On the first full day of the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society fall outdoor weekend on Mount Desert Island I was scheduled to lead a bike trip on the Carriage Trails. The problem was rain, fog, and wind. No one was interested in biking in those conditions except one truculent hold out, me.
Someone mentioned a short hike instead. Concerned with the prospect of losing a day playing in paradise and the realization that our remaining time on planet earth was fleeting, a group of us old folks responded with guarded enthusiasm. Another wannabee hiker suggested Norumbega Mountain. An epiphany, none of us had climbed it in years. A new plan was in place.
How Norumbega Mountain acquired its unusual name piqued my interest. According to Steve Pinkham in his book, Mountains of Maine: Intriguing Stories Behind Their Names, Norumbega was a mythological city of gold sought by early European explorers and reputed to be situated near what is now Down East Maine. Originally called Brown’s Mountain, George Dorr, known as the father of Acadia National Park, changed its name to honor the fabled location.
The first time I hiked Norumbega was about 35 years ago with my wife Nancy and our two young sons. The boys were quite small and a brief, uncomplicated hike seemed preferable. What we didn’t anticipate was a Columbus Day weekend snow squall at the summit. Wearing low cut hiking shoes, our feet were soaked by the heavy wet snow. Determined to make lemonade out of a lemon, we built a snowman and engaged in a spirited snowball fight.
While I’d returned to Norumbega a couple of times since, my recollection was sufficiently obscured so the trek was almost new except the expectation of encountering snow at high elevations. At my age, week old memories are often murky. Six of us met at a trailhead for Goat Trail on Route 3 just north of Upper Hadlock Pond. An ancient group, our median age qualified us for full Social Security benefits. The good news, rain had diminished. However, a gloomy day of light precipitation, fog, and wind was the prospect.
Whoever named Goat Trail clearly had mountain goats in mind. Climbing steeply for .6 mile to the 832 foot summit, slippery rocks and several precipitous ledge scrambles made for mildly treacherous conditions necessitating caution. A recurring conversation among my senior friends during outdoor activities; we’re too old for injuries, no time for recovery.
A surprise for me, no snow on the summit! Fog impeded views of Somes Sound below in the west and the surrounding peaks of Acadia National Park were shrouded in clouds. Stormy conditions have their own peculiar allure in the mountains. Exploring the huge anomalous boulders dominating the crest amidst swirling clouds, mist, and fog, provided unique exhilarating entertainment.
Departing from the top, we descended gradually south on Norumbega Mountain Trail to the southern terminus of Lower Hadlock Pond. Our original intent had been to complete a 3 mile loop by following the Hadlock Ponds and Norumbega Connector Trails north to the start. Spirits buoyed by the lack of rain, we decided to extend our adventure by hiking along the south shore of Lower Hadlock Pond and then traveling north adjacent the east side of the tarn to Norumbega Connector Trail.
If that itinerary sounds confusing, it is. Or, at least we managed to make it mystifying. The signage south and east of Lower Hadlock Pond leaves something to be desired. Sketchy seems a fair characterization. On a more positive note, the trail along the pond is exceptionally scenic.
In retrospect, I’m still not sure the cause. Perhaps the continuous lively conversation was a distraction. We elderly trekkers occasionally talk about something besides our countless health issues, but not usually. Or maybe we were thoroughly lost in the outdoor moment. Regardless, six experienced hikers carrying maps somehow managed to miss the Norumbega Connector Trail returning to the south end of Lower Hadlock Pond; completing an unanticipated circumnavigation of the entire picturesque body of water.
We had acquired what a group of us hiking in the Alps several years ago termed “free mileage.” Our excursion had evolved from a 3 mile loop to a 5 mile double loop.
There are no bad days in paradise. Filling them with exciting adventures seemed a prerequisite. Rain-free after completing our extended journey, several of us finished the day with a bike ride on the Carriage Trails. Sea Kayaking was scheduled for the following day.
Author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England,” Ron Chase resides in Topsham. Visit his website at www.rochaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.