Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Schoodic and Black Mountains in Downeast Maine

Travel in the mountains can be tricky this time of year.  Snow now covers the ground on most of Maine's mountain trails.  However, the coverage isn't very deep.  This makes for treacherous travel.  The snow isn't deep enough most places to cover roots and rocks completely, making trails extremely slippery.  With recent rain and freezes, large patches of exposed ice are also encountered.  With these challenging fringe season conditions, I decided to head to the coastal mountains.  The coastal mountains haven't seen much snow and I expected better hiking conditions than the interior mountain trails.

The J Man suggested hiking Schoodic and Black Mountains a few months ago.  These mountains are located in Downeast Maine in Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land north of Frenchman Bay.  For reference, Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park are on the south side of Frenchman Bay.  From the mountains in Acadia National Park, these two summits are the prominent peaks seen to the north when looking across the bay. With clear skies forecasted Sunday, the J Man and I headed to these mountains for a hike.

Our seven mile trip started at the Schoodic Beach trailhead.  This trailhead sits between the two mountains so either mountain can be climbed first.  We started with the climb to Black Mountain.  The trail climbed immediately along the Black Mountain Cliff Trail.  In less than two miles we reached  the West Peak of Black Mountain.  The summit is wooded and viewless.  After a brief descent into a saddle,we reached the East Peak of Black Mountain after another half mile of hiking.

Gentle trail on Black Mountain's West Peak

The views from the summit surprised me.  Black Mountain, at just under 1100 feet,  is free of trees and offers 360 degrees views.  Numerous ponds and neighboring peaks provide nice scenery.  The most impressive views however are looking to the south and east.  The summits of Acadia National Park stand behind Frenchman Bay's numerous islands.  The Atlantic Ocean disappears into the horizon to the east of Acadia.  You can even see a lighthouse off the coast from the summit.

Atlantic Ocean in distance beyond Tunk Lake

Caribou, Catherine, and Tunk Mountains from Black

Catherine Mountain and Tunk Lake

Looking across Black Mountains summit with Atlantic in distance

Mountains of Acadia National Park

Closer look at Acadia's mountains

Leaving Black Mountain, we lost all of our elevation as we descended to Donnell Pond.  The trail in this section passed through a coniferous forest carpeted in bright green moss.  Upon reaching Donnell Pond, the trail crossed the sandy Schoodic Beach before climbing Schoodic Mountain.

Looking toward Black's West Peak with Schoodic Mountain peeking out behind it

Forest carpeted in moss

After a steep mile of hiking from the beach, we reached the summit of Schoodic Mountain.  Even before reaching the summit, the Atlantic and Acadia's mountains come into view.  Sitting just a few feet lower than Black Mountain, Schoodic Mountain has a rocky summit with 360 views similar to Black Mountain.  The only downfall to Schoodic is that a large communication tower sits on its summit.  Despite the tower, vast views make it easy to linger at the summit.  To the northwest, we could just barely make out Katahdin's snowy summit.  Acadia's mountains and the ocean again provided the most dramatic scenery.  To the southwest, the coastal mountains in Camden, Maine could easily be identified.  After circling the summit to enjoy the scenery in all directions, we returned to trailhead.

Acadia's mountains coming into view

Looking across Schoodic's shoulder toward Acadia

Summit of Schoodic looking toward Acadia

Islands in Frenchman Bay

Black, Caribou, and Tunk Mountains from Schoodic

A few of the many ponds visible from the summits

View north from Schoodic Mountain

I wasn't sure what to expect on this trip.  I wasn't familiar with the area.  The hiking was pleasant and summit views were far reaching.  The scenery, while not quite as dramatic as Acadia National Park, was still quite impressive.  After dozens of trips to Acadia, it was interesting to look at the park from this prospective.  Even though the outing covered seven miles and gained more than 2000 feet, the hike didn't seem too difficult. Black and Schoodic Mountains would be a good alternative to Acadia National Park on a busy summer weekend.

Despite a chilly windchill in the single digits on the summits, we didn't encounter snowy trails.  Only a few heavily shaded sections had a light dusting.  A couple sections of the trail had some thick but avoidable ice. Otherwise the trails were in good condition and the hike was a worthwhile trip.

Icy flow on Schoodic's summit

Click on the link for a map of the trails in the area:  http://www.maine.gov/dacf/parks/docs/maps/donnellpond.pdf

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