Mountain Maven

woman walking dog on Great Pond Mountain
Photograph by Chris Bennet

Aislinn Sarnacki’s climb from copy desk intern to Maine trail guru.

One recent overcast Sunday morning, the ground at the base of Orland’s Great Pond Mountain was soaked from days of rain. The dreary conditions seemed to deter most hikers — the parking lot was nearly empty — but Aislinn Sarnacki stood at the trailhead, bright-eyed and unfazed. The 29-year-old Bangor Daily News outdoors reporter pulled on her waterproof boots and a wind-resistant fleece, a camera dangling around her neck, ready to add a few more miles to the thousands she’s logged in the last six years for her popular Act Out with Aislinn blog on the BDN website.

Sarnacki’s posts — consisting of practical trail info, photos (of flowers, bridges, bugs), charmingly self-conscious video monologues, and a dash of trail history and ecology — have made her something of a celebrity in Maine hiking circles. She just released her first guidebook, Family Friendly Hikes in Maine, and she’s already working on a book of remote, lesser-known hikes for next year. (Sarnacki’s publisher, Down East Books, was once owned by this magazine’s parent company.)

Maine doesn’t want for hiking options, but until Sarnacki reached a critical mass of blog posts (she’s hovering around 300, at present), well-curated online sources of statewide trail info were hard to come by. That’s in part due to the decentralized nature of land management here — our recreation parcels are managed by a patchwork of state and national agencies, local trusts, and groups like Audubon and the Appalachian Trail Club. Existing resources like the AMC Maine Mountain Guide or the Maine Trail Finder website are eminently useful but on the dry side. By contrast, Sarnacki’s compact collections of video, text, and photos (she titles her posts “1-minute hikes”) are both thorough and sweetly personable — and after you’ve watched and read one of her recaps, you can reasonably guess whether you’re likely to enjoy a hike.

Sarnacki started her blog in 2011 as a side project, after graduating from an internship on the BDN copy desk to become a full-time lifestyle reporter. Gradually, she convinced her bosses to make it her main gig. Now, she’s a veritable one-woman clearinghouse for Maine trails. You almost can’t google a hike, be it a coastal bog trail or a rugged western mountain, without Act Out with Aislinn popping up among the top search results.

For her Great Pond climb, Sarnacki brought along her black-and-white dog, Oreo, a mixed-breed rescue well known to her online fans. She started the hike as she always does, by spinning the camera around, selfie-style, at the trailhead, filming a quick intro. “Got it!” she called after a few takes, feigning exasperation. “So difficult!”

When we did, at last, meet two other hikers on the lonely trail, they turned out to be family friends, so Sarnacki stopped to chat. “Maine’s a small state,” she said. In fact, she’s constantly running into people she knows or making connections with readers she doesn’t. One woman once baked her an apple pie, unsolicited, and dropped it off at an outdoors convention where Sarnacki was working the BDN booth; others have geeked out upon seeing her in the Bangor airport. “I get flustered,” she admits. “I don’t really know what to say. At least I don’t have any haters.”

The fog was still lying thick when we reached the summit, but soon the sky began to clear. Sarnacki perched on a ledge to take in the view: an eagle circling the side of the mountain, Alamoosook Lake shimmering below, and the Penobscot Narrows Bridge cutting a tiny silhouette in the distance. This job, she laughed, doesn’t have too many drawbacks. “When I go on vacation, I want to do the same stuff I do at work,” she says. “I’m very lucky to have schemed this up somehow.”