Maine 4K’s | Bigelow Mountain | Avery and West Peak

Categories: Trip Reports
Fire Warden's Trail | Appalachian Trail | Horns Pond Trail Bigelow Preserve, (east of) Stratton, Maine
9.71 Miles | Advanced

Download Maps: KML | KMZ

(Click here for a 10 minute edit of the above video.)

An absolutely amazing trip.

This is part the Maine 4k peak-bagging series.

Originally I was going to go on this hike with two buddies of mine – BunnyFoo and ThePaintGuy. BunnyFoo was pretty jacked up and excited for another outing and ThePaintGuy was excited for his first backpacking trip. About a week before we were set to leave BunnyFoo got into a car accident. Foo made walked away from the accident with a few bumps and bruises and 1 less car. He was still a tad banged up when it came time to leave. ThePaintGuy had something come up last minute and wasn’t able to make it either. So, what started as a 3 man 3 day trip turned into a 1 man 1 day trip. Nonetheless, it was an incredible trip – one of my favorites by far!

Even though it turned out to be a solo trip, I still originally planned on making it an over-nighter. I packed up my overnight kit and headed for the mountains.

The Bigelow preserve in the high peaks region of Maine; it’s in very close proximity to Sugarloaf, Spaulding, Crocker, and Mt. Abraham (pronounced A-BRUM locally). The drive out to the mountain affords some great views for the last 45 minutes or so of the drive.

The trail plan, as you can see above, was to take the Fire Wardens Trail up to Bigelow Col. From the Col we pick up with the AT and head east a short bit to hit Avery Peak. From Avery, we backtrack to the Col, then head up to West Peak. From West Peak it’s a nice decent, then ascent up South Horn. From South Horn it’s a short, but incredibly steep hike to the Horns Pond campsites and lean-to’s. From here we leave the AT and get on the Horns Pond Trail. This is roughly 2.5 miles long and meets up with the Fire Wardens Trail just about 1.7 miles from the trail head.

I started on the trail fairly early in the morning. 5 minutes into the trail and you come to a nice wooden bridge overlooking ponds which gives you some great views of the Bigelows to the north and Sugarloaf Mountain to the south. It was a great way to begin the hike.

On the wooden bridge I met a man that was there working on trails for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. He filled me in on their maintenance plan over the next few days and alerted me that there was a missing hiker in the area. I took note of the few details he gave me to the hikers last known appearance and headed on my way.

The Fire Wardens Trail runs for about 1.7 miles until it meets up with the Horns Pond Trail. The grade along these miles is mostly flat with a few sharp inclines in places. It took just shy of an hour to reach the junction and register at the trail box. Leaving the junction the next stop was at Moosefalls Campsite – 1 mile short of Bigelow Col.

The trail up to Moosefalls Campsite was also quite nice. The elevation gains became sharper as the campsite got nearer, however, it wasn’t anything that got the ol’ lungs working too hard. There wasn’t too much in the way of notable scenery along the way, but it was a beautiful walk through the woods.

The Moosefalls Campsite was much larger than I initially thought. There is a privy, water source, and 3 tent sites / pads. The site is perched up on a flat ledge with some fairly steep drops just beyond the treeline. The view from the site was good; it would have been great if it were not for the slightly too tall trees obstructing the view to the south. Either way, it was a great place to take the pack off for a bit and grab a snack.

While at the site a man and his young son came hiking down the trail I was soon to be hiking up. I asked them how their hike was going, how the trail was up further on, where I could find some water – the usual trail chit chat that comes about. He mentioned to me that the last .7 miles up to the Col was nearly straight up, that it was a staircase of rocks that never seemed to end. With that little pep talk at hand I said my goodbyes and headed up the trail.

