Steep climb to Saddleback Jr
Treeline on Saddleback Jr
View to Saddleback and Horn
Nearing Saddleback Jr Summit
Low scrub on Saddleback Jr
Saddleback Jr Summit Sign
We were finally at the start of the big descent down to the Orbeton River. The River's valley cuts a fairly deep gouge between the Saddleback complex of peaks and the peaks clustered around Sugarloaf further north. The Appalachian Trail descends down from Saddleback Junior, losing a large amount of elevation -- over 2,000 feet -- before finally bottoming out at a river crossing that is at less than 1600 feet elevation. In fact, this point was a little bit lower than our day's starting elevation - a somewhat discouraging fact.
There was no point in staring at it for too long, since too much delay would surely mean hiking in the dark before arriving at camp. So, down we went, off the northeast side of Saddleback Junior, very steeply at first, then mostly on a very pleasant level stretch until the Poplar Ridge lean-to, where we met another Thru-Hiker. From there, we hiked slightly uphill over the crest of Poplar Ridge, and then started another long descent down to the Orbeton River. Tired and out of water, we hopped over the river's feeble flow on rocks (there's no bridge here), then plopped ourselves down for a needed break. I got out the filter for a water re-fill.
The lone Thru-hiker caught up to us as we were filtering water, and we struck up a friendly chat with him. He recounted much about his months-long journey from Georgia, and proudly pointed out his La Sportiva hikers, which he claimed had 1,400 miles on them so far. They looked like they had been run over by a garden mulcher a few times; strips of dog-eared silver duct tape covered the front of each boot.
Reasonably well-rested, we got ready to continue our journey. The Spaulding Mountain Lean-to is situated above 3,000 feet on forested ridge just below Spaulding Mountin, so it was a fairly significant uphill to our campsite -- about 1,500 feet of uphill, to be more precise. And probably another 8km or so. This was turning out to be one long day!