We were luxuriating with one of the most impressive views in the State of Maine. Sitting atop Hancock County’s Schoodic Mountain on a clear, calm morning, Frenchman Bay and the majestic peaks of Mount Desert Island provided an enthralling panorama. First on the mountain, John and I had departed our campsite on Schoodic Beach immediately after breakfast. An invigorating 1.5 mile hike had culminated at the spectacular barren mountaintop.
Donnell Pond Public Lands consist of over 14,000 heavily forested acres that include several rugged mountains enveloping remote ponds and lakes. An extensive trail system meanders over and around the summits that dominate the conservation area. Numerous scenic campsites have been established along the shores of lakes and ponds. Yet, the recreational wonderland is a relatively well-kept secret.
While possible to connect with several trailheads by road, the campsites can only be reached by hiking or water craft. The substantial effort required to access them probably explains their limited popularity. The unique setting lends itself to one of my favorite fall exploits; a surf and turf. Surf and turf is loosely defined as combining a canoe or kayak trip with a mountain hike; preferably including at least one night of camping. The allure of crisp cool evenings and bug free campsites makes autumn the ideal time for the multifaceted undertakings.
An excellent two day forecast inspired me to post a Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society Donnell Pond Surf & Turf Trip. My longtime friend John signed on. At age 79, he is one of a handful of outdoor playmates older than me. Our combined ages constituted a depressing Team Sesquicentennial.
We met at a boat landing on the western terminus of Donnell Pond in Franklin on a serene, sunny fall day. John was paddling a lightweight solo Kevlar canoe and I my new expedition kayak. Ever since my knee replacement, I’ve struggled with kneeling in a canoe when whitewater necessitated it. After two painful canoe trips this spring, I relented purchasing an expedition kayak that would in theory transport sufficient gear for multiday trips while capable of effective whitewater navigation. A flat water expedition, this was a test of its carrying capacity. Success was the verdict!
Paddling due east for a couple of miles towards distinctive Caribou Mountain, we turned south into a narrow channel opposite Redmans Beach Campsites. A trailhead for Caribou Mountain begins at the beach. Our goal was the more dramatic peaks farther south.
Continuing a southerly course, Caribou, Black, and Schoodic Mountains surround the lower arm of the pond suggestive of an inland fjord. Approaching spacious sandy Schoodic Beach, colorful tents materialized at both ends. Fortuitously, ample space remained in the center for two elderly paddlers and their camping gear. The site came equipped with an ancient picnic table that didn’t appear to have much life left. The hope was that the three of us would survive a few more meals.
After setting up camp, the turf portion of our excursion began. Black Mountain Cliffs Loop Trail originates and ends at the beach. Hiking counterclockwise for a half mile to a parking area with additional trailheads to Black and Schoodic Mountains; it’s also an alternative approach to the campsites on Schoodic Beach for those unwilling or unable to travel by water. From there, the path climbed steadily in a densely wooded environment for 1.2 miles to a junction above the cliffs. Leaving the loop trail, a hilly route continued north for a short mile to spectacular East Peak on Black Mountain. Expansive views from the summit revealed breathtaking vistas of Tunk Lake and Mountain, Frenchman Bay, and Mount Desert Island. Tranquil and glorious, we lingered at the top captivated by the moment. The only other hikers encountered that day were approaching from the south as we departed. Returning towards Black Cliffs, we stopped at a junction leading to Caribou Mountain. Sorely tempted to add another peak to our collection, the math didn’t work. A return in the dark seemed a certainty. Persisting to the loop trail, we descended steeply along the cliffs to the beach.
Our night camping along the shore was idyllic. Mild temperatures and a light breeze facilitated a leisurely dinner while experiencing a brilliant sunset. The dazzling red sky portended a sailor’s delight. The following morning, we found ourselves contentedly situated on the summit of Schoodic Mountain. After hundreds of adventures over scores of years, we both agreed, it didn’t get any better.
Author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England,” Ron Chase resides in Topsham. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org