Long Pond to Long Pond Mountain
By Phil Brown
Most of the tourists have gone, but the loons haven’t. Their eerie calls echo off the hills, and the yellows, golds and oranges of the changing leaves reflect off the water, so each time you dip your paddle, you set in motion a swirl of color.
Ah, the fall is a great time to canoe. Of course, it’s also a great time to hike. No matter how good the view is from a summit in summer, it’s always better when the forest is awash with autumn hues.
So what’s an outdoors lover to do? That’s easy: both.
The Adirondack Park offers many opportunities for combining a canoe trip with a climb up a mountain. Such outings are a wonderful way to get a full workout of legs and arms. And if you go for a swim at the end of the day, heck, it’s like a mini-triathlon – but without the grueling punishment.
One of the best canoe/hikes in the Park is in the St. Regis Canoe Area. I went there this summer with my teenage son, Nate, to paddle Long Pond and climb Long Pond Mountain.
Now I should mention that Nate isn’t always the most enthusiastic traveling companion on my jaunts up mountains. He’s willing, but only up to a point – a point that usually comes about two hours into a hike. On this day, however, he had a fabulous time. “I thought it was going to be tiring,” he said, “but it was fun.”
In Nate’s book, that is high praise indeed.
All told, the trip took 5½ hours. That includes nearly two hours of canoeing, two hours of hiking, a leisurely lunch on the summit and a long swim on the return paddle.
We put in the canoe at a sandy strand on the western end of Long Pond, reached by a short carry from a parking lot off Floodwood Road. Before shoving off, we looked across the water and saw Long Pond Mountain rising in the northeast. Since the pond is shaped like a horseshoe, we would paddle east up one arm, around the bend and then west toward the hiking trail, which starts near the end of the pond’s other arm.
Within a few minutes of launching we heard our first loon of the day. The black-and-white-checkered bird was swimming off our bow. Suddenly, it dove. We stopped paddling, waiting for it to resurface. After a good 30 seconds, it appeared about 30 yards away. Before the day was done, we would see and hear several other loons. They must enjoy the serenity and quiet of the motor-free Canoe Area.
We turned and headed north through a strait to the lake’s other arm. En route, we passed a few fellow paddlers and several pretty campsites set back amid large pines. Rounding the next bend, we again spied the summit rising above the horizon. Several minutes later, we passed through another strait, guarded by a sandbar, and into a wide bay. A white sign on the north side of the bay, barely discernible from this distance, marked the start of the hiking trail.
We landed in a forest of balsam fir and spruce. Two other canoes had been pulled onto the shore. Until recently, the official trail led only a half-mile or so to Mountain Pond, but the state now maintains a trail all the way to the top of Long Pond Mountain.
Less than 10 minutes from the landing, the conifer forest yielded to hardwoods. On both sides of the trail, we noticed many small depressions and ridges – a reminder of the glaciers that sculpted the St. Regis Canoe Area and created its many ponds. In 15 minutes, we arrived at Mountain Pond. Here the trail turns right and follows the shore a short ways before climbing the southern slopes of the mountain.
The ascent is gradual at first, but it steepens soon enough. You’ll see several glacial erratics among the hardwoods – boulders dropped by the melting glaciers 10,000 years ago. Before you get to the top, you’ll pass a few lookouts with good views to the southeast, but these afford just a taste of what’s to come.
Approaching the summit, we heard voices. At first, I was miffed that we wouldn’t have the mountain to ourselves, but my disappointment dissipated when I recognized a friendly face: Brian McDonnell, a guide who lives in Lake Clear, was having lunch with several companions.
As I marveled at the vista, stretching from Whiteface Mountain in the east to Ampersand Mountain in the south – and taking in numerous High Peaks in between – I foolishly asked Brian if he lets his clients in on this little secret.
“Naw! Are you kidding?” he replied. “I wouldn’t share this with them.”
Of course, the other people on the summit were his clients. They included Hugo Sonnenschein, the president emeritus of the University of Chicago, and his wife, Beth, who visit Saranac Lake every summer. They had climbed the mountain with their daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.
That’s one of the great things about Long Pond Mountain: it can be climbed by all ages. And yet the view is superb. Given the ease of the ascent, Brian regards the 2,533-foot summit as one of the best payoffs in the Park. All told, the trail covers about two miles and ascends about 900 feet.
Among the peaks that can be seen, besides those already mentioned, are nearby St. Regis Mountain; Mount Marcy and Algonquin Peak, the state’s highest summits; the twin-peaked McKenzie and its neighbor, Moose Mountain; the Great Range; and, in the western High Peaks, the Santanoni and Seward ranges. Herd paths lead to other views toward the west, including Spring Pond Bog, a vast wetland. There are not many peaks where the contrast between the Park’s highest mountains and the lake country to the west is so visible.
After Brian and his clients departed, Nate and I enjoyed a long lunch before heading back to our canoe. The return hike took about 40 minutes. Toward the end of the return paddle, we stopped at a vacant campsite for a swim. We hadn’t realized how shallow Long Pond is until we entered the water and found we could walk almost halfway across. We swam to the other shore and back.
