Difficulty: Strenuous. The Barren-Chairback Range is considered to be one of the most difficult sections of the Appalachian Trail. It is rocky and steep. A day hike to the summit of Barren Mountain is a little under 7.5 miles total.
How to get there: Drive north through Monson village on Route 15-Route 6. Just north of the village, turn right onto Elliotsville Road. Drive about 8 miles and turn left onto Bodfish Road (also called Mountain Road). Drive 2.2 miles and cross a narrow bridge. After the bridge, drive 0.5 mile and take a left onto a narrow gravel road. In about 0.2 mile, you will pass Otter Pond on your right. From the pond, drive 0.5 mile to the end of the road, where a turnaround serves as a small parking area for the trail. The trail begins at the far end of the turnaround and is marked by pink flagging tape.
Information: Barren Mountain rises 2,670 feet above sea level in Elliotsville Township and is one of the many peaks visited by thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail. On the way up the steep western slope of the mountain, the AT visits Barren Slide and Barren Ledges, both of which offer breathtaking views of the region, then continues up to the mountain’s partially bald summit, topped with an old fire tower.
Barren Mountain can be tackled in a day by using a fairly new access trail located at the end of a gravel road off Bodfish Road (also gravel). The trail, which starts out as an old tote road, is marked by flagging tape and travels uphill to reach the AT in 0.8 mile, just north of the Long Pond Stream Lean-to, according to appalachiantrail.rohland.org. You will be able to hear Long Pond Stream from the juncture.
At the AT, turn right (northbound) and hike up the west slope of Barren Mountain. Marked with white blazes (as is the entire AT), the trail is steep and becomes increasingly rocky with exposed roots.
About a mile from the juncture, you will reach the short side trail (250 meters) to Barren Slide, an interesting rock slide that offers amazing views of Lake Onawa and nearby mountains, such as Borestone Mountain.
Continue on the Appalachian Trail up Barren Mountain and you will soon reach Barren Ledges, which offer a similar view of the area. Both places are ideal spots to take a break for trail snacks and water.
From the ledges, it is 1.8 miles to the summit of Barren Mountain. The trail becomes flat for a distance, which will be a welcome break after such a steep climb up to the Barren Slide (believe me). Stretch your legs and enjoy the easy stretch. The AT then begins to climb once more. Take note of the long rock staircase up one of the steep sections of trail — an unexpected and interesting trail feature to be so far up on the mountain.
The trail leads to a wooden summit sign that is fastened at the bottom of a fire tower. The 27-foot tall steel tower was erected in 1951, according to www.firelookout.org. The tower’s wooden cab is no longer in place, but hikers can locate the roof of the cab on the ground near the summit.
For a day hike that is approximately 7.5 miles total, turn around at the summit and descend the mountain, retracing your steps back to the parking area.
However, if you continue north on the AT, you will reach a side trail to Cloud Pond Lean-to about 0.9 mile from Barren Mountain summit, according to the “Official Map and Guide to the Appalachian Trail in Maine” 2004 edition published by the Maine Appalachian Trail Club. The side trail is 0.3 mile and leads to lean-tos at the alpine Cloud Pond, which is 2,409 feet above sea level and located along the long ridge of Barren Mountain. Many AT thru-hikers and multi-day hikers stay overnight at the lean-to.
From there, the AT continues across the Barren-Chairback Range and north to its northern terminus, Baxter Peak of Katahdin in Baxter State Park.
The entire AT is roughly 2,200 miles long, and it’s southern end is at Springer Mountain in Georgia. During the months of August, September and October, many northbound thru-hikers (people hiking the entire trail) are walking along the trail in Maine, the final leg of the long trek.
For a detailed map of Barren Mountain and other mountains and day hikes along the AT in Maine, visit MATC’s website at www.matc.org.
Personal note: One of Derek’s favorite mountains is Borestone Mountain, so it was easy for me to convince him to join me in hiking Barren Mountain, which is just north of Borestone and just a bit taller. Besides, we both needed the workout. We hadn’t hiked any big mountains (for Maine, at least) for a month (time flies).
Saturday, Aug. 31, started out foggy and soggy, but multiple weather reports promised afternoon sun, so we hit the road with high spirits. The sky began to clear as we neared Barren Mountain on bumpy gravel roads, and our dog Oreo stuck his head out the car window to breathe in the fresh air.
Hiking toward the AT on the access trail, we ran into a group of three locals who had been fishing at Long Pond Stream.
“It’s steep,” one woman said. “I hope you’re prepared.”
We were, I told myself.
We came across the fourth person in their group soon after. He reported that he’d once hiked to the top of Barren Mountain and it was “a charge,” slang I’d never heard used before but enjoyed nonetheless.
The hike did turn out to be challenging, especially the first half, which is quite steep. But the mountain was also very rewarding. We recharged at Barren Slide and Barren Ledges, which are located roughly halfway through the climb, then continued through the forest and up to the summit.
One thing that stands out in my memory was the variety of brightly colored mushrooms growing alongside the trail. And while I found them interesting to photograph, I kept an eye on Oreo to make sure he didn’t find them interesting. Many wild mushrooms are poisonous. But Oreo, who was allowed off-leash as long as he remained in sight and on trail (which he is remarkably good at) didn’t seem to care about the mushrooms. He did, however, enjoy rolling in the moss, something that has become a bit of a habit for him.
Along the way, we had to call Oreo back and put him on his leash a few times — at the ledges and rock slide (so he wouldn’t fall) and when we came across hikers (people typically don’t like strange dogs coming up to them). That day, we came across a pair of thru-hikers, a pair of day hikers, and two solo hikers out to complete the 100-Mile Wilderness. We spoke with each person briefly before going our own way.