People are busy during the holiday season. So when no one expressed interest in my scheduled Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society mountain hike in early December, my wife Nancy and I were undeterred.
After considering the various options that appealed to us, we decided on Bald Mountain near Weld. Since the area had experienced heavy rain the day before, we assumed any ice on the Bald Mountain’s notable exposed ledges would be washed away. Greeted by a cool, sunny and breezy morning on our arrival at the trailhead, we packed and dressed for the gusty conditions predicted for higher elevations.
What we didn’t dress for was an unanticipated obstacle encountered a short distance from the trailhead. Tiny Wilson Stream was almost overflowing its banks. Getting wet during a traverse was a near certainty. Not a little damp, but seriously wet.
We needed waders, but they weren’t on the checklist. In fact, we haven’t owned waders since I discarded a leaky pair while completing a misguided winter crossing of Hancock Stream in New Hampshire en route to Scar Ridge about 20 years ago.
READ ABOUT MORE MAINE HIKES
We were all dressed up with no mountain to climb. Tumbledown and Little Jackson mountains were fairly close, but I’d hiked them a couple of weeks earlier. I thought of Mount Blue. It had been decades since I’d climbed the nearby 3,187-foot peak. My senior recollection was the hike on Mount Blue was comparable to Bald in length and difficulty but less scenic.
On the map, Mount Blue was a short distance away, but the drive was more complicated than it appeared. After passing Mount Blue State Park Headquarters on Center Hill Road in Weld, the signage was confusing. Following a wrong turn, we located the poorly marked, narrow dirt Mount Blue Road and drove 2.5 miles through a couple of rough sections to the trailhead.
A sign next to the kiosk indicated it was 1.6 miles to the summit of Mount Blue. Although there was no indication of ice or snow anywhere in the area, as a precaution we added microspikes to our packs.
From the Mount Blue trailhead, we hiked steadily uphill on a wide, well-worn, rocky path in a mixed hardwood and conifer forest. After about a half mile, we passed the collapsed remains of the old fire warden’s cabin.
The steep gradient continued for perhaps another half mile to an open area, where there was a partial view of Mount Blue’s forested summit cone, which appeared to be more than six-tenths of a mile away.
Shortly after, the trail angled right and we entered a dense conifer forest. Patches of ice unexpectedly covered the surface. As we progressed, the path narrowed and steepened. The sporadic ice worsened to a continuous carpet that covered the increasingly boulder-strewn route.
Nancy and I stopped to discuss our options. Believing the summit was close, our choice was to add microspikes and carefully continue. After persisting for a distance, we met two hikers descending the trail with difficulty. They implied we were nearing the top of Mount Blue. We weren’t — at least traveling at our snail’s pace.
READ MORE HIKING STORIES
Emerging into a clearing, where the sun was shining on what appeared to be a relatively new tower, we finally reached the summit of Mount Blue. On our last visit, the dilapidated remnants of an old fire tower provided an unsightly welcome. The new structure is a marked improvement.
Winds were gusting, so we quickly donned our parkas and found a sheltered place to relax and consume much-needed snacks. Given the blustery weather, we decided to forego the panoramic vistas presumably afforded by the tower’s observation deck. Fortuitously, superb views were available from our lunch spot atop Mount Blue.
Our descent on the icy surface was tediously slow. Dry ground was a welcome relief. When we reached the trailhead, the outing had taken an hour more than expected. Even factoring in the ice delays, the Mount Blue hike seemed longer than 3.2 miles. An elevation gain of 1,774 feet is a possible explanation. Old age is more likely.
Although enduring more adversities than expected, we had the satisfaction of completing the challenging hike up Mount Blue, despite the precarious conditions. And much of the journey was thoroughly enjoyable.
Our experience on Mount Blue was a stark reminder that warm clothing and microspikes are a must this time of year.