Spring’s start sparks two hikes

Posted March 26, 2010, at 10:36 p.m.

Last Saturday, when the first day of spring greeted us with warm and bright sun, I went searching for a place to take a pair of hikes.

I usually start off the early spring hiking season with a short day hike or two, to ease my way into the seasonal change. Before leaving the house I purge my pack of heavy winter items like mitts, gloves and hats. It’s a symbolic act more than anything. I could need them and be sorry I left them behind by the time I hike to a sum-mit.

Nonetheless, hats and mitts would stay at home.

Traveling a long distance to a trailhead wasn’t part of the plan. Instead, I looked for trails that are near my home in Ellsworth. I only needed to climb a couple of small hills with views, I told myself, to reduce my sudden onset of spring fever.

I settled on two hikes, one for each day of the weekend.

The first one, in the Great Pond Mountain Wildlands in Orland, is only a mile and a tenth, one way, but it climbs about 600 feet in elevation from the trailhead to the 1,030-foot summit. The next is the Black Mountain Ridge Trail in the Donnell Pond District of the Bureau of Maine Public Lands in Sullivan. It’s only a mile and two tenths and also climbs about the same elevation. Both are rated easy to moderate. Black Mountain may be a little harder, due to the rough path and rock scramble on East Peak.

Great Pond Mountain Trail via Stuart Gross Path

To get to the Wildlands entrance, drive north on U.S. Route 1, about 6 miles from Bucksport and the intersection of Maine Route 15 and U.S. Route 1. From Ellsworth it’s about 12 miles south on U.S. Route 1 from the intersection of U.S. Routes 1 and 1A.

Look for a sign marking the Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery and Hatchery Road. Turn on to Hatchery Road and drive about 1.75 miles. Go through the hatchery parking lot to the intersection of Don Fish Road, a dirt road. Take that road to the right and stay on it for about nine-tenths of a mile. There’s a sign on the left for the Stuart Gross Path. Park in a pull-off along the road.

This hike is actually on two trails. The Stuart Gross Path connects to the Great Pond Mountain Trail leading to the summit. It’s blazed in blue paint. Starting off on the Stuart Gross Path you ascend through a young beech forest gradually uphill for about four-tenths of a mile. Then you arrive at an intersection with the Dead River Connector Trail and the Mountain Trail, which has a sign.

Take the Mountain Trail and ascend through the woods, still gradually, up large bedrock granite slabs. After a short hike you reach a broad shoulder of the mountain, with the summit in view ahead. There are great views to the south and north from here. Stay on the trail crossing the shoulder until you reach the final steep ascent to the summit. After you come out of the woods, you are on the open bald granite top with excellent views of the landscape.

From the top, you can see toward Bucksport to the two towers of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory. Beyond those in the view are: Sears Island, Penobscot Bay, North Haven, and Camden Hills. Looking north you can see Bald Mountain in Dedham, Dead River and on a clear spring day, Mount Katahdin.

Looking south you can see Blue Hill, Acadia, Toddy Pond, Alamoosook Lake and Craig Pond. The mountain is frequented by hawks, bald eagles and turkey vultures, as well. It’s a short, rewarding hike. There is no loop hike from the top, but one is possible using the Dead River Connector trail near the start.

Total mileage, one way, is 1.1.

Black Mountain Ridge Trail

To find the trailhead drive about 14 miles from Ellsworth on U.S. 1 through East Sullivan to the intersection of Maine 183 on the left. Turn on 183 and drive about 4.5 miles to the sign marking the Donnell Pond District, Maine Bureau of Public Lands. After about a quarter-mile on the dirt road, turn right at the fork in the road and follow this road about two miles to the small parking area and a kiosk on the right. The trailhead is up the road a few feet, on the left.

The trail climbs gradually through a great spruce, fir and hemlock forest. Then it gets steeper as you climb six-tenths of a mile to a signed intersection with the trail to West Peak. Turn right toward East Peak, instead, and soon you arrive at an interesting set of granite ledges with an outstanding view of Tunk Lake.

At this point you can see the top of East Peak, a little less than half a mile away. The trail drops down into a little sag where you’ll cross Wizard Brook on a few rocks. It then ascends steeply, following stone cairns to the open top of East Peak with 360 degree views. On a clear day you can see all the way to Quoddy Head. South, the view is dominated by Frenchman’s Bay and the mountains of Mount Desert Island. Caribou Mountain to the north, which is reached by taking a long loop from the summit cairn, is clearly visible, as is Schoodic Mountain to the southwest.

There are several loops in the trail network that crisscross the mountain. To return to the parking area on this hike, however, follow the trail back the way you came.

Take either of these hikes and you’ll realize that compared to the effort required to take them, the rewards are worth every step. They both are nice little hikes any time of year. In spring, when you want to start slow, they’re perfect for reducing that stubborn spring fever.

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