Saturday, September 7, 2013

Precipice Trail at Acadia

Precipice Trail is on the east face of Champlain Mountain, with exposed cliffs and nearly 1000 ft vertical rise above the ocean. It is the most challenging and famous trail in Acadia National Park. In fact it is not listed as a hiking trail, but a non technical climbing trail. I did not know all this when I picked the trail by the loop road except that it is a very steep, strenuous trail on exposed cliffs per park trail description. The reason I selected it for our first full day at Acadia was that it is a strenuous but short trail (~ 1.8 mile) and with gorgeous view from the summit of Champlain mountain.

The east face of Champlain Mountain
When we arrived at the trail head, bright yellow warning sign greeted us: ...dangerous, possible serious injury and death.... It was very intimidating! We moved ahead nevertheless. The initial section of the trail is rugged, steep - more difficult than usual but nothing extraordinary. I stopped a few times to enjoy the view and take pictures. Then another bright yellow warning sign posted by the trail greeted us. Shortly we encountered a first set of iron rungs on a high step, shortly after which  another set of iron rungs on a vertical rock surface. We were entering the vertical cliff section of the trail. I called out to Justin and Nicholas who were leading the way - be steady, no rush and space out. 

The road to the cliff
 The trail was now a narrow  ledge of a vertical cliff - left hand side is a vertical wall of rocks, the right hand side is 50 to 100 ft drop to the lower section, and straight ahead is the view of Frenchman Bay and porcupine islands!  It is definitely nerve wrecking for people afraid of height. Fortunately for me, there is a steel wire formed rail on the outside. I stopped at the start of the section, took out my camera trying to capture the view. I could see Justin gingerly in the front of a group of hikers. I stopped Lily and have her to turn around and I took a picture of her in this literately breathtaking scenery!
On the edge

Awesome - literately 
A good portion of the remaining trail is extremely  treacherous, even narrower trail on the ledge of cliff, no railing on the outside, but railings on the cliff surface, and iron rungs on the rock to prevent slips into abyss, every step, every turn poses dire danger. I put my camera in case to focus solely on climbing. I kept calling out to the boys to be careful, and reminded myself as well. It was challenging and adrenaline pumping at the same time.

As we were closer to the summit, the zigzagged trail turns into a direct ascend - more rungs on nearly 90 degree rock surface, however the landings are wider and larger, not as frightening as before. I paused for a few minutes and took a few more pictures of the climbing of the rest of the family.
Nearly vertical ascend
Difficulty wise,  the final portion of the trail to the summit is anti climatic. On top of Champlain Mountain, each of us felt great sense of accomplishment by overcoming the most challenging trail at Acadia, and was rewarded with the calming and beautiful Frenchman Bay. I secretly had a sigh of relief that there was no accident on this climb.

Summit of Champlain Mountain
It took us about 90 minutes for the 0.9 mile trip to the summit. Hiking down would have been so much more harder than climbing up on the same trail. We took an alternate, longer, much easier trail downhill to return to the trail head parking lot.

Precipice Trail at Acadia is the most difficult trail we have ever attempted. It is fearsome, thrilling, exciting and tremendously satisfying.


1) Justin did not take any pictures during the climb
2) Nicholas wrote about the climb on precipice trail for his Acadia trip journal
3) There was an accident on the trail in July 2012 that resulted in the death of a hiker - first time in 27 years.

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