Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hiking Penobscot and Sargent - Acadia NP - 8/27/09

Only two "significant" hikes during our stay in Acadia this year. Got lots of other stuff in (biking, paddling, etc) but not the number of hoped for hikes. Oh well, next time. Starting the week off with The Precipice (TR here) was certainly a great beginning. With plenty of time spent biking and paddling in addition to the hikes we didn't feel cheated anyway.

There are so many great hikes in Acadia that it's hard to count. I haven't done any yet that I don't like. While it's hard to pick a favorite I think that Penobscot and Sargent wins out for me. It's hard to find any fault with a hike that provides 360 degree views from almost beginning to end with everything from the surrounding mountains to the beautiful Acadia lakes to the ocean beyond. 

The weather had been quite warm at the beginning of the week and the cold front that moved in on Wednesday night was a welcome change. Thursday was cool and breezy and almost felt like fall. We got a bit of a late start and by the time we arrived at Jordan Pond House in late morning the closest parking was about 1/4 mile down the street. The good part was that all these people seemed to be doing something else because we had the trails to ourselves most of the way.

Starting up the SpringTrail you immediately hit the toughest part of the hike (not that it's bad at all). It's pretty steep with some minor scrambling and a few typical "Acadia aids" in the form of railings, bridges, steps, etc. In a very short time the trail comes out of the trees to the first overlook on Jordan Pond and the mountains beyond. After that the views pretty much never stop. The Penobscot MountainTrail goes up the open south ridge of Penobscot in as beautiful a ridge walk as can be found just about anywhere. As a bonus the trail is flanked by endless blueberry, huckleberry and cranberry bushes - and there were lots of delicious berries to be had. Approaching the summit of Penobscot there are a few small ledges that provide some fun scrambling (but can be avoided if you prefer). The beautiful tarn near the summit is one of my favorite places on this hike. Amazingly beautiful.

From the summit of Penobscot you can use the Deer BrookTrail to descend back to Jordan Pond but it's much better to continue on to Sargent. The trail drops down through a col between the mountains and back into the woods for a short time. The trail in the col is pretty steep and it is a quick down and up. Before emerging from the trees there is a pond that many people stop at to swim (although we generally avoid it since there always seems to be a bit of a crowd there). The hike up the Sargent South RidgeTrail on the south ridge of Sargent is similar to that up Penobscot but the area has a different feel - hard to describe but the pictures should illustrate what I mean. At the top of Sargent we found a nice ledge on the east side of the summit to stop for lunch which was out of the wind (which by now was pretty strong) and away from the groups gathered on the summit. The views from Sargent are maybe even more spectacular than Penobscot going across Eagle Lake to Frenchman's Bay in the north and west over all of Somes Sound as well as to Cadillac (which is only slightly higher than Sargent) and south over Penobscot to the Atlantic.

Heading down the Sargent East CliffsTrail from Sargent gets you down quickly. There are a lot of steep spots and a few ledges that would probably be a bit dicey when wet. Plenty of good handholds to get down through the steep parts though. The trail joins up with the Deer BrookTrail from Penobscot and follows a brook down to the carriage road above Jordan Pond. Another steep descent along the brook on the other side of the carriage road and back to the north shore of the pond. From here you can take either the east shore or west shore paths around the pond back to the start. We like the west shore path best. It follows right along the edge of the water the whole way with beautiful view across the pond to the mountains including some great views of The Bubbles. This trail used to have split log bridges over about the last 1/2 to protect the fragile pondside environment and these have now been extended to cover about 80 of the length which makes the walking very easy (and much better than the mud that is usually under them).

I always seem to end this hike with the obligatory classic photos of The Bubbles over Jordan Pond but this time it was the clearest, most beautiful view of any of the times that we've been there so of course I took even more. As always we enjoyed walking back by the huge crowds at the Pond House for afternoon popovers and realizing that most of them have no idea what they're missing by not doing what we just finished. We're not going to tell them though...

