…that’s how author Christopher Camuto describes the mountains of Acadia in his book, “Time and Tide in Acadia – Seasons on Mount Desert Island”. Anne Mourkas (thanks Anne!) loaned the book to me through Lori, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading someone else’s well-chosen words as they described their most intimate feelings toward a place that I too love.
“The mountains of Mount Desert Island – really no more than great granite hills – will school you in the art of walking.” - Christopher Camuto
As the temperatures unexpectedly spiked to near 80 degrees last week, Sam and I set out on our first hike of the season with the goal of conquering the South Ridge of Cadillac Mountain (1,532 ft). Normally this hike might be considered no more than a brisk walk, but I hadn’t done anything that even resembled exercise for the previous six months, so not surprisingly, it kicked my backside. In hindsight, perhaps for the first hike of the season we were rather ambitious in tackling the 7.5 mile up and back route, especially on such a hot day. For those of you who scoff at such normally manageable temperatures, here in Maine we should be experiencing low 40′s right about now, so it’s all relative, and the “heat” we felt was definitely real! Anyway, as I lumbered up and down the mountain, I couldn’t help but think of some of the words I had read in Camuto’s book.
We chose the South Ridge of Cadillac Mountain Trail for several reasons; a) we figured since a good part of the trail was going to be on exposed granite, that it would be relatively dry. For those of you familiar with mud season in Maine and the impact of the spring thaw, you will understand our concerns about trekking through the lower part of this trail where it is usually quite wet, and b) quite simply, this is one of my all-time favorite hikes in Acadia… in Maine… anywhere.
We began our hike just above Blackwoods Campground on Route 3, and any concerns we had about it being muddy were soon dispelled as we made good time through the dense forest. We did encounter a couple of wetter spots as we criss-crossed a seasonal stream, but this was nothing more than you would expect, even on a rainy day in the summer. I really thought that there would be more water making its way from high to low, though after the warm day we had, even the wet spots we found are probably now gone. The first mile or so of this trail meanders through a lush forest carpeted with pine needles, tree roots, and boulders of all sizes, though before long you start to step out onto huge slabs of exposed granite… a precursor for what you will find further into the hike.
Before long the coolness and shadows of the pine forest give way to almost treeless granite slabs where the sun’s rays are welcomed and absorbed. Rock cairns guide you upward toward the summit, but before you get there, you have more than a few sights to take in. Scattered all over the ridgeline are glacial erratics deposited here some 18,000 years ago by an immense and powerful ice sheet. Their presence and origin seems remarkable to me, and I can’t help but stop to touch and photograph them. To read more about the geology of Acadia National Park, check out this information sheet from the National Park Service.
Despite my lack of preparation for the upcoming hiking season, I immediately felt right at home on the mountain trail. There’s something magical about being on the granite ridges that stretch from north to south in Acadia, and with 360 degree views all around you, there’s always something interesting rest your eyes on. On the way up, to the right there are spectacular views of Gorham and Champlain Mountains, with Schoodic Penninsula beckoning from further off in the distance across Frenchman Bay. To the left is an up close view of neighboring Pemetic Mountain, the equally stunning Sargeant and Penobscot Mountains, and then the quiet side of Mount Desert Island. Don’t forget to turn around… for that’s where the many islands dotted throughout the Blue Hill Bay can be found sparkling in the blue water for as far as the eye can see.
“Walking across these granite domes, enjoying spacious hours, you will feel keenly related to the sky and to the sea, to the rock underfoot and to the life of things here.” - Christopher Camuto
As we made our way above the treeline, we saw more and more examples of the geological forces that helped shape this island, and about 45 minutes into our hike, we arrived at what is probably my favorite part of the trail. Just before reaching the small glacial pond called “The Featherbed”, and just off the trail to the right, there is an unusual little area of life tucked away. Water catches here in hollowed out areas of rock, forming what appear to be mini-tarns. There is abundant life here that has survived the harsh winter and is now just waiting for springtime. Patches of grasses and wildflowers grow here, and if ever you get a chance to explore this area later in the summer, you will be in for a treat.
Just shy of two hours into our hike we passed the Blue Hill Overlook on our way toward the summit of Cadillac. It was kind of eerie being there on such a gorgeous day with not another soul in sight. The road to the top of Cadillac isn’t scheduled to open until mid-April, so the parking lot was strangely quiet. We enjoyed the delicious Dysart’s sandwiches we had carried to the top for lunch, and as always, the views were absolutely stunning. Though my muscles and joints were definitely hurting by the time we got off the mountain, we both agreed that there is nothing better than spending time exploring and appreciating this most majestic of mountains… or as Camuto called it… “a great granite hill.”