Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Schoodic and Black Mountains in Downeast Maine

Travel in the mountains can be tricky this time of year.  Snow now covers the ground on most of Maine's mountain trails.  However, the coverage isn't very deep.  This makes for treacherous travel.  The snow isn't deep enough most places to cover roots and rocks completely, making trails extremely slippery.  With recent rain and freezes, large patches of exposed ice are also encountered.  With these challenging fringe season conditions, I decided to head to the coastal mountains.  The coastal mountains haven't seen much snow and I expected better hiking conditions than the interior mountain trails.

The J Man suggested hiking Schoodic and Black Mountains a few months ago.  These mountains are located in Downeast Maine in Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land north of Frenchman Bay.  For reference, Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park are on the south side of Frenchman Bay.  From the mountains in Acadia National Park, these two summits are the prominent peaks seen to the north when looking across the bay. With clear skies forecasted Sunday, the J Man and I headed to these mountains for a hike.

Our seven mile trip started at the Schoodic Beach trailhead.  This trailhead sits between the two mountains so either mountain can be climbed first.  We started with the climb to Black Mountain.  The trail climbed immediately along the Black Mountain Cliff Trail.  In less than two miles we reached  the West Peak of Black Mountain.  The summit is wooded and viewless.  After a brief descent into a saddle,we reached the East Peak of Black Mountain after another half mile of hiking.

Gentle trail on Black Mountain's West Peak

The views from the summit surprised me.  Black Mountain, at just under 1100 feet,  is free of trees and offers 360 degrees views.  Numerous ponds and neighboring peaks provide nice scenery.  The most impressive views however are looking to the south and east.  The summits of Acadia National Park stand behind Frenchman Bay's numerous islands.  The Atlantic Ocean disappears into the horizon to the east of Acadia.  You can even see a lighthouse off the coast from the summit.

Atlantic Ocean in distance beyond Tunk Lake

Caribou, Catherine, and Tunk Mountains from Black

Catherine Mountain and Tunk Lake

Looking across Black Mountains summit with Atlantic in distance

Mountains of Acadia National Park

Closer look at Acadia's mountains

Leaving Black Mountain, we lost all of our elevation as we descended to Donnell Pond.  The trail in this section passed through a coniferous forest carpeted in bright green moss.  Upon reaching Donnell Pond, the trail crossed the sandy Schoodic Beach before climbing Schoodic Mountain.

Looking toward Black's West Peak with Schoodic Mountain peeking out behind it

Forest carpeted in moss

After a steep mile of hiking from the beach, we reached the summit of Schoodic Mountain.  Even before reaching the summit, the Atlantic and Acadia's mountains come into view.  Sitting just a few feet lower than Black Mountain, Schoodic Mountain has a rocky summit with 360 views similar to Black Mountain.  The only downfall to Schoodic is that a large communication tower sits on its summit.  Despite the tower, vast views make it easy to linger at the summit.  To the northwest, we could just barely make out Katahdin's snowy summit.  Acadia's mountains and the ocean again provided the most dramatic scenery.  To the southwest, the coastal mountains in Camden, Maine could easily be identified.  After circling the summit to enjoy the scenery in all directions, we returned to trailhead.

Acadia's mountains coming into view

Looking across Schoodic's shoulder toward Acadia

Summit of Schoodic looking toward Acadia

Islands in Frenchman Bay

Black, Caribou, and Tunk Mountains from Schoodic

A few of the many ponds visible from the summits

View north from Schoodic Mountain

I wasn't sure what to expect on this trip.  I wasn't familiar with the area.  The hiking was pleasant and summit views were far reaching.  The scenery, while not quite as dramatic as Acadia National Park, was still quite impressive.  After dozens of trips to Acadia, it was interesting to look at the park from this prospective.  Even though the outing covered seven miles and gained more than 2000 feet, the hike didn't seem too difficult. Black and Schoodic Mountains would be a good alternative to Acadia National Park on a busy summer weekend.

Despite a chilly windchill in the single digits on the summits, we didn't encounter snowy trails.  Only a few heavily shaded sections had a light dusting.  A couple sections of the trail had some thick but avoidable ice. Otherwise the trails were in good condition and the hike was a worthwhile trip.

Icy flow on Schoodic's summit

Click on the link for a map of the trails in the area:  http://www.maine.gov/dacf/parks/docs/maps/donnellpond.pdf

Sunday, December 1, 2013

An Icy Climb of Little Spencer Mountain

Beautiful scenery is not hard to find in the Moosehead Lake region of Maine.  The lake, nearly forty miles in length, is framed by numerous sets of mountains.  While the elevation of the mountains aren't that high, several peaks rise dramatically over 2000 feet above the lake. The mountains of Moosehead  stand as landmarks in the region and can be seen from many vantage points around the area. Many of the mountains offer beautiful hiking opportunies.  From their summits, far flung views capture the beauty of the region.  Little Spencer Mountain is one of these peaks.

