Dan Hikes the Mountains of Acadia National Park with the Canadian

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.

Map of ANPUnder 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.

Sar1 Acadia signMeeting 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.

Sar4A rocky bald view of inlets

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.

Sar1B D on CR

Along the Carriage Road near Jordan Pond

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.

Rockefeller's Teeth on the edge of the Carriage Road

Rockefeller’s Teeth on the edge of the Carriage Road

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.

Bill leading the way up the East Cliffs Trail

Bill leading the way up, the dare I say, “R as in rocky” East Cliffs 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.

One of many sets of rock steps to Sargent Mountain

One of many sets of rock steps to Sargent Mountain

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.

Atop Sargent Mountain

Atop Sargent Mountain

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.

The cairns to guide us along the massive stone ridge line

The cairns to guide us along the bare stone ridge line

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.

Jordan Pond from Penobscot Mountain

Jordan Pond from Penobscot Mountain

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.

More of the beautiful granite steps

More of the beautiful granite steps down the Spring Trail

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.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Rocky, Rocky Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania

Climbing the Appalachian Trail to Hahn's Lookout

The Appalachian Trail near Wind Gap, PA

Among Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, Pennsylvania has the reputation of being a trail with punishing, boot-shredding rocks. Hannah and I have no reason to doubt that reputation, but we’ve hiked in Pennsylvania before, once near the Delaware Water Gap in the east and again near Gettysburg to the south at Boiling Springs, and found no such mean-spirited rocks.

Marathon Molly in 2007

Marathon Molly in 2007

It’s a nasty Patriots Day on a mid-April Monday in New England as we travel by way of Pennsylvania to Virginia for Will and Laurel’s wedding.  In Boston, the steady rain is pelting the marathon runners similar to what our daughter Molly experienced running into 20 to 30 mph headwinds from Hopkinton to Boston in 2007.   Today we hope the drenching rain abates and our ponchos will deflect the light rain.

Mom and Dad 1

Mom and Dad

Crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York State and heading to Jersey on I-287, we pass the senior living complex where my Mom and Dad lived after moving from their home of more than fifty years in Radburn, NJ. Dad died three years ago while Mom passed on last year; they each lived rich lives into their 90s. As I get nostalgic, I do think how much they enjoyed hearing about the lives of their grandchildren. I miss not being able to call up and talk about Robyn’s recent college degree, Will’s new job, and Molly’s new house. But damn, I had so many good years of calls and visits; we all had a great run together.

Climbing the Appalachian Trail to Hahn's Lookout

Climbing the Appalachian Trail to Hahn’s Lookout

As we cross into Pennsylvania, we learn that this area is called the Slate Belt. That is an ominous sign for today’s hike. Thanks to my Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers Companion, we find the trailhead at the far end of the little town of Wind Gap. With the rain now just mist, we pack our ponchos in Hannah’s backpack as I big-heartedly carry our water bottles.

Ridgeline hiking on the AT

Ridgeline hiking on the AT

Heading under Route 33 to the white blazes of the AT, we are set to climb to Hahn’s Lookout, a mile south on the AT. Here the AT is a trail of finely designed switchbacks with the usual run-of-the-mill rocks; but no rockier than other trails that we have hiked up and down the AT.

In the cloud at Hahn's Outlook

In the cloud at Hahn’s Outlook

It’s like we have stolen a day of hiking since it was iffy whether we would be on the trail at all, given the morning’s drenching rain. But no two ways about it, we are hiking in a cloud. Arriving at Hahn’s Outlook there is nothing to see of the valley below. Mist goes from light to heavy; with a wet trail, we step carefully among the rocks.

VCU Ram on the Appalachian Trail in PA

VCU Ram on the Appalachian Trail in PA

Rising to the ridge line after a modest 400 to 500 feet gain in elevation, we start to see that the rocks are having baby rocks. Protruding from the ground like the fins of a shark or the scales of a stegosaurus, they make our foot plants uneven; we find ourselves hiking with swiveling ankles adjusting to the varied, moist rocks from the rain over the last 18 hours.

You want rocks?  Pennsylvania's got rocks for you.

You want rocks? Pennsylvania’s got rocks.

With little to see hiking in a cloud, we set a goal of finding the Kirkwood Shelter 4.6 miles from the trailhead. The rocky trail is very well-marked as we walk single file; we don’t expect to see anyone. Who’d be hiking in the mist of early April but Maine-iacs?  Northbound thru-hikers starting in Georgia are only a month into their hike, spending nights somewhere in North Carolina or Virginia. Southbound thru-hikers cannot even start til next month (May) because of the snowy conditions at Mount Katahdin in Maine.

On the AT near Wind Gap, PA

On the AT near Wind Gap, PA

Still buoyed by the thoughts that this is bonus hiking, we see no signs of the shelter 90 minutes into our ridgeline hike. Due to the rocky terrain, we are hiking at best 2 mph.   This is no trail for sneakers, but our hiking boots provide us with modest protection.  Over the next 20 minutes, we find no blue blaze trail (side trail) to the hoped-for shelter. The rocks are more than annoying as we start to feel it in our knees due to the many angled steps we have taken on the wet rocks.

Shark fins protruding on the trail

Shark fins protruding on the trail

At a clearing of high tension wire towers, Hannah has had enough. She takes off her socks to revitalize her feet, but she says, I’ll go ten minutes more if you want. (We’ve been out nearly two hours.) But I don’t want to and am ready to turn back. A full afternoon of exercise is what we wanted; and in that we have succeeded. There is no reason to subject ourselves to the rocky landscape anymore.

WG 4 H descending rocky trailTurning for home, we still have nearly two hours of rocky trail hiking ahead of us. We are now firm believers in the legend of the rocks on the AT in PA. We are, in fact, disciples.  Three hours of rocks has us swearing we will never return to Pennsylvania to hike. Ever. The Land of Brotherly Love? Not on the AT near Wind Gap!

In a cloud on the AT

In a cloud on the AT

The mistiness has stopped, but the trail remains wet and as you might have guessed, quite rocky. We have no way around the rocks but through them. The rocks rule. I bow to their majesty. I will never trespass their sacred realm again.

Tomorrow, it’s off to Maryland where we will find some of our favorite trails on the AT. Rocks? Sure, but not so sharp, unforgiving, or numerous. This part of the AT in Pennsylvania is the kind of hike that could make you hate hiking.

Hannah’s final words to others: Don’t Do It.   We’ve done it for you; you don’t have to beat yourselves up.

Do I hear an Amen!