3.1 miles (one way) to the West Peak, elevation 3,662 feet
4 miles (ditto) to the summit of East Baldpate, elevation 3,812
6-8ish hours (round trip)
Difficulty: Weekend Warriors
The Appalachian Trail’s northbound ascent of Baldpate Mountain from Grafton Notch is a rocky, bruising trail in the summer that crushes the hopes of thru hikers looking for an easy stretch after the rigorous Mahoosuc Range. Add snow and this hike transforms into a backcountry winter wonderland where you’re more likely to encounter a moose than a fellow hiker.
Unlike trails that begin with a gradual approach, this Baldpate ascent gets steep from the get-go, gaining nearly a 1,000 feet in elevation in the .07-mile stretch between the lower and upper junctions of the Table Rock loop trail. We passed on Table Rock during this hike, but I highly recommend this detour for first timers as the views of adjacent Old Speck (Maine’s third tallest mountain) are worth the extra effort.
The Table Rock loop is a popular trail that continues to get winter traffic. In the there’s-a-first-time-for-everything category, we saw a kid doing this hike with no pack except for a full-size medieval sword strapped to his back. Sorry, I failed to ask if he’d pulled it out of Table Rock. Once past the upper junction, the chances of seeing King Arthur, or any other hikers, are slim to none, as most winter peak baggers opt for Old Speck instead.
For having chosen the trail less traveled, Baldpate treated us to a forest decorated in two feet of virgin snow. Of course this also meant we were breaking trail the whole way, which makes alpine snowshoes required equipment for this hike.
Simply following the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes is a challenge unto itself, too, especially in the middle section where the trail flattens out and even descends through open hardwoods. Many of the trees were plasted with snow, further camouflaging the blazes, and on a couple occasions we got off the trail and had to backtrack. Apparently it’s not a good idea to get caught up in following moose tracks.
Shortly after the side trail to the Baldpate Lean-to, the steep ascent to Baldpate’s West Peak begins. There are a few spots that can get tricky, but we did fine with trekking poles and the snowshoe heel bar flipped up. The West Peak is partially open with a view of the East Baldpate summit. There’s a significant sag between the two peaks and the descent from the west side includes a wooden ladder that is, well, interesting with snowshoes.
After venturing into the sag we could see the East Peak was all ice, and with one set of crampons between the two of us, we decided to turn back. Maybe we would have been fine had we stayed near treeline, but in winter the mountains and Mother Nature have zero tolerance for stupid, so we erred on the side of a safe descent. Better to hike another day.
The trail head parking lot is on the left side of Route 26 (heading North) between Newry and Upton, Maine. This parking lot also services hikes to Old Speck Mountain and the Grafton Notch Loop Trail.
The trail got steep and slippery with a combo of ice and fresh powder on the climb to the West Peak.
At first I thought this was a frozen spider web, but it turned out to be a hair.
The morning sun peeking through the trees promised a warmer summit.
The East Baldpate summit as viewed from the partially open West Peak. We couldn’t have asked for a better day. There was nary a cloud in the sky and surprisingly not a hint of wind.
The snow-crusted krummholz on the West Peak.
Looking north toward Umbagog Lake.
Once we’d worked our way down into the sag, we could clearly see the East Peak was mostly ice.
Looking back at the West Peak from the sag.