The North Brother by Greg Westrich

Henry wasn't crazy about the hike up North Brother. We followed the Marston Trail, which climbs 3200 feet from Nesowadnehunk Stream to North Brother's rocky summit. Most of the hike is in the woods with only occasional views. A fourteen year old needs more stimulation than that. The loudly tumbling stream, the bleached gray snags and dri-ki in the remote pond, the bone white granite draped with moss, the crushed orange granite sand paving the trail on the high plateau, the clear spring water rushing down the trail, the rustling leaves in a stand of birch: No. Henry wanted wide, expansive views. He wanted every climb to be The Traveler. Don't get me wrong. He kept up with me and never complained, but his heart just wasn't in it until we climbed above the trees. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

 

Other than Katahdin, North Brother is the highest of the mountains that ring The Klondike. It's a near perfect cone with corduroy sides—the slopes of North and South Brother have alternating bands of dark green spruce and brown. It has something to do with the underlying geology.

South and North Brother from Mount Coe

South and North Brother from Mount Coe

 

Marston Trail includes three separate climbs. The first gets your blood flowing and heart pounding. A small stream chatters away, mostly hidden by thick underbrush as you climb out of the Nesowadnehunk Valley.

 

Up on the plateau, the trail climbs gently to a small pond tucked into a cirque. Water runs loudly down the bare granite walls. Even after an almost snow-free winter, there's water everywhere on this hike.

 

After hiking around the pond, the trail switchbacks up to the shoulder of the cirque wall, beginning the second climb. This section of new trail—the original trail had no switchbacks—features white granite steps and waterbars. Damp aromatic air hangs beneath the thick evergreens. Even on a hot day, it was refreshingly cool.

 

The trail climbs near the edge of the cirque wall with occasional views south and west. Here the trail is dusty and dry. The spruce a scraggly. It isn't refreshingly cool. The climb goes and goes. Before the trail turns away from the precipice, there's a small overlook. Really, it's just a pale, irregular boulder perched near the brink.

Henry looking down at the pond with South Brother, Mount Coe, and Mount O-J-I

Henry looking down at the pond with South Brother, Mount Coe, and Mount O-J-I

The second climb is followed by another relatively flat section through tall, straight spruce. The trail is rocks and crushed granite—rough orange sand that crunches with every step. Through the trees you get occasional views of North Brother's crenelated summit.

 

Past the north end of the Mount Coe Trail, the Marston Trail descends slightly into a swale. Spring water runs down the trail. As you begin to climb, the trail gets wetter, a stream really. And deeply eroded—in places the trail is six feet beneath the forest floor. And overgrown. As the trail steepens it becomes dry and less eroded, the rough spruce boughs reaching across the trail from each side. You force your way higher.

 

And then the trees fall away. The ground is large rocks and boulders. A dense evergreen mat covers everything. And the view is spectacular. Just as the Chimney Pond ranger promised Henry and I three years ago, it's the best view in Baxter. Maybe anywhere.

 

Lately, I have come to realize that views of Katahdin are more beautiful, more sublime, than the view from Katahdin. And besides, Henry and I had this view all to ourselves. Henry wasn't ready to admit North Brother was better than The Traveler, but he had no trouble soaking in the view for half an hour.

The Owl by Greg Westrich

Every time I climb Katahdin or one of the mountains around it, I see the round granite hump of The Owl. I tell myself that I need to climb it. But I never have. Saturday, I headed up to Baxter with Ann and the kids. We were planning the hike up to the North Basin and Chimney Pond. We arrived at Togue Pond Gate at 8:00 to discover that the Roaring Brook parking permit I had paid for was only good until 7:15.

 

We opted to climb The Owl. Henry and Emma were still grumpy from getting dragged out of bed before six. They didn't transition very well. None of us did.

 

To hike The Owl, you follow Hunt Trail (the AT) from Katahdin Stream campground. The first mile climbs very little as follows the chattering stream. The forest is open, lots of big boulders and moss. Just before Katahdin Falls, The Owl Trail climbs away from Hunt Trail. From the junction, it's 2.6 miles to the summit, climbing almost 2300 feet.

 

After a short climb, the trail runs fairly level across a mountaintop. Emma struggled, not wanting to be on a hard hike. Eventually, I gave up hiking ahead with Henry and hung back with Emma. We talked and hiked and her mood changed. She ended up rocking the mountain. We named several interesting features we passed: the giant erratic the kids climbed, trillium alley, the rock garden, the balanced rock.

 

The last ¾ of a mile was straight up. Huge expansive views across Witherle Ravine of the Hunt Trail climbing a spine to The Gateway. We could see hikers—just stretched out dots, really—slowly climb upward.

 

We skirted huge cliffs and climbed steep sections of crumbling granite. We felt very exposed, but the kids climbed on undaunted.

 

From the summit, we had a 360 degree view. I turned slowly taking picture after picture: The Northwest Plateau; Katahdin; The Whitecap and Barren-Chairback Ranges on the horizon; Doubletop and Moose Mountains; Barren, Coe, South Brother, North Brother, and Fort Mountains lined up in a row across The Klondike.

 

High fives all around, then a celebratory lunch.

 

On the way back, Emma and I took a detour to Katahdin Falls. There's no place where you can see all the drops and sluices at the same time, but it's fun to try. It's a magnificent waterfall. In fact, it's the highest in Maine. I'd always heard Angel Falls in western Maine was the highest, but evidently that's wrong.

 

We climbed back in the car after seven miles tired, sore, and grateful that we'd had to change out plans.

Corea Heath by Greg Westrich

For a time in the Nineteenth Century it was fashionable to name towns after exotic foreign places. The village of Corea on the Downeast coast is one of them. Intentionally or otherwise, its founders misspelled the name. Personally, I think that gives it a certain cachet that Mexico or Peru or Madrid lack. Maybe I think about these things too much. But what else am I supposed to do while driving to a hike?

 

Corea is on a small, irregular peninsula between Prospect Harbor and Gouldboro Bay. There are two short hikes worth checking out.

