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Carey Kish

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island has been adventuring in the woods and mountains of Maine for, well, a long time. If there’s a trail—be it on dirt, rock, snow, water or pavement—he will find it, explore it, and write about it. Carey is a two-time Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, Registered Maine Guide, author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast, editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), and has written a hiking & camping column for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram since 2003. Follow his outdoor travels and musings here, and on Facebook/CareyKish. Let Carey know what you think at MaineOutdoors@aol.com.

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Maineiac Outdoors with Carey Kish
Posted: October 31, 2014

Hiking, skiing & mountain biking: On top of the world at Stratton Brook Hut

Stratton Brook Hut is perched atop a wooded knoll just shy of 1,900 feet in elevation on the south slope of the Bigelow Range. It’s a pretty incredible location indeed for the fourth and latest backcountry hut in the fabulous and growing Maine Huts & Trails system, which one day may have as many as 12 huts along a 180-mile stretch of Western Maine mountains terrain.

From the lookout ledges a short walk from the hut, visitors are treated to a most spectacular view along the length of the Bigelows, from Cranberry Peak to the unnamed humps around Horns Pond, the shapely pyramidal summits of North and South Horn, the 4,000-foot-plus alpine heights of West Peak and then Avery Peak, all the way along to the long, high ridgeline of Little Bigelow.

View of Cranberry Peak in the Bigelow Range from Stratton Brook Hut. Photo © Carey Kish.

View of Cranberry Peak in the Bigelow Range from Stratton Brook Hut. Photo © Carey Kish.

The 4,000-footers, West Peak and Avery Peak, from Stratton Brook Hut. Photo © Carey Kish.

The 4,000-footers, West Peak and Avery Peak, from Stratton Brook Hut. Photo © Carey Kish.

I was up there with my wife a few weeks back at the height of the fall foliage in the Carrabassett Valley region and was duly impressed. We were there for the annual Harvest at the Huts 5-course dinner extravaganza, a great foodie experience I highly recommend. Now I can’t wait for winter to get back in—or rather, up—there to Stratton Brook Hut on skis or snowshoes for a couple of sublime days and nights in the snow.

Stratton Brook Hut sits at nearly 1,900 feet in view of the Bigelow Range. Photo © Carey Kish.

Stratton Brook Hut sits at nearly 1,900 feet in view of the Bigelow Range. Photo © Carey Kish.

Warm and comfy are the huts, no matter which one you choose to visit. A great hut staff takes good care of you, always friendly, always helpful. They make you feel right at home, which the huts are, far as you might be from the nearest road. There’s good food and plenty of it, wine and beer, and—big bonus—hot showers.

There’s room to relax and read, in the big comfy chairs and couches or at the dining room tables. There’s always a pot of coffee on, hot water for tea and something yummy to snack on. Lots of great people too, fellow travelers with interesting stories to share; always good conversation. I make new friends each and every time I visit the Maine huts. Cozy bunkrooms will radiant heat means a fine night of sleep amid the dark and quiet of the mountain wilds.

I mean, c’mon. You’ve got to experience it yourself and take it all in. The huts are a heckuva good time!

Lots of room to relax at Stratton Brook Hut. Photo © Carey Kish.

Lots of room to relax at Stratton Brook Hut. Photo © Carey Kish.

Two things you don't find just anywhere in the Maine backcountry! Photo © Carey Kish.

Two things you don’t find just anywhere in the Maine backcountry! Photo © Carey Kish.

There are a number of ways to get to Stratton Brook Hut, whether it’s on foot or by mountain bike in spring, summer and fall; or by Nordic skis, snowshoes and ice creepers come the winter weather.

We started from the trailhead on ME 27 just north of the Sugarloaf access road. From there it’s was about a mile’s walk along the Narrow Gauge Pathway to its junction with Newton’s Revenge Trail, an old woods road that winds up the hillside. Up Newton’s for just over a half-mile, we then turned onto the Oak Knoll Trail and followed its twisting and turning route upward the rest of the way to the hut. All told I’m figuring it’s about a 4-mile hike in this way.

