Thursday, October 10, 2013

Day 151 - Acadia National Park/Hiking Cadillac Mountain


I have never been to Acadia National Park. As the nation’s oldest, and arguably one of its most beautiful, parks, I have wanted to visit Acadia since I first became aware of the location some years ago. For Rachael, visiting Acadia was a lifelong dream she hoped to make possible during her younger years, which she knew would permit exploration of the coastal mountains and hidden places offered by the park. As a result, the two of us rose early on our second day in Maine and immediately found our way to the park. Although the park was closed due to a persistent infection of idiocy in the United States Congress, Rachael and I agreed we would find our way into Acadia one way or another. As a result, we knew the day would be an adventure to remember.

The view from the side of the road en route to Acadia

As Rachael and I came near the park, we were somewhat unsurprised to find the roads serving the park interior were barricaded to road traffic. As a result, we found a space on the side of the road near the barriers and parked our vehicle out of the way of traffic. With small groups of other vehicles following suit, we figured we would likely avoid any severe penalty for our actions and promptly exited the vehicle to enter Acadia. A short walk down a narrow asphalt road eventually brought us to a series of vacant park ranger booths at the intersection of two main roads. Around us there was no activity. The roads were free of cars, bikes and people, which left us accompanied only by the sounds of the forest around us. Realizing the rare opportunity to experience Acadia in such a state, we took full advantage of the emptiness around us, choosing to work deeper into the park along the center of the two-lane road that usually served as the park’s main traffic hub. It was just us and the park, and although that feeling was welcomed, it felt eerie in a way.

Thanks, Congress...



Eventually, our path guided us to Sand Beach, a massive stretch of ocean beach nestled between the mountains of Acadia. Upon arriving to the beach, we encountered a few other people that had ignored the park’s closure to take in its grandeur. After spending a few minutes on the beach, Rachael decided to walk the stretch of sand in search of sea glass while I explored the surrounding foothills and rocky outcrops along the coast. Living up to my “I have never...” motto to see the things that people don’t see, I scaled the walls of rolling rocks until I found myself atop the bluffs overlooking the waters flowing into Sand Beach. As I looked out over the coastal islands and the rolling mountains blanketed with the colors of autumn, I stood in awe of the space around me. The serenity and beauty from that view was the most amazing introduction Acadia could have offered, which led me to say the first thing that came to mind in that moment, “Acadia, it’s nice to meet you.”

Sand Beach

Climbing the bluffs

Selfie! ...Taking in the view

After spending some time on the bluffs I found my way back down to the beach and back to Rachael. Together we then walked a little further into Acadia before deciding to double back and find our way to the tallest mountain on the east coast of the United States, Cadillac Mountain. With plenty of day left, Rachael and I decided we would hike to the mountain’s peak with our remaining daylight. As a result, we found our way back to our car, plotted our course to the base of the mountain trail, and took a short drive down the few open roads around the park to get closer to the base of the trail. Ultimately, our path led us to a roadside stop once more, after which we began our three and a half mile ascent to the top of Cadillac Mountain.



At first the trail offered little challenge. The incline of the terrain was slow and steady, and the scenery of moss-laden forests dotted with rock faces distracted us from difficulty offered by the trail. As we continued we noticed the forest slowly starting to break apart at the presence of massive swaths of smooth grey stone, which covered stretches of ground for dozens of feet at a time. Eventually, these features led us to our first stop in our trek, Eagle’s Crag, a rocky cliff top overlook roughly one mile into our journey. Although we had only ascended 500 of the 1,600 feet of the mountain, the view of the hills, forests, and seascapes below was incredible. Highlighted by the endless array of yellows, oranges, and reds, the landscape offered the kind of view only seen on television or in magazines... and we still had two and half more miles of mountain to climb.

The view from Eagle's Crag

Rachael and I continued up the mountain after spending a short while looking out from Eagle’s Crag. Over the next few hours we covered miles of ground, which steepened in a noticeable way and way to stone capped stretches of mountain terrain. As we progressed, we took periodic breaks to rest our legs and take in the ever changing views of the landscape around us. Rows of mountains, distant lakes, and breathtaking views of shore crashing into an endless blanket of water began to appear as we ascended higher, until we ultimately found ourselves above the rest of the land around us. 

A pond on top of a mountain? How cool is that?

After taking a brief stop at a pond resting more than half way up the mountain, we pushed on until we reached the Peak of Cadillac Mountain. Initially, the peak was only occupied by the two of us and another couple that biked the road leading to the peak. The four of use stood in silence as we took in the views and wandered around the wide body of the mountain top. For the better part of an hour, Rachael and I sat atop the mountain looking over the landscape below and reveling in our success conquering the mountain. Our hard work paid off with an amazing view we knew very few people would see while Acadia was closed, and that was enough to fuel us through our descent back to the ground.

Getting there...

The view from the top

...And what a view it is.

BIRD!

With the sun hanging over the horizon, Rachael and I began the trek back down Cadillac Mountain. As we walked, the afternoon transitioned into early evening, which brought the autumn colors to life around us. Beauty was inescapable as we moved down the mountain accompanied only by the natural surroundings. With the force of gravity working in our favor, we eventually found our trip back to the ground came with much greater ease than the earlier climb, which meant our time above the forests and mountains of Acadia was limited in comparison (but it contained a Wisconsin stone! See below). Ultimately, we found ourselves wandering into the forests once more, pressing on with heavy feet and tired legs until we broke back out into the fading sunlight cast across the road where we began our journey.

Conquering Cadillac

Coming back down


With the sun minutes away from sunset, Rachael and I decided to take a short drive to take in the sights. After watching the last moments of the setting sun against a small coastal town, we took time to plot our course for the next day and made the journey back to our room at the Manor House Inn. Exhausted by the day’s events, Rachael and I treated ourselves to an amazing seafood dinner for the second night in a row, had a few drinks, and called it a night. Needless to say, sleep will come easy tonight.

My first experience in Acadia was one that will stick with me for some time. It is not likely I will ever get the chance to explore a closed national park again in my life (I hope so anyway), and knowing we took on some of the most challenging terrain the park has to offer makes me feel like this is an “I have never...” day that will stand out among all others. Two days into our trip I’m still constantly amazed by the beauty of this place, and I know we have still only scratched the surface. With tomorrow slated to be another round of adventures in and around Acadia, I look forward to what more Acadia and Bar Harbor have to offer. With so many possibilities, it should be another day of amazing experiences.

IHN Bonus: This was our dinner tonight...

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