Elevation - 3225 (Peak of the Ridges), 3541(Traveller Summit), North Traveller (??)
Posted Distance: 10.6 Miles
Suggested Time: 7 Hours
Our Time: 10 Hours
This hike is best accessed from the North Park Entrance. Follow the signs from Patten ME.
Starting from South Branch Pond, walk through the camp ground to the Poggy Notch Trailhead. Pretty early into the walk you'll see a sign for North Traveler's trail, from all accounts I've heard it's best to skip this and loop up the other way. But you, in practice, could start the ascent in this direction, which means you'll do North Travelers - Travelers Ridge - Peak of the Ridges - Travelers.
If you avoid that access, you'll follow Poggy Notch around the South Branch Pond perimeter for 1.4 Miles before leaving the trail and jumping onto Center Ridge Trail. The climb is immediate, steep and constant. The one slimmer of good news is that you're above treeline pretty quick. So nice views can be had while you're gasping for air, as we frequently were.
The trail eventually loses it's dirt foundation and becomes very rocky as the first of, I believe, four false peaks shows itself. These false peaks are VICIOUS. They're worse than Double Top's (from the South) and Double Top's were bad. Once past them you are at Peak of the Ridges, your first peak of the day.
From here you can get a great view of the remainder of the Traveler's massive - and what it has in store for you. You also have, for my money, one of the best views in Maine. Take a break because it's not getting any easier.
Actually, this is a great time to ask yourself if you want to go on. In hindsight, we maybe shouldn't have. It took us 3 hours to get this far. Once you get to Traveler's peak you're over halfway through the walk. So if the weather looks iffy, or if you're short on supplies this is the best spot to call it a day. I mean you did a pretty good climb already, right.
No? Still going on? Okay, well the first task is what is called "Little Knife's edge" the smaller, lost brother of the famous feature in the Katahdin Massif. If you don't like heights then don't look down. You're crossing a ledge that's roughly a foot wide and a straight drop if you mess-up. The one bit of good news is that it's not overly long.
It's 1.2 miles to Traveler Summit. My biggest criticism of this walk is, between peaks, how much up and down is required. The difference between Ridges and Travelers is 200 feat in height, but the walk to Traveler takes you way down, I can't say exactly how much but far more than you'd want. And then you have to regain that height and climb back up. From recollection, you deal with fewer false peaks on this ascent. Fewer, not none.
Rest and Fuel up. There is now a 2.5 mile trek to North Traveler, which crosses a landmass called Traveler ridge. Again, don't expect to stay anywhere near the 3500 feet you're at. Although welcomed the long downhill stretch is a constant reminder of how much climbing is left for the day. This briefly goes below tree cover before popping back out for the climb to Traveler Ridge. Traveler Ridge is a small peak, in the 2700 range I believe (which speaks to how much up and down you just did). Move on quickly to North Traveler, which resumes the open, rocky climbing.
We didn't get to enjoy North Traveler, which we got to about 7.5 hours into our day. A bit cranky and quickly losing daylight, we mustered all we had to get a move on.
Mistakenly, we did this in early October and started at about 9 AM. Poor Hiking decisions by us. We would have been fine if it had been the 7.5 hours the book suggested plus a slight change for our slowness. But we were much slower.
The walk down probably offers the best views, as you face Black Cat Mountain and South Branch Pond. We were (un)lucky enough to see the sunset over the mountains and were able to take that in as we reached for our headlamps.
It's a steep decline which makes the 3 Miles from North Traveler to the trail head go by a bit quicker. The campers at the South Branch campground were a welcome site.
I really enjoyed this hike. But it was certainly strenuous and we weren't ready for it. The amount of time spent above treeline is completely worth the amount of effort this hike requires. It's a challenge and a worthwhile one. I am looking forward to doing it again on a day where we won't be so rushed and slightly concerned for our lives.