For a number of years, I have looked out over the Bigelow Range from various mountain tops that I have hiked, and thought, I need to cross that range someday.
The Bigelows at sunrise from Pleasant Pond Mountain
Beth McLaughlin photo
While I had once hiked up its second highest peak, Avery, I had never traversed the entire range.
This range includes Cranberry Peak (3,194 ft), The Horns (3,805 ft), West Peak (4,145 ft), Avery Peak (4,088 ft), and Little Bigelow (3,070 ft) – a total of ~ 17 miles across with about 10,000 ft of elevation gain (according to Backpacker Magazine.)
I can tell you it is a lot of up and down.
I thought it was the perfect place to take Porter on a multi-day adventure. It would be a hike for a cure, a way of making great memories with my best buddy, telling stupid cancer to kiss our butts.
So I filled my pack with a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pads for both Porter and I, food for us both, and some other various gear, and got a ride from my Mom to the trailhead (Thanks Mom!)
Day 1: Stratton to Horns Pond
WARNING!!! This is going to be a long post with lots of pictures!
We are off!
Bear season had started, and while the chances of us and bear hunters crossing paths was pretty low, my dog looks very bearish, so I dressed Porter in hunter orange.
So off we went, climbing up the Bigelow Range Trail toward Cranberry Peak.
About 5 miles to the AT!
The trail up to Cranberry is probably moderate with a day pack on, but I found it to be a little more challenging with a full 30 lb pack on my back. I want to come back someday this fall and do this as a day hike.
I am not sure what this sign means
Porter waiting patiently for me to catch up
Porter always has been an amazing climber – I would think he might need a boost over a section and he would just get himself up. At challenging sections he would go back and forth, looking, pick his line and go for it. It was pretty cool to watch him work it out.
Before too long, we were at the top – our first of 5 mountains in the range to climb.
As always, Porter beat me there
Our first look at The Horns, where we are heading
Porter chilling on top (honest, that is not a cliff)
We took a little break, enjoyed the view, drank some water, had a snack, and started our descent down toward Cranberry Pond, near where we would hook up with the Appalachian Trail, about 3 miles away.
Once at Cranberry Pond, I noticed our water was getting low, not dangerously so, but still, low…but it looked very bogish to me. I have a water filter, but after seeing the signs that Giardia is definitely present, I decided to make what water I had last.
I was happy to see this sign:
Finally on the AT!
I decided that we would stay at Horns Pond, which would give us only 7 miles for the day, but I have always wanted to camp there, so that became our plan.
This allowed us to linger in the various view points that I would have to pass by if I was pushing for miles instead of memories. The day was gorgeous, and we just had fun hanging out together and eating snacks (snacks are an important part of backpacking!)
Porter looking at Horns Pond with The Horns looming in the background
Porter taking a break with Sugarloaf Mountain in the background
Once down at Horns Pond, we picked a campsite and set up camp. Porter was excited for the tent to get set up, his tail spinning in clock-wise and counter clock-wise motions as the poles clinked together.
There is a great water source near the caretakers camp, so we filled up. Before dinner we walked out to the pond to check it out (no camera, sorry).
Dinner was dog food (for Porter) and Mac N Cheese with dehydrated veggies for me.
We were there early by hiker standards, it was about 3pm, but within an hour or so, AT thru hikers and section hikers started coming into the campsite, Porter greeted them all with a circle wag (sometimes he woofed a little).
By the end of the night the campground was pretty full of AT hikers, college groups, and overnight folks.
Day 2: Horns Pond To Little Bigelow Campsite
We were up early, around 5:30 am, Porter and I snuggled in the warm sleeping bag with cold noses when the thought hit me that it might be really cool to climb up South Horn for the sunrise.
I scarfed down a pop tart and then spent sometime re-stuffing my backpack and scratching my head (it all fit in so well the first time…)
Fine. South Horn close to sunrise. We made the steep .6 mile climb up.
Porter waiting on the steps up South Horn
To freaking breathtaking views, with clouds floating over all of the mountains around us like waterfalls.
North Horn from South Horn
It was hard to capture on camera, you will have to trust me on this, it was freaking awesome.
