Geriatric Hiking on the Bold Coast

About forty-five minutes northeast of Machias in the Town of Cutler is the unique Cutler Coast Trail system. Part of the Cutler Coast Public Lands, the trails connect Route 191 with the rugged, spectacular Bold Coast. Linking the coastal towns of Lubec and Cutler, the Bold Coast is an almost continuous 19 mile stretch of cliffs and craggy rock formations that represent perhaps the most breathtaking and intimidating section of Maine’s 3,478 mile rockbound coast.

The trails offer several hiking choices beginning with a relatively easy out-and-back walk to an impressive overlook and longer more difficult options that weave along the precipitous cliffs. There are opportunities for loop hikes under normal circumstances and backpackers often spend overnight trips tenting at designated sites near Fairy Head at the southwestern terminus of the trail system.

The Bold Coast has a special attraction for me as I’ve had the good fortune to hike the Cutler Trails several times and sea kayak the entire shoreline on two occasions. Sea kayaking the Bold Coast requires substantial planning and preparation as there are very few opportunities for safe landing in case of emergency. Dramatic tidal changes and strong currents increase the potential for hazardous conditions. Both of my sea kayak trips included their share of adventures and misadventures. That used to be part of the goal but the older that I get, the more precautions I take to minimize the chance for misadventures. I suppose you could call that maturing.

Foggy, damp conditions greeted Mrs. Chase and I when we arrived at the trailhead, about four miles north of the Village of Cutler on Route 191. There were about a dozen cars in the parking lot. Although the trails are something of a well-kept secret, it seems there are always hikers present.

The fog was a disappointment as we were hoping for views of Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy, our next destination. Alas, another setback, the inland portion of the shorter 5.5 mile loop hike was closed due to flooding by beavers. Just a few generations ago, the now plentiful furry critters would have been warm hats and coats. Now they’re rearranging the landscape and closing hiking trails. Perhaps we should call this, “Revenge of the Beavers.”

Leaving the trailhead, the first portion is quite wet and trail workers have built an impressive extensive network of narrow bridge work. Encountering numerous hikers including several families in the 1.4 mile walk to the coast, the fog had partially lifted at the overlook. We were very pleased to have limited views along the shore but Grand Manan was lost in a mountainous fog bank.

Those seeking an easy hike usually turn back after savoring views from the overlook. With the fog lifting and a strong breeze to keep the mosquitoes away, we decided to press on. The trail along the shore is rough and demanding but affords numerous opportunities for exceptional views. As always, I was reminded of my sea kayak trips; one an exhausting paddle against powerful tides and strong headwinds and the second dodging ragged ledges in fog and wind. Despite the adversities, wonderful memories linger.

Continuing on, we noticed a young couple basking on a narrow beach at the bottom of the cliffs. More careful examination indicated that they had repelled down from the trail and would have a semi-technical climb out when they returned. And return they would soon have to do as the incoming tide would completely envelop the beach in an hour or so. Twenty years ago, we might have considered joining them but the relative comfort and safety of our circumstance trumped the benefits of the adventure.

We hiked up and down along the sheer bluffs for about one and half miles to Black Point. The Coastal Trail continues for another two miles to Fairy Head. Having an early dinner commitment with friends and lacking a loop option due to those troublesome buck-toothed rodents; we backtracked meeting several backpackers intent on spending the night at Fairy Head. Okay, maybe my sore arthritic hips played a role in the decision to return.

I have to confess that backpacking no longer has the appeal it had when I was younger. Heavy packs put a lot of stress on my artificial knee and aging hips. The Spartan limitations of carrying all of your necessities in a pack, lacks the glitter that it once had. That doesn’t mean that I’ve completely ruled out the option but normally I’m content combining the aesthetics of a hike with the comfort of a dry, bug-free motel room with a hot shower.

The magnificent cliffs of Grand Manan Island never emerged from the fog on this day. More sea kayaking, biking and hiking await us when we join a large group of friends there next. Hopefully, we’ll get at least some respite from the fog.

If you want to learn about one of Maine’s most colorful and controversial figures of the last half century, Vietnam War hero and bank robber Bernard Patterson, consider joining me for my talk about The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery at the Southwest Harbor Public Library on Tuesday, September 12 at 5:30 P.M.

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.