Giant hike made for kids
By Phil Brown
Lisa Densmore grew up skiing at Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake and went on to compete at Dartmouth College and on the pro tour. Now forty-nine, she is the top-ranked woman skier in the nation in her age group.
“Ski racing is still a big part of what I do,” she says. “I like to go fast.”
You’d have to be fast to cram in all the things Densmore has done in her life: Wall Street investor, professional skier, television host, international photographer, nature blogger, magazine writer, author. Not to mention mother.
But today we’re taking it slow. We’ll be doing a short hike to the Giant’s Nubble with Lisa; her boyfriend, Jack Ballard, an outdoors writer and photographer; Lisa’s son, Parker; and Jack’s children, Micah, Dominic, and Zoe.
We’ve chosen this hike because it’s included in Densmore’s new book, Hiking the Adirondacks: A Guide to 42 of the Best Hiking Adventures in New York’s Adirondacks, published by Falcon.
You’ll notice I didn’t call it her latest book. Shortly after Falcon published Hiking the Adirondacks, it released another book by Densmore, Predicting Weather: Forecasting, Planning, and Preparing.
And she’s finishing a third book, this one on short hikes in the Adirondacks. Falcon expects to publish that in the spring.
Although skiing was her main passion, Lisa did “lots and lots” of hiking as a teenager. She climbed thirty or so of the High Peaks and continued to hike, often in the White Mountains, as a student at Dartmouth College. In fact, she’s so familiar with the Whites that she has written a book about them, Hiking the White Mountains (yes, published by Falcon).
Lisa now lives in New Hampshire but maintains a summer camp on Lower Chateaugay Lake in the northeastern Adirondacks. Though a native of the Adirondack Park, she didn’t realize how much the region had to offer until she started researching her book. “It really opened my eyes to how much territory and how much wonderful hiking there is here,” she says.
Some of her favorite hikes are Black Bear Mountain near Inlet, Gleasmans Falls in the Independence River Wild Forest, and Snowy Mountain overlooking Indian Lake.
But let’s not forget the Giant’s Nubble …
You can hike the Nubble from either of the two Route 73 trailheads for Giant Mountain. We opt to do it as described in Lisa’s book, starting near Chapel Pond and ascending via the Ridge Trail. It’s a 2.5-mile round trip, but our plan is to come out of the woods at the second trailhead, near Roaring Brook Falls, where we have left a second car. The end-to-end trip is a bit longer, about 3.2 miles.
Soon after we hit the trail, the children run ahead. Ascending through the hardwood forest, Lisa, Jack, and I settle into conversation. It’s quite peaceful until the kids leap out at us from behind trees.
“You guys are trolls on this trail,” Lisa remarks.
“Yeah,” someone replies, “trolls with backpacks.”
In a little while, the trail gets rocky and steep. Zoe, who is eight (excuse me, “almost nine”), wants her father to carry her. Lucky for Jack, he grew up on a Montana ranch and is no stranger to hard labor. He lifts Zoe onto his shoulders, carries her up the steep part, and then sets her down.
“I get to hold your hand,” she tells him.
“That’s my payment for carrying you,” he replies.
At 0.5 miles we come to a ledge with a view of Chapel Pond below and many of the High Peaks beyond. The kids take out their water bottles. Lisa asks them to keep quaffing while she snaps photographs.
“Every year I get four or five requests for hikers drinking,” she explains.
“Drinking what?” Parker asks. “Could it be a six pack of beer?”
“No-o-o,” Lisa answers.
Shortly after leaving the ledge we arrive at the Giant’s Washbowl, a brook-trout pond that sits below several rock-climbing cliffs. We cross the outlet on a log bridge, but progress is then arrested by the children’s search for frogs along the pond’s muddy shore.
At 0.8 miles, we reach a junction. The Ridge Trail to Giant’s summit continues straight, but we bear left. In less than a half-mile of intermittent climbing, we come to a short spur trail on the left that leads to an open ledge with gorgeous views of the High Peaks. If you’ve never done this hike before, you might be tempted to stop here, but keep going: the summit of Nubble is just ahead.
The Nubble is a bald knob with a spectacular vista. Round and Noonmark mountains lie just across the valley and bigger peaks, including the Great Range and the Dixes, rise in the not-too-distant background. When you turn around, you’ll enjoy a close view of the dramatic slides in Giant’s west cirque (see story on Eagle Slide, page 20).
After lingering a bit, we head down. Instead of retracing our steps when we reach the end of the spur, we turn left and descend to the Roaring Brook Trail and follow it to another junction. The trail on the left leads to the Washbowl and then back to the Ridge Trail. Thus, it’s possible to loop around the Nubble and the Washbowl as part of a “lollipop” hike, starting at either trailhead. But we continue our way down the Roaring Brook Trail and soon cross the brook.
In another half-mile, we come to a short path that leads to an overlook above Roaring Brook Falls. Lisa and I can’t resist checking it out, but the others continue their descent. There is a vertiginous drop-off at the top of the falls. People have fallen here, so take extreme care in approaching the edge. For a safer view, wait until you reach the base of the mountain, where another path leads to the bottom of the falls. We all take this side trip and bathe in the mist of the cascade, the perfect end to a sweaty summer day.