A November article on a mid-summer hike might seem a bit out of season. However, Maine’s Boundary Peak rises smack in the middle of the international border between Maine and with Quebec. Reaching the summit from the Quebec side requires advance planning – for example, a Passport for each member of the hiking party, and compliance with border-crossing regulations.
In terms of logistics, Mt. Gosford Ecological Reserve, where trails to Boundary Peak are located, offers campsites and even cabins, called refuges, for those who would like to stay overnight. Depending upon conditions, a four-wheel drive vehicle may be necessary to reach trailheads over woods roads that can wash out in spring – or anytime. During hunting season, trails may be closed to hiking. Information on such matters is available from park staff. I find them to be quite welcoming and helpful, both by phone and in-person. The point is to plan ahead!
How is this for a view? Standing on the summit of Boundary Peak, I look southward towards the distant Bigelow Range, Sugarloaf, and Saddleback. Mt. Washington is faint on the distant southwest horizon. Closer on, I look eastward and downhill to Big Island Pond in Northern Franklin County’s Seven Ponds Township. Above the pond, Snow Mountain, 3960’, only 40 ‘shy of being a Four Thousand Footer, rises as a near perfect cone. Kibby Mountain, like Snow, once a Maine Forest Service fire tower site stands yet farther east.
As I swing my view back towards the southeast, I discern the long north-south cut of the Kennebago River, fed by run-off from this remote high ground, seldom seen by other than logging crews, those who bushwhack to reach back country fisheries, and adventuresome hunters. There is not a single building in sight. Thousands of acres of fir and spruce, icons of the North Woods, of the deepest shades of green, sweep before me like a tide, washing up against intervening peaks, slipping around them, finding a way through a cut, disappear from sight. Tiny beaver bogs and small ponds shimmer in rising light of that approaches midday.
I look southwest – to Parmachenee Lake, headwater to the Magalloway River, another tributary to the Androscoggin; the Diamond Peaks in New Hampshire, and, again, a hazy image of the Presidential Range in the White Mountains. Here where I stand, is on the international border, but the mountains on either side are contiguous, part of a larger whole, the great Appalachian Chain with a southernmost rise in Georgia and an extension in a great northeastward arc to Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont; and Eastern Canada. Indeed, as I stand on the border, on the summit of Boundary Peak, I realize that rain or snow that falls beside me to my left, drains toward the Gulf of Maine. Precipitation falling to my right lands on the drainage to the Arnold River, and the Chaudière River; thence on to the St. Lawrence River, and the North Atlantic Ocean not far from Newfoundland. That’s something to think about!
The boundary that gives Boundary Peak its name, is a 30’ wide swath, cleared of the 5-8’ fir and spruce that otherwise would grow here – and does on either side of the boundary. Rock outcrops here and there along the border route afford me those long views, but the border cut creates a continuous lookout points of its own. In Western Maine, the boundary follows the height of land that delineates the two great watersheds – Androscoggin/Kennebec and Chaudière/St. Lawrence. Marking the boundary itself are metal discs affixed to ledge, and occasional obelisks, 4’ in height. The obelisks resemble miniature Washington Monuments. They bear the date 1842, which is the year when this boundary was finally agreed upon by Daniel Webster, representing The United States of America, and Lord Ashburton, representing Great Britain in what is known as the Webster-Ashburton Treaty. This treaty established the borders of Maine which are in place in our time.
Why Hike Boundary Peak?
I have described the view, reason enough to hike Boundary Peak, but there is another draw for hikers to come here. Boundary Peak is one of the New England One Hundred Highest, a list of peaks developed by the Appalachian Mountain Club to encourage hikers to explore lesser-known mountain country outside of the most popular destinations, such as Maine’s Katahdin, and New Hampshire’s Presidential Range. Boundary Peak, stands at 3855’, which merits it 83rd place on that list. Among Maine mountains, it is the 20th highest mountain in the state. Few Mainers have ever heard of it.
One reason, among many for its being so little known, is that there is no official Boundary Peak. That name has been applied to it by default. There is a distinct high point, a summit, and therefore this point had to be called something. Why it deserved a name at all may have something to do with its status as the highest point of elevation on the US-Canada border from Passamaquoddy Bay in Maine, to the Rocky Mountains in Liberty County, Montana – nearly 5000 miles of boundary.
In fact, there are at least three names. One of the other two titles is Pic Frontiere, the French term for Boundary Peak, even though it appears that there is no official Boundary Peak from which it might be translated. The third name is Panther Peak, which some of my American sources claim is the term used in Canada; but which Canadian sources claim is an American term. I encountered all three terms while hiking this curious mountain, and, in case readers are worried about offending someone by using the wrong name, no one I met considers the matter of names to be contentious. The whole matter is simple a curiosity.
Hikers do approach Boundary Peak from Maine, but to do so requires a bushwhack – navigating a way in the absence of marked and maintained trails. I have come close, when I recently bushwhacked to the summit of nearby Whitecap, – another of the New England One Hundred Highest – north of Bear Brook and Little Kennebago Lake. Boundary Peak was in my sights, literally and figuratively. When I learned from Quebec friends of the Mt. Gosford Ecological Preserve, and its trail system, which included Boundary Peak, that is Pic Frontiere, or Panther Peak, I decided to explore the Quebec route.
So it is that early one morning a hiking companion and I head for the border crossing at Coburn Gore, all required documents in hand, and Arrive Canada on-line procedures followed, to enter our neighbor country to the north. One mile (1.6 kilometer) beyond, we turn west in Woburn on Quebec Highway 212, and drive 8 kilometers to the well-signed turn for Parc Mont Gosford.
