Member Trip report

Saddlebacks Backpack

09/22/2018

Trip Report/Photos from shep5

Featured Photo

This was a modified trip from one that I had posted last year, but was cancelled twice due to weather.  The original idea was to spot a car in Reeds and hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) from Route 4 all the way to Oberton Canyon/Stream and walk out via Railroad Road to Reeds.  Since a car spot was not possible for a solo hike, I thought I'd just use the Fly Rod Crosby Trail, which started in Reeds near Railroad Road.  The Fly Rod Crosby Trail is a 45-mile heritage trail, which is currently incomplete, but will eventually go all the way from Strong to Oquossoc.  The section between Philips and Rangeley has been completed and I intended to use part of this up to the AT.  The Berry Picker's Trail branches off of the Fly Rod Crosby Trail to connect with the AT in the col between Saddleback and the Horn.  It was created or re-created in the last couple of years.  Parts of this trail coincided with trails used by locals to harvest blueberries and cranberries for over a hundred years.  Also, apparently this route was considered for the Appalachian Trail in 1933.

SATURDAY, September 22nd

I arrived at the trailhead on Reeds Mill Road at about 7:45AM.  The parking area was nothing more than a small grassy field with a kiosk by the woods.  I started up the trail at just before 8AM.  It was almost immediately clear that this was not a well-used trail.  The trail was definitely not a well-worn and at times was indistinguishable from the surrounding forest floor.  There were occasional blue blazes, but as the trail met up and followed old overgrown logging roads in spots, they weren't always obvious or even visible.  In any case after following the initial trail, it met up with a logging road, which led down towards the banks of the Orbeton Stream and followed the water going in an out of the logging road.  After leaving the stream, the trail again climbed up the logging road and reentered the woods near the top.  The trail stayed in the woods for a good distance until it met up with the upper portion of Center Hill Road (another logging road).  Here I just followed this to the north, where it again became a trail near Hardy Stream.  I reached this point by 10AM and the trail pretty must followed the water upstream for quite awhile.  This portion was decent, but there were areas of blowdown and it was obvious that little to no trail maintenance had been done it years.  The trail climbed higher up the bank at times and there were occasional views of the surrounding high peaks, which were nice.  At about 11:20, I made it to a sign that read Horse Hobbles.  This was supposed to be something of historical significance, but there was nothing to see here.  At this point the trail followed an old grassy logging road again.  This lead through the woods and a short time later emerged out onto open logging roads and eventually an open logging yard with great views of Saddleback Mountain ahead of me.  After ducking back into the woods for a bit, the trail eventually met up with the multi-use trail at 12:20PM.  The trail followed this fairly good road for about 10 minutes, when I reached the Berry Picker's Trail.  As a new trail, this was well marked with a brand-new sign.  I turned onto this trail and finally started to climb some elevation.  As it was after noon, I took a short snack break by the cascades, which paralleled the trail near the bottom of the trail.  Afterwards, as I continued to climb, it wasn't long before I ran into a group of hikers coming back down.  There was a trailhead parking area on an unnamed logging road just to the south of the multi-use trail, which allowed access to the trail.  By 1:10, I reached the first of many open ledges as the trail ascended to the ridge.  There were great views of Saddleback, the Horn, Mt. Abraham and the Onion Valley, including Mount Blue to the south.  By 1:50 I reached the erratic perched along the trail and shortly thereafter the trail re-entered the woods for another 20 minutes, when it finally intersected with the AT.

Now on the AT, I dropped my pack in the woods and began to climb up Saddleback Mountain.  Being more exposed now it was getting very cold and the winds were gusting upwards of 30-40 mph.  I reached the summit of Saddleback (4126') at 2:35.  Despite the thin clouds, which had rolled in, there were great views back towards the Horn, Sugarloaf, Spaulding, Abraham and Saddleback, Rangeley and Cupsuptic Lakes below.  Surprisingly, I had the peak to myself and had only seen one thru-hiker during my ascent.  With the strong winds and cold, I didn't stay too long and headed back to the col.  By 3PM, I reached my pack again and after putting it back on, I headed north for the Horn.  It was rocky but the trail went in and out of the woods as it climbed.  This was not as rough, but longer than I remembered.  Still, I was atop of the Horn (4041') at 3:44.  It seemed like the winds had reduced a bit by this time (my hat was no longer blowing off).  Again I had the peak to myself and there were awesome views in all directions.  I continued to follow the AT north.  The descent off of the Horn was steep and slippery and the woods were covered in a beautiful carpet of bright green moss.  It was slow going at times, but by 4:25, I had made it to the Redington Stream Campsite in the col.  I could see the platforms in the woods and it didn't look like anyone was around.  In any case I wanted to try and make it to the Poplar Ridge Shelter, so I pressed on.  The trail meandered a bit through the woods until about 5PM, when I reached a series of stone stairs, which began a steep climb.  By 5:25 I emerged from the trees with great view back along the ridge to Saddleback and the Horn.  The trees continued to shorten as I climbed and in only 10 minutes I was standing on the bare summit of Saddleback Jr. (3655').  From here the views were even clearer over to Reddington, the Crockers, Sugarloaf, Spaulding, Abraham and Poplar Ridge below.  The descent off of the north side of the peak was pretty steep and wet again.  I took my time and reached the col by 6PM.  Here the trail passed through some marshy areas and then climbed modestly through woods again, when in about 30 minutes I came across a privy.  I knew I was close and walked a little further up the trail and ran into the shelter.  What a relief, as I was ready to call it a day!  There were only 2 other AT hikers here, so we chatted a bit, before I started dinner and got my sleep bag and pad out.  The two guys had set up tents nearby and I was going to have the shelter to myself until another hiker showed up.  I made dinner, ate, hung my food and pretty much called it a night by 8PM.

