June 1, 2013

Carey Kish: Penobscot's peaks offer a Maine mountain high

East of Baxter State Park, in the far northern reaches of Penobscot County, are a couple of mountains that don't get very much attention outside of local hiking circles. That's too bad because both of these peaks -- Mount Chase and Sugarloaf Mountain -- are great hikes with tremendous summit views, a real wilderness feel and a good measure of solitude to boot.

click image to enlarge

Open rock ledges atop Mount Chase afford outstanding views ranging from Katahdin to Traveler, and include a multitude of other hills north of Baxter State Park.

Carey Kish photo

Make the trek up I-95 and take a look-see for yourself. I'm figuring that you too will be impressed.

MOUNT CHASE

This mountain in the town of the same name rises to 2,440 feet, the highest peak in a compact range extending in a northeast-southwest direction just west of Route 11. The open rock ledges on top afford outstanding views ranging from Katahdin to Traveler, and include a multitude of other hills and mountains in the big woods north of the park. North and east are Haystack Mountain and Mars Hill in Aroostook County.

To reach the trailhead, drive north from Patten on Route 11 for about seven miles. Turn west on Mountain Road and drive two miles to a grassy parking area on the right. The sign marking the start of the trail is 100 feet farther down the road.

The 1.5-mile trail, an old woods road at first, becomes a footpath after a half-mile. Winding easily up through the forest, the path passes a rock outcrop known as Rolling Rock before entering a clearing where the dilapidated firewarden's cabin sits.

Beyond, the trail crosses a stream and begins a steady climb to the southeast ridge. There, a side trail leads to airy Eagle Rock, a short detour not to be missed. Ahead, the main trail continues up the ridgeline to the summit rocks. There's a small, unobtrusive communications tower a few yards to the north that shouldn't affect your peak experience.

SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN

About seven miles due west as the crow flies from Mount Chase is Sugarloaf Mountain, in the unorganized township of T5 R7 WELS. In case you're wondering, T is short for "Township," R stands for "range," and WELS is the abbreviation for "West of the Easterly Line of the State," designations dating back to the public land surveys of colonial times.

To find the start, travel northwest from Patten on Route 159. Just past the hamlet of Shin Pond, six miles from Route 11, turn left on Grondin Road. Six miles in, bear left at a fork, go straight through the next four-way junction, and finally, turn left at the last four-way. About 150 yards beyond is parking on the right. The road in gets increasingly rough and narrow, but is passable with care in a passenger car.

Pick up the marked 1.1-mile footpath from the lot and follow it up the west side of a ridge. Gain the ridge proper and ascend steadily through old-growth spruce to the 1,868-foot summit where grand panoramic views of Katahdin and more are possible.

You can easily climb both mountains in a single day. Better would be to hike one each day over a weekend, and spend the rest of your free time exploring the area. There are a number of lodging and camping options to choose from in and around Patten.

One must-see is the Patten Lumberman's Museum, which chronicles Maine's fascinating logging history through more than 5,000 artifacts, including steam and gasoline log haulers, a replica of an 1820s logging camp, bateaux, woodsmen's tools and countless photographs.

The northern entrance to Baxter State Park at Grand Lake Matagamon is within striking distance, as is the Scraggly Lake Public Reserved Land. Both offer more hiking opportunities, plus paddling too, so you might want to bring along your canoe.

The AMC Maine Mountain Guide and the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer are recommended companions for your trek north. A friend or two would be nice as well.

Carey Kish of Bowdoin is editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Send comments and hike suggestions to:

maineoutdoors@aol.com

 

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