Traveling in the Time of COVID – In Over My Head! – Hiking Great Head Trail

We awoke to the sight of distance sea fog across the bay. The weather had all the makings for perfect day for hiking – sunny with temps in the high 50’s. After a hearty breakfast of Maine wild blueberry pancakes, we were off to hike Great Head Trail. We had missed doing this hike when we were visiting Acadia back in October 2018 due to cold temps in the 30’s and high wind.

Salt Air’s version of Maine Wild Blueberry Pancakes

We took Schooner Head Road and stopped at the overlook to photograph Egg Rock Lighthouse just offshore. A lobster boat cruising by added to the scene.

Egg Rock as viewed from Schooner Head Overlook

We parked at the Satterlee parking lot rather than at Sand Beach to cut out walking across the beach to get to this trail. The parking lot is small but we arrived early enough to get a spot easily. I was concerned the number of cars would mean crowds on the trail, but that turned out not to be the case. This is another trail that is popular with locals so we witnessed people coming and going frequently. As we entered the trail, I admonished a teenager for breaking pine cones off a tree and told him about No Trace Left Behind. I will never understand why people feel they have to take a “souvenir” especially of a living thing.

I noticed something I had not seen on previous visits – clothes hanging from tree branches; first a visor, then a hoodie. I found it this is a thing(!) – lost clothing is hung where those passing can see it just in case the hiker returns looking for their lost item. It looks odd and disconcerting to me, but I get it.

Where the path splits, we see most people going left, so we chose to go right. There were spots of beautiful fall foliage and we are lucky enough to see 1) a chipmunk who pauses for a moment to allow for a photo and 2) watch a squirrel climb a tree by the trail where he precedes to peel bark off and shreds it, my guess is to add to his nest.

We continue to walk this portion, which is level and easy, blissfully unaware of what is to come. We take a side path which ends up down near the marsh and stream at Sand Beach. The tide is coming in but there is just enough dry area to allow walking to the beach and then to go to the trail head. We admire Beehive before starting up the granite steps. Being out of shape, I find climbing these steep stairs a bit strenuous. At the top is a round stone wheel – perhaps from an old mill.

Once we are back up on the trail, we take a right and walk a short distance were something stops us cold – a boulder scramble. No way was I going to be able to my fat 60+ year old body with bad knees up that thing! At this point, we decide to head back to the car as we are in need of a restroom break and lunch.

While we didn’t have trouble finding a parking space at Sand Beach, there were so many cars parked out on the loop road it looked almost like summer crowds, which was surprising.

We drove to Jordan Pond House, where again we had no trouble finding a parking space as the lot was only about 2/3 full. As we walked the path up from the lot, we saw more lost clothing.

Due to the pandemic, all table service was cancelled for the season and service reduced to standing in line to get to a window to place your order. We had heard horror stories about long waits, but the line was not long and moved quickly. Most people seemed to be settling for quick take times like muffins, yogurt and fruits. We ordered the lobster stew, a veggie wrap and a popover with strawberry jam and hot blueberry tea and water to drink. If the order required something cooked such as ours did, when the order is ready, it is placed on a table just inside the door of the restaurant and you are notified to pick it up, allowing for social distancing and ease of the reduced staff. We chose to sit at a table inside by the fireplace to eat. There were a few tables spaced very far apart making the place look closed. While we ate, I saw people come in looking very confused as to why there were so few diners. One family even sat down at a table and waited for a server (there were none). They finally got up and left.

The food quality this time was another victim of the pandemic – it was not as tasty as previous times we had eaten there. It lessened the experience due to eating off of paper plates and cups instead of real plates. The lobster stew was not as flavorful and the popover was underbaked and raw inside. I missed enjoying their fabulous ice cream in a sundae with wildflower honey.

We decided to return to Great Head and hike the other side of the trail. Again, we were in for quite an experience. At first, we missed the split and walked the same direction as we had in the morning (counter-clockwise). As luck would have it that was not a bad mistake. We ran into a Facebook friend of mine with her husband and dog Louie. Louie is a cocker spaniel who is an experienced hiker. Once we realized we were going the wrong way, as we doubled back, my husband walked on ahead as I stopped to photograph fungi growing on the trees. I happened to look down through the trees to what I thought was a meadow down below the trail. (I was later to realize this is the grassy meadow was just below Bee Hive.) I saw pointed ears! I was really hoping it was a deer. As I watched through my telephoto lens, the animal raised its head. It looked like a German Shepherd. It stood up and the fur was red but it was way too large to be a fox. It was an Eastern Red Coyote! Yikes! Glad it was far away. It did turn its head in my direction and I was pretty sure he could smell my scent. I did get off about four shots before he walked away. Wow! What an experience and how exciting that I was the only one who saw it at the moment.

