Another benefit of Rumford Whitecap Mountain is the relative ease of obtaining the visual rewards.
A hiker approaches the summit of Rumford Whitecap in North Rumford in December 2022. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase

There’s a good reason why I keep returning to Rumford Whitecap Mountain in North Rumford. Enjoying wonderful views is my favorite part of the mountain hiking experience. The panoramic vistas from the extensive Rumford Whitecap ridgetop are simply unparalleled in western Maine. The 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and valleys from the summit are phenomenal. 

Another benefit of the prominent mountain is the relative ease of obtaining the visual rewards. Only about 1,600 feet of elevation gain on a well-designed 2.5-mile trail brings the hiker to the 2,214-foot open summit. The entire trek can be accomplished at a moderate pace in three or four hours. 

Thirty-five years ago, when I first started hiking on Rumford Whitecap, the route to the ridge consisted of unmarked, badly eroded logging roads that connected with glorified herd paths at higher elevations. That changed dramatically after Mahoosuc Land Trust purchased much of the summit and some of the south and east slopes in 2007. Rumford Whitecap Mountain Preserve was established and a network of quality trails constructed. From the parking lot on the East Andover Road, two marked trails lead to the ridge. 

In need of a mountain fix, I announced a Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society mountain hike shortly after Christmas. I suggested Rumford Whitecap and two other possible options. I’m not the only Rumford Whitecap enthusiast. Almost immediately, two club members expressed a preference for the wind-swept exposed summit. That became my selection. 

Five of us, all retirees, met at the East Andover Road trailhead on a gray, seasonably warm early winter morning. Given two recent rainstorms, I was surprised by the depth of the snowpack. An inspection of the trail indicated a hard-packed snow surface as a result of heavy hiking traffic. We decided to forego snowshoes, which was a good decision. 

Four of us wore microspikes from the outset while the fifth participant added them before the trek was over. We ascended steadily following orange blazes on Orange Trail in a predominantly hardwood forest. It soon became apparent that we needed to stay on the packed trail as any deviation resulted in sinking deep into the snow, an exhausting technique called post-holing. 

What appeared to be an old logging road was the first section of trail. The wide route rose almost straight up on a moderate grade. After crossing a couple of open streams, the path angled left and we began ascending more gradually in a canopy of softwoods and hardwoods. When the trail turned right, we trekked along the west shoulder of steeper terrain. Here, a hiker descending on snowshoes advised us that the Black Mountain and Yellow Trails were not broken, meaning no one had recently traveled the route and the snow was intact, making it more difficult to traverse. This was helpful information as I had contemplated a return on Yellow Trail. 

The gradient diminished as we proceeded through a sparsely wooded sector to Black Mountain Trail junction. Just beyond, we dropped into a small ravine and crossed a stream. Partially exposed ledges led to the Yellow Trail junction where a trail sign indicated the summit was sixth-tenths of a mile. 

Some minor post-holing occurred as we traveled through an open area to an abrupt left turn where a narrow icy route was carefully negotiated to the beginning of the exposed ridge. From that point, the remarkable views were constant as we followed cairns while climbing ice and snow-covered sloping bedrock to the summit. 

In addition to the breathtaking views, the Rumford Whitecap summit area is the habitat for what is believed to be the largest red pine woodland in the state of Maine. The distinctive trees decorate the lower portion of the ridge line where they root in shallow soil. They probably originated in this area as a result of forest fires in the past. 

The highpoint was free of ice and snow. From that vantage point atop Rumford Whitecap, we lingered to enjoy the remarkable panoramic vistas despite a frosty breeze. Afterward, we retired to a lower location protected from the wind for a lunch break. 

The mountains and valleys of western Maine were the backdrop for our descent of Rumford Whitecap. We met numerous parties of enthusiastic hikers during our return. All seemed thrilled to spend one of the final days of the year on that exceptional peak. 

Many more exciting mountain escapades are related in my book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine.”

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Ron Chase, Outdoors Contributor

Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is now available at northcountrypress.com/maine-al-fresco.html. His previous books are...