What it Means to be in Maine . . . Winter Hiking (Saddleback, The Horn, & Bigelows)

Date of Hikes: 1/1/16 & 1/2/16

Saddleback Ski Trails: 1.7 miles / Appalachian Trail: 3.4 miles / Saddleback Ski Trails: 1.7 miles
Total Miles: 6.8 (3,232 feet elevation gained)

Stratton Brook Pond Road: 1.1 miles / Fire Wardens Trail: 4.1 miles / Appalachian Trail: 1.5 miles  /  Fire Wardens Trail: 4.1 miles /  Stratton Brook Pond Road: 1.1 miles
Total Miles: 11.9 miles (4,094 feet elevation gained)

Trip Report
- For the second straight year Whitney and I rang in the year with friends hiking in the Rangeley / Stratton region.  On New Year's day we drove to the Saddleback ski area to meet up with Pam, Brent, Tim, and Matt.  Luckily for us the ski area was currently closed as it's in the process of being sold and will not be operational until the end of the month at the earliest.
- There was just enough snow on the ground that we were able to wear our snowshoes from the start as we plodded our way up the Grey Ghost and Tri-Color ski trails.  Saddleback via the ski slopes is one of the easier 4,000 foot mountains to hike, and even though the ski trails are steep it's a relatively short 1.7 miles to the summit with a starting elevation at the base lodge around 2,400 feet.  However, winter conditions can make this easy hike quite difficult, especially if one wants to continue on over to The Horn and back.
- About halfway up the Grey Ghost ski trail we entered a white abyss, as the cloud deck swallowed us up and by the time we reached the top to the Tri-Color ski trail the wind started whipping around.  From here we hooked onto a short connector trail that intersected the A.T. about a quarter mile from the true summit.  This is were the fun really started as it was truly a winter wonderland along the ridge and route finding was a little trivial in spots because the scrubby ferns all looked like cairns.  Fortunately, Matt and Tim both had GPS mapping devices and I had just been here in August and remembered then to pay close attention to the trail to have a better feel for a return winter trip.
- The wind was definitely the worst on the summit area of Saddleback but once we started dropping down into the col it wasn't too bad at all and there was a good deal of snow to make for a pleasant snowshoe hike to The Horn and back.  The sun even tried to come out for a brief second on our re-summit of Saddleback before the visibility went caput and the wind attacked us one last time on our way back to the safety of the ski trails.
- On our descent down the mountain we ran into two other peak-baggers, who had the same plans as us but made a safe and smart decision to turn around on Saddleback because of bad visibility, high winds, and waning daylight.  We also ran into skiers and boarders hiking up to try and get in a few turns on the wide open and free slopes.
- After the hike we headed to a house that we rented for the weekend to warm up, eat a big meal, and rest up for the next day.

On Saturday the weather turned out to be the same, we were teased with some blue skies on both ends of our hike but the majority of the day was under cloudy skies and light flurries.  From our house in Rangeley we motored our way up to Stratton Pond Road in Stratton.  Usually in the winter you park off the side of Route 27 and road walk about 2.5 miles to the Stratton Brook Pond outlet and start hiking the Fire Wardens Trail.  However, with the lack of significant snowfall we took our chances and drov the road, it was packed down from snowmobile use and we almost made it to the parking area near the A.T. crossing when we ran into a guy who got his two wheel drive, low-clearance car stuck in the snow trying to back up a hill just above where we wanted to park.  To help him out we had him pull forward, so we could drive around him, then we shovel and push his micro machine to the top of the hill where he would be back on solid packed snow and able to get back out to Route 27.
-  Once we were done with that adventure we got our gear ready and started our hike all the while hoping that he managed to get back to the main road and that no one else got stuck somewhere along the narrow Stratton Brook Pond Road.
- The hike up to Bigelow Col is basically a gradual hike for about three miles followed by a semi steep to super steep last mile ascent.  The hiker who got his car stuck in the snow had broken out the trail the day before so it was nice to have a track to follow but the lack of a really good snowshoe track made for slow progress at times, especially the steep burst up to the col.
- Once we hit the col it was time to head into the wind, we chose to head up Avery Peak first, where we got blasted by the wind over the final tenth of a mile to the summit.  The rough blasts of wind hit Brent the hardest as he had a 'welcome to winter in the mountains' moment.  It stunned his system for a few moments but once back to the col he was back to normal and marched on up to West Peak which was sheltered from the wind entirely except for the summit area.
- From the summit it was time to backtrack down the mountain, along the descent we ran into two hikers heading up to spend the night at Horns Pond Campsite.
- Once back to the cars we were happy to have no issues other than some tire slippage on the drive back out to the main road.
- Although we had no views for our hikes it was a great two days in Maine and we are all very happy to be able to be successful for the second straight year hiking peaks that at times can be extremely difficult to navigate and loaded with snow that turns even the strongest hikers around!