 

Two miles east of the village of Prospect Harbor, on ME 195, is Frenchman Bay Conservancy's Corea Heath Preserve. The 1.3 mile lollipop hike is an easy stroll. At first, trail skirts the edge of the heath, keeping to the dry hardwood forest. It's a good place to find spring wildflowers and migrating songbirds.

 

The trail drops off a low hill, down crumbling granite and past blueberries and lady slippers. To the north, through dense alders, you get glimpses of the open heath. Bog laurel blooms add pale violet here and there.

A small stream flows into the heath. Several beaver dams block the stream, creating a large pond. The trail follows its rocky shore. There are several side trails with fine views and even a bench where you can sit and watch for beavers or osprey—there's a nest on a telephone pole near the trailhead.

The trail loops back through mossy bog before gaining higher ground and returning you to the trailhead.

 

About a mile farther east on ME 195, on the opposite side of the road, is a very short trail that leads to a viewing platform in the open heath. This hike is part of the Gouldboro Unit of Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge.

Western Head and Eastern Knubble by Greg Westrich

Western Head and Eastern Knubble form the two sides of Little River—not a river at all but the rock-walled cove that is Cutler's protected harbor. Both are Maine Coast Heritage Trust preserves. The land trust asked me not to include Western Head in Hiking Maine, but they did say I could share it with my friends.

 

To get to the trailhead, drive south on ME 191 from East Machias to Cutler Village. Just before the village, turn right onto Destiny Bay Road. There is a small marked parking are 0.1 miles before the end of the road. If the lot is full, come back another time. From the parking area, walk to the end of the road. Follow the preserve signs around a meadow and along a gravel beach. This section is private property, so hike respectfully.

 

The trail leads 1.2 miles, past two more gravel beaches, to Western Head. A small, spruce-covered island floats just beyond the head. Jumbles of rocks and cliffs stretch for as far as you can see. To the east, Little river Light squats on its own island at the river's mouth. It's fog horn sounds regularly, echoing off the rock and dense forest.

 

The trail loops around the head to higher cliffs and wider views before turning back into the mossy woods. This 2.5 mile hike is one of the most scenic in Maine.

 

The Eastern Knubble trail starts next to Cutler's firehouse (there's a marked parking area across ME 191). After crossing a meadow with views of the village homes and wharfs scattered around the harbor, the trail enters the woods and follows the shore. The forest floor is a blanket of soft rippling grass and bobbing bunchberry. The forest ends abruptly at high, irregular cliffs.

 

The trail ends at a wide gravel beach. Across shallow water, passable even at high tide, is a high, rocky island. A rough trail crosses the island to a clifftop with a spectacular view. Seaweeded water laps quietly at the rocks below. Gulls keen overhead. If you're lucky, you may see osprey or eagles.

 

Just before the beach, a side trail leads uphill to the site of an old mine. An information sign explains that copper and silver were mined from a quartz vein. The ore shipped to Belfast for processing. The view yielded 0.05 ounces of silver per ton and about 20 pounds of copper. There are small mines like this one scattered up and down the Maine coast.

Buck Cove Mountain by Greg Westrich

Buck Cove Mountain is a granite lump carpeted with dark spruce halfway between Schoodic Head and Birch Harbor Mountain. The trail from Schoodic Woods campground to Schoodic Head crosses its semi-open summit. There are no views to speak of—a glimpse of sunlight sparkling on the sea, the rocky summit of Schoodic Head seen between scraggly trees.

 

All the same, it turns out that climbing Buck Cove Mountain is a worthwhile hike. To get to the trailhead from Winter Harbor, drive 6.2 miles on Schoodic Loop Road around Schoodic Point. About a mile past Blueberry Hill, there's a sign for the turnout across the road from the East Trail trailhead.

 

East Trail is shortest and easiest of the three that climbs to the summit of Schoodic Head. It winds through an open pine forest across bare granite to the base of Schoodic Head. The trail then switchbacks up the nearly vertical mountainside through a thick spruce forest.

 

At the junction above the climb, turn right and cross Schoodic Head's summit. Beyond the overlook, the trail descends into a mossy forest. The trail springs beneath your feet. It's like walking on a marshmallow.

 

The trail crosses an open area where butterflies and blueberries abound.

 

Back in the woods, the trail climbs gently to the marked summit of Buck Cove Mountain. Up cracked lichen-covered granite and past laurel with faint purple blooms. It feels like there'll be a great view any second. But, no, the trail crosses the summit and descends to one of the bike trails that circle Schoodic Woods campground.

 

Even without a view, the walk keeps your attention, passing over and through many different forest types. And besides, you got a great view from Schoodic Head. The hike out to Buck Cove Mountain and back is not about looking outward, but seeing what's right there in from of you. It's about the comforting sponginess of the forest floor. It's about moss and blueberries and dry, scratchy granite.

Schoodic Mountain from the south by Greg Westrich

The Frenchman Bay Conservancy has connected several of its preserves. Now you can hike from the Baker Hill Trailhead all the way to the summit of Schoodic Mountain—where you can connect to the trails in the Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land. From the arched granite brow of Baker Hill, overlooking Sullivan Harbor. Through the Long Ledges Preserve and north past Long Pond, an undeveloped jewel dropped into deep, scratchy forest. Past kettles and ridges to Schoodic Bog. Then up Schoodic Mountain on a relentlessly steep granite trail. Over the open summit with view—it seems—of all of Maine. Down to Schoodic Beach on Donnell Pond. Up and over Black Mountain. Up and over Caribou Mountain. And out the Dynamite Brook Trail. That's almost twenty miles of great hiking.

 

I've already mapped all of it except the climb up Schoodic Mountain from its self-same bog.

 

To get there I turned off US1 in Sullivan onto Punkinville Road. I passes Baker Hill Trailhead and Long Ledges Trailhead. At the end of the road, I turned left onto Punkin Ledges Road, a nice gravel road that gets increasingly rough as you go. Past a gravel pit and down a hill, I turned left onto Schoodic Bog Road—more of a narrow two-track than a road despite the official street sign. Just up the hill is the Schoodic Bog Trailhead.

