One late night, as teenagers, my friend and I talked about climbing the ten highest peaks in Acadia in one day. Already 1am, we estimated that we would have to wake up at 4am to cover them all. I remained unsure if my legs had the strength and endurance to handle a full day of ascents and descents, especially on three hours of sleep. The Precipice still scared me then, and I did not know my way around Acadia without a map.
Fast forward eight years. Having thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, I also felt well-acquainted with the routes in Acadia. By then, I had sought out every trail, and ventured out in every season, and gotten lost, and picked favorites.
I ran into that same friend at a Maine backyard wedding, my favorite kind, one of those eating-lobster-and-drinking-around-the-pig-trough affairs.
We started talking about our travels and adventures. I had to ask. “Hey, man, did you ever climb the ten highest on the island?”
“No, do you want to do it tomorrow?” I must have laughed, thrown off to hear my impulsive spontaneity in another person’s voice.
“Sure!” We started to plan our route right then and there. We did not use a detailed map with each trail and its mileage labelled, but one of the vague park-issued maps pulled out of a glove compartment. Never mind that the map imparted little information. To my own embarassment, like the island junkie that I am, I had memorized much of the mileage. I could pencil out the steepest, most direct route. We would each drive a car. We would park and start at the easternmost peak on the east side of the island, hike to the other car, and then drive to the west side of the island.
By the time we parked one car at the Parkman Mountain lot and drove to the Precipice, we were not on the trail until 5:45am.
We decided to start with the most technical trail of the day, the Precipice. The Precipice leads to the summit of Champlain Mountain. Every so often, I would be climbing a ladder, and turn around to see the sun rising over the ocean.
We descended Champlain via the Beachcroft Trail, skirted along the Tarn Trail, and ascended Dorr Mountain via the Ladder Trail. We were both out of breath on the Ladder Trail, the Stairmaster of Acadia, the most hardcore quad and glut workout on the island. However, at the top of Dorr, we looked out at Cadillac and agreed that this challenge would be easier than we thought.
We hopped to Cadillac Mountain from Dorr via the Notch Trail. We reached the top, covered in the usual swarms of tourists who drove up the auto road, and headed to the flush toilets and water fountains.
On the summit of Cadillac, we texted another friend to meet us on top of Penobscot Mountain. The rendezvous would be tricky considering that neither party knew what time it would arrive. Yet both of my friends acted confident that the meeting would work, so I did too.
We descended Cadillac via the West Face Trail. From the Bubble Pond parking lot, we ran to the Bubbles parking lot, thinking we were going to be late for our friend. Once at the Bubbles parking lot, we realized we still had to climb Pemetic, up the 0.6 West Side Trail. At one point, the trail forks. One route veers up over the ledge, and the other dips through the ravine. My friend suggested that we ascend one way and descend the other.
Returning to the Bubbles parking lot, we crossed the saddle of the Bubbles and headed for the summit of Penobscot. When we arrived on Penobscot, our friend hugged us each in his customary style.
We reached the top of Sargent, the second highest mountain on the island after Cadillac, and took Grandgent to Parkman and Bald. Only before we reached Parkman and Bald, we hit Gilmore Peak, a peak that we were not sure how to count. Gilmore Peak is not on the park-issued map. It is identified on the more detailed National Geographic map, and its elevation qualifies it as one of the ten highest. We decided that in light of this, we could say that we climbed the eleven highest mountains on Acadia.
Somewhere in the vicinity of the Gilmore Peak conundrum, one of my friends asked about the definition of a peak. I said that peak-baggers have denoted a minimum depth of the trough between peaks in order for two to be considered distinct from each other.
My friend had never heard the expression “peak-bagging” before. I said, “Yeah, that’s what hikers trying to climb all the 4000 footers in New Hampshire or the Adirondacks call themselves.” We realized we were peak-bagging at the moment.
We scooted over Parkman and Bald, and back down to the second car in the Parkman lot. Only 3pm, we had finished the eastern side of the island. We only needed to climb two more: Mansell and Bernard, on the West Side of the island. We dashed into Bar Harbor to drop off our friend and grab power burritos from Gringo’s.
Perhaps we lingered too long in Bar Harbor before heading to the Gilley Field parking lot. We reached the wooded-summit of Bernard at dusk. We scrambled up and down the bumps between Bernard and Mansell.
Now that I felt tired and slow, we bantered back and forth in overly-pronounced Maine accents to distract ourselves from the impending darkness. At one point, struggling to see the rocks and losing the strength in my core from laughing, I yelped, “No jokes on the downhill!”
We made it to the last peak, Mansell, at dusk. I wanted to run to touch the summit marker and bolt for the parking lot. Yet my friend said, “I have a surprise!”
He pulled a Whoopie Pie out of his backpack. I called myself Whoopie Pie on the Appalachian Trail, after all, and the surprise ended the day on a perfect note. We finally accomplished a goal that we had initially considered almost a decade prior. Then again, friends expect that of each other.