We thought we were so smart. A friend had drawn a map in the snow last week to show me the location of an alternate trailhead for Peary Mountain in Brownfield, Maine, and spoke of a round-trip hike that would include Frost Mountain. A quick look at a map in our worn and torn Delorme Gazeteer and we knew exactly where we were going–until we didn’t. We soon discovered that the gate and sign I’d been told about didn’t exist and the road turned 90˚ to the left and eventually became impassable and so we turned around and paused again at the sharp turn and wondered some more and drove back out to the main road and continued on to another road and looked for other possible trailheads that appeared on the road map and turned around again and returned to that sharp turn and parked the truck and slipped on our micro-spikes.
It was worth a try we decided. The name was right though it looked less like a road and more like a snowmobile trail. No matter, we figured we’d give it a whirl and if nothing else, at least we’d enjoy exploring.
Almost immediately, we spied two mountains above a wetland and wondered if those were the two summits we sought. We’d never looked at Peary from what we considered the back side before, since all of our previous experiences had been from Farnsworth Road off of Routes 5/113.
The road was quite icy and it had been more than a few days since any snowmobiles had passed by.
Eventually we came to a snowmobile sign, looked around for a map that I thought my friend had mentioned, and decided to begin with a journey up the Peary Mountain Trail.
Conditions were such where previous logging had left the southwestern side open to the sun’s powerful rays and so in places the snow had melted and wildflowers such as trailing arbutus and winterberry basked in the warmth.
We continued on up, hopeful that we were on the right path, when a familiar foundation confirmed our location. It’s directly across from this foundation that the Peary Mountain trail makes a 90˚ turn–in the past the turn had always been to the left, but yesterday’s turn was to the right. That is, after we noted that my guy should probably encourage the homeowners to purchase a sump pump, so full was their cellar.
If you do approach from Peary Mountain Road, you’ll only see a tad of the back of this sign. And if you come from Farnsworth Road, again, it’s not very obvious. But, for both, the turn is located at the height of land . . . and directly across from the foundation.
The hike to the bald summit isn’t difficult and offers the best of views on any day, but especially in the fall when the tapestry of color stretches forever–or at least to the White Mountains in the distance.
Yesterday, the view of Mount Washington was obscured by clouds, but we could see that even there the snow was receding.
We stood for a bit, taking in the scene to the west.
And to the north.
And then we followed the ridge, certain that at the end we’d slip onto another trail we’ve never traveled before and begin to make the loop to Frost Mountain.
Just before slipping onto that other trail, we had one more view to partake–Brownfield Bog and the Saco River were backdropped by Pleasant Mountain.
Well, we followed that other trail for a while, but realized that rather than going toward Frost Mountain, we were moving further and further away from it. And so . . . we backtracked and rose once again to the summit of Peary and retraced our steps down.
We were disappointed, except that we knew we would return. And as often happens when following the same trail, we made new discoveries, including an L-shaped foundation.
And then I spied a circular sunken formation subtly outlined with rocks and trusted it was a well.
Bingo. For behind it was another foundation, the largest we saw.
And so late this morning we returned. But first, we looked for maps in our hiking books and online and found only those created by the local snowmobile club. We had a copy that dated to 2011 and decide to bring it along. We also copied a portion of the map from the Delorme Gazeteer–just in case.
Upon our return, we remembered to pause at the beginning of the trail and take note of the red pine cathedral. Brownfield is a town that knew the fury of the wildfires of October 1947. Most homes and public buildings were mere piles of ash the day after the fire. Many stately places including the summer home and laboratory of Dr. Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of television, had burned. Churches, schools, the post office, Grange, library and town hall all went up in smoke–only twenty houses survived. In the end, 85% of the town was destroyed.
Red pines were planted in reaction and today they stand tall in honor of that event of just over seventy years ago.
Our plan today was to follow the same route to the turn off for Frost Mountain. And so we did. This time the snow and ice were softer and mud a constant as snow melted and streams formed.
One of the things we noted yesterday was a lack of mammal prints. But today made up for that and we found plenty of deer tracks in mud and snow. And then, a pile of bird scat–left behind by a ruffed grouse who had probably plowed into the snow when it was a couple of feet thick and spent the night, leaving behind its signature.
We also found a kill site with no tracks leading to or fro and so we thought a bird had eaten another bird. The circle of life continued in the Maine woods.
A bit further up the trail we spied weasel prints–left behind by a fisher, the meanest of mean. Notice the teardrop shaped toes and diagonal positioning.
We were distracted (or at least I was) by sculptures a many, including those created by sweet-fern.
My guy was also distracted and spied an opening in the woods.
It was another L-shaped cellar. And nearby were what would have been some outbuildings and possibly even a mill. Along most of today’s trail we encountered one stone wall after another, some single and others double.
I don’t know how to decipher stone that’s known fire, but hope one of these days to be able to make that interpretation. In the meantime we wondered–why had these homes been abandoned. Did they burn? I did later note that homesteads in the area belonged to the Johnsons, Grays and other families in the 1880s.
Though we continued on, we really had no idea where we were going and hoped that we had made the right decision with the intention of reaching the summit of Frost Mountain. But, even if we didn’t, we were delighted with our finds. And confused by the signs.
And then, we started to climb. I turned around as we moved upward and noted our beloved Pleasant Mountain behind us.
And finally–success. We’d reached the summit of Frost Mountain.
About 300 feet below, we had a view from the ledge, but it wasn’t nearly as spectacular as that on Peary Mountain, which my guy looked toward. It was hardly visible from where we stood.
From the summit, we followed a loop around, pausing to take in the view of Burnt Meadow Mountain.
And the town of Brownfield below. As the historical society likes to proclaim, “Brownfield’s still here.” Indeed.
We’d planned to climb Frost and then make our way to Peary, but changed our minds. We’d already climbed Peary yesterday and after finding our way today had a better understanding of the trail system. We also knew that had we made the loop, we’d have walked on Farnsworth Road for over a half mile and then climbed up and down Peary on trails we already knew. Instead, we let our hearts bleed pine blue sap with happiness.
Our happiness overflowed when we spied the final set of prints.
A black bear. How cool is that? Our second sighting of black bear prints this winter.
We’d connected the dots–even if not literally–and gained a better understanding of the neighborhood and all who live(d) there.