Tongue whets appetite for hiking

Joy of sweat

By Michael Sean Gormley

From the top of Tongue Mountain, hikers can enjoy a superb view of Lake George. Photo by Carl Heilman

I heard the call of the Adirondacks for years, but for just as long left it on hold. People kept on telling me that hiking was liberating and invigorating. Although I was sure it probably was all of that, I told them I usually avoid walking eight to 12 hours with sweaty, smelly companions. That’s why I bought a car. So I swatted away their invitations like so many black flies. I figured humping up a mountain, chafing everywhere in sight and too many places out of sight, wasn’t the ideal use of a rare free day.

My older brother, Matt Gormley, who asked to remain anonymous, is to blame for this. He’s prattled on for years about hiking the Adirondacks, describing each step as if it were a brush stroke on the Sistine Chapel. So, after scouring an Army-Navy store for light, rugged hiking wear that didn’t require a mortgage, I figured I was ready. Hey, I’ve often climbed all the way to the third-floor press room of the state Capitol in Albany, so I surmised I knew a thing or two about hiking.

That, of course, was the problem. I knew only a thing or two—maybe. Matt, who inexplicably hikes the High Peaks in fog, rain and snow, felt I’d better take on a mountain a little less daunting. So he assigned me Tongue Mountain—presumably named for what hangs from an exhausted hiker’s mouth at the summit. The map said this lovely mountain beside the Lake George Narrows had an added feature: rattlesnakes.

“Oh, they’re nothing to worry about,” my brother lied. “Don’t bother them, and they won’t bother you. They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.”

That, of course, was impossible.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Yes, the lovable rattler, one of nature’s most beautiful and peaceful creatures. That’s why there are so many Beanie Baby Rattlesnakes. Although we neither saw nor heard a rattler, the snakes were a featured topic of the hike. And when the leaves rustled, we set an Empire State Games record for the team high jump. I know my fear was irrational—rattlers are timid—but try telling that to my primitive psyche.

Although I didn’t want to admit it, going up the mountain was a pretty tough haul. The terrain changed from grassy flatland to rocky incline real fast. The trail is easy to follow, but it meanders to work with the landscape rather than simply get over it. The Tongue is known for its abundance of wildflowers and oaks, but it also boasts some big pines. Passing these giants, I couldn’t help but wonder what they had witnessed over a century. As the trees thinned and sunlight broke through, I finally reached the summit. I’d say the view was breathtaking for those first few moments if I could be sure I had any breath left.

The Lake George I looked down upon seemed something far different from its popular image. It did not look like the powerboat playground associated with its namesake resort, where tourists in Hawaiian shirts can buy the finest in genuine artificial tom-toms, visit Frankenstein’s Wax Museum and stuff themselves with saltwater taffy. As I gazed on the island-studded lake, birds soared beneath me and wispy clouds rode the currents just above me. Looking south, I saw the Tongue peninsula stretching into the water as if reaching for islands.

No, this mountain isn’t among the 46 High Peaks—the tallest Tongue summit is less than half as high as Mount Marcy—but there’s something about it that attracts even 46ers. And for those of us newbies who aren’t ready for the High Peaks, the Tongue’s challenges are more than enough.

Actually, Tongue Mountain offers a variety of hiking possibilities, ranging from a short jaunt to Deer Leap to a 17-mile marathon over five peaks. For those who want to break their hike into two days, the state has built two lean-tos—one of them at the Fifth Peak summit. Those who prefer flat hikes can stick to the trail that follows the shore of Northwest Bay to Montcalm Point at the tip of the Tongue.

Our trek was sometimes sweaty, often tiring and always delightful. The jarring hike down can in some ways be tougher than the way up, but by then I felt like a real hiker. Legs shaky, shoulders sore from toting a day pack, I thought to myself that you don’t simply observe the Adirondacks when venturing deep in the woods, you become, for a moment, part of it.

Directions: Tongue Mountain has two trailheads, both off NY 9N. From Northway Exit 24, go 5 miles east to 9N, turn left and go 4.7 miles to a parking lot on the right. Walk back along the road 100 feet to reach the Northwest Bay trailhead. To reach the second trailhead, drive another 3 miles to ?a parking lot on the left.

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

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