We encountered more mountain bikers than we did hikers on our journey, not surprising I guess since this area has really become a hotbed of mountain biking and single track trail construction. In fact, the Oak Knoll Trail, newly opened the day we were there, was built specifically for mountain biking. No doubt, it’s equally fine for hiking as well.

The trails of the Maine Huts & Trails system are enjoyed by hikers and mountain bikers a,like this time of year; x-c skiers and snowshoers in winter. Photo © Carey Kish.

The trails of the Maine Huts & Trails system are enjoyed by hikers and mountain bikers a,like this time of year; x-c skiers and snowshoers in winter. Photo © Carey Kish.

There's lots to do in and around Stratton Brook Hut. Photo © Carey Kish.

There’s lots to do in and around Stratton Brook Hut. Photo © Carey Kish.

Hut visitors can also make the trip to Stratton Brook Hut from the Campbell Field trailhead on ME 27, which is a little south of the Sugarloaf access road. You can also hike in via the Maine Hut Trail from the Airport trailhead of Gauge Road/Poplar trailhead in the village of Carrabassett Valley. Another route in is from Stratton Brook Pond via a series of old woods roads.

Get yourself a trail map at any of the trailheads before you start out and you’ll not only see your trip in in print, but you’ll get a nice picture overall of the many and varied miles of trails in and around the huts for you to play on and enjoy.

There are a variety of routes into Stratton Brook Hut. http://www.mainehuts.org/maps/

There are a variety of routes into Stratton Brook Hut. Photo © Carey Kish.

The full-service summer season wrapped up on October 26. From now until December 19—the fall season—the huts are open on a self-service basis. This means you’ll have to pack-in your own food and pack-out all your trash. You’ll have access to the hut’s commercial kitchen for food prep, but you’ll be expected to clean up after yourself. A caretaker will be on hand to keep all systems operating, keep the wood stove stoked and greet you. And you’ll have access to the hot showers.

So, it’s a little bit of a different experience this time of year, but not much, and the big bonus is that you’ll be able to enjoy the huts at a deeply discounted rate, just $35 per night for non-members. The full-service season starts up on December 19 (except at Grand Falls Hut, which remains self-service into mid-January).

OK then, make a plan and get on up to the Maine Huts & Trails at Stratton Brook Hut (or any of the huts for that matter) and have yourself a good time. Bring your friends and family and make it a party!

MORE INFO: Maine Huts & Trails, 207- 265-2400.

Every wonderful hut visit should end with a nice tip for the friendly, hard-working staff. Photo © Carey Kish.

Every wonderful hut visit should end with a nice tip for the friendly, hard-working staff. Photo © Carey Kish.

The annual Harvest at the Hut dinner is a terrific experience. Put it on your calendar for next fall! Photo © Carey Kish.

The annual Harvest at the Hut dinner is a terrific experience. Put it on your calendar for next fall! Photo © Carey Kish.

Chef and staff prepping lots of good food in the kitchen for the Harvest dinner. Photo © Carey Kish.

Chef and staff prepping lots of good food in the kitchen for the Harvest dinner. Photo © Carey Kish.

The Harvest dinner is a really special evening in the Maine huts. Photo © Carey Kish.

The Harvest dinner is a really special evening in the Maine huts. Photo © Carey Kish.

A cheerful campfire was a nice way to end the evening at Stratton Brook Hut. Photo © Carey Kish.

A cheerful campfire was a nice way to end the evening at Stratton Brook Hut. Photo © Carey Kish.

Mountain bikers are loving the new Oak Knoll Trail at Stratton Brook Hut. Photo © Carey Kish.

Mountain bikers are loving the new Oak Knoll Trail at Stratton Brook Hut. Photo © Carey Kish.

There are many paths to adventure in the Maine Huts & Trails system. Photo © Carey Kish.

There are many paths to adventure in the Maine Huts & Trails system. Photo © Carey Kish.

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