 Starting out from the main base lodge we hike up the ski trails

With no snow blowing the only snow on the slopes is from mother nature, not much coverage but enough for snowshoes

 About halfway up the Grey Ghost ski trail we hike into a white abyss!

The chairlift has a frozen in time look to it

 Hiking up the Tri-Color ski trail we run into a couple of skiers and dogs!

Above the slopes we head over to the summit of Saddleback, how about those views!

Heading down to the Saddleback / Horn col.  There was a big ice flow on one of the ledges that we bypassed on the way down 

 The trail between the two peaks travels in and out of the scrub.  We were able to stay on the trail for almost the whole way even in the low visibility.  

 The summit of The Horn, one of the best peaks for views in New England but not on this day

The Horn, a Whitney approved summit!

Time to head back over to Saddleback.  

On the way back we managed to head up the ice flow we bypassed on the way down

Brent maneuvers up and over the ice flow
Approaching the summit of Saddleback

 Whitney makes the final few strides to Saddleback Mountain 

 The sun trying to brighten things up

 For a brief few seconds it looked like the sky might clear up...

Unfortunately it just stayed cloudy

Back to the ghost town that is Saddleback ski area

Having fun on our way back down the ski slopes

Helping a hiker get his stuck car up a hill

Day two: We parked near the A.T. crossing on the Stratton Brook Pond Road and walked past the summer lot over a packed down snow form snowmobiles

After a short road walk we cross the outlet bridge and start our hike on the Fire Wardens Trail

The Horn of the Bigelow Mountain Range, not to be confused with The Horn of the Saddleback Mountain Range that we hiked the day before!

Sugarloaf as seen from Stratton Brook Pond

West and Avery Peak of the Bigelow Range

Hiking up the Fire Wardens Trail

Bigelow Col and breaking above treeline

Avery Peak

Whitney battling the wind to snap a picture

Heading back to the col then up to West Peak

Avery Peak and Flagstaff Lake as seen from Wet Peak

Tip-Toe happy to be back on the A.T.

Heading down the Fire Wardens Trail

There was just not enough snow to butt sled down but in some spots we could, here is Whitney having fun and getting stuck in a hole!

Heading back to the car after a long day on the trails


  1. Chris, what a treat it was to see these places in their "winter garb"! I've hiked to each of these destinations using routes similar to yours. However, I've only done them in warm-weather conditions.

    Even though the conditions prevented you from getting distant vistas, your photos are marvelous, and they capture the character of the hike. Having views can be nice, but certainly not necessary for having a terrific hiking experience.


  2. Great report. It was nice to see you guys on Saddleback. I knew some of you looked familiar underneath those face masks! I met you and Whitney briefly on Isolation last winter. We decided to save the Bigelows for a nicer day and bagged Sugarloaf and Spaulding on Saturday. The wind was brutal on the slopes, but the ridge was lovely. See you on the trails!


    1. It was great to bump into you guys. Looks like you made the most of your New Years hiking up in Maine. Hope you have a great rest of the winter hiking! :)