Trip Report: Old Speck Mountain

A Mountain of Mica in Maine.

Old Speck; 4,170 feet. Grafton Notch State Park, near Bethel, ME.

80 dF at trailhead, 75 dF at summit. Sunny/hazy skies and 50 miles visibility. 5-10 MPH breezes on summit tower.

Via the Od Speck trail.

Trailhead: 1010. Summit: 1300. Left summit: 1330. Car: 1600. Approximately 9 miles.

Although I’ve been to Maine many times, this was my first time actually hiking there. Oddly, I’d been skiing plenty of times at Sunday River, which isn’t far from the mountain — I’d passed the turn for the ski area on the drive to the trailhead, no less. Oh well. For my first in the Pine Tree State, it wasn’t a bad one by any stretch. Quite nice, really. While I always seemed to feel out of sorts for some unknown reason in Vermont, today, I felt very nearly at home. Adding to it was the weather. It was a fine day for forest bathing.

Old Speck is both on the AT, and a part of the Grafton Loop hike. As a result, the parking lot was crowded. I saw a lot of hikers today. Many with small daypacks and Camelbaks, but as many as that with much larger packs — in the 40-50 liter size and beyond. For the AT hikers, someone had left some trail magic at the trailhead sign, in the form of a jar of peanut butter and a bag of pita bread. Everyone I mentioned this to lit up in happiness.

(I think it was pure coincidence, but there had been an AT Conservancy vehicle in the parking lot…)

In the upper sections, I saw a lot of mosses blanketing the landscape in a soft duvet, as well as ferns softening the landscape in their own way. But in contrast, the rocks were sometimes broken and the roots gnarled, so there was harshness to stand in contrast, in a wabi-sabi sort of way.

On top, the storied observation tower. For some reason, I utterly neglected to grab a photo of it, although with the day’s light, I’m not sure it would have come out well. But suffice it to say, it stands around 20-ish feet high, and from its top, you’re afforded magnificent views that extended out to Success pond, and (I’m pretty sure) a view of Umbagog lake to its north. The ladder to the top was rather steep, but the tower is of a very sturdy welded-steel construction, and didn’t so much as wiggle an inch the whole time I was up there. I felt quite safe.

The hike back down was pleasant, and fairly quick. One thing that took me aback was discovering the skeleton of a large animal by complete surprise, not far from the trailhead, and within a couple dozen feet of the trail itself. The circle of life does indeed operate in the wilds as it does everywhere else. My guess is that this poor creature met a quiet end — the bones didn’t seem terribly disrupted. I’ll spare everyone the gory pictures.

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In the lower section of the mountain, there was a lot of water, just off the side of the trail. No waiting an eternity for your bottle to fill up. And it was cold.

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…and picturesque in many places.

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There was still a lot of water on the trail from the recent storms, mainly in the form of mud. But much of the trail was plenty dry. Muddy bits were typically mitigated by stepping stones or bog bridge.

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Interesting fungus on a tree. It had about half a dozen pals on that same trunk. Added bonus was seeing the morning dew on its surface.

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Berries, the identity of which I’m still trying to determine.

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First time I’ve seen an AT benchmark.

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“Cleaner” picture of one in a different location.

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Don’t grouse about the potato-quality of the image. This fella was all of a half-dozen feet from me, and I had hardly enough time to pop the shutter before he ran across the trail into the woods. My second shot was of his posterior — not flattering at all.

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