It’s dad’s last full day in Maine and as usual, our activities have been building up to a longer, more scenic hike. And the weather would be perfect for mountaintop views. Our planned route was to take the Island Explorer bus to Sieur de Monts, from which point we would hike the Beachcroft Path up to the top of Champlain Mountain, passing over Huguenot Head along the way.
Then we would descend on the Bear Brook Trail (now the Champlain North Ridge Trail, but we old-timers can’t seem to get used to the new name). That would deposit us on the Park Loop Road near the Bear Cave and Dorr’s Bicycle Path, which have been on our list to search for. We could also catch a bus back to the Village Green from this point. The Island Explorer bus makes possible (simple, really) many routes that before were impossible to hike in one day or without a second car to leave in the ending location. Case in point, neither Rich nor I had ever hiked the Beachcroft Path before, simply because there was no good way to make a loop out of it and return to the starting point in a reasonable way.
But first, we had to fuel up for this adventure! Breakfast was at 2 Cats again. We arrived there just early enough to beat the crowds, although the outdoor seating area on the porch was already nearly full. I had the granola with milk again, one of my favorites, while Dad had the Summer Scramble that Rich enjoyed on Sunday and Rich had a breakfast sandwich with a substitution of regular bacon for the Canadian bacon it usually comes with. Dad also bought Mom another 2 Cats t-shirt while we were there.
Sieur de Monts to Beachcroft Path to Champlain Summit
We had plenty of time to catch the 9:05 bus to Sieur de Monts. Our route began with the same cool woods walk, in reverse, that we did at the end of Friday’s Memorial Walk. In fact, we showed Dad the last four monuments at the tarn before heading up “that mountain?!” (Dad). Yes, that mountain, except that there were actually two of them, the smaller Huguenot Head nubble first.
We crossed Route 3 and headed up the first set of many stairs that form the Beachcroft Path. The first set of stairs is a newer addition, possibly placed around 1969 when this end of the trail was slightly altered due to a road widening project on Route 3. (Prior to CCC work in the 1930s, the path followed a more diagonal, northwesterly-to-southeasterly path directly from Sieur de Monts and connected to the original Wild Gardens Path.) Then the trail began in earnest, the difference in styles between the steps becoming quite obvious. We were on Dorr’s beloved Beachcroft Path.
“Someone must have really loved this trail,” Rich said at least once. He’s right—George Dorr, considered the Father of Acadia National Park, was the great mind behind this exquisite stonework. The steps go up and up, winding along the side of Huguenot Head like a longer and vastly more open version of the Perpendicular Trail on the west side of the island.
Views of the Tarn and Dorr Mountain are almost unbroken as you climb the stairs and the avenue-like treadway of stones set so smoothly like paving stones. You come to ledge after ledge, each one with a better and slightly more southerly view across the valley. Finally even Cadillac’s bare, rounded peak comes into view. We counted at least five excellent picnic ledges.
From the last of these ledges (“the one with the best view to the south”, according to Tom St. Germain) is supposedly a trail leading about 150 yards to the summit of Huguenot Head. We didn’t spot this trail, but because the Head is mostly bare rock it would be simple enough to climb to the summit without the use of a trail.
After passing Huguenot Head, the trail dips into a wooded saddle, where you begin to feel that all of your work climbing the steps was for nothing as Champlain still towers above, and you’re descending. But that doesn’t last long, as you soon begin to ascend again, and sharply, steeply upward this time, without the aid of so many well-constructed steps. This section of the trail was originally the Black & White Path and very obviously shows the work of a different Pathmaker with a different style.
After some rock scrambles the trail begins to climb the open slabs of Champlain, straight up. This is easy on a dry day with sticky-soled shoes, but I wouldn’t try it—or at least I wouldn’t follow the trail to the letter at this point—on a wet or foggy day. There are plenty of opportunities to make a more gradual traverse in most spots.
