Trail Magic | Hike to Saddleback

The Appalachian Trail is the longest marked trail in the country, identified by the signature white blazes. There are more than 250 shelters along the trail for hikers. Those who choose to hike the entire trail are called thru-hikers, and only one in four succeeds.Rangeley Maine hiking trail

The trail revealed itself with the noise of falling water tumbling over rocks, a short footbridge going over the maelstrom. To either side was a noisy creek rife with boulders, the crystal-clear water rapidly meandering through the valley. This part of the Appalachian Trail started off with beauty, and it didn’t end there. I was on my way to Saddleback Mountain, and it was a 12-mile round trip trek.
One of the great things about hiking the Appalachian Trail is you can go for a short jaunt, or hike as far as you want. The trail, known as the AT, is the longest hiking-only trail in the world and stretches about 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. It passes through Rangeley, a town that embraces the wilderness attitude and outdoorsy nature that the trail brings.

As you drive into town on Maine State Route 4, you’ll see the Appalachian Trail parking on the left. Cross the road to head northbound and begin your hike. The section to Saddleback will take you all day for the round trip. It has a fair amount of elevation gain and is full of rocks and roots, typical of hiking in Maine’s western mountains. For an easier walk, you can choose to hike to Piazza Rock less than 2 miles away. It’s a tenth of a mile off the main trail and offers up the visual reward of a massive house-sized boulder that has slid down the mountain and perched itself on top of another equally impressive rock. You can find your way to the top with a bit of problem solving, clambering between the boulder field in the surrounding scree. It’s a great secluded spot that will grab your attention as you investigate the gaps and crannies in the impossibly large rocks. A thin, fast waterfall crashes down nearby, providing a nice soundtrack to your picnic.

Continue on the trail to Saddleback, and you’re staying in the woods. It’s a pretty steady uphill climb, with the sounds of songbirds mostly all that you’ll hear. The dense forest doesn’t have many views, but it’s peaceful, and the scenery changes enough to keep you interested in what’s waiting around the next corner.

Maine is known for its difficult stretches of the AT, of which 281 miles pass through the state. Not only is weather in this northern climate a big factor, but the path also contains both the hardest mile and most secluded stretch of the AT. Mahoosuc Notch contains a mile of boulders that hikers need to navigate over and under. Patches of ice can be found insulated under the boulders even in July. Hikers will also navigate the Hundred-Mile Wilderness, the most remote section. Hikers will also need to cross the Kennebec River by boat, the only such crossing on the whole trail.

Keep pushing further toward Saddleback, and soon you’re entering the fragile alpine zone above the tree line. Scramble over the rocks in between windswept pines and shrubs – you’re almost to the summit! Follow the white blazes and painted rocks. There are also rock cairns that dot the borders of the trail. It’s wide open now, with stunning vistas of the lakes and mountains all around. At the summit, a sign marks your achievement – keep going to The Horn, 1.7 miles farther, if you really want to push yourself. A rock windbreak makes a nice spot for a meal and a rest before you head back down. Make sure to bring your pain reliever, as the trip back down amidst the roots and rocks is technical and rugged.

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About the Author

About the Author: Pat Barcas serves as Creative Resources Manager for RTX, based in Asheville, NC. You can find him hiking the mountains of Asheville, gardening, traveling, and hanging with his growing family. His favorite RTX exchange destinations are Rangeley, Maine, Lake Tahoe, Banff, Canada, New Smyrna Beach, Florida, Cape Cod, and Orange Beach, Alabama. .


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