Three great little peaks

I’m standing on the shore of Bumps Pond, listening to an evening chorus of frogs and debating whether to climb Erebus Mountain—named for the dark netherworld in Greek mythology, the antechamber of hell. And that’s exactly where I’m afraid I’ll end up.

I’ve been hiking more or less continuously for 6½ hours on one of the hottest days of the year. I’ve climbed three mountains already. I’m tired, sweaty and hungry, and I still have 1½ miles to go to reach my car. If I climb Erebus, I’ll have to log an extra 2½ miles, and I’ll be lucky to get out of the woods before nightfall.

You, dear reader, are the only reason I would even consider going up this little-visited summit under such circumstances. My intention was to climb four peaks on the east side of Lake George on the same day and rank their views.

OK, I failed. But I have it on good authority—Carl Heilman, author of ADK’s Guide to Adirondack Trails: Eastern Region—that the view from Erebus is not that great. In fact, his guidebook does not even describe it.

The three mountains that I did manage to summit were, in order, Shelving Rock, Buck and Sleeping Beauty. Although they are lower than Black Mountain, the tallest peak in the region, all offer enjoyable views of Lake George and the wild country on this side of the water.

All three summits can be reached by relatively short hikes off Shelving Rock Road. Although it’s possible to hike from one summit to another, using the area’s extensive network of trails and old carriage roads, you’ll save a lot of wear and tear on your boots and your body by driving between trailheads.

Of course, you don’t have to do them all on the same day, but it’s fun to compare the views and to look out at peaks that you either just climbed or are about to climb. Tackling them all requires trekking at least 11.6 miles and ascending about 2,600 feet-which means it’s a challenge but within the ability of experienced hikers. (Climbing Mount Marcy from Adirondak Loj entails a round-trip of 14.8 miles and an ascent of 3,166 feet.)

But if you want to climb just one, here’s a quick comparison: Buck has the best view, but it’s the hardest to climb. Shelving Rock Mountain is the easiest to climb (and the summit where you’re most likely to find solitude), but its view is limited. Sleeping Beauty is a bit harder to climb than Shelving Rock, but it offers better views. Keep in mind that although these mountains are lower than most in and around the High Peaks, you start off at a lower elevation: Lake George is 320 feet above sea level; Heart Lake at Adirondak Loj is 2,179 feet above sea level.

Shelving Rock Mt.

A century ago, the Knapp family bought thousands of acres on the east side of Lake George and constructed the dirt carriage roads used today by hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. One well-preserved road zigzags to the top of 1,130-foot Shelving Rock Mountain, where the Knapps had a gazebo. The grade is gentle enough that intermediate bikers should be able to ride all or most of the way to the summit.

The 1.7-mile trail begins in a small clearing among large white pines and follows a stream for a short distance before arriving at a junction marked by a signpost. Turn left. The trail here is flat and softened by pine needles. In a few minutes, it starts switchbacking up the slope for a quarter-mile. After the trail levels again, you’ll pass some hemlocks and reach another signpost at 1.1 miles. Bear left and resume the climb.

About 0.2 mile from the second junction, you’ll come to a path on the right that leads to a lookout with views to the west of Tongue Mountain and the Lake George Narrows. The trail continues to switchback for another 0.4 mile to a grassy clearing on the summit.

Oaks, aspens and other trees obstruct the views in most directions, but you can see Buck to the south, Sleeping Beauty to the southeast and Erebus to the east. Just beyond is a larger clearing with views of the lake toward the south and west. The landmarks include Shelving Rock Bay, Dome Island and, directly across the water, the Sagamore resort on Green Island.

Shelving Rock is a good choice if you are looking for an easy hike and don’t want to run into a lot of people. You ascend only 650 feet. The grassy summit is an excellent picnic spot.

Buck Mountain

Most people climb this 2,330-foot peak from Pilot Knob in the south. From Shelving Rock Road, the hike is much easier—the trail is a mile shorter and the ascent is 870 feet less—but you’re rewarded with the same great view.

The trail is fairly level for the first mile or so, passing through stands of hemlocks. Mountain bikers might want to start the trip on wheels. At 2 miles, you’ll pass a collection of large boulders. The trail is steepest toward the end, just before it joins the Pilot Knob trail. Turn right at the junction to reach the summit a few yards away.

Buck has plenty of open rock affording spectacular views. To the north, you can see Shelving Rock Mountain, the Narrows and dozens of islands, and Tongue Mountain across the lake. To the northeast are Sleeping Beauty, Erebus and Black mountains, all looking wooded and wild. Facing west, you seem to be gazing straight down at the lake and at what appear to be toy boats.

Although reaching Buck’s summit from Shelving Rock Road is easier than getting there from Pilot Knob, it’s no cakewalk. You ascend 1,130 feet over 2.3 miles, with most of the climb occurring in the last half of the hike.

Sleeping Beauty

At 2,347 feet, this peak is almost as tall as Buck, but because you begin at a higher elevation, you ascend only 800 feet or so during the hike. Sleeping Beauty sits farther from the lake, so its perspective differs from that of the other two peaks. Standing on the summit ledges, you see spread beneath you not a sheet of blue water but a sea of forest.

You can start at the large parking lot at the Hogtown trailhead, but most people will want to start at Dacy Clearing, which lies 1.5 miles into the woods. To get there, drive through the lot and continue down a rocky, narrow road. If you paid a lot for that muffler, be sure to drive slow. Another option is to ride a mountain bike from Hogtown to Darcy Clearing.

From the clearing, the 1.8-mile route starts up a carriage road. Unlike the one leading up Shelving Rock Mountain, this road is too rocky for most bikers. At 0.6 mile, you’ll come to a sign. Turn right, leaving the road to follow a path that winds around the back of the mountain. Just before the summit, turn left at another junction. In a minute, you’ll emerge from the woods to a sweeping vista that includes Buck, Shelving Rock, Erebus and Tongue mountains and a large swath of Lake George.

The easiest way back is to retrace your steps. But if you want a change of scenery, turn left at that signpost you passed just before the summit. This trail reaches Bumps Pond in a mile, ending at the carriage road. Turn left and follow the road 1.7 miles back to Dacy Clearing. You’ll pass two nice lookouts on the way. Taking this route adds 2 miles to your hike.

One last possibility: As you walk along the north shore of Bumps Pond, look for a narrow path on the right that cuts through tall grass and beckons you to follow it deeper into the woods. This is the way to Erebus Mountain. It’s a mysterious place. Discover it, if you wish.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Black Mountain: From the village of Whitehall, head north on NY 22 to the road for Huletts Landing (it’s marked by a sign). Turn left and go 2.7 miles to Pike Brook Road. Turn left and drive 0.8 mile to the parking lot and trail register.

Other Peaks: From Northway Exit 20, drive east a few hundred yards to NY 9. Turn left and go 0.6 mile to NY 149. Turn right and go 6.1 miles. Turn left onto Buttermilk Falls Road. This turns into Sly Pond Road after 3.2 miles and Shelving Rock Road after 9 miles. You’ll come to the main Hogtown trailhead on the right at 9.8 miles, the Buck Mountain Trail on the left at 10.3 miles, and the Shelving Rock Mountain Trail on the right at 12.5 miles. If you’re climbing Sleeping Beauty or Erebus mountain, you can either park in the Hogtown lot or drive through the lot and continue 1.5 miles down a narrow, rocky road to Dacy Clearing.

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The Adirondack Explorer is a nonprofit magazine covering the Adirondack Park's environment, recreation and communities.

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