Warm or Cold? How to best experience Saddleback Mountain!

September 17,2018

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re you a warm weather hiker? Do you prefer that hot sun beating down on you, maybe with a little sweat dripping from your forehead? Or are you the sort of person that loves to layer up and face the frigid cold of winter? You may be like me and enjoy both seasons for a variety of reasons. Regardless, I want to share some of the differences I found in hiking one of the more popular 4,000-footers in Maine, Saddleback Mountain. If you are not familiar with this resort, it was quickly rising in popularity for skiers and snowboarders for its great trails, step terrain and not-so-crowded slopes. However, Saddleback has been closed for several years due to financial issues and is having a tough time reopening. The Portland Press Herald produced an article June 2018 regarding interest in purchase of the mountain which has since fallen through.

In the winter of 2018, I hiked Saddleback Mountain with a few friends after a pretty good snowstorm hit Maine. It was our first time hiking the mountain, but we were prepared. We brought spikes, heavy duty snowshoes, layers upon layers, and even Twisted Tea, just in case. We noticed right away that a handful of skiers had traveled here to tour up the mountain to experience the great untouched powder. Let me tell you, there was definitely a lot of powder! The climb up the mountain was much quicker than you would normally expect due to a wide open trail and step climb.

We found ourselves at the peak in roughly 1.5 hours after going a modest pace. Once at the top, we quickly encountered extremely high winds, low visibility, and extremely low temperatures. I would say the peak of Saddleback is where you notice the biggest difference between summer and winter. We quickly put on our thick gloves, goggles, beanies, and hoods to protect ourselves from the wind chill. On top of that, we had an impossible time locating the rest of the Appalachian Trail. We had planned to hike the Horn that day. Unfortunately, with the poor visibility, cold temperatures, and our unfamiliarity with the trail, we decided not to continue. We posted up out of the cold in a nearby cave-type spot and cracked open those Twisted Teas.

Summer 2018 was a completely different story. The hike to the peak of Saddleback was hot and unshaded. In fact, I noticed that these slopes were even steeper without the snow filling the valleys. One of the hottest days in the month of July took its toll on us. We were glad to hit the summer and feel that same gusty wind that was creating a -45 degree environment during our winter summit. The look and feel of this peak was extremely different. We could see all 360 degrees around us clear as day and the trail to the Horn was 100% visible, so we had to hike it!

The hike to the Horn is the second biggest difference I want to note. If you are unprepared with the trail in winter, do not try and find the Horn on your first hike. There is a large amount of scrambling, cliffs, and drops that can cause issues. However, in summer time, it is a blast! This hike we packed a few Koslch from my favorite Orono Brewing Company and enjoyed the view.

If you haven’t guessed, my preference in hiking Saddleback is most surely in the summer. As fun as the winter hike can be, I am a sucker for views and this one is hard to beat. In the summer, the town of Rangeley is much more alive, unless you want to do some snowmobiling or ice fishing, and provides great food for before and after the hike. One of my favorite spots is Parkside & Main, which provides a great view of the lake on their deck. It’s my favorite way to end a hike and well worth checking out!