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Four of the NE100 Six Pack - July 4-6, 2008


Sep 16, 2002
The Watch City
Date(s) Hiked: July 4-6, 2008

Trails(s) Hiked: n/a

Total Distance: ~ 18 miles

Difficulty: High. Solid navigation and bushwhacking skills are mandatory. It's a long distance and a challenge just to get to these trailheads. Getting lost here can be extremely bad.

Conditions: hot, dry, sunny

Special Required Equipment: map, compass, bug spray, long pants and sleeves, extra water

Trip Report:

The Six-Pack. It was close to seven years ago when I first heard this expression used to describe a group of peaks in Maine on the New England Hundred Highest list. The connotations it carried were imposing: logging roads, bushwhacks, even formally arranged group trips to cross private land. At the time, these summits seemed the most intimidating I could face, and as I worked my way through the 48 and 67, I was relieved to put them off. Once I got to #92, however, there was no way to deny it ... it was time to climb them.

Sabrina and I arranged 3-day weekends from our jobs and a wilderness site at Cupsuptic Campground. Given our schedule, we would attempt five peaks: East Kennebago, the North Peak of Kennebago Divide, White Cap, Boundary, and Cupsuptic Snow. Elephant would have to wait for a return visit. After a stressful week of poring over maps and trip reports, we piled a ton of gear plus Terra into the car and hit the road bright and early on the morning of July 4th.

It's a long drive up to the Rangeley area, compounded by many of the small towns along the way having street festivals and/or parades with road closures and detours. We eventually got onto Route 16 north and started looking for the logging road system that leads to East Kennebago. For this, the GPS was a huge help. For the most part, the Garmin Topo 2008 maps showed the correct logging roads for all of our peaks on this trip. There were, however, some glaring (and critical) inaccuracies, but they wouldn't affect us until Snow. For now, I was very grateful to see the correct turn and even know which junction was the infamous "Landing" at which to bear right. After that, we followed Gene D's basic instruction of staying left below 2400' and going right once above. I wasn't quite sure at one of these upper junctions, and went left to explore where it went, but in fact it was the place to go right.

At this point, Sabrina jumped out of the car and into action. She removed a few small blowdowns, together we yanked a larger one off the road, and another that couldn't be completely removed, she held out of the way so I could pass with the car. She then guided me over several small washouts. None of this was a problem for a regular production Outback, but a car with lower ground clearance or 2WD would have issues/problems/get stuck. Finally we came to a landing area at an intersection, and parked the car at around 2500'. We geared up and with Terra leading the way, started hiking up the now-undrivable old road at 12:45.

The area was very beautiful, with grasses, fern, and wildflowers. Views to the south were visible in spots. The day was sunny, blue, and warm. Before we knew it, we'd found the county boundary and were following it up. As we felt it start to top out, we started whacking, following intermittent (animal) herd paths until we reached the broad, flat summit, where numerous, well-trodden herd paths crossed all over the place. It took a little exploration to find it, but around 2:00 we located the canister. A harbinger of things to come, the area was smothered in insects, though a light application of DEET (Benz-100) kept them at bay. We enjoyed the many familiar names in the register; it's actually pretty cool to get all the way to the top of a peak like that in the middle of nowhere and know so many of the people who'd been there before, even if they're accused by cartoon characters of being losers.

With not much else to see, we decided to follow a herd path down and see where it went. Well, if you choose the right one, it will make your life incredibly easy. Presto, we were back down at the car by just after 3:00, navigated the logging roads back to 16, and made our way to camp. We checked in at Cupsuptic Campground; however, we had one of their wilderness sites, which are wonderful. Our site was right on the Cupsuptic River, a considerable distance away on major logging/dirt roads. It took us probably 10 minutes to get there, but wow. It was a beautiful, large, open site, no water but our own privy, plenty of privacy, and really just felt like a world away from anything else. Our only drawback? Apparently someone had squatted on the site, and the campground had collected and removed their gear, leaving a note for them. Needless to say we were a bit stressed out about this, wondering when these people would come, but as it turned out they were pretty easy going and cool with the whole situation. They headed off to retrieve their gear, and we headed to sleep to get ready for the big day.

