Saddleback has a long southwest-northeast trending summit ridge, so it took a little bit of easy and scenic walking -- over a kilometre's worth (6/10th of a mile) -- to get to the summit. Eventually we crested a small rise that was higher than the rest, and that was topped with a reddish-brownish summit sign. We had arrived at Saddleback's summit.
As might be expected, there's a wonderful 360-degree view from up here. To the northeast and southwest, you look along Saddleback's main ridgeline. In the other directions, however, the terrain slopes away to panoramic views of the Maine countryside.
Arriving Saddleback Summit
Looking northeast in particular, we could see a large dip along the ridge and then another peak, almost as high as we were. This peak is The Horn -- a peak along Saddleback's ridge that is considered a separate 4000-footer. The Horn would be the next destination on our day's journey.
First, however, it was time for a break and some food. The cold north wind was blowing a little harder up here at the summit, so we hunted around for a bit for a spot in the lee of the wind.
There's a fairly low col between Saddleback and The Horn. And, even though it descends down to 3600 feet, it is almost entirely above treeline, and we could trace the entire line of the A.T. as it descended down from where we were, down to an open col (complete with a little pond), and then back up more open slopes to the open summit of The Horn.
As we were preparing head off, a couple of somewhat scraggly-looking hikers hurriedly passed us and headed down into a patch of scrub not far below. They looked cold - especially the girl of the two, who was wearing a large red 'SLOW' sign on her backpack.
As we descended down towards the col, we soon caught up to the two, who had stopped to take the time to put on some clothes to guard against the cold winds. Already wearing sufficient clothes ourselves, we continued on, and soon reached the low point along the ridge.
Looking back, we could see that the group of two was actually a group of four, and as we climbed more beautiful open terrain towards the summit of The Horn, they started to catch up to us. It gradually dawned on us that these were probably Appalachian Thru-hikers: they had full beards, lean physiques, and were fast. A look at their boots would confirm it - thru-hikers at this point in their journey typically have boots that are torn and ragged from thousands of miles of wear (up here in the Longfellow mountains of Maine, northbound thru-hikers have already completed about 2,000 miles of their journey).
The summit of The Horn is every bit as nice as that of Saddleback. Additionally, The Horn's summit gave us a good view of the land to the north and east - the land that we'd be hiking through next. The summit of The Horn also gave us a good look at the challenges to come: The remaining 4000-footer peaks of our backpack -- Spaulding, Sugarloaf, South Crocker and Crocker (and possibly Abraham) -- looked very far away, and there was a deep valley separating the land of there from the land of here. The Spaulding Lean-to and campsite, we knew, was at the base of one of those far away peaks, and it even though it was already almost 1pm, we still had at least 15 kilometres further to hike and least 2000 feet more of elevation to lose and re-gain.
With the day slipping on and with a lot left to do, we didn't dally long on The Horn's summit. We resumed our walk along the A.T., following it down from The Horn and back into the trees, descending nearly a thousand feet before starting a steep ascent up about 500 feet to a 3,500-foot smaller summit called Saddleback Junior. The trail on the way down and up this section was not like the smooth bedrock ramps we had encountered on the way up and along Saddleback and to the Horn; instead, it was rougher, or, in other words, a more typical northeastern mountain trail.
We did little bit more trail-tag with the four hikers (and we confirmed that they were in fact Thru-Hikers) before they peeled off for lunch at a new campsite along the route near the Horn-Saddleback Junior col. We then made a short but tiring and hot ascent to the summit of Saddleback Junior. The summit of this little peak is excellent, especially in light of it being only 3600 feet high. It has a nice little crown of open terrain with fantastic views.
Strange Trumpet-like Mushroom