Nice view, fire tower and a bonus: a great parking lot
By Tim Rowland
Sure it’s a stunning view and all, but the new Buck Mountain trail in Long Lake had me at its parking lot. On Friday we were creeping along South Sabattis Road worried we might miss the standard-issue roadside pullout indicative of the typical ADK trailhead, when what to our wondering eyes should appear but a sprawling, modern, room-to-turn-around-without-decapitating-the-Hornbeck parking area, a gravel Shangri La capable, by the looks of it, of accommodating the entire cast of “Gone With the Wind.”
Oh sure, some many miss the thrill of removing their pack from the back seat as whizzing semis threaten to send you somersaulting halfway to Utica, but to me the concept of adequate parking was so refreshing and so, so foreign, that the state may want to appoint a task force to study the concept further.
But as much as I wanted to just sit in the parking lot and bask in all that space, a mountain beckoned, and daylight was burning so we sallied forth into a young hardwood forest on the soft new trail.
Buck is sort of a southern continuation of the Goodman and Coney mountain hikes that are parts of the popular Tupper Triad challenge. Sabattis Road cuts a semi-circular route off Route 30 between Long Lake and Tupper Lake. You can access the trailhead from either end of Sabbatis. Both are well-signed, pointing the way to Buck Mountain.
The trail, with access courtesy of the Cedar Heights Timber landowner, crosses some wet lowlands as it heads toward the mountain and is a bit muddy in spots, but not Couchsachraga muddy. One way, it’s 1.2 miles to the summit, with a modest 500-foot elevation gain. That’s a little bit of a misnomer because the first half of the route is flat, with all the elevation gain coming in six-tenths of a mile. But most of this steepness is surmounted with stone and wood staircases, which will come as welcome news to people who frown on scrambling up and over rock ledges.
I counted 102 wooden stairsteps, because counting stairs is the kind of thing I do. I wouldn’t swear the number is correct because my mind wandered in a couple of spots — I also thought the various angles and juxtapositions of these staircases were mindful of the game Mousetrap, but when I suggested this to a couple fellow hikers they just looked at me.
With elevation, the beech and yellow birch grow more sizable, and evergreens take over toward the top, where the gleaming silver tower soars toward the heavens. At 60 feet, it’s taller than most, but its all-steel construction and sound restoration make it feel safer than some of the sketchier, wooden-staired models.
The tower’s story is told at the trailhead’s kiosk, and it’s an interesting one. It was built in 1933 (the tower, not the kiosk) by the private owners of the Whitney Park lumbering company, which of course had an interest in protecting its 80,000-acre forest.
The tower was manufactured in Chicago and shipped in kit form to the Sabattis rail station, from which it was hauled to the top of the mountain with the help of dog sleds.
The view from this tower is forever, (there is no view without climbing it) with the foreground most noticeably dominated by Little Tupper Lake, and other silvery sheets representative of the area’s exceptional opportunities for paddling. In the distance to the north I believe you can just make out the tower up on Mt. Arab, the third member of the Tupper Triad, and on further to the east are the majestic Sewards. Great swaths of the currently for-sale Whitney estate are of course visible, and on the day we hiked were the source of much drooling over the possibility for paddling and hiking adventures should they one day be publicly accessible.
The whole hike can be accomplished in an hour or two, and a nice day would be a paddle down below and then a hike up above to see where you’ve been. With parking, interpretive signage and trail infrastructure, Long Lake and friends have a real winner on their hands. Maybe the parking lot won’t be big enough after all.
Editor’s note: This has been updated to correct the location of Sabattis Road. It’s off Route 30, not Route 28.