Last week, Darron Collins, president of the College of the Atlantic, hiked to 40 peaks of Mount Desert Island in just over a day. His goal: to encourage COA alumni to donate to the college’s annual fund. And more specifically, that they contribute to the point that alumni donations consist of 40 percent of the fund.
This “40for40 Expedition” was documented by Collins on social media, on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter under the hashtag #40for40.
The challenge began at 2 a.m. Thursday, June 25, when Collins ran to the peak of Bald Mountain in Acadia National Park. From that point, he hiked with few breaks for 27 hours, hitting his 40th peak on the island around 5 the next morning.
Supported by a vehicle and driver (COA student Ursa Beckford), Collins had a strict itinerary for the day. In addition to visiting the famous peaks of Cadillac, Champlain and Dorr mountains, he bushwhacked to several lesser-known summits on the island, including Brewer, McFarland and Youngs mountains.
This week, still feeling sore from the long trek, Collins learned that COA alumni donations had reached the 40 percent mark of the college’s annual fund.
The following Q & A with Collins was conducted a couple days after the completion of his 40for40 Expedition:
On your Twitter feed, I saw that you reached peak #40, Enoch Mountain, early Friday morning. I’ve never even heard of Enoch. What was that last hike like?
A: There’s no official trail to [Enoch Mountain], and it’s really steep. It kind of pops right out of the ground. That one was going to be the hardest one. The funny thing was, I was watching the time, and I wanted to go the Bar Island Peak, originally, at the end. But I was running about 1 hour behind schedule, so I had to run to the Bar Island peak and then come back and do Cranberry Hill, Great Head and finish on Enoch Mountain. So I was completely exhausted with 39 peaks down, looking at this 40th peak. I’d scouted it, and I knew there was a much easier way that was much longer to the top, but I said to myself, I’m just going to go straight for it and started bushwhacking up this really steep cliff — I wouldn’t recommend it … At 5 a.m. in the morning on Friday, I finished the 40th peak. It was beautiful, crazy, and really different and exhausting.
Aside from the switch with Bar Island, did your itinerary change at all?
No. We started at 2 a.m. on Thursday morning out on Seal Cove, and I was actually very excited by how much my planned itinerary lined up with the actual itinerary. I kept to a schedule that worked, and I think what I didn’t anticipate as much as I should have was the slowing down as the day progressed. That stretch that went up Huguenot Head, Champlain Mountain and down the south ridge of Champlain Mountain took longer than I anticipated.
How did you come up with the idea?
Two years ago, a group of students and I did a trans-island walk in June — because that’s when the days are longest and gives us the most light. We did it from west to east, and we climbed 28 peaks in 22 hours, and there was no vehicle support. We went from Seal Cove to Gorham Mountain. That was a fantastic trip. It was an amazing way to see the island. So that kind of inspired this event. Then, last year, I had a personal fitness goal that I was going to walk 1,000 miles in Acadia over the year. And then, as June was coming around, I knew we were close to 40 percent [alumni contributions to the annual budget]. I thought, hey, I bet there are 40 named peaks on the island — So that’s how I stitched that idea together.
It sounds like you’ve really gotten to know the mountains and trails on the island well?
I’ve done loads of walking on the island. One of the most incredible things about Acadia National Park is just how accessible the woods and mountains are, which is great for a college president and a father and a husband. You don’t have to take a week to go exploring; you can do it on a lunch break. I’ve really gotten to know the island well by foot, boat and bike.
Did you have any other purpose for this expedition aside from raising alumni donations?
Absolutely. It’s what I call a “mission-appropriate expedition.” The college is committed to Mount Desert Island and Maine as a whole, as a place. That we are here on the coast of Maine really shapes who we are as an institution. So this walk kind of emphasizes this importance of place. It shows that the president of the college is dedicated to knowing the island he’s living on. I think that’s meaningful. It wasn’t just a walk in the woods. It was a walk to inspire people about the college, but also this unbelievable place to be living.
Do you have any favorite hikes on the island?
One of my favorite hikes, for sure, is the south ridge of Champlain [Mountain]. It’s absolutely gorgeous. That’s a pretty popular one you can do. And I also really like North Bubble to Connor’s Nubble, which is by Eagle Lake and is less well-traveled.
Did you have any memorable moments?
On Great Hill, a redtail hawk was dive-bombing me. That’s closer than I’ve ever been to a redtail hawk. And I also saw a porcupine. When I was on Bar Island, I couldn’t get over how many deer were on the island. The whole place smelled like deer. And the night sky was just fantastic.
Would you do this again?
Oh absolutely. There are actually more than 40 peaks, or named hills on the island … and then there’s always Isle au Haut, too — a few good peaks out there. I could think of ways to extend it, but I need some down time for a little bit.
Learn about the 40for40 Expedition and view the full itinerary of 40 MDI peaks at Collin’s blog, coadejavu.com.