When people consider hiking in Maine, most don’t consider Evans Notch, which is located on the Maine-New Hampshire border and outside of the mountain mainstream. Evans Notch Road crosses the notch. Most of the peaks on the east side of Evans Notch Road are in Maine and are part of the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness. One of the highest and most challenging climbs in the wilderness is Mount Caribou, which rises to 2,850 feet. Two things make the ascent particularly appealing: lots of challenging stream crossings and gorgeous views from the craggy top of the mountain.
Although a trail leads to the summit from the east, the preferred routes start on Evans Notch Road and approach from the west. I usually enter Evans Notch Road from the north in Gilead. From there the road is approximately 3.5 miles south on a narrow winding paved road past Hastings Campground to a parking area on the left. Please note, the road is closed in winter.
For many years, Caribou Mountain has been a popular fall hike for the Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society. The temperature was in the 20s, but the skies were clear and sunny when we got to the trailhead in an early November morning. From the parking lot, two hiking trails lead to the summit: the Caribou and Mud Brook trails. Lots of people choose to complete a 6.6 mile loop hike and that was our choice.
Still recovering from hip surgery I suggested starting with the Mud Brook trail which I remember from aging had steeper sections on the ascent while the rest of the Mud Brook and Caribou trails offered a more gradual descent on the way back. I figured walking counterclockwise would be easier on my new, relatively untrained left hip. Retirees understand the frequent illnesses that we suffer from, the elderly, so my suggestion was easily adopted.
We encountered several stream crossings on a gradual climb for about two miles along Mud Creek through sparse, predominantly deciduous forest. As it faces northeast, the path narrows and becomes steeper. Our pace slowed down as we negotiated over or around several windfall and craggy rock formations. Shortly after entering a stunted coniferous growth, the Chowderheads persevered to an open bluff with magnificent views of the multiple peaks of Speckled Mountain and the vast south of Evans Notch. Just beyond, the character of the path transformed into a continuum of exposed ledges leading higher and higher. Although some trail finding difficulties were encountered, we made it to the spectacular open summit just in time for lunch.
Our interlude at the top was a remarkable alpine encounter. Temperatures had risen, winds were negligible and the skies cleared. We lingered for a long, pleasant respite while savoring a 360-degree panorama that included the towering peaks of the Presidential Range in neighboring New Hampshire.
My memory failed me again. The downhill slope from the summit was steep and very wet. The foot was unsteady, forcing our intrepid group to slow down to make sure we took carefully selected action. Mud Brook Trail lives up to its name.
A blanket of snow covered the ground when we reached the Caribou Trail junction. Puddles and patches of mud in a sea of fallen leaves forced us to carefully negotiate the rocky passage. The stream crossings were steeper and more dangerous than those encountered on the Mud Brook Trail.
After a dangerous crossing, I mistakenly climbed into a stand of alder trees on a slippery slope covered in snow. While struggling to keep my balance, the suspicious hip gave way. To the chagrin of my companions, I did a somersault to the trail. Nothing was hurt, but my pride. I thought my performance deserved at least a “9” for technique. Relentless levelers, the Chowderheads disagreed.
Further stream crossings were experienced after the connection with Morrison Brook. A participant reminded us that a storm washed away a bridge spanning a large part of the creek further down the trail. Since all of the streams were high, we were concerned that wading in deep water would be an unpleasant end to our trip. Luckily, we were able to negotiate cautiously from rock to rock without incident.
The rest of the hike was an easy hike. This is what I recalled while pleading for our choice of orientation. Older people tend to remember the best and forget the worst.
The author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England”, Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “MAINE AL FRESCO: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” will soon be published by North Country Press. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or you can reach him at [email protected]