Saddleback and The Horn | 6/5/23
How often do you finish a hike and have to Google what the view looks like afterward? Lately, for me, far too often.
I’d planned an involved hike with Diane for this past Monday, driving straight up from work on Sunday evening to her house on the inner mid-coast, another 2.5 hours towards the Rangely Lakes region, and then back in time for me to do the next leg of the drive back home that evening; a total of 9.5 hours of driving in 24 hours. This being said, there wasn’t any canceling the hike unless it was disastrous weather. Some wind and rain weren’t going to stop us, but thankfully it diverted us from the 16-mile Bigelow hike to the modest Saddleback and the Horn hike.
Our departure began in a steady rainfall, lasted us well into the populated and then unpopulated parts of the drive, and had not given up even as we exited the car. I’d been mindful of high summit forecasts and radar, so we were pretty on point with the timing of our clothing adjustments.
We parked next to the electric vehicle charging spots (not at them) as the spots outside the lodge were all reserved under specific names. Getting to the access road was super straightforward and clearly shown as a trail on both Gaia and AllTrails. This took us up an access road for a good 0.2, passed a blown-over booth, and shortly after, bore left up Grey Ghost.
The path up Grey Ghost is obvious the entire way up, clearly serving as a footpath and drainage. Unlike many ski trails I’ve walked up, I found this one to be painless underfoot. There was only one moment, 0.89 miles in, where it picks up in steepness for a singular pitch. Up until here, we’d only been walking up for thirty minutes. At the top of the pitch, there was a ski patrol hut, and then we were back on an access road until the ridge, which wasn’t much longer at all.
As soon as we tucked into the low spruce that would soon give way to a mostly exposed ridge, the sound of the wind grew louder, and its power would soon sting our cheeks. When we got to the summit of Saddleback, marked with an orange sign, Diane and I exchanged looks of concern. It was massively unpleasant here, and had the wind continued at the 35 mph gusts the whole ridge after this, we would’ve turned around out of fear of hypothermia.
The descent off of Saddleback was the hardest part of this hike. It is not necessarily difficult, just not ideal with how slick the three-or-so scrambly sections were. We took our time when needed knowing an injury would suck up there, but whenever we could move fast, we did. There were three small sections where we got the protection of the trees, and these went fast as there wasn’t anything to slip on. I most enjoyed the stretch that came after the Berry Picker's Trail intersection, which I look forward to doing sometime after reading the history. There were still some rock faces to go up in the trees, but these weren’t bad even when wet, and one had a metal ladder.
Once we started gaining again, Diane looked up and said “I know it isn’t, but wouldn’t it be nice if that were the Horn?” I checked my GPS, and somehow, it was! Gaining the Horn felt like nearly nothing, though it was a 350-foot gain from the col between the two peaks.
As we walked back towards Saddleback, already knowing which sections presented the worst difficulty and exposure made it much friendlier, reflected in the shorter time it took us. Though we’d gotten to the Horn in just 2 hours and 20 minutes, we got down to the car in 1 hour and 40 minutes. Unfortunately, my phone was too wet to turn on to check how long it took us to get back to Saddleback.
Once we were back on ski area territory, we side-stepped down the access road, transitioned from our rain jackets to our down jackets at the ski patrol hut since we wouldn’t be getting any warmer, and had a surprisingly easy time getting down despite the lack of switchbacks. As the lodge came into view, the clouds started to lift and Rangely Lake revealed itself. Jeez, perfect timing.