Difficulty: Strenuous. Little Spencer Mountain is one of the most difficult trails in the Moosehead area because it is extremely steep and rocky. The trail includes a section called The Chimney, where hikers need the assistance of two ropes to climb up through a narrow crevice in a cliff. This is not a good hike for small children or dogs.
How to get there: Start in the town of Greenville, at the intersection of Route 6 and Lily Bay Road near the shore of Moosehead Lake. Turn onto Lily Bay Road and set your vehicle odometer to zero. On Lily Bay Road, drive along the east side of the lake. Early on, you’ll pass Northwoods Outfitters, and farther along, Lily Bay State Park (at 8.7 miles). At 18.5 miles, you’ll cross Roach River on a bridge by Kokadjo Camps and Trading Post. Not far after that, at 18.8 miles, veer left to stay on the main road. At 20 miles, veer left onto Spencer Bay Road. At 27.4 miles, turn right. At 28.1 miles, you’ll cross a one-lane bridge. At 28.8 miles, veer left at a fork. At 29.6 miles, the trailhead is on your left. Park on the side of the road, well out of the way of traffic.
The 1.5-mile hiking trail that climbs to the summit of Little Spencer Mountain is called the Ram Trail and was established by Dr. Richard A. Manson, who explored various routes to the summit of the mountain in the late 1960s from Spencer Pond Camps. Though challenging, it’s believed that the Ram Trail is actually the easiest route up the mountain, which is littered with boulders and has several dramatic cliffs.
The trail, marked with orange and pink flagging tape tied around tree trunks, starts out in a pretty forest of deciduous trees and soon meets a small brook, which it follows for a short distance. This section of the trail is usually muddy.
The climb starts out gradual and becomes increasingly steep and rocky. The forest transitions to mostly pine and hemlock. And along the way, hikers are rewarded by several viewpoints to the west.
As the trail climbs the mountain, it crosses a jumble of angular boulders and a slide of gravel and small loose rocks called “scree.” In areas without trees, the trail is marked with cairns, small rock piles, instead of flagging tape.
The most difficult part of the trail is about 1 mile into the hike and is called The Chimney. This narrow, nearly vertical crevice is a challenge for most hikers. Two ropes, anchored to trees, help hikers get through The Chimney’s two steepest sections. In some areas, you will need to grip the rope with both hands and brace yourself against the rock with both feet, finding footholds to climb higher. Because of this dangerous segment of the trail, it is a good idea to hike Little Spencer with a few hiking companions.
While The Chimney is the most technical part of the trail, it isn’t the only steep, rocky area. In fact, there are many sections of the trail where it’s safest to use both hands and feet.
Not long after The Chimney, the trail leads to open ledges on the mountain’s west slope, which can be accessed by an unblazed side trail. For those afraid of heights, the ledges can be a bit daunting. However, they offer breathtaking views of Spencer Pond, Moosehead Lake and many of the area’s mountains, including Big Moose Mountain, Elephant Mountain and Mount Kineo.
From the ledges, the Ram Trail continues up the mountain for about 0.3 mile to the summit of Little Spencer, which is marked with a large cairn. The cairn is usually topped by a summit sign, but on Oct. 4, 2015, the sign was missing. While the trail technically ends at the cairn, you can walk past it, wading through a sea of stunted spruce for about 100 fee, to get a good view of Big Spencer Mountain to the east, and beyond that, Katahdin. Big Spencer Mountain has an elevation of 3,230 feet above sea level, making it just a tad taller than Little Spencer.
Some sources measure Little Spencer at 3,040 feet above sea level, while the sign at the trailhead states it’s just 3,007 feet.
Descending Little Spencer Mountain is arguably more dangerous than the ascent. Be extra careful with your footing, especially while hiking over loose rock and climbing down The Chimney.
If hiking this trail with a group, remember not to crowd each other. It’s almost
impossible to avoid kicking loose rocks, which pick up speed as they tumble downhill and can become very dangerous for those hiking below. A good hiking practice is to yell the word “rock” if you kick something loose, warning those below to watch out.
The trail is maintained by Spencer Pond Camps, which can be reached at 745-1599. For more information, visit www.spencerpond.com.
Personal note: I had my eye on Little Spencer Mountain for several years before finally hiking it on Oct. 4 with my husband, Derek, and a group of fellow hikers from Connecting with Nature, an outing group organized by The JD Foundation in Abbot.
I learned about the group Connecting with Nature less than a year ago and decided to write a story about them, which ran in the Bangor Daily News Outdoor section in March. Since then, I’ve chatted a few times with the group’s leader, Victor “Vic” Morin, who grew up hiking Little Spencer and Big Spencer mountains. When he learned that I hadn’t hiked Little Spencer yet, and that I wanted to, he set up a group hike on a date I could attend. So, thank you, Vic, for making it happen.
The short, steep, rocky hike has now been added to my list of favorites. The views of the Moosehead area from its ledges and summit were well worth the trembling legs I experienced while descending The Chimney.
While I love hiking solo, I was happy to have safety in numbers on this particular hike. The Chimney was much easier to traverse with the support of the group. Vic crouched at the top of The Chimney and coached each hiker through, suggesting footholds and handholds. And others stationed themselves along The Chimney, spotting people and helping with the ropes.
Three women in the group decided that The Chimney was not for them and turned around to have lunch at a viewpoint and descend the mountain at a slow pace, proving that you don’t have to make it to the top of a mountain to have a successful hike.
Because we were traveling as a group, we hiked at a slower pace than Derek and I are accustomed to, but that afforded us time to take in the small things in nature, such as a friendly chipmunk that descended a maple tree branch to harvest seeds just a few feet above Derek’s head. We also took the time to inspect puffball, turkey tail and several other types of mushrooms.
After the hike, Derek and I drove to Kelly’s Landing on the shore of Moosehead Lake for dinner. He had a barbecue-smothered burger, and I had baked haddock. The food hit the spot, and the service was great.