Long Mountain (Greenwood, ME)

Long Mountain views, Greenwood, ME

Long Mountain (1,828 ft), located in Greenwood Maine, partially within the 12,000-acre Crooked River Headwaters conservation land, is accessed by a relatively recently completed lollipop-type loop trail, opened in the fall of 2021. We hiked this loop, listed as 5.5 miles, in early July. Given the many spur trails to overlooks, my recorded mileage was a bit longer, about 5.8 miles, for a little over two and a half hours. The Long Mountain Trail is accessed from a trailhead with a relatively large parking area off Vernon Street in Bethel (GPS is 1268 Vernon Street, Bethel, ME) and diverges to the left from Bacon Hill single-track biking trails. The size of the parking lot owes to its former role as a log yard.

Board walkway, Long Mountain Trail, Greenwood, ME

A trail map is posted to the kiosk at the parking area, but difficult to find online. The trail itself is very well-marked and maintained, and I used the AllTrails app to navigate. As much of the summer of 2022 has been, it was a hot day, and the forested trail offered shade through much of the hike. The first part of the trail moves over a series of boardwalks through some marshy areas, then crosses a logging road by Mill Brook. Here at the edge of the road, we saw a large, tattered Luna moth near the end of its lifecycle.

Mill Brook, Long Mountain Trail, Greenwood, ME

The trail then moves upstream past clear, cool Mill Brook, which is covered in moss and flows through large rock slabs. At about .9 miles, the trail splits into a lollipop loop, which we took clockwise, heading up first to the North Ledge. This is a challenging hike, heading steadily uphill until levelling out a bit, and becoming a ridge hike between the North and South Ledges. Long Mountain does not have a cleared summit with views, but the viewpoints from the ledges are outstanding.

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Puzzle Mountain

Map kiosk, Puzzle Mountain parking area, Newry, Maine

Puzzle Mountain (3,133 ft) in Newry, Maine, is a lollipop-style loop hike incorporating the Grafton Loop Trail and the Woodsum Trail, for an approximately 7.7 mile hike with expansive western Maine views, including Sunday River. The mountain is supposedly named after the discovery of a soft vein of rock on the mountain that was subsequently lost, making it a puzzle. Parking is available at a medium-sized parking area off Route 26, with a map kiosk. A map is available from the Mahoosuc Land Trust, which manages the 485 acres of Stewart Family Preserve land on which Puzzle Mountain sits. A detailed description is also available in the venerable Maine Mountain Guide.

Morning sun, Grafton Loop Trail, Puzzle Mountain

The blue-blazed trail crosses an ATV trail and then after about a quarter mile, a logging road, until beginning to climb by a small stream cascading down. Due to recent late May rains, the trail was slippery and the streams in the surrounding woods seemed to multiply. I knew this presaged a slippery trail with lots of bugs, and the clouds of mosquitoes were unrelenting. Clear spring streams criss-crossed the trail, which was a spooky green tunnel in the morning fog of beech leaves, birch, and hobblebush, with toads hopping out of the way.

A Maine Appalachian Trail Club (MATC) register box was there to log the hike a little over 3/4 of a mile in. The sun began to light the way and changed the tunnel to an emerald forest, with trillium and other wildflowers dotting the sides of the trail, awaiting full bloom. This green deciduous forest ended abruptly as the trail circled a ridge with viewpoints over the valley surrounding the Bear River, switching to rocks, moss, and pine.

Viewpoint, Grafton Loop Trail, Puzzle Mountain
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Albany Mountain

Beaver pond, Albany Mountain Trail, WMNF, Maine

For the best foliage hikes, I often return to the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF), which has the perfect mix of pine and deciduous forest, displayed in sunny tiers, to boost the powerful colors of fall in New England. Albany Mountain (1,930 ft) in south Oxford county, near Bethel, on the eastern edge of WMNF, is a relatively easy climb for the quality of its views, which include a variety of fall colors spread across the forests, lakes, and hills leading to the White Mountains to the west. The hike is fully described in the Maine Mountain Guide, and downloadable maps are available from the site of the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the WMNF. A small parking area with a trail map and information kiosk is located off Crocker Pond Road in WMNF. From here, the yellow-blazed trail led through a yellow, green and orange October forest. Strategically placed rocks bridged small streams, and cut swaths on the margins let light into the surrounding forest.

