A Perfect Ten

A hiker negotiates switchbacks on Rumford Whitecap. Photo by Ron Chase

A modest peak, Rumford Whitecap was a test. Old age had delivered another surprise visit in the form of a new knee problem. Where do these aggravations come from? I’d been taking all the recommended supplements. I am reluctant to dwell on the gruesome details; suffice to say it was a few days after my latest cortisone injection. Outdoor exercise was needed, to build confidence that I’d be in the game for winter-mountaineering and Nordic skiing. Otherwise I’d be packing bikes and kayaks and pointing the RAV towards Florida.

I was scheduled to lead a Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society mountain hike, and Rumford Whitecap seemed the ideal experiment. It is moderate in difficulty, has wonderful views, and was, I thought, an expedition that would appeal to a multitude of Chowderheads. Alas, only my friend Brent and my wife Nancy signed on. Then Brent was forced to cancel, so it became a family affair. Nancy has ascended the one hundred highest peaks in New England, including about 60 in the winter, so we were both up to the challenge as we headed to Rumford Whitecap.

Possessing perhaps the most extensive views of any mountain in western Maine, Rumford Whitecap at an elevation of 2,214 feet is a very appealing outing. We’ve been hiking there for over 30 years. Early on, informal traditional itineraries to upper reaches were badly eroded and worsening. Mahoosuc Land Trust has been a vehicle for positive change. Rerouting paths and completing substantive trail work where necessary, they have created an exceptional hiking environment.

 Arriving at the trailhead on East Andover Road in North Rumford, the small parking area was covered with ice. Nearly falling when stepping from the car, it was apparent micro spikes were a necessity. Avoiding injuries has become a priority. For the old and infirm, compounding physical problems is too often a disagreeable reality. We need a remedy. I suggest a new vaccine. It’s worked with shingles.

Whether or not snowshoes would be required at higher altitudes was a question and a concern. An inspection of the trail indicated previous hikers had packed a well-defined route. Since carrying snowshoes would add weight and instability to our packs, we preferred to leave them behind. But this dilemma was one both of us had faced many times before, sometimes unnecessarily carrying snowshoes for an entire journey, and other times post-holing in deep snow not having brought them, an exhausting process. Someone had to make a decision and accept blame if wrong. Contemplating my knee, I suggested foregoing the winter accessories. I know how to live on the edge.

Wonderful views descending Rumford Whitecap. Photo by Ron Chase

Initially, hiking conditions were superb, with a hardened track perfect for micro spikes. A compacted layer of snow over rocks and other obstacles produces a benign smooth “highway” that is particularly forgiving on elderly joints. Experienced hikers will affirm there is no better walking surface in any season.

Persevering steadily upward on Orange Trail with a moderate gradient, we soon had to make an early decision and consider the alternative Yellow Trail loop. Longer but more gradual, it offered a tantalizing option. The choice was easily resolved, however, as Yellow Trail wasn’t packed. Perfection was not to be squandered, so Orange remained our choice. Continuing for about a mile, we reaped the benefits of the land trust’s trail improvements. Relatively new switchbacks in a dense conifer forest provided a more measured but steady climb. Troublesome erosion was essentially absent. Shortly after the final switchback, the path angled left, emerging on partially exposed snow-covered ledges, with sporadic views. Persisting on, we achieved the upper end of Yellow Trail loop. Signage at the junction indicated we had traveled 1.9 miles from East Andover Road, and it was an additional .6 to our destination.

 Most of the remaining passage was predominantly exposed and glorious. Savoring almost continuous impressive views, we followed cairns approaching the barren slightly rounded summit. The hard-packed trail had extended for the entire trek, validating our sanguine election to travel without snowshoes. Light winds, moderate temperatures, and partial sunshine provided a phenomenal above tree-line experience.

 A prolonged respite at the top was followed by a casual blissful descent. The journey ended with the gratifying realization that my knee had remained pain-free throughout. The marvels of medical science have at least temporarily provided the opportunity for additional winter exploits. I’m not packing the RAV and heading to Florida yet, but with the bio-tech industry accomplishing marvels, let’s get to work on that anti-aging vaccine!

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