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Thread: Five Finest Fifty days in Maine

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    Senior Member bigmoose's Avatar
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    Five Finest Fifty days in Maine

    Sure, NH and NY trump Maine when tallying the tallest mountains in the northeast. But check out the lists ranking mountains by “prominence” - a mountain’s height measured from its base rather than just its “above sea level” height.
    Maine has more mountains on both the “Northeast 2 thousand foot prominence” list and the New England “Finest Fifty” prominence list than any other northeast state.
    I hadn’t climbed a Maine mountain in three years and was eager to bag more of that state’s prominence peaks.


    Saturday, September 22, 2007:

    VFTT’rs Amicus and Buckyball 1 had both finished the NEHH just a few weeks ago and were now turning their attention to the New England Finest Fifty list. They’d made plans for a Saturday, September 22 assault on Moxie Mountain northeast of Bingham, Maine.
    Moxie was on my “to do” list, too, so I joined them on the first of my five days in Maine.

    As mountains go, Moxie is a runt, merely 2920 feet tall, below the three thousand foot threshhold and therefore off most climbers’ radar. But Moxie’s prominence is an impressive 1823 feet, enough to eke out fiftieth place on the New England Finest Fifty list.

    I met Amicus (Uh-MEE-kuss) and Buckyball1 (think Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome/ball, not Bucky bleeping Dent) for the first time in Bingham. Amicus (Mike), Buckyball 1 (Jim) and I totalled nearly 180 years amongst us. We old men of the mountain should’ve packed Geritol - but Mike brought a bottle of “Moxie”, that great Maine tonic, instead.

    The day was gray, a departure from a stretch of excellent September weather, and showers were predicted. None of us was anxious to bushwhack in wet woods, but we hoped the predicted showers would hold off ‘til afternoon.
    Jim did the driving, wheeling his Subaru Forester east on route 16, then north on the gravel Troutdale Road which was quite smooth. But a few unsigned forks had us guessing and Jim, to his credit, asked directions from locals in pickup trucks, the second happily leading us up a rough road to the closest approach to Moxie, about a half mile west of Dimmick Pond.
    Jim, Mike and I geared up and started toward Moxie via a convenient wide logging road thick with slash, soon forking left and following another slash track uphill and south. Then we entered the open woods for the short bushwhack to a slide that would take us up 700 feet, more than half our total ascent.
    The whack to the slide’s base was easy, and the slide itself was, too... a mixture of loose stuff and hard rock reminiscent of Tripyramid’s South Slide and the Owl’s Head slide.
    Above the slide the weather deteriorated - we found ourselves in a cold, misty drizzle . So the whack to the top was to be wet after all. Undaunted, though, we plunged back into the woods and reached the flat top with its antennas and tiny helicopter landing pad in good time - two hours from the car. We stayed on top just long enough for a picture or two, using Mike’s Moxie bottle as a prop.
    I led the way down, finding more open woods than we’d encountered on the way up. In my haste, though, I led us far off course to the west, but Jim kept angling me back on a slabbing course, utilizing the track log on his newly acquired GPS. So we course-corrected, finally reaching the slide just below the headwall. Then from the base it was quick work to the slash track route, then to the car. We were wet, but happy to have conquered Moxie.

    Leaving the Dimmick Ponds area, Jim pulled up to a derelict collection of battered trailers and tents where a gang straight out of Deliverance eyeballed us. Their leader seemed to be a red-bearded wide body who claimed he was a guide named “Bear.” Jim and Bear chatted through the driver’s window, and from my backseat vantage point, it was like watching a movie.
    Bear couldn’t believe we wimpish hikers dared venture into the woods unarmed, without guns, or at least knives. With a knife, he insisted, you could successfully attack a bear just like you would an adversary in a street fight. Oh, the things we were learning!
    Fortunately, Bear said having a whistle handy was nearly as good as a knife; a loud blast from a whistle confuses bears, and they’ll run. Jim, Mike and I all blurted out that we always had emergency whistles in our packs. Bear was greatly relieved to hear that. Having saved face, it was time to hit the road again.

