Exploring Acadia’s new pathways

Ellen Dohmen spots a clover patch to the left of the Valley Trail on Beech Mountain. She stops and plucks a few leaves to smell.

Then, she pops them into her mouth.

“Taste it, taste it!” she says. “It’s good! I would use it in a salad.”

The petite 69-year-old holds a clover up to her husband, Bill Dohmen. He opens his mouth and lets her feed him the leaves.

“You’ve got to be a little bit Irish,” Bill Dohmen says.

Her affinity for eating clover and the discreet green streaks running through her white hair aren’t a tribute to Ireland, though. They indicate her love of the outdoors.

Ellen Dohmen points out the sights during a hike on Beech Mountain.

Ellen Dohmen points out the sights during a hike on Beech Mountain.

The 5-foot-2 hiking machine refers to boulders shaped vaguely like people as her “rock friends” and heads out on a hike nearly every day the weather allows.

Just as quickly as the couple stopped, they’re on the trail again, streaming toward Beech Mountain’s summit.

It’s the Dohmens’ 46th wedding anniversary, and the two are celebrating by hiking on Beech Mountain and testing out the new trail up to Canada Cliffs.

The Canada Cliffs connector trail on the western side of Acadia was inaugurated in 2012 as an alternative to Beech Cliff Trail, the steep ladder route that leads to Beech Cliff Loop, where stunning views of Echo Lake, the Somes Sound and the Cranberry Islands unfurl. A group of hiking enthusiasts called the Footloose Friends adopted the trail as their project in 2011.

Beech Mountain View“It’s a great hike that families can do and avoid the ladder section if kids are afraid of heights,” conservation director Stephanie Clement said.

Post-hike swimming at Echo Lake’s sandy beach is another option for family adventurers.

The view of the lake and its beach gets more and more spectacular as we climb higher, higher, higher. Soon, the fire tower at the summit of Beech Mountain peeks through the trees. The spindly, metal outlook is our next destination.

We point our hiking boots down Valley Trail, which will connect to South Ridge Trail. Ferns appear to grow straight out of boulders that line the path. The green contrasts with the gray of the rock, and sunlight filtering through the trees shines a spotlight on the new growth.

“You know what these things say to me?” Ellen Dohmen says. “It says, ‘I can do it!’ It just makes me feel hopeful.”

Ellen Dohmen identifies flowers, mosses and a few butterflies along the way. She’s on the hunt for British soldier moss – her favorite. She knows exactly where to find it on the east side of Acadia but has never seen it here, where the trees are older and the forest denser.

After living in Bar Harbor for 15 years, the Dohmens know most of Acadia’s trails like their backyard. The new Canada Cliffs trail is unfamiliar, though, and we take about a 3-minute detour off the path before we realize our mistake and wind our way back.

Bill and Ellen Dohmen

Bill and Ellen Dohmen

This isn’t the couple’s first off-road adventure.

“Ellen and I have gotten lost on trails all over the world,” Bill Dohmen said.

Almost-yearly international hiking trips have landed the couple on Mount Everest and in Sicily, Italy. They’ve conquered the highest peak in Central America, traversed the Canadian Rockies and trekked through Provence, France.

The hikers have picked up plenty of knowledge along the way. While backpacking through the Himalayas, they learned to pass yaks on the inside of the trail – the shaggy, lumbering mammals have a tendency to bounce passing hikers right off the cliff.

The yaks are few and far between on Beech Mountain, though. The only company is a few groups of people winding their way down from the peak.

Passing hikers often underestimate their hiking ability, Ellen Dohmen said.

“They’ll say, ‘You’ll be OK, it’s just a little ways off,’ or, ‘You’re almost there!’ and I’m like, well they have made an assumption that I am old and decrepit,” she said.

She likes more remote trails, the seasoned hiker said.

Her favorite treks are the ones far enough away from the road that you can’t hear the whooshing of the cars as they speed by on the highway.

“When I’m hiking, I don’t want to be aware of humanville,” Ellen Dohmen said.

The din of speeding vehicles gets louder as we return to the Echo Lake parking area.

Our 4-hour excursion could easily be sliced in half for hikers who would rather take their time up Canada Cliffs and forego summiting the mountain. Not the Dohmens, though. They’re up for all of it, despite Bill Dohmen’s bad knees.

The couple’s next trip will likely be an adventure through the Grand Canyon. Until then, they’ll be exploring their personal playground as usual, up and down Acadia’s many mountains on a daily basis.

Julia Bush was a 2014 summer intern who specialized in arts stories and features for the seasonal section Out & About. She hails from Texas by way of Missouri, and when she’s not reporting on the most recent gallery opening, she’s probably kayaking, playing the ukulele or avoiding doing the dishes.