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Peary Mountain

Ascent to ledges, Peary Mountain, Brownfield, ME

Peary Mountain (958 ft) in Brownfield, Maine, is named for Arctic explorer Admiral Robert E. Peary, Sr., a resident of neighboring Fryeburg from 1878 to 1879. The trailhead for this easy to moderate hike is located in Brownfield, Maine, off Route 113. The Maine Mountain Guide has a full description of this hike – I used the AllTrails app to follow the path. Follow Farnsworth Road about 1.3 miles from Route 113 to a small dirt/grass parking area on the right side of the road, just before a one-lane bridge over the Little Saco River. In the summer, this can also be reached from the west (Fryeburg) side, but the road can be closed in winter months.

View of White Mountains from ledges, Peary Mountain, Brownfield, ME
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Baldface Circle Trail (Chatham, NH)

Bicknell Ridge and beyond, from Baldface Circle Trail, Chatham, NH

The Baldfaces (North and South) are a difficult but rewarding hike just over the (Maine) border in Chatham, NH, part of the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). I used the Baldface Circle Trail, with stops at the spur for Emerald Pool, and a short diversion through Chandler Gorge, for a challenging 10.1 mile clockwise “lollipop” loop that took a little under five hours, and hit the peaks of South Baldface (3,570 ft) and North Baldface (3,610 ft). To navigate, I used my well-worn AMC White Mountain Guide, with the Baldface Loop on Map 5. A digital map is also available on the WMNF U.S. Forest Service site. The well-maintained parking area (with toilets) is located on NH route 113 in Chatham, with parking for approximately fifteen cars, and is usually full on summer days and weekends.

Emerald Pool, Baldface Circle Trail, WMNF, Chatham, NH
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Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve (Lovell, ME)

The Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve consists of over 800 acres in Lovell, Maine, preserved and maintained for public use by the Greater Lovell Land Trust (GLLT) –  see GLLT map here.  A detailed description of trails is also available in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide.  While snowmobiles are allowed in winter on marked trails, I didn’t see any on the sunny February Sunday I visited.  I followed an easy to moderate (double, triple?) lollipop loop for about 4.6 miles (appx 2 hours, 886 feet of elevation gain), summiting Amos Mountain (955 ft) and Whiting Hill (801 ft) via the Blue, Orange, Yellow and Red trails.

Icy mill dam outlet of Heald Pond, Lovell, ME
Icy mill dam outlet of Heald Pond, Lovell, ME

From the (well-plowed) parking lot on Slab City Road, it is a short downhill walk to the Blue Trail, past the southern outlet of Heald Pond.  Informational kiosks are at the parking area and at the beginning of the Blue Trail, additionally, small placards at trail intersections, each with a laminated trail map, make navigation self-correcting (“You Are Here” is difficult to screw up).

I wore snowshoes the entire route, and once off the snowmobile trail, was breaking trail through the deep, crusty snow.  While the snowshoes made for enhanced mobility, the rasp and stomp of my steps eliminated my chances of seeing much wildlife.  I was lucky enough to see a large pileated woodpecker, and the signs in the snow of others – the soft tread of foxes, the larger, circling tread of coyotes, the bouncing tread of deer, and the deeper, larger crescents left by moose.

Mt Washington wreathed in clouds from Amos Mountain viewpoint, Lovell, ME
Mt Washington wreathed in clouds from Amos Mountain viewpoint, Lovell, ME

I bypassed Whiting Hill on the way out, sticking to the west shore of Heald Pond on the Red Dot Trail, and clambering down the Otter Rocks Spur briefly to look at the frozen lake, and the sole visible ice fishing shack.  As I was solo, wearing snowshoes, and shoreline ice is often the most treacherous, I didn’t venture out on the frozen pond.  Continuing gradually uphill, I reached the intersection with the Chestnut Trail (blue blazes), and turned left, towards the Heritage Loop Trail (orange blazes), and a broad circle of the summit of Amos Mountain.