 

I followed the Schoodic Connector Access Trail into the spruce. I turned right onto the Connector. It wound over granite ledges covered with blueberry bushes, stunted trees, and scratchy gray lichen. Here and there lady slippers blooms hung from bare green stalks. In the distance, through the spruce, Schoodic Mountain sat impassive, bald.

 

The Connector ends at the Schoodic Bog Trail—a rocky multi-use trail. Just before the Downeast Sunrise Trail, I had to detour into a narrow stream valley to go around a beaver-flooded section of trail. The first time I hiked this section, I startled a bald eagle out of one of the snags in the flooded bog.

 

I crossed the Downeast Sunrise Trail (a wide gravel trail built on an old rail bed that goes 85 miles from Ellsworth to Ayers near Cobscook Bay). I followed a blue-flagged ATV trail around the base of Schoodic Nubble. And then straight up the side of Schoodic Mountain across granite bedrock and through twisty oaks just leafing out.

 

On the return trip I followed the ATV trail east along the base of Schoodic Mountain above the bog. A very large moose startled off the trail and into the thick forest. It crashed through the trees staying ahead of me. Each time I got close, the moose ran ahead farther. Finally, it turned downhill and was gone.

 

After hiking through a grove of giant, mature hemlocks, I came to a junction. I turned right and came out on the Downeast Sunrise Trail. I followed the gravel trail west through Schoodic Bog. Schoodic Mountain loomed over my progress. The bog was purple with laurel blooms. Atop a dead spruce out in the soggy heath, an osprey keened from a branch next to its huge stick nest. Its mate circled overhead.

 

I stopped at a picnic bench and ate lunch, watching the open water for beavers. I could see several lodges from where I sat. Reluctantly, I got to my feet and headed down the trail, back to my car.

 

All told, I walked about 7.5 miles.  

Caribou Mountain Loop by Greg Westrich

At eight I dropped the kids off at school and headed down to the coast. Years ago I had hiked the Caribou Mountain Loop in the Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land a couple of times, but never mapped it. That was today's goal. I had to be back at three to meet Emma at the bus stop at three. Subtracting time to drive back and forth, that gave me four hours to hike the 9.5 miles.

 

The day was perfect: warm sun, cool shade, a breeze to keep the black flies down, and a cotton-candy blue sky. The hardwoods were just starting to leaf out. Like fall in reverse, the tiny, partially open leaves were red or yellow or lime green. They added color to the forest without blocking the views from the rough granite cliffs.

 

In the past, I'd started this hike by ascending Black Mountain Bald on the Big Chief Trail. Today, I opted to start from the Donnell Pond Trailhead and climb the Black Mountain Cliffs Trail. It's almost a mile longer and involves an extra climb, but I don't think my Honda Fit would make it down the Black Mountain Road to the Big Chief Trailhead.

 

After climbing onto Black Mountain's summit ridge, I followed the trail through a dry, mossy spruce forest. Very little grew beneath the trees except the moss. Where the trail crossed bare bedrock, gray lichen like balls of steel wool and the single green leaves of foam flowers competed for sunlight. A classic Maine trail: deep forest, rock, a carpet of rusty needles, and emerald moss.

 

From Black Mountain's unmarked summit, I descended into a steep notch. Wizard Pond was hidden through the trees, visible only as a bright opening off to my right. Many of the hemlocks in this valley are more than 400 years old. The spot was just too inaccessible to be worth logging.

 

Quickly, I climb out of the forest and onto the bare summit cone of Black Mountain Bald. My horizon opens up and the sun warms my skin. The mountains of Mount Desert Island float in a pool of blue quicksliver like a crenelated mirage. Lakes and inlets surround the mountain, blue pools withing the black and pale green carpet. To the north, the rocky humps of Caribou and Catherine Mountain sit waiting for me. Behind them, Tunk Mountain peeks over their shoulders.

 

Knowing my time is limited, I guzzle water and follow the large cairns down sinuous granite ledges. The trail drops into the forest and skirt beneath high, broken cliffs. The granite dirty with sere sheets of black lichen, rusty needles, and pale moss.

 

The trail winds among rocks and boulders along low piney ridges. Everything is covered with needles: the rocks that litter the forest floor, the trail, the hobble bushes just starting to bloom. Off to the right is an expanse of bog. Columns of bone-bleached snags stand ankle-deep in shining blue water.

 

On my previous hikes through this valley, I flushed a grouse who tried to distract me from her chicks that sat quietly on low branches waiting for me to pass. The same day Moxie, my lab-husky mix who was my hiking partner before the kids were born, found a day-old fawn. She got down in her play stance and barked at it. Instead of playing, the fawn bolted into the woods. It got hung up in the branches of a fallen maple. It hung there bleating like the cross between a kid and a child. I had to carefully lift its trembling ten pound body out of the tree and release it. The fawn bound away, presumably toward its mother.

 

The trail skirts Rainbow Pond, but all the snags and alders blocked my view of the pond. If I hadn't seen it from the mountain, I wouldn't have known it was there.

 

I climbed steeply to open ledges on the shoulder of Caribou Mountain. The view told me to stop and linger. Sit and have some lunch. But I needed to keep moving to make it back to Glenburn on time.

The trail crosses a larger ledge near the summit, then descends to another ledge on the western end of the mountain.

 

From there, the trail switchbacks down off the mountain, passing across then beneath a stair-stepped series of granite faces. The trail bottoms out and begins the long climb back up Black Mountain. I pushed my failing legs to keep climbing. It's only about 700 feet up in a half mile, but feels worse after hiking seven miles.

 

I top out and close the loop. That leaves 1.8 miles backtrack to the car.

 

An hour later I was gassing up at Checkout when Emma's bus went by. I'd made my deadline. And boy did my legs know it.

Waterfalls by Greg Westrich

Spring is usually the best time to hike to waterfalls. We had a relatively snow-free winter and a dry spring so far, which means the flows aren't as high as some years. But this is still the best time to hike to your favorite waterfall.

 

I put together a list of my 20 favorite in Maine.

 

1. Indian Falls (Hike 20 in Best Easy Day Hikes Greenville). It's a beautiful falls that no one knows about. It can be hard to find, but I was careful to make the directions in my book followable.

