Wild fruit, birds and other delights abound
By Winnie Yu
It’s a beautiful summer day on top of Cook Mountain. The sky is a vivid blue, and the sun is blazing bright. Wild blueberries are everywhere. My daughters, Samantha and Annie, are overjoyed as they crouch down and start plucking them, dropping some into a bag and others into their mouths.
We are a family of blueberry lovers. We put them on our cereal every morning. We eat them in pancakes. We eat them in muffins, pies and cakes. And now we have found a blueberry nirvana. The discovery was the high point, literally, of our 1.7-mile trek up Cook Mountain.
The 1,230-foot peak is located in the town of Ticonderoga, south of the hamlet. If you’re driving too fast along Baldwin Road, you’re apt to miss the trailhead. Look for a couple of fence posts marking the grassy entrance, with a Nature Conservancy kiosk nearby. The conservancy owns the 194-acre Cook Mountain Preserve. Leaflets describing the trails are available at the kiosk.
We begin our hike late in the morning. Samantha, 10, and Annie, 8, are wary of blisters, which they got on our first Adirondack hike, up Pharaoh Mountain in April, when they were breaking in new hiking boots. This time, we taped the girls’ ankles with gauze as a preventive measure. I also made sure to pack a first-aid kit.
The Summit Trail, marked by red disks, starts off slowly. The grass is long and overgrown, and wildflowers line the path. Horsetails rise up to shoulder height. Inside the hardwood forest of maples, beech and oak, the air is cooler. The girls are intrigued by a monarch caterpillar feasting on its beloved milkweed; the insect’s black, yellow and white stripes stand out against the green leaves.
Almost immediately, my husband, Jeff Scherer, an avid birdwatcher, realizes he has lots of company. He hears a brown thrasher and chestnut-sided warbler and within minutes spots a black-capped chickadee, blue jay, Eastern pewee, blue-headed vireo and American goldfinch.
We walk across a tiny wooden bridge and after a half-mile reach a junction, where we turn right onto the Beaver Trail, marked by yellow disks. Alas, the abandoned beaver dams we hoped to see are hidden behind the tall grasses. We forge ahead to rejoin the Summit Trail. We are now 0.8 miles from the road, and a sign tells us that we have 0.9 miles to reach the top and 825 feet to climb.
Until now, the trail has been flat, with a smattering of dead leaves, pine needles and ferns underfoot. But here the hill steepens, and soon we’re all breaking a sweat. Samantha pauses to look down at some mushrooms, while up ahead, Jeff and Annie have discovered an American toad, so well camouflaged by the dead leaves that I can’t see him at first. “He’s spotted brown, Mom,” Samantha says, as if that will make him more visible.
Midway up the hill, Jeff asks for silence. “Hear that? It’s a veery,” he says. “It’s my favorite thrush sound.” The distinct, descending sound is hollow and tinny, almost like a flute. To his delight, he also hears blue-headed and red-eyed vireos.
After more climbing, the trail dips. Below us is a small hill, where we hear a rustle. “Chipmunks!” Annie declares. “Look, they’re so cute!” We walk a little farther and find that the leaf litter is filled with chipmunks. They’re darting about and hard to see, but we all catch a glimpse of the one scurrying across a log. We’re charmed. Jeff names the stop Chipmunk Hill.
“I want one for a pet,” says Annie, who is always eager to adopt different animals.
We step over a log, and as Annie and Jeff walk ahead, Samantha stops and summons them back to see what she’s found: a polyphemus moth. The wings twitch, but the moth is otherwise still as we examine it. Jeff tries to pick it up, but it’s Annie who finally succeeds in holding the large insect, whose wingspan fills her small hands. When she returns the moth to the ground, she places it gently away from the trail.
As the trail continues up, we come upon the rocky ledge near the summit. A white-breasted nuthatch greets our arrival. Here we get our first glimpse of the blueberries, their bushes scattered about among scrub oaks. Everywhere we step, blueberries beckon. “Let’s wait until we see the view and eat lunch,” Jeff says when the girls start picking the fruit.
Down a ways, an arrow points to the view. We can see northern Lake George, the Champlain Valley and, in the distance, the Green Mountains of Vermont. We settle on some rocks and eat our sandwiches. The GPS tells us we’re at 1,263 feet elevation (or a bit higher than the guidebooks indicate).
Over lunch, Annie announces, “I wish we had a TV.”
I am mortified. “Are you kidding me?”
She laughs and replies, “Yes.” The girl has always had a wicked sense of humor.
But there’s more than the view here to catch our eyes. We see another blue-headed vireo, perched in the low canopy. Annie gazes down and is mystified to see an ant, lugging a giant crumb across a rock. “Wow, isn’t that heavy for him?” she asks, which prompts me to discuss the amazing strength of ants.
In the distance, we hear the hum of motorboats, churning their way up and down the big lake. Jeff grimaces at the noise. Lunch finished, we can’t wait to collect some blueberries. We begin here and work our way back to the rocky ledge. Samantha discovers a soft mound of moss. The downy feeling under her feet delights her. “Oooh, I like it,” she says. “It’s bouncy.” Annie wanders over to inspect it herself. “Oooh, it’s mushy,” she says.
I’m thrilled that my children can take pleasure in little things like wild blueberries and soft moss.
The journey down seems considerably quicker. Jeff and Annie take the lead. I’d had a bad fall on my tailbone during our previous hike, so Samantha is watchful of me, stopping at times to clear the path of slippery pine needles and dry leaves. Her kindness touches my heart.
On the way down, Jeff spots another toad, nestled in the decaying leaves. This time, when the path splits, we take the Red Summit Trail, which is dense with grass, ferns and shrubs. Near the end, we pass two people sitting on the small bridge and then, coming down the trail, another family of four.
Back at the car, Annie asks if we can make blueberry juice, while Samantha contemplates a muffin recipe in her new cookbook. Me? I’m thinking of tossing blueberries on my morning cereal, after a good night’s rest.
Directions: From the traffic circle in downtown Ticonderoga, drive south on Lord Howe Street for 0.75 miles to a T intersection with Alexandria Street (County 5). Turn left, then make a quick right onto Baldwin Road. Go 1.5 miles to the trailhead on the right.