Saturday, April 19, 2014
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Mount Zircon in Rumford offers a wonderful mountain-top view of the area. What it doesn't offer is the best signage.
The summit of Mount Zircon in Rumford had a view to behold and beyond that, some of the mountains from previous hikes were visible, leading to a strong geography lesson.
Wendy Almeida photos
Yes, the sign was there for the Mount Zircon trail. It just wasn’t where hikers might expect – a problem for those not accustomed to the area.
MOUNT ZIRCON, RUMFORD
• Trail head GPS coordinates: 44.5057, -70.564
• Trail length: about 5.4 miles round trip
• Elevation gain: about 1,600 feet
• From the junction of Routes 26 and 232 in Woodstock, take Route 232 for 6.8 miles to Abbotts Mill. Turn right on S. Rumford Road and drive about 6 miles to a gated gravel road on the right. There is a Tree Farm, Rumford Water District sign with a small Mount Zircon sign above it.
The kids and I have spent a lot of time this summer in the White Mountains National Forest (both in Maine and New Hampshire) and have come to expect certain signage, thanks to our familiarity with the national forest. It's not that Mount Zircon's trailhead isn't marked, because it is. It is just not obvious -- and not in the place you might expect.
The old dirt road that serves as the initial start to the trail looks like someone's driveway, complete with house, camper and backyard pool. And once on the trail, the sign turning off the main trail to the summit of the mountain is set back.
On this trail, put your eagle-eyed kids to work looking for the key signage.
While driving, I realized we had passed the trailhead and found a place to turn around. My kids were delighted to find a handwritten sign at the spot I turned around that said, "For Mount Zircon Trail take the road after the bridge." We turned around and found the Tree Farm sign for the Rumford Water District that included a smaller sign just above it for Mount Zircon.
We parked on the small grassy shoulder at the trailhead and passed that house (and pool) as well as a locked red gate to walk up the gravel road that starts the trail. It was a steady but not overly steep climb. About a mile and a half up the old road, we found the remains of the old Zircon Water Bottling Company. The Maine Mountain Guide description we read indicated there was a pipe with running water from the spring. The water looked clean flowing out but the pipe itself seemed slimy and not so clean. In a pinch I would have drank the water but we had plenty in our pack so we took a pass. Still an interesting stop, though.
We hiked up the trail and after a while felt like we'd missed our left-handed turn up to the summit. My mapping program that tracks our progress on the trail indicated we were likely too far into the road and had missed the turn. After a second pass in the area we still didn't see a sign on the trail. A third return pass (there is apparently a reason for the cliche "third time's the charm") was when we finally spotted the white, round "Mount Zircon" trail sign on a tree. It was set back about 50 feet from the trail amid an overgrown area of ferns and greenery. It is a pretty obvious sign once we knew where to look. But when you're used to signage being on a tree or post on the trail itself, we simply weren't looking in the correct place. With all the passing by, we'd hiked about a mile more than we needed to before the real climb to the summit actually began. Yeah, call us knuckleheads if you will but only after you visit this trail in the height of summer's foliage. If you have a GPS application on your phone, input these GPS coordinates (44.4791, -70.5669) before you leave to ensure you don't miss this trail sign.
The summit trail is a narrow path through a more dense forest. Closer to the summit the trail got rocky and the footing a bit trickier because the rocks were slippery with recent rain. It wasn't especially difficult but it did require more purposeful stepping.
We reached the summit to see a fallen-down fire tower and a wonderful mountain-top view. The fire tower carnage was interesting but the kids and I found the wind turbines on Spruce Mountain to be another fascinating feature. We also spotted some of the mountains we've hiked previously and that's always a fun geography lesson for the kids.
The mountain summit at 2,240 feet (with an elevation gain of about 1,600 feet), makes this a "moderately difficult" hike, according to the Maine Mountain Guide. I'd say it's "difficult" for a family of occasional hikers. But if you have kids who like to hike and you've climbed some other mountains this season, you'll enjoy this trek. The climb is worth the effort for the wonderful views.
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