Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hiking in Maine: Pleasant Mountain

Route: Bald Peak Trail - Firewarden's Trail - Ledges Trail - Mountain Road
Distance: 4.2 on trail + approx. 1 mile road walk

It was late morning, I was uncharacteristically unprepared in planning, and Erick offered to come hiking with us.  Sounds like an ominous start, right? Erick had done Pleasant in Bridgton (Shawnee Peak Ski Area) with work before so we settled on that but we still had to decide between several ascents.  After missing the turn for one that sounded particularly attractive in a post by Diaries of a Wandering Lobster, I figured we would do Ledges Trail, the most common route, assuming it would be easier to access and find.  Driving down Mountain Road, I pulled into the first hiking lot I saw, making the poor assumption two trailheads to the same peak wouldn't be on the same back road.  I pulled all the way up to see blue markers, thought, "the interwebz said blue markers for this trail, it must be it (since I couldn't remember the name)" and I parked.

The Loon Echo Land Trust has handy map brochures at the start of the trail and I quickly realized we were on a totally different one; we were on Bald Peak Trail.  Erick said we were already hiking and if the grade was about the same, let's just stick with it.  Feet gained/distance looked similar enough so we continued on, passing utterly dehydrated stream beds.  Sorry pups.

Sage, upset she can't get down to a pool of water with the others
The day was warm but the footing was good so minimal extra effort had to be applied to going upwards and I was quite happy with the mistakes made that landed us there. It was quite like a state park nature trail with elevation.  There was also a nice balance between level ground and inclines.

It got steeper after the junction for Sue's Way and we utilized some interesting wooden steps I had never seen before on trails.

As we closed in on the top of the ridge (along which Big Bald Peak lies further down according to the map), there was a one-rock scramble that most of us went around but Sage decided to (try to) go straight up.  No dice for the young adventurer.  She settled for getting me tangled in a tree instead when I led her to the side path.  A couple more slabs and we reached the ridge.

Once there, it took me a second to understand the handful of people rotating around in the shrubs, nearly everyone was blueberry picking.  Millions of perfect, tiny, Maine blueberries everywhere.  I was surprised and delighted, as were Ty and Tango.  We made our way towards the saddle between Bald and Pleasant slowly and un-purposefully.  Our attention had shifted almost entirely to picking.  At times we found ourselves waiting for the dogs to finish before moving on.  The diversion gave us the break and motivation for Erick to agree to a another mile and change over to the main summit.

Redefining "pickers"
Boss lady watching us pick

Erick pointing out a good patch to the dogs
Between the two was a lovely ridgewalk like many I've been on and almost sand-like trails at times.  We passed through another open space that was likely the actual summit of Big Bald Peak. Near the junction with the Firewarden's Trail that would take us to the summit was a hemlock grove (I believe, I am the shame of arborists and naturalists everywhere!) that blocked out some of those pesky Fahrenheits.

Upon ascending and reaching the Firewarden's trail, the trail leveled and widened.  We quickly caught our first glimpse of the fire tower and reached it moments later.

The summit is of the open and ledgy with gorgeous views - type I've come to seek out and it didn't disappoint.  Truthfully, I'd been wanting to hike Pleasant for awhile and when I finally got the chance, it was even better than expected: outstanding views and a little more of  challenge than I was giving it credit for.

We decided to head down the Ledges Trail to mix things up, knowing we would have a mile-ish of a road walk at the end.  The ledge-y, scenic portion of this trail is phenomenal.  So fun to go down, it must be even more fun to go up the slabs.  Made me rethink my choice in tread-less toe shoe footwear when being pulled down by an adolescent Carolina Dog but it was excellent practice in control and balance!

As we entered the woods, the trail was much like the other in that the footing was excellent.  This is another catch-up report and I don't recall much detail about the descent except the smile on my face so it must've been nice in an easy, "being pulled by this puppy isn't going to kill me" kind of way.  We didn't pass any water, nor any spots that looked like there would be in wetter months.  The Ledges Trail makes quite a few turns, some sharp, and has a handful of lovingly built staircases before the grade evens towards the end.

When it did level out, I knew the day was nearly done.  There was a trailhead sign then sharp drop to the road with parking on the other side.  The parking is merely a pulloff and is easier to spot than the trail sign.  Not much to report from then on, as it was only a road walk.  We saw a deer and I pounced on Ty, knowing her collar clip would pop if she charged, and contemplated what would've happened if that doe had been on the trail 30 minutes before....

But to end on a positive, bigger perspective note: this peak is really great.  I understand why it is allegedly so popular (and has been branded "family friendly") and grateful we somehow got there at a quieter time. The blueberries are delight and I've marked my calendar for early August of next year!  The trails we used had excellent footing but I imagine they become as dangerous as wet rocks after the rain.  There was a lot of loose dirt on the ascent that will get very slippery with nothing in the trail to provide a stop or traction.  The pups were quite happy, it was a great hike for newbie Sage (who has since been adopted!), and it was particularly "old man friendly" (as we've taken to calling Tango) except for the lack of running water.  I consider it comparable to peaks like Mount Major, Welch-Dickey, and Burnt Meadow Mountain (for which I still need to produce a write-up for).  The summit is open with plenty of room for many visitors with some nice seating on the rocks near the ledges (which aren't too steep or scary for worry) and the views are, hmm, well, I think I said "gorgeous" earlier.  My favorite aspect was that usually, we're either in the mountains or quite far from them so to see the Whites rise up a short distance away over Kezar Pond (among others) and the Freyburg area was a treat.  We will certainly be back!

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