A hike on the quiet side
Last September I did a solo end-to-end hike. The start and finish were several miles apart, and I had only one car. I’ve bicycled from one trailhead to the other in similar circumstances, but in this case, I neither cycled nor walked between trailheads.
I know you’re stumped, so I won’t keep you in suspense. I left my car at Marcy Field, rode the town shuttle bus to the Garden parking lot in Keene Valley, hiked to the 4,059-foot summit of Porter Mountain and returned to my car by a different trail.
I got this nifty idea from Tony Goodwin, who rebuilt the start of the Porter Trail a few years ago in honor of his father. Jim Goodwin had cut the original trail in 1924 at age 14. The rebuilt section makes use of sound techniques of trail design such as proper drainage, rock steps and switchbacks that cut into the slope.
The 8.3-mile hike takes you over three summits with excellent views: first Little Porter, then Porter and finally Blueberry Mountain. From the Garden, start up the trail that leads to the Brothers and Big Slide. At 0.2 mile, you come to a junction with the Porter Mountain Trail. Turn right, and in less than 10 minutes, you’ll cross Slide Brook on a new wooden bridge. You ascend through a stand of large hemlocks and soon cross a jeep road (on private land). The grade now steepens, so you’ll be grateful for those switchbacks. This section offers tantalizing glimpses through the trees of nearby peaks.
About 35 minutes after leaving the Garden, I came upon a young maple with a sign that pays tribute to Jim Goodwin. In another 15 minutes, I arrived at a signpost just below the top of Little Porter. A short path to the right leads to open ledges with a sweeping view. The visible peaks include Giant, Round, Noonmark, the Brothers, Big Slide, much of the Great Range and Porter. The hamlet of Keene Valley can also be seen.
Little Porter is 1.8 miles from the Garden, more than halfway to Porter. I thought I’d have a bite to eat, sit awhile and enjoy the view. As I rummaged through my pack, I discovered that I forgot my lunch. Doh! No fuel and 6½ miles to go. Lucky for me a young Quebecois couple was also admiring the view (the first people I had seen since the Garden). I engaged them in conversation and let it slip that I had no victuals. They promptly handed over a muffin bar, two slices of bread and an apple. There’s nothing a hungry hiker won’t stoop to.
The trail just beyond Little Porter is narrow and, on this day, quite wet. It reminded me of wilderness paths in less-traveled parts of the Adirondacks. After 15 minutes, I crossed a large stream and started climbing through a lovely fern-and-birch glade. Suddenly two friendly dogs gamboled past. Since the owners were nowhere in sight, I can only assume they had been locked up for violating the High Peaks leash law.
About an hour after leaving Little Porter, I came to a muddy junction marked by two old signs nailed to a tree (it’s 3.4 miles from the Garden). Bear left here to go to Porter, which is now less than a half-mile away. The way right leads to Blueberry Mountain and Marcy Field, though the signs fail to indicate this. Be sure to take that trail on the return.
After my solitary ramble, the summit seemed like a busy street corner. Five other hikers were there when I arrived and more came and went during my stay. All had started from the trailhead on Route 73 in the Cascade Pass. From the highway, it’s only 2.8 miles to Porter, with an ascent of 1,960 feet. The hike from the Garden is 3.8 miles, with an ascent of 2,700 feet. In my opinion, though, the shorter route is not as enjoyable. It’s uphill from the get-go. Coming from the Garden, you encounter a greater variety of terrain, woods and views. And you’re less likely to run into fellow peak-baggers.
Not that I minded having people around this day: I mooched some carrots, crackers and granola and sat back to admire the panorama on a full stomach. While not the best in the High Peaks, the vista is a handsome payoff. Author James Burnside rated it No. 30 among the views from the 46 highest summits. Cascade’s rocky summit, less than a mile away, dominates the view to the northwest. Other conspicuous peaks include Whiteface to the north, Gothics and Dix to the south, and Marcy, Colden and Algonquin to the southwest.
But the day wasn’t over yet. Leaving Porter, I returned to the junction in 10 minutes, and in another five minutes I found myself on a rocky knob with a view of Porter and Cascade. Soon after that, I arrived at a lookout with views of Dix, Big Slide and the Great Range. Then came a steep descent to a col. From there, it’s a short jaunt to the summit of Blueberry Mountain and a 360-degree vista that includes Pitchoff, Whiteface, the Sentinels, Jay, Hurricane, Giant and Noonmark.
When you tear yourself away, follow the red blazes to the left of a giant glacial boulder. Over the next 10 minutes or so, you’ll be treated to more views as the trail goes in and out of the woods before making another steep descent. Once the grade eases, the trail crosses a few streams and turns left. Eventually, you’ll come out on a dirt road. Turn right and walk 0.2 mile to Marcy Field.
The whole trip took four hours. Not counting my time on the summits, I encountered other hikers only twice. Three mountains, great views, long stretches of solitude—it was a perfect day. As I reached my car, I realized that I even had a little food left for the ride home.
The town of Keene will run the shuttle bus through the end of October on Fridays from 4-8 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. It charges $3 per person.
Marcy Field is on the east side of NY 73 between the hamlets of Keene and Keene Valley, about a mile south of the NY 9N intersection. Next year the town expects to move the shuttle bus to the southeast corner of the intersection. The new location will include a hiker’s information building, toilets and campsites.