The trail mostly follows the northern rim of this steep ravine, veering away for a bit in one spot to re-route around a section that had landslid some time ago. The trail then makes a sudden turn and switchbacks very steeply down a weakness in the ravine wall. This section is very steep and very rough, and involves lots of awkward moves around big boulders in a jumble along the steep slope. This is the roughest section of the Rangeley-Stratton section of the A.T.
Once below the very rough section, an easy trail resumes and contours north on a bank above the South Branch of the Carrabassett River - the river which lies at the bottom of Caribou Valley. Eventually, the A.T. descends the bank and intersects the river at a point where a simple solitary wooden plank provides a bridge across the river. We stopped here for a good food break. There was another bushy-beared guy resting here (in fact, he'd passed us back up on the trail a little ways back). We queried, and sure enough, he was a Thru-hiker.
We had a very pleasant conversation; he revealed that he was from Chicago, and was planning on trying to make the Horns Pond lean-to in the Bigelow Range for the evening (still a fair distance away from where we were now). One thing was becoming clear - in late September, there seems to be more Thru-Hikers along the A.T. on a week-day in this region of Maine than 'regular' hikers. We were clearly in the minority! (it also meant that we were likely the slowest hikers on the traverse at the moment).
After a very relaxing and energy-replenishing break, we crossed the river and climbed up the far bank, and then soon crossed the Caribou Valley Road. The A.T. then continued west, climbing an easy slope for quite a long time up towards South Crocker mountain. It became clear that whenever the trail decided to climb for real, it was going to be steep.
Crossing the S. Carrabassett
View from S. Crocker's Flank
The middle section of the climb up South Crocker was indeed steep. As a bit of a reward, however, there were several open boulder-fields along the way that gave fine views north down Caribou Valley towards the Bigelow Range.
Above the steeps was another gradually-ascending section that traversed the upper slopes of Crocker Mountain to the summit. Again, the A.T. did not go to the actual summit - rather, a short spur trail led a few yards to the highest point and a limited view towards Sugarloaf. The Thru-hiker we had talked to earlier was at the summit; I'm pretty sure he was talking to his girlfriend on a cell-phone.
It was now almost 1pm, and we had one more 4000-footer to go. We were again getting a bit tired (the previous day had been long and hard, and so far we'd already done close to 4,000 feet of gain. And we knew that after summitting the last peak -- Crocker -- there was still quite a long ways to go before reaching the highway.
The trail over from South Crocker to Crocker wasn't too bad: it lost a little over 300 feet, wasn't especially rough, and was less than a mile away, so it wasn't too long before we were standing in front of the reddish-brownish A.T. sign atop Crocker's summit. Our last 4000-footer of the trip, and my 113th NE 111er peak. Getting very, very close!
We had a good, long rest break at the summit. I laid down atop my pack and closed my eyes for a bit, soaking in a welcome period of sun (even though the forecast was for mostly sunny, the day had so far been fairly cloudy, windy, and cool).