Ron Chase resides in Topsham and is the author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England.” His latest book, “The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is scheduled to be released by North Country Press in 2021. Visit his website at ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at email@example.com.
It was a beautiful late fall day on my drive to the mountainous community of Weld in western Maine. The forecast was sunny with seasonal temperatures and light winds. My rosy weather prediction had helped convince retired New Hampshire friends Laurie Wunder and Tom Meredith to join me for a hike on Little Jackson Mountain. Their first climb of the impressive peak, they were looking forward to spectacular views on the barren summit.
Motoring north on Route 156 a few miles south of Weld, I eagerly awaited my first glimpse of Little Jackson and its alpine sidekicks, Jackson and Tumbledown mountains. When I crested the pass between Bald and Crockett mountains, instead of the usual impressive vista, I was confronted with sinister storm clouds enveloping the entire range. To add insult to my injured psyche, it began to snow. I didn’t want to think about conditions atop Little Jackson Mountain, 3,500 feet above sea level. Worse than the weather, I had some serious explaining to do with what might be my former friends when we met. I started practicing my alibi.
When I arrived at our meeting place at the beginning of Byron Road in Weld, a rainbow appeared, but snow continued and winds began to gust. My friends immediately pulled up behind me. Relieved they hadn’t turned back, I was heartened to hear the weather had been worse in the mountains of northern New Hampshire. They were optimistic that conditions would improve. It appeared I’d been exonerated.
After a short drive on Byron Road, a right turn on Morgan Road led us on a 1-mile bumpy ride to the trailhead for Little Jackson and Tumbledown mountains. A full parking area was a clear indication that I wasn’t the only victim of the capricious weather forecast. The snow subsided, but harsh blustery winds swirled down from the mountains. Team Stormy packed for winter.
The Little Jackson and Tumbledown trails began together at the far end of the parking area. After about a half mile of easy hiking, Tumbledown Mountain’s Parker Ridge Trail departed left and Little Jackson Trail began climbing steadily in a predominantly deciduous forest. After about a mile, the junction for Pond Link Trail was located on the left. A possible loop trek encompassing Tumbledown Mountain and Tumbledown Pond was contemplated. The consensus was to continue to the top of Little Jackson before considering additional options.
Soon after, heavily bundled descending hikers were encountered. Our inquiries about above tree line conditions resulted in disappointing news. They reported the bitter wintry summit cone was completely enshrouded in clouds. I scrupulously avoided eye contact with my companions.
Clockwise from left: Climbers celebrate at the top of Little Jackson Mountain on Nov. 14, in western Maine; A climber enjoys splendid views during her final ascent; Hikers emerge above tree line. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase
Angling westerly, the path steepened and narrowed in conifer growth. Sporadic ice and some snow accumulation complicated footing. Following a diligent climb through a continuum of slippery precipitous ledges, we emerged above the tree line. The hikers’ dire predictions proved partially correct. It was very cold and windy, and the top of Jackson Mountain was completely obscured. But the cloud cover had risen above Little Jackson. We had views! I could sense increasing Team Stormy harmony.
Preparing for winter had been a judicious decision. I emptied my pack of most clothing, donning a balaclava, stocking cap, winter mittens and a down parka. My counterparts did similarly. Laurie had wisely carried Stabilicers, which are metal cleats that strap onto your boots to provide improved traction on the ice and snow.
From the junction of Jackson Mountain Trail, about a mile of almost continuous exposure to the elements on slick surfaces ensued to the summit. Gales approximating 40 miles per hour were endured while conscientiously ascending extended oblique ledges and scrambling over huge boulder formations. Other hikers could be observed high above. Despite the inclement circumstances, the final ascent was invigorating and the views splendid.
Arriving at the rounded barren mountaintop, powerful gusts and frigid wind chills limited our stay. Brief consideration was given to descending steeply to Tumbledown Pond, but the risk of confronting more significant ice on the vertiginous decline was too great. A return on Little Jackson Trail was our conservative choice.
Guardedly maneuvering down the rugged icy terrain, maintaining our balance in the gusty winds was challenging. Refuge was located in a narrow ravine for a much needed respite and snack. By the time we reached the Pond Link Trail junction, the sun was out and winds diminished. My original forecast was five hours late.