September 1, 2013

Josh Christie: Something for everyone on Tumbledown hike

A bonus about Maine hiking is that the state offers so many different things to so many people. Many of Maine's hikes allow access to dramatic cliff faces, Alpine ponds, bald ridges and closely-clustered peaks. One reason that Weld's Tumbledown Mountain is my favorite hike in the state is because it offers all these features in one place.

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The Parker Ridge Trail on Weld’s Tumbledown Mountain is a steep climb, but the views of the east and north peaks, with their dramatic cliffs, make it worth the effort.

Josh Christie photos

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The Tumbledown Ridge Trail offers a fine view of Tumbledown Pond, a unique Alpine pond where hikers can enjoy a swim, cast for fish or just relax shoreside.

Tumbledown Mountain consists of three distinct peaks which ring an Alpine pond, colloquially called Crater Lake or Tumbledown Pond. The East and West peaks are accessible by well-traveled trails, and the North peak can be reached with a bit of bushwhacking. Three distinct trails -- the Brook Trail, Parker Ridge Trail and Loop Trail -- all climb to Tumbledown Pond. The pond serves triple-duty as a good lunch spot, a clear camping spot and a common point of departure to all three peaks.

Though the routes up Tumbledown are steep enough to provide a challenge, I've always found the most vexing part of the hikes to be finding the trailheads. I have distinct memories of driving up to Township 6 with college friends, with my father and alone, and getting lost in a maze of logging roads every time. Before heading to Tumbledown, remember that a DeLorme Gazetteer, a GPS and a functioning odometer are your friends.

Coming from southern or central Maine, you'll want to make your way to the intersection of Routes 4 and 156 in Wilton. Follow 156 into Weld, continuing straight through Weld Village. Just beyond the village, you'll take a left at a big sign for Webb Corner -- this is where you want to reset your odometer. You hit a dirt road called Byron Road after a few hundred yards. The Brook Trail leaves Byron Road 4.4 miles from Webb Corner, and the Loop Trail leaves Byron Road 5.8 miles from the turn.

My favorite route up Tumbledown is the Brook Trail. It's a short and sweet hike to the pond, fairly steep but not too strenuous. The trail leaves from a large parking lot (complete with outhouse!) on Byron Road, and follows an old, flat logging road for its first mile. At the 1-mile mark, you head into the woods and start a more dramatic ascent. The rocky trail more or less follows a brook flowing down from Tumbledown Pond, hence the name. After a mile and a half of climbing and switchbacks, the trail reaches the pond.

In years past, the Parker Ridge trail was accessed from a trailhead on the privately-owned Morgan Road. Since I certainly don't want to encourage readers to trespass on private property, I suggest accessing Parker Ridge from the Brook Trail. Just beyond the trailhead, a trail called the Little Jackson Connector heads off to a hiker's right. After about a mile, a turn to the left will put you on the old Parker Ridge Trail, while bearing right will take you toward the summit of Little Jackson. Like the Brook Trail, Parker Ridge climbs at a gentle slope for about a mile before getting significantly steeper. The trail takes hikers up to the bare summit of Parker Ridge, which sits above Tumbledown Pond, before descending to connect with the Brook Trail at the Alpine pond.

The Loop Trail leaves from a trailhead about a mile and a half up the road from the Brook Trail. Again, the trail is fairly flat for the first mile. The transition to a steeper climb is marked by a large boulder, appropriately called Tumbledown Boulder. The Loop Trail is a bit more exposed than the trails leaving from the Brook trailhead, which makes for nice views but also means a lot more scrambling over rocks and boulders. After crossing a brook, the trail continues through a gully to a tight fissure, where iron rungs provide help for the rest of the ascent. (It's because of this tight passage, called Fat Man's Misery, that hiking the Loop Trail with kids, dogs or a large pack isn't recommended.) After struggling through the tight squeeze, it's only a few hundred yards to Tumbledown Pond.

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