Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Precipice, Champlain South and Beehive Trails (Acadia NP)

Precipice Trail to Mount Champlain to Champlain South Ridge Trail to Beehive Trail and Bowl Trail to Sand Beach
Precipice TH Elevation: 117 ft.
Mt. Champlain Elevation: 1,054 ft.
Beehive Elevation: 529 ft.
Sand Beach Elevation: 24 ft.
Distance: 4.15 mi.
Elevation Gain: 1,337 ft.
Start Time: 10:07am
End Time: 12:17pm

Trip Report:
The Precipice Trail and the Beehive Trail are noted as being a couple of the classic hikes in Acadia, well loved by visitors. On one hand this is a bit surprising given the inherent danger each contains, particularly on the Precipice Trail, on the other hand, given the thrills and views, I can see why many partake anyways. Each trail has high exposure and the use of iron rungs mounted into the rock to assist with climbing and safety. Its not quite a full blown via ferrata where you are walking over nothing, but a few sections get close. There was also no use of ropes or clipping into any anchors as other even more exposed routes have. As I hiked each of these I kept pondering just how one ranks a route such as this. There is some rock climbing involved and the use of iron rungs on rock which would otherwise be class 5 climbing. There is massive exposure in many places on the Precipice Trail and there is the effort to do all of this. I certainly would put this in the category of a full class 5 climb with ropes and protection. On the other hand, even with the iron bar assists this is a bit more than your typically class 2 or class 3 climb. I think in terms of technical ability I would classify this in the range of easy class 3. But the exposure in parts on Precipice goes pretty high up on the scale.

The Precipice Trail begins steeply right from the get go. A brief forest trail leads to rock slabs and then some boulder scrambling. You're instantly pressed into following white blazes on the rocks to hold the route. There was a clear warning sign at the trailhead giving hikers fair notice to the dangers ahead. It was recommended children not be brought. I was impressed up higher on the route to find a man with a 9-year old who appeared to be doing quite well. There are a number of places on this route where longer arms and legs would help so I would wonder if the young man must have had some help from his father along the way. The following photo shows the first real difficulty of the day:

Look in center photo at the large rocks for the iron bars used to climb up and over
This difficulty might be a bit of a litmus test for hiker's on this route. You'd better be able to make it over this if you're going to complete the rest of the route. This in fact was one of the more technically difficult moves as it required a long leg stretch to pull up and over. After this initial challenge there was more trail hiking for a bit before the extended scrambling would begin.

It would be hard to describe each and every challenge along this route and so it seems more beneficial to let the pictures describe it for me. I tried to capture a selection of all that I encountered. There was no one single part where it felt like we were hanging out over oblivion. There were mixtures of iron bar railings on ledges, and iron steps like a ladder to climb up steep rock. Even one section in the pictures below where the iron bar ladder was essentially vertical up and over an 8-foot section of rock. The most extreme exposure came on some of the ledges and a few of the ladder sections where you certainly would not want to fall off.

Iron railing helps on this rocky ledge

Thankful for the increasingly wonderful views today.

One or two such bridges were also used to "span the gap". Thankfully they felt sturdy.

A well made rock staircase

This shot captures the views as well as the exposed nature of this route

This photo shows the iron bar ladder going up vertically over the rock obstacle

On the lower half the route I was almost entirely alone just passing a pair of couples. One couple was actually descending. The route signs all make it clear one should absolutely not try to descend this route from the top. Not only would it be personally dangerous but the meetings with uphill traffic would make it dangerous for all. I'm guessing this couple probably reached a point low on the route and decided it wasn't for them. I was also shocked how muggy I felt the entire climb up. I had no breeze and was really feeling the humidity. The temps were perhaps upper 70's but it felt every bit of the warmth.

On the upper half of the route I got into a bunch of traffic. Some of the groups were kind enough to notice when swifter hikers would overtake them and let them pass. There are plenty of sections where it is a one-at-a-time affair and I would frequently tell folks ahead of me "no hurries, take your time terrain."