We start to go clockwise on the trail (left side closest to ocean). This section starts out level and then there are boardwalks, granite steps and root steps with some incline but still easy to walk. This section goes through beautiful green forest with the water out to the left which can be seen through portions of the tree. So pleasant to hear the waves crashing. We watch a woodpecker pecking away at a fallen tree. Only a couple guys pass us on the trail so it is pure bliss.

The trail gets steeper. Right below the summit, we encounter a granite section that I am not sure I can climb up. I did not come all this way to quit now, so somehow I find foot holds and get up to the summit. Saw the ruins of the old teahouse. The view out over the water is gorgeous, but sadly I am too tired too really enjoy it.

As I sit on a good size boulder to rest and catch my breathe,. I wonder how did women in the olden days do this wearing dresses and heeled button up boots?!

A young guy and his girlfriend come up from the other direction. He has long legs and makes it look easy. At first he thinks we should go back down the way we came, but then thinks the way he came up is do-able, though he warns of boulder scrambles. Having never hiked this trail, I accept his advice and assistance down the first two boulder sections.

At this point I want to say if you are an inexperienced hiker, overweight and have bad knees – NEVER EVER ACCEPT THE UNKNOWN no matter what someone says. Trust your gut. I think what drove me to go down the way most people go up was wanting to see the view of Sand Beach from up here.

We come to a section that appeared to have no natural way down – no obvious foot holds. I cry as it looks high and no safe way to just jump down to flatter ground below. My husband goes down first and coaxing me, I climb down backwards figuring what you can’t see is less scary. We encounter more boulder scrambles, some of which are lateral (didn’t required climbing), but by this time it’s mid-afternoon and we’ve been out all day, I’m getting tired and my right Achilles tendon and calf are aching. I pick my way carefully through fields of granite and low plants. Hikers are coming up the other direction – families with kids including one Ugg wearing pre-teen on her phone looking totally disinterested in the spectacular beauty around her and a couple dogs – all who made it look so easy. I come to another boulder scramble to go down and I freak out as the fear of heights and falling gripe me, reducing me to panic and tears. Even two guys who look more overweight than I are climbing up with ease and one helps others up. There is a little tree growing out of a small crevice but I do not want to use it for grip should I damage it. I begin to think I am an idiot and that I might end up spending the night here on Great Head. I know it would be pretty cold when the sun goes down. I tell my husband he should just leave me up there. Finally an older lady comes along on her way up and says “Just slide on your rear!” which works. I was totally amazed that the tan hiking pants I was wearing were not torn or dirty from sliding. It is a pant I am glad to recommend (Baleaf, available on Amazon).

My husband keeps asking other hikers how far the parking lot is which annoys me. Despite the pain I am in, when I see the view of Sand Beach below, I stop and without getting too close to the edge of the cliff, get a couple of photos. This at least made it worth it. So much for a moderate hike!

I was so sore when we reached the car, I made hubby drive back to the inn where I shower and crawl into bed. I have even lost my appetite.

Looking back on this experience, I can say I do feel a sense of accomplishment at completing this hike. It made me realize I need to get more exercise, loss some weight and better know trail difficulty before undertaking it. Save the most difficult hike for near the end of your trip, so if you experience pain or worse, an injury, it doesn’t ruin the rest of your trip. Was all the pain worth it? Oh, yea!

About J. Matlock, Director of Fantasies

Jeanette's wanderlust started as an Air Force brat crisscrossing the US visiting almost every state. Writing has always been a part of her life. While earning a BA in Journalism from the University of Central Florida, Jeanette found photography was the perfect compliment to writing. She is always on the outlook for what she calls "Right Time, Right Place" photographs that capture a once-in-a- lifetime moment. Her adult travels have taken her to Scotland, England, France, Switzerland and all over the US and she continues to crave going to places to experience adventure, great food and lifestyles. She has written travel journals for the web site to share her experiences to guide and encourage other travelers. Her descriptive writing style makes one feel as if they are there sharing the experience. Her love of writing is based on this simple truth: "When I am writing, I know that I am doing the thing I was born to do." (Anne Sexton).
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