 

2. Tumbledown Dick Falls (Hike 14 in BEDH Greenville). Another rarely visited falls. It is one of the higher falls in Maine and the highest in the 100 Mile Wilderness region. The hike to it is kinda long (almost an 8 mile round trip from the Turtle Ridge Trailhead parking area on the Jo Mary Road). The last time I was there I almost stepped on a beaver. We were both very surprised.

 

3. Blueberry Ledges (will be in my Baxter State Park book that comes out next summer). There are actually several falls along Katahdin Stream in this mile-long section. Each is unique and beautiful in its own way. For some reason, the park in its guide plays down these falls.

 

4. Howe Brook Falls (Hike 58 in Hiking Maine). The lower falls is a series of drops and pools. Great for swimming when its hot—even though the water is always cold. The upper falls is FREEZING. Ask Henry about our swimming there. A short hike from South Branch Pond in Baxter.

 

5. Canon Brook (Hike 23 in Hiking Maine). Canon Brook tumbles out of the Featherbed on the flank of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. There are numerous waterfalls as the stream finds its way over bare granite and jumbles of boulders.

 

6. Hadlock Falls (Hike 32 in Hiking Maine). Acadia's biggest waterfall. By mid-summer, it's barely a trickle.

 

7. Little Wilson Falls (Hike 1 in BEDH Greenville). The highest waterfall on the entire Appalachian Trail. A spectacular 75 drop into a black, slate gorge.

 

8. Katahdin Falls (will be in my Baxter guide). The highest waterfall in Maine—for years everyone said Angel Falls in western Maine was the highest, but they were mistaken. Most people rush by this waterfall on their way up Katahdin on the Hunt Trail. It's worth its own visit.

 

9. Moxie Falls (Hike 40 in Hiking Maine). The biggest waterfall in Maine. An easy hike from Lake Moxie Road leads past upper falls to several viewing platforms across a deep canyon from the main falls.

 

10. Shin Brook Falls (Hike 63 in Hiking Maine). Another little-visited waterfall. A short hike leads from a logging road to this slate waterfall. Worth visiting whenever you visit the northern end of Baxter.

 

11. Dunn Falls (Hike I in Hiking Maine). A spectacular drop in the western mountains along the Appalachian Trail. The upper and lower falls together are higher than Little Wilson Falls. A side trail off the AT makes the hike a loop that passes about 10 waterfalls.

 

12. Grafton Notch. There are several waterfalls in and around Grafton Notch State Park. The best known is Screw Auger Falls. But be sure to visit Mother Walker Falls, too. Nearby, is Step Falls, which is a hugely popular swimming spot. The waterfall drops about 100 feet down a series of granite ledges. There are numerous pools and slides.

 

13. Gulf Hagas has several big waterfalls. Near the head of the gulf are Stair, Billings, and Buttermilk Falls. On a side stream near where the canyon ends, are Screw Auger Falls (yeah, there are more than one) and Lower Falls. In between are several smaller falls.

 

A few other Maine waterfalls worth visiting:

 

Kees Falls (Hike 38 in Hiking Maine)

Debsconeag Falls (Hike 46 in Hiking Maine)--a moose and I almost walked into each other, our approach drowned out by the roar of the water.

Niagara Falls (Hike 61 in Hiking Maine)--one of a series of falls on Nesowadnehunk Stream as is tumbles down toward the Penobscot River.

Green's Falls

Little Abol Falls

Hay Brook Falls

South Branch Falls

I'm sure I forgot some good waterfalls. There may even be some I haven't visited yet. Write a comment and clue me in.

Schoodic Head by Greg Westrich

Saturday, under a sharp, blue sky with a few puffs of cloud for contrast, Emma pitched her first softball game. Ann and I watched nervously in a cloud of blackflies. I got my first bite of the year—right there on my left wrist. Yep, it's definitely spring.

 

After lunch I headed down to the Schoodic Peninsula for two hikes. I hadn't been to that part of Acadia National Park in at least fifteen years. Recently, the park expanded its holding on the peninsula, opening a new campground a building lots of new trails. There's even a network of bike trails modelled on MDI's carriage roads.

 

The morning's blue sky had given way to a rolling sea of gray. Unbroken clouds spanned the sky. Along the coast, fog had drifted over the granite shore and wormed up the sprucey slopes. I parked at Blueberry Hill. A few eiders bobbed in East Pond between the shore and Little Moose Island. Farther out gulls slid by on the breeze, their white bellies shining like the full moon.

 

I followed Alder Trail inland. Where the trail ended at a gravel service road, stream descended through a series of terraced beaver dams to a quiet pond. On the far side of the pool, a long arcing dam held the water back.

 

The Schoodic Head Trail climbed away from the road, following a small stream up into a narrowing canyon. High granite walls towered overhead. The trail climbed the chimney at the head of the canyon beyond where the stream emerged from a jumble of mossy boulders. Up a series of stairs, between narrowing walls into the bright diffuse fog.

 

Normally, the view from atop Schoodic Head is expansive. I had to settle for the jagged line of black spruce and the thrum of distant waves pounding the granite shore. Mist so fine that the tiny drops looked and felt like snowflakes enveloped me. 

 

I returned back to Blueberry Hill on the Anvil Trail. The trail descended steeply to a fin of rock jutting fifty feet from the dank forest. The trail switchbacked down next to it, then away toward the Anvil—a granite knob with fine views of the surrounding hills and shoreline. The Anvil's granite was split by deep, dark fissures and covered with moss and lichen. Twisted trees clung to its irregular surfaces.

 

I couldn't believe I'd lived in Maine twenty years and never hiked this before. Don't wait as long as I did. The 2.8 mile hike has some steep, rocky sections, but is more than worth the work. The trails were less manicured, more wild, than those in most of Acadia National Park.

Schoodic Mountain by Greg Westrich

The Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land is one of my favorite places to hike, but I had never mapped Schoodic Mountain. I headed down alone—Ann and Emma were in Florida swimming with manatees and such; Henry stayed home and did chores rather than spend the afternoon on the trail. The afternoon threatened rain. A solid ceiling of clouds, streaked white, blue, and gray pressed down on the cool air.