More iron staircases in the rock with some traffic this time
The route finally topped out still a fair ways away from the summit of Champlain Mountain. You rounded a blind corner up near the top of the cliff area and were on top of a large area of slabs. The slabs led into a brief walk in the forest where one last rock wall was encountered. It had enough breaks in it for a natural staircase of big rock steps to allow passage. This part is in the photo below:

One last scramble before the summit

Looking out from near the summit

Above that last obstacle was a short walk to the signed summit of Champlain Mountain. The summit had decent signage pointing the directions of the handful of trails heading down from the top. I knew the general direction I wanted to head but it needed a little searching around for me to finally confirm I had found the South Ridge trail.

Summit signage
The South Ridge route for the whole section along the ridge crest was marked by what I believe were referred to as Acadia cairns. I recall on the top of Cadillac Mountain there were some signs reminding folks to leave the cairns, as picture below, alone since they mark trails. I imagine that style of cairn to be used on most all of the higher trails in Acadia especially in areas with rock slabs.

Cairns just like this marked most of the upper route on the South Ridge

Much of the first half of the South Ridge route was like this, running slabs amidst the vegetation
I had planned to do most of the South Ridge in more of a trail-running fashion after the Precipice route took every second of my attention. This worked out for the most part. Aside from the occasional rock step and hopping down from boulders, much, if not most, of this route was runnable. I didn't work any sort of a blistering pace but just kept moving comfortably. I bumped into a handful of groups hiking this route up to Champlain's summit. As a whole, with a keen eye I found this route to be fairly easy navigable. It would be easy to lose it though if one tunes out a bit too much or gets distracted.

A look down at the Bowl with the Beehive behind it.

Shore side at the Bowl, quite beautiful

Boardwalk on part of the trail around the Bowl
After completing the Precipice Trail and heading down the South Ridge of Champlain I was all set up for my next objective, the Beehive. The only challenge is I couldn't just take the shortest, most direct route to the summit. The Beehive, much like Precipice, has an ascent-only style of climb. When you're following what is now the Bowl Trail (formerly South Ridge) about a quarter mile past the Bowl you meet the Beehive Trail coming down from the top. I joined with it and continued descending. There was a junction for the Gorham Mountain trail in here but I didn't have time to go out that way. It would make a wonderful alternative to my route if you wanted to tack on another mile or two and end up near Otter Cliff. I descended until I met the junction for the Beehive trail ascent, which is all well marked.

Looking up at the Beehive from below

The Beehive trail had many more people on it. Many of them younger as well. There's probably a couple of reasons for this. One, it basically shares parking with Sand Beach and so sits right next to one of the most popular areas of Acadia. Two, it is easier and shorter than the Precipice Trail. I still wouldn't take my younger kids on it though.

The Beehive Trail, after the junction, is easy forest trail for a short bit and then it climbs. This trail, like Precipice, makes use of ledges and in a handful of sections of iron bars to assist climbers. When the ledges get too narrow the trail designers apparently improvised as the following photo shows:

Just use more iron to make the ledge wider
At a few of the more difficult spots the traffic would back up. I don't think the waits were too long however, it did seem like everyone kept moving reasonably well. Most of the route seemed to be walking a ledge for a bit and then climbing up some iron bar assisted class 3 rock scrambles. The exposure was present on this route, but not as much as the more open parts of the Precipice Trail. Both of these routes reminded me a lot of the Angels Landing climb out in Zion National Park.

Waiting on the ledge to keep moving upwards

This low cloud layer is moving up and over Sand Beach

One of the final, mostly easy, scrambles to the summit of the Beehive

The summit of the Beehive had a number of people on it all enjoying the great views to the southeast. This route, like with Precipice, was very muggy today with almost no breeze to move the air about. There were good trail markings to lead to the descent route from the Beehive which heads down near the Bowl again. It then joined up with the Bowl trail where I had descended earlier. Here I retraced my previous route "completing the loop" and descended down to the Loop Road and the trailhead. This turned out to be a most exciting route for today to go up Precipice, top out on Champlain, and then to descend down and around and back up the Beehive ending near Sand Beach. From my finish it was a short walk to the beach where I could cool off and join up with my wife to enjoy the rest of what Acadia has to offer.

Views from the Beehive to the east


I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk).  

My Tracks 

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