The Crockers and Redington: Foliage, Bushwhacking, and a Touch of Winter
Peak Foliage only happens for about a week in any given new England town, but it's truly magical. The leaves turn from their usual green to gorgeous shades of warm reds, yellows, and oranges. It's a long way from Boston to Carrabasset Valley, so I was appreciative for the colorful trees and peakbagging opportunity as well.
After an early morning wake up I actually really enjoyed the five hour drive up to the trailhead. As I crossed the border over the bridge from New Hampshire to Maine, the sun rose over the river to my right yielding a striking pink horizon. I was listening to a true crime podcast that held my attention all the way to Carrabasset Valley where I met my friend Todd at the trailhead.
Caribou Pond road is a long, rough dirt logging road that leads to the parking area for the Appalachian Trail. It's closed to hikers Monday-Friday, and even when it's open on the weekends there's still a bit of a road walk to get to the trail. You have to keep an eye out for the matching cairns on either side of the road marking the trail passing through because they're easy to miss, but a new sign alerted us to our arrival to the hiking trail. From there we climbed up to the summit of South Crocker Mountain.
It was a brisk day, the breeze nipping at my exposed arms and bringing about the goosebumps that I've craved all summer. This is my favorite time of year for hiking because the temperature is perfect, not too hot and not too cold. The trail climbed steadily from the beginning. Todd is a fast hiker so I was huffing and puffing trying to keep up with him. Todd's pace is always perfect because although it's a challenge I know I can just keep up. It pushes me and makes me a get a real work out in without getting frustrated that I'm holding him back too much.
Although the trail climbed at what felt like a steep grade the footing was excellent so it wasn't difficult. The pace at which we went made it a challenge, but I liked getting my blood pumping and felt good after the harsh warm up. We quickly reached the spur for Crocker Cirque tentsite and continued on more of the same to the summit. There was a small slide near the top that yielded sweeping views to the northeast. We could see Mt. Sugarloaf with its new communications tower replacing the one mangled by last February's storm. Todd and I reminisced about the crazy weather back in June when we hiked it.
We could also see north to the Bigelows and the see the painting of fall colors in the valley beneath. I've never seen foliage from this high above, so it was an interesting contrast to the usual hiking views. I have to say I personally prefer looking up at the leaves above me so that I can really see each leaf, but the forest below us was almost as beautiful.
We stayed here for a minute or two before continuing up to the summit. As we climbed we started to notice more and more signs of winter the higher we got. First we felt frozen mud crunching beneath our feet and then little patches of snow on the ground. Finally, we ascended high enough to see frosty snow and ice on every tree branch until we got to the iced over summit sign.
I love winter, so I was very excited to see the first signs of snow! The frosty trees reminded me of the holidays and for a minute I forgot all about peak foliage and was consumed with the joy of winter. I closed my eyes and inhaled the crisp, cool air with the scent of balsam filling my nose. After enjoying a quick little view from a small spur near the summit, we continued on to the north summit. We only descended for a short distance before climbing right back up for our second summit of the day. The trail was more of the same, but snow lined the whole way.
The second summit came quickly so after a few pictures we backtracked to the south summit once again. Then came the tricky part of the hike, the bushwhack to Mt. Redington. Redington is the only New England 4,000 footer that requires bushwhacking to get to it. I've only ever bushwhacked one time to Owl's Head, and it was a bit of a challenge for me. Todd had already done this once before, so I wasn't worried and it ended up being pretty easy. There were a few pink and orange blazes here and there but only enough to confirm that you're on the right track not enough to use as sole navigation. There were a few spots where it would have been easy to get off track but luckily we had no trouble.
The herd path was distinct for all but a small part of the hike. It wound through thick wooded forest and lost a significant amount of elevation into a small col where there's an old abandoned logging road. It doesn't go anywhere so don't try to use it to get back to your car! Just before you reach the old logging road there is a section of relatively open woods. It's easy to wander off the herd path if you're not paying close attention, especially on the way back to South Crocker. Just be mindful of your route because although it may seem impossible to get lost in an area you just successfully navigated through, it's actually very common for people to get messed up ascending back to South Crocker.
After following the abandoned road for a little while the herd path continues marked by a cairn on the right back up to the summit of Redington. It's fairly steep and the whole whack feels longer than 1.2 miles because of the significant elevation loss and gain. There was one more tricky spot right before the summit where there's an intersection with the trail going straight but another herd path branching off to the left. I think this might be where people bushwhack back to Caribou Pond road, but I don't know for sure so please don't try it out just based on my word!
The summit of Redington was reminiscent of the summit of Carter Dome only more wild and untamed. It was a long flat area that was once cleared, but since it's been un-maintained for so long there are trees starting to fill in the open space. We quickly found the summit sign and were relieved that we had arrived without difficulty. Just past the summit sign is a canister with a little sign in book. We put our names and the date and Todd even found his entry from his first time on this peak back in June.
I loved reading the names of all of the other people who had been here. I felt a mysterious connection, a sense of camaraderie even though many of these entries were made by people I have yet to meet. I recognized quite a few names from the hiking community and realized that I was really starting to become a part of it. At the beginning of my journey to hike all of the 4,000 footers, I could have never expected to be drawn in by this group of people, but now I don't know what I would do without them. I still love my solo hikes, but it's really nice to have a few buddies to call up when solo hiking gets tedious or even just to share my experiences with afterwards.
Todd and I sat at the summit for a while basking in the sun and enjoying some snacks before starting the trek back to South Crocker and down to the car. The whack back (or back whack?) was much of the same, but the climb out of the col felt endless. At this point in the day the sun had warmed all of the snow, so every time we brushed up against a branch it would pelt hundreds of water droplets down our legs. We had already experienced the beauty of autumn, the sparkling chill of winter, and now we had crossed into the soaking melt of spring. I was not a fan.
When we summited South Crocker for the third and final I was relieved. As much fun as the bushwhack was, I was glad to get out of the narrow woods and back onto the wider trail. We cruised our way down the trail and into foliage once again. I couldn't believe how many different seasons it felt like we had experienced throughout the day! I felt like I had been transported through time, but it made for an exciting hike. When we reached the parking lot we enjoyed a beer before parting ways.
I went into the Crockers and Redington expecting a quick little hike with a short bushwhack, but it ended up being more of a challenge than I anticipated. I loved it because buswhacking kept my mind busy and Todd's pace turned it into a great workout. He's a great hiking buddy especially for longer, more complex hikes like this! It was a super productive day in Carrabasset Valley to knock three peaks off of my list. Hopefully I'll be finishing up my NE67 soon!
South Crocker Mountain (4,050 ft), Crocker Mountain (4,228 ft), and Mt. Redington (4,010 ft) via. the Appalachian Trail [9.62 mi, 4105 ft, 5:57].