Hike fail #2, stumped by Number Four Mountain

Number Four Mountain isn’t particularly tall, compared to the other peaks of the Moosehead region. Yet in 1925, a 48-foot fire tower was constructed on the its 2,890-foot summit, to be manned by a warden who lived in a cabin halfway down the mountain.

The tower was deactivated about 40 years later, along with many other fire towers throughout the state, but the trail the warden used to reach his cabin, and then the summit, remains for the few hikers who enjoy seeking out the lesser-known trails of the Maine wilderness — hikers like me.

The long, distinctive ridge of Big Spencer Mountain can be seen from the slopes of Number Four Mountain on March 15, 2013.

On March 15, I set out to find Number Four Mountain. After passing through downtown Greenville, I drove along the east side of Moosehead Lake, past Beaver Cove and into the mountains.

Today, the 1.5-mile trail to Number Four Mountain’s summit isn’t well traveled; perhaps because the name “Number Four Mountain” doesn’t sound quite as appealing as the nearby Big Moose Mountain and Mount Kineo, made famous by Henry David Thoreau. And some people may even confuse Number Four Mountain with the nearby Fourth Mountain – understandably.

Early lumberman named Number Four Mountain, however practically, after the original township it lies in, which has since been change to Township A Range 13, according to “Mountains of Maine: Intriguing Stories Behind their Names.”

According to my guidebooks and online sources, the trailhead wouldn’t be hard to find.

So with confidence, I parked on the side of Frenchtown Road, strapped on my snowshoes and set out to hike 2.5 miles on unplowed back roads (approximately 1.5 miles on Lagoon Brook Drive and 1 mile on Meadow Brook Road) to the trailhead.

Everything went well in the beginning. The sun was shining. Three snowmobilers waved at me as they zoomed by. I inspected moose tracks with glee.

I was further reassured that I was headed for the trailhead by several signs stating that “#4 Mtn Trail” was just ahead, scrawled in black permanent marker.

So I kept walking and walking … and walking.

A hiker, I enjoy walking more than the average person, but I have to admit, I grew a little tired of trudging along on the side of a road that was gradually climbing up the mountain I was supposed to be hiking.

“To #4” the sign read. It pointed down a wide ATV trail – or was it a road for vehicles that was marked with several ATV signs?

Another snowmobile flew by. Sun and wind burned my face.

I marched on, and up… and up.

I scanned the forest edge for another sign pointing me to Number Four Mountain, and I started to view the occasional ATV sign with disdain.

The road continued to switch-back up the mountain. A few smaller ATV trails led away from the main trail. But without signs, I had no idea where they led.

Freezing wind slapped my face as I paused and turned to take in the beautiful view – a snowy Katahdin in the distance, set against a light blue sky, and the closer ridge of Big Spencer Mountain.

Katahdin seen from the slopes of Number Four Mountain on March 15, 2013.

After walking a bit farther, the road leveled off and started to wind its way around the mountain and down. I’d been walking since 10:45 a.m. It was 2:30 p.m. and clearly time to turn back.

As I backtracked, I searched for the trailhead sign once again. Maybe I’d missed it. Or maybe it had fallen over and was buried in the snow. I was back at the car by 5 p.m. And while I’d spent the entire day outside in the sun, the trip was certainly a “hike fail.”

I should have brought a GPS, a newer guidebook, a more detailed map – sure, I can say that now. But it doesn’t help to dwell on those things at the time, when all you have is what you’ve stuffed in your backpack, along with makeshift road signs and miles upon miles of snowy roads.

A few days after the long walk, I spoke with some guides at Northwoods Outfitters in Greenville, who assured me that I was walking along the correct roads yet somehow managed to miss the trailhead.

Where I think I traveled, in green, and the trailhead, marked with a green X.

So I pored over the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer once more. I ran my finger along Frenchtown Road to Lagoon Brook Drive, which is unmarked in Delorme but marked in Moosehead.net’s map of the route to Number Four Mountain). I then traced my way to Meadow Brook Road and paused. At this left turn, I remember looking down the road at Number Four Mountain looming straight ahead.

I ran my finger down halfway down Meadow Brook Road and paused. An ATV road, drawn with a dashed line, led off to the left. This must have been where I went wrong. The image of a yellow sign popped into my head — a sign that pointed left, “To #4 Mountain.” It was likely there that I turned left, though Meadow Brook Road continued straight.

With my finger, I traced the ATV road as it wound around Number Four Mountain to the east ridge, which it climbed to nearly 2,000 feet in elevation. Walking along the ATV road, the mountain would have been to my right, which it had been. With a ruler, I traced the ATV trail and came up with a little less than 2.5 miles, which would mean I walked a little less than 8 miles that day on roads and ATV trails.

It made sense. From the east ridge of Number Four Mountain, Katahdin lied to the northeast, in full view, as it had been on the day I got lost.

Since I didn’t have a GPS with me on the walk, I can’t be absolutely certain that this is the route I traveled, but it’s my best guess.

Katahdin seen from an ATV trial on the slopes of Number Four Mountain on March 15, 2013.

In the 17 months I’ve been producing “1-minute hikes” — weekly hiking videos of different Maine trails — I’ve failed to find two trailheads.

The failures remind me to plan better, be less impulsive and research more updated information. But I hope it shows readers that: 1. A day outside is a day outside, regardless; and 2. Things happen — signs are torn down or (in my case) created, new logging roads are built continually, trail markers fade, rotting trees fall across trails, and sometimes, the hike is just too difficult for a person to tackle.

One thing’s for certain – I will attempt Number Four Mountain again, just as I plan to hike Whitecap Mountain, a trail head I failed to find last year.

I’ll return with GPS and perhaps someone who has climbed the mountain before and can simply say, “There, that’s where you went wrong.”

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.