Saturday, August 4, 2012

Mount Zircon, Rumford, Maine

Mount Zircon, in the western foothills of Maine, has an elevation of 2,250 ft. The summit is mostly treeless and provides wonderful views in all directions; the Presidential and Mahoosuc Mountains to the west, the Bigelow area to the north, the Androscoggin River valley to the east and the Sumner/Buckfield area to the south.

The trail goes through an area with an interesting history, both human and natural. Mount Zircon is home to the Moon Tide Spring; a spring so named due to the cyclical fluctuations in its flow. According to the summary of The Mount Zircon Moon Tide Spring An Illustrated History by Randall H. Bennett, the spring opened to the public in the 1850's. At some point it was purchased by the Ricker family; founders of the Poland Spring Hotel. Eventually, there was a 50 room hotel built on the site. All that remains, at least on the trail, is the spring house, which is behind a chain link fence, and some very polite No Trespassing signs (I am not being sarcastic; they say "Please") under the Poland Spring Water Company logo.

I found the trail head somewhat difficult to find. This is likely due to the fact that I didn't fully read the directions to it on Maine Trail Finder. Interestingly, I pulled into what I thought was the trail head only to find a sign stating that "This is not the Mount Zircon trail", but with no further instructions. Once I stopped and read the directions again, I found it without trouble.

The trail description says that the trail follows a dirt road for two miles. That is exactly what it does. There is no approach; it starts from the gate at a steady grade and in an almost straight line for 2.2 miles before leaving the road to the left. When we (my son Ryan and I) were there, there was active logging going on in the area, though they were not present while we were there.

As we hiked the road, we came to a fork with the right side of the fork likely going to the Mount Zircon Reservoir. It was obvious that we should take the left, in spite of absolutely no trail markings of any kind, because the right side had the polite trespassing signs on it.

We knew the trail would leave the road to the left and we were looking for it. Eventually we encountered a trail off to the left that had many snowmobile and ATV trail markings on it. We contemplated this trail and decided it wasn't where we wanted to go. I consulted the Backpacker GPS trails app on my phone and it made sense to continue up the road. When we did find the trail to the summit, the start of it was clearly marked; though the trail had no markings until the summit where it is marked with trail tape.

From where the trail left the road, it continued in a straight line, at a constant grade (steeper than the road) until we reached the summit cap itself. At one point, it follows what looks like a waterfall, and though there was no water present when we were there, the rocks were covered with moss. Unlike the road, which runs through a mostly deciduous forest, the trail to the summit goes through a wonderful fir and spruce coniferous forest, providing a beautiful resinous smell on the humid day we were there.

As soon as we reached the summit, we encountered the benchmark. We wandered around in the clearing for a few moments, taking in the sights, before realizing that the fire tower that is supposed to be there was nowhere in sight. This led to looking for the trail to continue and we found that the trail continued a bit further, where we found the true summit with a cairn and a rusting fire tower, lying on its side.

We could see rain off to the west, though a quick check of the MyCast weather app on my phone revealed none near us, the weather seemed favorable for a thunderstorm. We quickly made the decision to move off the summit, in great part due to the moss covered sheet rock on trail. We were prepared for rain, but I wanted to be off that part of the trail before it got wet. In the end, it did not rain; we did feel a couple rain drops though it was probably virga that reached the ground.

Summary
My three least favorite types of hiking are, in order of dislike, road, clear-cut and straight line constant grade. This trail offers two of the three. While the summit was nice, I guess I am more of a journey than destination guy, and I found this hike to be boring.

Wenzel Current - Hiker Tent - Grey

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