The Caribou Valley Six Pack 7/19/16

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New member
Jan 4, 2013
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Camden, Maine
Little Brown Mushroom had never visited Caribou Valley before. As a resident of Maine I felt Obligated to extend the hand of hospitality and do this loop with him. Ok, truth be told I love this hike and was glad he had finished his NY Grid so we could get busy in Maine!
I was spending the week with family on Rangely Lake. LBM got up at the crack of dawn and was there as promised just after six to pick me up. We coffee-d up, grabbed a piece of fruit and headed East. In this area I always feel I am playing a real life video game watching for assorted wildlife that might jump into the road. I only spotted one deer, and luckily it decided to turn and head back into the woods. We stopped in Stratton and grabbed some last minute items. Seeing the transfer station confirmed that I had once again whizzed by the signless Caribou Valley Rd. I spun around and drove slowly up into the valley. The road was in better shape with fewer rocks sticking up than I remembered. The day's biggest bonus came about halfway to the gate when I spotted the fresh wood deck on what had been the worst bridge. Several years back I had to "patch" the bridge with some rocks and logs to make it passable. Now it's a breeze. We pulled into the parking area next to two other cars. A truck and trailer near the gate turned out to be a work crew that had been doing work on the AT for the past nine days.
We did one last check of our packs and headed up the road. We quickly came to the AT crossing and hung a left toward Sugarloaf. We had gotten a tremendous dump of rain the day before and I was glad to see the water crossing presented no issue. A cable tethered plank crosses the widest section but we looked around a bit and saw other likely rock hopping options that would work if high water had moved the plank. The beginning of the AT is a very gradual climb and switchbacks its way up and up. It finally hits some ledgy areas that require some scrambling but reward with the first views up into this beautiful valley. I pointed out some of the visible peaks so Steve could get a feel for the day ahead. After this steeper section the trail levels off and more gradually rises to the intersection with the spur trail to Sugarloaf.
We dropped our packs, donned another layer, and headed up. The half mile went quickly and we popped out on the windy summit of Sugarloaf. There are some great views across to the Bigelows and back into the valley but they are marred by the cell towers and abandoned lift and lodge. We headed back to our packs. We stopped and chatted with a young couple we had passed earlier who were hoping to do the three peaks on the east side of the valley. We wished them luck and moved on. Throughout the day we ran into AT hikers and queried them about the previous day's storm. Some had hunkered in leantos but many had gotten a bit wet or been pummeled by the grape sized hail that hit the valley. Another great reason I only day hike. Lots of leaves and small branches littered the trail from the storm. Later in the day Steve even spotted a pile of marble sized hail that had sluiced down the trail.
The AT from Sugarloaf out to the Abraham intersection is a pleasure even for those of us with knee issues. The footbed is soft and practically rock free. What a treat. We were soon at the Spaulding spur. We dropped our packs for the short jaunt to the underwhelming summit. We didn't linger and scooted back to our packs. Not far from the spur we came to the turn for the Spaulding leanto. There is a dependable water source nearby and even a thunder box. We continued on to the Abraham spur. We kept our packs on about half the 1.7 miles to Abraham. On the way out I told Steve that Abraham was my favorite of the six. The other five peaks are mostly treed with rock and dirt summits. Abraham has a long ridge which eventually pops you out onto a jumble of talus unlike anything else in the valley. A small peak partially blocks the view but once summited gives a great view of Abe. We picked our way carefully across the talus through the multiple cairns that point the way. On top the old tower lies prostate while its cab has been fashioned into a shelter of sorts. A family was hunkered down in the shelter of the rocks eating lunch. They said the bridges from the Rapid Stream approach were all replaced. We chatted for a while and looked over to see the damage from the recent fire on the next peak on the ridge. I think it will be a while before the vegetation recovers if ever. We said our goodbyes and headed back. We snacked and watered up at our packs then headed back along the ridge to the AT. At the intersection we gave some info to an AT hiker trying to plan his day. The young couple we had met earlier showed up and headed out toward Abe. We consulted our maps and crossed the AT on a herd path toward the valley. The path we were on petered out fairly quickly and we swam about a quarter mile through young tight spruce. We popped out into old clear cuts and followed them easily down through low growth until we popped out on the main gravel road.
We were lucky to have intermittent cloud cover to keep the temps reasonable as we did the long walk on the logging roads. I had learned on a previous loop not to cut over too early toward Redington on the many options which present themselves. We finally settled on a road that felt right and headed toward Redington. The road turned out to be a winner and gradually swung around parallel to the ridge. Again (from hard won previous experience) we resisting heading directly toward Red and continued North. We eventually teed into the road which heads toward the Red/Crocker Col. Up we went and then turned toward Redington. After the first intersection there is another reliable stream to water up. We both had enough water so continued up and got on the well defined herd path. We signed into the canister at the summit and sat down for a bit of fuel. Some unforecast dark clouds threatened while we ate. Luckily they were mostly empty threats and we only got a few sprinkles through the afternoon.
We headed down and forked off to head toward South Crocker. This path is a bit raw and has a few branches but is pretty easy to follow. We popped out on the road and headed West. There is a small cairn and a log across the road to point out the herd path to South Crocker. This is a pretty steady climb and we were really beginning to feel the miles. At the AT swath we dog legged right then up and around to the summit. A few pictures across the valley and we dropped down to the AT again. Off came the packs for the mile to North Crocker. North Crocker is also fairly underwhelming. We only paused briefly then descended back into the Col. Hitting the bottom I let out a whoop knowing this was the last climb of the day. We climbed steadily back up to South Crocker. The descent is a bit rough and several steep rocky sections really put the test to our fatigued legs. Soon we were at the Crocker Cirque Campground spur. One mile back to the CVR. The trail begins to level off and before long I heard the sound of the brook and popped out on the road again. The half mile back to the gate went quickly and we were at the truck in just over ten hours. A great day in the valley. The temps were low early in the day and a breeze and some clouds kept it comfortable for the rest. Hardly any bugs. We even got back to Rangely in time for dinner!

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