Last weekend Henry's 7/8 travel team played down on Mount Desert Island in the Harbor House basketball tournament. We splurged and stayed at the Bar Harbor Inn with a room overlooking the Porcupine Islands and Frenchman's Bay. All their games were at MDI High School. Driving back and forth between Bar Harbor and the school, I couldn't take my eyes off Sargent Mountain. It's ice-streaked granite dome shone in the sun like a beacon. Calling to me. Begging to be climbed.
After the boys won the tournament (finishing their undefeated season), I stood in the parking lot as everyone else headed back to Glenburn. They didn't notice Sargent Mountain rising above the dark green spruce forest like a breaching whale. It was time to answer the mountain's call. Rather than heading home, I hiked up Great Slide Trail.
The trail begins along ME 3 just north of Sargent Drive. The first mile climbs gently through mixed evergreens. In places dry and lichen-covered granite dominates. In others, boggy, moss-covered ground requires a long sinuous boardwalk. The split cedar logs underfoot weathered to a deep auburn with mossy highlights. Overhead, white pines reach their crooked limbs high above the canopy, shaking off winter's stiffness.
The trail crosses a wide carriage trail and begins following Sargent Brook. Ice rings the rounded rocks in the stream, suspended six inches above the water. The ice grows outward from the rock in irregular crystals, reaching toward shore or another rock. Where the shade is deeper, the ice connects rocks feet apart and hugs the shore in jagged lines.
I follow blue blazes over the jumbled rocks up the steepening valley. As I climb, the boulders in and around the stream get bigger. The stream squeezes and jumps between boulders, leaving a slick coating of clear ice high above the waterline. In places, the water disappears loudly beneath rocks or drops down exposed faces of rough granite.
The valley narrows. The hillsides become rock faces, scarred and fractured. Evergreens cling to the bare rock, their roots grasp the rock like gnarled hands. Reaching down toward the earth, finding gaps between boulders where organic material collects.
Beneath most of the small waterfalls, pan ice coats the small dark pools. The sound of the water echoes off the rock walls and jumbled boulders. It seems to come from everywhere at once. It is loudest when I pass close to a rockface that overhangs the trail. The sound becomes a hushed murmur when I carefully cross the stream, stepping only on the rocks that stick far enough out of the water to remain ice-free. The best stepping stones are pink granite worn smooth by generations of hikers.
Like the stream, the trail climbs huge boulders that have fallen into the narrow valley. In several places, the trail squeezes beneath boulders. Cool air drifts out of cracks deep into the valley floor where ice will hide well into the year. Every flat surface is covered with rusting needles and clutches of leathery ferns.
A half mile from the carriage road the trail comes to an intersection. To the right the Parkman Mountain Trail climbs out of the valley and heads for its namesake. To the left, the Sargent Northwest Trail climbs toward my goal. Straight ahead the Giant Slide Trail is blocked where a slab of granite split from the valley wall and slid into Sargent Brook.The trail squeezes between the slab and the valley's wall through a crack like an inverted V, three feet wide at its base. Its floor is covered with ice.
I turn left, cross the stream, and begin climbing Sargent Mountain.
Long before the summit, the trail switchbacks out of the forest and onto bare granite. I stop to take pictures of the surrounding country. On the horizon, below the smear of glowing clouds that hide the sun, the Camden Hills are a jagged line. Nearer, Blue Hill lounges across silver bays and lakes. Farther east Schoodic Nubble and Black Mountain rise from Frenchman's Bay. I slowly turn, taking picture after picture in the warm afternoon sun. A cool breeze curls around me—nothing like the gale that had blown the last two days.
The trail winds toward the summit cairn between patches of stunted spruce and birch. Rivers of ice flow over the exposed bedrock. Carefully, I pick my way higher, avoiding ice and moving from one Bates' cairn to the next.
On the summit, I either need to put a coat on or leave. I take a few more pictures and head down the Grandgent Trail. It descends steeply into the trees, deep into the notch between Sargent Mountain and Gilmore Peak. From the notch, its a short climb over Gilmore Peak to the Giant Slide Trail.
The Giant Slide Trail follows Sargent Brook, from near its source in the notch between Gilmore Peak and Parkman Mountain. I follow along the brook as it dances down the mountain, back to the trailhead.