Bill Buggie and I go way back. Having met in 1983 at the University of New Hampshire’s Summer Writing Program, we are kindred spirits grateful to my Mountain Rushmore of the teaching of writing (Don Graves, Don Murray, Jane Hansen, and Tom Newkirk). Kids find their voice in their writing by choosing their own topics. When kids learn to develop a voice in their writing, they are more likely to develop a voice in their lives.
Bill is a veteran of the pilgrimage trail, the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. Since each of us lives roughly four hours driving time from Bar Harbor, Maine, we choose Acadia National Park (ANP) as our hiking destination de jour.
Under skies of intermittent light rain, my solo ride north from York is uneventful, which from a car break down point of view is a good thing. After 175 miles of highway driving to Bangor, I head East on Route 1A for the coast. It’s all very simple in May. As an aside, I do recommend traveling the coastal roads of Maine during May’s even more beautiful sister months, September and October. Still warm, fewer touristos.
Meeting Bill at the Best Western Acadia Park Inn, we are a mere two miles from the Hull’s Cove Visitor Center at the southern end of the ANP. Parking anywhere we choose on this preseason May Monday, we have the good fortune to be taken care of by Ranger Linda Morrison. As a hiker herself, she recommends buying a detailed map of the park trails for $5. We do and live to celebrate the modest purchase.
Recommending the Sargent Mountain and Penobscot Mountain Trail Loop, she takes out her yellow highlighter and talks us through the hike. In case of rain, she suggests that we hike five bridges in five miles along the Carriage Roads near Jordan Pond; this is an ideal alternative since hiking in precipitation on the rocky mountain granite can be a risky proposition.
With no rain falling, we choose the 5.2 mile Sargent/Penobscot Mountain Loop with 1300 feet of elevation gain. What would be crowded with vehicles in the summer, the Park Loop Road is basically car-free as we head north from the Visitor Center to Jordan Pond. Packing our rain gear in Bill’s backpack, we venture out ready for the windy mountain summit in a tee shirt beneath a long sleeve shirt and sweatshirt.
Walking easily in conversation for two miles along the Carriage Road skirting Jordan Pond, we do step around fallen trees on the trail due to the winter of Snowmaggedon 2015. We walk below the more precipitous parallel Jordan Cliffs Trail, which is closed this time of year due to nesting peregrine falcons.
The gently graded Carriage Trails allow us to loosen our sitting-in-the-car-all-morning muscles and warm up for the steep climb to Sargent Mountain. Conversation with Bill is an easy back and forth. As an old friend, he is both interesting and interested; we each have a voice in our friendship.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. made the 50+ miles of Carriage Roads happen during the early 20th century. We pass the cut granite stones placed here on the Carriage Road edges, which act as guard rails. Known as “coping stones” to help visitors cope with the steep edges, they are also referred to as “Rockefeller’s teeth.”
After forty minutes on the Carriage Road, I see stone steps to our right; but there is no sign for the Deer Brook Trail to the Sargent Mountain summit; so we amble on. Fifteen minutes later, I wonder where the hell the trail is. When all else fails, I check the map and realize we’ve gone too far and double back. Though there is no sign to this trail (during a fall 2015 trip to Acadia Bill and I see that a sign has now been placed at the start of the trail), we’ve made a cardinal mistake of not being attentive to geographical features on the trail map (i.e., lakes and streams) that would have shown us the trail.
No matter, an extra 25 minutes hiking on the Carriage Road is no sacrifice. Once on the East Cliffs Trail to Sargent Mountain, we find it steep and rocky. Amazingly, more than half of the trail through a hardwood and conifer forest is granite steps placed by trail workers in years past. It’s an accessible Adirondack switchback trail (straight up the mountain); and just the vigorous workout we are ready for after our mellow Carriage Road walking.
Throughout our hike the trails are well-marked with blue blazes or cairns (piled rocks on the bare rocky stretches of trail). Thirty minutes later after rock scrambling up the mountain, we come out of the forest having climbed maybe half a mile, to the treeless, open rocky sections near the summit. With still 15 minutes to the mountaintop we hike easily over smooth massive rock formations.
With a chilly and windy Sargent mountaintop (at 1373’ it’s the second highest peak to Cadillac Mountain in ANP), we put our sweatshirts back on. With all the rock climbing we have just done, we are again reminded that this is no hike in any sort of precipitation, even mist. We have been handholding the rock in places and pulling ourselves up over steeper sections. Nothing perilous, but the strenuous rating of the trail is richly deserved. Atop Mount Sargent, we check out the 360 degree views of Eagle Lake, Frenchman Bay of Bar Harbor, and out to the Atlantic Ocean.
With the wind up, we do not linger and take to the Sargent South Ridge Trail along the ridge line of this mountain bald (no trees). Prior to Penobscot Mountain, we dip into the col (gap or valley) between the mountains; but the hiking is easy going now that we have summited. We soon are atop Penobscot Mountain with a view to the south of Maine’s coastal islands and a glorious view of Jordan Pond to the north.
For another mile we continue on the Penobscot Mountain Trail on the bare mountain ridge. With no leaves on the trees, even in this mid-May, we have clear views to the lakes and ocean of Acadia.
After a mile, we take the Spring Trail down the steep descent of the mountain. Though we hand hold the granite as we descend, the ever present granite steps make the descent manageable and not dangerous at all. As we finish our nearly four hours of hiking, we return to the shoreline of Jordan Pond.
You don’t need to be a macho man or woman to enjoy the Sargent/Penobscot Loop Trail. This is a “go to” hike for the experienced hiker among us. Don’t miss it.