Summit cairns and bench, Amos Mountain, Lovell, ME
Summit cairns and bench, Amos Mountain, Lovell, ME

To the west of the summit is a viewpoint, just short of the Rogers Family Trail (blue blazes), with views of the Whites, with Mt. Washington as a centerpiece.  The wooded summit of Amos Mountain contains rock cairns and a bench, with views to the southwest.

Kezar Lake and the Whites from Whiting Hill summit, Lovell, ME
Kezar Lake and the Whites from Whiting Hill summit, Lovell, ME

I descended Amos Mountain to the Hemlock Loop Trail, and a small picnic area, then headed towards Whiting Hill and its loop back to the start of the trail and the parking area.  Whiting Hall has a more open summit, with views to the West of Kezar Lake and the White Mountains beyond, and an easy downhill walk ended at Slab City Road.

This would also be a beautiful fall hike, but I enjoyed having the place mostly to myself in the snow.  Parking areas on Route 5 and Heald Pond Road can also be used to shorten the hike for children or the less mobile – see the GLLT map for locations.  This Reserve is not far from Sabattus Mountain, and the post-hike stops available in Lovell are the same – the Center Lovell Market, for picnic supplies and a restaurant, and (after checking seasonal hours) Ebenezer’s Pub for food and Belgian beer.

Mount Tom (Fryeburg, ME)

In January 2020, I hiked Mount Tom (1,073 ft) via the West Ridge Trail, an approximately 3.5 mile out-and-back from the parking lot for Mount Tom Preserve at Menotomy Road in Fryeburg, which took about an hour and fifteen minutes.  Like Hawk Mountain and Mount Tire’m, which I did earlier the same day, this is a short but rewarding Oxford Hills hike.  This can also be done as an approximately 4-mile loop hike by continuing after the summit to the Mount Tom Trail, then returning south on Menotomy Road, which is usually relatively quiet, to the start point.

Kiosk and start of West Ridge Trail from Nature Conservancy parking lot, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.
Kiosk and start of West Ridge Trail from Nature Conservancy parking lot, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.

This parking lot, and the Preserve, which includes the summit, are maintained by The Nature Conservancy (TNC).  TNC’s excellent description of the Preserve follows:

Mt. Tom Preserve protects a silver and red maple floodplain along the Saco River, and includes the rocky summit of Mount Tom at 1,040 feet in elevation. The 995-acre preserve spans the Saco River and boasts over 3,500 feet of river frontage. Several day-use hiking trails provide recreational opportunities, as does as a 1.14 mile seasonal snowmobile trail that is part of a larger network maintained by the Interstate Sno-goers. Visitors can summit Mt. Tom, canoe along the Saco River, or just walk through the beautiful forests!

River terrace forests support clean water for resident native fish, invertebrates, and other animals that use river beaches. The floodplains provide excellent habitat for spotted salamanders and several species of turtles, with a lush understory of sensitive fern and royal fern. Two regionally rare birds–the golden eagle and peregrine falcon–have been regularly sighted near the rocky cliffs of Mt. Tom, during the breeding season. Two rare plants–the fern-leaved false foxglove and smooth sandwort–have also been found within the dry oak-hickory forest on the south facing slope of the mountain, and old eastern red cedars dot the hillside.

View south from West Ridge Trail, Mount Tom, Fryeburg, Maine.
View south from West Ridge Trail, Mount Tom, Fryeburg, Maine.

The West Ridge Trail, marked by white blazes and small TNC emblems, rolls across that floodplain, crossing small brooks, passing ghostly birches and large rock formations, until becoming steep about a mile in.

West Ridge Trail, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.
West Ridge Trail, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.

The trail ascends the ridge, with frequent views through clearings in the trees, to meet the Mount Tom Trail, at which point, it turns right, and shortly thereafter, reaches the summit and its rocky ledges and views.

Mount Tom summit, Fryeburg, Maine.
Mount Tom summit, Fryeburg, Maine.

The descent in winter was easy, with microspikes, and I saw several other groups, all with dogs, ascending the trail on my way back.  An added benefit in winter was the lack of bugs, which would be omnipresent in the late spring and early summer in the first portion of the trail.  This hike may be challenging for very young or out-of-condition hikers, but presents an easy to moderate walk in the woods, with views to the south of the Saco River Valley.

