“Dad, I’ve lost the trail and don’t know where to go,” shouted Samantha to her father. I was hiking alongside Samantha, her father Jay and mother Linda when we came to an abrupt end of the trail as it climbed the rock face of Tumbledown Mountain. The trail seemed to veer off in several directions and without obvious trail markings and we were stumped. Samantha and Jay searched for signs of the trail that would hopefully take us to the summit. Hikers below us on the cliff’s edge were slowly making their way up the rock face, scrambling along the boulder strewn trail. I now found myself in a cramped line of hikers, all waiting to find their way through, under and around the gigantic chunks of stone that have given the mountain its name, Tumbledown. I felt like I was in a traffic jam on I-93, during a busy holiday weekend. Suddenly Samantha shouted, “This way, I see a blaze.” The line behind us began to slowly move. We crept forward, making sure our feet were securely in place on the wet rocks, before taking the next step.
A few years ago, a friend at work told me about Tumbledown Mountain located in western Maine, near Mt. Blue State Park. The name fascinated me and it stuck in my head. Last week I was attending the Annual Conference of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy being held at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. I had a free day so I headed out to climb Tumbledown, which was only an hour away. This isn’t the highest mountain in the region (3,068 ft.) but is one of the most intriguing summits in Maine. The enormous cliffs on the south side of the mountain rise over 700 feet and attract many rock climbers. The mountain range, which Tumbledown is a part of, was created millions of years ago during a period of time when the Appalachian Mountain chain was being formed by plate tectonics resulting in huge upheavals in the earth’s crust. Between 18,000 and 14,000 years ago ice sheets overspread the region, scoring exposed rock and scouring out valleys. Gigantic slabs of rock broke off from the mountain core forming the rock face and giving the mountain its name. The trail I was climbing, the Loop Trail, wound its way along the side of this rock wall and is a challenging trail leading to the summit.
As we continued to climb the rock face we came to the “tunnel”, also called “fat man’s misery”. The narrow opening is lined with iron rungs to assist climbers in getting through a narrow opening. This was a struggle, and I had to take my pack off and slide it up to the next level, then squeeze myself through. Once above this barrier the trail opened up to the rock ledges that soon led me to the high point, West Peak. Here I separated from Samantha and her parents, as they continued on the Loop Trail, while I stopped to eat my lunch and relish the views from the summit.
Due to the rock cliffs and difficult trail finding, the hike to the summit took longer than expected. When I took a break on the peak Iwas astounded by the magnificent views. Tumbledown is not just one peak, but a long ridge made up of a series of peaks. At the eastern end of the ridge, beneath the ridgeline lies Tumbledown Pond at 2,872 ft. Here I found scores of hikers, including families with children playing about the rock ledges and swimming in the pond. The cool, oxygen-rich water of Tumbledown Pond is home to brook trout, a Maine native and the state’s most popular sport fish. But Tumbledown Pond hasn’t always been home to brook trout. Fishless since the retreat of the glaciers, this pond has only been stocked with fish since 1966.
As I crept along the trail, admiring the never ending views I stooped to pick wild blue berries which were in full bloom. I noticed several children with their parents, stuffing their mouths with the delicious fruit that is so abundant in these high elevation rock summits. It’s a wonder of nature that these delicate little berries can be so abundant in this harsh, unforgiving environment. Others plants found on the mountain are sheep laurel, wild raisin, rhodora, alpine bilberry, labrador tea, three-toothed cinquefoil, mountain holly, purple crowberry and mountain cranberry. Tumbledown is also the home of the endangered peregrine falcon. The southwest facing cliff offer ideal nesting conditions for these birds of prey, who can dive for prey at speed up to 200 miles per hour, earning them the title of “fastest animal on earth”.
As I continued on my sojourn across the ridgeline I soon entered a forested col and set out on the Link Trail, which would hook me up to the Little Jackson Mountain Trail. I had hoped to hike to the summit of Little Jackson Mountain, but time was getting away from me. When I reached the trail head I realized that I should head down the mountain. It was getting late and I wanted to leave enough time for some refreshment at Calzolaio Pasta Co., an Italian style restaurant with a great menu and a wonderful ambiance, so I began the long trek of 6 miles back to the parking lot. The restaurant is located in Wilton, ME, and occupies a renovated mill building that was once home of the Bass Shoe Co., makers of the well know Weejun Loafer. Bass also produced hunting and fishing footwear as well as insulated boots for the Charles Lindberg, Admiral Richard Perry, the 10th Mountain Division military unit and the 1948 Olympic Team. My stop for drink and victuals was not only a good choice to appease my appetite but a step back in time, when prominent shoe mills like Dexter and Bass dotted the New England landscape.
If you are willing to take a two hour drive from the Lakes Region into the Western Maine Mountains you will not be disappointed. Mount Blue State Park is only a few miles away from Tumbledown Mountain. The 8,000 park offers 136 campsites, a sand beach on Webb Lake, hot showers, flush toilets, canoe and boat rentals. There are numerous hiking and walking paths in the park, including a trail to the summit of Mt. Blue with an observation tower at the peak. Other nearby destinations to consider are Grafton Notch State Park, Rangeley Lake, Kennebec Highlands and the Appalachian Trail, which cuts through the area just north of Tumbledown Mountain. To reach Mount Blue State Park and Tumbledown Public Lands take Rt. 2 into Maine and follow it all the way to Dixfield, turn onto Rt.142. This route will take you directly to the park and Tumbledown Mountain. Enjoy the ride and remember to make wise decisions when out on the trail.
Gordon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments or questions. He is offering a lecture slide program, Hiking into History, which features 5 notable hikes to historic sites representative of New Hampshire’s past. Contact Gordon if you would like more information about this program.