By Rick Karlin
Black Mountain, at 2,646 feet, is the highest peak in the Lake George region, but if you climb it from the east, rather than from the lake, you need to ascend only about 1,000 feet over 2.5 miles to enjoy the wonderful views from the summit. If you start from the lake, you’ll need to ascend 2,300 feet.
Black Mountain is a good choice if you’re getting a late start, feeling lazy or if the temperatures are heading into the 90s. All three conditions were met when I went up Black last summer. Afterward I cooled off with a dip in the lake at the town beach in Huletts Landing.
Now that we’re entering fall, you needn’t worry as much about heat. This is an ideal time to hike in the Adirondacks: cooler days, fewer bugs, fewer people. And when the leaves start to change—well, what more could you ask for?
Although the summit overlooks the same water as Lake George village, once you get in the woods, you feel as though you’re a world away from the glitz and kitsch of that tourist town. The hourlong drive from the village takes you through the dairy country of Washington County, whose rolling hills provide an interesting contrast to the mountains to the west.
The hike begins on Pike Brook Road, a dead-end off the route to Huletts Landing. After signing in, I started ambling up an old woods road through stands of slender beech and maple trees and soon veered left at a junction marked by an old red trail marker, just past a meadow filled with ferns. The remnants of the road faded. I passed an old farmstead.
After a mile, I reached a junction with a trail that goes to Lapland Pond. This trail offers an alternative route for getting to the top of Black. You could go to Lapland Pond, pick up a trail that leads west past Black Mountain Ponds and then pick up the summit trail that starts at the lake. This route would be quite a bit longer—4.2 miles as opposed to 2.5 miles—but many hikers combine the two in a 6.7-mile loop.
Choosing the shorter route, I bore right at the junction. A few minutes later, I came to a split in the trail and met a family of six—husband, wife, three kids and a dog—making their way down the mountain. “The left side is steeper,” advised one of the youngsters. “It’s like a staircase!” On the left was a well-worn herd path going up a drainage basin; on the right, a marked snowmobile trail (the two rejoin after a short distance). I chose the herd path, which took some delightful twists and turns through woods and fern meadows.
Several toads leapt across the trail, and then a snake, probably a garter, slithered in front of me. Suddenly, I got a little paranoid thinking that timber rattlesnakes are known to inhabit Tongue Mountain on the opposite side of Lake George. What if they were here, too? I grabbed a large stick and started smacking rocks to warn away the serpents. After a few minutes, I realized I was being foolish. Part of the fun of hiking in the Adirondacks is the sense of adventure, the chance that you will run into the unexpected. Besides, these rattlers aren’t dangerous as long as they’re not cornered.
Maybe the heat had momentarily affected my judgment. As I continued to climb at a slow, steady pace, sweat rushed out my pores. I felt as though I had sprung leaks all over my body. Hiking in this kind of weather calls for a Zen-like acceptance that’s oddly relaxing once you get in the groove. It’s a matter of slogging ahead and simply watching the scenery unfold.
The kid I met earlier was right: I arrived at a stretch of rocks resembling a staircase that led to a lookout, a clearing with a view of Sugarloaf Mountain to the northeast. It was the perfect spot for lunch and a big drink of water. Afterward, I resumed my ascent and heard a clanging as I ap-proached the summit. Then I heard a helicopter and glimpsed it circling overhead. I wondered if someone was lost. When I got to the summit, I learned that the chopper had dropped off a crew to do maintenance work on a windmill that generates power for an emergency radio antenna on top of the abandoned fire tower. Solar panels also contribute electricity to the antenna. Eventually, satellite technology probably will make the antenna obsolete.
The fire tower, built in 1918, is closed to the public, but the summit is open enough to provide a commanding view of Lake George looking toward the Narrows. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mount Marcy. Lake Champlain and Vermont’s Green Mountains are also visible.
I lingered at the top, but when I realized that the mountaintop breeze was blowing hot air, I decided it was time to head down for a swim. Reaching the split in the trail on the descent, I took the snowmobile trail for a change of scenery. It offered good views of the Green Mountains.
After returning to the car, I drove to Huletts Landing, a small vacation community just a few minutes away, and stopped at an old jetty. A snorkeler told me the jetty was the remnant of an old resort and that he often finds old pots and other relics in the lake. But since I wasn’t treasure hunting, he directed me to a sandy beach a little to the north at a public park. There was a picnic area, a roped-off swimming area and a lifeguard, so it was hardly a wilderness experience. But plunging into the limpid water of Lake George was a fitting conclusion to a strenuous outing on a steamy day.
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.