For many years the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society has held its annual fall supper and outdoor festival on Mount Desert Island over a three-day October weekend. “Chowderheads” were back again this year. The adventure menu consisted of hiking, biking, sea kayaking, canoe racing and various other escapades.
While many of us arrived the Friday before the formal festivities commenced to enjoy biking or hiking, the first full day of scheduled events began Saturday morning. Several members decided on a sea kayak trip to Baker Island. Club president Helen Hess was leading a hike on Mansell and Bernard mountains in Acadia National Park on the west side of the island.
Since the two peaks, collectively known as Western Mountain, are infrequently hiked, an enthusiastic group of nine Chowderheads signed on. The outing was particularly appealing as participants were able to avoid the crowds found on the more popular park mountains during leaf peeping season. Yet, the quest would still provide a challenging mountaineering experience in a scenic area.
There are several routes that lead to the Western Mountain peaks, a hodgepodge of paths known as the West Side Trails. Hess chose to begin our excursion at the south end of Long Pond on a trail of the same name. Her intent was to complete a loop hike over Mansell and Bernard mountains.
Ours was decidedly a senior group because six of us were retired or otherwise over the hill. Recuperating from hip surgery, I was the weak link. Fortunately, considerate companions encouraged my participation.
We began our trek with a short walk along the shore of Long Pond to a left turn onto the most stimulating trail in the network, Perpendicular Trail. While rated difficult, it was not as precipitous as the name implies.
We initially progressed steeply up stone steps in a boulder field on the east side of Mansell. Iron rungs and a ladder were easily negotiated by our intrepid group. An overlook on the right a little short of the Mansell summit provided exceptional views of Beech Mountain, Long Pond and the islands of eastern Penobscot Bay beyond. After savoring the panorama from the overlook, the wooded summit was a bit of a disappointment.
From the top, we followed the Mansell Mountain Trail for a short distance to Razorback Trail junction on the right. Another right turn led us down to Great Notch prior to beginning a steep ascent negotiating over cliffs on a rough, heavily rooted path. The incline moderated as we passed Knight Nubble before descending to Little Notch.
In the notch, it was decision-making time. One alternative was to climb to the summit of Bernard and return to Little Notch for a shorter descent on Sluiceway Trail. Another was to continue over Bernard Mountain and follow the markedly longer Bernard Mountain Trail down. Both concluded at Mill Field Trailhead. Our undaunted group unanimously chose the extended trek.
According to park literature, Bernard Mountain is the most remote and least traveled peak in Acadia National Park. We selected the summit for a lunch break despite limited views. However, a nearby spur trail led us to a viewpoint that offered partial vistas.
Gradually descending south and then east on the heavily forested Bernard Mountain Trail, loquacious Chowderheads found easy hiking provided an excellent opportunity for spirited conversation. Shared past adventures were popular topics.
The Mill Field Trailhead provided us with more trail options. After some discussion, we decided to follow a dirt road for a short distance to Gilley Trail which continued to the Gilley Field Trailhead. From there, we proceeded on the pleasant Cold Brook Trail back to our original point of departure.
While one participant’s GPS measured the entire loop to be 5.6 miles, park maps calculate the distance to be 4.6 miles. Mansell has an elevation of 949 feet and Bernard is 1,071. The total elevation gain on the trek is 1,236 feet.
We found the excursion to be a great way to enjoy our first full day in the outdoor paradise. Although I slowed the group considerably, I think they appreciated the opportunity for additional camaraderie. At least that’s my rationalization.
After a convivial outdoor supper that evening on a club member’s property, we had more island exploits to look forward to during the following two days.