The approach road turns to gravel as we make our way to the Centre d’Accueil – Headquarters and Welcome Center – where we purchase a permit and maps, and obtain trail information. We choose an itinerary that will enable us to summit two peaks, Cap Frontiere and Pic Frontiere (Boundary Cap and Boundary Peak) and thereby have a full day of hiking in this remote park which also serves as a wildlife refuge.
Off we go, first in four wheel drive over rough and rocky road, passing through sections of road under water (stopping to checking for depth of the water, and for firmness of the roadbed). On the way we pass a pristine pond of remarkable beauty, the waters absolutely still and mirroring the mountains beyond. The gravel road ends at a clearing, and the trailhead for red-blazed Sentier #1 (Trail # 1).
Off we go, maneuvering a way on a path turned swift-running brook from the confusing runoff of recent downpours. We rock step, find just enough firm ground amidst the water and mud, and progress towards Cap Frontiere. After one hour of hiking, we break out of thick conifers onto the border, in bright sun, only a few steps from a 4’ boundary obelisk.
A few steps more bring us to the summit of Cap Frontiere, elevation 3806’. I am quite taken by the long view to the east and south, as I have described above. From this viewpoint, I am somewhat disoriented, looking upon Franklin County a bit sideways and upside down. I am about north of a line from with Snow Mountain to Kibby Mountain, to Number Five Mountain in Somerset County. Onion and Boil Mountain, Franklin County interior peaks not visible from any paved highway rise prominently to the south. To the north I see a blue corner of Massachusetts Bog, a 2-mile hike southwest from Coburn Gore, which I have taken a number of times. Over the years, I have explored the territory below me. Now I have swapped perspectives, looking down at territory from which, mostly, I have looked up.
Parc Gosford authorities have installed a metal signboard on the summit, identifying summits in view. One of these is our ultimate objective, Boundary Peak, at the farthest point along the boundary that I can see, before the line makes a turn to the east and disappears from view. The result of Webster and Ashburton making the boundary follow the ridge line, thereby defining watersheds, is miles upon miles of zig-zag course. Each change of direction is marked with a survey disc set in stone, some only a few feet apart. The mini obelisks we first came upon are few in comparison – probably saving much unnecessary work and expense.
We work our way southward, following Sentier #1, watching our footing, as the ground is rough, with occasional steep ascents and drops. Along the way we pass hunting stands on the Quebec side, where hunters lure moose from the Maine side with salt blocks and calls.
All is quiet on this day, weeks before the moose season begins. In fact, we meet no one else on these trails today and have the high ground to ourselves.
Pic Frontiere looms ahead. We ascend to its highest point, another far-reaching view, and another sign board to identify peaks as distant as the Diamond Peaks, the Pilot Range. and Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. As aforementioned, I look upon Franklin County’s High Peaks from the north – Sugarloaf and Saddleback among them.
To the south, the boundary makes a sharp turn to define distant tiny Cupsuptic Pond as in the US, and Lac Arnold as a headwater on the Canadian side. We see no peak along the border higher than the one no which we stand. The summit sign indicates that, as I have mentioned, Pic Frontiere is the highest point on the border until Montana. I gaze westward anyway, trying to grasp that distinctive feature of this quiet spot, with its long views over the Western Mountains of Maine. Five thousand miles of boundary, snaking and straight as an arrow, from here to higher ground. Imagine that.
I search for a hiker register. All other New England One Hundred Highest peaks have a PVC canister affixed to a tree, containing a notebook for hikers to register their accomplishment. I find it, just to the US side of the border swath. Curiously – I am using that word quite a bit – when I find it, there affixed is a sign Panther Peak. The effect of heat and cold, wet weather and dry, has tightened the canister to such an extent that neither of us can open it. I settle for a photo.
We linger for a time on the summit, with some reluctance to leave this unique spot. Our route down, west and northwest, is a combination of Sentiers #7 and 10. These trails take us through a thickly mossed fir forest, well shaded, that receives little direct sunlight in the course of a year. Quite the sight. Down, down, we go, entering a mix of rock maple and popple along with fir and spruce, and, finally, the four wheel drive road which we walk back to my truck, completing a circle.
In the course of the day, we have hiked about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) in country quite new to me, to gain a fresh perspective on Maine mountain terrain (and beyond) I have traversed for years. It is always good to look upon what has been so familiar, with fresh eyes, – and thereby see anew.
Quebec has an extensive system of well managed Provincial Parks and Wildlife Preserves that draw visitors from across Canada, and internationally. I plan to return to hike Mt. Gosford itself, and nearby Mount Megantic.
J’espere vous rencontrer sur le sentier – I hope to see you on the trail.
Planning your hike:
Mont Gosford Ecological Reserve is open all year. For information about the trail system, including Boundary Peak/Pic Frontiere, conduct an on-line search for the Preserve and the Boundary Peak hike.
For regulations governing entry into Canada by US citizens or citizens of other countries, contact the Canada Border Services Agency.
Major credit cards may be used to pay fees in Canadian parks. When making small purchases for supplies or food, it is a courtesy to pay in Canadian currency, which can be obtained from Maine banks, or from an ATM machine in Canada. Some credit card companies require prior notification that you will use a card in Canada, as a fraud protection measure.
I find people of Quebec to be exceptionally friendly, welcoming, and helpful. Speaking a few words of French – Bon Jour for hello; Merci for thank you – is a thoughtful and neighborly way to show regard and respect.
Text and photos copyright Douglas Allan Dunlap 2023.