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CC's Outdoor Journal; Keeping Bigelow clean
STRATTON- It didn’t seem possible that a whole year had passed since we woke to 28-degree temps outside our tent at Horns Pond Campsite, laying there making plans for this year’s 12-mile adventure. Where did the time go?
This year, we knew we didn’t want to pack in a tent and take our chances on waking up to frost, so Sheila, being the generous host that she is, invited us to stay at her camp in Eustis, just 20 minutes away from the Stratton Brook trailhead.
We arrived on Friday night under the light of the full moon, pulled over at the scenic turnout in Stratton on the shores of Flagstaff Lake and took some photos of the mountain, with, what looked like the sun shining above.
It was early to rise on Saturday if we were to make our 12 miles with plenty of photo opportunities, lunch and snack breaks without worry of traveling back to the trailhead under the cover of darkness.
Since the sun was now setting a little past six and rising just before seven, that meant we would have to pay attention and stick to a schedule. Any group of hikers should be able to easily cover a mile an hour hiking, but our little group is well known for wanting to photograph everything under the sun and take ample time to stop and smell the roses whenever the mood strikes.
One of us, not naming names, has been known to take upwards of 400 pictures on any short outing such as this.
We headed up Fire Warden’s trail just past seven under a gorgeous sun-filled sky with a light breeze keeping the air at a comfortable 47 degrees. We couldn’t have planned for a better day to hike. We were off to summit Avery, then West peak, and then make our way to South Horn, North Horn, down through Horns Pond Campsite and complete our loop via the Horns Pond Trail.
The climb to Avery was unique, crossing foot bridges, some in need of repair, walking narrow paths through beautifully canopied fall colors, and there were the normal vertical climbs where a rock staircase had been placed to make the ascent a little easier.
Every so often we would have a view of Sugarloaf through the trees and we could see we were climbing above the clouds and were hoping they wouldn’t envelop us at the top. What amazing photo opportunities we were getting.
At the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and Fire Warden’s, we took the right to lead us to Avery Peak, we weren’t disappointed as we came out from the tree line and discovered a heavenly view. We were, in fact, above the clouds. It was as though we could just step out onto them and snuggle in. The view was breathtaking.
We checked out the stone foundation of the former fire tower that once stood as a manned lookout for the area, took several pictures and decided to sit in the windbreak of the foundation to enjoy a snack.
Now, I don’t know about you, but our group is pretty conscious of carrying out what we carry in and if we find trash that someone may have dropped, we pick it up and do our part to keep our trails clean. You can always hear us proclaiming how we love Maine and how we want to keep it beautiful.
While we were sitting at the top of Avery eating our lunch, Ian, the caretaker at Horns Pond for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club (M.A.T.C), came up from the side of the mountain, where there is no trail, carrying a large white bag in his arms. When asked what he was doing, he stated that he was picking up trash.
We were stunned. This bag was the size of a 30-gallon kitchen trash bag and it was stuffed. We couldn’t believe that hikers would throw their trash out like that. He informed us that it wasn’t hikers, that it was the result of a fire warden who manned the tower for more than 30 years back in the 1960’s throwing his trash out the window of the tower down over the side of the mountain.
Now we were even more stunned. Ian continued to inform us that he gathers approximately 110 pounds of trash four days a week and carries it down over the mountain to the trailhead where it is then taken to the dump.
After finishing our snack and taking some last shots of the 360-degree view of the area, we made our way back down the trail toward the fire warden’s cabin. We stopped there and visited with Ian as he was bundling his pack for that day’s trash descent. He had piles of glass jars and bottles in need of packing out, hundreds of pounds of iron and other remnants from the former tower that were going to be a bit of a challenge to carry out.
On the wall of the cabin porch hung a sign on a paper plate asking hikers if they have room in their packs to please consider carrying out some of the glass jars in an effort to help clean things up. Each of us felt compelled and filled a plastic bag with as many jars as our packs could hold.
In speaking with Ian, he was hoping that the forest service may come to his aid and help get the
mountain cleaned up quicker and possibly easier than he was able to do.
At this point I was a little put out with the audacity and carelessness of the former occupant of the tower and added that the forest service should feel a sense of responsibility, since it was one of their own that made the poor decision to not carry out his trash so many years ago.
In my mind I was already figuring how I was going to get back to the office and contact the forest service and find out what could be done to help clean up Avery Peak.
Throughout the rest of the day, we enjoyed the views and did our best to keep upright in the stiff winds as we traveled up and over West Peak, the highest in the Bigelow Range at 4,145 ft., and South and North Horns, and we spoke to several thru hikers on their way to Katahdin.
It astonished me to think they still had 186-plus miles to go from where we encountered them, as the 2,000-mile marker stands atop Avery Peak.
It was September 21 and the weather was getting cooler. Most of them stated that they were shooting for October 6 to summit Katahdin. That means from Avery Peak they would have to be sure to hike a minimum of 11 miles a day to make their goal. Several of them were ready to be done and had lost the excitement of the trail. But, they were so very close.
Making our way down Horns Pond Trail and nearing the end of our 12-mile day, we ran into Ian returning from his trash run. We exchanged email addresses so we could follow up on any efforts of assistance the forest service was to contribute. I was hopeful I could help out with this mission, and then said our farewells.
We made it back to the trailhead a little past six and were ready to get our hiking boots off. It had been a long day, but so worth the effort of climbing to see those views and to make the discoveries we had along the way. What an amazing way to spend a mid-September Saturday.
Over the next week I made a few phone calls, but didn’t make much progress. It wasn’t until I was at the Fryeburg Fair, a week later, that I spoke with the ranger manning the service’s booth that I found out who I needed to speak with.
The next day I made contact with Art Lavoie, an old high school friend, who is the district ranger for the Bigelow area. He informed me that the forest service did, in fact, have a helicopter going up to Avery to clean things up about six years ago, but when staffing was cut, they had to stop those efforts.
He informed me that Parks and Lands has since taken over ownership of the Bigelow Preserve and the forest service is still working closely with Pete Smith, regional manager, for that area to help get things cleaned up.
It was a relief to me to know that there are efforts being made to help Ian out and to make right the wrong that was done so many generations ago.
As my friends and I plan to make the Bigelow hike an annual adventure, you can bet that we’ll be following up on the progress of the clean up insuring that our great state remain beautiful.
Cherri Crockett stands at the summit of Avery Peak in the Bigelow Mountain Range looking out over the clouds that cover Carrabassett Valley below. Crockett and five of her friends recently hiked the 12-mile loop that traverses Avery and West peaks, as well as South and North Horns. (Photo by Jackie Dupuis)
Cherri Crockett and her friends, Jackie Dupuis, Sheila Morrison, Mary Jane Dillingham, Lisa Smith and Sue Lajoie are seen here during their 12 mile hike that encompassed four peaks of the Bigelow Mountain Range. Bottom left, Ian, the area caretaker for M.A.T.C, is seen carrying one of several bags of trash that he is cleaning up from the side of Avery Peak near the site of the old fire tower.