A clear and breezy night with temperatures that did not dip below freezing made for a fresh and pleasant night's sleep. We wanted to get started on the trail before 7 a.m., and so we had set our rise time for 5:30 a.m., which gave us ample time to get ready. Apparently we were the early birds at the camp this day: no one else was up yet. We quietly made our breakfast some distance away from the lean-to so as not to disturb anyone, then packed everything up and headed down to the nearby water source to fill up on water for the day.
Our get-ready time was very good today: we were off and hiking just after 6:30 a.m.
The weather was, like yesterday, clear and a bit breezy. Our objective for the day was to complete our walk along the A.T. to Maine highway 27, where our car was parked. Along the way, we would summit four more 4000-footer peaks: Spaulding Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, and the two Crockers. We also knew that there would again be significant up-and-down today: After summitting Spaulding and Sugarloaf, the A.T. dives all the way down to the Caribou Valley Road, then climbs all the way back up to the Crockers.
From the Spaulding Mountain Lean-to, the A.T. immediately started an ascent towards the summit of Spaulding - gradually at first, then increasing in steepness. The trail was of typical roughness (i.e. it wasn't that smooth) and after it achieved a fairly steep grade, charted a course mostly directly uphill towards the summit.
The A.T. does not go over the actual summit of Spaulding. Instead, we had to follow a short 100-yard spur trail to reach the essentially-treed-in summit. There weren't many views, and we had much left to do this day, so we didn't dally long.
There's a fairly big 500-foot drop in elevation from the top of Spaulding, but other than that, the trail along the ridge connecting it to Sugarloaf is actually quite pleasant, with mostly good footing and through pleasant tracts of coniferous trees. Along this section of trail, we encountered a Civilian Conservation Corps monument that commemorates the completion of the final link in the 2,000+ mile Appalachian Trail.
There is also a nice lookout along the way that gave good views east to the ever-more colorful foliage down at lower elevations. Soon after this view, we arrived at the junction with the Sugarloaf side trail.
At one point in time, the Appalachian Trail used to go directly over the top of Sugarloaf Mountain (in fact, at one point, Sugarloaf was the end of the A.T.). However, in 1976, the A.T. was rerouted to bypass Sugarloaf's summit and head more directly over to the Crockers. I can only presume that this had something to do with the creation of the downhill ski infrastructure that now exists at the top of the mountain. In any case, Sugarloaf remains as one of the 4000-footers in Maine, and therefore we wanted to do it (plus it has a nice open summit, ski equipment or no).
The side trail from the junction to the summit is more than half a mile long, and a good 500 feet of elevation gain. We therefore decided to hang our packs in the woods and make our life a little easier.
A.T. - Sugarloaf Junction
With the extra boost from having 30 lbs less weight on our backs, we made good time climbing up the steep trail to Sugarloaf's summit, and it wasn't long before we could see the various transmission towers and other infrastructure of the summit rising above us. A curious item was an old A.T. trail marker sunk into the trail on the way up - proving that this track was indeed once part of the A.T.
We broke out into open Alpine terrain and walked the last few hundred feet towards the summit. This marked my 111th summit of my NH 111 list - but, as we all know, the NH111 is actually now 115, so I still had 4 more peaks to go.
The sun shone wanly through some high cloud that had drifted in, and the north wind seemed especially biting up here. As a result, we didn't spend too much time on top. In minutes, we were heading back down into the shelter of the trees. On the way back down, we encountered Richard - the hiker we had shuttled with the day before - making his way up to Sugarloaf. Given his speed, we felt sure we'd see him again later in the day.
After retrieving our packs and returning to the junction, we resumed our northbound walk along the A.T. The next little while was mostly flat as the trail contoured along a high shoulder of Sugarloaf. It then emerged at the edge of a steep ravine that has been carved out of Sugarloaf's western flanks. The ravine has some high cliffs and slabs along its rim, and the A.T. follows a bit of that as it makes its way down towards Caribou Valley. We could now clearly see our next two peaks across the valley from us. Yep - a lot of down and a lot of up to go!