The Views Atop Little Spencer

By Michael Hawkins

Fierce views are difficult to tame. They inhibit legislatures, sometimes cause violence, and all too often mar friendships. So when two creationists and an atheist who constantly debate and argue with each other decided to hike Little Spencer Mountain near Moosehead Lake, context was ripe for torn relations and strained propinquities.

As with most Maine hikes, this one began with a long drive. Navigation was eased by a brand new GPS (with the British voice setting, of course; the “motorway” is much classier than the Interstate). Of course, technology only goes so far. Roads eventually cease to exist on any maps. This was remote country.

When we did find the undoubtedly dirt road – or the middle of the road-less woods, should you believe my GPS screen – we were quickly greeted by a familiar Maine native: a big, honking moose. He stopped to stare at us. We returned the favor. Infatuation seemed to be equal for both parties. Of course, the first to break the spell was the non-primate among us all. We quickly followed.

Reaching the point where the moose entered the more comfortable setting of the woods, my friends ran up a mound of dirt on the shoulder while I stood on the back of my car. There was at least one other moose in there to sustain our excitement. Soon, though, they both disappeared into the thickening Maine green.

But no, this wasn’t the end of our roadside entertainment. It turns out that one of my friends managed to step too near a black ant colony. They filled the car like something out of a movie. We soon made them the only residents of my vehicle – until The Great Insect Genocide of 2009 began. Rest their souls.

This was a good start to a hike. No Real Hiker wants any of his experience to be bland, even the parts that don’t involve walking up big hills or across wide expanses. Of course, it’s those big hills and wide expanses that are the real draw.

We ran into some trouble finding our starting point. The marking for the trail head was well hidden. This would be a common theme for Little Spencer. After see-sawing the road a little bit, we finally found the marker and began our trek to the peak of this 3,040 foot mountain.

All the information we found for this hike told us to expect about 4 hours for the totality of our journey. We were thinking it’d be a bit less – why, a few strapping men like ourselves (my best attribute is that I’m too humble) – but we had no hurry.

It wasn’t too long until we came to the Bermuda Triangle of Little Spencer. There were two rocks, both with identical white paint, both pointing toward plausible trails. One seemed to go up while the other went down. We naturally chose the “up” route.

That was wrong.

A solid 45 minutes later and we were back to the Triangle. It turns out the other trail only went downward until it reached a short curve around which we couldn’t see.

Sidebar, Your Honor: Is it legal to spray paint rocks and trees to better mark hiking trails in Maine? Someone seems to be doing it – just not well enough. I mean, I appreciate all the effort that goes into trail maintenance throughout the state, but come on. I can’t be blamed for losing the trail every single time it happens, can I?

Once we were back on our way, it wasn’t long until two notable events occurred. First, nature called. The names involved in this trip are Matt, Luke, and Michael. For the sake of the innocent and the guilty alike, let’s just say this caveat is about Bill. Well, Bill had a no-choice situation. It happens to the best of us. If you go up Little Spencer, don’t venture too far from the trail for a couple weeks.

Second, we approached a steep incline. This wasn’t just regular steep. The Cathedral Trail on Katahdin is regular steep. This was thank-goodness-there’s-a-rope-here steep.

This had to be one of the, frankly, coolest things I’d seen in all my years hiking around Maine. The rocks were narrow, wet, loose, and the rope was soaked and fraying. It was perfect.

We tackled this obstacle one-by-one. The trick was taking our time. No rushing, no dumb moves. It was a workout, it was dangerous, and it was tough, but even while grasping that rope in an effort to bring my weight closer to the peak, I couldn’t help but wait for the climb back down.

We pushed on, stopping only to live the day well: we seized all the scenic outlooks. They came as advertised.

Standing on one rock outcropping, we surveyed the great landscape before us. Spencer Pond lay before the grandeur of Moosehead Lake, completely dwarfed. Katahdin was easily viewable in the distance. The darkened clouds around its peak on this otherwise sunny day looked more like Mordor than a mountain in Maine.

It was here that I couldn’t help but imagine the immense power of the glaciers which slowly carved out the landscape that lay before us. There were great lakes and seemingly endless ponds. A great expanse of land set flat between the mountains. Perhaps it was a valley; it seemed too wide to be one to me. The colossal process that resulted in all this profound beauty only ratcheted up the intensity of this experience. If the majesty of this temporal view can be so uplifting on its own, then shouldn’t a much more grand and sweeping contemplation of deep and ancient time and measure be all the more enlightening?

Once we reached the summit, we were greeted with views of Little Spencer’s cousin, Big Spencer, to the east, and directly on the peak we discovered that we had all earned lunch. Normally the height of any hike, the top wasn’t my biggest anticipation. It was going back down that fraying rope.

Two hikers were just reaching the top of the rope when we returned. The first one to the top, Grizzly Adams beard and all, waited for his companion to reach him. I couldn’t wait for our turn.

It was one-by-one again. The rope had no knots, so it was all the more difficult going down. Momentum swung me into the narrow rock walls. Rocks slipped from beneath my boots. It was better than I had expected.

We soon returned through the Triangle, down the rest of the trail, and to my car. We came in right around 4 hours, even with our 45 minute detour. Egos were satisfied.

It’s funny. Mountains seem to have a way about them. Philosophies, theologies, politics: They all tend to fade into the background when faced with the scale, depth, detail, and outright beauty that a good hike has to offer. I’m not going to say who the creationists were and who the atheist was. We lost track of that ourselves up there on Little Spencer during that sunny Saturday afternoon.