I’m big on climbing small mountains. From coast to coast, I’ve managed to hike my way up mountains large enough to have names, but not so imposing that special equipment is involved. It’s become something of a specialty.
Those that are big, I drive up: Colorado’s Pike’s Peak; New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington; North Carolina’s Mt. Mitchell; Washington’s Hurricane Ridge. The views are sprawling, the air is thin and you can sometimes find snow even in June.
But the greatest pleasure comes from what you can climb on foot. I’ve “conquered” Roden Crater in northern Arizona, Humpback Rocks in Virginia — give me a mountain climb under 1,200 feet and I’m Edmund Hillary.
Others may dream of K2 or Aconcagua; I fancy the mighty Watchungs of New Jersey.
But just because my ambition is small, don’t think there is no challenge. Some small mountains are quite rugged, and when climbed in the proper nasty weather, you can work up quite an appreciation for their wildness and tenacity.
I’m thinking in particular of Schoodic Mountain in Maine. At 1,069 feet, it qualifies as my kind of mountain, but it is no pushover. Even to get to its bottom requires either a 4-wheel drive or long hike on shank’’s mare from the spot where you finally decide the road has gotten too primitive for your car. On a cool, humid day in July, the mosquitoes are thick near its foot and the foliage is dense and close over the path. Higher up, it’s all rock.
Of course, there is great breeding in its name. “Schoodic” is a name you will see elsewhere in these climes, most notably in Schoodic Point, which is a detached portion of Acadia National Park. Most of the park is on Mt. Desert Isle, with smaller sections on Isle au Haut some miles out to sea off Stonington, and at Schoodic Point, a rocky peninsula across Frenchman’s Bay from the main part of the park.
For many, Acadia National Park has become synonymous with the tourist development in Bar Harbor, with its T-shirt emporia, cappucino bars and Cap’n’s Table restaurants. Like many national parks, Acadia in the summer has become crowded and intolerable. But Schoodic is different. Fewer people make it out to the peninsula; although it is only something like eight miles across the bay from Bar Harbor, Schoodic Point is closer to 40 miles by road and with no shopping, it doesn’t attract the vacationers.
The main section of Schoodic Point is a pile of cracked and weathered granite jutting into the sea waves at the end of the peninsula. On a good, mizzly day, the gray of rock, sea and air all mesh in a uniform mood that is the essence of the Maine Coast. You can stand on the precipice and watch the churning ocean rise over and drain from the kelp and barnacles on the rocks below, wrenching the green seaweed this way and that.
What must be millions of gallons of salt water, beaten into a white seafoam, collide into the granite with each swell. In some crevices, the surf traps air which explodes like a rocket, sending spume high into the air and leaving the whole rock perpetually wet with the descending mist.
The same craggy spirit built Schoodic Mountain, about 15 miles north of the point. Locals pronounce the name with its double-“O” matching that in the word “good.” It is an Indian word said to mean “Place near water,” but in Maine, it is hard to find a spot that isn’t. Schoodic Bog at the bottom of the mountain, for instance, is soggy underfoot and thick with birch and alder.
The trail up the south face of the mountain crosses the col between the summit and Schoodic Nubble, a secondary peak to the west, and then continues east till it reaches the top. The broad mountaintop is smooth with weathered granite and decorated with scattered erratics, boulders that are the leftovers of the glaciers that ground the mountain down to its present size during the last ice age.
A tower is anchored in the rock with guy wires that hum in the wind.
It is a fine time to sit down and enjoy the view. To the north, there are other similar drumlins, with their gradual north slopes and abrupt southern precipices — Caribou and Tunk mountains and further, on the horizon, Lead Mountain.
To the south of Schoodic, just below the peak are several small lakes and the unused railroad trunk line, which looks like it is sinking in the bog. Further out, you can see Frenchman’s Bay and Mt. Desert Isle, topped with the imposing dome of Cadillac Mountain, said to be the spot where the sun first hits the United States each morning.
In the winter, my friend Alexander, who lives nearby, likes to ski up Cadillac Mountain. That’s right, up the mountain. Cross-country skiers are a strange lot.
As for me, I’ve driven up the summit road.