With only five minutes of paddling ahead, we now felt totally refreshed. It was the perfect end to an almost-perfect day. Ah, if only it had been autumn.
Other Paddle/Hiking Adventures:
If you’re up for a long day, consider paddling up Lake Placid to a dock on the northern shore and taking a trail 3.5 miles to the top of Whiteface Mountain, the fifth-highest peak in the Adirondacks. The view from the summit is superb: Lake Placid spreads out from the southern hem of the mountain and most of the High Peaks are visible beyond. Two large islands bisect the lake. If you want to do a circuit, canoe up the west side of the lake en route to the dock and return on the east side, passing the palisades of Pulpit Rock. By the way, if you want to lighten your load during the hike, you can eat in the cafeteria near the summit rather than packing a lunch.
DIRECTIONS: You can put in at a state boat launch on the northern end of Mirror Lake Drive in the village of Lake Placid.
First, we slip our canoes into Putnam Pond’s clear water and explore its bays and islands, surrounded by forest reflections, before heading southwest past campsites tucked into trees, toward the Treadway Mountain trailhead. This canoe sally saves three miles of hiking, making the trip possible for the two youngsters. After beaching the canoes we follow the red-blazed trail into the woods.
As we tramp through the apparent wilderness, we chat about the way this land was logged heavily by the Treadway family in the 19th century. Hard to believe now. Today the woods is a haven for hikers and skiers.
Soon we cross a blue-blazed trail that leads to Clear Pond and move along the edge of Mud Pond’s swamp, where the girls chew on tasty wintergreen leaves. After a moist meander past beaver ponds and across shallow streams, the trail moseys upward, starting on the 900-foot ascent that mostly takes us over open ledges where the trail is marked by rock cairns. A devastating forest fire in 1910-1911 burned the upper forest here and on Big Clear Pond Mountain off to the northeast. While few trees have grown back, blueberry bushes have taken over.
Just when we think that the summit must be near, the trail dips into a wooded col where we face a rocky wall. We boost the girls and clamber up the rock face, past boulders, and trek through a stonescape pocketed with quartz and odd shaped outcroppings. By the time we reach the true summit, we are ready to pick berries and enjoy an amazing panorama.
Pharaoh Lake lies at our feet to the south, while Crane, Moose, Baldhead and the peaks of the Lake George area spread off beyond. The Green Mountains of Vermont string along to the east, and the High Peaks pierce the northern horizon. To the west, Blue Mountain, Snowy and Eleventh Mountain bask in the sun. A great place to play, look, pick, nibble and spend a sunny afternoon. In fall, you may not find many blueberries, but the spectacular views of the changing foliage make up for the lack.
Too soon, we meander back down, encouraging small, tired bodies to look for red efts and American toads. We sing our way through the lower woods, glad the trees are there to shade our trip to the canoe.
DIRECTIONS: From Northway Exit 28, drive east on NY 74 for 13.3 miles to Chilson. Turn right and follow signs for Putnam Pond Public Campground. The campground closes Sept. 3, but the public may still put in canoes at a boat launch on the eastern shore of Putnam Pond.
At nearly 3,000 feet, Mount Blue looms above the landscape as you paddle across Garnet Lake toward the Lixard Pond Trail on the southwestern shore. This part of the small lake is surrounded by Forest Preserve. To get to Blue, follow the hiking trail three-quarters of a mile. Just before a large vly, or wetland, east of Lixard Pond, turn right and start bushwhacking to the summit, taking a north-northwest route. During the ascent, you traverse several rocky ledges with vistas. From the top, you see in three directions. The view is dominated by nearby Crane Mountain and the wooded hills of the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest.
DIRECTIONS: From Warrensburg, drive west on NY 418 for 4.9 miles to a T intersection. Turn left and then make a quick right. Go 1 mile to another T intersection. Turn right and go 0.9 mile to Glen-Athol Road. Turn right and go straight for 6.4 miles (the road becomes Pleasant Valley Road) to Garnet Lake Road. Turn left and go 6.4 miles to another road, also called Garnet Lake Road. Turn left and go 0.8 mile to the lake. Turn left and go 0.8 mile to a parking area on the left.
Before the state’s purchase of Little Tupper Lake in 1998, Lake Lila was touted as the largest motorless lake in the Park. Although it has ceded that title, it has lost none of its beauty. You put in on a sandy beach on the eastern shore and paddle 2½ miles across the lake, past alluring islands and tall pines, to the western shore. Just beyond the shore is an old dirt road. Walk on this road until you come to another dirt road leading west. Follow this road 0.8 mile to the trail sign for Frederica. From here, it’s just 0.6 mile through a mixed woods to the summit. Frederica affords a spectacular view of Lake Lila in a wild landscape.
DIRECTIONS: From the junction of NY 28N and NY 30 in Long Lake, drive north 7 miles on NY 30 to Circle Road. Turn left and go 3.2 miles to Sabattis Road. Turn left and go 4.8 miles to a dirt road with a Lake Lila sign. Turn left and go 6.1 miles to the parking area. There is a 0.3-mile portage.