The man was not wrong. The first bit of the trail after Moosefalls was fairly average for a mountain trail. It didn’t take long though before it got pretty interesting. I’m not sure I can give the trail at this point a better description than the man did before me; it was staircase after staircase of rocks that seemed to go on and on. You’d climb one incredibly steep set of stairs and round a corner to find a steeper and longer set of rock stairs awaiting. This part of the trail was challenging and incredibly rewarding. During most of this ascent there was a fairly unobstructed view to the south. Carrabasset Valley and Sugarloaf Mountain were constantly in view.

After huffing and puffing my way up the remainder of the Fire Wardens Trail I came to Bigelow Col. I was totally unprepared for what I saw.

I’m not totally sure what I was expecting to be at the Col and Avery Memorial Campsite. I suppose I expected it to be quite similar to the Moosefalls Campsite – very simple with a couple pads and a privy. The Avery Memorial Campsite was so much more. There must be 7-8 tent pads at the campsite set around a giant circle trail that encompasses the entire site. There wasn’t any place to setup a hammock, but there wasn’t a tent pad that had a bad view. All that I saw had a nice open view to the south and all of the mountains and valleys in that direction. If the guys had made it out with me this would have been a great place to relax for a day… well, if we had tents and not hammocks. However, I might have made an exception and just slept on the ground.

By the time I got to the Avery Campsite at Bigelow Col I was running pretty low on water. There are a couple of water sources on the mountain; one at the Avery campsite and one on the AT maybe a quarter of a mile east from the junction with the Fire Wardens Trail. I opted to fill up at the source located at the campsite. I’d never gotten water on a mountain before so I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. It took a few minutes but I found the water referenced on the map. When approaching the source, it just look like a brown wooden box on the ground. Flipping open the cover and there was a small puddle with a fair bit of debris floating about. Initially I was pretty turned off by this water source, but, as I didn’t have any other choice, I opted to stick around and filter some water. I spent about 40 minutes or so filtering water and eating my lunch. After filtering 3-4 liters of water and drinking another liter I changed my tune about the mountain water source. It was far and away the best water I’ve even gotten out on the trail. Hands down. It was crisp, clear, freezing cold, and tasted great. The water I filtered was so cold all of my water storage was immediately covered in condensation. Mountain springs are my new favorite water source.

After lunch it was time to head back to the trail. The AT junction is still at the Col so I picked that up and headed east. There is a short walk through piney woods but it isn’t long before it’s time to crawl on some boulders. The ascent up Avery Peak was steep, windy, and beautiful. It wasn’t an overly technical climb but it was challenging. After breaking treeline the trail became very neatly maintained with small rocks lining the trail.

At the top of Avery I met a lovely young lady named Patches. She was called patches as she’s a rather accomplished hiker and has quite a few different patches from her journeys. Not 60 seconds after meeting Patches she offered me a spot of whiskey – I love hikers. I politely declined and soaked up the scenery for a little while. A touch east of Avery there are the remnants of what appears to be an old fire tower. Patches and I glanced over and saw a gentleman sitting and having a snack. We wondered over and struck up a conversation. The man (I forget his name.. Gladiator? Warrior?) was working on a southbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

The three of us stood talking for about 15 minutes getting to know one another when off in the distance we could hear the faint hum of a motor. We searched in every direction and saw nothing that could be making the noise. Slowly, the sounds got a bit louder. We kept looking round and round till off in the distance we saw a helicopter bobbing up the range from the west. The helicopter followed the mountain tops as steadily as it was able. It flew by North Horn, then over South Horn. Shortly after that it was flying very close to the top of West Peak. The helicopter was all any of us could hear at this point as it flew up the Col and directly over us on Avery Peak! After passing overhead the helicopter followed the AT east for a ways before passing behind some more hills and out of sight.

I was so focused on this helicopter flying overhead that I forgot to turn the camera on and get any video. (I kicked myself all the way down the mountain for that one.)

