The Bigelows are the second most famous mountain range in Maine after the Katahdin group. The mountains rise like a razor from Carrabassett Valley and Flagstaff Lake and create an imposing, but beautiful section of the Appalachian Trail. Three summits make the New England 100 Highest List and several others are worth hiking.
|The crest of the Bigelow Range with Flagstaff Lake in the distance|
The Bigelow Range, in Western Maine, is forever in the minds of anyone who's thru hiked or section hiked the Appalachian Trail as being as pretty as it is difficult. I suppose you could say, literally, it is pretty difficult. As Northbound hikers are reaching the tough summit of Sugarloaf, they are greeted with arguably some of the most arduous terrain on the entire trail. This includes the Crocker Range
and the saw-toothed profile of the Bigelows. Certainly some hearts are broken while looking at what's to come. However nobody could say the work of hiking the Bigelows isn't worth it. It has alpine ponds, sweeping vistas, abundant wildlife and exceptional solitude. It is exactly what Benton MacKaye had in mind for the AT.
Today I was just out for a day hike and I wanted to do the popular loop hike of the Bigelow Horns and West Peak (the high point). This includes the Horns Pond trail and the Fire Warden's Trail.
The trails start at the end of the drive-able portion of Stratton Brook Rd and there's a small parking area at the end. It fills up before 8am on summer weekends so get there early! Its also a very strenuous hike which makes getting an early start all the more important.
If you do this hike as a loop, without side trails, it is about 11.8 miles in length. Adding Avery Peak (a 4,000 footer) and North Horn (a nice little side hike) makes the total distance 13 miles even. Both side hikes are well worth the effort.
|The massive vertical relief of the Bigelows is evident from Flagstaff Lake|
The hike starts off pleasantly enough with a stroll by Stratton Brook Pond and it gains a small amount of elevation in 2.1 miles before coming to the junction of the Fire Warden Trail and the Horns Pond Trail. Many a hiker has started off an attempt at the Bigelows thinking that the whole trail will be like this first section, however it gets much steeper after this. I decided to hike the Horns Pond Trail first.
Compared to the Fire Wardens Trail, Horns Pond Trail gains elevation less rapidly and over a longer distance which makes it good for the ascent. It winds by a little meadow about 1/2 way up to the Appalachian Trail which allows for an excellent photo opportunity of South Horn. (see map for distances)
|South Horn, from the trail about 1/2 way up|
|Stratton Brook Pond with Sugarloaf rising on the left and the Crockers on the right|
|Cranberry Peak and the South Horn from Stratton Brook|
The Horns Pond Trail intersects the Appalachian Trail and in 0.2 miles it comes to the Horns Pond. This pond is a striking example of a natural alpine pond, left to be. Had I a world of time, I would have loved to have hiked around it. New England alpine ponds have their own sense of serenity.
|The definition of serene|
|Horns Pond, Maine|
I had a ways to go yet so I couldn't stay too long at this inviting campsite. Perhaps another time! I continued on the short but steep section up to South Horn. North Horn is shorter but has a much better view-
|Horns Pond and the western portion of the Bigelows|
|One can appreciate the spire of Mt Bigelow from the North Horn|
South Horn had great views too, but the prominent profile of Mt Bigelow's West Peak was something I had not seen before. It almost looks sculpted. Unfortunately, the view from North Horn also showed the significant amount of elevation that is lost between the horns and the range's high point! Oh well.
I had lunch on South Horn and continued the two and a half miles-ish to the summit of Mt Bigelow. I've actually hiked this mountain before
, but it was in November. Never the less, the view from the summit was still one of my favorites. It brought back memories of some of my first hikes in the state of Maine.
|Flagstaff Lake, from the summit|
|The Horns and the Appalachian Trail between the mountains|
The trail drops off the summit and continues on to Avery Peak. If you keep going from here, there's the summit of Little Bigelow which is also pretty. Numerous shelters and tentsites exist thoughout the range.
As for me, I dropped down on the Fire Wardens Trail which I accurately remembered as being some of the steepest hiking in the area. Of course, it was a little easier in the summer without any ice! I made it back to the junction without too much trouble and was back to my car at about 4, 8 hours after starting. Numerous water sources on the trail allowed me to travel light and I was thankful for that! Hopefully the pictures will show why I think that this section is the best of the AT in Maine.
For my evening, I did a nice paddle across the south-western arm of Flagstaff Lake. It was a nice dessert for a full day of hiking!
Read. Plan. Get Out There!