For the last couple of years I’ve spent many of my vacation days hiking midweek in September and October. This proved to be a little more difficult this year because my wife is no longer runs a business out of the home and uses the car every day. Luckily I was able to convince my friends Mike and John to take a Tuesday off in September and they shuttled my butt to the mountains.
Mike organized the hike of Tumbledown Mountain and Little Jackson, a couple of superb 3000 Footers in the middle of Maine. We stayed at the nearly empty campground at Mount Blue State Park where we cooked dinner over the campfire and waded into Webb Lake long after dark to stargaze and hope that the intermittent lightning over the horizon would stay away.
We got up early and reached the parking across the street from Brook Trail at 8:45 am. Our plan was to do a loop of Tumbledown and Little Jackson starting at Loop Trail and ending at Brook Trail parking. So we started the day off with a brisk 2 mile hike up Byron Road to Loop Trail.
Half an hour later we were making our way up Loop Trail. The hike started off flat, passing close by some swamps but the trail was dry for the most part. Once close to Tumbledown Mountain the trail climbed moderately up a small ridge with some limited views. About halfway up we hit a flat ridge with a view above to the west peak of Tumbledown Mountain. We pondered where we would make our ascent and decided it would be the V-notch to the east.
We followed the flat ridge and then trail to the east where it began to ascend steeply. The trail became a rock scramble and led to a cave that climbed straight up via metal rungs drilled into the rock. This tight squeeze was called Fat Man’s Misery and might make the trail impassable for children, pets, larger folks and those who are claustrophobic.
For me it was one of the more interesting aspects of the hike. I made it through with my backpack on and I’m not the most slender person. Above Fat Man’s Misery the trail continued as a rock climb through the V-notch we had seen from below. At the top we had a great view toward Webb Lake and the mountains to the south.
We spent some time exploring the cliffs above the notch out of which we had just climbed and made the quick 0.2 mile hike to the west peak of Tumbledown Mountain.
It was about 11:00 am when we got to West Tumbledown and we spent a few minutes enjoying the 360 degree view. We could see some cairns on the ridge to the north but could not make out a clear trail over to them. Though it wasn’t defined on the map we had, I assumed that West Tumbledown was the high point of the mountain as it was the signed peak and there was no obvious or signed trail to the north. Also, I recalled that the trail to the north peak continuing on to Little Jackson Mountain and we wanted to stop at Tumbledown Pond first. So, we backtracked to the notch and continued east toward the pond.
The trail toward Tumbledown Pond followed a bare ledge east and provided great views to the south. Once we crested the ridge it also afforded a great view over the pond and of Little Jackson northeast.
We made our way down to Tumbledown Pond which continued to be a nice hike over bare rock. At 12:15 pm we made it down to the pond and talked with a guy setting up camp by the shore. He had five more friends coming and they were spending a couple of days there camping and fishing.
We made our way over to some flat rocks on the eastern side of the pond where we ate lunch in sun. We hung out for about an hour swimming in the pond, watching fish swim in the shallows and drying in the early afternoon heat. At 1:15 pm we packed up to continue our hike. I wish it was possible to throw an alpine swim in the middle of all hikes. So refreshing!
We followed the narrow and little-used Pond Link Trail to cut over to Little Jackson Trail. We were hoping to find some signs of a bushwhack up to Little Jackson from Tumbledown Pond but were unsuccessful. At the intersection with Little Jackson Trail we dropped our packs and started up the moderately steep trail toward the Jackson summits.
I had the vague notion of running up to the wooded Jackson Mountain summit when we got to its trail intersection, but I was pretty beat by the time we got above treeline.
The hike up Little Jackson continued the day’s theme of being amazing. The trail zig-zagged around alpine vegetation, stayed on exposed rock and rolled in and out of crevices. The trail’s edge was dotted with native blueberry bushes and our hike was stalled every few minutes when we found a patch that wasn’t overripe.
We got to the Little Jackson summit at 3:00 pm and the views were amazing. We could see down to Tumbledown Pond where the camper was then joined by his five other friends and a couple more tents were assembled. To the north we could see some of the Maine 4000 Footers including Saddleback and The Horn and the peaks of Carrabassett Valley.
Once we had spent some time on the summit we made our way down. The hike out was pretty long and was the only mediocre part of the day. The lack of detailed maps and the nature of the trails in the area made it unclear how to make our way from Little Jackson Trail to Little Jackson Connector Trail. In the southeast corner of the park lands the trail were not well labeled and we saw several areas where the trails had been rerouted and other trails had been closed.
The Little Jackson Trail had been rerouted to the west of where it showed on the map, so when we saw a sign for joining the Parker Ridge Trail I figured we hit that trail higher up than the junction with Little Jackson Connector Trail. We continued down the trail we were on, looking for a trail to the right. When we hit a parking lot we knew we had gone too far and were on Morgan Road. So we backtracked to Parker Ridge Trail, followed it until we crossed a river and then took an overgrown trail along the river that we assumed was the Little Jackson Connector Trail.
We were not where we were supposed to be, realizing it as soon as the trail became completely overgrown. We backtracked to Parker Ridge Trail again and quickly found the blazed Little Jackson Connector Trail.
Needless to say, don’t be thrown off by the rerouting and closing of trails. Although the out-of-date maps provided do not following the location of the trails today, they reroute onto the same trail in time for intersections. If you look at the interactive map in The Numbers section below and change the view to TOPO!, you can see where we got off our planned route and not make the same mistake.
Once we were on the Little Jackson Connector Trail it was a brisk one mile hike back to the car. We got back to our vehicle at 6:00 pm and headed directly back to the coast.
This was definitely one of my favorite hikes in Maine, trailing only behind Mount Katahdin (though it had more variety). It was also the first hike I did with John and Mike since our crazy four day adventure in the Sierra Nevadas in late April, and it was good to hit the trail with them again. I will have to get back to Tumbledown to hit its north peak (the high point) and hike Jackson Mountain as both are on the New England 3000 Footer list.
People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! … Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land … ‘A la sainte terre.’ … And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.
Music from Free Music Archive: “Running Waters” by Jason Shaw
Date Hiked: 8 September 2015
Weather: mostly sunny
Wind: SE 10mph
Highest Elevation: 3470′
Elevation Gain: 4200′
Distance: 10.8 miles
Book Time: 7:55
Actual Time: 9:15