 

There are three trails up Schoodic Mountain. One from the west that connects with the trail through Schoodic Bog (that I haven't hiked yet), one from Schoodic Beach on Donnell Pond, and one straight up the mountain from the parking area at the end of Schoodic Beach Road.

 

You can hike a nice loop by walking a half mile to the Pond and climbing the mountain from there, then returning down the trail directly to the parking area. Of course, that's not what I did. I began by climbing Black Mountain Cliffs Trail to the southeast end Black Mountain's long summit ridge.

 

Then I hiked north atop the cliffs. There are a couple of spots with good partial views, but the stair step clifftops are covered with thick spruce that block most of the views. A couple of years ago I startled a bear along this trail. All I saw was a black blur, as it hurtled downhill through the trees like a bowing ball.

 

The trail crosses a small stream then descends extremely steeply through an open beech forest. Eventually, the trail levels out and ends at the beach in the picnic area.

 

I crossed the beach and headed up Schoodic Mountain. As I climbed the sun tried—and failed—to break through the clouds. The trail crossed open granite slabs with fine views of the surrounding country and Mount Desert Island floating in the silver sea.

 

The top of the mountain is a large open granite dome with great views all around.

 

The descent back to the parking area passes a couple of huge boulders sitting in the forest and covered with moss, lichen, and ferns. I guess they got tired of the view up on the mountain and came to live in the valley with the smaller rocks that litter the woods.

 

A great five mile loop hike. If I ever get my publisher to approve a guide for Downeast, it'll be in it.

Witherle Woods by Greg Westrich

This morning I stood in front of my college composition class explaining how an essay was like a story. Outside, almost-too-small-to-see snowflakes streaked by on a light breeze. My passionate explanation of Narrative Theory stopped mid-sentence. I pointed to the windows. The whole class turned noisily in their seats and looked out the windows at the back of the room. Several students groaned. Ah, spring in Maine.

 

Less than a week ago, I was down in Castine hiking in a t-shirt. It was a birdy day. Through April and May birds arrive from their wintering grounds. Some are just stopping by on their way farther north. Others are settling in to territories and beginning to sing. It's a good time to see birds, many that are nearly impossible to find the rest of the year.

 

In Witherle Woods, I stood on Moore's Hill as a bald eagle drifted over on wide, stiff wings. Its feathers rich dark chocolate; its head impossibly white. As it passed over, we made eye contact. Yellow eyes locked onto mine. Then it was gone carried on by the wind. Down the hill two crows noisily chased the eagle off Blockhouse Point and out over the bay. The sky was TV start screen blue with meringue clouds on top.

 

Witherle Woods covers a rocky hill covered with boggy ground and scraggled forest. The four miles of trails pass the sites of gun emplacements and batteries from the War of 1812. The British, French, and finally Americans understood the strategic importance of Castine. It sits near the head of Penobscot Bay below where the river flows around Verona Island and spreads out into the bay. To the south of town is Bagaduce River—a long sinuous bay. Castine therefore has a protected harbor and offers gun placements to fire on enemy ships as they tried to sail up the Penobscot River.

 

Castine changed hands several times during the Colonial Period because of its strategic importance. It was also the site of the first naval engagement during the Revolutionary War. The pair of Nashville warblers I watched hop from one leafless branch to another didn't care about such history. I saw them near one of the gun emplacements that overlooked the bay. The yellow warblers with russet crowns hopped from branch to branch, seeming only interested in each other.

 

Maybe the male was showing his new mate the fine nest site he'd found. Or she was inspecting his territory with him in tow. Maybe they, like me, were just visiting for the day before heading onward to home. If I was a better birder, I might know.

 

I continued on my way exploring the rocky coast, the grassy paths, the greens and blues of a warm spring day.

Northern Pond Natural Area by Greg Westrich

Last Wednesday, down a dirt road in rural Waldo county, past borrow pits and boggy streams, deep in a shady forest, I found the Northern Pond Natural Area. The preserve is 163 acres of rolling forest and bogs around 15 acre Northern Pond. The area feels more like northern Maine than Monroe.

 

Recent beaver activity flooded much of the area around the pond, including the boardwalk to the canoe put-in at the east end of the pond. The bog boards float in an arc through bushy willows. I stepped on the first board and sank up to my ankle in cold water.

 

The Old Tote Road Trail that loops around to the south shore of the pond is also flooded. I was able to cross the bog boards through the flooded section without getting too wet. A new trail was built from Dahlia Farm Road a quarter mile south of the trailhead parking to beyond the flooded section of trail.

 

I climbed the Hemlock Ridge Trail in dappled sunlight across a rocky ridge. The dry ridge covered with mature hemlocks reenforced my sense that I was farther north. Chickadees flitted about high in the trees pishing to each other in their endless search for food. Sliver light knifed up the slope from the pond.

 

I descended across granite ledges to a small beaver pond. Ducks startled up from the reedy shore and flew low over the water out of sight. I could still hear their nasal quacking long after they disappeared. The trail passed beneath the beaver dam, where it wound through the woods. A trickle of water escaped the dam into a froggy swale.

 

I followed the Thurlow Brook Trail along the pond and then the stream above it. As I neared Northern Pond, I could hear frogs. Hiking the Beaver Dam Spur—to the dam on Thurlow Stream that enlarged Northern Pond—the riotous calling of the frogs bounced around inside my head like a steel ball. I have never heard so many forgs being so loud. It almost hurt. It was wonderful.

 

The frogs, the remote pond, the ducky bogs, the dappled Hemlock Ridge...I think I found my new favorite hike. At least until next week.

