How do you feel about heights? Would you climb an 80-foot fire tower without hesitancy? Or does your stomach swirl simply thinking about it? Me? I fall somewhere in between.
Late last summer, I heard about the newly erected fire tower on Trout Mountain. The hike to the tower is in my neighborhood but it was another diamond in the rough that I knew nothing about.
Trout Mountain is sandwiched between Baxter State Park and Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area. It’s a protected parcel of 3,598 acres that The Nature Conservancy has classified as a preserve. Due to this designation, the forestland is managed as an ecological reserve, where natural processes such as ice, drought and wind shape the forest.
So last week, on a beautiful bluebird day, I set out on a hiking mission.
I drove past the large Keep Maine Beautiful painted rock, and just as the Northern Maine Preserves Manager from The Nature Conservancy said, made a right turn about a mile down the road into Caribou Pit. (The entry point is at the large Welcome to Baxter State Park sign, just south of the gate.)
I parked at the Trout Mountain Preserve trailhead sign, double-checked my backpack, slathered on sunscreen and set off on the trail.
The 2.7-mile hike was absolutely delightful. For most of the way, it was frequently flat walking across the diverse forest floor. Since it’s a new trail and hasn’t seen substantial foot traffic, I found myself needing to pay close attention to the blue painted blazes on the trees.
At around the halfway point, three gentlemen came down the trail, and after sharing a few words in passing with them, I heard the echo of, “I hope you don’t mind heights!” Oh dear, I thought, as I stuffed the thoughts of climbing this 80-foot tower down further into the pit of my stomach.
I was climbing the last stretch of trail before the tower and heard a chorus of voices up ahead. During our hellos, I learned the group of people were all camp counselors from Camp Natarswi. A wave of nostalgia came over me instantly as I thought back to when I was little and spent time at the Girl Scouts summer camp just down the road.
The shiny metal tower finally came into view. I made it! And oh my, “that’s really up there,” I heard myself say. I felt equally excited and nervous about what lay ahead.
I followed the suit of the counselors and enjoyed a snack and refreshing water break before I started my ascent.
I let the first person go up.
They made it up fairly quickly. “I got this,” I said to myself, and started to climb the first of six flights of steps.
So far, so good, after the first flight. The next flight would bring me to the tops of the surrounding trees, and I heard the doubtful voice on my shoulder say, “you’re going to get freaked out up there.”
But I made it. And then I made the next flight, and the ones after that. Slow and steady, and only looking at the next step, was how I climbed to the top of the tower.
My fluttering heart was quickly soothed as my mind was enthralled with the panoramic view from the small, see-through square platform at the top. It was like nothing else I’ve seen. The 360-degree view literally made me feel like I was a bird, soaring around the open air.
Left to right, This is one of the many ponds and lakes visible from a fire tower and this was just one of the many visible from a fire tower. The 80-foot tower stands higher than any neighboring trees. All you have to do is follow the blue-blazed trail maintained by The Nature Conservancy to reach the 80-foot fire tower in the preserve near Trout Mountain. Credit: Courtesy of Sarah Sindo
Katahdin stole the show, but the more my eyes adjusted to the surroundings, I realized just how far I could see. The flat-topped Big Spencer Mountain, Millinocket and Ambajejus lakes, and peaks in the 100-Mile Wilderness were all clearly visible.
I savored the moments of solitude after the counselors descended.
It’s a big world out there, with more lows than highs, it feels, in recent weeks. But looking out at the mountains and lakes and many miles of untamed forest, I felt a sense of peace.
Even though that feeling and view have dissipated, I try to come back to it when I’m feeling overwhelmed. If only for a moment. When times are hard or difficult, it’s supportive for me to find a juncture of gratitude.
And the outdoors offers that to me.