Elevation - 2630 (South Branch), 2611 (North Peak/Black Cat)
Posted Distance: 6.7 Miles (Slaughter Pond - South Peak)
Suggested Time: 5 Hours
Our Time: 5.5 Hours
This hike is best accessed from the North Park Entrance. Follow the signs from Patten ME.
Starting from South Branch Pond campground we went to the right side of the lake, across a small stream (wet feet) and quickly started away from the lake. The climb starts nearly immediately and is for the most part fairly gradual. Near the summit of South Branch Pond is a great overlook of the area but you're still 15 or so minutes from the true 'peak' which is in the middle of the woods (with a sign identifying it as North Peak) and, as we learned, a subpar lunch spot. Continue on 30 minutes of up and down to Black Cat Mountain which offers a spectacular view of the Travellers Range and, on a good day, Katahdin off in the distance.
It took us 2.5 hours to the summit and there is now the option doubling back the way you can or continuing on and looping the lakes via Poggy trail.
We did the latter. The hike down from Black Cat makes you thankful, on numerous occasions, that you came up the other way. Once at the bottom you contour the lake for about half a mile before diverging slightly for a final mile and finishing back at the campground.
The loop took us 5.5 hours and I'd imagine doing an out and back to Black Cat would be four hours or less.
Ray's thoughts: Loved this hike. Loved it. From the beautiful view of the mountains from across the lake at the campground to the panoramic views at the top, this is a great, easy to moderate climb. My only suggestion is if you're looking for a break at the top, don't wait for South Peak. There is a great overlook about 10 minutes before the peak or push on the extra 15 to Black Cat. If you're trying to limit the challenge, do the route we did as the ascent from North is much trickier - but still not as strenuous as other climbs in the park.