This trip did not get off to a good start however. Upon arrival at Cathedral Pines Campground in Eustis, Maine, we realized that after packing the car full of camping gear, hiking gear and wedding attire we had independently forgotten BOTH our sleeping bags. Seeing as though it was already dark and a thunderstorm was approaching, we hunkered down in our tent with multiple layers on along with towels and Gore-tex jackets thrown over top. We survived the cool July night albeit with much tossing and turning and general discomfort. This area of Maine is pretty sparse in terms of finding camping supplies but we did end up finding a store that we bought warm but short blankets for the rest of the trip.
After our chilly evening, we filled our bellies with hot porridge and coffee and set out for the Fire Warden's trail at 8:30AM. We found the trailhead at Stratton Brook Pond on our first try (other reports say it's difficult) and parked at the busy trailhead and set off towards the pond. This area is obviously a popular free camping area in the summer - we found many people sleeping in or beside their cars.
The Fire Warden's trail takes about 5miles/8km to ascend to the col on the ridge between the two peaks. It begins on a flat trail beside the ponds before turning into the forest for most of the remainder of the hike. The trail is marking with light blue blazes until the col where blazes turn white. The shade provided by the trees here is welcoming on a hot summer day. The trail ascends about 1000ft before leveling off again further up. 1.6 miles in you reach the junction with the Horns Pond Trail and a trail register to sign-in for the day.
Once hitting the junction you can choose to take West Peak (0.3miles) or Avery (0.4miles) first. We chose to bear left to West Peak first. The mossy vegetation and well trod path lead up to a prominent rocky outcropping at the top of an obvious summit, complete with a summit cairn and sign. Beautiful views of Sugarloaf ski hill, the Crockers and Flagstaff Lake make this summit one to remember. It took us 3 hours from the Trailhead and 3000ft of climbing to get to this summit at 4145'.
Descending down the staircase and forested trail was fairly straight forward and before we knew it we were back at the ponds and out to our car. The totals for the day were:
Date: July 29th, 2018
Distance: 9.72 miles/15.65km
Time: 6.5 hours
Map: Rangeley Lakes Region Trail Map