    Back in Bingham, we split up - Jim returning to Orrington, Maine, Mike to Freedom, NH, and me to Baxter State Park.
    This was a fun hike with two fine gentlemen; we’ll have to hike together again.
    Amicus and Buckyball1 have submitted excellent reports on our Moxie trip, Amicus’s on Rocks on Top and Buckyball1’s on VFTT.

    Moxie Mt. 2920’
    approx. 3 1/2 mi. RT
    1220’ gain.
    1823’ prominence
    #50 N.E. Finest fifty list

    (More to follow)

    (see bottom of page 5 to click on address for pix)
    Last edited by bigmoose; 09-30-2007 at 07:26 PM.

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    Senior Member bigmoose's Avatar
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    (continued)
    Sunday, September 23, 2007:

    After stealth car camping somewhere off an obscure logging road deep in the woods northeast of Baxter, I hit the Matagamon Gate Sunday morning at 6:30, then drove the short distance to South Branch campground where I reserved a tentsite for the evening. Today’s beautiful fall weather would be ideal for the recently completed (2004) 10.7 mile loop trail over the Traveler. Besides the 3541’ Traveler (#22 on the Finest Fifty list and #28 on the Northeast 2k prominence list), I’d pass over two other three thousand footers; Peak of the Ridges and North Traveler. The two lesser peaks have had trails for years, but now a 4.3 mile trail connected both with the more distant Traveler itself which had previously been accesible only by bushwhack.
    With bushwhacking no longer required for the Traveler, I dressed in only shorts and a poly-pro t-shirt. The campground ranger, though, hearing of my destination, warned me about the winds I’d encounter on the Traveler’s unprotected rocky expanses. So I stuffed gloves, hat, fleece and a windbreaker into my pack. Later, I was glad I did.
    I followed buckyball1’s advice and took the loop counterclockwise, starting south along the Pogy Notch Trail to the Center Ridge Trail a mile and a half distant.
    The climbing began immediately, over steep rock ledges, then through woods, then more steep rock. No way I’d ever do this in the wet.
    The trail broke into the open, revealing a landscape littered with jagged rock like the above- tree-level areas in the Presidentials. Behind and far below, the South Branch Ponds’ blue waters glistened in a post card view. Beyond the conjoined ponds to the NW, the view over the flat Great North Woods seemed endless. I’d hoped for a cool, dry day with low humidity for a crisp Katahdin view, but the winds still held a lot of moisture - Katahdin was there, all right, but hazy and indistinct.
    Now that I was out in the open, the winds meant business, picking up intensity as they roared up and over the blocking ridge. But they blew from behind me, pushing me forward toward the day’s first peak.
    After hopscotching over countless sharp rocky shards, I summited Peak of the Ridges and reached the trail’s former dead end. The breathtaking view included the Traveler itself, maybe a mile and a half distant, a rock heap resembling NH’s Mount Jefferson. Onward!
    Now the trail wasn’t so obvious, the next two sections having been completed just three years ago. Surprisingly, the few blue blazes on rocks were already fading and hard to locate. But staying on the “trail” wasn’t a great concern, as any route over the rocks would’ve taken me to the obvious Traveler in plain view up ahead.
    As I approached the top of the Finest Fifty peak, the winds only increased. A sign atop the Traveler indicated the mountain was the “highest volcanic mountain in New England” at 3541 feet. Papa Bear had mentioned a canister lay hidden in the rocks surrounding the sign post, but I found none.
    Time to push to the north toward the day’s third peak, North Traveler. That’s when things began to get interesting. Now gale force winds were right in my face. Fighting against that wind while jumping steeply down the jagged rocks, I felt like I’d be blown clear off the mountain into the East Branch of the Penobscot down below. Buffeted by the wind, I did stumble amongst the shards and decorated my legs with bloody scratches.
    Beaten up by the wind and constantly losing the “trail”, my endurance ebbed. There were even fewer faded blue blazes now, and small cairns built from the jagged rocks were laughable as they blended right into the landscape. The trail, when I could find it, seemed to descend too far to the east. But finally it went north and finally ducked into a neat forest of stunted birch in the col. Out of the wind!!
    With the long stretches of exposure behind me, the remainder of the loop - more woods walking than rock hopping - was pleasant again. In fact the North Traveler Trail back to the Pogy Notch Trail was delightful. In signing out at the register, I noticed my RT time was 8:20. At the campground, the canoes were all on shore; whitecaps churned out on the ponds. In the wind, the trees danced and small branches fell.
    At night only a smattering of campsites were occupied. With no campground commotion, with the wind singing in the trees and bright stars overhead and with a blazing fire in the fire ring, I kicked back and planned for the next day. With the wind still blowing, I used the car’s trunk for cooking and boiling coffee water, sheltering the stove from the gusts. I left the trunk lid open as the evening wore on, and later realized that was a mistake. When I went to get some warmer clothes out, I saw a mouse scurry into the jumble of stuff I’d packed back there. Now I had to unload the trunk. As I did, I’d come upon the mouse again, who’d burrow back into the dwindling places to hide. Finally having cleared everything out, there was no mouse to be found. He might have escaped as I was taking things out; or he might’ve disaqppeared into the spare tire well or the nooks and crannies behind the back seat. I have a feeling I’ll find out some day soon.

