On Saturday, March 2nd, Christine, Frosty, and I headed to the Rangleley area to hike Saddleback Mountain and possibly The Horn. We stopped on the way at a general store to get some breakfast.
Even though the ski resort isn’t currently operational, there are condos adjacent to the ski area that are still being used. This means the road is plowed to the resort. A parking area was even plowed!
We put on our snowshoes and headed up the Gray Ghost ski trail. Almost immediately, we had to stop to take off layers. It was such a warm winter day! The sun was intense, and the wind was practically non-existent. I couldn’t believe how nice the weather was.
The Gray Ghost trail is steep with incredible views! Every time I needed a short break, I just turned around for a few seconds and enjoyed the view. We made good time up to the warming hut, which is open. The snow on the trail was well-packed on the line we took up.
Then we took the Tri-Color ski trail up to the medical hut area. We crossed some wind packed drifts especially on the lower end of this trail. We stashed our sleds at the hut. We headed up to the summit on the Saddleback Side Trail. This trail curves up through some scrub trees and wind sculpted snow before popping out onto the ridge.
The ridge area to the summit alternated between thin patches of wind packed snow, bare ground, and pockets of ice. The wind had joined us on the Tri-Color trail, and there was a little more on the ridge. Overall though, for the top of a mountain in the winter, the wind level was tame. Just the same, it was still windy. We stopped for water, snacks, and photos, but didn’t linger too long.
When we came up here last year on April Fool’s Day, the weather was horrible at the summit. We couldn’t see any of the views, barely found the summit sign, and got pelleted with snow trying to burrow into our bodies. Today, we were fortunate to have much better weather.
From Saddleback’s summit, we headed toward The Horn on the Appalachian Trail. The two summits are 1.7 miles apart. The trail dips down quite a bit to reach the col. The first big down was the most tricky. It was pretty steep and the powder was thick and loose. Surprisingly, I didn’t fall. None of us did. The probability was high, but with all the powder there, a fall would have been well cushioned.
We plotted our way down toward the col. The trail could be spotted occasionally, but most of the time we just headed down avoiding the ice. We tried to stick to the wind packed areas of snow which we walked on without sinking much, if at all. We did get into a few looser powder drifts where we sank some. It really wasn’t all that important to be on the trail at this point.
After reaching the lowest point of the saddle, we started heading back up toward The Horn. This area had more trees and more powder drifts. It was hard to find a path of least resistance through the trees. We did find the trail, but were on drifts above the cut area, so we were pushing through branches. Luckily, this branch infested area wasn’t nearly as long as the section we pushed through on Big Moose!
I had to get way down and crawl through one area to get through. My pack kept getting hung up on the branches. Christine freed me a few times coming through.
After the trees, the snow we encountered was more wind packed. There were a few powdery drifts and some icy areas. The ice could be skirted around for the most part. We eventually changed into our microspikes and left our snowshoes on the trail. We should have changed into our microspikes sooner. It was quicker traveling in them.
The trail was much more visible going up to The Horn. We travelled from cairn to cairn. Then, we reached the summit of The Horn. I have seen photos of the summit sign for The Horn, but the sign was gone. The signpost remained though.
The clouds had rolled in as we hiked between the summits. With the exception of being in the trees at the col, you are exposed to the wind while hiking on the ridge between to summits. You can find some areas to duck out of the wind for a few minutes, but it is an exposed hike. We were fortunate to be here on a low wind day!
We didn’t spend much time at the summit. We took some photos and headed back toward the summit of Saddleback. On the way, we picked up our snowshoes and lashed them to our packs. We could move faster for the most part in our spikes. Every once in awhile though, one us would find a spruce trap or snow drift and break through. We would sink to our hips or waist.
We kept our spikes on heading up to Saddleback. This time we looked for the ice. There wasn’t any sinking to our waist when we were on the ice! Eventually we switched back to our snowshoes and had a quick snack break.
It was grey and cloudy when we reached the Saddleback summit this time, but there wasn’t ANY wind!! We were all business now though. We were in descent mode. We picked up our sleds and hiked until we got back down to the main ski trails in the area of the warming hut.
We removed our snowshoes and hooked them to our packs. We sledded in some areas on the descent and walked in others (and sank in some). The west side of the trails seemed to have more drifted snow.
It was a fun end to a long, but wonderful hike. We were thrilled to have such great weather and be able to get to both summits! It was a great day!
My Garmin watch listed the mileage as 7.43 miles and our trip time as 6 hours and 48 minutes. Some more photos from our day: