Bald Mountain is perhaps the best short mountain hike in central and mid-coast Maine. One of several Bald Mountains in the state, this one is located between Ragged Mountain and Mount Megunticook in the Camden Hills Range. Not as well-known as its slightly taller counterparts, Bald is something of a well-kept secret.
From the trailhead on Barnestown Road in Camden, hikers can experience above-tree line views on a peak with a subalpine ecosystem while expending minimal effort. The entire out-and-back trek to the 1,280 foot summit is only 2.6 miles. About an hour from my home in Topsham, I can leave after lunch, complete the hike and be back for dinner.
The trail system is situated in the Bald Mountain Preserve, which is part of the Coastal Mountains Land Trust. Lands acquired for the preserve are the result of purchases by the trust and donations from families in the area. An information kiosk near the trailhead provides some very interesting photos and history of an old settlement at that site.
Recently announcing a Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society trip on Bald Mountain, three chowderheads signed on. While still February, the weather seemed more like a spring day with sunny skies and temperatures in the forties. Meeting in a sizeable parking lot at the trailhead for a late morning start, our initial discussion focused on the appropriate choices for hiking apparel and gear. Accustomed to frosty winter mountain conditions, our primary concerns were not overdressing and what would be the most advantageous footgear.
The consensus was that typical late fall hiking attire would be adequate. Deciding on footgear was more problematic. Recent rains and warm weather had melted most of the snow at lower elevations presumably rendering snowshoes unnecessary. Anticipating some ice and hard packed snow, we all elected to carry micro spikes.
An aging group, the conversation quickly morphed to health issues. Between the four of us, we had experienced two artificial knees and one hip replacement. After contemplating the rehabilitation benefits of physical therapy and yoga, the topic migrated to ominous indications of additional physical problems. Acknowledging challenges in the future, the dialogue was not about concessions or surrender. Rather a commitment to staying active and adapting to whatever the circumstances dictated. Well…… there was some whining, primarily me.
Leaving the trailhead, we quickly crossed Barnestown Road, traversed the edge of an icy field and entered a wooded area. The preserve has done some superb trail work building two sturdy log bridges shortly after entering the forest. Signage is good and the trail is marked with painted blue blazes. After joining the Georges Highland Trail, we turned left and began a more precipitous ascent.
Climbing moderately while encountering light patchy ice and some snow, we still didn’t see an obvious advantage in attaching our micro spikes as there was a lot of bare ground and exposed rock. Some switchbacks in a densely wooded area with occasional views of Ragged Mountain to the south characterize this section of trail. At about the halfway point, the fun began. Scrambling up perhaps one hundred yards of steep ledges, we were greeted with exceptional views of Ragged Mountain with the Camden Snow Bowl facing east and Hosmer Pond below. Prominent Owls Head and the islands of Penobscot Bay were visible beyond.
After spending several minutes savoring wonderful scenes from the predominantly dry cliffs, we angled abruptly north continuing on a wooded ridge to another distinct incline. Clambering up more ledges on an icy surface, we remained reluctant to don our micro spikes. Persisting in thick mountain scrub, our group soon emerged at a sizeable summit cairn.
The essentially barren peak provided breathtaking panoramic vistas of Penobscot Bay and the Camden Hills. With strong northwest winds chilling us, we huddled in lee of the substantial cairn to enjoy a brief lunch while entertained with continuous views of Penobscot Bay and distant Isle au Haut.
Those ubiquitous chowderheads are everywhere! After beginning our descent, we met two new club members just below the summit. Anyone younger than fifty is a kid according to my standards. Using that as a baseline, these two were youngsters. Better yet, one was an anesthesiologist providing us with additional opportunities to discuss our various surgeries and physical impediments with an expert. The young doctor probably didn’t anticipate providing health consultations when embarking on his mountain excursion.
Most of us used micro spikes for the return trip. Descending on a slippery surface is always more hazardous. While winter will continue for a few more weeks, the sun is higher and the days are getting longer. Our hike on Bald Mountain is palpable evidence that spring is not far away.