    Both Papa Bear and Buckyball1 have written detailed TRs about this climb.

    The Traveler 3541’: #22 N.E. Finest Fifty list
    2340’ prominence #28 Northeast 2,000 foot prominence list

    N. Traveler 3152’
    Peak of the Ridges 3254’

    loop 10.7 miles
    accumulated elevation gain 3900’

  3. #3
    Senior Member bigmoose's Avatar
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    Monday, September 24 2007 (AM):

    Since I’d overnighted in Baxter, climbing Doubletop on the Park’s western side seemed logical. (Doubletop #39 Finest Fifty, #50 Northeast 2,000 prominence list).
    I drove the perimeter road south toward Nesowadnehunk Field, meeting two mammoth moose along the way, and watched as another beautiful day developed.
    The newer of Doubletop’s two trails runs south from Nesowadnehunk, gaining 2200’ in 3.1 miles to the higher north bump. I liked the trail a lot, a natural path through leafy and bryophyte woods with few human contrivances like water bars or rock steps, and no bridges.
    Arriving at the top at nine AM, I realized I’d not considered the sun’s position relative to the majestic mountains to the east. Katahdin, OJI, Coe and the Brothers were backlit, their west faces dark and shadowed. If you’re looking for great views or nice pictures, climb Doubletop in the afternoon!
    I zipped the .2 miles over to S. Doubletop and returned, coming across the 1926 memorial plaque dedicated to Keppele Hall by his wife, mounted on the south side of the North Doublehead rock ledge. I could see why this was Mr. Hall’s favorite place and why he wanted his ashes scattered here.

    Back on the open rocks of N Doublehead, drinking in the sun, I considered my options:
    A) Stay here, lollygag on this fine mountain, have a nap, wait for a better view of Katahdin.
    B) Descend and sprawl out on the wide rock ledges of Ledge Falls almost directly below - and have a nice nap.
    C) Scurry off and climb something else.

    A peakbagger picks (C) every time.
    I figured I could squeeze in a trip to Saddleback over near Katahdin Ironworks.


    N (&S) Doubletop:

    3488’
    6.6 miles RT
    2300’ elevation gain
    2079’ prominence
    #39 Finest Fifty list, #50 Northeast 2k prominence list.


    Monday, September 24 2007 (PM):

    How many Saddleback Mountains are there in New England and the northeast? It’s hard to keep track. The Saddlebacks with the most recognition are those over 4,000 feet, like the Maine mountain with the ski slope up Rangeley way. But a lesser known Saddleback a short distance from Baxter, although under 3,000 feet, like Moxie, has an impressive 1848 feet of prominence. I could get there quickly (if my car could handle the rough logging roads) and bushwhack to the top and back, with luck, before dark.
    I had buckyball1’s explicit road directions to Saddleback with me, which proved to be perfect:
    From rte. 11 north of Brownsville, take a dirt road north toward the Katahdin Ironworks. At 6 miles turn right onto another dirt road and follow this to a fork at 1.1 miles where you chose the right. 2.4 miles up this fork a washed-out area presents your car’s biggest challenge. My low clearance Prizm made it through okay.
    A half mile past this make a hard left on a dirt road with grass in the middle.
    Driving on this for 1.6 miles gets you to a clearaing at a fork where you’ll park.

