North Ridge Trail sign
Hiked: 20 April 2014
One of my favorite parts of hiking is planning for the hike itself. I love looking at topography maps, reading trail descriptions and condition reports. I love researching forums and blogs related to the hike I’m planning. I even love watching the weather report leading up to a hike (I use Weather Underground’s mobile app).
But, I never expect things to go as planned. In fact, I try to embrace things not going as planned for the adventure of it and for the lessons learned. If things always go as planned, or you restrict them from going awry, then you aren’t learning from your mistakes and growing as a wanderer. I basically only plan for the safety-sake of things, otherwise I try to leave room for improvisation.
Lately I’ve been working on a project at work and putting in a little extra effort in the evenings and weekends. The night before Easter my wife commented that I was being grouchy and that I should go for a hike the next day to clear my mind.
Best. Wife. Ever.
We had an Easter dinner to go to that afternoon so I dipped into my pool of potential short hikes to find one that would allow me to get back to the island not too late for dinner. I decided on Pleasant Mountain in Denmark, Maine, as it was only an hour and 15 minutes from Portland which should give me just enough time to bag the Cumberland county high point.
When I arrived at the head of Fire Tower Road, the road that leads to the Fire Warden’s Trail (my anticipated route of ascent), I discovered the road was closed. As it turned out, it was no longer a road, but the trail head of the Fire Warden’s trail. If I had spent my normal amount of time planning the hike I probably would have realized this prior to setting out. This setback added a mile each way to my hike, but I figured I could pick up the pace and still leave in time to make my boat.
I set off up the trail at a brisk pace but soon stopped to check out the stream running next to the trail. The day was warm and the stream was running hard and I’m a sucker for cascades. I snapped a couple of photos with my new camera. Pleasant Mountain was the first opportunity I had to bring it with me on hike.
I’m a sucker for cascades
I continued up the trail but the occasional patches of wet, granular, compacted snow quickly became continuous paths of blue ice. There were enough twigs and pine needles scattered on the ice that I didn’t bother to stop and put on my Sport STABILicers. I passed a couple with with a pair of dogs moving slowly on the ice. They asked how I had better traction than them and I told them the truth, “I just move fast and hope for the best.”
I was moving too fast and concentrating too much on the ice to really enjoy my surroundings. The day was clear blue and warm, so I quickly stripped off my fleece and sweatshirt. I got to the main peak in just over an hour. There was a large clearing at the top of Pleasant Mountain guarded by a small but tall fire tower. The view to the west and north were fitting for the mountain’s name. There were 8 to 10 people on the summit, some of who invited me to join them for breakfast which they were cooking over what sounded like a JetBoil. I declined and took out my Nikon to get some shots of the view.
Pleasant Mountain main summit
The summit was quite enjoyable but a little crowded for my taste. It also wasn’t the goal of my hike, and it was already 11:45am. I was 15 minutes away from the mid-point of my hike (time-wise) and still well over a mile away from the North Peak. I had to decide whether to enjoy the view or book it to the North Peak. I figured the going would be quick to the North Peak since I had already completed most of the elevation. I packed up and head out.
I hustled back down Fire Warden’s Trail to where it joined Bald Peak Trail and started the trek along the ridge line toward Bald and North Peaks. There were still intermittent patches of ice, so I stopped to throw on my STABILicers. I needed traction if I was going to do this leg of the hike quickly. The ice disappeared after I got out of the shadow of the main peak but I kept the traction on just in case. The trail was dry and the air smelled of baking pine needles. With the hot sun on my face it almost felt like summer.
Bald Peak was a beautiful summit of smooth ledge and there was no crowd. There were hawks flying gliding about, occasionally one would fly low over my head as if to check me out. I found a clear shot of the Presidentials but had to continue on with my mission.
The snow was receding on the Presidentials
A short while after Bald peak I dropped my bag and headed along the trail with just some water and my camera. I made it to the official North Peak, but I could see the peak above Shawnee Peak across a col. I was beyond my turn around time and still short of my goal. North Peak stands in Oxford county, the Cumberland high point was the peak above Shawnee Peak. There was no way I was going to make it to the Cumberland high point and get back to my car in time.
