Bigelow Preserve - Avery & West Peaks via Safford Brook Trail, Stratton ME
Updated: Oct 8, 2022
Love from Canada Jays, new hiking traditions, and a journey that somehow took us all day. Maybe because we were in no rush to finish this spectacular hike...and the headlamps were packed, just in case.
I hiked this 9 mile (ish) out and back, 4049 footer with my friend Jaime. We'd recently decided to hike all fourteen 4,000 footers in Maine. Although we had both done several of them, this was our first hike together.
I left the house at 6:30am and didn't return from our adventure until 8:30pm. It really shouldn't have taken us quite this long, the average Joe would have completed it in far less time. But we were enjoying ourselves and got swept up in some sort of time warp. It happens.
The only drawback to this long day was that I hadn't packed enough food. By the time I got in my car to head home, I was famished. The worst part, the closest gas station was an hour away. The other challenge, finding real food at a gas station. I settled on a bag of Fritos and salted nuts, then proceeded to throw them at my hungry face while driving in the dark. When Tim and I got in the car the next morning, he asked me why there were nuts all over the dashboard and seat. His exact words were, "Was a Muppet eating in the car last night?"
The drive to the trailhead was long at 2.5 hours. Oddly, this has become a part of hiking I've grown to enjoy. Long drives with my favorite playlists...singing at the top of my lungs, alone in my car. I don't care who you are, or how bad your voice is, this type of therapy is universal.
The trailhead for Safford Brook is off of E. Flagstaff Road. It's a long, dirt road and feels like its in the middle of nowhere. It kind of is, but it's a pretty nowhere...one near a lake. There was only one car parked at the trailhead parking and we were so excited to have a whole day of hiking ahead of us, with a mountain (almost) to ourselves. I mean, could we be any happier in this picture?? You too can experience this giddy, pre-hike feeling. It's inevitable once the hiking bug takes a hold of you.
Off we went. Two shiny, happy people, across a trail of red and orange gum drops (leaves). The sky was overcast, but I told Jaime the sun would make an appearance. Sometimes you just have to put it out there and hope your optimism pays off.
The incline was gradual at the start of this trail, allowing us to fully relax and enjoy our surroundings of moss covered boulders and spooky trees. Sometimes the spooky trees were wrapped around the moss covered boulders. I am awe inspired each time I see this, so decided to do a little research (google search) on the tree/boulder hug. I learned that trees are fully capable of encompassing a variety of their obstacles. Even cooler than this, sometimes trees grow straight out of the tops of boulders. This happens through a remarkable chain of events called "succession". Its complicated, but I'll offer you the condensed explanation.
Trees need soil in order to grow, but rock does not produce soil (tell me something I don't know, you say). Rock does, however, contain cracks and fissures that create homes for soil. How does the soil find its way to the fissures? A tiny amount comes from the wind, but most of it begins with organisms that don't require soil - lichens and mosses. As these break down, organic matter is created, along with the most basic of soils. This process, continues to evolve until the most complicated organisms (trees) can grow on the boulder. Wow. All of this, happening organically in the middle of the forest, with only the occasional hiker to appreciate. There are layers, upon layers, of things to learn about in this lifetime.
The trail is well marked, but make sure to pay attention to signs as there are some choices to make. There are also some sections that look like the trail, but are blocked off by logs. Tip, don't climb over those logs and follow those trails. You'll end up who knows where.
As your begin to ascend the summit of Avery, there will be views of Flagstaff Lake. It was foggy for most of this hike, but I managed to get some pictures during some breaks in the clouds.
Avery Peak offers some truly stellar views. We definitely took our time, taking it all in.
From here, continue on to West Peak, which is another .7 miles. The trail between the two peaks involves a section of large boulders and can be difficult at times. I would not recommend bringing a dog with you on this hike. I was so relieved I hadn't brought Romy. My gut told me to leave her at home and it turns out, this trail would have been tough for her. Always listen to your gut!
Once we'd arrived at West Peak, it was time for lunch. That's when Jaime told me to save some of my bread. She explained that if you held out crumbs for the Canada Jay, it would take them right out of your hand.
This beautiful bird, also known as the gray jay, camp robber or whiskey Jack, is found in boreal forests of North America north to the tree line. They may follow you on mountain summits and yes, they will eat out of your hand. Truth, I fed a few crumbs to one after Jaime told me about this and it was exhilarating. Close encounters with birds often are. Although mine are usually with black crows…we seem to have a mutual admiration for each other.
Jaime explained that some people disagree with feeding the Canada Jay. Many believe it's bad practice to feed wild animals, and the Jay is no exception. Some say it creates a dependence on human food and has a negative consequence on the ecosystem.
After a bit more research (google search), I've learned that the feeding of the Canada Jay is a grey area. Some disagree with it and others think it's fine. Personally, I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to experience this, but don't feel the need to do it again. Once was incredible and I can just observe these beautiful birds moving forward. What you decide to do, well that is entirely up to you my friend.
As we descended the summit, fog returned and we realized we'd been hiking a good part of the day. Luckily, we'd packed head lamps...along with all of the other items we would need for an extended time in the woods. Always be prepared to spend the night. Hopefully it will never happen, but knowing you could handle it, should you find yourself in that situation, will put your mind at ease.
We srrived back at the trailhead, just as the sun was setting. No head lamps required, but the dark was setting in.
Jaime had made us some signs to hold at the summits, so I'll leave you with those fun pics. Every person I hike with has a different style, speed, and set of hiking traditions. It really adds to the experience for me - keeps it interesting and gives me ideas for my own practices. You get to create your own as well. It's all part of the fun.
Hope you get to experience this gorgeous hike!