After years of writing a hiking column, my process for picking a peak to climb is usually swift, and includes a visualization of the hike.
Two weeks ago, I picked a familiar trail on an old friend of a mountain — the 1.8-mile Ledges Trail on 2,006-foot Pleasant Mountain in Denmark and Bridgton, Maine.
The 35-mile drive from my door in Tamworth to the trailhead went fairly swiftly that morning, but as some say, there are two seasons in New Hampshire and Maine: winter and highway repair. The 11-mile drive from the state line to the right hand turnoff on Mountain Road in Bridgton included three areas of intense road work on Route 302. Yet, the traffic was directed well with a minimum wait.
I drove past a quiet Shawnee Peal Ski Area on Mountain Road and in 3.3 miles from Route 302, turned left into a gravel parking lot for the Ledges Trail. The last time I was there, there was only a small gravel turnoff for parking. But because the Ledges Trail is the most popular trail on the mountain, and for safety reasons, last fall land was donated to the Loon Echo Land Trust by local interests and a parking lot built.
The Loon Echo Land Trust owns almost 2,000 acres on the eastern side of the mountain. The Nature Conservancy protects 1,400 acres on the western slope through conservation easements. The Maine Forest service owns 20 acres on the summit. The mountain is a long southeast/northwest ridge, highly recognizable from many White Mountain summits.
As I packed to head up the trail, 15 girls and counselors from a camp on Sebago Lake headed up the trail ahead of me.
The Ledges Trail is popular for good reasons. In a few hundred feet from the road, it passes an Loon Echo Land Trust kiosk, crosses a couple dry stream beds, then begins to rise up a steeper slope on switchbacks, reaching ledges and the first eastern lookout in a mile.
The view at the lookout is essential southwest Maine. Below is the eastern portion of Moose Pond. With a little imagination the shape of coves and peninsulas look like a moose profile, but that might not be the origin on the name, considering the location. The lake used to be a famous fishing destination, and I heard the Mickey Finn streamer fly was developed there. But don’t hold me to it.
Further back in the view, nestled below low hills, is much of Denmark, with Hancock Pond in the distance.
From the lookout the trail follows flat ledges that slowly sweep up to the right, with a few good views to the east, then a view across a steep ravine to the separate southwest summit with cell towers. The trail continues to bear right toward the main summit, passes a junction with the Southwest Ridge Trail (another great way to climb the mountain), passes a couple solar-powered radio relay shacks and reaches the top.
The 36-foot fire tower dominates the summit. It is presently not in use. Built in 1920 at 48 feet, it was lowered in 1960.
If you are comfortable, it is fun to climb the steel ladder on the tower to just below the locked cab. One can lean back on a steel support beam occasionally and not feel too exposed. This time, I climbed the ladder, while down below the girl’s camp group clustered on the flat west facing ledges where most people sit to eat lunch and admire the view.
I had a 360-degree view, though the view west was the best.
Mount Washington was lost in the haze. But the wide landscape below held many points of interest, such as Brownfield Bog to the southwest and the shallow Kezar Pond to the west.
The summit itself has an interesting recent past. In 1860, it was burned over, and though stunted trees have returned, much of it remains low scrub with blueberries and some ledge.
The summit was once called House Peak because a hotel stood on top from 1873 to 1907, when that also burned. There is a great painting of the windswept summit and hotel in the Portland Museum of Art.
The camp girls started back down the trail as a couple of them waved to me. I descended the tower and walked out to the west-facing ledges for lunch. I was alone, but I remembered being there with friends and groups. Individuals in those groups came to mind, and I enjoyed visualizing our time on the summit.
Then I headed back down the Ledges Trail. The day was warming considerably, and walking down the trail was like descending into a lake of heat, prompting thoughts of immersing in the cool Saco River in Conway on the way home.