The tale of this date really began on Sunday, February 28, when my guy and I decided that if possible we’d like to hike a trail up Pleasant Mountain. Knowing how popular all of the trails have been in the past year, and how careful we’ve been to choose those less traveled, we had a few plans in mind. Plan A: Bald Peak Trail. Cancel that plan due to too many cars in the parking lot. Plan B: Ledges Trail. Cancel that plan due to not only the parking lot being full, but cars parked all along Mountain Road; something Loon Echo Land Trust, which owns 2,064 acres on the mountain and protects an additional 24 acres through a conservation easement, has asked people not to do. Plan C: Southwest Ridge Trail. See Plan B. Plan D: Firewarden’s Trail. Tada. Only three vehicles and so we pulled in. Mind you, on the way to the latter we did develop a Plan E, but we quickly put that on hold for another day and donned our micro-spikes.
And so it was that in the mid-afternoon we began to climb up the trail that also serves as a snowmobile trail. But back in the day, this was the route not only to a hotel that stood upon the summit in the early1900s, but also for fire wardens to reach the surveillance tower erected in 1920.
As an old tote road, it can be quite rough and I find it hard to believe it was a comfortable ride, but a family of four on two snowmobiles found it to be a fun adventure.
Because of them, our ascent was rather quick, with pauses to get out of the way for the two machines, as well as one hiker and one snowboarder.
Near the summit, we paused again, at the old lightning shack.
The wardens’ or watchmens’ cabin was actually located lower down on the trail. If there was a lightning storm, however, the observers couldn’t get down the mountain to the cabin, so instead, they built this structure near the tower, which served as a lightning shack.
It was obvious by the signatures inside that since the tower was decommissioned in the early 1990s, others have found it a haven.
Just above is the fire tower built in 1920 and manned until 1991 when the state switched to aerial surveillance. It’s my understanding that originally it was 48 feet tall, but in 1968 when the cab at the top was replaced, it was lowered to 36 feet.
There’s something about coming upon it at the top that always brings to me a sense of awe. I suppose it’s the historical significance and admiration for those who remained there for the fire season–keeping an eye on the forest for as far as they could see with binoculars and scopes no matter what the weather might be. According to the Forest Fire Lookout Association’s Maine Chapter: “The very early lookouts used a transverse table with scopes and later the department issued high-powered binoculars. Opening day for lookouts was heavily dependent on how the winter was. Typical openings were in April and closing was in late September or early October. It was also dependent on location. Southern Maine usually had a longer season than northern Maine and the higher elevation peaks.”
Just prior to reaching the tower and summit we’d wondered how many people we might encounter. At least twenty was our assumption for so many vehicles filled the parking lots. It was with great delight that we discovered we had the place to ourselves, though on that day a storm was brewing and the view wasn’t as spectacular as it is on other days.
Upon our descent we decided we’d return the next day and follow two other trails–that is until that storm that was brewing crashed our party and forced us to stay home.
Today, however, dawned with a blue-bird sky and so we decided to take two trucks and if all went as planned, my guy would park at the base of the Ledges Trail and hop in with me in hopes that we could begin our ascent at the Southwest Ridge Trail.
Success. His was the only truck in the lot mid-morning. And at the Southwest Ridge there were only two other vehicles. And so we began to climb, turning back from time to time to take in the view–initially of Pleasant and Lovewell Ponds.
Being well-packed by so many others over this past weekend made for a much easier climb than on a summer day when one has to contend with rocks and other trail obstructions.
It seemed like in no time, we reached the teepee, where we stopped for a quick break before continuing on.
Oh, and a selfie for good measure.
Zooming along as we were doing, I did make one naturalist discovery–rhizomorphs or black, stringy mycelial cords of a fungus. Though I’ve seen this before, I’m not sure I’ve ever discovered the tendrils coating a dead but standing tree like a lacy shawl, with some even dangling as if fashionably draped.
Onward we charged after that brief break, for we had the summit on our minds and lunch in the pack that I was carrying.
For those of you who like a challenge of locating something in the distance, think of my guy’s head as the center of a clock. And then look up toward one o’clock. Do you see the cab of the fire tower?
How ’bout now?
With three plus miles behind us and only one hiker and one telemark skier encounter, we reached the summit on this glorious day.
And again had it to ourselves, though my guy quickly claimed lunch rock. Just in case we had competition.
Looking behind us we could see from whence we had come sorta. including the cellphone towers on the Southwest Ridge. Some scorn them, but so many of us depend upon them.
The white trails you see, one a road below the cell towers that some scorn, but so many of us depend upon, and the other belonging to a private landowner, aren’t the trail we followed for Loon Echo rerouted a section taking hikers away through the woods instead of near those towers of another kind.
More spectacularly, however, was the view before us, with Mount Washington adding a striking backdrop.
Do note the four dead trees in the foreground: they are (or were) Red Pines that were killed off by a pine scale insect within the last ten years or so. The insect is believed to have been introduced to the US on exotic pines planted at the NY World’s Fair in 1939.
Since we had such an incredibly clear wide-angled view (and unlike any fire watchers didn’t have to think about whether what we might be seeing was a wisp of smoke or a wispy cloud for there was no sign of either) of the surrounding mountains with lakes and ponds and Saco River between, gave a true idea of a glacial lake in its time.
Through a telephoto lens we pulled in the grand mountain of the Northeast in, and even the rime-ice coated buildings at the summit of Mount Washington were visible.
Eventually leaving all that behind, we remembered to hike down the Ledges Trail rather than backtracking, and completed 5.8 miles in about three hours–making for a Pleasant Mountain Mondate on every level.