    From here I started out on the northeast-bound logging road past the boulders that used to block the way. This road slabs the lower Saddleback ridge, neither gaining nor losing altitude. Actually, with a pickup truck, you could drive this road with little problem. Overgrown logged strips to the right extended up Saddleback’s steep flank. The trick is to stay on the logging road as long as possible before ascending one of these pricker-and-hobblebush filled cuts to another wide, overgrown swath that extends along the Saddleback ridge spine.
    I got lucky. After about a mile of logging road I went up and caught the final quarter mile of the ridge swath before it ended abruptly where the ridge went up steeply. I bushwhacked through friendly woods from here to the far end of the ridge where I found the plastic bottle “Nefarious” Nate had hung from a tree last year. This was seven minutes before my self-imposed turnaround time! It’s a white plastic bottle from Cape Cod rehabilitation hospital or some such thing.
    Others have said they thought 2998’ Saddleback was really a three thousand footer, based on their altimeter readings.
    I checked mine. My Casio wrist altimeter showed 3,000 feet and my GPS altimeter showed 3008. So perhaps it’s true.
    I retraced my steps without incident and reached the logging road as the light ebbed. With a full moon, I didn’t need my headlamp, and got to the car by 7:15. I discovered that somewhere along the way my paper topo map had fallen from my pocket. You’re welcome to it if you find it! I stayed the night where I parked, a fine camping spot, the full moon bright enough that I almost didn’t fire up my gas lantern.

    Saddleback Mt. (KI) :
    2998’ (officially)
    approx. 4 miles RT (half bushwhack)
    1300’ vertical rise
    1848’ prominence
    #48 New England Finest Fifty list
    Last edited by bigmoose; 09-30-2007 at 11:55 AM.

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    Senior Member bigmoose's Avatar
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    Tuesday, September 25 2007:

    Maine’s Baker Mountain is a key to both the Finest Fifty and Northeast 2k prominence lists, requiring a long drive on marginal logging roads and a lengthy bushwhack through thick woods. Some hike Baker’s nearly three mile long ridge, bagging South Baker and Middle Baker in addition to the official prominence peak at the north end. I’d planned to tackle just the big Baker from the northern Lily Bay Mt. col, but the weather was so nice and the hiking, ‘til now so pleasurable, I decided to tackle the ridge and do the bushwhack loop. Papa Bear and “Nefarious” Nate had posted extensive descriptions, so I’d use their beta and have an easy go of it.
    From my Saddleback camping spot, my GPS had indicated Baker was 13 miles away. But driving was much more than that. To cut down on the miles, I opted to take the KI Road through to Greenville. That cost this Massachusetts resident $9, and probably more when you factor in the alignment the car will now need. The road is potholed and filled with corduroy stretches. Unless you’re going to Gulf Hagas, I recommend reaching Greenville by the paved, numbered roads.

    Leaving Greenville on the Lily Bay Road, continue to dirt Prong Pond Road on the right which has a new brown street sign. There’s also a small yellow diamond-shaped sign indicating this is the turn for the Elephant Mountain B-52 bomber crash site. From this beginning, proceed thusly to South Baker:
    1.7 mi. left turn up another dirt road, 90 degrees
    3.6 mi. straight ahead at a four-way dirt road intersection
    4.6 mi. straight ahead (not right)
    5.5 mi. straight ahead (not right)
    6.2 mi. left fork
    7.0 mi. straight (not left)
    7.6 mi. straight (not right)
    8.0 mi. straight (not right to the southeast)
    8.3 mi. right turn on grassy road away from the active logging road
    8.4 mi. end of the line at an abandoned logging site.

    Driving the final stretch you see steep South Baker looming dead ahead. You can practically set a bearing without benefit of a map. It’s only 3/4 mile or so from where I parked to the top of S. Baker.