Little Spencer Mountain and its big brother Big Spencer Mountain stand side by side on the eastern side of the lake.  Both are over 3000 feet in elevation with Little Spencer standing less than 100 feet lower than Big Spencer. They rise more than 2000 feet from flat terrain with no nearby mountains.  As a result they are visible from most of the Moosehead Lake area.  They are easy to identify from as far away as Katahdin.

Little Spencer on left, Big Spencer on right from Lazy Tom Bog

Little Spencer Mountain is one of the most challenging hikes in the Moosehead Lake area.  The first challenge is getting to the trailhead.  From Greenville, you travel nearly twenty miles to the bustling town of Kokadjo, population: not many, according to the sign as you enter the village.  Then it is another ten or so miles on logging roads to the trailhead.  The logging roads aren't labeled so they can be tricky to follow if you are not familiar with the area.  Because of its remoteness, I don't think Little Spencer sees many people, even in summer.

Little Spencer Mountain rising 2000 feet above the valley

Little Spencer is one of  my favorite hikes in the area.  I went there Saturday because I wanted to get there before snow closed the roads for the season.  The area was still mostly snowless Saturday.  The trail to the summit only travels two miles.  It gains 2000 feet of elevation in that distance and traverses sections of tough terrain. With only one trail to the summit, the hike is only four miles roundtrip, but a very challenging four miles.  Not only does the summit have great views, but there are also far flung views along much of the trail.

From the beginning, there was a dusting of snow on the trail.  This made the already challenging hike even tougher.  Not far from the start, the trail traverses sections of boulders.  Under summer conditions these aren't too difficult, but a coating of snow made the rocks slippery.

Icy cliff

Crossing snowy boulders with cliffs in background

After a couple of boulder strewn sections, the trail reaches its most challenging spot.  The trail climbs through a narrow chimney between two sections of cliffs.  To assist hikers, a fixed rope is in place.  Even with the rope, negotiating the passage can be challenging.  To complicate matters, nearly three inches of rain fell a few days earlier followed by a deep freeze.  This section of trail was nearly all ice.  To make matters worse, the rope was frozen in thick ice at places rendering it useless.  After contemplating passage of the chimney, I tried to bushwack around it.  One side of the chimney is a cliff band.  The other side is nearly as steep but has some trees growing from it.  I tried to ascend with the help of the trees but soon reached icy cliffs and was forced to descend.  Finally, with the help of rope, I managed to shimmy up the chimney, wedging my body against the rocks for friction and carefully finding ice free hand holds.

Looking up the chimney

Close Up of ice in the chimney

The rest of the trail to the summit climbs steeply through fields of boulders and follows closely to bands of cliffs at places when not passing through the forest.  The trail levels before reaching the summit.  Despite gaining 2000 feet, there wasn't much more snow at the summit than the trailhead.
Looking across cliff near summit


Close up of Kineo

The view from the summit is grand.  The trees seemed to have grown since my last visit here so the view isn't quite 360 degrees, but still quite impressive.  The entire expanse of Moosehead Lake can be seen with all of its mountains surrounding it.  To the northeast, Katahdin poked its white summit above the clouds.  To the southwest, the Bigelows are visible.  Despite a temperature of 18 degrees at the summit, the sun was shining and the air was calm, allowing me to linger without getting cold.

Clouds over the Lily Bay Range

Looking toward Moosehead Lake over Spencer Pond

Big Moose Mountain in the distance

Looking toward north end of Moosehead

Low clouds passing by, a few flurries fell 

White Cap Range in distance beyond Roach Pond

Katahdin over shoulder of Big Spencer

Katahdin close up

Big Spencer Mountain

Descending proved much more challenging than the climb.  Numerous short section of icy rock needed to be navigated with caution.  Maneuvering down the chimney required much more concentration than climbing up it.  Roots had enough snow to hide them and make for a slippery surprise.  I did manage to make it back to the trailhead with no falls.

View as I descended the trail

View a little further down trail

Looking down a snowy boulder field that the trail passes over

Looking down chimney during descent

I've been to Little Spencer twice in snowy conditions with little problems.  The ice this weekend was almost too difficult to traverse without technical equipment. Crampons were almost necessary to make it through the chimney.  I almost bailed when I got to the chimney and it took a while to make it through.  Despite the added challenge, I'm glad I made it to the summit because the view never disappoints.