Sandy Point Beach by Greg Westrich

I'm sitting in a hotel room in Wakefield, Massachusetts. Outside the seventh story window, a brown wetland surrounds a deep blue pond. A few geese and a swan float in the water. Wind buffets the building and cars hum by on I-95. It all sounds vaguely industrial. Henry and I are here for an AAU basketball tournament. In an hour or so we'll head into Boston for his two games today. In the meantime, I'm thinking about one of the hikes I went on last Wednesday:

 

I stood looking at the map at the trailhead, twisting and contorting my body so what seemed like up to me was up on the map. For some reason, I couldn't get my perception to line up with the dotted lines and sweep of the coastline. Sandy Point separates the mouth of the Penobscot River from Fort Point Cove (Hike 26 of Best Easy Day Hikes Camden). It's sandy from all the sediment washed down the river. The in and out of the tide deposits most of the ground granite and silt in the small inlets around Sandy and Fort Points. The result is wide muddy tidal flats and beaches of rough sand and gravel.

 

The trail leads across the point, past side trails that lead down to the beach on the river side. I'll visit those on the way back. The loop through the forested peninsula is called the Amazon Trail. That's odd, I thought. But, in fact, it makes perfect sense. The woods are a spruce-cedar bog. Much of the Amazon Trail is a series of aged bog boards that wind between the trees. Much of the forest floor is spongy moss just turning emerald with the warming days.

 

Across the point, the Shore Trail follows along a mud flat where a small stream empties out of a meadow of last year's grass, brown and beaten down by the winter. Seaweed covered boulders litter the cove. A half mile across the cove is Fort Point State Park. From the bench along the trail, it's a walll of evergreens. The lighthouse and grassy site of the fort are hidden.

 

Gulls wheel and keen overhead or bob in the water where mud meets sea. A lazurite dome holds the spring sunlight close to the ground.

 

On the beach itself, the pilings of an old wharf march out into the water. The tide is out. The exposed beach is gravel and debris—broken logs and wisps of dried seaweed. It's not a pretty beach. No expanse of soft sand. Sandy Point is a gritty Maine beach.

 

A lot of history happened here. Even before the Penobscots made summer camp here, Paleolithic peoples fished and gathered shellfish here. It was a bountiful spot. And the sea breezes kept the black flies other biting insects at bay. Across the bay near Castine, an important battle in the Revolutionary War took place. Through the colonial period the area changed hands several times. The French, British, and American colonists all saw the value of Penobscot Bay.

 

Later, sailing ships and steamboats plied these waters delivering goods and tourists and leaving with Maine's forests cut into fragrant lumber. The remains of the wharf are a reminder of how recently our world shifted away from the water to the land.

 

Atop one of the pilings at the water's edge, sits an osprey. Its white neck and chest stand out against the blue sky and the weathered gray wood. As I crunch down the beach below the tide line, it hunches down as if to disappear. It must be protecting its perch for a nesting site. I scan the sky, but see no mate. Maybe, the other bird is out in the bay fishing.

Upstream, the Penobscot River squeezes between mainland bluffs and Verona Island. The towers of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge rise above the forest, shining like lighthouse beacons.

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Old Pond Railroad Trail by Greg Westrich

It was a sketchy day for a hike, dirty clouds were piled up like discarded clothes in the corner of Henry's room. The uncertainty of spring blurred the outlines the world as I drove down to Hancock—or maybe a veil of fog had slid in under the cloud cover. As I neared the trailhead, the fog thickened and dripped off every surface.

 

I remember the first time I was in a cloud. I was eight or nine. My family was driving to the Smoky Mountains form Cincinnati. Back then I-75 wasn't completed, so we spent much of the day either fighting through construction or wandering on two-lane roads. We got distracted by sights along the way—the destination taking a back seat to the world outside the car windows. It, too, was a day of uncertain weather, threatening rain that never fell.

 

We drifted east to Cumberland Gap. In the park, we switchbacked up Cumberland Mountain on a narrow mountain road. Into the clouds. At first the moisture in the cloud that clung to every surface sharpened the colors of the evergreen forest. Gray trunks became ebony; faded pine needles were a green as a warm lawn.

 

As we climbed, the edges of things began to blur and shift.

 

When we arrived at the top, I tumbled out of the car into a magical place. I was on a mountain. I was in the sky. It wasn't raining, but drops formed on my arms.

 

As I pulled into the Old Pond Railroad Trailhead parking a half mile off US1, I was seeing the woods like I had as that excited boy. The trail dropped through a drooping forest. The happy sound of numerous rills hung almost visible in the air. I bounced from rock to root to soggy, needle-covered ground. On a good day, hiking wasn't about getting anywhere; it was about the walking itself.

 

I turned left onto the railroad bed, a needle-covered avenue through evergreens. The crumbling remains of railroad ties marched through the woods. Off to the right, through hardwoods on lower ground, the tide shushed against the rocky shore.

 

Two miles on the trail emerged from the woods and crossed Old Pond on a levee. A stiff breeze blew inshore between forested islands. Bright white gulls wheeled overhead, keening on stiff wings. The gray-green water lapped heavily at the rocky levee.

 

The fog had mostly gone. Overhead the clouds were shifting and brightening. But I still felt warmly wrapped in a fog. I was right where I was supposed to be. Like the white pines towering over their spruce neighbors. Like the three mergansers bobbing in the salt pond. Like the crooked, leafless birch trees waving in the wind, their twig ends going red with emerging buds.

 

I don't know what you'll see along the Old Pond Railroad Trail. Just over three miles from one end to the other. A lot can happen in three miles.

 

Perch Pond Woodlot by Greg Westrich

The Perch Pond Woodlot in Old Town is a lot like the Bangor City Forest. The trails are mostly mountain bike single tracks or disused logging roads. And there are lots of them. But unlike the Bangor City Forest, you can spend the day hiking in Perch Pond Woodlot and not see another soul.

 

To get there, head north on Maine 16 (Bennoch Road) from Stillwater Avenue. In a half mile, turn left onto Kirkland Road. There are three trailheads into the Woodlot. (Two on Kirkland north of Poplar Street and one on Poplar 2.5 miles from Kirkland.) I hiked in from the North Trailhead, which is on the left side of Kirkland 2.7 miles past Poplar Street.

 

I hiked a nearly five-mile loop making use of a half dozen trails. I wanted to see what the Woodlot had to offer and spend as much time as possible walking along the shore of Perch Pond—that's Mud Pond to you old timers.

