DEDHAM — Where hikers now relax, skiers once paused before schussing the slopes.
An unheralded Hancock County hiking destination, 1,234-foot Bald Mountain and its nine communications towers dominate the southern horizon at the Lucerne Inn. The towers identify Bald Mountain to hikers on nearby peaks, including Blackcap Mountain in Eddington, Great Pond Mountain in Orland, and Peaked Mountain (a.k.a. “Chick Hill”) in Clifton.
To hike Bald Mountain, follow the Bald Mountain Road to where it bends sharply at the Johnson Road intersection. Drive about 50 yards onto the Johnson Road and park on the granite ledge to the left. Hike along the gravel access road to where it reaches the mountain’s open granite south face.
Including sightseeing time, the hike takes about 30 minutes. Keep the power line to the left while ascending the steep slope. About halfway to the summit, just a short distance from where the trail and power line reach the trees, the ledges widen across an open area. Pause here to enjoy the panoramic southerly view encompassing Bald Mountain, the Camden Hills, and Great Pond Mountain. King’s Mountain in Orrington is visible to the west.
And credit the open terrain and excellent views to a long-defunct ski area.
The trail and power line merge at the treeline and beeline for the summit, where nine communications towers thrust above the spruce-fir forest. A contractor is building a tower to replace a nearby Department of Homeland Security tower, which will be demolished. The new tower will stand where the former Maine Forest Service fire tower once lured hikers up its shattered steps; that tower was torn down a few years ago.
After reaching the summit, bear left through the trees and walk onto the expansive ledge that spreads left and right and downslope. Dubbed “Picnic Ledge” and “Sunset Ledge,” this granite scarp offers excellent views to the north and northwest.
Phillips Lake, the Lucerne Inn, Blackcap Mountain, and the Bangor International Airport runway are visible even on hazy days. The distant mountains spreading along the northwest horizon include Barren, Borestone, and other Piscataquis County peaks. Passadumkeag Mountain rises on the northern horizon, and on a clear day, mighty Katahdin lurks on the far horizon. Even on a hazy evening, Katahdin’s still there, albeit as a barely discernible faint blue smudge.
And where a hiker stands on Sunset Ledge today, a skier once paused decades ago before deciding which trail to descend at the Bald Mountain Ski Area, self-promoted as “Maine’s Biggest Little Ski Area” in a fall 1969 “Ski News.” Don’t confuse that name with Bald Mountain Ski Area, “The Best Little Ski Area in Idaho,” which is located at the opposite end of the continent.
According to http://www.nelsap.org/me/balddedham.html, the Penobscot Valley Ski Club established a rudimentary ski area on Bald Mountain’s northwestern slope in the late 1930s. The ski area initially had three trails; a serious expansion took place in 1951 when additional trails were created, and “a rope tow was moved from King’s Mountain to Bald,” according to the Web site.
At the height of its popularity, the Bald Mountain Ski Area boasted a 2,200-foot double chairlift, a 950-foot T-bar, a base lodge and parking lot accessed from the Bald Mountain Road, a ski school, a snack bar, a summit warming hut, and at least 12 trails with such quaint names as:
• Bumper Scraper (rated among the “most difficult”);
• Coal Chute;
• Needle Eye;
• Old Race Trail (another “most difficult” trail);
• Sidewinder, a ¾-mile trail that provided “an easy way off the top of the mountain thru [sic] the open slopes on the south side,” the fall 1969 “Ski News” reported. The current access trail cuts across the old Sidewinder Trail.
The ski area even offered night skiing on four illuminated trails. “If you are an office girl, factory worker, or businessman who cannot get out on the slopes during the daytime, you will enjoy skiing Bald Mountain at night,” the fall 1969 “Ski News” bragged.
I cannot imagine standing outside the Lucerne Inn and seeing Bald Mountain lit up at night. When the sun sets in 2012, the mountain goes dark, except for the warning lights atop the taller communications towers.
The Bald Mountain Ski Area lasted until 1976, when financial losses led to its closure. The double chair-lift went to the Camden Snow Bowl. Hardwood trees soon sprouted in many trails, but some trails remain visible from the Lucerne Inn and the Bald Mountain Road. The ruins of at least one associated building — most likely the warming hut — lay concealed beneath the trees bordering Sunset Ledge.
If they have time, hikers should explore a rough trail that wanders northeast from Sunset Ledge and actually circles around Bald Mountain before emerging onto a grassy area with magnificent views to the east and south. The views encompass:
• Green Lake and Graham Lake;
• Route 1A traffic on McGowan’s Hill in Ellsworth;
• Schoodic Mountain and its adjacent peaks near Franklin;
• The commercial development on Beckwith Hill in Ellsworth;
• The classic northerly view of Mount Desert Island’s glacier-sculpted peaks.
From this grassy area, an obvious trail winds through the woods to emerge on the summit. Follow the power line downslope to reach the parking lot.