Three years ago we began the tradition of hiking to a waterfall to celebrate Earth Day. This year we even planned in advance researching a Five Star hike from New England Waterfalls: A Guide to More Than 400 Cascades and Waterfalls. With our Earth Day cookies packed as an after hike treat we drove north to Andover, Maine in anticipation of a fantastic Earth Day adventure exploring Dunn Falls.
Unfortunately the day, while definitely memorable, wasn’t as fantastic as we had all envisioned While we were adequately prepared for spring hiking conditions we underestimated the amount of snow that would still be on the ground in northern Maine. In fact the large snowbanks along the road made finding the trailhead virtually impossible and it took several trips up and down the road before we noticed the small sign marking the entrance to the trail.
Once everyone was outfitted and out of the car we were so excited to begin the hike that we forged ahead without adequately assessing the snow covered trail or the swollen “stream” that it ran along. We were all having so much fun watching the water cascade and marveling at the ice formations that we were caught off guard when the trail suddenly jumped to the other side of the “stream”. Still caught up in the euphoria of our surroundings we decided to use a downed tree to scoot over the water.
Once safely on the other side we stopped for a snack break and took the time to reread the trail description and look over the accompanying map. It was then that we started to realize that either the description in the guide was incorrect or the spring conditions were making the trail harder to read then usual. Was the raging water that we were marveling at what the guidebook described as a small stream or was it the Ellis River? Not ready to throw in the towel just yet we decided to keep heading forward on the 2 mile loop trail.
Then we came to another crossing much wider and deeper before. The guidebook made no mention of these crossings but we were following a blazed trail and were still determined to complete our hike and see the falls. So, this time we stacked rocks across the shallowest parts of water and carried the kids across on our backs. Only to reach the other side somewhat soggy and come face to face with a nearly vertical, snow covered incline that we affectionately named “Moose Slide”. It was at this point that we all began to despair. Was this hike going to get the best of us? Why wasn’t the trail map lining up with what we were seeing? Were we ever going to see the glorious white blazes of the Appalachian Trail that would bring us back to our car? Would our faces end up on the 11 o’clock news?
Luckily for us the moose who had recently climbed the trail left deep footprints that we could use to pick our way up the trail with the boys on our backs and Five of Hearts scrambling from hoof-print to hoof-print like a true super hero. Finally at the top we were rewarded with views of a gorgeous waterfall and the even more rewarding site of a trail marker which allowed us to get our bearings and confidently head back to our car.
I would like to say that the 0.7 miles back to the car was smooth and enjoyable. Unfortunately we had to cross two more very swollen bodies of water and help three exhausted young kids through soft spring snow that makes you slip, slide, and fall a lot. However, we all made it back in one piece and enjoyed a picnic in the snow fully appreciating the Earth and all the wonderful surprises that it has in store for us.
In the end, we definitely underestimated the challenges of this particular spring hike. Stream beds that would normally be dry were raging with water, and the deep snow pack made climbing the hills quite a challenge. While it wasn’t exactly a relaxing or stress-free Earth Day, it is certainly one we will all remember for a long, long time to come.