Almost a High Peak
By Rick Karlin
At 3,899 feet, Snowy Mountain dominates the west side of Indian Lake. It is one of the tallest mountains outside the High Peaks and poses as tough a challenge and offers as big a reward as many of the Park’s loftiest summits.
Toward the end of 3.9-mile climb, you emerge from the trees onto a wind-swept ledge with a fine vista of Indian Lake and the Siamese Ponds Wilderness. After a few more minutes, you reach the wooded summit with a newly renovated fire tower from which you can enjoy a superb panorama that includes the High Peaks themselves.One of the most popular climbs in the central Adirondacks, Snowy sees about 10,000 visitors a year, according to forest ranger Greg George. The trail is easily accessible from Route 30, and the round-trip takes about five hours – a strenuous outing but one that leaves time in the day for other activities. From the highway to the summit, the trail gains 2,106 feet in elevation. Most of the climbing occurs over the second half of the trail. It’s steep in places but not punishing.
When I hiked Snowy last summer, the rain stopped just as I pulled into the trailhead parking lot. I was hopeful that the skies would clear by the time I got to the top. As I entered the woods, patches of mist and fog drifted down through the gorge that holds Beaver Brook.
The forest is thick along most the trail, but occasional glimpses through the trees give you a sense of how much you’ve ascended. Toward the top there’s a bit of hand-over-hand scrambling where the steep trail is eroded to bare rock, and then you pop out of the woods onto the big ledge.
As I gazed down at Indian Lake, the water was so long and narrow that for a second I thought I was looking at the Hudson River (navigation is not my strong point). Beyond the lake, farther east, you can see the mountains of the Siamese Ponds Wilderness, including Gore Mountain. After I had my fill of scenery, I followed the trail into a stand of low fir trees and about 500 feet to the well-sheltered summit. Three summers ago, volunteers and Americorps workers rehabilitated the tower and put on a new roof. From the top on a clear day, you can see 32 of the 46 High Peaks, but my view was partially obscured by clouds. Even if you don’t climb the tower, you can find views by following the network of herd paths on the summit. I took one that led to a snug opening in the trees that provided a perfect spot for lunch.
A 1920 guidebook by T. Morris Longstreth titled In the Adirondacks describes the view from a ledge on Snowy as looking out over an amphitheater, and that’s exactly what my view looked like. At one time, Snowy was called Squaw Bonnet. The origins of both names are lost in history.
Greg George, the forest ranger, believes that “Squaw Bonnet” may be linked to Chief Sabael, a well-known Native American who lived in the region in the mid-1800s. George said the mountain’s ledges hold a lot of snow, visible for miles, and this may account for its current name. The moniker may have changed, but the view remains pretty much as it was 80 years earlier. There’s wilderness in all directions. No doubt people will still be climbing Snowy 80 years from now.
Directions: The trail begins on the west side of Route 30, 7.3 miles south of the village of Indian Lake. There’s a paved parking spot on the highway’s east side, directly across from the trailhead.
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