Sunday, November 3, 2019

Tumbledown Mountain

Tumbledown Mountain and Tumbledown Pond from a pond on Parker Ridge
7 miles loop, 2200 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous, substantial rock scrambling
Access: Good gravel road to trailhead, no pass required

Tumbledown Mountain is a scenic gem in the Maine Appalachians. Visiting hikers can walk along open, rocky ridges, relax by a pretty subalpine pond, or challenge themselves with steep trails and acrobatic rock scrambles. The mountain's multiple summits and side ridges offer plenty of exploring, but getting up to this beautiful spot is a strenuous endeavour no matter what approach you take. I'll detail a loop trail that involves an ascent through an exciting scramble route and descends along a ridge with beautiful views after visiting Tumbledown Pond.

I hiked this trail as the first stop on a four-day journey through the Maine Appalachians. I had started the day by driving up Mount Washington in New Hampshire's White Mountains; after coming down that mountain I followed US 2 east into Maine. If you hike at Tumbledown, you're inevitably traveling from far away, so I'll describe the final approach from Rumford: I followed US 2 east to Dixfield and then took Highway 142 north towards Carthage and Mount Blue State Park. Winding 142 passed through Carthage before coming to an intersection with Highway 156 at Weld. I took the left fork at Weld to continue north on 142; a little further north, I turned left onto Byron Road to head towards Tumbledown Mountain. I stayed on Byron Road for the rest of the way; at one point, I had to make a sharp right turn to stay on Byron Road heading towards Tumbledown. The road turned to gravel for the final stretch but was in fine condition; I drove past the Brook Trailhead and continued on to the Loop Trailhead, parking in a lot off to the right of the road just past the trailhead.

From the trailhead, I hit the Loop Trail, which was initially fairly flat as it approached the base of the steep Tumbledown Ledges. In the initial three-quarters of a mile, there were some small ascents and descents as the trail made two stream crossings. The end of this easy stretch of trail was marked by a massive trailside boulder that had tumbled down the Tumbledown Ledges at some point.

Boulder at the base of the climb
Past the boulder, the trail began a very steep and direct ascent of Tumbledown Mountain on a path that frequently required rock scrambling. The path was at times easy to lose and at one point I found myself off-trail on a more precarious rock scramble before realizing my error and backtracking. The initial ascent leveled off atop the Great Ledges, where some open stretches of rock were dotted with the evergreens of the Maine Woods. Looking up and ahead, I could see the massive rock faces of Tumbledown Mountain's West and East Peaks. The Loop Trail was headed towards the wooded crevice separating the two summits. On the other side, trees partially obscured views of the peaks across the valley.

Tumbledown Ledges

The Maine Woods
Returning into the woods, the trail then began to follow the gully between the east and west peaks of Tumbledown. This gully was carved by a stream descending from wetlands on the north side of the east and west peaks. The terrain was very steep here as the trail acended directly alongside the stream among large boulders. In total, the trail ascends nearly 1300 feet in just three quarters of a mile after beginning the scramble ascent.

Gully up which the trail ascended
At the top of the gully, the trail reached a jumble of enormous boulders that constituted the crux of the hike. Here, the stream emerged from the rocks; the trail followed by diving straight into the rock pile.

Crux of the hike
Inside a small rock cave, the trail made an acrobatic ascent through a narrow vertical passageway called Fat Man's Misery. I had to scramble through a small opening between rocks, hoisting myself up with just three strategically placed iron rungs. This stretch of trail is actually quite challenging but I found it to be a lot of fun: because of the necessity of pulling oneself up with the iron rungs, I'd avoid bringing dogs or children.

Fat Man's Misery
At the top of the Fat Man's Misery, the trail emerged at the top of the ravine, where a stream flowed from an elevated wetland between the East and West peaks of Tumbledown. Here, the trail also arrived at a junction: the trail to the east led towards Tumbledown Pond, but I decided to visit the West Peak first to enjoy its panoramic views.

Atop Tumbledown Ridge
Leaving the trail junction, the trail climbed briefly in the forest returning to rock, with blazes leading to the summit of the mountain across the open rock. The trail climbed at a moderate grade and reached the 3068-foot summit of West Tumbledown just a fifth of a mile from the trail junction. From here, standing atop the dramatic Tumbledown Ledges, there were magnificent views all around. Ridge after ridge of the Appalachians faded to the south and the west, with tinges of autumn coloring the predominately verdant summer coat of the hardwood forest.

The Maine Appalachians from West Tumbledown
The East and North Peaks of Tumbledown were visible from here as well but appeared subordinate to Little Jackson Mountain, a taller but more forested peak that rose further to the east. Mount Blue, a prominent peak between Weld and Farmington, rose above the lower ridges on the eastern skyline.

