Mountains by the sea

Whether you climb, hike, meander, walk or ramble — it’s about cultivating a certain tone.

Maine’s mountains by the sea are possessed of a particular gravity, and taking to the trails on a Downeast cruise both adds an expanded dimension to your travels and helps maintain a level of conditioning. Although coasting can be a relatively sedentary business, conditioning is a valuable asset when riding out rough seas or reefing a thrashing sail. Other assets – strength, balance and surefootedness – are each enhanced by a level of fitness.

Though the eminently climbable peaks along the Maine coast are modest in stature, they seem all the more dramatic for their commanding vistas of sea, islands and curve of horizon. Tackling one be sure to keep up a vigorous pace, take long strides, stretch your legs, arms and back, and pay attention to posture. It enhances the conditioning benefits and helps maintain tone.

Mt. Desert Island offers a number of premier hiking venues. Though the trailheads are often miles from dockside, and best accessed by the island’s bus system, the heights of 1,530’ Cadillac Mountain or the boreal arc of Jordan Pond add a memorable dimension to your visit.

The crew of the Leight often prefers more intimate and handy climbs, like 940’ Blue Hill Mountain. Rising dramatically above the village of Blue Hill, it’s an easy 1¼-mile walk from the waterfront on Route 15 to the trailhead on Mountain Road. The footpaths, which are near a mile in length and of moderate grade, wander beneath a canopy of hardwood and spruce, with squirrels a-chittering and hawks on quivering wings lording over all.

We made a loop of it, ascending on the Osgood Trail, and descending via the Hayes Trail, which passed through mountain meadows, ledges and islands of wild blueberries. Gaining the summit, we emerged upon a great granite outcrop that offered a dramatic location for a picnic, after which we closed our eyes and listened to the thrum of the wild world. The views were breathtaking, from great gatherings of spruce-capped islands to the tidy whitewashed village of Blue Hill, which was revealed through a lush canopy of foliage, and seemed a jewel in a crown.

Duck Harbor Mountain (314’) on Isle au Haut, is another peak worth knowing. Anchored close by the narrow thread of Duck Harbor, a trail takes one to a granite dome of a summit that offers yawning, birds-eye views of the far reaches of Penobscot Bay to the distant loom of Matinicus and Ragged Island. Champlain Mountain (543’), on the same island, accessible from the village of Isle au Haut, is a quick study and offers stunning prospects off to the east.

Other climbs are even more modest. Flying Mountain (280’), in Somes Sound, is much enhanced by the fact that it’s easily accessible from the stunning anchorage at Valley Cove. The trails on St. Sauveur Mountain (600’), which rises directly above the cove, are closed until to mid-August to protect nesting peregrine falcons. There are a number of even smaller climbs that are well worth doing, including taking the Whitehead Trail to the high cliffs on Monhegan Island, or ascending the 185’ on Seguin Island to its lighthouse museum.

Whether you climb, hike, meander, walk or ramble – it’s about cultivating a certain tone. As H.W. Tillman wrote, “Strenuousness is the immortal path, and sloth, the way of death.”

David Buckman’s book, Bucking the Tide, is about discovering the New England and Fundy coast in a wreck of a $400 yacht. It’s a paltry $19, including shipping. Send your snail mail address to Pay only after receiving the book. In sailors we trust.

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