Gravity on Saddleback Mountain

How you gonna feel when you come to the end of the way?

Day 161, ME Hwy. 4 (Rangeley) to Poplar Ridge Lean-to

Monday, September 18, 2017

While my wife Kim was convincing me last night to complete my hike by finishing the miles I skipped in New Hampshire, she assured me she and our sons would be ready to help.

I could have easily guessed she sprung into action as soon as we ended that conversation.

The first thing she did was contact our older son Logan. He was instantly on board and said he and his brother would be there when I reached Mt. Katahdin. Landon soon affirmed that for himself.

Unbeknownst to me, plans were now in motion to figure out how my family would get to Mt. Katahdin when I arrived there.

Weather Mostly sunny with a high temperature in the mid-70s; becoming cloudy late, followed by rain
Trail Conditions Many rocks and roots, with occasional mud
Today's Miles 10.7 miles
Trip Miles 1,960.9 miles

Tengo Hambre, Stick in the Woods, and I felt energized after our extra-long day and night in Rangely. We were ready to get back on the trail.

A past thru-hiker named Jet Pack was scheduled to meet us at 6:30 this morning and drive us back to the trailhead. He was a little late, but we were dropped off and hiking again before 7 a.m.

The trail crossed Sandy River a short distance after we left the road. It wasn’t a wide river.

Back when the area was harvested for timber, a logging sluiceway was dug here to channel the water and move logs down to a mill. Evidence of the sluiceway was still visible.

From there the trail began a long climb up Saddleback Mountain. This was not difficult at first, though the trail was littered with many rocks and roots.

Single T, Boomer, and Jason at Plazza Rock Lean-to

We arrived at Plazza Rock Lean-to after the first 1.5 miles of the climb. Jason, Boomer, Single T, and Maple were there and packing their gear. They had elected yesterday to go into Rangeley just long enough to resupply, then continued hiking until they stopped here for the night.

If Tengo, Stick, and I had not stopped yesterday for a nero at The Farmhouse, this shelter would have been a nice place to camp. A stream flowed nearby and wooden platforms were provided for tents.

Plazza Rock Lean-to privy

A unique privy was located a short distance from the shelter, which featured a sign that said “Your Move.” That’s not what made the privy unique, however.

Inside the Plazza Rock Lean-to privy with cribbage board

This was a two-seater. A cribbage board was mounted between the seats, providing a double entendre meaning for the sign outside.

Ethel Pond

The trail continued up the mountain. The climb remained relatively easy.

Less than a mile from the shelter we passed a lovely pond called Ethel Pond. A mile farther was another one called Eddy Pond.

Warning signs at Saddleback Mountain’s alpine zone

After three hours into the climb, we reached the mountain’s alpine zone. Signs were posted to remind us this was a fragile environment where camping was not allowed.

Clouds below Saddleback Mountain

Before long, the trail poked above the treeline, and we were able to see far-off views of surrounding valleys and mountain ranges.

Clouds hung below us in the valley, but otherwise, the sky was mostly sunny. The temperature was warming into the 70s.

Final ascent of Saddleback Mountain

The trail went over a long section of mostly exposed granite. We could not have picked a more perfect day to go over this mountain.

Though the trail passed near a ski resort, we never saw any signs of it. It opened in 1960 and became the third-largest ski area in Maine.

The resort’s owner became involved in the 1980s in a protracted fight to expand the resort with more ski runs and a chairlift. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and other conservation organizations successfully stopped those plans, and a large tract of land was sold in 2000 to permanently protect the trail.

The resort has been closed to skiing since 2015 after the current owners were unable to secure additional funding for expansion.

Stick on Saddleback Mountain

We lingered at the summit to enjoy the spectacular views, then pushed on.

Rocks on Saddleback Mountain

The alpine zone above the treeline extended for more than 2.5 miles, so even while we walked we were able to continue enjoying the views.

Unfortunately, I may have been paying more attention to the views than the rocks on the trail. I slipped on one and once again fell hard on my elbow. I don’t know why this has happened to me three times, but I decided I need to work on my landing from these falls.

Jason, Maple, Single T, and Boomer on Saddleback Mountain

By the time I crossed the last of Saddleback’s three main peaks, Maple caught up to me, and she was soon joined by Jason, Single T, and Boomer.

Hiking to The Horn

The trail remained above the treeline as it went over another peak called The Horn, which was just more than 1.5 miles from Saddleback’s summit.

Descending Saddleback Mountain and The Horn

The descent back to the treeline continued over a solid base of granite. Walking on this was like walking on a sidewalk. It was a rough sidewalk, perhaps, but at least it was a hard surface without a lot of roots and loose rocks.

Reddington Stream was located at the bottom of The Horn, and nearby was a campsite of the same name. I stopped here for water and to eat lunch.

Ascending Saddleback Junior

Leaving the campsite, one more climb was needed to complete the day. It was a steep and rocky ascent of Saddleback Junior. As I went up the trail, the sky began to become cloudy. It seemed the day’s beautiful weather was coming to an end.

Summit of Saddleback Junior

By the time I reached the rocky summit, clouds were closing in, diminishing the view. Rain appeared to be on the way, but I still had a couple of hours of walking to reach our intended stopping spot, Poplar Ridge Lean-to.

I reached the shelter at 6 p.m., then quickly set up my tent and cooked dinner. A light drizzle started falling at 7 p.m., but by then I was nearly ready to crawl into my tent for the night.

Later, as the drizzle became a light rain and I was lying in my sleeping bag, I thought more about my conversation last night with Kim. This made me realize how close I was to Mt. Katahdin. Finally, it was starting to dawn on me how little time was left for this hike.

Tengo, Stick, and I are expecting to reach Mt. Katahdin in less than three weeks. Thinking about this gave me an odd, contradictory feeling. As much as I was ready for this hike to end, I was not ready for it to end.

I tried to imagine how I would feel when I reached Katahdin, see my family again, and finish those miles in the White Mountains. I couldn’t sort out the thoughts.

I didn’t know what to expect and that's not a normal feeling for me.

Now look at that cold Jordan
Look at its deep water
Look at that wide river
Oh hear the mighty billows roll
You better take Jesus with you
He's a true companion
Oh I'm sure without him 
That you never will make it home

Now what you gonna do
Oh what you gonna say
Oh how you gonna feel 
When you come to the end of the way?

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