Saturday the plan was White Cap, Boundary, and North Kennebago Divide. Once again we started out on the logging roads. I had anticipated it taking a while to get to the trailhead on the logging roads, and indeed it went according to plan. The directions were pretty simple - Lincoln Pond Road to the new Wiggle Brook Cutoff, then follow that road as far up as possible, and that's exactly what we did. We stopped at the site of the old bridge over the Kennebago River, simply to confirm our location. Just past that, and then again a little distance further, were two new logging roads turning to the right, each immediately passing over a bridge. We checked out these roads and had to turn back quite quickly as the ruts were several feet deep. After that, we just followed the main road around its turn to the right, which was the right way to go.

There were a few spots where having the Outback was useful, but a smaller car with a daring driver could have made it up to where we parked, a very large, wide turnaround and the obvious end of the drivable way. We were at 2678', it was around 9:30am, an hour and 16-1/2 miles from camp, and the walk up the old forest road began. This is a beautiful hike, full of lush, green foliage in the lower stretches, then a wonderful mossy area up high in the col. We continued until we felt ready to 'whack, then about an hour from the car, we turned towards the summit along the ridge line where it's open. It took us only 20 minutes to reach the summit of White Cap and locate the canister. After another enjoyable reading of the register, the fun truly began as we started towards Boundary.

This is as real as bushwhacking gets. No herd path, just a compass and map (with the occasional GPS sanity check). We quickly established a routine of Sabrina doing a terrific job of finding routes through the vegetation (which invariably went to the right), and my keeping us going in the correct general direction (which invariably was not to the right). Terra helped a lot, too - if there was any kind of herd path to be found, you could count on the herd dog to find it. The going was straightforward, though the occasional "stick forest" region led to plenty of scratches and pokes. We hit the col right on, even finding a cairn of two huge white quartz stones piled atop an old stump. From there, we started up again, weaving our way between what felt like old skid paths and dense evergreens. Finding a summit is easier than finding a col - all you have to do is keep going up. About an hour from White Cap we broke out onto the border swath and stood on the summit of this NE3K known to some as Monument 450 Peak. The GPS read 3552'.

We started northward along the swath towards Boundary. It's steep. For all intents, it's like hiking a ski trail - it just goes straight down the slope. 500' in 0.4 miles, with the midday sun bearing down on us and brutal bug swarms. Soon it leveled out along the western fringe of Dennison Bog, where it got just wet enough to really slow us down as we had to watch our footing. The Canadian side of the border is a private hunting preserve, and we passed many salt licks and blinds, as well as a few paths coming in from the west. Then the climb began: 680' in a half-mile. At this point our water supplies were exceedingly low, I had the beginnings of leg cramps slowing me down, and it was after 1:30. Our destination was in sight, but we still had another sub peak to go, then a descent, the climb to Boundary itself, then repeat the entire swath in reverse, 'whack to White Cap, 'whack to NKD, and get back to the car. In what was as painful emotionally as the mass of bug bites on the backs of my calves, I told Sabrina I had to turn around. Even Terra agreed. From a time and water perspective it turned out to be the right decision, but it still sucked, given all we had accomplished, and doubly so since I should have known that an open swath would require extra water.

It took us (well, I was the slow one, now with nearly-continuous leg cramps) an hour and a half to get back to Monument 450, another hour and twenty to White Cap, then backtracked to the White Cap / NKD col. We started our bushwhack at 5:00 sharp, wandering the col trying to find a good route to the peak. I was suffering from pretty bad dehydration at that point, and allowed us to get too far to the west and almost dropped down the slopes below the col before correcting. Eventually we picked up some more open woods, and of course near the top found a herd path that led right to the canister, arriving atop North Kennebago Divide right at 6:00. We made short work of signing in, I drank my last drops of water, and we started down. We eyed several possible paths but given the time did not want to take any risks that they might wrap around towards the Porter Brook approach or otherwise not reach our logging road, so we backtracked as well as we could but this time hit the col dead-on, which lead to a bunch of thick stuff to have to push through. At this point the idea of more pokes and scratches was nearly unbearable, but we dug in until suddenly we found ourselves back on our original ascent path. It took us only 40 minutes to get down to that point, and we kicked it into wobbly overdrive for the final walk back down to the car. We arrived at 7:20 as the light was starting to fade, a 10-hour, 11-mile day with 2 out of 3 done. I was now at #95, Sabrina at #71. We sucked down chocolate soy milks, and I made quick work of two cans of soda before we even started on our hour-plus, 20-mile drive back to the campground for badly-needed showers. We even got to see a pair of moose on the road as we started driving. By the time we got to our campsite, we were totally kaput. Sabrina boiled hot dogs, we inhaled them between swarms of mosquitoes, and fell asleep the moment our heads hit our pillows.

