Ice Galore in Acadia National Park – Maine, USA (Full Article)

A day in the freezer

A Winter drive from Boston, Massachussets, to Mount Desert Island – Home of Acadia National Park. About 287 miles after Boston – a clear blue sky – fresh freezing air, and I get to Bar Harbor, on Mount Desert Island, Maine.

A little later I explore Ocean Drive to Sandy Beach. A desert island of snow and ice. An ice-storm hit the North-East a couple weeks ago and it’s been life in the freezer ever since.

Seal Harbour and Jordan Pond – a view to The Bubbles mountains – marvellous, chilling, a lake frozen, boulders at the shoreline wrapped in ice, carressed by snow. I’d love to touch these mountains tomorrow.

Minus 5 Celcius today? Closer to minus 10 I’d say. A hot dinner at Geddy’s. ‘Thank you M’am.’

Early up, egg and toast breakfast at the gas station. Old style food. Does the job before a day’s trek. All trails covered in snow, ice, as this icestorm has had its fun around the Desert Island. Cold, it has been cracking cold lately (well, they’ll surely still call this Spring north of the border).

A quick stop at the National Park Service Winter visitor centre at the headquarters of Acadia National Park. The First Eastern National Park, innaugurated in 1916. Initially established as Sieur de Monts National Monument on July 8, 1916, by President Woodrow Wilson.

The Park Service rangers are as good-humoured as always. Snow or no snow.

‘Safe to hike out there today?’

‘You won’t see many folks up there.’

‘Will I survive with “stable-icers” crampons-light?’

‘Should be fine.’

Sure, Parkman Mountain it will be.

I parked at the Parkman Parking and set off. Warmed up these muscles on a short stretch along one of the rides – the Park Loop Road – one of the traffic-free historic carriage roads, financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr., and like many of the park features, of the visionary design and layout by Frederick Law Olmsted – the Father of American Landscape Architecture. Always a pleasure to walk in the footsteps of Freddy.

The Park Loop Road was snowed in. Two chaps wizzed by cross-country skiing. Would be the last folks until I’d be off the mountain.

Next up the trail to Parkman Mountain.

That went well – continued over snow and ice to Gilmore Peak. Grey day, have it all to myself, scenery included. Some snowflakes, sun broke through momentarily. Minus 10, minus 15 Celsius up here? Next down the ice covered flank, peforming a circus act by sliding jumping from tree trunk to tree trunk as these stabel-icers are crap when slopes are too icy, too steep. Don’t we all look for adventure?

Winter hiking is cool – keeps you warm. Just don’t break anything out there on your own. You keep moving, you keep warm. No moving, and it gets rather rapidly chilly. Why did these Park Service folks let me go up here? Who cares – so gorgeous out here.

Up Sargent Mountain. Keep following the stone markers – if you find them in the white landscape. Even colder freezing winds up here. I crack through some ice as I walk. A large Snowy Owl – some ten meters away – flies upwards stirred by the noise. Am I more surprised or the owl? The owl lands some 30 meters away on a rock.

We stare at each other. Snowscape. Beauty. Big white bird, white faced, pleased to meet you. Please allow me to introduce myself. What’s puzzling you? Have a nice day.

(See more about sightings of the Snowy Owl in Acadia)

I reached a point where no stone marker was visible. Returning via the same trail was always an option. The trail had to descend – but where? Snow around, some shrubs, some trees. I marked my spot. I walked in one direction for ten-twenty meters. No markers. I return to the marked spot. I changed direction by 10 degrees and did the same. No markers. Another ten degrees. I must have repeated this at least 15 times. Puzzling, but finally I found the direction of the markers. Too many markers along the trail were snow-covered at this point. But I figured out where the trail continued and went down. Sure, continue – why retrace my steps on the trail?

Over the ridge, down and up to Penobscot Mountain.

Lunch time, no time to stay put too long and cool down under these Gore-Tex fabrics. I retraced my steps up to Sargent Mountain South Ridge Trail, and down to Hanlock Brook. Somewhere along the way in the woods I suddenly run into some deer. Unexpected – that sudden surprise as something jumps up in front of you. Winter wonderland.  Further down the trail crosses the ride – the “carriage road”. There are two marvellous bridges, and one rugged ice cascade. Streams and ponds in Acadia are frozen, even parts of the ocean have given in to the power of the cold and stay put until warmer mornings.

