Climbing Champlain Mountain In Acadia National Park
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Hiking Up the Most Dangerous Trail in Acadia National Park

There is no physical barrier, except for a guide rail on the ground, to prevent you from plummeting a few hundred feet if you don't hold on tight enough.

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Hiking Up the Most Dangerous Trail in Acadia National Park
Zijun Xu

Tall trees and dense foliage line both sides of the road. A silver Honda Accord cruises moderately quickly along the winding mountainous roads of Acadia National Park. I gaze out the backseat window of the car, watching the trees zip by and on the look-out for wildlife. The cool morning air blows through the rolled-down windows of the car.

It was early August, the summer before my 10th-grade year. My parents and I were on a week-long road trip to Cape Cod, Acadia National Park, and Boston. While we were at Acadia National Park, we decided to go hiking on Champlain Mountain. The trail is almost a mile long and goes up close to 1000 feet. With no previous experience in mountain climbing or even rock climbing, I was about to head into an adventure that I was not well-prepared to undertake.

My dad parks his car in the parking lot near the entrances of two trails, the Beehive Trail and the Precipice Trail. It's around 9 am; the cool morning mist still lingers in the air. I open the door to take a deep breath of fresh forest air. I eat my breakfast while looking toward the sky; it's clear with feathery cirrus clouds. My mom and dad are looking through the park guide and maps. My dad and I then start packing our backpacks to go hiking while my mom walks to the large wooden map at the other end of the parking lot. She comes back a few minutes later, after asking a few other tourists standing around the area map, and informs us that the Beehive Trail is the easier one. I look back at the map and the trail descriptions. "I think we should go on the Precipice Trail since it seems thrilling and probably has better views. It also does not require any ropes or climbing gear. How much more challenging can it be anyway?" I tell my parents. My dad responds, "I guess we could give it a try." My dad and I pull on our backpacks and my mom reluctantly follows along.

We walk up a set of narrow stairs that lead to a hill of rock that looks like a white flow of lava solidified. I wander farther up. "Are you sure this is the right way?" my mom asks. "There are blue markings that lead to the right side. You're going the wrong way," my dad shouts. "No wonder why it's so steep," I tell myself. I stroll back down and follow the markings. There is also a yellow warning sign about the rough terrain, railings, ladders and hand-over-foot climbing as well as the possibilities of death or serious injury. We hike up an elevating dirt path with log-like stairs. A family of five is behind us and a man with artificial lower legs is ahead of us. We arrive at a boulder that is slightly over six feet high. It has two metal bars, each about two feet apart. To get over it, you would have to step on the first metal bar, grab the second handle, hoist yourself up, then grab the top ledge and hoist up again. My dad goes first and then helps me get over. My mom changes her mind and decides to go back to the parking lot and wait for us to finish. The family of five turns into three as the mother and youngest child head back. The two of us continue up the rocky path.

Large rocks fill the path and act as stepping stones and stairs as we make our way up. Light blue markings show us where to go. At other places, the ground is soil and relatively flat. In others, it's basically boulder hopping. I feel very energized and excited to see what awaits. We come across numerous tight spaces to maneuver or crawl through. Wind rustles the leaves. So far, we've mostly been in the shade of trees. We come to a clearing. There are more stone stairs leading up. I climb to the top of the stairs and look down. The view is still mostly tree-covered. I can somewhat make out the road beneath.

Farther up, there comes a real obstacle. Metal rungs are attached to the side of the mountain's surface, each a foot apart, that lead vertically at least ten feet. A few feet from the bottom is a cliff, a vertical drop going down hundreds of feet. I pause. "Should I just turn around or should I continue forward?" I ask myself. I am generally not afraid of heights, but this situation is unlike anything I have encountered; it could be life or death. It's almost kind of difficult to turn back since there are more people behind me and the trail isn't that wide. I watch the man without lower legs climb it. Grasping the ladder with his hands then pulling himself up, he ascends up the ladder. "It doesn't look that frightening, does it?" I think to myself. With a shaky breath, I move forward and place one hand on the second rung and the opposite foot on the first and start climbing, keeping my focus on the next rung, not looking down and holding on tight. My breath quivers as I climb up the rungs. Once I get a few feet away from the ledge I look back, the view of the valley beneath is becoming clearer. My body begins to loosen up, feeling more calm, as I move away from the ledge. We are almost halfway up.

After a short break, we continue up the mountain. There are at least four more spots that require climbing of metal rungs to go up, each one less frightening than the one before. At one part, we cross a small bridge over a ravine within the mountain. The tree-cover shields off most of the heat. My legs become sore from all the trudging and climbing. The trail turns narrower as we move past 600 feet. In one section, we have to move sideways, holding onto a railing. There is no physical barrier, except for a guide rail on the ground, to prevent you from plummeting a few hundred feet if you don't hold on tight enough. My heartbeat nearly doubles, and I begin to sweat as I firmly grab onto the railing and inch sideways toward another set of stone stairs on the other end. After that section, there are two sets of ladders that lead to the summit of the mountain. Each step that I take slightly wobbles and makes a ping sound on the metal ladder. I arrive at the summit. "I did it!" I think to myself as I am panting. The view goes out for miles. I can see Eagle Lake, Jordan pond, plains of vegetation, surrounding mountains, roads, houses and endless stretches of conifer trees from here. To make the way back easier, we hike down the Beehive trail.

On the way back down, I felt both astonished and shaken. I had never hiked that high up before or encountered that many unexpected and frightening decisions. As sore and tired as I felt, I was still glad that I hiked the Precipice Trail.

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