Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hike – Norumbega Mountain, Goat Trail, Norumbega Mountain Trail, Hadlock Ponds Trail, Norumbega Connector

View from the summit of Norumbega Mountain
This post describes a loop hike that traverses Norumbega Mountain, which hugs the east side of Somes Sound in Acadia National Park.  This hike provides a physical challenge at the start, and varied conditions along the way, but the views are in short supply compared to other mountains in the park.

Directions: Take Routes 3 and 198 north out of Northeast Harbor.  Just after passing the end of Upper Hadlock Pond, which will be on the right, there will be a small parking area on the left off the side of the road.  Since this is also the trailhead for several trails to Parkman Mountain, Bald Peak, and others, there may be cars also lined up along the side of the road.  The trailhead for Norumbega is on the same side as the parking, at the north end of the lot.

The hike starts on The Goat Trail.  You will soon see that it is aptly named.  It rises 600 feet in a quarter of a mile.  In fact, almost all the elevation gain for this part of the hike is achieved in just this short starting section.  If you are part mountain goat it will help you to get up over the many steps and switchbacks.  In fact, at one point I passed a mountain goat that had stopped and was sucking wind.

All kidding aside, while this section of the trail certainly presents a physical challenge, I’ve encountered worse.  The East Royce Trail on the Maine/New Hampshire border comes to mind.

A sample of what you will encounter on the Goat Trail
Once up over this section there are some partial views back to the east and north.  The northern end of Somes Sound is visible.  Sadly, this was the best view of the sound I would get on this hike.

The upper end of Somes Sound as seen from the Goat Trail

The mountains to the east of Norumbega as seen from the Goat Trail
After coming up over the steep section the trail now rises very easily.  I felt like I was flying as I made my way along.  After 35 minutes for the steep section I made the rest of the hike to the summit (more than half the .6 mile distance) in less than ten minutes.

You will come to a large pile of rocks with a trail sign in it.  This does not mark the actual summit.  As you stand and read the trail signs turn 180 degrees and up behind you, partially hidden by some short trees is another pile of rocks with the sign for the true summit.  There are no real views from the summit.  The surrounding trees, although short, block most of the sightlines in all directions.

Go back to the trail sign and continue on what is now named the Norumbega Mountain Trail.  Note: in the hiking guide A Walk in the Park it is labelled Shady Hill Trail.  This drops very easily for a while.  Every now and then there are hints of views in various directions, but at no point is there a truly unobstructed view.

The Cranberry Islands as seen coming down the Norumbega Mountain Trail

St. Sauveur Mountain on the other side of Somes Sound

After .7 miles you will come to another trail sign.  This is where the Golf Course Trail comes in.  In all honesty, if there had not been a sign I would not even have guessed there was a trail there.  It apparently gets so little use that it is almost overgrown.  Continue on the Norumbega Mountain Trail.

You will now start to drop a little quicker and encounter a couple of moderate descents.  The trees start to get bigger and pine needles with bare ledge underneath becomes prevalent.  Watch your footing in wet conditions.  As the trail continues to drop to Lower Hadlock Pond it becomes true forest hiking, with mature trees all around.

Mixture of old and new fir trees lining the trail
You will come to a trail sign as you intersect with the Hadlock Ponds trail.  Turn left onto this new trail.  As you walk along the mostly level trail watch out for roots and rocks.  It runs right beside the western shore of Lower Hadlock Pond.  Trees partially obscure views of the pond, but there are some places where you can step out onto ledge right on the shore and get wide open views of the entire pond.

Looking northeast across Lower Hadlock Pond from the Hadlock Ponds Trail
At the north end of Lower Hadlock Pond there is a small waterfall that empties the stream that connects with Upper Hadlock Pond.  There are some wooden bridges built here.  There is also a trail sign where Lower Hadlock Trail splits off from the Hadlock Ponds Trail.  Continue on the Hadlock Ponds Trail.

The small waterfall at the upper end of Lower Hadlock Pond

Looking back from above the waterfall

For a little while this trail parallels the small stream that connects the ponds.  In about a tenth of a mile you will come to yet another trail sign.  One of the signs will point to “Goat Trail Parking”.  Take this trail.  Note: on a map of hiking trails I have this is labelled the Norumbega Connector, so that is the name I have here.  In the hiking guide A Walk in the Park, which is a few years older, it is labelled the Goat Trail.

This last nine tenths of a mile presents the roughest footing of the entire hike.  The trail features a seemingly endless supply of roots to step on and over.  It rises easily, although it gains more elevation than I had been expecting.  It also has a short section where it loses some elevation.  At some point there is supposed to be a connector to another parking area on Routes 3/198, but I passed it without spotting it.  It apparently did not have a trail sign.

All along this trail you can hear the sound of traffic on Routes 3/198, but it is hidden from view by the surrounding trees.  This trail probably exists to allow hikers to get back to the starting point of the Goat Trail without having to walk a half a mile or more on the highway, but considering the traffic noise comes through anyway, and considering the bad footing, I almost wonder if it would have been easier just to walk the highway.

Consider this:  The entire traverse of Norumbega from start to reaching the shore of Lower Hadlock Pond is 1.8 miles.  It took me less than 1.5 hours to do this, and that’s with more than a half an hour spent on just the first quarter mile.  The walk back on mostly level trails filled with roots and rocks is a distance of 1.5 miles and it took me an hour.  Leaving out the steep rise at the beginning I made better time traversing the mountain than I did walking over all the roots on the level trails.

Overall, I have to admit I was a little disappointed.  I had read descriptions of much better views on this hike, but I guess in the intervening years between when those were written and the present the trees have grown enough to block most of the views.  I don’t regret doing this hike; it’s just not one that’s going on my list of hikes to do again someday for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Cumulative distance:            3.3 miles
Cumulative elevation gain:  900 feet
Cumulative duration:            2 – 2.5 hours (including time for photos)

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