It is now over a month since I returned from my New England Mountains trip. During this period, I have found it difficult to make time to think and post about the trip. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, and delay will provide perspective about what’s actually worth recording about the hikes I took. This post is titled “Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness”, a convenient catch-all for three hikes I took between Sunday, August 23rd and Tuesday 25th. Two of them were in the Wilderness for most of their distance; one—the first—was entirely outside, but in the neighborhood.
That first hike was an evening dash from Basin Pond to the ridge above it. It was a dash because, in spite of my meticulous approach to gear-packing, I realized just ahead of the hike that I’d left my headlamp at home. It was in my mind that sunset would occur at 7pm, and now I’d have to be done by not much after that. The hike would involve 2.5 miles and 1,300 feet of up or down each way, so when I set out a little before 4:00, I didn’t hang about; and I set myself a turnaround time of 5:35 latest. In the end, it was comfortable. I reached a ledge just south of Rim Junction in 90 minutes and there was rewarded with the view in the first photo in the set below. Back down near Basin Pond, I remembered that sunset would actually happen at 7:30!
2ND HIKE – SPECKLED MOUNTAIN, MONDAY AUGUST 24TH
Yesterday’s opening climb had been sweaty, and today promised more of the same. Further, afternoon storms were in the forecast. Not wanting to be caught on bare summits in thunder and lightning, I set off for Speckled Mountain right after breakfast. There was no drive to the trailhead; my hike began at Cold River Campground, my base from Sunday afternoon to Wednesday morning. I walked out of the campground, over the state line into Maine, past the Brickett Place (a historic farmstead), and soon entered the Wilderness. As federally-designated wildernesses go, Caribou-Speckled Mountain is small (11,236 acres/17.5 square miles), but it is wrapped in wider wild lands and civilization feels remote. For those unfamiliar, in designated wildernesses, nature is mostly left untrammeled and hiker conveniences are fewer than in, for example, a national park. This wilderness, however, did not feel much different to me than the surrounding National Forest. Good, well-marked trail took me to Speckled Mountain summit and its superb views west to the White Mountains and north deeper into Maine. This could have been the day’s highlight but, on balance, the stunted forest on the ledges of Blueberry Ridge on the return leg was more atmospheric, and its views just as good. There was a post-hike highlight too—a sweat-cleansing dunk in Basin Pond!
START & FINISH: Cold River Campground, Chatham, NH (GPS 44.265615, -71.010624).
ROUTE: Route 113 to the Brickett Place; Bickford Brook Trail to Speckled Mountain summit; Bickford Brook and Blueberry Ridge trails back to Brickett Place and home.
DISTANCE: 9.5 miles.
TIME: 6 hours (7:45am to 1:45pm)
TERRAIN: I recall the ascent (2,300 feet of elevation gain) as sweaty but steady. On the way down, the last half-mile of the Blueberry Ridge Trail was steep and required caution.
3RD HIKE – CARIBOU MOUNTAIN, TUESDAY AUGUST 25TH
I had planned a bigger, higher climb for today, but afternoon storms were again in the forecast, this time more emphatically. The forecast was palpable too, the morning air thick beneath an oppressive overcast, and all the more so in the dense hardwood forest. There was a breeze on top of Caribou Mountain but only barely refreshing, and the views were as grand as the day would allow. Just beyond the summit, I paused on a substantial ledge with a view (eastward, I think) of gray sky and green hills. Down from the mountain, against expectations, the day brightened. It was only when I was back at my campsite that the storms came through, and brought with them the comforting pattering of rain on my tent as I rested. It was a cold front arriving and it meant that Wednesday would be a very different sort of day.
START & FINISH: Caribou and Mud Brook trails-head, Maine Route 113, (GPS 44.335940, -70.976233).
ROUTE: Caribou Trail to Mud Brook Trail; Mud Brook over Caribou Mountain and back to start.
DISTANCE: 6.8 miles.
TIME: 4.5 hours (8:00am to 12:30pm)
TERRAIN: 1,900 feet of ascent/descent, the steepest section being coming off Caribou summit.