Living the High Life

Maine Appalachian Trail
Maine Appalachian Trail Practicalities
The route: 50 miles southbound along the Appalachian Trail from Long Falls Dam Road near Rangeley to Highway 4 near Stratton.

Weather: A warning: Maine is no place to be in early summer, when armies of blackflies invade and hold hikers at bay until at least early July. August is ideal but can be crowded. By far the best time to come is September and early October. You'll get New England's famous fall foliage, no crowds, and crisp, cool weather (which can, however, sometimes turn cold and snowy, so be prepared).

For information: Appalachian Trail Conference. PO Box 802, Harper's Ferry, West Virginia 25425, (304)535-6331. The route is shown on Maine Appalachian Trail guides 5 and 6. These guides are fold-out pages with a map on one side and a trail description on the other. For additional trip planning help, check out the Thru-hiker's Guide or the Thru-hiker's Companion (both available through ATC). Some bed and breakfast businesses in the area offer hikers reasonable rates for both lodging and car shuttles.

Getting there: The towns of Rangeley and Stratton are located in western Maine, and no matter how many times I look at the map, I come up with the same answer: They're not near anything else. The closest city of any size is Augusta, about a three hours' drive south.

Funny thing about Maine is the elevations don't really sound impressive: 4,000 feet, occasionally 5,000 feet, that's all. "I'd have to dig a well to get to that elevation," snorts a friend of mine, who lives in Colorado.

But numbers can be deceiving as you'll find when you follow the ridgeline route of the Appalachian Trail in western Maine from Long Falls Dam Road up and over Bigelow, Crocker, Spauling, and Saddleback Mountains. The climbs are every bit as tough — and the views every bit as big — as an alpine addict could ask for. And although the elevations don't sound high compared to western ranges, they tower over the surrounding landscape of low foothills and shimmering ponds.

Plan low mileage on this 50-mile stretch of the AT, because this is tough going on steep-sided mountains. The profile map jumps up and down like the EEG of someone on real drugs: The north side of Bigelow Mountain gains (or loses, depending on your direction of travel) nearly 2,000 feet in just over a mile! To get from one peak to the next involves lots of heavy lifting of you and your pack. The chief challenge here is the footway, which is rough and steep, so don't be surprised if your pace drops to one mile an hour, or even less, on some of the tricky climbs, which often require using your arms as well as your legs.

Why do it? Along the crests, you'll travel above the timber through fields of mountain blueberries that taste all the sweeter because you worked so hard to get to them. The 100-mile views — rare in the East — sometimes extend south to the White Mountains, and north all the way to Katahdin. Between the summits, you'll pass a series of Maine's legendary north-country ponds (that's what they call anything smaller than an ocean around here). During the day look for moose to be ambling about; at night, listen for the loons.


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