We took our time and we took our breaks, and soon we heard more voices and saw more people. This could only mean that the summit was close. At the top, several dozen hikers congregated, having snacks, checking out the triangulation station, and rejoicing with others who had made their first ascent of the Precipice Trail.
Here Rich and I tried the beef bar we’d bought a few days ago at Cadillac Mountain Sports. We were intrigued even though the girls at the shop couldn’t give it glowing reviews (“the texture is … interesting …” one of them had said).
Well, it was “interesting” for sure! It wasn’t bad, but didn’t have the Slim-Jim-like taste that Rich was hoping for. I think I liked it a little more than he did.
“Let’s put it this way,” he said, “if I were on an Arctic expedition with a dog sled … I’d eat the dogs before I’d eat that.”
And then a moment later, “Actually I’d eat the dogs and the sled before I’d eat that!”
Descent along the Bear Brook Trail
We showed Dad the Precipice warning sign; I’m not sure if that was a good idea or not if we intend to try to get him to hike it next time, but he wasn’t fazed. After taking a few more minutes for photos and checking out the view of the bay (much more of which we’d enjoy on our way down) we began the descent along the Bear Brook Trail.
This is a relatively calm, smooth, easy trail with just a few really high steps, and some very short easy scrambles once it gets into the wooded section. The top is bare rock, of course—where Rich and I were caught in the pounding thunderstorm 10 years ago.
Along the way down we searched for the old JDR/USA boundary marker we’d found all those years ago. It was a good thing we had coordinates, because the pine tree next to the disk has grown significantly and its branches now conceal the disk. We saw a northern ring-necked snake, charcoal colored with a yellow band around its neck, making its way across the rock.
Near the bottom of the trail, we made a very casual search for the stone steps that connect the Bear Brook Trail to Dorr’s bicycle path. We didn’t have a description of the steps as they would have appeared from the top. We had only a general idea of where they must be, accompanied by the knowledge that the Park Service tries to conceal intersections of current trails and abandoned routes.
“Hey, this looks like something,” Rich said as we reached the base of a small rock scramble through the woods. Off to the left of the trail was a grassy opening with a clump of thin branches piled loosely, about two feet high. It definitely looked suspicious, but we didn’t see an obvious trail or any steps leading away from it. We passed it by and decided to search from below, assuming we could find some sign of the bicycle path.
First glimpse of Dorr’s Bicycle Path
We made it to the Park Loop Road without any trouble. Dad was flagging a bit from the heat but he was happy to rest his butt on one of “Rockefeller’s Teeth” while we investigated the area in search of the bicycle path. Rich and I walked down into the gully alongside the Park Loop Road. It took a few minutes, but eventually I spotted what appeared to be a footpath with two unnaturally-placed rocks at its entrance and a piece of pink flagging tape wrapped around a tree a few yards further on. From that point, the trail was obvious! We had found it, finally!
We didn’t have time to explore it all today, so we’ll come back. We recorded coordinates at the beginning of the trail, and Rich turned those two rocks into a proper cairn. Then we met Dad up by the road and walked a few yards beyond the other side of the trailhead to the Bears Cave. I don’t know how we never noticed it before. It’s just about 25 yards off the road and is dark/black and quite obvious if you have any idea where to look. We poked around at the cave for a few minutes (no bears or bones inside, and surprisingly almost no trash, although I did spot a plastic water bottle in there). We were getting tired by this point and fortunately the bus came by and picked us up just a few minutes later.
Side Street supper
Back in town, we decided to meet around 5:20 for supper at Side Street Cafe. It’s nothing fancy but the food is always good and tonight’s bonus was decent live music (played by a “wild-man” version of our friend Dave). Rich and I both had the lobster rolls with pub fries, and Dad had a turkey melt with pub fries. Dad and I had Allagash White and Rich had Geaghan’s Smiling Irish Bastard IPA. I didn’t have room for dessert there, but after a quick walk around town I somehow managed to make room for more sorbet (orange tarragon this time).