Up and downs of taking on Blue, Goodnow in a single day
By Lisa Ballard
Hiking up Blue Mountain and Goodnow Mountain on the same day seemed like a good idea on paper. They were located about 12 miles apart in the central Adirondack Park. Both hikes measured a little over two miles from trailhead to summit. Blue, 3,750 feet, and Goodnow, 2,664 feet, didn’t sound like much as my husband Jack, niece Hannah and her husband Adam contemplated our double-summit day. What’s more, historic fire towers crowned both. However, mountain stats and reality in the woods can vary greatly.
By random choice, we headed to Goodnow first. Named for Sylvester Goodnow, a homesteader who settled at the base of the mountain in the 1820s, the mountain is one of those rare hikes in the Adirondack Park that is not state-maintained, though the state built the fire tower on its summit. The mountain is in the Huntington Wildlife Forest, which is owned by the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. The forest is a field station for wildlife research and ecology studies. The trail is maintained jointly by SUNY and the Town of Newcomb.
Though Jack and I had hiked Goodnow years earlier, this was a first for Hannah and Adam. “The path is an interpretive trail that’s numbered all the way to the summit,” I recalled. “There should be brochures at the trailhead, explaining each marker.”
I strode up to the trailhead display, but no luck on a brochure. There wasn’t even a box for them anymore. “Maybe I’ll remember some of the highlights,” I thought.
We followed the red trail markers into the woods. The wide path climbed moderately and quickly came to a wooden staircase with a handrail. Above the stairs, we traversed a boggy area and then continued uphill. We passed a few yellow-topped posts with numbers on them. A couple stood upright but most were tilted or knocked over.
“Looks like Mother Nature has reclaimed the nature trail,” deadpanned Adam.
We paused at a huge boulder with a yellow birch on top. Its roots sprawled down the sides of the rock like a giant octopus reaching its tentacles toward the ground. I recognized the octopus rock immediately and climbed up its massive tentacles as I had done the last time I hiked up Goodnow, relieved that this interesting natural landmark remained largely unchanged.
From there, we continued uphill through some switchbacks. About a mile later, we ascended a long length of slab then walked along an impressive, arching bog bridge that ended by the concrete foundation of a former cabin. Along the way, we passed a pile of wood boards and old pieces of roofing, another testament to Mother Nature’s will to reclaim her turf. The other time Jack and I had passed this spot, a small barn stood there proudly though weathered.
The trail narrowed as we gained a high shoulder, then made our final push to the summit, 2.2 miles from the trailhead. We dropped our packs and climbed the 60-foot fire tower, reveling in the 360-degree panorama that included Rich Lake below us to the north, and the Seward and Santanoni Ranges, Algonquin Peak, and Mounts Colden and Marcy in the distance.
After taking in the view, we scrambled down a small rock chimney to the old fire watcher’s cabin. The door was locked, so we looked in the windows. Like a miniature mountaintop museum, the interior remained as if the fire watcher would return at any moment. Pots were poised on the woodstove. A chair looked as if someone had stood up quickly but would be back. A sample of the watcher’s log was on the door. It was fun to read the handwritten list of weather observations and completed daily duties. We wondered if the log belonged to George Shaughnessy, the watcher here from 1930 to 1934 who spent his honeymoon in the cabin in 1931.
We easily burned an hour on the summit and soaked up the views and the history of this modest mountain, but eventually we headed downhill back to the trailhead, excited to climb Blue Mountain, too.
It could not have been more different than Goodnow, starting with its eroded trail. A popular destination, Blue was also filled with hikers compared to Goodnow. About 15,000 people ascend to its fire tower each year.
The route, maintained by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, began on a former woods road, heading east. About a half-mile in, we crossed a wet area on bog bridges and the old road narrowed to a well-used, obvious footpath through a forest of birch and hemlock.
In a mile, we crossed a pretty stream flowing over some slab, then the real climb began. The trail was worn to the bedrock for most of the next steady, steep mile. Jack, Hannah, Adam and I labored uphill in silence, wondering when it would end. Unlike Goodnow, the bulk of this hike felt like a relentless slog.
When the ascent finally mellowed about two miles from the trailhead, rich, green patches of sphagnum moss carpeted the forest floor below the spindly evergreens. “You can use it as a diaper,” I explained to Hannah and Adam. “Early Native Americans used it because it was so soft and absorbent.”
Hannah pressed her hand into a swath. “I suppose it would work in a pinch,” she said, doubtfully.
“The first disposable diaper!” added Adam with a chuckle.
At 2.2. miles, we came to the 35-foot fire tower, a state and national historic landmark, in the middle of a huge, open, flat area. In 1873, during Verplanck Colvin’s survey of the Adirondack Mountains, Colvin’s crew put up a signal tower atop Blue Mountain that was greatly valued for its south-central location. A wooden fire tower replaced the signal tower in 1907, which in turn was replaced by the current steel tower in 1917.
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The large concrete slab directly below the tower was the foundation of the first fire watcher’s cabin. Another watcher’s cabin, plus a radio tower, a cell phone tower and a radar station dating back to the Cold War era were in the woods near the fire tower. All were closed to the public, except for the tower itself. We climbed up, taking a brief turn inside it, as other hikers waited for their chance.
The view from the fire tower is a big reason why this hike is so popular. Blue Mountain Lake and Raquette Lake lie to the west, and the High Peaks crown the horizon to the northeast. Snowy and Wakely Mountains, both with fire towers, are to the south. Even more impressive than the peaks was the amount of water we could see, almost more than land.
Later, back at our camp, we reminisced about our two-tower day. “Blue was a tough climb, but worth it for the view,” said Hannah.
“I liked Goodnow better,” said Adam.
“Me, too,” echoed Jack.
“That’s because we did it first,” I rationalized.
In truth, Goodnow and Blue Mountains were remarkably different experiences for two hikes in such close proximity and length. Such is the norm in the Adirondacks where no two mountains are the same. That’s why both were worth hiking!