are many red berries in the forest of Maine, but these big bunches have been hanging from the trees since late spring and are now falling to the ground. I assume they’re not edible, as they are readily available and not being eaten by animals.
One of my observations in Maine has been the presence of broad leaf trees right up to Treeline, and even included with the scrub in the Alpine Zone. On some of these mountains, treeline was as low as 3600 feet – not too high at all for broad leaf trees. The reason you usually don’t see them as that poor soils at the tops of mountains don’t support trees with such huge nutritional consumption needs – these trees must replace all of their leaves every year. The mountaintop soils in Maine must be remarkably fertile.
After ascending Lone Mountain and walking briefly along the Spaulding Ridge, I turned east onto the 1.7 mile side trail to Abraham. Eventually I came out onto scree field and thought I was almost there – and that the peak to the north was Sugarloaf. Nope – that’s Abraham and I’m only halfway there.
During my walk out on the side trail, I removed some gear from my backpack and left it in a small pile in the woods. I did this to reduce the weight I was carrying with me. I didn’t need any of this gear on the side trail. Leaving my gear behind made me nervous the entire time. I don’t think I’ll do this again.
That’s me approaching the summit of Mt Abraham. There was a quick opportunity to snap photos here as the clouds cleared. The mountain directly behind me is Spaulding. To the right is Sugarloaf. To the left is Crocker. These are all on Maine’s list of fourteen 4000 footers.
That “pine shrub” is actually a black spruce growing in “krumholdtz” form. Spruce trees above treeline grow outward into low mats to compete for sunlight rather than upward. Under the mat is an area protected from the wind and insulated against the cold. At any given day, it can be as much as 15 degrees warmer beneath the Krumholdz. In the winter snow piled on top adds to the insulation and the temperature difference can be even greater. This forms an excellent habitat for small rodents and birds.
I hadn’t expected to see anyone at all out on this side trail on a Tuesday. AT Hikers just don’t do that sort of thing, and peak baggers only come out on weekends. But as I sat eating a snack along the trail, I heard a clacking sound. It turned out to be a friend of mine from Hudson Valley Hikers. She had heard an animal (me?) in the woods. She was spending the week up in Maine bagging peaks for her NE 111 campaign, which she finished later that week on North Brother. Congrats!
A lot of trees in the northern forests are covered with this green fuzz. Many people mistake it for moss, but it is actually a lichen. A lichen is actually a combination of different organisms. What you see on the outside is a fungus, which provides a protective home for the green algae on the inside. The algae converts solar energy into nutrients which can be used by both organisms. Algae is an aquatic plant. The fungus holds in the moisture the algae needs to survive.
After another short day, I arrived at camp early in the afternoon. I chatted for a while with thru-hikers Mojo, Go Forth, and March Forth, then I set up my home, read my book for a while, and took a nap. I really did arrive way too early this day and got a bit bored.
Here you see my Tarptent Stratospire Li, which is a great tent for lingering. I know that I have said a lot of really great things about this tent, and you may be thinking “man, I want one of those.” I think I should tell you some of the downsides. First of all, this tent costs about $700. For that price, you get a spacious, lightweight tent for 1-2 people, but it is far from the lightest or cheapest 2-person tent on the market. This tent can be extremely storm-worthy if pitched correctly, but that takes a lot of skill and practice. Finally, it isn’t very durable. I poke and tear holes in this thing all the time. The holes can be easily repaired with a bit of tape, but I wish it were more durable. Nothing is perfect.
I found a copy of AMC’s New England Alpine Summits at the Spaulding Mountain Lean-to and plan to order a copy. I enjoy being able to identify plants and animals – but I enjoy even more being able to peace together the story they tell about the environment I’m moving through. How old is the forest? What was it used for previously? What are the soils like? Are the trees healthy? Being able to read these stories into the landscape makes for a much more interesting time than “that’s a maple tree.” AMC has published many books that tell this story very well.
It was another chilly night and we built another fire. This site got crowded with hikers, including College and Teach. College was fresh out of college and making one last adventure before going back to the real world. Teach is an architecture professor from St Louis. He was pretty grumpy this evening and the following morning. I walked with him on and off the next day and he seemed to cheer up. A lot of the thru-hikers are “done with this” when they get as far as the Maine high peaks. They want it to be over.
I had arrived at camp around 2:00 PM in the afternoon. I didn’t leave until about 10:00 AM the next morning. That’s 20 hours in one place. This kind of thing is unheard of along the Appalachian trail where everyone has a place to get to. On this trip, I was trying to see the trail itself as the place to be.