Distance: 7.1 Miles
Elevation Gain: 1,350 Feet
Location: Bar Harbor, ME
Cadillac is the highest peak in Acadia. Growing up, “Cadillac” meant something. Many single summits can be reached in a relatively short time, but Cadillac feels like an event. The South Ridge Trail is the longest single-summit trail in the park – roughly 3.5 miles out and 3.5 miles back. Everyone says the South Ridge Trail takes you “up the spine of the Island.” It’s clear quickly what they mean. After wading through dense conifers, the trail opens up to the little shrubby pines that always remind me the name of the place: “Mount Desert.” This is snow but almost looks like sand.
Not far past that, you rise above any protection the trees provide from wind. Tremendous vistas open up on all sides: the rolling hills to summit before you; Dorr Mountain, Champlain Mountain, and Gorham Mountain to the southeast; Sargent Mountain to the west. Wind sprays snow from the west, tiny shards pricking your face.
With no trees to break it, wind feels pretty omnipresent. In winter, it carves beautiful ripples into the snow. It’s funny. Ripples don’t look very different than they do in water, only – quite literally – frozen in time.
At some point last week, I was on a different hike. It was in the mid 30s. I often think of myself in nature as a dynamic element among largely still elements through which I move. The ground is still. The trees are still. Wind may come and go and make adjustments, but the trees themselves are fixed before and after.
But that day, a gentle tinkling, like chimes, from above caught my ears. I hoped for an eagle or osprey or another dynamic element but nothing. Everything seemed still. As I hiked and rose hiker, the tinkling sound occurred sporadically with the ascent.
Finally, I realized what it was. Icicles that had formed on the tops of trees were melting enough to fall and shatter against other icicles to yield this really pleasant series of small sounds, like wind rustling chimes.
Then I realized how wrong I was about the natural world being still. I began to think of temperature itself. The water molecules were warm enough to bounce around and free themselves from the tree to which they’d adhered.
The ripples carved into the snow are no different than those carved in water only moving at a glacial pace. That stillness is the exact same stillness as the lethargic dexterity with my frigid fingers try to take pictures. That is why these trails are empty in winter, frozen in time. We are still, too.