4 great snowshoe ascents

By Carl Heilman

Black Mountain, on left, rises above Lake George Narrows. Photo by Carl Heilman.

When the snow gets deep, so does the longing to get out into the woods—at least if you’re a snowshoer. Below are four winter hikes up mountains that offer magnificent vistas in different parts of the Adirondacks.

It so happens that all four were once fire-tower summits, but only three still have towers, and one of those can no longer be climbed. On all four peaks, you’ll find you don’t need to go up a tower to get a good view.

Mountaineering snowshoes with sturdy crampons are recommended if the trail is crusty or icy. They’ll also help you climb the steeper terrain near the summits.

Black Mountain

Map by Nancy Bernstein.

Black Mountain, in the southeast corner of the Adirondack Park, towers above the island-studded Narrows of Lake George. At 2,646 feet, the summit rises more than 2,300 feet above the lake.

You can do a 5-mile round-trip to the top, but for variety I recommend a 6.6-mile loop that takes you past Black Mountain Ponds and Lapland Pond on the return. Although you can no longer climb the tower, which has been transformed into a wind-powered communications antenna, you still can enjoy great views of the lake looking both north and south.

Snowshoeing is a sport all ages can enjoy. Photo by Carl Heilman.

The trail starts out by going pretty steeply uphill, but it soon levels off, and over the next 1½ miles, it ascends very gradually. This section follows an old tote road, and would be great for skiing. If doing the loop, you can carry the skis over the summit and then put them back on once you get in the vicinity of Black Mountain Ponds.

Approaching the summit you’ll know you’re going up a mountain: the trail gains 800 feet in the last mile, winding through a mix of hardwoods and conifers. From one vantage on the top, the entire north end of the lake and the surrounding mountains are visible. It might also be possible to see the High Peaks off to the northwest on a clear day.

For the loop, continue on through the woods just southwest of the tower. After a fairly level walk over the summit, there should be some great glissades (sliding on snowshoes) on the mile-long descent to the junction with the Black Mountain Ponds trail. Look for views through and above the trees on the way. From the junction you’ll have 3 miles of easy snowshoeing or skiing back to the trailhead. Black Mountain Ponds and Lapland Pond are postcards of serenity in winter.

DIRECTIONS: From Route 22 on the east side of Lake George, turn west at the sign for Huletts Landing, drive 2.7 miles and turn left onto Pike Brook Road. The trailhead is on the right at 0.8 miles.

Crane Mountain

Typically, the narrow access road to the Crane Mountain trailhead isn’t plowed, which adds 0.6 miles in each direction to the distances listed below. As on Black Mountain, there are two trails to the top. The main route is a fairly steep 2-mile ascent, gaining 1,154 feet in elevation. You also can loop over the summit and return via Crane Mountain Pond, which adds 1.6 miles to the total distance.

Map by Nancy Bernstein.

The access road is a pleasant, level snowshoe past a couple of beaver ponds and to the register at the end of the parking lot. Follow the trail that heads directly to the 3,254-foot summit. After an initial gradual climb, it becomes rather steep as it passes through open hardwoods. There’s a side trail to a nice outlook at about 0.5 miles. Afterward, the trail continues climbing to the top of the first ridge and a trail junction.

From the junction, the summit trail winds around some ledges before coming to a ladder, which will pose the greatest challenge of the trip. If there is enough snow on the ladder, you might try kicking in steps with the snowshoes. If not, you may need to take them off. The summit is a short distance from the ladder. Crane’s fire tower was taken down in 1987, but the summit still offers breathtaking views. Peaks included in the vista include Hadley Mountain in the south and Snowy Mountain in the northwest.

Map by Nancy Bernstein.

Continuing over the summit, the trail passes several open ledges with good views before heading into the woods for a 1.2-mile descent to Crane Mountain Pond. Bearing left, the trail skirts the edge of the pond before reaching the 0.5-mile shortcut trail at the base of the summit ridge. This leads back to the main trail.

DIRECTIONS: In the town of Thurman, drive 1.4 miles down Garnet Lake Road and then turn right onto a dirt road at the Crane Mountain sign. After another 0.3 miles turn right at the intersection. From there it’s a pretty steep 2 miles uphill to the Crane Mountain access.  At the end is a driveway to the left, and a small unplowed road straight ahead to the summer parking lot.

Snowy Mountain

What could be more appropriate than climbing Snowy in winter? At 3,899 feet, this peak overlooking Indian Lake is nearly as tall as a High Peak. The 3.9-mile trail ascends more than 2,100 feet to a fire tower, which was restored a couple of years ago and offers a 360-degree view of a largely wild landscape.

Map by Nancy Bernstein.

This is another trail that has a fairly level beginning and a surprise ending. You’ll go a mile before there is any appreciable climbing. They’re just saving the best for last.
Once the trail starts going up, it’s a pretty continuous climb to the top. Not far from the actual summit, the trail skirts a large open ledge with some great views to the north and east. From there it’s a short but steep climb to the wooded summit and the fire tower.

Views from the tower include all of Indian Lake and the mountains to the east, the Speculator/Piseco area to the south, the Blue Ridge Wilderness and Blue Mountain Lake area in the west, and on a clear day the High Peaks far off to the north. The best part of this hike could be the return trip. In good snow, there are a number of nice glissades on the way back down.

DIRECTIONS: The trailhead parking lot is on the east side of Route 30, 6.5 miles south of Indian Lake village and 4.7 miles north of the outlet of Lewey Lake near the state campground.  The trail begins on the opposite side of the road from the parking lot.

Owls Head

The fire tower on 2,780-foot Owls Head, located outside Long Lake village, is being restored, but you don’t need to climb the tower to get excellent views of the surrounding mountains and lakes. Landmarks include Forked Lake and Raquette Lake to the southwest and Blue Mountain and South Pond to the southeast.

Map by Nancy Bernstein.

The 3.1-mile trail is a fun snowshoe hike. Back in 1995 there was some serious blowdown near the summit, and I remember hiking along a trail cut through trees that were stacked well over my head.

The trail gains 1,000 feet in elevation. At the start, it crosses over gentle, rolling terrain, but the climbing gets steep as you close in on the summit. The hiking trail intersects with a snowmobile trail at a couple of points, so keep a careful lookout for the red disks marking the hiking trail.

DIRECTIONS: From Long Lake village take Route 30 west. A short distance after crossing the lake, look for Endion Road on the left. Turn and drive 1.6 miles to the trailhead on the right.

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