Again, we got out early, already anticipating a lunch at Bob’s BBQ in Bethel. The first part of the day brought us through more of what we’d seen the evening before: lush, open hardwood forest with dense ferny undergrowth. The trail was mostly uneventful until beginning to climb Sunday River Whitecap.
Sunday River Whitecap is a stunning summit, especially when approached from the north side. The trail pops out of tree-line abruptly and starts up a steep and mostly open slab, much like the southern approach to East Baldpate. To make footing less treacherous, and to save some of those fragile alpine plants, the AMC added a few bog bridges to the trail, secured to the stone with rebar drilled into the rock. Until those bog bridges, I hadn’t been overly impressed by the AMC’s side of the Loop, at least as far as crazy feats of backcountry engineering. The MATC side has lots of great stone work, but those rebar bog bridges are pretty neat.
The views from Sunday River Whitecap, with it’s completely open summit, are right up there with the much taller peaks of the trail. We watched fog disperse from Old Speck and Baldpate, eventually clearing from the valleys and leaving an overcast sky. Amazingly, we were even able to see the fire tower on Old Speck, although it is barely visible above the trees on the summit. When you see it from that distance, you really appreciate how massive that mountain is.
From Sunday River Whitecap we rushed through the last seven or eight miles to the road. The sky cleared to sunny and cool soon after we left the summit, but the hike down would have been wonderfully pleasant either way. After descending out of the spruce-fir zone on soft, damp, mossy trail, we passed into another wide open hardwood forest and followed a brook for several miles. The brook looked like it had some pretty amazing wading spots, but we scooted by for that barbeque.
Once we got to the snowmobile trail it was a short walk to the road, and another short walk to the Eddy Road parking lot, now full of cars despite our having not seen a single person on the trail (not counting the AT section). We dried out our gear in minutes with some help from the sun and wind, then headed into town for some much anticipated lunch.