By Dick Beamish
Rachel and I recently discovered a great little hike up 1,420-foot Mount Gilligan on the opposite side of Pleasant Valley from Rocky Peak Ridge. The trail to the summit is only a mile, with 670 feet of ascent. It’s a round trip of perhaps an hour, or twice that if you have time to smell the flowers, savor the views and go eye to eye with the birds, mushrooms, blueberries and other diversions along the way.
Gilligan also offers a good leg-stretcher for car-weary travelers driving north toward Keene and Lake Placid, soon after they leave the Northway at Exit 30. Or it can be a last, brief outing for those poor souls who must return to the outside world but wish to enjoy a final taste of the mountains before logging on to the Interstate.
At the humble, half-gone Gilligan sign just over the Boquet River from the parking area, we enter a section of open woods with a wetland on the left and soon hear a rushing stream on the right. Red and yellow mushrooms grow here and there on the trail, and for much of the way the little-used path is carpeted with pine needles. Our guess is that few people beyond New Russia (the nearest settlement) and Elizabethtown have ever heard of this place.
From random notes, here are some highlights:
Reach first lookout at 0.3 miles, at an outcropping off the trail to the left. Get intimate view up toward Rocky Peak Ridge, enabling us to trace the route up Blueberry Cobble and Bald Peak to Rocky Peak itself. The Dix Range rises to the south.
At eye level we spot a venerable, brown-shingled house across the narrow valley. It’s an old-time Adirondack retreat, tucked away in the trees. Hardly visible, it seems organically part of the landscape, in contrast to the new trophy homes attracting attention on other Adirondack hillsides.
Higher up, we pass by a big, upended pine tree, its underground anatomy exposed for all to see. The root system towering over us must be 12 feet high by 20 feet wide, including a smaller pine that toppled with it. Though amazingly strong and extensive, the roots were so shallow on the bedrock it’s easy to see why the great tree came down.
Much of the trail follows up a gradual ridge, a pleasant way to gain altitude. Low-slung blueberry bushes cover much of the higher terrain. In August (it’s now mid-July) the berries should be ripe and abundant.
The highest viewpoint, very near the top, takes in Nippletop Mountain above Hunter Pass. Altogether there are four notable lookouts on the Gilligan trail. At the second one we get super view of a solitary vireo, often heard but seldom seen by hikers, on the top of a balsam only a few yards away. At the lowest vantage point, on the way back, we’re treated to an up-close look at a raven we’ve been hearing for some time during the descent. The bird is perched on a dead pine branch at eye level. We can see how wide its mouth opens, head tilted slighted back, as it produces each series of croaks.
On Mount Gilligan, as elsewhere in the Adirondacks, we experience the renewal of nature. The raven, absent from the Adirondacks as recently as 1970, is now seen and heard almost everywhere. To judge by the old, rotting stumps and the former logging roads that are just barely discernible, Gilligan was pretty well clear-cut in the early 20th century. But the second growth has come back strong, including the white oaks, a tree that prefers the Park’s lower elevations and which we rarely see in the Adirondacks over 1,500 feet.
The actual summit is a flat, wooded area just past the last lookout, indicated with another broken off sign for “Gilligan” affixed to a half-downed tree that may not be there the next time we come this way. No matter. It’s pretty clear where the top is—it’s where you can’t go any higher—and the faded ADK trail markers are more than enough to show you the way up and down.
DIRECTIONS: Trail starts from NY 9, 3.6 miles north of the intersection of NY 9 and 73, or 2.6 miles south of the New Russia Post Office. Turn in at Scrivner Road on the east side of NY 9 and park at right. Cross bridge over Boquet and go left on trail, at the “Gilligan” sign.