Yesterday, I did a day-hike that ended up being a lot more punishing than I thought it would be, but it was one of the most rewarding I’ve been on in years. The hike was two full loops in the Tumbledown range near Weld, ME, each of which makes for a challenging full-day hike. The weather this week has been phenomenal for hiking, and I’d been itching to get back to Tumbledown after my last visit, two years ago. After this trip, I’m pretty confident in saying that Tumbledown (along with Little Jackson Mountain) is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
I arrived at the trailhead a little late due to missing the first turn onto the road around Webb Lake, and then taking a detour around a washed out road. But I was on the trail by 9:30, choosing to go up Little Jackson Mountain first, since I hadn’t been up that mountain before. The trail was like many trails in Maine– rocky and rooty, and generally beautiful, crossing a bunch of brooks and streams that might make for good head-dunking in warmer weather. Soon enough, the trail started to climb a fairly steep grade, becoming a long stair-master as I approached tree-line.
Once above tree-line, though, I could tell this was going to be an amazing day. For almost a mile from the junction with the Jackson Mountain Trail, the Little Jackson Trail walks on completely exposed granite with sweeping views in all directions. It’s not a terribly high mountain, at 3400 feet, but it had a similar feel to Saddleback Mountain (which was visible nicely just to the north). A stiff, icy breeze kept me nice and cool, while the clear skies gave me a pretty good sunburn. The views from the mountain were just extraordinary– aside from the unique perspective on Saddleback Mountain, there was also a clear view to Mt Abraham and Sugarloaf, and in the other direction I could see much of the Mahoosuc Range, the Presidential Range, and the Bemis Range. I’m sure there was a lot more that I couldn’t identify, but that’s plenty right there.
After some time up top, I got cold enough that I had to descend, then take a quick trip up to Jackson Mountain. The taller of the two peaks doesn’t have an open summit, and the trail looked like it didn’t get much use. There was an interesting installation up top, with a small building and a large set of solar panels. I couldn’t tell what the purpose was, but either way I’ll stick with the shorter peak next time.
Next up, the Pond Connector Trail to Tumbledown Pond. This trail was also somewhat overgrown, but it went through a pretty stand of birch that was starting to change color, so I can’t complain. And when I arrived at Tumbledown Pond (one of three highlights of the entire area– how can you get much better than an alpine pond with a view all the way to Mount Washington?), I saw the first two people of the day. They were fly-fishermen rather than hikers, and both were having pretty good luck despite the brisk wind blowing their lines around. By now it was about 1 in the afternoon, and I’d already gone about 8 miles. I was pretty tired. But why stop now?
I descended along Parker Ridge Trail, which has some more amazing views as well as some really astonishing geological features. On the way down, I passed a group of four folks hiking up to the Pond, one of whom gave me a tasty apple by way of greeting. Taking food from strangers? Don’t mind if I do! I ended up back at my car by 2:30 PM, finishing the first of two major loops. The Little Jackson-Tumbledown Pond loop would be a fantastic day hike on its own. But I had other business.
Next up, I walked a mile and a half down the road to the Loop Trailhead. This was where I’d hiked during my previous trip to Tumbledown, and I knew it would be a rugged, difficult trip, especially starting so late in the day. After a fairly straightforward climb to the base of the cliffs of Tumbledown, the trail first jumps up 500 feet in a quarter mile, takes a break by walking along an exposed ridge, then climbs another 800 feet in 0.4 miles, before reaching the ridge of the mountain. The temperature wasn’t much more than 60 degrees, but I was pouring sweat and aching all over by the time I got to the top.
Best of all, the last short climb to the top goes through one of the most entertainingly-named features I’ve seen on a trail– Fat Man’s Misery, a spot where you have to climb straight up through an overhead chimney, using iron rungs and squeezing through a tight opening in the rocks. It’s a funny name, but pretty apt. I’m a scrawny guy, and it was a tight squeeze even for me.
I ended the day by walking across the ridge of Tumbledown, with fine views across to the giant cliffs that make the mountain so spectacular. I got back to Tumbledown Pond around 5. By now the anglers had headed home, or to camp, but I was able to have a nice chat with a local lady and her very affectionate German Shepherd. One of my favorite parts of this mountain is that the local area is so sparsely populated. Being able to meet a local who hikes the mountains gave me some great ideas for coming back in the winter, or just visiting other parts of the region.
In the end, I had to get moving to beat nightfall. I got to my car at 6:30, with a long two-hour drive ahead of me. The full tally for the day was 17.6 miles, 6800 feet of elevation gain, and 200% daily value of aches and soreness. I’m still aching a lot. It was absolutely worth it.