Down Hanlock Brook, along the rides, and back to the car. The Parkman Parking. Thrilling hike up there – glad I made it back to the safety of the vehicle though.

I drove to North East Harbour (all dead on this Winter day). A glimpse of the frozen Asticou garden pond. Along Sargent Drive and Somes Sound (yeah – that’s a fjord, or call it fjard if you like – a miniature version). A great drive, frozen ice stalactites on the rockface beside the road.

On the way back to Bar Harbor I paused at Eagle Pond. Ice fishers on the frozen lake, in their heated sheds. Grumpy Old Men.

Pizza dinner at the room – a National Geographic documentary in the background. How American can it get?

Another day in the freezer

Early up again, breakfast routine at the gas station. Hot coffee.

A lot colder today, at least minus 10 Celsius in Bar Harbour. A cracking cold and strong wind, and a touch of persistent snow. Less ideal for another hike up the hills.

I decided to try the trails at Sieur de Monts. First attempt took me to a trail that would go up Dorr Mountain via the Homens Path. The path was all snowed under, and icy. Creepy icy. I could hardly see any steps. Iced-over, snowed-under.

Just about halfway up, an improvisational ice cascade had covered the path. I momentarily considered crossing it, bypassing it. Stable-icers are no use here on such ice. Don’t even think about being a fool.

Turn around. I retraced my steps back down, where I opted in the valley for the Jessup Path to the Hemlock Trail. There up the North Ridge to Dorr Mountain. Not all that easy to see where the path was going. Again all snowed-under, or covered with ice. Why is no one else out here?

Am I the only stubborn fool in this world?

The wind rolled snow over the smooth white carpet. Higher up wind blew the snow from the stone peaks. The granite tops of Desert Isle had sheets of “black ice” encapsuling the rocky surfaces. The stable-icers proofed their worth out here. Gretsky-ice but perfect fun with a set of stable-icers here. Crampons would be over-kill – take the fun out of it today. I had to keep moving though – must be minus 15-20 Celcius out here. Should have taken a hot cup of coffee along.

Wind-chill factor beats the hec out of me when I linger. Wow. I might be a fool but those views over Bar Islands and Porcupine Islands are mine today. Million dollar babies.

Why go down when you’re on a high? I continued upwards, to the peak – Dorr Mountain. Named after George B. Dorr, now known as the “father of Acadia”. Bless you George.

A fantastic view today accross to Cadilac Mountain. The sky shared my happy moment and opened up. Touches of blue sky coming through. White snow, green pines, pink granite rock, and a streak of blue sky. As good as it gets. Hot coffee here and now would blow my mind off this mountain.

Try making pictures here without freezing your fingers off. Not blowing over on Dorr Mountain was neither a steady task. Stay warm! Keep moving. I never really got cold, but I had to keep zipping myself up swifly. I had some extra gear with me – just in case. Glad I did not have to use it. Not the type of hikes you want to do too often on your own (or without a mobile..or anyone knowing you’re out here…would those rangers remember, well, that was yesterday). Two days on these mountains, and not a single sane human soul encountered on these trails. Magic.

Me and my own footsteps only.

I continued down via the Dorr Mountain South ridge Trail. A well marked route and more sheltered from that bastard wind. The pink granite rock was better visible here. I followed the gorge back to the Tarn pond. Again a well-sheltered trail and through broadleaf woods.

At the Tarn I first tried to go along the pond via the western path. The Winter day had to test me some more and offered impassable snow-covered rocks, and an incredible cold and quite strong wind. When they do cold here in the North-East, they do it well.

I surrendered and changed route across the frozen lake, crossing to the Sieur de Monts trail, and finally back to the car park.

Later, stunned by a harsh but dreamy Mount Desert Island, I turned back south and slowly started the return to Boston.

Text and Photographs by Jan Haenraets, inspired by a site visit to Acadia in early February 2007.

Jan Haenraets is a Director of Atelier Anonymous Landscapes Inc., Vancouver, BC, Canada

More Info

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park Hiking including Historic Hiking Trails (Pdf) and Winter Hiking tips

Acadia National Park Centennial 1916-2016

National Association for Olmsted Parks

Acadia National Park Management Plans, including the Hiking Trails Management Plan (Pdf)

Flight of the Snowy Owl over Acadia National Park

Trail Maps

Click on the maps below for the large size maps.

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