West Ridge Trail in winter, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.
West Ridge Trail in winter, Mount Tom Preserve, Fryeburg, Maine.

Mt. Cutler (Hiram, ME)

The Whites from Ridge Walk
The Whites from Ridge Walk.

Mt. Cutler (1,232 ft.), part of a newly established Mt. Cutler Park and Conservation Area, is a relatively short hike in Hiram, Maine, with impressive views along the way, and multiple options for shorter and longer walks along five miles of trails (here is a detailed  map and guide).  Additionally, in the new 11th edition of the Maine Mountain Guide, Mt. Cutler gets its own map.

View of Saco River Valley from Mt. Cutler, Hiram, Maine
View of Saco River Valley from Mt. Cutler, Hiram, Maine

The direct route is the Barnes Trail, marked with red blazes, which ascends from a parking area by the former railroad depot off Mountain View Road, up through overgrown Merrill Park, where a (shallow) abandoned gold mine can be accessed from a side trail to the left.   The trail quickly ascends up rocky ledges to points overlooking Hiram and the Saco River below.

Looking down towards Hiram from Mt. Cutler
Looking down towards Hiram from the front ledges of Mt. Cutler

The ridge walk contains great views and blueberries in the summer.  The Barnes Trail does not extend to the actual summit of Mt. Cutler, which is on private land (there is currently no marked trail to the summit, but respectful bushwhacking to it is apparently ok), and instead turns hard left at the notch below the summit, where it meets the Saco Ridge Trail, completing the loop down to the parking area.

In addition to the parking area by the Barnes Trail, a second parking area is planned to be constructed by July 2019, with capacity for twenty vehicles, at the trailhead for the North Trail (blue-paint blazes) on Hiram Hill Road.  This trail connects with the Moraine Trail, which climbs a glacial moraine, consisting of rock and other debris pushed into a ridge by a glacier (for those familiar with the Maine Ice Age Trail Downeast, check out this post on sites for western Maine’s Ice Age Trail).  North Trail also connects with the White Flag Trail, which joins the Barnes Trail near the front ledges.

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)

Where You’ll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate Matrosova by Ty Gagne

Where You'll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate MatrosovaManaging risk in the outdoors, particularly that of winter in the White Mountains, requires learning hard lessons.  Focusing on one tragedy can have its pitfalls, but Where You’ll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate Matrosova by Ty Gagne (TMC Books, 2017) is respectful of that tragedy, avoids sensationalism, and expands in scope to use the narrative as a guideline for the analysis of risk.

Gagne’s book follows the ill-fated attempt of the Northern Presidential traverse by thirty-two year-old Kate Matrosova in February 2015, and the ensuing rescue and ultimately, recovery operation.  Gagne presents a scrupulously researched narrative and timeline of events, which is interspersed with maps, drawings, and analysis.  The level of detail is astounding, and simultaneously gives the reader a bird’s-eye view of the unfolding drama along with granular details about the people on the ground.

We see Matrosova’s movements in comparison to other hiking groups in the White Mountains on the same day, and what the would-be rescuers were thinking, feeling, even eating.  To his credit, Gagne keeps the reader hoping for a different outcome for Matrosova throughout the book, even though the ending is already known.  All this detail leads to the central question of the book: if someone this fit and prepared lost her life, what measures can be taken to ensure one’s own safety?  Gagne addresses Matrosova’s planned route:

In establishing bailout points and packing cell and satellite phones, a GPS device, a map, and a personal locator beacon, Matrosova is acknowledging the existence of risk on the traverse.  She has established a risk management plan.  But given her inexperience in the White Mountains, is her plan comprehensive enough to address the multitude of exposures that exist there, especially in winter?

After explaining the steps to an effective risk management plan, Gagne goes on:

A key to all this is timing.  Even with a well-developed risk management strategy and the ability to implement it effectively, Matrosova will have to decide if and when to trigger alterations to her original plan.  In the end, it will be the timing of her decisions that will make all the difference.