Early views over Jordan Pond

The views back to the Cranberry Islands and the Atlantic

The trail up Penobscot

My favorite spot on the mountain

Surrounded by mountains and lakes

And the view of the Bubbles over Jordan Pond to end the day

A few photos below. The rest of the album is here:

A 360 degree video from Penobscot is here:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hiking The Precipice Trail - Acadia NP - 8/25/09

We had another fantastic week in Acadia last week. Cut a little short by the passing hurricanes on each end, but still awesome. We've been going to Acadia for nearly 15 years now and had never done this hike before. Most of the time it hasn't been an option since the trail is closed most of the summer for the nesting Peregrine Falcons. With my acrophobia this hike has always been a scary proposition for me anyway so the trail being closed was always a blessing in disguise. Last year the trail opened early and we talked about the possibility but I still managed to avoid the issue - with several other fantastic hikes. This year we had spent the first two days avoiding the rain from the passing hurricane (that never materialized during the day but kept us mopping up the tent at night). On Tuesday morning the weather was perfect. Natalie (my wife) has always wanted to do the hike and Jamie (our 14 year old daughter) had been feeling like she didn't want to be wasting the last week of her summer vacation with Mom and Dad and was in a generally foul mood - which I figured might be improved by a good scramble up a sheer cliff (which she has alway loved). So, let's try to put the acrophobia aside for today and get on with it...

For those that aren't familiar with The Precipice it is basically a vertical route up the cliffs on the East face of Champlain Mountain. I knew that there were iron rungs and rails on many of the tough stretches but wasn't sure how much exposure there really was (with nothing to hang on to). For some reason I'm fine with the heights as long as I've got a grip on something - but walking a narrow ledge with a sheer drop isn't so good (as I found out on the much easier Beehive a few years ago).

The lower section of the trail is a quick hike in basically to the base of the cliff. You very quickly come to the first obstacle which is a small ledge with a single rung to get up and a rail to grab over the top. It's quite a stretch and a good test for what's to come. There were actually several people who were ahead of us on the trail that took one look at this and turned around. We pulled ourselves up quite easily - although the ledge was wet and quite slippery on top which was a cause for concern for me. But on and up we go.

There isn't much to say about the rest of the trail. It is basically all straight up across a series of switchbacks up the cliff punctuated by about 100 rungs, railings, ladders, etc that go up the cliff face. The views over Frenchman's Bay start almost immediately and are absolutely spectacular. I had no problem all the way up with the exception of two open ledge traverses that had no handholds. These are like the sections on the Beehive that are a ledge a couple of feet wide with a vertical wall on the left and a sheer drop on the right . Better yet, the first one was bisected by a crack the whole length of the ledge and the left of the crack was wet and "greasy" leaving only a small (seemed like inches) dry area to traverse directly above the edge. No problem though - sit down and drag across on my butt. I have no pride...

In short order we were over the cliff and stopped for lunch before we got to the summit with its crowds from the other easier trails. We had the mountain all to ourselves and it was spectacular! Heading for the summit there was one last set of rungs and then we were on top. After a short time soaking in the views we headed down the Bear Brook and East Face trails back to the road. We've done this descent (Bear Brook anyway) the last two years when we've gone up Champlain from the other side and it is one of the nicest mountain descents anywhere. Continuous vistas over Frenchman's Bay as you wind down the open ridge. Fantastic!

I can't say how glad I am that after all these years I finally convinced myself to do this hike. Perhaps it is one more step to curing the acrophobia. All I know is that I can't wait to get back and do it again! Oh, and the best part - about 1/2 way up Jamie said "man, this is so much fun". Nothing better than that!!!

Jamie stradling the trail (down into that crack)

Rungs and railings

Quite the twisted section

One of the scary stretches with no handholds - but what a view!

Nat and I just hanging out

Shouldn't this be at the bottom?

Beautiful Champlain summit

The road down

A last look back. We hiked this?!?!

Complete album here: