Royce-Speckled Mountain Loop (WMNF and Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness)

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On June 3, 2017, we tackled a challenging overnight hike to test out our tent and sleeping gear (and our leg power).  We got the idea to attempt the Royce-Speckled Mountain Loop in the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) and the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness from the awesome SectionHiker blog.  This will be our first addition to our Links page, and this guy does an incredible job documenting hikes, gear, and everything else.  See here for details and map of the Royce-Speckled Mountain Loop from this treasure trove of hiking and backpacking information.  We loved the area, and you can check out our Caribou Mountain post for an alternate hike in the same area.

So, based upon internet research, trial and error, and sheer economics, we had settled on the Kelty Salida 2-person tent, and this was our first use of it while hiking.  This is 3 lb 14 oz, comes with a very effective rain fly, and we bought a footprint for it, as well, all of which came in handy later during our 100 Mile Wilderness attempt.  The Kelty Salida is easy to setup, cozy for two people (one big, one small), but enough space to sit up, and great for the elements.  Our packs and boots were too big to fit inside, but we managed to wedge them comfortably under the rain fly.

For sleeping bags, on recommendation from our cousin, we both got the Marmot NanoWave 55, (dad in a long, and daughter in a regular length).  These are insanely comfortable and packable, and we both enjoyed them.

Our sleeping pads were the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Mattress, again, comfortable and packable.  We felt they made for a good balance of being lightweight and durable, but also thick enough to keep us warm, dry, and cushioned (mostly) from the ground.

We got a late (mid-morning) start on June 3 from the parking area at the Brickett Place on ME 113, and then walked down ME 113, turning toward the Cold River Campground to the Basin Pond area to pick up the Basin Trail.  We enjoyed a break around noon at Hermit Falls.

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From here, it was an extremely steep climb to the Rim Junction, where we took a sharp right and picked up the Basin Rim Trail.

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The ridge turned out to be a great spot to have lunch and look back over Basin Pond, and the progress we’d made.  The weather turned cold and rainy as we ascended West Royce, and the footing became very difficult, slowing our progress.

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We descended West Royce carefully, and the light started fading for us.  Because we were losing daylight, we called an audible, bypassing the ascent and descent of East Royce, and continued on through Evans Notch to cross over ME 113 again, and started the gradual ascent of the Spruce Trail.  We passed the no-camping boundary, and immediately began looking for a campsite off the trail, as it was closing in on 7 PM.  Daughter began the set-up of the interior of the tent, while dad prepared the makeshift bear bag with Stuff Sacks and parachute cord.  We enjoyed a well-earned hot dinner of Mountain House freeze-dried Italian style Pepper Steak, and fell asleep quickly.

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In the morning, we started early on the eastern side of our loop, enjoying the morning light and changing vegetation in the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness on the way up Spruce Hill, and hit the summit of Speckled Mountain around 9:30 in the morning, the view seen in the featured image at the top of this blog post.

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The ridge hike across the Blueberry Ridge Trail yielded wonderful views, but the constant downhill and pounding over rock was difficult on daughter’s sore feet.  The descent of Blueberry Mountain was slick and brutal, and hiking poles would have helped with balance and footing.

We stopped at Bickford Brook so that daughter could soak her feet in the icy brook.  From there it was a short walk back to our car at the Brickett Place.  We totaled about 14 miles, across some pretty rugged terrain, and enjoyed the test of our overnight equipment.

 

Caribou Mountain (Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness)

Views from Caribou Mountain
Views from Caribou Mountain

The Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness area inside the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) is an accessible but vastly underrated area to hike in Maine, and we hope it stays that way.  Uncrowded, beautiful and wild, but close enough to civilization, it is one of our favorite places.  Another option is an overnight hike of the Royce-Speckled Mountain Loop.  In October 2018, we hiked Caribou Mountain (2,850 ft) via the Caribou and Mud Brook Trails, a moderate 6.9 mile loop, which took us a bit over four hours.  The idea (and map) for this hike again came from the indispensable Maine Mountain Guide’s recommended hikes (see our review of the 11th edition here), and did not disappoint.  With fall foliage at its peak, the views were dazzling.

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We again had wife/mom along as a guest, and we parked at the west trailhead on Rte 113 (Google Maps), from which both the Caribou Trail and Mud Brook Trail depart.  The temperature hovered around 70 by late morning, definitely not an October feel, and we were all in t-shirts for most of the hike.

The Caribou trail weaves over and around Morrison Brook on the way up, and we stopped briefly at Kees Falls, which was impressive, but not running at full volume due to recent drought conditions.  Shortly after the falls, we startled a comically fat raccoon, which stopped foraging, and disappeared (slowly, and with effort) up the opposite side of a tree.  A steady uphill climb brought us to the Mud Brook Trail intersection, and we turned right for the final push to the summit, where we sat in the sun and enjoyed a snack.

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The views from the summit and the ledges below were incredible, highlighting the autumn colors.

Views from Caribou Mountain
Views from Caribou Mountain

Our descent was swift, and made us grateful that we had climbed via Caribou, rather then Mud Brook, which would have been more of a scramble, had we been moving uphill.  The dry leaves made for uneasy footing, however, and we could have used some hiking poles to stabilize ourselves.  The route from the summit to the treeline on Mud Brook was not well-marked, and there were some twists and turns, but we found our way.

Finished by late afternoon, we extended the outdoor day by enjoying a great meal and cold drinks at the screened-in dining area at Ebenezer’s Pub in Lovell, the perfect post-hike location.