Mountain’s cliffs offer vistas of the southern Adirondacks
By Winnie Yu
As I was reading about the cliffs on Good Luck Mountain, certain words stood out. Unmarked. Steep. Faint footpath. The climb sounded a bit much for our family, which includes my husband, Jeff, and our two daughters, Samantha, eleven, and Annie, nine. When none of our friends was able to accompany us, I began to wonder if we should wait until another day. And then I learned that it was black-fly season.
But none of that stopped us. We did the hike on Memorial Day weekend. The weather was perfect, we had the time to spare, and we came fully prepared with DEET and head nets to shield us from the dastardly flies.
If you do the hike in the fall, you won’t have to worry about the bugs, and you’ll get to see the changing colors of the leaves.
According to the guidebook, the journey to the top of the cliffs is two and a half miles. You follow a snowmobile trail for a half-mile, then turn left onto another snowmobile trail. About three-quarters of a mile from the turn, you should start looking for the “faint footpath” that leads to the cliffs.
The trek begins on Route 10 between Caroga Lake and Piseco in the southern Adirondacks. Even before we enter the woods, the flies start to encircle us. We quickly put on our head nets and start walking up a flat, wide trail.
Maples, ferns, and a variety of plants grow along the trail, including blue marsh violets that break up the greenery. We move ahead until Jeff—an avid birdwatcher—signals us to stop. He hears an ovenbird overhead (singing teacher, teacher, teacher) but can’t see it in the dense forest. Instead he spots a black-throated green warbler, making its zee-zee-zee call. Behind us, we can still hear the occasional hum of a passing car on the highway.
Less than a quarter-mile into the walk, Samantha starts complaining about the netting. True, the netting is not only a fashion disgrace, but it also makes it difficult for us to see. “I hate wearing this mask,” Samantha declares. She lifts it up over her face, so that she now resembles a cafeteria lunch lady in a hair net, hardly an improvement. I fight back the urge to laugh, knowing that she is annoyed.
“It’s not that bad,” says Jeff, who is sporting his brand-new fine mesh net with much better visibility. “You can still see.”
“No I can’t,” Samantha insists. “Mine is green.” She does make a point, I think to myself. The nets are eight years old and definitely of inferior quality.
We continue our trek. Wildflowers like trillium and starflowers dot our path. The trail is considerably more obvious than we were promised, not at all faint. A giant leaf with small pink flowers on it captures my attention, and Annie pauses to study the plant. It’s a trailing arbutus.
“They look like lily pads in the air,” Annie says.
A gentle rain begins to fall. We come upon a fallen tree, and for the first time, the path becomes less apparent. We bear left along what appears to be a dried-up stream. There’s a fallen tree alongside it. We slosh across a muddy bog, and the trail begins to climb slightly. When the path opens up, we are surrounded by hardwood trees.
Jeff pauses and starts making birdcalls to attract a hermit thrush singing overhead. We freeze in our tracks while he snaps a picture. A few yards down, we hear another one with a similar haunting song. He snaps another photo. “What is that, Annie?” he asks her.
“A hermit thrush?” she offers tentatively.
“And how do you know?” he asks.
“Because he starts with a single note,” she answers.
A few yards down, we hear another bird with a similar song. Jeff spots him and snaps another photo. “What is that, Annie?” he asks.
“A hermit thrush?” she offers again.
“No, it is a Swainson’s thrush—they have a similar song, but the introductory call note is shorter.” We pause to watch the little speckled bird gather nesting material before moving on.
The rain begins to fall a little harder, and we hear the pitter-patter of drops hitting the leaves. Farther ahead, the skies open up. On a tree are some signs that tell us we are indeed heading the right way, which is reassuring. We circumvent another muddy patch, then come across a tiny bridge with dilapidated planks. The sun is now poking through the trees, and the rain has let up.
Samantha looks down at a log and spots a circle of fungus. She taps it with her stick. “Look at this stuff,” she says.
“It looks like cheese,” Annie says.
“I think it looks like cauliflower,” Samantha says.
We cross another wooden bridge, and the path descends. Another fallen tree covered in fungus blocks our path. Just past another rickety wood bridge, Annie spots a tree whose roots are exposed. “Looks like Yoda’s hut,” she says. “These roots always look like Yoda’s hut.”
“I think they look like a fireplace,” Samantha says.
To the left, the trail slopes downhill. Then we see Good Luck Lake in the distance to our left. Here the trail widens and opens up. The sun streams in now. A few yards beyond the lake, Jeff leads us down to the swamp, where fiddleheads are rampant. In the distance, we see people canoeing on the lake.
Back on the trail, we come upon a wooden bridge followed quickly by another one. But before we go down toward the second one, we see a path leading up a hill to our right. This is the turn we need to make to head toward Good Luck Cliffs. And the good news is the trail is actually marked.
So begins our uphill climb to the top, an ascent of six hundred feet. The trail from here on is quite steep and in some spots rather narrow. We are all breaking a sweat in no time. We cross a gurgling brook and then some moss-covered rocks. As the trail continues up, we pass some giant boulders.
“Are we almost there?” Annie asks with a sigh.
“I’m tired,” Samantha says.
But there are no logs to rest our weary legs, and we simply continue our climb. Finally, it levels off a bit. We reach the top two and a half hours after we started. The view is amazing. Looking west, we see a giant valley and lush, green hills. To the southwest is Spectacle Lake. As we peek over the edge, it looks like a straight drop to the bottom. Rock climbers scale this cliff, which we find hard to imagine.
We settle down on some boulders to eat lunch. Annie is so famished that she plows through her meal—a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich (which she normally dislikes), potato chips, a banana, two snack bars—then turns to show me her empty bag. “I’m done,” she says, marking the first time in her life that she has ever finished her meal before the three of us.
The descent is easier than I expected, though it requires caution. On the way down, we let the girls explore the giant boulders we had passed earlier. “These are neat,” Annie says, poking her head into a small crevice that resembles a cave entrance.
Later on, we are thrown off the trail momentarily when we go around a fallen tree that blocks our path. So we retrace our steps and get back on track. Despite this short digression, our return trip takes forty-five minutes less than the climb up.
We’ve been told that some people go for a dip in Good Luck Lake after hiking up the cliffs. But the weather isn’t warm enough for that, and the idea of exposing more skin to the relentless black flies seems insane.
When we get back to the car, we strip off our boots, netting, and backpacks, jump inside and slam the doors shut. Now we can bask peacefully in the post-hike glow of a pleasurable climb and a good workout.
From Caroga Lake, drive north on NY 10. Look for a pullout on the right about 3 miles past the Hamilton County line. This is just past the second bridge over the West Branch of the Sacandaga River.