    From the car I took an overgrown logging track south for a couple of minutes, then plunged left into the trees. The bushwhacking was pleasant through nice woods. I attained South Baker without much trouble.
    Conditions from South to Middle Baker were good as well, with help from fleeting moose paths. I was glad I’d gone this route rather than simply picking off Baker from the north.
    Middle to Baker presented challenges. The ridge makes a dogleg to the left and the nearly two mile segment of the hike involves climbing over or around several intervening bumps.
    There had been fleeting moose paths between South and Middle, but now I found some serious moose highways. None lasted too long, though, and basic bushwhacking was usually required.
    I successfully maneuvered around the dogleg bump, changed bearings, and pushed on toward Baker. Then I came to a vantage point where I could look ahead toward the south ridge of Baker and its several increasingly higher bumps. My stomach sank, though, when I saw what intervened between me and that higher ridge: a wide blowdown field with the ominous bleached treetrunk cadavers sticking up through an expanse of chest-high evergreens. This took up the whole expansive col. I’d have no choice but to plow through it.
    Fortunately, the blowdown area looked worse than it was. There wasn’t much downed timber hiding beneath the new growth, so my shins were spared and I actually made pretty good time.
    Then the climbing resumed.
    The bumps were confusing...up, down, up down....
    I stopped to reorient at one time and discovered I’d completely turned around and was heading back toward the blowdown col! This, even with topo, compass and GPS. Maybe the strain was getting to me.
    I got going in the right direction again, now finding the thickest woods of the day. When I reached the top, at the extreme far end of the ridge, I found the Gatorade bottle Papa Bear and Spencer had hung a few years ago. An inch of water had saturated the several pages of entries inside. I looked them over, but all were lost. I’m sure the entries were the same as those in the other Bakers’ jars: Hall of famers Crispo, Swanson, Houle, Schlimmer, Martineau, Anne Gwynne, the Paisleys, dms, Narciso Torres, Eilers, Edgar Robertson, and Schweiker. And more recently Papa Bear, Spencer and Nefarious Nate. I replaced the bottle with a pvc canister and stuck the plastic bag with the wet entries inside along with a fresh notebook.... But in retrospect I wish I’d brought a simple glass jar. The pvc can, I’m afraid, is overkill for such an isolated and seldom-visited place.
    I set a bearing for a side-sloping return to the car about a half mile away. The top of Baker was definitely thick and I had to bull my way down to 3350’ or so. I was glad to be descending rather than ascending here. Then the woods were mostly of spindly evergreens whose trunks were 8-18 inches apart, but tall enough that their green branches were overhead and not in the way down low. Much lower things got tricky as I crossed and recrossed a blowdown-strewn stream, having to climb the opposite bank steeply both times. There were lots up ups and downs here, and I had to stay right of a wet area of piddling ponds. I happened upon a network of good moose paths and found an area strewn with the bones of a moose.
    I was very happy to come out of the woods right at the car. Since my poor navigation off Moxie three days prior, I had concentrated on being less cavalier with my descent. Today it paid off.
    The loop took me nine hours. All in all, a very nice, invigorating bushwhack.
    As I had done the night before, I stayed put and camped for the night where I’d parked.
    A bonus was a tiny stream just up the overgrown extension of the logging road, where I filtered several liters of cold water. Ahhhh! I’d used up every drop I had on the Baker loop.
    For a second night, moonlight lit my camping spot. And I switched back and forth between the Sox and Yankees on the car radio. An enjoyable night in the wilds with a radio wave connection back to civilization.

    the Bakers:

    S. Baker 3307’
    Middle Baker 3361’
    Baker Mt. 3521’
    #31 Finest Fifty list
    #40 Northeast 2k prominence list

    loop distance 4.5 miles
    cumulative elevation gain 2,000’
    Baker prominence 2191’

  5. #5
    Senior Member bigmoose's Avatar
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    Wednesday, September 26, 2007:

    Weather for the day was iffy - clouding up with a good chance of showers and/or thunderstorms in the afternoon. But with an early start, I might be able to bag nearby Big Spencer before the rain came. Big Spencer isn’t a climb you want to do in the rain. The trail to the fire tower on top is steep and rocky, and once at the tower you have to bushwhack through scraggly, tortured trees to the ridge’s alleged high spot.
    I’d climbed to the tower three years previous, but didn’t realize at the time the high point was further SW on the high, abrupt ridge. (Thanks, Roy). So today I’d do that bushwhack and credit myself with the peak, # 45 of the Finest Fifty.
    Pulling into the tiny trailhead parking lot, I was surprised to find a fellow in a Subaru with NY plates sitting in his car. Turns out his name was John, too, and he came to Maine often to take high-quality pictures from Maines’ best mountaintop vantagepoints. Big Spencer certainly qualifies in that regard. But he’d been up the day before, when the air was clear, and was now leaving. Today’s atmosphere held more moisture and wouldn’t be good for pictures.
    John also cleans up glass that falls from the broken windows of these towers. He’d spent two hours doing that here. Very nice.
    We chatted about some of his favorite spots in Maine, many involving bushwhacks to open ledges or exposed, rocky tops. I took copious notes.
    I wished John good luck in getting his photos published, and started up the old firewarden’s trail. I’d visited the warden’s deteriorating cabin last time up, and didn’t bother today. What was once a nice view east from the cabin’s porch was now obscured by new growth.
    A couple of sprinkles broke out on the way up the ensuing steep pitches, but blue sky amongst the clouds gave me hope that the weather would hold.
    Aftert the tower, I continued on a path to an outbuilding with an antenna, bringing me closer to the high point a quarter mile to the SW.
    Nate’s post had indicated the whacking was less nasty just below the north side of the ridge, so I went there and found some nice mossy open woods for a short stretch. But then there was blowdown and thick chest-high spruce. I pushed through and scrambled up some low cliffs to the ridgetop again.
    I spent the next hour (!) visiting every bump, every hummock, every conceivable high point up there in search for the canister.
    Climbing up one of the bumps the GPS beeped...the screen read “approaching Big Spencer.” Alas, the canister wasn’t on that bump or any of the other half dozen I scoured. I ended up losing altitude toward SW Big Spencer where I ciimbed a rocky outcrop, only to look back and see the ridge looming much higher back from where I’d come.
    Now the skies were becoming purple. Not only didn’t I find a canister, now I’d get drenched fighting my way back over this nasty ridge.
    But luck was with me. The rain never came. I returned to the tower, bummed about the canister, but pleased with the weather. Blue sky returned.
    As I made the steep descent I had to remind myself of all that had gone right on this trip, and how inconsequential it was to miss the canister on the final day. Somewhat like being 4-for-4 in a baseball game and striking out in your last at bat. Still a pretty good game, no?


    Big Spencer:
    3206’
    1916’ prominence
    #45, New England finest fifty list
    approx. 4.6 mi. RT
    1900’ elevation gain


    Returning on the Lily Bay road toward Kokadjo, I came across a wide body of water on the left. Next to a bridge was a place fishermen apparently launched. Access to the water was easy. I stripped and went in, amazed by the water’s warmth. Emerging clean, I put on fresh clothes and made my way back toward civilization. I’d have lots of great memories to keep me going. And on the radio a Sox game at the odd time of 5pm to make the miles on the Maine Turnpike fly by.

    As for the prominence lists:
    3 more mountains will complete my Northeast 2ks
    Those three along with two others will complete the Finest Fifty list.

    pix:
    http://s201.photobucket.com/albums/a...2007/?start=20
    Last edited by bigmoose; 09-30-2007 at 11:57 AM.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Amicus's Avatar
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    What a great week! I'm glad the weather improved so after Moxie, especially for your Traveler loop. We had fine weather for the same hike last Columbus Day weekend, and that hike is in my personal pantheon. I agree that parts of it would be no fun when wet, not to mention missing the sublime views. As to Big Spencer, we hike mountains, not canisters, eh? (Forget where I heard that.)

    I believe you and Jim (buckyball) are on the brink of joining a very select few who have completed the NEHH and 50 Finest both.

    Here's to future hikes!

  7. #7
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    superb week for you, congrats, good stuff--really enjoyed being on Moxie with you--sorry i couldn't make it for the Bakers with you, but "real life" has intervened and it's looking like next year for me to finish those last few FF---jim

  8. #8
    Senior Member RoySwkr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigmoose
    How many Saddleback Mountains are there in New England and the northeast? It’s hard to keep track.
    It's hard to think of ME as a cowboy place but there are 3 Saddlebacks in the ME P50 and 4 in the P100 easily beating out White Cap, Blue, etc. Not to mention a 5th with minor prominence.

    And I've also climbed Saddlebacks in NH & NY. Topozone finds another in NY and one in VT.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Nadine's Avatar
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    Thanks for the TR and the climbing hints! I have 17 left to go, maybe I'll finish next year...

    Nadine

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