By Winnie Yu
Getting your tween and teenage daughters out for a hike isn’t easy, especially when they’ve just started a new school year and are already running cross-country. Add in the fact they’re inclined to sleep in on weekends, and you wonder if you can ever get them up and out before noon.
We finally succeed in mid-October and take them out to Chase Lake in Fulton County. Chase Lake is a little-known hike that follows old logging roads. In 2010, the state Department of Environmental Conservation built a new lean-to on the lake’s north shore, with a lovely view of the lake. With that destination in mind, my husband, Jeff, and I head out midmorning on a Sunday with our daughters, Annie (who is twelve) and Samantha (fourteen), and our dog, Loki, a Yorkshire terrier.
We drive to Pinnacle Road and arrive around noon. We park at the dead end, where the trail begins. The entrance to the trail is wet and swampy, thanks in large part to a rainy fall. It remains that way for a good portion of the first part of the hike. (I imagine it will be wet in spring as well.)
The ground is covered in ferns and small hemlocks, so there is greenery to break up the dull brown and orange hues that come with late fall. We arrive at a small bridge over a tiny stream, whose ripples fill the silence. Loki pauses for a drink. The bridge is covered in leaves, and Samantha warns us not to slip, which Jeff almost does. He recovers in time to spot a water strider, near the edge of the stream. Overhead, my avid birdwatcher husband spots a black-capped chickadee, blue jay, and hermit thrush.
After dodging more puddles, we see more clusters of hemlocks and red berries. The devastation of Tropical Storm Irene is suddenly more evident as the ground is littered with fallen trees. One tree is bent into a perfect arch, with another fallen tree tucked beneath it, creating a sculpture of sorts. Another tree has a trunk that looks twisted. The roots of yet another lie barren and exposed for us to see.
“Agh!” Annie abruptly exclaims. While admiring the trees, her foot has gone straight into mud.
Most of the trail is relatively flat, but there is an occasional small hill. At the bottom of one, we come to a dry bridge, clear of all leaves. Halfway up the other side, Jeff sees a tree whose roots hug the edge of the stream embankment. The roots spark Samantha’s imagination. “This would be a great hideout,” she says. “That’s where I’d sleep, and that’s where I’d eat.”
A white-throated sparrow whistles overhead as we tiptoe across a log. We hear the knock-knock-knocking of a woodpecker. A few minutes later, we spot him: a hairy woodpecker making his way up a tree. We see a sign indicating that we are a mile from the lean-to.
We walk down a hill and come to a swift brook with no obvious crossing. The water is deeper here than it has been in the other streams we’ve encountered. All the rocks are wet and slippery, and crossing appears to be somewhat treacherous.
We assess our options. Shall we crawl across the tree that fell over the water? Step across the wet rocks? Which ones? Walk down a ways and look for an easier way to get to the other side?
It’s Annie who finally dares to start rock-hopping. She carries Loki with her. Her foot goes into the water before stepping onto a more sturdy rock. Then she stops, uncertain of her next step. She looks down and finds her shoe untied. Loki is still in her arms. “I don’t know where to go,” she says, sounding a bit panicky.
“Stay calm, and stay there,” I tell her. “I’ll get Loki.”
I step onto a rock, reach over, and take Loki, which frees Annie to bend down and tie her shoe. She does so with amazing grace and balance, then manages to make her way to the other side. Annie has now established herself as our trailblazer—she is certainly proud of that—and we all follow her lead, gingerly stepping on the same wet rocks.
After almost three hours, we arrive at the log lean-to. We have seen no one else the whole time. The lean-to has space to sleep eight to ten people. Inside on the walls are mats, spices, a coffee pot, a saw, a propane container, and a fishing pole. Someone has carved the date 9-7-10 into a log. Next to the lean-to, someone has built a small table with tree stumps and a board.
Directly ahead is an opening with a beautiful view of Chase Lake, which is peaceful and lovely as promised. We are starving, and so we sit and enjoy a late lunch. The sun is starting to go down, and our time is running out. We eat quickly, snap a few photos—one eventually becomes our holiday card—then head back the way we came.
The journey back to Pinnacle Road goes quickly. At the brook, we consider a few other ways to cross. Jeff stands on the fallen tree and contemplates crawling across it. Instead, he falls and lands on his backpack. Annie gasps, Samantha laughs. I have visions of me trying to lug him through the woods. Fortunately, it’s nothing serious, and we forge ahead.
Near the end, we are tired but exhilarated, having hiked five miles in all. But before we get to the car, we hear a loud and raucous screech. We freeze.
“Whoa, what was that?” I ask.
A barred owl. It continues to make loud calls, but it’s nowhere to be seen. Jeff tries to lure the owl out with several calls of his own, to no avail. After a few minutes, we give up and move on.
Moments later, we arrive at the car. The entire hike has lasted about five hours. We peel off muddy shoes and head to our next adventure: dinner.
DIRECTIONS: From NY 30 north of the Northville bridge, turn west onto Benson Road. Drive to Pinnacle Road, turn right, and go 2.6 miles to its end. Benson Road also can be reached by turning east off NY 10 near Caroga Lake.