Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saddleback and the Horn

It was going to be tough to follow up our amazing day on Spaulding and Sugarloaf (and our legs were telling us to take a break), but with a perfect forecast for clear, windless, sunny skies we had to get out again.  It looked like a perfect day to go back to our original Plan A from Thursday - Saddleback and the Horn.  Several people in the group were heading to East Kennebego, but Nat, Kim, Frodo and I decided to take advantage of the views.

Everyone was tired from our previous long day, so we weren't in any hurry to leave.  The breakfast fare du jour was bacon cheeseburgers with fried eggs (thanks Brett!).  We finally dragged ourselves away and out into the cold, clear morning.  It was Saturday of Christmas week and the ski area was busy.  We checked in at the base lodge and were told to take the Green Weaver ski trail to the top (not the usual Gray Ghost).  The people at Saddleback are so nice to hikers!  It's really too bad that more ski areas won't follow their example.

The lower section of the trails that we were on were nearly deserted.  It appeared that everyone skiing early in the day was on the mainline routes.  Nat, Kim and I slogged up the mountain, working our muscles back into shape after the long previous day (following a long hiking layoff).  We were soon treated to beautiful views  with undercast hanging over the valley and lakes.

Heading up the Green Weaver ski trail

Undercast in the valley

Undercast over Rangely Lake

Playing "dodge the skiiers"

Nat and Kim with the Horn visible back right

By the time we reached the lift area in the middle of the mountain, I was wiped out.  Nat and I started discussing whether we really wanted to make the effort to get over to the Horn or just call it good with Saddleback.  We kept heading up and figured we'd decide on top.

Plugging along

Nat looks happy to be out here

From the intersection we moved over to the Tri Color ski trail to the top.  This one has a couple of pretty steep sections, and even with the televators my legs were really complaining.  Clearly there is only one answer to this problem - hike more often!  We were soon at the top of the ski area and Frodo went in to check in with the ski patrol.  They had told us we needed to do this at the bottom, and that they'd send someone out to look for us if we didn't.  It was still beautiful and clear and there was barely a breath of wind.  We didn't stick around for long - just headed for the summit.

Rime near the summit

Frodo heading for the summit

Saddleback summit ahead

Frozen tundra

We're here! NE67 #53 for Nat and I

We stopped on the summit for a few minutes and soaked in the 360 degree views.  It would be hard to find a better winter day to be in a spot like this.  The visibility was easily over 100 miles, and we could see Katahdin bathed in sunlight standing out in the distance (although I wasn't smart enough to get that in a photo).  The summit ledges were pretty well blown off and there was just a crusty layer over a few inches of snow below that made walking easy.  Now it was decision time.  Nat and I looked at each other and said "sure, what the hell".  It's really hard to be up here and to not keep going.  We headed off and down into the col toward the Horn.

Heading for the Horn

The ridge to the Horn ahead

Through the porcelain trees

It's pretty steep coming off the summit and we were quickly down into the col.  There were a couple of slightly tricky sections, but nothing difficult.  The conditions were really good.  The only complications were a couple of spruce traps that I managed to find (including one earlier along the ski trail).  I did get a snowshoe stuck in one of these and Kim had to dig me out (after almost going in head first herself).  Other than that, the trek was pretty uneventful.  As we started down, we noticed what we thought was a hiker on the summit of the Horn.  After watching for a minute he seemed to be wandering around aimlessly.  We then realized that it was actually a moose!  Kim got a long zoom picture of him to confirm it (and we later found his tracks and "other evidence" on the summit).

Ice sculpture

Leaving Saddleback behind

Into the col

Frodo led the way across and the trail was easy to follow for the most part (even though there were no actual guides, and the rimed bushes looked like cairns).  We had one small area of confusion at the bottom of the col and I checked the GPS on my phone to see where we were.  The trail was only 20 yards or so away and after getting back on there the rest was easy.  By this time my legs were feeling good - I think it was the typical second day of hiking scenario where you go from dead tired to feeling great.  The climb up out of the col to the Horn went quickly and we were soon on top.

Nearing the Horn summit

The Horn summit sign and our return path beyond

Frodo, Nat and I on the Horn.  #54

Kim on the Horn

The ceiling was beginning to drop and the snow that was forecast for later in the afternoon was clearly getting closer.  The views hadn't diminished though, and we took it all in for a while before heading back.

Saddleback Jr ahead, Crockers, Reddington, Sugarloaf, Spaulding, Abraham beyond

Zoom to Sugarloaf and Spaulding - yesterday's hike

Time to go

The walk back to Saddleback was easy and the route was simple by following our tracks.  I was even able to avoid the spruce traps this time.  The rest of the day flew by.  It was snowing lightly by the time we got out of the col and the wind had picked up as we reached Saddleback summit again.  On the way down we made a stop at the warming hut for some hot tea and snacks and talked to some of the other skiiers and ski patrol folks that were there.  Once again, everyone here was so nice to us as hikers.  We flew down the ski trails and were down well before dark - no headlights needed today.

Beautiful walk through the col

Didn't we just come down from there?

The final steeps

Find Frodo

Missed our summit shot before.  It's a lot colder now

Back to the ski area

Study in white

This trip couldn't have turned out better.  Two awesome winter hikes giving us 4 Maine 4Ks in winter in two days and getting us to #54 of the NE67.  Better yet was a few days hanging out with a great bunch of people that are a big part of the reason that we love hiking so much.  We can't wait to get back to this part of Maine again and to share the trails with all of them again!

Here's the approximate route.  This is not a GPS track, but an after-hike attempt to plot the way we went.  There is an interactive version in Google Maps HERE


  1. You've had a couple of great days! Congratulations on bagging four more for the 67 and good luck on all your adventures in 2013.

    1. Thanks Summerset. It was definitely a good way to start the winter! Looking forward to lots more great days like this in the mountains for everyone this year!


  2. Nice winter scenes- we finally got some snow after A long stretch of dreary rain.

    1. You're so right John. We were beginning to wonder if winter was going to show up after all that rain. It came in with a bang!


  3. I climbed Saddleback in late summer 2010 via the AT, and I never knew there was a ski area on its slopes.