Why Nye? Why not?
By Tom French
I considered, for a time, not climbing Street and Nye. I’d heard rumors of others who had done the same—not climbed them. Famous Adirondack guides and writers. What was the point of climbing them anyway? Just to get a Forty-Sixer patch? Shouldn’t hiking be about discovering nature, not trying to earn bragging rights?
I’d heard a lot of bad things about Street and Nye. The lack of views. The phantom herd paths that lead nowhere or, worse, in circles. A close friend—an experienced outdoorsman and a Forty-Sixer no less—was forced to find his way off the mountain with a map and compass, following an eroded gully. When I asked if he’d climb Street and Nye with me, he would not.
Nevertheless, I was motivated by the notion of a personal goal and the belief that every mountain, every hike, has merit. I welcomed the challenge of a difficult climb, even if I would have to do it alone.
So I set out last October for the summits of these two “trailless” peaks. With the leaves off the trees, I reasoned, the views just might open up. As it turned out, the third weekend in October was one of the warmest on record, with temperatures in the low 70s. Despite the balmy weather, I was prepared for the worst—long underwear, rain gear, two maps, compass and a GPS unit.
By 9 a.m., I was kicking leaves down the path as I rounded Heart Lake and followed the old Nye Cross-Country Ski Trail (used in the 1932 Olympics). I soon reached a sign warning that the trail beyond was unmaintained. A few minutes later I was crossing Indian Brook, barefoot because the water was high. A group of 12, three families with kids, was doing the same, passing sneakers in a bucket brigade across the stream. Sneakers? How bad could these mountains be?
Despite the numbing cold, my feet warmed up again as I continued up the trail. I found the old enamel pots and cast-iron stove mentioned in Barbara McMartin’s guidebook but no sign of the horse-drawn bobsled. The trail steepened. Two and a half hours after leaving the parking lot, shortly after passing the junction for Street, I was on top of Nye—nothing to write home about, but not the disaster I had been led to expect. Even the junction was well marked by an “S” and “N” carved into a tree, along with arrows. It would have been hard to get lost.
A half-hour after leaving Nye, I was on top of Street. I knew I was on the summit even though I failed to see the sign at first (it was posted on a tree 10 feet above me). Again, the route to this peak was obvious. Whoever cleaned it up had done their job well.
From the summit I followed two short side trails. The left one led to the better view. On a small rock outcrop, I settled down for lunch and took in a sweeping vista that included Giant Mountain, part of the Great Range, Mount Marcy, the Santanonis and the Sewards. But it was the nearby MacIntyre Range—Algonquin, Iroquois and Marshall—that stood out in all its glory. The rocky summits and cliffs glistened in the bright sun, and their small valleys, partially hidden in shadow, looked like wrinkles on the skin.
It was with reluctance that I finally left my perch, but the party of 12 was approaching, and my moment of solitude was about to end.
On the way down, I found the bobsled mentioned in McMartin’s book (it was about 20 yards downstream from the crossing), but the wide metal runners were all that remained. Despite dropping my boots into Indian Brook on the return crossing, I reached my car safe and sound, two and a half hours after departing Street’s summit.
Part of me regrets not having had the opportunity to climb Street and Nye before the recent trail work, when finding the way to the top was more of an adventure. The fact is that Herb Clark, Bob Marshall and the other early Forty-Sixers must have really faced a challenge—more so than any of us wannabes of the 21st century. Street and Nye and the rest of the peaks are now cakewalks in comparison (though still demanding caution and respect).
I have only six peaks left to get my patch. The only trailless one is Table Top, “no one’s favorite mountain,” according to McMartin. But Street and Nye taught me that all peaks have value, whether for a walk through the woods, a workout, a moment of beauty in a birch meadow with the sun flooding the forest floor, or just a check on a list of peaks above 4,000 feet. I guess I want that patch after all.
Directions: The trail to Street and Nye begins on the west side of Adirondack Loj Road, just before the Adirondack Mountain Club tollbooth. Hikers should park in the club’s parking lot. The Loj Road starts on NY 73, about 4 miles southeast of Lake Placid village.