On a 2 day backpacking trip across the Sugarloaf mountain range in an attempt to climb six 4k peaks – South Crocker, North Crocker, Reddington, Abraham, Spaulding, and Sugarloaf, I had so far bushwhacked six miles through unmarked woods. At last, I had broken through to the Appalachian Trail and was searching for the Spaulding Lean-To site where I would camp for the night. But, after hiking uphill in one direction for a long time on the AT, I was nearing the peak of Spaulding Mountain. We should have hit the lean-to by now. Where was it?
This post is a continuation of Backpacking the Sugarloaf Range … New Bushwhack and “Jail Trees” PART ONE, so make sure you have read Part One before continuing to read Part Two.
When we found the AT, we didn’t know exactly where we hit it. My dad and I crouched over the trail map and GPS, cross referencing the turns in and topography of the AT with both maps. Do we turn left or right to get to the Spaulding Lean-To? Taking the data points we had, we guessed left knowing that we would hit the lean-to before the peak of Mt Spaulding. After about a 1/2 mile of all uphill we quickly realized that Google Maps was wrong once again. Since the peak was close, we determined that we should have turned right. But to be completely sure, we took off our packs and darted all the way up to the turnoff for Mt. Spaulding. We were within 150 feet of the summit, but that peak was to be bagged the next day. So we turned around and came to where we first found the AT, then headed the other way. It felt like a long hike to the lean-to because my body was tired from fighting through bushes and I was ready to eat a filling dinner and curl up in a warm sleeping bag. The original plan was to hike Mt. Abraham in the same day, but it was too late and we were worn out, so we pushed the peak to the next day.
When we arrived at the lean-to, we set up our tent outside on some flat ground that we found so that we would not have to share a community space during the pandemic. I rolled out my inflatable thermarest and sleeping bag, changed into my camp shoes (crocs!), and helped purify water from a nearby stream for the night’s cooking and the next day’s drinking. We boiled water and made pasta with an added bonus of cherry tomatoes that were hauled along for the trip. Two broken chocolate chip cookies perfectly capped my gourmet meal. Before bed, we chatted with the other hikers in the lean-to and played cribbage on a tiny cribbage board in the tent.
In the morning, sunlight seeped through the tent ceiling and walls and my dad zipped the door open, allowing a rush of cold air to hit my face. I pulled my wool hat down further over my eyes, not wanting to leave my warm cocoon.
Breakfast was a bagel toasted over the PocketRocket with a found stick and a little peanut butter for some extra energy. I warmed my belly with hot cocoa mix and heated water in my new camp cup. The most difficult part of the morning was changing from warm sweatpants into shorts, pulling my many layers of sweatshirts off, and plunging my sore feet into wet and cold hiking boots. But, once I ripped that band-aid off, I was ready to go grab the peak of Mt. Abraham. We left our packs at camp and set off to bag the peak we couldn’t the prior day.
As soon as we popped out of the tree cover and onto the rocks, I realized how happy I was that we waited a day to hike Mt. Abraham. Instead of rain like the day before, the sky was blue and the air was clear so I could fully appreciate the mountain view. I love climbing above the treeline, because often times I can see the peak ahead of me and feel myself gaining altitude with each step.
When I reached the peak, I spun around, looking at all angles of my 360 degree view. Usually in New Hampshire, I look out to all of the peaks I’ve summitted, but since I was in Maine, I looked to all of the peaks I had yet to climb on my NE 4k footer list.
We backtracked to the lean-to to grab our packs and set off for Spaulding – the peak we had nearly summitted when made our wrong turn on the AT the day before. The climb to Mt. Spaulding was definitely the toughest of the trip because it was steep and we were tired.
We dropped a lot of altitude before beginning the climb to Sugarloaf. At the top, we were met by more hikers we had seen in our entire trip. Though the views were gorgeous, the peak was built-up with a tower, helicopter landing, and chairlift. The skier inside of me was so excited to see the “snowfields” of Sugarloaf and I look forward to visiting them in winter at some point in my life.
The climb down the AT from Sugarloaf to Caribou Pond Road was ridiculously steep. We both struggled to descend the rocks on our hands and butts with big packs on. We were dropping altitude so fast, and a small slip would have consequences. It was definitely one of the steeper trails I’ve ever been on. If we had not done the bushwhack, we would have had to climb UP that trail and all the way back to the lean-to. So, while the bushwhack definitely tested our grit and scared me a little when we couldn’t locate the AT, it cut miles and lots of elevation gain out of our trip. Instead of a physical battle, we faced a mental one choosing that route. But to me, the adventure was worth it.
Below, watch the video I made for this trip with my GoPro Hero 7 Black. I post all my adventure films with my GoPro and DJI drone on my film Instagram account @katiebernard.edits – Check it out and give it a follow if you like this video!