It’s difficult for me to cross the bridge between Turrets and Deering without looking away from the Bay. I’ve got a very strong magnet that pulls me from downstream to up, no matter how humble or urban the stream may be.
On Saturday I decided to yield to this magnet and follow one of our Island’s streams from Sea to Source. Boating allows you to travel from Source to Sea, which rolls off the tongue a lot better, but in winter and with small streams it’s general a walking journey from Sea to Source.
For this weekend’s excursion I chose Little Harbor Brook.
You cross it on the stretch of road between Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor – it’s just one drainage past Little Long Pond moving westward along that road. I’ve walked the lower section of LHB many times. I always take visitors there because it’s a nice flat walk, it feels like you’re in a Tolkien novel, and about a mile into it you can turn left, scamper up Elliot Mountain, and enjoy an amazing view of the near shore Islands of MDI. But those walks are somewhat painful when I leave the trail up Eliot. I pine for knowing where the stream starts. Today I didn’t have to hang that left.
I recognize, of course, that such a Sea to Source walk is the antithesis of a thinking person’s stroll, of a Thoreau “walk about.” It’s goal-driven. You might call it a Type A walk, more fitting of a Richard Burton; a “I will find the Mountains of the Moon damnit!” kind of walk. Luckily my little Type A excursion didn’t have all the nasties of colonialism and associated ill will of a genius however delusional 19th century explorer.
My trip was a lot shorter too – 7.2 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of 1194 feet. The trail past the Eliot Mountain turnoff looks a lot like the first mile, gin-clear water, moss, elves and the like. Crossing a few sections of Carriage Road, you arrive at Little Harbor Brook Bridge, and that’s where the fun begins. A western, central and eastern feeder stream come together at this point to form the “main stem” Little Harbor Brook. Although I was temporarily drawn to the western trib up the larger volume Amphitheater Trail creek, I instead decided on the trail-less eastern tributary that would bring me to the Penobscot Mountain Trail and terminate just a few hundred yards from the Penobscot Summit.
That’s where the going got tough, not surprisingly. There’s a reason a trail doesn’t follow that tributary – it’s steep as hell. Making matters worse, the creek’s volume drops precipitously north of LHB Bridge and, well, water freezes in winter. I spent a lot of time listening rather than looking for the way forward. The creek carved some obvious paths, but in other areas meandered in a way that left me tracking and backtracking, starting and stopping, shushing my dog Lucy, and getting on hands and knees to listen for the telltale gurgling of a submerged stream.
Above tree line the way became more obvious. And right where a long crevasse touches the Penobscot Mountain Trail I found my Lake Tana (Blue Nile Source) or Great Lakes Region (The White Nile source is somewhere near the Rwanda/Burundi boarder – the most distant source is still undetermined): a large, greenish, partially frozen bog.
I’ll admit, I had the urge, like Burton before me, to plant a flag, name it, and somehow own it. Instead, Lucy and I celebrated with a snack cracker and planned our descent.
Old snow offers a nice set of breadcrumbs for a mindless walk back to the car, but I decided to continue on to the Penobscot Mountain Summit and then peel off down through the western-most tributary and into the Amphitheater. Setting me up for one of those disastrous return trips – e.g., not paying enough attention to the descent after celebrating the summit – my phone battery died leaving me without camera, communication, or compass (lesson learned). Thankfully, the way was much more obvious and before long I was back at LHB Bridge and confidently en route to the car, a piece of cake, and a hot chocolate. Hardly the perils of the Nile, but a fantastic adventure nevertheless.
Our precious Island is just a touch over 100 miles squared; yet there are hundreds of miles of small streams cascading from her peaks. Knowing their source, knowing their path, and knowing where they touch the sea is key for understanding the character and ecology of MDI and I’m keen on exploring them all. If you see me in waders slogging through the campus wetlands or crawling through an Eden Street culvert, you’ll know what I’m up to.
Remember: always be prepared for a hike in ANP, no matter how modest it may seem – and always tell a friend where you plan on going.