 

The trails wander, as mountain bike trails are wont to do, through a mixed forest that varies in composition with small changes in elevation and drainage. In places the trail crosses mostly open areas where moss and lichen grow in luxurious mats. Young birch trees crowd in from the surrounding woods.

 

The Ladies First Trail followed high ground through a bright beech woods. The samplings mostly still had their leaves, which rattled in the breeze. The forest floor was carpeted with parchment leaves, covering the uneven ground.

 

Along the shore of the pond, groves of hemlock stand tall and proud. The ground littered with fractured hunks of shale and rusting scales (what hemlock needles are called). Red-trunked cedars grow out over the water and wherever standing water collects. They lean this way and that like drunken sailors.

 

Against the dryer lint gray sky, the choppy lake looked black. I accidentally flushed a pair of common mergansers. They flew off quacking hoarsely. Their stubby wings a blur as they flew out across the pond, staying a few feet above the water.

 

I stopped for a snack on a bridge over a wetland along the Spruce Road. On the map, it's marked as a small pond, but really it's a sedge-choked meadow. A small clear stream meanders through it among the skeletons of spruce trees. Goldfinches flitted across the bog. I could follow their flight by merry calls, but I never actually saw one.

 

As I followed the grass road back to the trailhead, I stopped to watch a flycatcher move from perch to perch atop the leafless trees. At each stop it called and wagged its tail. At first I thought it was a phoebe, but the song lacked the clear syllables and in the flat light it seemed too pale. Whatever it was I enjoyed its company.  

The Last Snow by Greg Westrich

The last dirty smears of snow line the driveway. Two dirty piles flank the well in the front yard. That's all that's left. And it's not even April yet.

Actually, the snow would've been gone sooner, but it's been mostly cool and overcast lately. We even had a couple of inches of new snow--okay, it was more like slush--Tuesday morning. Emma rolled over in bed and looked out the window at the big white flakes rushing down from the flat gray sky. "Nooooo," she groaned. And she loves snow.

It's hard to get excited about much of anything in this brown and gray season between the sharp, white winter and the fecund green explosion of spring. Even the winter birds have gone quiet.

The buds on the trees, the trilliums in the woods, the frogs and salamanders hidden beneath the leaf litter, everything holds its breath and waits for the signal to go. Waiting for the ground to thaw or waiting for Orion's sword to bury itself in the black forest. Waiting for the sun's warmth to tip the season over into spring. Waiting with a patience I will never possess.

The Giant Slide by Greg Westrich

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.

MDI High School (circled) from Sargent Mountain.

MDI High School (circled) from Sargent Mountain.

 

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.

Mud Season by Greg Westrich

Those bright orange “Heavy Loads Limited” signs have appeared on telephone polls around town. As I slip and slide down my driveway in the car, the kids squealing in the backseat, I was thinking that maybe I needed one for the driveway. Mud season has arrived.

Later, I went out to fed the chickens and collect eggs. The path from the garage to the shed and the chicken coop, that I worked so hard all winter to keep shoveled has become a swamp. I sink several inches in the saturated lawn, leaving deep footprints that will still be visible in July. As the snow began to melt, water ran down away from the house and collected in front of the chicken coop. I've laid boards down to walk on. Boards in front of the coop and boards over to the shed where the chicken feed is kept. On cold mornings, the ground is hard and uneven, by afternoon a small pond develops. I keep expecting ducks to join the hens.

Inside the chicken yard, where the ground is clear, the hens have left deep prints in the mud. Their feet disappear into the mud as they walk around, enjoying the warming weather. The rooster fluffs out his feathers, stretches his neck and crows loudly. It appears that chickens like mud more than snow. All winter they hid in their coop, barely coming out to feed. If it was snowing they stayed inside, talking quietly among themselves. Every once in a while the rooster would crow loudly, regardless of the time of day.

The path through the snow from the front door around to the compost pile is getting soupy, too. The sun is getting stronger by the day, turning the snow into lakes and rivers running down the drive and through the yard, into the woods. The ground is still frozen a few inches down: the snowmelt has nowhere else to go. As I take the dog out so she can go to the bathroom, I was thinking it was a good thing the ground was still frozen or we would have sunk down into the mud and out of sight.

The dog doesn't mind the mud, nor do the kids. They leave muddy footprints from the door, across the carpet and into the house. Muddy boots and shoes collect in drifts near the front door and in the kitchen.

It's not just our yard; mud season has arrived everywhere. Down at the end of our road, where the pavement ends, several residents park their cars and walk the rest of the way home. The road has become a mud roller coaster with large puddles and deep ruts. It'll be weeks before it dries out and is passable by anything without four wheel drive.

Mud keeps loggers out of the woods, too. Recently I saw a logging road where a truck got stuck, making ruts more than a foot deep. You think that would have clued me in, but it didn't. Less than an hour later, I got my car stuck trying to get to a trailhead for a hike. I had to leave my car and walk back up the road until I got cell reception to call a tow truck.

Mud season is a transition from winter to spring that cannot be rushed. We need to be patient and let the ground thaw and then dry out, taking time to enjoy the strengthening sun and the bug-free days. Stand on the back porch and listen to the birds returning for the year. Soon enough the grass will green up, the blackflies will emerge, and peepers will begin singing. Until then, I'll just have to live with muddy shoes cluttering up the house and a yard wetter than Caribou Bog. 

Originally published in The Weekly on April 4, 2013

Dorr Mountain by Greg Westrich

I sat in the car thinking about clouds. Wisps obscured Huguenot Head, the spruce-covered, orange granite knob that sat hunched across ME 3. The foggy haze—or was it hazy fog?--bleached the colors from the mountain. The orange granite appeared pink or even gray behind the veil of air. The spruce looked ashen. Higher, clouds like heaps of plowed snow melted in the late-winter sun. Nothing moved, but from moment to moment the clouds and colors shifted and changed. It was like looking through a kaleidoscope full of smoke.

