A Fiery Tale on Ragged Mountain

A lot has changed since I started hiking Ragged Mountain in the 1970s. Part of a coastal mountain range called the Camden Hills, back then the only trail leading to the summit began in a pasture on the Gillette Road in Rockport. Crossing private properties, the path went through an evolution of closings and re-openings, depending upon the whims of landowners.

Ragged Mountain is a special place and an eminently worthwhile hike. Located just four miles from beautiful Penobscot Bay, it provides spectacular panoramic views of nearby coastal communities and dozens of offshore islands. Cliffs along its rugged south face overlook scenic Mirror Lake with Pleasant and Spruce Mountains beyond.

My sons were little boys when I began hiking there. Eric, the oldest, would trudge along debating whether or not he really wanted to be involved, while his infant brother Adam would ride on my back in a baby pack. Immediately nodding off, it was a great way to put energetic Adam to sleep.

One of my most memorable Ragged Mountain exploits was a comedy of errors that would make Chevy Chase envious. Illogically perceiving myself as both a great hunter and outdoorsman, I endeavored to combine a deer hunting trip with a solo overnight backpacking challenge. I’d spend a night on the summit and triumphantly return dragging a ten point buck.

Choosing the day after Thanksgiving 1984 for my escapade, I carried a hefty pack while toting my Winchester rifle. A cold windy day with scattered snow and ice, it didn’t take long to realize that the heavy awkward pack restricted my arms to the extent that I couldn’t lift my rifle sufficiently to aim and fire. Forget western movies, boot camp had taught me that firing a rifle from the hip is a recipe for failure or worse. The hunt foiled, I plodded on.

Arriving at the top, I found a grassy area overlooking Penobscot Bay and erected my tent. Frigid and blustery, cooking inside seemed to be the best choice. Lighting my Coleman backpacking stove, it exploded, threatening to incinerate the tent and everything in it. Wrapping the ball of fire in my sleeping bag, I threw it outside, immediately igniting the grass. Rushing out half dressed, I spent a precarious twenty minutes extinguishing the quickly spreading fire by smothering it with my sleeping bag.

Dark, the stove useless and my sleeping bag in smoky tatters, I ate a cold meal and settled in for a frosty night. Grimacing through singed eyebrows, I took a final glance at the bright lights in the quiet towns beneath the mountain. Contemplating the warm comforts of home, there was envy in my heart.

Arising to a coffee free, icy breakfast, I left my fire ravished campsite in search of whitetails. Descending the trail, I heard rustling in the leaves below. Silently dropping to the prone position, I conscientiously waited for a clear target. Fortuitously, a large buck stepped into view just a short distance away. Carefully aiming, I botched the shot. Missing completely, he scampered off. Dejectedly returning to Camp Inferno, the score was deer family one and Bwana Ron nothing. Disgusted, I loaded my sooty gear and packed down. Acknowledging my obvious limitations, my hunting career was soon terminated.

About thirty years ago, a group of mid-coast citizens organized the Georges River Land Trust. An impressive consequence of their efforts is the Georges Highland Path that includes a network of exceptional trails on Ragged Mountain.

Since my early disaster, Ragged Mountain has become a preferred four season mountain hike. Only an hour from my home in Topsham, I complete several climbs a year. When deciding on peaks for my mountain guidebook, Mountains for Mortals – New England, it was a must inclusion.

Scheduled to lead a Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society mountaineering trip earlier this month, Ragged Mountain was an obvious choice. Since most naughty members were desperately attempting to atone for bad behavior in the waning days before Santa’s arrival, only two of the nice chowderheads, Dave Boyle and Bob Holtzman, were available to join me.

Embarking from the Route 17 Trailhead near Mirror Lake in Rockport, icy conditions necessitated micro spikes for the entire hike. Persisting east below the south face, we ascended the ragged ledges that gave the mountain its name to the summit.

While experiencing exceptional views of Penobscot Bay from the cliffs, I entertained my companions with tales of Ragged Mountains past. Informed by Dave that a new trail had recently opened on the northeast side, we continued on a traverse and descended the Hosmer Brook Trail arriving next to Camden Snow Bowl Ski Area.

No fires, no guns, no drama, just a great day on the mountain with “nice” friends.

Ron Chase

About Ron Chase

At age 70, Ron Chase is old. But, he’s not under the grass…yet. Retired from a career with the Internal Revenue Service, he has embarked on a new life as a freelance writer and tax consultant. Don’t be misled; in reality, he works a little and plays a lot. When not busy kayaking, canoeing, biking, mountain climbing and skiing, he sometimes finds time to write and assist his tax clients. A lifelong Mainer now living in Topsham, he is the recent author of The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery, a biography of Vietnam War hero and bank robber Bernard Patterson.