I sent a message to my wife asking if she’d be terribly upset if I missed to boat and Easter dinner. Being the incredibly supportive wife that she is, she replied that she would not. Finally, I could really enjoy the hike and not worry about the time. I snapped a shot of route 302 crossing Moose Lake (one of my favorite portions of 302 because of the sudden view of Shawnee Peak) and made my way over to Cumberland county.
Route 302 and Moose Lake from North Peak
I followed North Ridge Trail down into the col and back up to the peak above Shawnee. The trail changed to Sue’s Way and began to descend to the chair lift at the peak of Shawnee. If I continued to follow it I would end up looping around back to Bald Peak trail. I would bypass the actual Cumberland high point and I would have to trek back to get my pack. I spent 20 minutes or so hiking back and forth on the trail looking for some sign of the peak. I bushwhacked to the edge of the slope so I could see down to the Shawnee chair lift and hiked up to what I perceived to be the high point. I was convinced that I found the high point, nearby in the direction of the trail was an old fire ring.
If anyone knows whether that was indeed the high point, please leave a message of confirmation.
Convince I finally made it to the high point of Cumberland county I made my way back across the ridge toward Fire Warden’s Trail. I dropped down into the col between Shawnee Peak and North Peak and back up the approach to the later. As I passed an overlook back into the col I heard a huge crash from the trees below, right where I had been a moment before. I stood completely still for a while trying to catch any movement through the leafless trees. It sounded loud enough to have been a bear or moose, but in hindsight I was convinced it must have been a deer leaping through the trees and brush.
I retrieved my pack and made it back to Bald Peak. I sat in the warm sun trying to take photos of the hawks flying overhead.
Rough-legged hawk, I believe
I took my time hiking out, enjoying the scenery and the warm weather (when I wasn’t looking at my feet because of the ice). I quickly realized that my model of STABILicers were not good for descending on blue ice. They stretched over the soul of my shoes, with no strap over the top of the foot or around the ankle. When the cleats took hold on steep descents, the material was overstretched and they slipped off my heal. Eventually I removed them off and took my chances with no traction.
Ice I nearly ate it on
I made it back to my car by 2:45pm, nearly an hour and 30 minutes later than I had planned, but it still gave me plenty of time to enjoy the ride back to Portland. I stopped at Moose Lake to take a photo of Shawnee Peak and North Peak from below and then enjoyed the sun and good tunes all the way back to the coast.
Shawnee Peak from Route 302
When I got back to Portland I stopped at one of my favorite places for a bite to eat and a beer, The Thirsty Pig. They have an amazing vegan sausage and always have Bissell Brothers The Substance on tap. That gave me time to re-energize (I did the entire hike without food and only had 32oz of juice for breakfast) and reflect on my hike.
Mistakes from which to learn:
- Just because Google Maps says you can drive on it, doesn’t mean it’s drive-able (especially in winter/early spring)
- Research your hike thoroughly if you’re short on time, you might find a quicker route (Bald Peak trail would have been a quicker ascent)
- STABILicer Sports aren’t suitable traction for hiking on ice
- Don’t be afraid to lengthen your hike so that you can enjoy it, that is the point after all
Mistakes are the portals of discovery.
Map of Hike
Elevation Gain: 1900′
Distance: 7.5 miles
Book Time: 4:40
Actual Time: 4:30
Temperature: 54° F
Wind: 2 mph N
“Beers—BISSEL BROTHERS.” bissellbrothers.com. Bissell Brothers. Web. 25 April 2014.
“D3200 Nikon HDSLR Camera.” nikonusa.com. Nikon Inc. Web. 24 April 2014.
“Pleasant Mountain.” loonecholandtrust.com. Loon Echo Land Trust. Web. 21 April 2014.
“Stabilicers Sportrunners Ice Cleats.” 32north.com. 32north. Web. 23 April 2014.
“the THiRSTY PIG.” thirstypigportland.com. The Thirsty Pig. Web. 25 April 2014.
“Weather Underground.” itunes.apple.com. Apple Inc. Web. 22 April 2014.