Given our tough day ahead, we choose not to do the hike over to North Horn. That baby is on my list though (it is just another excuse to camp at Horns Pond again).
It was cold, my camera froze up after 3 pictures. I put it in my pocket and hoped it came back to life for the rest of the day.
We climbed down from South Horn, and before long we were making the steep climb up to West Peak.
Porter on the climb up (see the 1 ear salute?)
My camera came back to life, and so I took a few quick pictures, but the wind was really blowing and I was freezing.
Looking at Avery Peak and Flagstaff Lake
Avery Peak and Little Bigelow – where we are heading
The Horns peaking up in the background
As we looked back from where we just came (The Horns) and looked toward where we were going (Avery Peak & Little Bigelow) it was pretty amazing the amount of ground we had covered, and still had to cover. It was about 10am when we descended down West Peak into the col between West Peak and Avery Peak, into the very awesome Avery Memorial Campsite.
We didn’t linger, we had miles to walk, so I grabbed some water and kept moving. We bumped into a very nice guy named Jim, who was out for a day hike of Avery. We let him by and then climbed up Avery ourselves, and met him up there sitting on the summit with a big smile on his face.
Porter of course became fast friends with him.
Porter’s New Friend
We had a snack, filtered our water, and spent some time on the top. It wasn’t freezing like when we were on West Peak an hour or so earlier. The views were amazing.
Porter checking out Flagstaff Lake
Porter with Little Bigelow in background
We walked a little past the summit to the old tower and a memorial that honors Myron Avery, a man from Lubec, Maine, whose hard work very much made the Appalachian Trail what it is today. A man of few words, when he was to give a dedication for a sign that marked the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, a trail he and others spent years and years working, mapping, negotiating, (and some say bullying) to create a footpath that connected Maine to Georgia, his speech was simply, “Nail it up.”
Old tower and site of Avery’s memorial
Thank you Mr. Avery
We regretfully said goodbye to Avery Peak and turned towards Little Bigelow. First we had to descent Avery Peak (I must mention, going down is as hard, or harder than climbing if you ask me).
As we started the easy climb up Little Bigelow, I realized that we were not going to make Flagstaff Lake today. We had spent a lot of time hanging around on the summits, enjoying the day. I do not regret this for a minute, but it just changed our plan a little, and in the end, changed our entire trips end point.
Little Bigelow was a blur. My legs were tired, I just put my head down and slogged forward, up and down over the undulating terrain. My shoulders started hurting, my feet, everything.
So Porter and I stopped and had a snack, because snacks make everything better.
We got up, and started hiking again, meeting a few folks, getting passed by the speedy thru hikers on a mission, with 2000 miles behind them and under 200 to go to reach their goal.
I thought I took some pictures but apparently didn’t. I wish I did because looking back at all we did that day was pretty impressive, and a photo would have captured it well.
But my next photo after leaving Avery Peak is this:
Porter in bed
Bigelow Traverse, DONE!
We camped that night at the Little Bigelow Lean-to/Campsite. There was a great water source there, as well as a great swimming hole called “The Tubs” which I was too cold to jump into. I ran into a section hiker who had stayed at Horns the previous night, we talked about the day, and how gorgeous and tough it was.
That night, the campsite filled with thru and section hikers – both northbound and southbound. It was fun listening to their stories as we fell asleep under the cloudless night.
Day 3: Home
Our original plan was to walk back to Caratunk – for this to happen in the time frame I gave myself, we would have to hike 17 miles to Pierce Pond.
This seemed kind of not smart to do with Porter. He would follow me to the end of the earth, but we are doing this for fun and to be together, not to make him lame. I texted my Mom for a pick-up at a pre-planned location on the Long Falls Dam Road.
We had to walk 4 miles of trail to get to the road, and it was a gorgeous walk along Flagstaff Lake.
Porter Taking Flagstaff Lake in from lake level
What is cool is that we can get dropped off here some afternoon and do an easy 2 night overnight to finish this section of AT.
Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to our Hike for a Cure – we are going to continue to fight Porter’s cancer with all we have. Mostly we do that by living in the moment, and doing what we love to do.
And I must say, to quote a friend of mine, “Nothing. NOTHING, is better than being in the woods with your dog.”
Thanks for reading!
Mandy & Porter