Climbing Bigelow & Cranberry Peak over New Year

Bigelow Mountain & Cranberry Peak
4,145 ft. & 3,194 ft.
Two Warm Days of Hiking in Maine
The Prouty Mountaineering Program
(the first Prouty Challenge Event benefitting Dartmouth-HitchcockNo rris Cotton Cancer Center)
Prep Hike #8 – 10.0 & 7.0 Miles
Dec. 31, 2011 & Jan. 1, 2012
Wes Chapman

Bigelow Mountain

BigelowWest Peak & Avery Peak from Sugarloaf Snowfields
Bigelow Mountain
Bigelow Mountain is actually a small mountain range in northernMaine, and includes two of Maine’s 4,000 foot peaks, Avery and West Peaks inits center, as well as Cranberry Peak which forms the western end of the range.The range is named for Major Timothy Bigelow, a division commander in theArnold Expedition to Quebec, who climbed the Hill, with his large dog, to helpdiscern the way through the Dead River and on to Quebec. That expedition endedin military disaster, and was equally disastrous for Major Bigelow’s dog whichwas finally eaten by his men as they faced starvation on their journey north.
I first climbed Bigelow in 1973 in a winter climb with a bunchof high school buddies. It has always been one of my favorite Maine hikes, andalways offers a great alternative to no-snow conditions at Sugarloaf – justacross the Carrabassett Valley. I had come for a couple of days of skiing at myold haunts in Sugarloaf Mountain, but warm and wet weather, coupled with acomplete lack of natural snow below 3,000 feet made skiing impossible. A coupleof days of climbing on Bigelow seemed to offer a great alternative. Our teamfor this two day climb, included Betsy Chapman, and my dog Baby, who gratefullyescaped the fate of Major Bigelow’s dog.
We set off around 9:00 AM up the Warden’s Trail to the colbetween West and Avery Peaks. The weather was 32 degrees, and raining – inshort ideal for a day long hike. There were two sets of tracks in front of us –presumably (based on stride length and shoe size) a man and a woman climbingjust ahead.     

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Bigelow Mountain

The trail was frozen (all 5 miles) into a long stream of ice,and the going was pretty slow and tricky. Fortunately, I had brought along anextra pair of Micro-Spikes for Betsy – without which the climb wouldn’t havebeen feasible. At 3,000 feet we started to encounter some natural snow, and bythe summit it was about 12 inches deep.
The Ice covered Warden’s Trail on Bigelow
Mrs. Baby waiting for lunch
Betsy having lunch at the Bigelow Col
The only bright spot of the day’s travels was when the rainstopped, and a peculiar view of the middle portion of Sugarloaf opened upacross the valley between a ground fog layer and a cloud layer at 3,500 feet.
The bare midriff of Sugarloaf from Bigelow
The next day – New Year’s – dawned clear and warm after amercifully early evening the night before. Earlier plans for a trip up Crockerwere shelved for an ascent of more modest ambitions – Cranberry Peak on thewestern end of the Bigelow range. 
Cranberry Peak – ATale of Fog and Snow Fleas
Cranberry Peak and the Horn
Cranberry Peak is accessed by a 3.2 mile trail up from the endof Currie Street in Stratton Maine. The trail and parking area areexceptionally well maintained – if a little difficult to locate. We started outaround 11:00, and the conditions on the trail were delightful – a sunny andwarm day with a walk through a spruce/hemlock forest. The trail turns steep andicy as it crosses Panberry Brook, and heads up the ridge. This brought with ita mile or so of fairly tough hiking, culminating with the first of three falsesummits.
Resting on the way up
The snow cover was fairly constant above 3,000 feet, and thewalk to the actual summit was up and down over icy ledges and through a coupleof boulder fields – pretty slow going. We saw tracks and sign from moose,rabbits, partridge and foxes. The summit was pea soup fog and enough of abreeze to make it an undesirable lunch spot.
Betsy on the Summit
On the descent, we notice that the snow was covered withmillions of tiny blue/black dots – and they were jumping! It was my firstintroduction to a mass exodus of snow fleas – the snow was actually grey incolor. These tiny creatures are not really fleas at all, but are actually springtails.These peculiar bugs have twin rod-like tails that they use to jump much like aflea. They live on dead fungus and bacteria and have a unique protein (anatural anti-freeze) which allows them to operate at sub-zero temperatures withoutproducing ice crystals and dying. The protein was recently synthesized atQueen’s University in Canada, with hopes of producing a better solution fortransplant organ storage – or a viable alternative for those interested incryogenic immortality.
A snow flea – springtail
The trip down was fast, and the first false summit offered somenice views to the west. It would be wonderful if the New Year brought with itsome snow – so we could enjoy this Hill on AT gear. Happy New Year.
The view from Cranberry Ridge
Wes Chapman
Written by Wes Chapman

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