East Kennebago & Mt. Abraham (ME) | 7/18/23
Day One: East Kennebago
If completing the New Hampshire Four Thousand Footers is like having access to the entire internet and every resource in the world, the Maine peaks of the Hundred Highest are more like one magazine you read at the dentist 8 years ago.
Not to say finding resources are impossible, but I have to go into complete and utter stalker mode to research these peaks- the nice man I follow on Instagram who finished his 100 recently? I was in his DMs. The netrails report from months ago? I was emailing them about logging operations. My search history? A collection of mountain names and keywords scrambled together. Eventually, however, I dialed my planning document so well that we pulled off our three days in Rangeley without too many setbacks.
I met up with Diane and Bruce, Saint Mike’s resident comfort couple, at Rangeley Lake State Park. After setting up our small camping town, I shared my scheme for East Kennebago- something I was thankful Bruce had sacrificed the cleanliness of his Wrangler for. Though I knew the area was being logged, making for better odds of decent roads, I hadn’t found reports from the last couple of weeks. I was prepared to be surprised.
We drove some 30 minutes to the start of Oddy’s Road, kept right to the Rangeley-Eustis Snowmobile Connector, and eventually took a left onto an unmarked deviation, shown as an unmarked road on Gaia.
Though we could’ve continued close to another mile down this road, we were stopped in our tracks- active logging! Though the operator saw us, there was no stop in the log processing. We were almost sure we’d just lost our plan for the day. We skillfully backed up until the road junction, where we decided we might as well check if there was a chance of getting by. Nimble but hopeful, we approached the operator again, waited until he saw us, and threw up enough hand signals to signify: “Can we PLEASE get by?” He let us pass.
This was not the end we heard a series of equipment buzzing around, all of it surely powerful enough to knock us down flat should we end up in the way. Cautiously, we kept going up the road, passed another operator who wished us a nice hike, and eventually made it out of the active territory. This first was shaping up to be one to remember!
At the end of the road shown on Gaia, we entered thick grass, which went on for a good half mile, before dipping into the sun-protected trees and much more pleasant walking. This section could have gone on forever- its grades, quietness, and rail-trail feel were incredible. Soon though, we came upon a yellow-blazed cairn signifying a left turn up the real climb. By this point, we’d gone 2.3 miles and climbed just 1000 feet. We had another 800 to go in the remaining 0.6 miles. While this leg wasn’t physically awful, had nice footing, and the clearest herd path I ever could have dreamed of, boy were we sweating. By a combination of getting around logging and just how hot the sun was as we worked hard, I envied the group that had signed the log book earlier in the day.
The summit is viewless as of July 2023, had a nice skull by the summit canister, and a dry log book. We didn’t spend an abundance of time up there due to the bugs. Thankfully, getting down the herd path was much faster than the way up. I regretted that I’d forgotten my trekking poles though.
After we hopped back on level ground, the less sunny walk was quicker and substantially less dehydrating. Good stuff! The logging was all done as we descended again, allowing me to take a nice picture of Bruce and Diane with the tire that could’ve crushed us if we’d been at the wrong place at the wrong time. On our way out, we also ran into a pair just starting around 5:30, who had miraculously gotten a low-clearance Subaru over almost everything. It is a Subaru Summer!
On the way out, we saw a bull and enjoyed the cooler temps that led the way to a great night in camp.
Day Two: Mt. Abraham (Maine)
Though part of me wanted to crush all the bushwhacks this trip, we were realistically craving good views and a semi-normal drive. We got a modest start in the morning, cooking eggs at 8, heading out around 9, and starting at 10:30. Mt. Abraham was a bit of a haul from camp, about an hour and a half. The last leg of the drive was significantly worse than the roads into East Kennebago. Swift River Road was nearly washed out in one section towards the middle, loaded with sharp tire-popper rocks, and very narrow. My back got eternally loosened as I jostled around the backseat.
At our start, there was another Jeep in the lot and we got a good wet start-up at the 4050-foot peak. In the first 5 minutes, I forfeited dry socks across the water that the 6’2 (I think, but he won’t read this, so whatever) Bruce easily rock hopped and the similar-height but much more agile Diane scooched over a tree for. I don’t regret my decision, as there was a lot more water to seep into my shoes anyways.
The first 2.8 miles up the Fire Warden Trail were uneventful, didn’t gain much, and was very VERY muddy. There weren’t a ton of bugs, our main concern was how much we’d be gaining later. That first 2.8 out of 4.2 only gained 1000 of the 3000 we’d be doing altogether…
By the time we passed the campsite, which is also just about the last water crossing, it was on. Suddenly, our 300 feet per mile turned into 1200 in the next mile, then another 800 to the top in the final push over 3 false summits. I’ve climbed a lot of mountains like this, yet even I was surprised by the false summits. I was a little worried my friends were going to unfriend me after we got over the second false summit.
That final climb is pretty cardio-involved before the tree line, but not technical whatsoever. The instant you break out of the tree line, it just goes and goes over the type of talus that suburban people put around their pools for landscaping. It wasn’t too loose, but it took a lot out of us! We re-entered low woods two more times after entering the alpine zone, both briefly, and by the last one you can see the true summit. Despite the alpine section being just 0.6 miles- it feels more like 1.5 and will demand more sweat than what you’ve got in all your water bottles.
When we gained the summit, after a rapid speed up that I finished everything in the tank for, I took off my soaked top and lay there, basking for a while. I rarely stay at summits- but this one was not optional. I earned that rest and the bag of marshmallows I ate up there.
Before we left the summit, I wandered over to the stone structure southeast of the summit, curious about its purpose. While I couldn’t seem to figure that out, especially considering how far it was from the fire tower remnants closer to the summit, I did get a great view of the talus-laden Middle Abraham. Maybe that was the point?
As we descended the exposed 0.6, we took it super slow knowing an injury up there would ruin more than just the rest of our day. We were lightly working against the clock as thunderstorms were coming in at 4 and we could see the clouds darkening all afternoon. Once we got below the treeline, we moved pretty fast and only got faster as we got towards easier and easier grades.
By the last 2 miles, everyone had given up on dry feet and charged through each mud pile since we’d be washing our shoes out in that final water crossing. But, despite our speed at the end there, at 4:01 the forecast held. A crack of thunder was followed by a downpour. We started sprinting, just 30 seconds from the car.
Despite the relief of getting to the car, we were dealing with an overuse injury and the fact that this road was going to flood FAST. Like a bat out of hell, we got out of there with intent- me stating directions firmer than ever, Bruce laser-focused on not hitting a sharp rock underneath the pooling water, and Diane insisting Bruce eat food to calm his hanger. We operated at varying levels of success- but ultimately got out of the dirt road stress cave mighty fine.
Once we were back at camp that night, we strategically did dinner and drinks all before retreating to our tents at exactly 9:05 to avoid the very dark incoming system. I’m not one to check the radar all the time, but I was sure glad I did that night. We stayed dry as our campsite nearly flash flooded, tuning out all the loons and owls that ordinarily fill the space around Rangeley.
East Kennebago Track:
Mt. Abraham (Maine) Track: