Though turned back short of summit, snowshoers find trek in Siamese Ponds Wilderness is the height of adventure.
By Susan Bibeau
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I lived in the Adirondacks for close to fifteen years without owning a pair of snowshoes. My husband and I have been such avid skiers that I never considered giving any other mode of winter trekking a try.
“Why snowshoe when you can ski?” was always my pretzel-logic excuse. In a moment of clarity, I finally came to my senses and purchased a pair this winter. I am now kicking myself for not doing so sooner.
I’ve spent the last few weeks getting comfortable with my new deck-clad feet by climbing, descending, and bushwhacking all over the local hill near my home in Saranac Lake. We’ve had some fresh snow overnight so I’m feeling like it’s time to branch out and try a real hike.
It’s still snowing when I set off with my friend and frequent hiking buddy, Michelle Hannon. Since we both spend a good amount of time in and around the High Peaks, we decide that a change of scenery would be nice. We opt for Peaked Mountain on the northeastern edge of the Siamese Ponds Wilderness. The Adirondack Mountain Club’s Central Region guidebook describes it as a moderate hike of 7.2 miles round-trip. Sounds perfect!
As we fish-tail into the semi-plowed parking area at the trailhead, it occurs to me that there might actually be such a thing as too much snow. We have been hit with one storm after another in recent weeks, and if my driveway is any indication, it’s going to be deep out in the woods. I offer a silent prayer that someone has broken trail; if not, it’s going to be a long day.
The Peaked Mountain trail begins on the north end of Thirteenth Lake not far from Garnet Hill Lodge, a cross-country skiing center. The trail starts out on the western side and winds through a series of birch glades that hug the shore. Looking down the length of the lake I see that the entire shoreline is ringed with birch. Not surprisingly, there is plenty of evidence of beaver activity. One large tree is chewed more than halfway through and looks like it’s defying the laws of gravity.
“Someone has a project to finish when spring comes.” Michelle observes.
After a short distance, the trail climbs away from the shore, and we soon find ourselves on a ridge about sixty feet above the lake. A glance at the map shows that we are hiking along the base of Little Thirteenth Lake Mountain. In places, large cliffs rise beside the trail, some with enormous ice formations as big as cars. We stop to take photos.
“I wonder why this is called Thirteenth Lake?” I ask. “I didn’t notice an Eleventh or Twelfth Lake on the map.”
“Maybe it’s unlucky!”
“Yikes, I hope not!”
After our outing, we learn that the lake lies within a region once identified as Thirteenth Township. In any event, we do enjoy good luck on our hike, as a previous visitor has indeed packed down the trail.
The track is just wide enough for our snowshoes, with the snow on the sides about three feet high.
When I step off the trail to take a photo, I sink up to my thigh in fresh powder.
Just under a mile in, the trail turns west and begins a gradual climb along Peaked Mountain Brook. There is so much snow cover that the only evidence of the brook is a subtle depression in the landscape.
Steep ridges rise on either side of us. I wonder if we’re traveling between two eskers. (An esker is a long finger of land formed by glacial deposits.) I check the topo lines on the map, but I’m unsure if that’s what these are. As I’m pondering this Michelle spots an enormous erratic—a large boulder deposited by a glacier. This one is more than thirty feet high.
As we continue up the trail we see six or seven equally big blocks. The heavy snow cover makes them stand out against the landscape, giving the appearance of a sculpture garden.
“It’s like glacier art.” Michelle says.
Soon after, we come to a trail on the left that isn’t on our map. A sign indicates that it leads to Hour Pond. We decide to stop here for a quick snack and some water.
One reason I enjoy hiking with Michelle is that she loves to bake and she always packs delicious treats. Today she’s brought homemade granola bars with chocolate, biscuits with ham, and banana gorp cookies. As we munch, the sun begins to peek through the clouds. It’s been snowing and overcast for what seems like weeks, so this is a welcome change. We both turn like morning glories to face the rays.
“It’s amazing how much you miss the sun when you haven’t seen it in a while,” I say.
“I can actually feel the vitamin D!” Michelle replies.
Refreshed from our sunny break, we resume our trek. It’s not long before we reach a marshy clearing that offers our first view of the summit of Peaked Mountain. As we approach Peaked Mountain Pond, which lies below the summit, we pass through three wetlands in all, each more scenic than the last. We stop and take some photos. It’s obvious how Peaked got its name: it looks like a perfect pyramid of rock poking above the trees.
“Wow, it looks windy up there,” I remark.
As we round a bend and begin to climb the final hill to the pond, we hear a roaring sound. When we arrive at the height of land, we are blasted by howling wind and blowing snow. The temperature when we left the car was twenty degrees. Now it feels like it’s in the single digits. We struggle to pull our hoods over our heads. The wind has obliterated the path, leaving us somewhat disoriented. I spot a trail marker on a tree ahead, and we hustle across the outlet of the pond and into the brush.
The sparse trees on the shoreline don’t provide much shelter from the whipping gale, but we find a big spruce and hunker down to regroup. It appears that the packed trail stopped at the pond. The snow in the woods has been sculpted into big drifts by the wind, and I have to stomp around to clear a place for us to stand. I am up to my mid-thigh in places, even with my snowshoes. The other troubling development is that we can’t find any more trail markers. We retreat to the last one we saw and scan the landscape in all directions. As it turns out, the trail leading from here to the summit is unmarked, according to our map.
The prospect of breaking trail through deep snow without markers, coupled with the wind and dropping temperature, gives us pause. We weigh the pros and cons and decide it’s probably wise to turn around.
According to the guidebook, the trail from the pond to the summit is 0.6 miles and gains 669 feet in elevation. It is described as rugged and very steep in places. The summit has extremely fine views in all directions. Too bad we won’t get to see for ourselves today.
As we make our way back through the marsh we get a final glimpse of the rocky peak.
“I feel like it’s mocking us.” Michelle says.
“It hasn’t seen the last of us; we’ll be back.”
On our way back along the brook we are once again sheltered from the wind. Now I feel a little sheepish for bailing out. We decide that the point of the trip was to have fun and spend some time enjoying the snowy woods. Like the old adage says, “Sometimes the journey is the destination.”
Since the mountain is not going anywhere, we vow to come back in the warmer months and give it another go. As long as Michelle brings baked goodies, this seems like a fine idea to me.
DIRECTIONS: If coming from the north, take I-87 (the Northway) to Exit 26 (Pottersville). Follow the Gore Mountain signs to Olmstedville, 7.7 miles from the Northway. Turn left onto NY 28N and go 5.2 miles to NY 28 in North Creek. Turn right and go 5.1 miles to Thirteenth Lake Road (County Route 78). Turn left and go 3.5 miles to a fork. Bear right and go to the parking area.
From the south: Take I-87 to Exit 23 (Warrensburg). Follow US 9 for 4.0 miles t0 NY 28. Turn right and go 10.5 miles to Thirteenth Lake Road, then follow directions above.