We watched the weather forecast carefully leading up to last weekend, and while it didn’t look ideal, it did look like conditions Sunday would be good enough, long enough to get in the planned hike up Tumbledown Mountain. So it was game on, and off we went to Maine.
By “we”, I refer to Youngest Son and myself. Having made reservations at an older, yet convenient and super-clean motel in Rumford, The Blue Iris Motor Inn, we departed midafternoon on Saturday and arrived there around 5PM or so. It was a sunny and dry afternoon, but pretty chilly.
We went into downtown Rumford to have dinner at The Lure, a sushi/ Thai restaurant that we’d visited a couple of times in the past on commutes to and from UMaine. The place used to be right on US Route 2, but moved downtown a while ago. Same ownership, and same menu. Son had a special roll, Death by Sushi while I went with Pineapple Fried Rice with Chicken. That was the first time I’d ever tried that dish, and it was very good. The sushi roll didn’t kill Ben; he said it was very spicy and good, but far from deadly.
Sunday morning we left the Blue Iris early and made the 45 minute trip to the Maine Public Lands in Byron, where the Tumbledown Mountain trails we were interested in are located. Our plan was to ascend the Loop Trail and return along the Brook Trail. After reading some reviews of these walks, I decided that we’d park at the trailhead for the Brook Trail, and walk about a mile back along the road to start up the hill on the Loop. My logic was I’d rather walk a mile before the ups and downs rather than having to do it after. Once I’m off a mountain, I want to take the boots off and sit. This turned out to be a good decision.
Off we went up the dirt road about 9AM. The weather was cold and cloudy, and a couple of times a light rain started, but stopped quickly. Reaching the Loop Trailhead 20 minutes later, the trail started off gently enough for the first mile. Packed earth, some rocks and roots- the usual forest trail.
The grade then increased. This trail has two very different sections of ascent. The first is about a half mile long and gets you up to 2000 feet or so. It’s not too strenuous, but it goes up steadily. The rocks became larger, and we saw a colony of fungi growing in a rock’s crevasse.
We stopped for a hydration break, and after standing there silent for a few minutes, the woods became alive with squirrels chattering and small birds flitting about. There must have been 40 or 50 chickadees and nuthatches swooping about, at some point almost hitting the brim of my hat, almost swarming like bees. All the while chirping their distinctive sound. I’d never experienced anything like this before. They disappeared back into the woods like ghosts once we began moving again.
After the first elevation gain, we got a really good view of what was next.
For the next quarter mile, the Tumbledown peaks loomed off to the left. The day was still gray, and that added to the ominous presence of the big rock domes. The trail continued on into the woods, and the ascent restarted. The rate of incline was much steeper.
At roughly the two mile mark the grade got incredibly steep as we started up the headwall to the summit. For the remaining half mile to the summit it was a scramble over and between boulders, and along narrow ledge trail. And up, always up!
The grade approached 80𝆩 at the steepest point where we reached the last hurdle before the final summit approach. Fat Man’s Misery, a vertical passage through the boulders was all that was left, and Youngest Son slithered through with aplomb. Old guy made it as well, though less gracefully. My hands were too busy hanging onto rocks and iron railings to take photos, so here’s a link to what the entrance looks like. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
Once out of the chimney, it was clear sailing up to the summit of East Tumbledown Mountain along the exposed granite.
A big break in the cloud cover coincided with our reaching the top, and the views were fantastic. There truly is nothing quite like New England in the fall. Here are a couple of panorama photos taken by Son, followed by a short video panning north-west-south.
While the sun had broken through, it was windy topside, making it a bit chilly. It was time to start descending the hill and find a place for lunch. This looked good.
Going down the big rocks was just as challenging as heading up. My son says I go slower down than up, and I don’t disagree. The last thing I want to do is become a victim of gravity and then someone else’s problem. So it’s slow and steady, taking the cowardly route, always. The big walking stick helps a lot.
Despite my slowness, we reached Tumbledown Pond fairly quickly and staked out rock seating for lunch.
We relaxed for about a half hour or so, enjoying our lunch and the view. Suddenly there seemed to be a lot of people about. We saw only six or eight folks on the way up, but there must have been 50 or 60 people there at the pond that Sunday at noon. We were to learn where they came from soon.
The overcast began moving in again, and we decided to get a move on, wanting to avoid the predicted rain at 2PM. Down the Brook Trail we started.
And promptly had to wait for ascending and descending fellow travelers. There was still a lot of traffic heading for the pond, and more than a few heading down, some with children. One guy without shoes. It was slow going through the Brook Trail boulders and rocks, but once that was cleared we moved along nicely through the forest, and exited the trail a bit after 2PM. Right at the Jeep!
I characterized this hike as brilliant in the title. The two stage ascension combined with the increasing difficulty, coupled with poor weather at the start, then clearing when we reached the top revealing staggering views made it so. Everything came together at the right time, and the payoff was well worth the effort.
Here’s the map of the route we traveled on Sunday.
Son and I hiked about 6.7 miles over 4 ¼ hours, gaining over 2000 feet in elevation. It was one of the best outings of the year.
The rain started in earnest as we drove home.
I hope this isn’t the last one of the season. Thanks for dropping by!