The Georges Highland Path has been one of my favorite hiking venues for more than three decades. Built and maintained by the Georges River Land Trust, the network of footpaths in the midcoast region includes a 10-mile sector of trails that lead to three summits on the southern end of the Camden Hills called the Ragged Mountain area.
As one travels along Route 17 in West Rockport, the open summit of rugged Ragged Mountain dominates the landscape north of Mirror Lake. The spectacular rocky ledges and impressive ridgeline attract large numbers of mountain enthusiasts and Ragged Mountain is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Camden Hills. Less well-known and barely visible from the highway are two southern neighbors, Spruce Mountain and Mount Pleasant.
Spruce Mountain, closest to Ragged, can be reached from trailheads on Route 17 and Mount Pleasant Street. The relatively short hike to the summit takes only a few hours from either direction.
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When my wife, Nancy, and I were invited to a holiday dinner on the midcoast by longtime friends Diane and John Stokinger, a trek on Spruce Mountain seemed the perfect accompaniment. Usually up for an adventure, they readily agreed. We decided on a traverse from Mount Pleasant Street to Route 17, with a side trip to the summit.
The four of us met at the Route 17 trailhead on a gray, breezy day. This location is also the beginning of a southern approach to Ragged Mountain. We left a vehicle there and shuttled south to the Mount Pleasant Street trailhead.
It was the first full day of winter and we had wintry conditions: scattered snow and ice at the trailhead and snow cover at higher elevations. Anticipating little snow, we decided to forego snowshoes but packed microspikes.
Initially, we hiked effortlessly on a scenic rolling path in a predominantly hardwood forest. Skirting patches of ice, we progressed to the north on the western slope of Spruce Mountain, crossing several wooden bridges and logs along the way.
After perhaps a half-mile, an unusual trail sign captured our attention. It jocularly forewarned, “West base of Spruce Mtn … it’s all uphill from here!” Our trouble-free hiking appeared to be over.
The flippant message overstated the difficulty. We hiked gradually up a snow-covered path. A couple of inches of snowpack didn’t impede us, but it raised concerns about ice under the snow, which slowed our progress. Shortly after, we arrived at the 0.3 mile spur trail to the summit.
We followed the path to the southwest toward elevated terrain off in the distance. The prominence was a continuum of rocky ledges that required careful negotiation to avoid icy spots. We considered using microspikes but the slick areas were too short and sporadic to justify the inconvenience of putting them on and taking them off soon after.
At the top of the ledges, we emerged onto an open bluff with a phenomenal view of the entire Ragged Mountain massif. We lingered for snacks savoring the panoramic vista. According to John’s GPS, the true summit of Spruce Mountain was in a wooded area a short distance from the viewpoint.
Hikers (left) descend Spruce Mountain. Mirror Lake (top right) is seen from Spruce Mountain, while hikers (bottom right) take in the views from a vantage point. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase
After returning to the main trail, we descended gradually to the north before climbing a steep ledge to an overlook. That vantage point offered an exceptional view of Mirror Lake and Penobscot Bay beyond.
That’s when I recklessly announced, “It’s all downhill from here.” After dropping down for a short distance, we encountered a precipitous escarpment that required careful maneuvering when ascending. There was a silver lining in my misstatement, as we encountered more exceptional views at the top of Spruce Mountain.
From that point, it truly was all downhill to the Route 17 trailhead. We all agreed that the most challenging activity of the day was crossing the highway dodging the speeding holiday traffic.
John’s GPS measured our trek to be almost exactly 3 miles, including the side trip to the summit of Spruce Mountain. Our outing was timed perfectly as healthy appetites eagerly anticipated the elegant dinner next on the agenda.
Many more exciting mountain adventures are related in my book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine.”