Mondate on Mount Will

It’s been a while since we’ve actually had a Mondate. After two days of hiking the trails up Pleasant Mountain, today’s journey found us venturing a wee bit out of the neighborhood as we made our way through Bethel to Mount Will.

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The parking lot is located between these two signs. Part of the Mount Will trail system is within the 115-acre Bethel Town Forest that had served as the Town Farm back in the day.

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The South Cliff trail leaves from the left, while the North Ledges is on the right. This is a loop and we decided on a counterclockwise trek. It had been at least five years since we last hiked here and we’d forgotten about some of the steep sections.


Of course, at the start, it seemed almost parklike. Three years ago, several local organizations including Mahoosuc Pathways, the Oxford County Conservation Corps, Outward Bound and the Bethel Conservation Commission rerouted this particular section of the loop.


Now switchbacks wind their way up toward the North Ledge.

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When I wasn’t looking down, I scanned the woods, ever searching for my favorite species–bear claw trees.


And I wasn’t disappointed.

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We saw them over,


and over again. Oh happy day! We found more than these, which leads me to believe that there are even more. Let the search continue!

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A few trees displayed other surprise packages–burls or warty growths caused by some environmental condition such as injury, virus, fungus, insect infestation or mold. Though this growth can put stress on a tree if it becomes too heavy, generally trees with these features are healthy. And woodworkers covet burls for the unique pattern and beauty found within. That sounds like a comment on the world–we all have hidden treasures, but they aren’t always visible.

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Other tree growths include artist’s conk and

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red-belted polypores.


The trail passed below rocky outcrops–and my imagination saw bobcats. But, what would they eat? The undergrowth is limited, so I doubted snowshoe hare. That being said, spruce and hemlock cones are many and red squirrels chided us constantly.


Meanwhile, at a vernal pool just off the trail, all was quiet–and still partially covered in ice.

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Lunch rock was the North Ledge. Below, the Androscoggin River wends its way through the landscape. The Androscoggin has a long history as a life-giving force–beginning with the Abenaki Indians who used it as a water trail and knew the nuances of this 170-mile river.


The fertile, ancient floodplain has served many a farmer, including the Carters who own the farm across the river below where we sat. While we ate, we shared our memories of cross-country skiing across those fields, beside the river and into the woods.

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We continued on across the ridge and through the spruce forest where the sap ran blue.

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Before turning toward South Cliffs, we caught a glimpse of the trails at Sunday River Ski Area in Newry.

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And then we saw a sign that had us wondering. The Gray Memorial? We had no previous memory of it, so we followed the detour and walked along a snowmobile trail for about a quarter of a mile.

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The story is sad. The airplane remnants powerful in suggestion. Upon arriving home, I found an article in the Sun Journal referencing the event. Leroy was a state trooper and his wife, Brenda, an executive secretary who became head dispatcher for the Bar Harbor Police Department. With their 14-year-old daughter, Karen, they were flying their Cherokee Piper to Bethel to spend time with relatives when the plane “crashed nose first” into Mount Will about 7:30pm. Despite her own injuries, Karen hiked down the steep mountainside to seek help. A somber site indeed.

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We backtracked to the trail and continued on to the South Cliffs, where our view again showed the river, with Route 2 following beside and both leading to Bethel village.

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Moving off the cliff, we were sure mountain goats had laid out the trail.


Again, we were in bobcat territory, frequented by chatty red squirrels who seemed to feel quite safe as they scrambled from tree to tree.


And then we moved into the land where the monkeys in the Wizard of Oz jumped out upon Dorothy and her friends. My guy started humming the music from his favorite movie. The reality is that these trees knew the wrath of previous storms.

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Once again the trail turned S curves as we continued downward and


listened to water trickling over the mossy stream bed beside us.


And then we found ourselves in the midst of a recent logging operation–remember, this is a working forest. Slash galore decorated the landscape, but we suspect that all of this will be chipped eventually. One thing we happily noted–bird song. Lots of bird song at this spot.


We were almost to the bottom of the trail when an anomaly grabbed our attention and forced us to investigate.

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We’d stumbled upon a winter weather station. We only knew that because “winter weather station” was printed in faded paint across the box. So, we get the tape measure for snow depth, but the box? And the hole covered with mesh? Worth a wonder, so we did.

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Apparently, a moth appreciated the efforts of the citizen scientists who created this shelter. Our hike was over, but this chrysalis holds the future.

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We decided to complete our Mount Will Mondate with a visit to Artist’s Bridge over Sunday River–the perfect culmination of our love for nature and history.