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Sugarloaf and Spaulding Mountains via Appalachian Trail

Updated: Oct 8, 2022

If you want to reach not one, but two, 4,000 footers before 11:00am, I'll tell you the secret. It's not rocket science, but it does require a tent or a ski condo. What you need to do, is sleep on the mountain.

This is exactly what my friend Jaime and I did when we hiked Sugarloaf and Spaulding last week. Jaime is plugging away at the New England 4,000 footers (mountains 4,000 feet above sea level). Of these 4k's, 48 are located in New Hampshire, 14 are in Maine, and 5 are in Vermont. The Maine mountains require some extra driving since they're somewhat spread out over our extra large state. With the gradual decrease in daylight, it can be tricky to pack a long drive and a long hike into the same day...unless hiking with headlamps is your thing.

If fumbling through the dark woods is not your thing, your best bet is to make friends with a generous person who's willing to share their cozy ski condo with you. That way, you can start out bright and early for your hike. Jaime had just that friend and luckily, she invited me along for the trip. I'm not tackling the full list of 4k's with her (not now anyway), but I'm always up for a big hike if I can swing it. And if it involves pink sunrises over ski condos with mountain views, I'm all in.

Our trailhead was about 25 minutes from the condo, at the end of a long, remote, pothole-filled dirt road. The kind of road that you'd likely see a moose on, especially at dawn. Which is all I could think about...and all I was talking about.

"I just have a feeling we're going to see a moose, Jaime. I mean, look at this place - it's perfect for a moose's morning walk. I really, really hope we see a moose."

But we arrived at the small parking area, without seeing a moose. Not a moment after we'd parked, a woman got out of her car and came towards us with a big smile.

"Did you see the moose back there?!"

For the love of Pete.

We explained that we had not seen a moose back there and asked for details. She proceeded to pull out her professional camera and showed us several, close up shots of a large (I mean LARGE) moose standing in the middle of the road. How in the heck did we miss that? Too much yammering on about the moose we were hoping to see had left us distracted...from the giant moose that was, literally, right near our car. My gut was telling me there was a moose nearby and it wasn't wrong. Next time I'll have to remember to open my eyes and look for it.

We did have our eyes wide open during the hike and discovered some impressive mushrooms, including black mushrooms. Now this, I have never seen in the woods of Maine (or anywhere). When I googled "black mushrooms in woods" the first thing that came up was,"New Zealand's most patriotic mushroom." We certainly were not in New Zealand, although it is at the very top of my bucket list, so I added "Maine" to the search. But still, nothing that looked like the black mushrooms we found came up. Here's what they looked like, along with some other stunners we saw on the trail. If you know anything about these mysterious black mushrooms, do share.

Too many tangents, let's talk about this hike. All trails describes this out and back trail near Carrabassett Valley as a 10.5 mile, challenging route, averaging 6 hours and 34 minutes to complete. Jaime and I experience this hike as a 12 mile, 7.5 hour, moderately challenging route (aside from the bouldering, which was definitely challenging...especially on the knees during our descent). Here's the link:

As you start out, you will soon come to a stream crossing, followed by some pretty stellar views, about 30 minutes later. Since we arrived here before 8:00am, the mountains cast the most artistic shadows on the trees below. The clouds were wispy and the sky was the brightest blue. This is when I realized that early morning hiking is the way to go. Next up, sunrise hikes.

The first summit you will reach is Sugarloaf, which has an elevation of 4,328 feet. You will need to take a right for the trail to this summit, then retrace your steps to return to your original route towards Spaulding. Sugarloaf was windy as all get-out and Jaime, literally, almost blew right off of the rocks near the top. You can't see the wind in these pictures, but her body language says it all.

This is the summit with the view, so take it in and enjoy it. The Spaulding summit is surrounded by trees with no wind, but no view.

Once you've left the Sugarloaf summit, returning to the intersection of trails, take a left and follow this trail towards Spaulding Mountain. There is a viewpoint and nice, protected spot for lunch, shortly after taking the left. You'll spot it on your left, just off of the trail.

As I said earlier, the summit isn't anything to write home about, but you'll feel accomplished once you've reached it. Especially if you get there before 11:00am.

One of the best surprises we discovered after leaving the Spaulding summit (no, not a moose), was this plaque showing the spot where the final link to the entire 2,054 mile Appalachian Trail was completed. It stopped me dead in my tracks and gave me full-body chills. I am in awe of the fact that someone was brilliant and bold enough to think up the idea of a trail connecting Maine to Georgia, let alone figure out how to build it, then find the manpower to get 'er done. I've listened to podcasts about the A.T., but something about this plaque made me want to research and learn more. That will be my next post. If you're interested, stay tuned...

This hike is filled with mossy forests, mushrooms of various colors, and views that leave you feeling very small (always good for an ego check and fresh perspective). The biggest problems always feel smaller after a romp up a mountain.


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