A Mountain or a Molehill

Is it a mountain or a hill? According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there is no official difference between a mountain and a hill. The Camden Hills contain Mount Megunticook and Ragged Mountain. The highest summit in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, Black Eagle Peak, is located in the Black Hills. Timms Hill in Wisconsin and Campbell Hill in Ohio are the highest points in their respective states. The tallest hill I’ve identified is the politically incorrect 5,866 foot S.O.B. Hill in Utah. My guess, the prominence was so offensive it didn’t warrant prestigious mountain status.

The nomenclature confusion reminds me of a coastal elevation of some renown, Morse Mountain in Phippsburg. I don’t know how it acquired the designation mountain, but at 177 feet above sea level it’s difficult to comprehend the justification. Since the Morse Trail rises from a tidal zone to gain the entire 177 feet, perhaps that was the reasoning. Regardless, that logic seems flawed. After all, S.O.B Hill is 33 times higher.

Whether it’s a mountain or a molehill, Morse provides one of the finest easy hikes in the mid-coast area. Located 12.6 miles south of Bath on Route 209, the excursion entails a four mile roundtrip trek over the “mountain” to Seawall Beach offering exceptional views from an overlook. Rare fragile plants and endangered birds can often be observed. The trip can be extended with a walk on the beach. It’s a great choice for us old geezers in search of a relatively benign hiking option or someone looking for a brief outing.

Recently, two friends joined my wife Nancy and I for a morning hike on Morse. We met at a sizeable parking lot adjacent to the trailhead. The 600 acre conservation preserve is managed by Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area Corporation and Seawall Beach is privately owned. Dogs are not allowed in any season and the public is cautioned to respect the private properties that intermingle with it.

We began our ramble on a rough road in a densely wooded area. Most of the journey to the beach is on a wide passage that varies from gravel to broken pavement. Except for private property owners, vehicle traffic is prohibited. Our trip was snow and ice free but I’ve been there when micro spikes or snowshoes were necessary.

After a short distance, the trail dropped to a causeway traversing a scenic salt marsh. Be sure to check tides before you go. Some high tides cover the causeway temporarily blocking access and egress. Immediately after, our “mountain” ascent began as we persisted to the top. Following a short descent, we arrived at a junction. Left led to the beach while our selection clambered straight up to an overlook. The rocky bluff provided an expansive vista of Sprague River, a large salt marsh and part of the beach. Although only slightly higher than S.O.B. Hill, Mount Washington was visible in the distance.

Returning to the main route, we descended steadily past an old farmhouse. The path narrowed as it traveled alongside a marsh to the beach. Seawall Beach is a magical location and my primary motivation for selecting the adventure. A picturesque one-mile sandy beach, one can turn right and walk to Sprague River or left to Morse River. Seawall is a remarkable destination for beach lovers that want to avoid crowds. The price is a two mile walk.

Turning left, we enjoyed continuous views of Popham Beach and the rugged Heron Islands with distinctive Sequin Island looming beyond. Our direction provided the perfect opportunity for me to relate a sea kayaking exploit to Sequin when the waves were so large we didn’t dare land. How big were the waves? As time passes, they increase in size. If I live to be 80, they may reach twenty feet.

Persevering into a biting headwind, we continued to Morse River. In recent years, the unpredictable tidal waterway has been a source of controversy. Growth of an offshore sand spit caused by waves transporting sand formed a barrier preventing the Morse from flowing directly into the ocean. The result was significant erosion of Popham Beach while Seawall grew. A battle of the beaches ensued. Some proposed dredging a channel through the spit while others argued that nature should be allowed to take its course. As debate lingered a major storm pushed the river through the spit reopening a direct channel. Stay tuned, the mercurial Morse will probably change its mind again.

The decision to hike into the frigid headwind was a good one as we enjoyed a tailwind on our return to the trail. Completing a five mile jaunt in less than three hours, we were home in time for lunch and the afternoon ballgame.

Ron Chase

About Ron Chase

At age 70, Ron Chase is old. But, he’s not under the grass…yet. Retired from a career with the Internal Revenue Service, he has embarked on a new life as a freelance writer and tax consultant. Don’t be misled; in reality, he works a little and plays a lot. When not busy kayaking, canoeing, biking, mountain climbing and skiing, he sometimes finds time to write and assist his tax clients. A lifelong Mainer now living in Topsham, he is the recent author of The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery, a biography of Vietnam War hero and bank robber Bernard Patterson.