Saddleback and The Horn: A Short but Tricky Hike with Some Great Views!
I’ve always said the White mountains of New Hampshire is my home. I love hiking there and the majority of the best places to hike are within an hour of my parent’s ski house, making it super convenient. Now that I’ve been working on the New England 4,000 footers list, it requires longer drives to hikes that I’m less familiar with. It’s nice to get out of my comfort zone and travel to new places, but with that comes some added difficulties.
Lucy and I did our first camping trip for this hike, staying at Rangeley Lake State Park. I had never taken her camping before so I was a little nervous about how she would fair with all of the new experiences. When we pulled up to the campsite I quickly got a fire started because there was heavy rain about to blow in. I wanted to make sure I could cook my dinner before it started pouring, and luckily my lumberjack skills splitting the wood and starting the fire prevailed.
While I was cooking dinner I decided that we would sleep in my car for the night because the downpour was approaching at full force. I shoved all of the hiking and camping gear to the side of trunk and set up sleeping pads for both of us. There was another dog at the campsite next to us that barked a lot, but to my surprise Lucy was an angel and didn't bark at all! After a quick dinner we turned in for the night in my CR-V.
Because we had camped so close to the trailhead, Lucy and I were able to sleep in before hitting the trail around 9:45. It being a weekday, we only saw a couple of other hikers all day. We started at the base of the ski trails, hiking up the mountain alongside the chairlifts pretty much the whole time. This part reminded me of hiking up Cannon Mountain’s ski trails during the Top Notch Triathlon. It was steep and rocky, but we took our time and sat to look at the views every few hundred yards. The summit above us was completely socked in with thick clouds left over from the night’s rain.
I usually don’t like to take too many breaks before summiting a peak, but I figured today was a good day to do it since I knew the clouds would likely lift later in the morning. As we moseyed our way up there were some really nice views of the landscape behind us, so we really got a chance to take it all in. When we reached the narrow path to the summit, I was glad to get some “real hiking” in. It hadn’t felt like a hike thus far because the ski trails were so developed with snow cannons and chairlifts everywhere.
When we reached the intersection with the Appalachian Trail, I thought that we were surely at the summit. Visibility was maybe 50 ft in the dense fog, so I couldn’t see any higher point. After a quick phone consultation, I realized that the summit was still a little distance away, so we made our way there quickly. I then realized that we still had quite a ways to go before we would be done with this hike.
I hadn’t really added up the mileage before this outing, but now realizing that the whole thing would be close to eight miles surprised me. I had expected a short, easy hike, but instead it was starting to get pretty difficult. After Saddleback there was a relatively steep descent to the col between the two mountains. Lucy did surprisingly well seeing as there was a lot of jumping down big rocks involved.
Once we were in the col the views started to appear as the clouds lifted. Suddenly we could see the summit of the Horn in the distance! It didn’t look far away, but it was definitely challenging to get up there for Lucy mostly. There were three spots with big rocks that she needed help on. She can jump up rocks about four feet tall or less. There was one really tricky spot with a metal ladder that I helped her up, taking her over to the side before ascending. Although it was a bit tough for Lucy, any human could have cruised up this trail with little issue.
When we reached the summit we finally had some great views. I could see Rangeley Lake in the distance as well as the Bigelows and a few other nearby mountains in the distance. It was so nice to see such expansive views after being socked in pretty much all morning.
Because we did an out and back the hike back to the car was pretty uneventful. The steep sections were really difficult because I had to carry Lucy down. She may not look that big, but carrying her 64lb wiggly butt made for some interesting moments for the both of us. Lucy was extremely muddy because of all the rain the night before, so in turn I was also covered pretty much from head to toe.
When we got back to the ski trails I started to notice that Lucy’s paws were getting sore and she was really tired. We took lots of breaks on the way down and I encouraged her to walk on the more grassy areas. I tried to put on her boots, but it seems like they’ve been giving her blisters lately so she motioned for me to take them off almost immediately. Evidently she’s no Cinderella. We went at her pace back to the car where she collapsed into a meaty little heap in the back seat for her post-hike nap.
This hike was definitely one of the less technical and shorter 4,000 footers we’ve done, but it was still a challenge for Lucy at times. I think that her fatigue from our other hikes this week played in, but it’s still a good wake up call for me to do my homework and read more trail reports next time. Luckily we both made it out okay, but tough hikes are always a great reminder to be prepared before hiking any 4,000 footer both mentally and physically.
Saddleback Mountain (4,120 ft) and The Horn (4,041 ft) via the Appalachian Tr and ski trails [7.45 mi, 2900 ft, 5:30].