Tumbledown, Little Jackson, and Mount Blue from West Tumbledown
From the West Peak, I backtracked to the junction with the Loop Trail, then followed the Tumbledown Mountain Trail east towards the East Peak. This trail climbed quickly exited the forest onto rock ledges, which led uphill until I reached a long, level rocky ridgeline that defined the summit of the East Peak. From this viewpoint, the cliffs of the West Peak rose dramatically above the valley below. The equally rocky ridge of North Peak rose across a small depression; the summit of North Peak is not accessible by an official trail, though there is apparently a scramble route reaching it from around West Peak, which I did not take. To the southeast, I could see Lake Webb, a large lake in the valley below near Weld, as well as the rocky profile of Parker Ridge, which I would later follow on my descent from the mountain. Far in the distance to the west, I could see New Hampshire's lofty White Mountains rising above a closer ridge dotted with windmills. The Presidential Range was identifiable by its height and Mount Washington, the tallest peak in all the northeast, poked slightly above the other peaks on the horizon.

West Tumbledown from East Tumbledown

Mount Blue and Lake Webb from East Tumbledown

The Maine Woods

View towards the Whites
After enjoying the views atop East Peak, I started descending down the east side of the mountain, following the path down along open rock. Views of Tumbledown Pond, the most popular destination on Tumbledown Mountain, soon opened up. This tiny subapline lake surrounded by coniferous forests lay at the foot of the broad peak of Little Jackson Mountain, with a small island punctuating the center of the pond.

Little Jackson and Tumbledown Pond
I followed the trail downhill back into the forest; at times, the blazes on the open rock could be difficult to follow and at one point I found myself a little distance off the trail and had to backtrack. At the bottom of the descent, about a half mile from the junction with the West Peak Trail and the Loop Trail, I arrived at the south shore of Tumbledown Pond. Open rock ledges on the southern end of the pond offered nice views of the water and the island, but I found that the prettiest views of the lake came from its southeast corner. After crossing the outlet of the pond, a social path broke off to the left, following the east shore of the lake; going along this path, I found some vantange points from which I could see both the East and North Peaks of Tumbledown rising above the pond.

Tumbledown Pond with East and North Peaks

Tumbledown Pond
Leaving Tumbledown Pond, the trail arrived at the junction with the Brook Trail, which broke off to the right and descended south towards the Brook Trailhead. I decided to lengthen the trail slightly and enjoy some more views by descending on the Parker Ridge Trail instead; thus, I headed straight at the junction. The trail reentered the forest and soon came to another junction: the Pond Link Trail led to the left towards Little Jackson Mountain, while the Parker Ridge Trail led to the right and promised more views. I took the Parker Ridge Trail, which soon began to ascend again. After a slightly climb, the trail emerged back onto an open, rocky ridge with sweeping views. Parker Ridge provided one of the most iconic views of the hike, a panorama of the three rocky Tumbledown Peaks together, rising over Tumbledown Pond on one side and towering above the forested valley below on the other side. I found a small pool of water near the edge of the rocky ridge at one point that enhanced the view even more; reaching this pool required deviating slightly from the main Parker Ridge Trail.

Tumbledown Mountain and Pond from Parker Ridge
The views of Mount Blue and Lake Webb were also quite impressive from Parker Ridge; as this is the closest that the hike gets to Lake Webb, the lake appeared largest from this vantage point. At the far end of the ridge the trail began to drop, blocking Tumbledown Mountain from view but continuing to provide nice views over Lake Webb.

Lake Webb and Mount Blue from Parker Ridge
The descent down Parker Ridge still involved a lot of scrambling, making it difficult at points; however, this scrambling is less intense than the Fat Man Misery's stretch of the Loop Trail, making this a preferable path for descent.

Parker Ridge descent
After the trail reentered the woods, it maintained a very steep descent. Although the Parker Ridge segment is 2 miles and involves 1600 feet of the elevation loss, most of those 1600 feet occur within a one-mile stretch in the middle of the Parker Ridge Trail.

The trail followed a road on the west (right) side of a stream at the end of the descent; as I returned to more level ground, I came to an intersection. While the trail to the left led towards Little Jackson Mountain, I took the right fork to follow the Little Jackson Connector towards the Brook Trailhead. This trail meandered through the woods for the next mile, with minimal elevation gain and loss, until it brought me out of the woods at the Brook Trailhead. I followed Byron Road west for the final 1.4 miles back to the Loop Trailhead where I had parked, arriving just as dusk set.

This is a beautiful, challenging, and rewarding hike in the Maine Appalachians that delivers a fun scramble, sweeping views, and a beautiful pond without crowds; it was a highlight of my time in Maine and I highly recommend it to both visiting and local hikers.

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