Life has gotten in the way of hiking and blogging recently, leaving me tired and pretty stressed out. Luckily, one of my Appalachian Trail buddies, Mad Mike, had invited me to join him at the Bigelow Range near Stratton, Maine. He and a few of his friends put on a large hiker feast for the weekend every year, and this would be my first time attending. But first, I had to stretch out my legs. I decided on Cranberry Mountain, the smallest of four peaks in the Bigelow Range, and the only one not traversed by the AT.
While the previous weekend had the holiday, this weekend had the fine weather– definitely the better deal. I started hiking at the Appalachian Trail where it crosses Maine Route 27, under clear skies and the coolest temperatures we’ve had since the spring. There had even been a frost the night before, a sure sign of the coming end of the season. So as I set off on the trail, the sun and cold air made for some of the best hiking conditions I could have asked for.
After running into two through-hikers at Cranberry Stream, I quickly diverged from the Appalachian Trail and headed to Cranberry Pond. I’d been on this stretch of trail once before, five years ago, but I remembered Cranberry Pond being a swampy beaver bog. Memories are often very wrong, and this was definitely the case here. The pond, like The Horns Pond nearby, is a gorgeous glacial pond, nestled in the dense forest between Cranberry Mountain and the ridge near the Horns. There was a group of locals enjoying the shore, but otherwise it was totally tranquil. I can imagine this must be a popular spot for adventurous anglers, but I would be surprised if AT hikers ever saw this little patch of paradise.
For the next mile and a half from the pond to the peak, the trail was in much better shape than I remembered, passing through deep, dark coniferous forests, replete with jagged boulders and thick beds of moss. Most of what I love about the Bigelow Range, and Maine hiking in general, was on fine display in the area. There were even a few ginormous glacial erratics alongside the trail, a good reminder of just how small I am compared to the mountains up here.
I arrived at the summit to find a few other day hikers, and a beautiful, clear view down to Flagstaff Lake. Sugarloaf, the Crocker Range, the Horns, and dozens of other, smaller mountains made up the horizon– I could even pick out Pleasant Pond Mountain, fifty AT miles to the northeast. There was a bit of haze in the distance, so I couldn’t see Katahdin, but that’s hardly something to complain about. The brisk wind at the summit was actually cold enough to make me put on a jacket, which is something I haven’t had to do in quite a while. It seems summer is drawing to a close.
The hike down from Cranberry Peak was fairly easy compared to the rest of the Bigelow Range, although certainly not a walk in the park. I’m sure plenty of day hikers come out to visit this mountain, which is very nicely situated just above the town of Stratton, but it still felt like I was discovering something new. Aside from the small group at the summit, and the other group at the pond, I saw no one on the trail. It’s easy to lose myself in thought while wandering along the trail with no one to draw my attention, and it’s wonderfully meditative. This is exactly what I needed after the past few weeks.
The day finished with a short hitchhike back to my car, and then a drive to the other end of the Bigelow Range, where I met Mad Mike, Hydro, and Fig at their annual Maine Trail Magic hiker feast. There’s more to say about that in another day or so. All in all, this was yet another glorious hike on one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the state. Another reminder of why this is my favorite state for hiking.