 

I opened the car door and was buffeted by the wind. It howled up the valley, across The Tarn, between Dorr and Champlain Mountains and rocked me back on my heels. Quickly, I grabbed my pack and headed toward the trail. I crossed The Tarn's outlet on cut-granite stepping stones. The lake's surface at the near end was covered with a thick layer of broken, dried sedges. Thick brown straws driven by the wind against the rocky shore where they rose and fell in rhythm with my breathing.

 

Across the stream, the trail rose through bare woods on evenly spaced stairs littered with dry oak leaves. The first step—a wide granite slab covered with pinkish lichen—had the trail's name chiselled neatly into it: Kurt Diederich's Climb. This trail was built by George Dorr a hundred years ago, before Acadia became a national park. When Acadia was made a national monument in 1916 by President Wilson, it was centered around Sieur de Monts Spring and Dorr Mountain (then called Dry Mountain). Many of the trails on the mountains northeast are among the oldest in the park. Several have extensive stonework.

 

The stairs I climbed from The Tarn, switchbacking up the steep slope, were smooth and even. Their handiwork impressive. In 1981 Kurt Diederich's Climb, along with Emery, Kane, Homan's and Schiff Paths (all part of my hike), received special protection from the Interior Department because of their historical significance.

 

None of that mattered to me as I climbed away from The Tarn, protected from the wind by the bulk of the mountain. The trail passed ice-covered cliffs and flat-topped slabs of bedrock with views of Great Meadow, Frenchman's Bay, and the surrounding mountains.

 

I reached the Schiff Path and slabbed north through twisted oak that overhung the trail. The understory was leafless blueberry bushes, that held the fallen oak leaves and scratched at my legs. I descended on Emery Path—more granite stairs, more cliffs, more bare rock. I began this hike thinking about clouds, but after a mile of walking it was rock that dominated my thinking. In the winter, hiking is mostly about water: snow and ice. Other times of the year, wildflowers or the changing leaves hog the spotlight. But in the late winter and early spring—especially in a dry El Nino year like this one—all there is to see is the rock. Granite steps, granite cliff, loose rocks littering the woods, glacier-scoured domes of granite bedrock. Large-grained igneous rock that is rough to the touch, offering fine footing even when wet. In orange and gray and pink and tan and covered with swirls of lichen. Worn smooth by glaciers and a hundred years of hikers.

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Sure, I saw beautiful ice-covered cliffs and navigated sections of trail that were frozen streams of cloudy white ice. Here and there, in protected copses hid small, hard banks of snow. And overhead the clouds shifted; one moment blocking the sun, the next sending warm shafts of golden light to brighten the bare trees and my tousled hair. But it was the granite.

 

I descended between vertical faces of the rock on neat, even stone steps. In one place, Dorr had built a small patio on top of a cliff with a view of Great Meadow. Beyond its winter brown, the Porcupine Islands rode spruce-covered black in the rough bay beneath a bruised fog bank that hung, inexplicably high in the air. It appeared as substantial as a distant mountain range of snow-covered peaks and dark forested valleys.

 

Down off the mountain, I followed a trail through mature hemlocks over mud and rusty needles. I climbed again on the North Ridge Trail. As I navigated the ice-covered bedrock, Cadillac Mountain's cliffy flank came in and out of view behind the shifting clouds. The trail wound from one granite slab to another, climbing through dry scrub pines. I could hear the wind howling through the stiff pines higher on the mountain.

 

Near the summit, the trail leveled out and the wind found me. The wind shook the twisted pines. It slammed into me with such force that I struggled to stand. Shreds of cloud raced across the mountain top around and through the trees. Around and through me, battering me with cold. It felt as if the wind had roared over the North Pole and slammed into to me. I half-expected the stone cairns that marked the trail to be carried off and dropped in The Tarn or on some distant island.

I snapped a couple of photos and turned tail and descended out of the maelstrom, back into spring. Down from the realm of wind and into the embrace of granite. I descended the Schiff Path over bedrock wet and icy to the Ladder Trail. From there it was one long staircase down beside a cliff to The Tarn. As I hiked the Ladder Trail, I was struck by how irregular the stonework was. A huge undertaking to create a stunning trail, but it lacked the art and regularity of Dorr's work on Kurt Diederich's Climb and the Schiff, Emery, and Homan's Paths.

 

 

Tucker Mountain by Greg Westrich

Saturday night--out shopping for a Father/Daughter Dance dress for Emma--Ann had a flat tire. Sunday morning I took the car in to get it fixed. The plan was that I would get new tires and head down to the coast for a hike. Four hours and $900 dollars later, I gave up and came home. I felt misplaced the rest of the afternoon. All twitchy like I'd down a whole two liter bottle of Mountain Dew.

So, this morning I dropped the kids off at school and lit out. Down to Sullivan to explore a couple of the Frenchman's Bay Land Trust's preserves I'd yet to visit.

I hiked up Tucker Mountain. It's a small, inconspicuous pile of granite along Long Cove. The trail switchbacks up the slope through leaning cedars, emerald moss, and balsam firs. Here and there a white pine towered over everything else.

At ground level the only colors were the grays and faded browns of tree trunks and dead things. The laurel leaves, curled up for winter like little umbrellas, hinted red. They were a deeper, bloodier color than the cedar trunks. Only the patches of thick, verdant moss looked alive.

Even though I could hear the cars whizzing by on Route 1, I felt the solitude of late winter. This time of the years--with no snow to speak of--the trail can be hard to follow. The entire forest floor is equally beaten down. Every seam through the trees looks as much like a trail as any other. I hiked more by feel and the logic of the climb than by certain knowledge that I was on the trail. Did it really matter if I missed the trail by ten feet? In the end I stood on the summit, marked by a small cairn and a USGS plate. The view was mostly blocked by perfect conical firs like over-sized Christmas trees.

Below the summit, the trail had crossed an open ledge with a fine view of Mount Desert Island across the water and convoluted coast. The mountains in Acadia were nothing more than hazy hints on the horizon. The air was as dense as during the dog days of late summer. Even if the firs had leaned out of the way for me, there wouldn't have been much too see from the summit. Just the boot-sucking mud of Long Cove at low tide with sinuous creeks draining out into the blue bay.