A fairy-tale adventure
By Winnie Yu
You don’t expect a mountain that shares a name with a fairy tale to be too daunting, especially when that fairy tale is Sleeping Beauty, a name that conjures visions of peace and serenity, which is exactly what you find on Sleeping Beauty Mountain. It’s a leisurely family-friendly hike into the mountains on the east side of Lake George.
We took the hike at the end of September, shortly before the fall-foliage season began. My daughters were intrigued by the name of the mountain and had they been younger may have wondered whether they would see the beautiful princess who falls asleep for 100 years, while awaiting the kiss from her prince to awaken her. But on this adventure, there are no princesses or long naps. Today it’s all about enjoying the hike, just me, my husband, Jeff, and our daughters, Samantha, 10, and Annie, 9.
We drive what seems like forever on a road that starts off as Buttermilk Falls Road, then becomes Sly Pond Road and finally turns into Shelving Rock Road. After meandering along the road, we arrive at a parking lot, where there are several cars and a horse trailer. We decide to drive the 1.6-mile dirt road to Dacy Clearing, the site of the trailhead, knowing how exhausted our girls can get. This shortens the hike to the summit to just 1.8 miles. If on the return, you loop past Bump Ponds, as we did, the entire hike is 4.5 miles.
The narrow lane, once a carriage road, bumps along, and we encounter two pairs of hikers and a pickup truck along the way. The driver of the pickup pulls over ever so slightly and graciously lets us pass. At Dacy’s Clearing, we find campers. Music blares from a tent, and smoke billows from a campfire. Two dogs we had passed on the road trot over to greet us, and we learn that they are named Luke and Leia. Even here in the Adirondacks, we cannot escape pop culture, be it a Disney movie or Star Wars.
The trail begins behind a metal gate and starts off with a steady ascent along a rocky path bordered by birch trees, maples and hemlocks. Just a few hundred yards in, Jeff pulls out his binoculars. “It’s a hermit thrush,” he says excitedly. He tries calling the thrush. Silence. All we hear is the campers’ music.
Samantha looks to the ground and spots something moving. “Come here!” she shouts. “Look!” At our feet is a tussock caterpillar, moving ever so slowly among the leaves and twigs, the black and white spindles on its body vivid yet concealed against the debris. Annie picks him up, then gently puts him down, away from the path.
Up ahead is a trail register, where we sign our names in a well-worn book that reveals visitors from many places. Not far beyond that, we come to a sign that tells us it’s 1.2 miles to the summit of Sleeping Beauty and 1,049 feet up. A giant boulder marks an intersection, and with Jeff’s help, the girls scramble to the top, where Annie proceeds to break open a pack of jellybeans, while Samantha takes out some M&Ms.
A quick swig of water, and a few maneuvers later, the girls are back down on terra firma. We continue up the trail, which is filled with rocks, like a dried-up creek. When the trail dips, Samantha is puzzled.
“Why are we going down?” she asks.
“I don’t know, but right now, I like it,” I say.
We proceed along the trail, and the girls are chatting away about school, their classmates and teachers. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, Samantha pulls out a tape measure. “Why on earth did you bring a tape measure?” I ask.
“Just in case someone needs to know the length of a tree,” she says matter-of-factly as she measures a small maple.
The trail up Sleeping Beauty is busier that some others we’ve been on in the past. We pass several hikers on their way down and are joined for part of the climb by a group of college-age kids.
The ascent is steady but manageable. Eventually, the trail narrows, and at long last, we come to the switchbacks promised in the guidebook. “These are like stairs,” Annie says delightedly.
In the distance, Jeff hears the croak of ravens. But when he peers through his binoculars, he doesn’t see anything. A pileated woodpecker’s raucous laughter breaks the momentary silence.
By now the girls are tired, hungry and warm. In her usual fashion, Annie has taken off in the lead. When I catch up, she is sitting cross-legged in the center of the trail, removing her sweatshirt.
Near the top, we come to a junction and turn left, taking a short spur trail to the summit cliffs. As we emerge from the woods, we are treated to a dazzling view of Lake George, three miles to the west. About 20 miles away is Crane Mountain in the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the High Peaks.
Several other hikers are enjoying the view on this perfect fall day. A couple with two small children and their grandmother are finishing their lunch. The two kids were toted here on their parents’ backs. Three women are basking in the sun on rocks down below us. A solo hiker is walking around, taking in the scenery.
The girls and I sit down while Jeff goes off to look for birds. He returns moments later to tell us he has seen at least five or six yellow-rumped warblers. All around us, the beginnings of autumn are slowly emerging in the red leaves of maple trees.
Soon after, the college kids arrive, followed by two couples. Backpacks are unzipped, and everyone breaks out lunch in this outdoor café with gorgeous vistas.
We plan to descend by a different route, turning left at the last junction to take the trail to Bumps Pond. At one point, we stray from the path and into the woods. “We’re not lost girls, but this is what can happen when you get off a trail,” Jeff says. We retrace our steps to get back on track.
The trail to the pond is flooded with sunlight, and through the trees (some dead) we see Lake George below us. When we finally glimpse Bumps Pond through the woods, the girls are eager to go down and touch the water. But too many fallen branches obstruct the way, so we continue along the trail.
When the pond opens up before us, we are in awe of its glassy serenity. Jeff spots a fallen log, and the girls walk across it while Jeff takes pictures. We come to a bridge over a stream. In the water is a mass of sticks that looks like a beaver dam. Jeff isn’t so sure, but the girls are. “It’s got V-shaped tips,” Annie observes.
As the trail curves around the pond, we negotiate a muddy section by stepping on rocks. Away from the pond, the trail widens and becomes smoother—for which my tired knees are grateful. I’m amazed to see a guy on a mountain bike whiz past us, heading toward rocky terrain. When we see the giant boulder the girls climbed earlier, we know we’re close to Dacy’s Clearing and the end of our loop. Like the fairytale, out trek up Sleeping Beauty Mountain comes to a happy ending. And in the car on the way home, we have two sleeping beauties of our own.
From the intersection of NY 9L and NY 149 east of Lake George village, drive east on 149 for 1.6 miles to Buttermilk Falls Road. Turn left and go 9.4 miles to the Hogtown trailhead on the right. On the way, the road’s name will change first to Sly Pond Road and then to Shelving Rock Road. You can park in the Hogtown lot or drive through the lot and continue 1.5 miles along a narrow, bumpy road to Dacy Clearing.