A Cadillac of a Mountain

Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park is the source of many superlatives. At an elevation of 1,532 feet, it is the tallest mountain along the eastern seaboard of the United States. According to Wikipedia, the commanding prominence is the highest point within 25 miles of the shoreline of the North American continent between Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia and Mexican peaks south of the Texas border. During fall and winter, the crest of Cadillac is first to see the nation’s sunrise.

Native Americans who lived along the shores of Mount Desert Island at least 5,000 years ago were most likely the earliest people to ascend Cadillac. The first reliable record of European contact was by explorer Samuel Champlain in 1604. He named the island Isle des Monts Desert or Island of Barren Mountains. Formerly known as Green Mountain, Cadillac was renamed for another French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe Sieur de Cadillac in 1918. No, I wasn’t hiking when it was called Green Mountain.

Rugged majestic beauty and incredible views make Cadillac one of the premiere New England mountain hikes. However, for mountaineering purists there is a dark side, a paved road to the top. After an arduous ascent, weary hikers are often greeted with a carnival-like atmosphere when completing the climb. If one wants to avoid the incongruous environment, a winter expedition when the road is closed is an alternative. An interesting snippet of Cadillac history, a cog railway took visitors to a hotel at the summit in the late 19th century. The hotel burned and the train was sold and transported to another consequential New England peak, Mount Washington.

Four major hiking routes lead to the crown of Cadillac; North and South Ridge Trails, Gorge Path and West Face Trail. Numerous additional passageways interconnect with these. All provide remarkable panoramic vistas of the 16 nearby granite dominated peaks, surrounding islands and the glaciated coastal landscape.

Recently, I was part of a contingent of four retired Chowderheads with the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society who met for a climb on Cadillac. Veterans of the primary approaches, we decided on something different, an extended trek from the east over Dorr Mountain.

We began our excursion in the parking area for Sieur de Monts Spring near Bar Harbor, a significant park attraction. An area bustling with activity, the hiking trails blend with walkways used for various other recreational diversions. In short, it’s confusing. After some exploration, we located Emery Path a new trail for the entire group. Climbing steeply on a remarkably well-designed and constructed trail with almost constant views of the Porcupine Islands in outer Frenchman Bay, I was reminded of the truly exceptional accomplishments of those youngsters in the Civilian Conservation Corps who built many park trails during the Great Depression.

Persevering steadily uphill for a half mile, we joined Schiff Path which continued for another mile to the summit of Dorr Mountain. Gazing expectantly west towards Cadillac, the higher elevations were enveloped in clouds. A climb without views seemed probable.

Departing from Dorr, we dropped abruptly to a junction with Gorge Path situated deep in an attenuated ravine between Dorr and Cadillac. The subsequent ascent entailed considerable boulder scrambling. Fortuitously, clouds diminished as we arrived at the chaotic congested summit offering a plethora of exceptional views that only Cadillac can provide. The contrast between a handful of tired pack laden hikers and a multitude of well-dressed tourists was abundantly obvious. Hurriedly escaping the pandemonium, we descended to a location sheltered from the wind on South Ridge Trail for a tranquil lunch break.

Continuing downhill for a mile on the completely exposed South Ridge Trail, perpetual views of the offshore Cranberry Isles was an aesthetic delight. Linking with Canon Brook Trail, we turned east. My first experience on Canon, I was impressed with the precipitous unrelenting character of the trail that parallels and often intersects with Canon Brook in what I would describe as a lengthy multi-staged waterfall. I suspect that Canon would be a hazardous environment during high water or icy conditions.

Leaving the brook behind, the trail descended more gradually connecting with Kane Path before reaching The Tarn, an idyllic mountain pond situated in a col between Dorr and Champlain Mountains. Known to early explorers as People of the Dawn, prehistoric Wabanaki Indians could have easily chosen the eastern shore to build their temporary summer shelters protected from prevailing onshore winds. Skirting The Tarn, we returned to Sieur de Monts completing a seven mile journey replete with breathtaking views, challenging mountaineering and a new perspective of a Cadillac of a mountain.

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.