SUNDAY, September 23rd

After a very cold night (probably in the 30's), I arose around 6:30AM and got my breakfast.  With the other hikers starting to get up by 7AM, I began to organize my pack.  After refilling my water from the nearby spring, I left for the day at 7:45AM.  Lucky, as the sun rose, there was little wind and it didn't feel as cold as the prior day.  In fact, by the time I started to descend Poplar Ridge I was removing my microfleece.  Again the northern side of this ridge was steep and rocky, but by 8:30 the trail flattened out for a good distance.  Just before reaching Orbeton Canyon, the trail began to desend again and I could hear the water below.  I reached the base of the canyon and the edge of Orbeton Stream at 9:20.  This was noted on the map as a dangerous crossing; however, it was actually relatively easy.  Once on the opposite shore there was a sign for a view of the falls.  I took the short side trail to check it out.  It was an impressive drop even though there wasn't alot of water.  Back on the AT, the trail climbed very steeply up this side of the canyon until I reached Railroad Road at the very top (this was an old railroad grade that crossed the ridge here and went to the old town of Reddington, which is now part of a restricted Navy Training Facility just to the north of the AT).  The AT made a little jog to the south before the trail re-entered the woods.  I decided to continue northward to the Barnjum/Caribou Valley Road crossing, since this was the only AT section in the area that I still hadn't done.  The trail followed the water source for the falls, as it climbed and then leveled out somewhat.  It was a nice walk through mostly thin woods.  Along the way, I crossed an old overgrown logging road and eventually by 10:35 I reached Barnjum Stream and only a few dozen feet later the Barnjum/Caribou Valley Road crossing.  I could have followed this old logging road back to Reeds, but it was significantly longer, so I decided to backtrack to Railroad Road to make my exit from the AT there.  I returned to the Railroad Road crossing at 11:30.  The road was eroded at the top of the falls, but was easy to cross.  I just continued southward and it was very easy to follow.  There were a number of eroded spots and also an area where the road was obstructed by fallen trees.  At noon, I was surprised that came across a car parked along the road here (this was roughly more than two-thirds of the way up the road).  It had good clearance and as I continued south, the road was not unlike Caribou Valley Road  There was a distinct road, which veered off to the west just as the old road left the woods.  I continued straight through the junction and a little further south, partial views of the peaks opened up.  By 1:15, I reached the junction with Potato Hill Road, where I met up with some ATV'ers.  I chatted a bit, as they were exploring this system of ATV/snowmobile trails throughout the valley.  Even though Railroad Road was not marked as restricted vehicle access below this junction, it quickly became clear that the lower portion of this road was much rougher and eroded.  I reached a good steel/wood bridge a half-hour later and it was clear from the barrier posts in the middle of the lane at each end that a car could not pass...only ATV's or snowmobiles (that car that I had seen earlier had to have driven East Madrid and Potato Hill Roads to get back there).  After the bridge the road pretty much paralleled the Orbeton Stream the rest of the way down.  There were a few old hunting camps along the road, but not much else.  I finally emerged out onto Reeds Mill Road at 2:30PM.  A man who lives in the house across the way, was working in the yard and approached me to find out if I was alright.  I said I was and told him what I had done.  He only asked, because apparently he's had thru-hikers come out there lost from accidentally leaving the AT.  That's a long way off the trail!  I followed the road the short distance uphill back to the Fly Rod Crosby Trailhead, which I reached by 2:40PM.

It was quite an adventure...and despite the wind and cold on Saturday, it was an amazing weekend!  The Fly Rod Crosby Trail was a nice intention as it traversed the valley, but it desperately needed some serious attention.  Maybe when the entire trail system is completed it will get more recreational hikers, which will necessitate better blazing and trail maintenance.  The Berry Picker's Trail was excellent with alot of rewarding views.  This would be a highly recommended approach to the Saddlebacks, and as I understand in talking to hikers I met, that the logging road access was in good condition.  This was only my second time on the Saddlebacks and it was great to complete the ridge all the way out to Orbeton Canyon.  This was a spectacular ridge!  The trip was a great way to explore the surrounding valley, as well.

Mileage and Elevation Gain:  Approximately 29-30 miles with about 5760 feet cumulative elevation gain.

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