We awoke the next morning only thanks to the sun touching the tent and quickly overheating it. An early start just wasn't in the cards after the previous day's dehydration, and so the plan was shortened to just Snow; Elephant would have to wait another day. Coffee was brewed, breakfast eaten, and camp disassembled. Once everything was in the car, we started another long drive. This one was exacerbated by my choosing the wrong turn for Wiggle Brook Road. This is because for this road, the topo I was using was wrong. It showed the turn where I took it, then the road crossing to the north of a brook and continuing west. In fact, that road doesn't make the brook crossing, it just gets rougher and rougher and eventually ends at a landing. The real Wiggle Brook Road is a very obvious, huge intersection a little further north, and it continues west, where it eventually "rejoins" the topo. It gets narrow, but remains a solid road. Over an hour and almost 18 miles from camp, including the accidental detour, we finally hit marker "22" and turned up the smaller road. Sabrina guided me between the rocks around a large mud puddle, then I aimed the tires up the little plateaus between the ruts, finally parking in a nice, open, flat area around 2660'. We began the hike around 10:30am, definitely not an alpine start!

We followed the road up through a beautiful area, noting where another road came in on the right, which my guess is from the Burnt Mountain Road approach. Then we came to a junction where the landmark I'd been told about didn't exist any more. There was a cairn, though, so after examining the topo map we decided to go that way towards the top of a col instead of a direct assault on the peak. In retrospect, that might be possible, given where we found a herd path while coming down, but we weren't in a rush and wanted to make the most of this hike, so we followed road and herd path all the way through a clearcut to the very top of the ridgeline before turning to face the summit. The going here got tough as we climbed over and through slash, but eventually we hit an old skid path which led right to untouched woods.

We hit a big patch of stick forest almost immediately, and our tender skin begged not to have to deal with it. Once again Sabrina's route finding got us around the mess, but a little too far to the right, which was quite steep but very open and easy going. As we approached the broad summit, the trees opened up and the ground covered over with ferns. The herd paths up there were true "herd" paths, nearly completely covered with moose droppings. We sought and sought for the highest point, and there was the canister, 2.1 miles from the car. We signed in, again marvelled at all the great previous entries, and started down. This time we took a different route, much easier on the slopes, but it started to leave us too far north to hit our clearcut/col. It was a beautiful day, a mix of clouds and sun, and such an elegant hike, we chose to not risk spoiling it and so slowly brought our descent route back in line with our ascent, coming across the top of the ridge and then whisking back down the old roads. What took us 1:45 to ascend only took 1:10 to descend. We celebrated with the last of our cold drinks from the cooler, #96 for myself and #72 for Sabrina, then hopped in the car and made our way back to Cupsuptic Campground.

Overall, these hikes are difficult but not hard. Logistically they require a lot of planning, a good car, and good navigation skills both on and off trail and road. The bushwhacking is straightforward, but if you get it wrong, you can indeed find yourself in a lot of trouble since these locations are beyond the edge of nowhere. Surprisingly, we had cell signal almost everywhere, but I wouldn't count on always being able to make a call. The hiking itself, though, is pretty mellow. We enjoyed these peaks immensely, as they were unlike anything we'd done before, a true challenge to us both, and by teaming up on the navigation were able to really enjoy them (except for the boundary swath, which was just ick). The bug bites, scratches and pokes made for quite an impressive display, and my cramps left my leg muscles bruised and painful for most of the week.

On the way home, we showered at the campground, stopped for tasty iced coffee in a tiny little deli/café in Rangeley, then beelined it all the way to Portland. As we came into the city, we hit a fog line off the ocean and the temperature dropped over 10 degrees. It was a beautiful evening, and time for lobster! We went to the Portland Lobster Company, right on the waterfront. We found a table out on the deck, ordered at the bar, got our drinks and lobster-shaped pager, and sat back to listen to an acoustic bluegrass quartet. The music was awesome, the food doubly so. It was an extremely righteous end to a great weekend.

Our pictures are here.