CLIFTON — Right mountain, wrong name, and a hiker’s delight: Such is Peaked Mountain, the partially bald granite escarpment that thrusts high above traffic-humming Route 9 in this quiet Penobscot County town.
Especially when eastbound, travelers familiar with Route 9 (aka “The Airline”) can immediately identify Peaked Mountain. Its rugged topography looms above the highway just about where it ventures past the Clifton Baptist Church; one moment trees obscure the eastern horizon, then, “Poof!” a mountain magically appears.
That same mountain dominates the horizon for the next mile or two, and even as Route 9 slips beneath and then past it, Peaked’s still there, looming, lurking, luring hikers to that granite crest — from where the views can take the breath away.
On this perfect August afternoon, I’m in a breath-removing mood. Two years have faded from the calendar since I last experienced those priceless views, so I inform the wife that I’m headed for Chick Hill.
That’s right: “Chick Hill,” not “Peaked Mountain.” The topo maps correctly identify the 1,160-foot mountain as Peaked; actually there are two, the Peaked with the communications tower on top, and the adjacent, shorter summit dubbed Little Peaked Mountain.
But everybody — and I mean everybody — calls the big mountain “Chick Hill” or “Big Chick” and the shorter mountain “Little Chick.” Oddly the actual Chick Hill lies perhaps a mile north of Peaked Mountain; one year long, long ago, someone mistook “Peaked” for “Chick,” and the mistake took hold.
Headed east on Route 9, I cruise past the Parks Pond Campground and the Sawmill Woods Golf Course. The highway lightly curves and rolls and yaws beyond Parks Pond, and Chick Hill dominates the northern and northeastern horizon.
About 1½miles past the pond, I watch for the paved Chick Hill Road, which sharply intersects Route 9 on the left. Bearing right at the first curve on Chick Hill Road, I soon reach the gravel parking lot used by Chick Hill hikers.
At least two routes ascend the mountain from this parking lot:
• A poorly marked, yet obvious trail that begins at the lot’s south edge. This trail gradually climbs to Little Chick Hill, which offers next-door-neighbor views of Chick Hill and good views of the surrounding countryside.
From the Little Chick, the trail drops into a col and then steeply climbs Chick Hill to reach its summit.
• A gravel road upgraded when a tall communications tower was erected atop Chick Hill some years ago. The road represents a steady climb, steeper near the summit and rocky underfoot. Be careful not to turn an ankle.
I opt for the 1.3-mile road, which provides few views until that final right curve near the summit. From here I can see east into Washington County; perhaps 150 yards farther, after the road turns 90 degrees to the left (south) and leaps toward the summit, I turn 180 degrees and gaze north to Katahdin.
What a beautiful day: I can see northward at least 80 miles.
Onward I chug to skirt a road-filling puddle and to finally step onto the ledge above which a fire lookout tower once stood.
“Wow.” That’s all I can say as unhindered views suddenly open south to Mount Desert Island and west to Chemo Pond, Bangor, and the Dixmont Hills.
Chick Hill takes my breath away — and not from that steep climb. Slowly turning 90 degrees from south to west (left to right), I pick out landmarks familiar from past hikes up this out-of-the-way peak:
• The oh, so familiar peaks of Mount Desert Island, from Champlain on the far left (and east) to Bernard on the far right (and west). Easily finding Cadillac Mountain, I wonder if tourists there notice Chick Hill on their northern horizon.
From atop Cadillac, Chick Hill is darn hard not to identify on a clear day like today.
• There’s Blue Hill, always sticking out like a sore thumb above the southwestern Hancock County horizon.
• Over to the right is Bald Mountain: can’t miss that Dedham peak jam-packed with antennas (nine, I believe).
• Just beyond Bald Mountain rises Great Pond Mountain in Orland.
• Farther to the right (and west) lies Blackcap Mountain’s long, antenna-studded north-south ridge.
• Even farther to the right, at least 16 miles beyond Bangor International Airport (a two-mile runway is hard to hide), rise Harris Ridge and Peaked Mountain in Dixmont. The latter mountain has an identity problem similar to Chick Hill’s; the government-designed topo map identifies Peaked in Dixmont as “Peaked Mountain,” but everyone calls it “Dixmont Mountain.”
The Peakeds just can’t win.
I pick out Chemo Pond and Davis Pond in Eddington (okay, so the Clifton town line runs across Chemo, too) and suddenly notice something peculiar lurking just above the southwestern horizon, behind the Dedham Hills.
A lighter-shade-of-green shadow lurks there: Of course, it’s the Camden Hills! I express my surprise; in so many Chick Hill hikes, I’ve never spotted that sliver of the Midcoast rising beyond Bald Mountain.
Soon I walk farther south on Chick’s granite ledges. The mountains “above” Sullivan — Schoodic, Black, Tunk, the others — are clearly visible, as is three-humped Lead Mountain in Beddington, perhaps 20-25 miles due east from Chick Hill. I do not know the other peaks and ridges sprinkled across northern Hancock County and westernmost Washington County.
A steady breeze blows across Chick’s summit ledges this afternoon; riding the wind and the attendant thermals, a vulture suddenly pops above the mountain’s southern cliffs and effortlessly floats past me.
Soon another vulture swirls upward on a thermal; two more “buzzards” suddenly join the thermal joyriding, and all four vultures briefly circle together. I figure they’re a vulturine family: Mom, Pop, Junior, and Juniorette, all looking for carrion to eat.
They will find none atop Chick Hill on this perfect August afternoon. Only appreciative hikers live here today.