Shortly after the excitement of the flyby I said my goodbyes to the crew atop Avery and headed for West Peak. It only took 20 minutes or so to ascend the .4 miles to the AT junction back at the Col. From the junction, it was a fairly standard climb up to West Peak. It was far milder than the last mile of the Fire Wardens Trail and the ascent up to Avery Peak.

On top of West Peak there was a group hike of a sort that was absolutely monopolizing the summit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people relaxing and enjoying the fruits of their efforts once they reach the top of a mountain. However, West Peak was fairly small and they were in a group of at least 12. Everyone’s gear was strewn around the tiny peak and people were laying all over the trail and over most of the rocks. To proceed beyond the peak I literally had to step over people as there was no other way around and they apparently weren’t in any mood to move aside.

Rant aside, it was a gorgeous view from the top of West Peak. This was the first real view I had to the west of the range and it was amazing. Mountains in every direction and Flagstaff Lake just off to the north. The peak sits on some fairly impressive vertical drops to the south – I’m not sure just how far the drop was but it was much further than I was willing to fall.

Due to the crowd at the top I didn’t spend long on the summit and began heading towards Horns Pond.

I’m not sure if I simply didn’t read my maps right or if I had just overlooked it, but South Horn was much more of a climb than I was expecting. I thought it was be a kind, slow saunter over to Horns Pond from West Peak; I was sorely mistaken.

Though it was milder than the trek up the Fire Wardens Trail, this particular bit of trail came at nearer the end of the day when legs were a bit tired. After a slow climb to the top of the 3800’+ peak of South Horn I got my first view of Horns Pond. This actually concerned me some.

On top of South Horn, Horns Pond looks very far away in vertical distance. The signpost on South Horn stated Horns Pond was only .6 miles away. According to elevation data, the trail drops about 700′ in .6 miles. Needless to say, the descent off of South Horn was slow going and a little nerve wracking.

I met a couple groups hiking up the trail I was hiking down. I hate to say it, but after seeing their faces my nerves got in line and I became pretty happy I wasn’t traveling up the trail.

The Horns Pond campsite came about much quicker than I had anticipated. Coming to the site from the east and the first thing you see is a giant white tarp house that resembles a greenhouse of sorts. I thought this was a fairly odd thing to see this far out in the woods but I carried on to see what it was all about. Another minute or two up the trail and I saw a post for “Caretakers Site”. It all came together.

I managed to make it to the Horns Pond site at roughly 5pm. I had planned on camping out at Horns Pond but the site was pretty crowded and there were a few hikers behind me that had mentioned sleeping at that site. Sunset wasn’t for another couple of hours so I decided to water up and hike it out.

Just beyond the campsite and lean-to’s is the junction of the Horns Pond Trail. This trail is 2.6 miles long and connects back with the Fire Wardens Trail 1.7 miles from the trail head. The walk down the Horns Pond Trial was a pleasant one, following a ridge at points with a decent view off to the northwest. I met a couple folks on my way down include a couple of young brothers with their giant yellow lab. We stopped and talked for a while and they were planning on camping out at Horns Pond as well. I kept on down the trail for 90 minutes until I reached the junction.

At this point in the night my 4 small GoPro batteries were nearly out of charge. I opted out of recording much of my hike out of the woods hoping I’d have a little bit left at the end of the day for a proper sign off. Unfortunately, the temperature dropped and I didn’t have much of a charge when I arrived back at the wooden bridge. I turned on the camera to find the battery gauge completely empty. I sort of panicked and very hastily said my thank you’s and signed off. Looking at the video in post processing it feels a bit disingenuous but that certainly wasn’t the case. It was honestly just a tired hiker trying to get everything in before the clock ran out (so to speak).

Again, this has been one of the very best hikes I’ve ever been on. The trails are incredibly well maintained, there is plenty enough water to be had, there are a a number of evenly spaced out privies, and the reward you get for reaching either (or both) summits is well worth the hike.

I hope you enjoyed the trip – please drop a comment down below or on YouTube if you want to join in on the fun.

Many thanks,