Gagne describes this timing, including the rapidly worsening weather, and subsequent warnings issued by the Mount Washington Observatory after Matrosova had already embarked on her hike.  As Matrosova slowly falls behind her self-imposed timeline, her challenges become more and more complex, and Gagne explores the biases that may have factored into her decision-making.  Whatever the reason, these decisions found her exhausted, frostbitten, and facing “an impenetrable wall of wind,” on Mt. Adams, “80-plus-mph headwinds,” that caused her to turn back, at a point that was too late to save her own life.

In the background of this heartbreaking human drama, Gagne illustrates the science of survival, with details regarding the functioning of the locator beacon, the progression of hypothermia, the record-setting extreme weather, and tactics and techniques of Search And Rescue (SAR) personnel.

Gagne fittingly ends the book with an account of his own February 2016 anniversary hike to where Matrosova’s body was eventually found, guided by her GPS track, and by one of her would-be rescuers.  The conditions are different, far milder, and Gagne and his companion are together, well-prepared and equipped, but the ghost of loss still lingers on the periphery: “As I turn my back to the col and make my way down, I say my goodbyes to Kate.”

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)

Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure, by Patricia Ellis Herr

Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure by Patricia Ellis Herr

Connecting kids with nature is a simple matter of allowing that inevitable relationship to happen.  The difficult part is deciding what boundaries to set, letting go, and helping children deal with the unexpected challenges they may encounter.  How to do that?  One path is described in Up – A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure, by Patricia Ellis Herr (Broadway Paperbacks, 2012) , the story of Patricia Ellis Herr and her daughters Alex and Sage, and the quest of her older daughter Alex, then five, to summit all forty-eight of New Hampshire’s peaks over four thousand feet before Alex turned seven.

Herr begins the book with an anecdote about a failed attempt to summit Mt. Tom, thwarted by a lightning storm.  This story sets the tone for the book: the weather forced Herr to make tough calls, and to explain her rationale for those decisions and the results to her daughters, including the realization that things can happen for which it can be impossible to prepare.  Also, there was chocolate at the end.

The idea to bag all of New Hampshire’s four thousand footers was born following another hike, this one of Mount Tecumseh in April 2008, when Herr and her daughters eventually turned back, unprepared for the deep snow at higher elevations.  Herr then researched the appropriate hiking gear and preparation, and they returned to summit Tecumseh that June, unknowingly beginning Alex’s quest.

During the peakbagging journey, they encounter unexpected obstacles, including the fear of “stranger danger,” the preconceived notions of other hikers regarding women and young children, and an aggressive spruce grouse.  Herr turns these challenges into teachable moments, and Alex quickly gains confidence, and even makes some converts.

Alex is clearly a unique child, and uses a fountain of energy to power up and down the mountains in the beginning.  Herr brings Alex back to earth, however, with a lesson from Alex and Sage’s father, Hugh, who relates the story to the girls of how he lost his legs on Mount Washington in the winter of 1982.  A rescuer was killed by an avalanche while looking for Hugh and his climbing partner, a mental burden still carried by Hugh.  The story has the desired effect, and Alex learns to be more careful, and respect the danger inherent in the White Mountains.  This comes in handy during the ensuing months, as Herr and Alex hike through the winter and spring seasons, and learn, “Real hikers know when to continue and when to turn back.”

By the time the family, by this time accompanied by well-wishers, summits peak number forty-eight, Mount Moosilauke, in August 2009, they have accomplished much more than the physical challenge.  Herr and her daughters have had conversations along the way wrestling with existential questions, mortality, motherhood, gender roles, and societal expectations:

What matters now is that they know, from experience, that they can accomplish something big, something huge.  What matters is that, for the rest of their lives, both my daughters understand that to reach a goal, they must put one foot in front of the other and persevere.  They know that they must expect and prepare for challenges.  They know to ignore the naysayers and, instead, to have faith in themselves and their abilities to learn what they need to know.  Above all else, they know that little does not mean weak, that girls are indeed strong, and that practically anything is possible.

This winning book, punctuated by mountaintop photos and small, sweet moments, shares a family’s triumph, and illuminates the lessons inherent in nature, waiting there to be elucidated by a mindful parent.

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)