Belle of the south
By Phil Brown
A hot day in May—too hot for heavy hiking boots. So I decided to climb Crane Mountain in my brand-new “approach shoes.” Rock climbers use these low-cut shoes with sticky soles to hike to cliffs. They’re also used for climbing slides in the High Peaks, something I like to do.
Besides, we knew that Crane—one of the southern Adirondacks’ most popular peaks—has lots of cliffs and giant boulders. Perhaps my friend Mike and I would do a little off-trail scrambling.
Sure enough, 10 minutes after leaving the parking lot we came to a huge boulder on the side of the trail. Mike and I walked straight up the sloping top, and I joked that, as the first to make the ascent, we had the right to name the climbing route.
“We’ll call it, ‘Approach Shoes,’” said Mike (though he was wearing sneakers).
On bouldering’s scale of difficulty, ranging from V.1 (easy) to V.15 (impossible), Approach Shoes is probably a minus 10. It’s about as difficult as walking upstairs.
Indeed, everything about Crane Mountain is easy, except getting there (you have to navigate a maze of back roads west of Warrensburg). The shortest route to the top is just 1.4 miles, and you’ll find lots of lookouts on the ascent to goad you onward and upward. If you want to cool off after the climb, you can descend to lovely Crane Mountain Pond for a dip and then return to the parking lot by a different trail, making a 4.5-mile loop.
And as for the views … well, it’s no secret that Crane offers a huge bang for not a lot of bucks. Both the trail and the pond show signs of overuse. But most of that use occurs in summer. If you have the chance to climb Crane in spring or fall, preferably on a weekday, you’re more likely to have the mountain to yourself. Mike and I saw nobody on our four-hour excursion (on a Monday).
Fresh from our bouldering triumph on Approach Shoes, we came to cliffs rising above the trail and began scrambling up them. We found an easy route that took us almost to the top, but we turned back when the rock became wet and slippery. As we descended, two low-flying military jets zoomed past, following the valley. This aerial display was followed by another—a turkey vulture riding the wind currents.
About halfway to the summit, the trail comes to a sign directing hikers to the right. Before going in that direction, we took a short trail to the left leading to a rocky ledge with views of Garnet Lake and Mount Blue behind it.
Above the turn, we passed numerous other lookouts but chose to postpone further gawking till we reached the summit. At 0.8 miles, we came to a trail junction and a small ladder used to scale a ledge. The spur trail on the left leads directly to Crane Mountain Pond. We mounted the ladder and followed the main trail on the level through an attractive evergreen forest that afforded glimpses of the summit cliffs. We reached a much-longer ladder—24 rungs—that led us through a slot in the rock to the top of the mountain.
And what a summit! The long cliffs offer wide-open vistas to the east, south and west. A gap in the trees also gave us a view of the High Peaks 40 miles to the north. I pointed out some of more recognizable ones, including Marcy, Gothics, Dix and Giant. To my mind, the most pleasing vista was toward the southwest, over the green hills and valleys of the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest. I had the illusion that this forever-wild forest ran on forever.
We managed to pass an hour on the summit, just lolling about, enjoying the scenery, eating lunch and chatting. “This is a great little hike,” Mike told me. “It has everything: the scrambles, the ladders, the overlooks, the scented balsam, the little slides. And on a Monday in May, there are no people.”
Leaving the summit, we followed the cliffs a short distance before the trail entered the woods. Once in the woods, we saw several short paths leading to more lookouts. We skipped them all except the last one, reached just before the trail begins a steep descent. This lookout offers a marvelous view of Crane Mountain Pond, the cliffs of nearby Huckleberry Mountain and the summit of the more distant Gore Mountain.
Once you begin the descent, it’s less than a mile to the pond. Just before the pond, the trail turns left, but we followed a herd path to the right that led to a rocky point with great views of the water and the summit cliffs. Despite heavy use, Crane Mountain Pond remains a jewel, ringed by evergreens, with numerous slabs of bedrock slipping into the water. Standing on the point, we watched a hawk soaring over the trees.
After returning to the main trail, we followed the shoreline and soon crossed the outlet. Just past the outlet, the trail turned left (another herd path continued straight). In a minute, we crossed the outlet again and emerged onto a large slab of bedrock with a great view of Garnet Lake and the surrounding hills.
We then descended steeply, winding around large rocks and pines, with the music of the brook constantly filling our ears. When the trail flattened out, we crossed a stream on a natural rock bridge. Although this was mid-May, we saw a bit of lingering ice in the little ravine. Soon we came to an old woods road, turned left and walked a mile or so back to our cars. Shortly before reaching the parking lot, we passed another trail junction. If you turn left here, you’ll come out near the trail register. If you go straight, you’ll come out on the dirt you drove in on.
From US 9 in Warrensburg, turn south onto NY 418. The road immediately crosses the Schroon River. After recrossing the river at 3.5 miles, bear left and then turn right onto Athol Road at 3.7 miles. Go 1 mile to Cameron Road. Turn right and go 0.9 miles to Glen Athol Road. Turn right and go 1.6 miles to Valley Road. Turn left and go 4.7 miles to Garnet Lake Road. Turn left and go 1.2 miles to Sky Hi Road. Turn right and follow this dirt road 2 miles to a parking lot at the end. The last half-mile is narrow and somewhat rough.