By Carey Kish, editor, AMC Maine Mountain Guide
With 17.7 million acres of woods cloaking 89% of Maine’s total land area, our state is the most heavily forested in the United States. As such, we hikers are accustomed to ambling under thick canopies of beech, maple and birch, spruce, fir and pine, and we delight when the path leads to the open shore of a pond or river for a chance to spy a moose, loons or maybe a beaver.
For many of us, we climb the trails in search of the higher places, those precious outcrops, ledges, ridgetops and summits where the sky really opens up, and for a few glorious moments, you can experience that on-top-of-the-world euphoria that comes from dangling your boots over a cliff edge as you gaze in wonder across a sublime sea of wild and scenic country.
Any mountain with “bald” in its name is, of course, a natural draw for hikers, conjuring up images of an exposed crag with expansive vistas in every compass direction. Thumb through the index of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Maine Mountain Guide and you’ll discover a grouping of seven peaks named Bald Mountain and seven others with “bald” as part of the name. Add Boundary Bald on the following page and you’ve got a total of fifteen balds.
These bald mountains are scattered across the state from the Mahoosucs to far eastern Washington County, in Weld, Denmark, Woodstock, Camden and Amherst, for example, so there’s likely one near you to explore on foot. There are three balds within a short drive of my home on Mount Desert Island, so a couple weeks back I chose to visit Bald Mountain in Dedham, an old favorite I’ve hiked many times.
Dedham Bald Mountain, as it is locally known, rises to 1,261 feet. A short 0.6-mile hike via an old fire road gets you to the top. It’s easy for a couple hundred yards beyond the trailhead, then very steep on bedrock for the remainder of the way to the cluster of seven communication towers atop the mountain. The open route offers fine views over the farmlands below to Great Pond Mountain, Blue Hill, Mount Waldo and the Camden Hills.
From the base of the highest tower on the summit, bear left and walk 100 yards to the huge ledges that face north. On the right just before the ledges, you’ll pass the concrete stanchions of the old fire tower that used to stand on this spot. Erected in 1921, the 60-foot steel tower was dismantled in 2009 and moved to Canada.
Looking almost due north from the ledges on the beautiful afternoon I was there, snow-capped Katahdin was in full view 75 miles away. Scanning the route of the Appalachian Trail, I could see mountaintops from Baxter Peak all the way to Saddleback, not too shabby for a 15-minute hike. Closer in, the lovely Lucerne Inn stood out above sparkling Phillips Lake. And I see could right up the long runway of Bangor International Airport to boot.
The slopes directly below the big ledges were once part of the Bald Mountain Ski Area, which operated from the late 1930’s until 1976. In fact, from this spot, you’re looking straight down what was once the corridor of the old double chair lift. With a dozen ski trails, three lifts, snowmaking and night skiing, the mountain was for a while viewed as one of Maine’s major ski areas.
If you’re up for exploring more, return almost to the highest tower. Look left and you’ll see an old track entering the woods. Follow this between several more towers and in less than 0.2- mile you’ll arrive at an open slope with views ranging from the peaks of Acadia west to those rising around Donnell Pond, including the summits of Tunk, Schoodic and Black.
On the descent, just below the summit, break through the trees on the left and scamper down the open slabs for a short stretch before returning to the main trail. Along here you’ll enjoy some more nice views out to the coast and the mountains of Mount Desert Island.