Colton’s Catamount starts at lodge with the same name
By Tom French
My first opportunity to climb Catamount Mountain along Route 56 in the town of Colton (not to be confused with the one near Wilmington) was as a student at St. Lawrence University in the early ’80s while staying at their student retreat, Catamount Lodge. Alas, I went to Ham’s Inn instead, where I was introduced to a different Adirondack experience through the storytelling of Hamilton Ferry, a renowned mentor to many recontours.
Despite living in St. Lawrence County for over 40 years, I never climbed Catamount until last November, and neither had Doug, my Explorer partner. Like me, he’d had the opportunity while staying at SLU’s lodge, but never availed himself. He ended up at Ham’s too.
We met at the parking area just south of the lodge where a wooden barrier can be found. The trail network is on private property, but open to the public. A map may be found in a box on the fence. The Red Path, an old woods road practically to the summit, inclines gradually for the first three-quarter miles then steepens for the last half mile.
The summit was home to wooden fire tower beginning in 1911. The observer would climb the pyramid-shaped structure with “step-ladder” sides and perch themselves on the peak. It was replaced with a 35-foot Aeromotor in 1917 which was staffed during fire seasons until 1971. Hikers who sumitted during later years while the observer was present may have been treated to a souvenir courtesy of the State of New York Conservation Department, precursor to the DEC – a personalized card with information about the mountain dated and signed by the observer. The tower and cabin were removed by the early ’80s. Their foundations can be found on top.
Other detritus of human activity begins along the steep approach a couple tenths from the summit – a steel building, spiraling cables, and telephone poles. The New York Telephone Company built a relay station with an 80-foot antennae in 1946.
The foundation of the observer’s cabin provides seating with a nice view to the north. Explore the summit for additional views east and south. We spotted the Sewards, Whiteface, Mckenizie, and Moose to the east, giving a perspective of how close St. Lawrence County is to the High Peaks.
On this day, we descended and returned to the car via the Blue Trail which took us to a dike along Carry Falls Reservoir which was very low due to fall releases.
While a 48-foot fire tower situated in the middle of a park is not commonplace, it paints a striking picture in Sacandaga Park in Speculator.
The Makomis Fire Tower was the first steel tower set in New York state when it was erected on Makomis Mountain in 1916. The tower was relocated to Speculator in summer 2022 and rebuilt by volunteers.
Photo by Jeannette Barrett.
People in my neck of the woods refer to the Raquette as the most dammed river in America. I’ve tried counting them and always get stuck at 20. Carry Falls was created in the 1950s as part of a larger hydro project along the Raquette. The residents of nearby Hollywood were displaced as the rising waters flooded their town, including the dude ranch owned by the family of Ed Fuhr.
Catamount Lodge, with caretaker’s cabin and Cold Pond, was built in 1949 by Edson Martin of Canton. He was active in St. Lawrence County politics and several projects including the land donation for the current location of SUNY Canton. The athletic fields are named after him. His son, David O’Brien Martin, was a congressman for the North Country from 1981 to 1993. The lodge, an inn of sorts with a barroom, was utilized by employees of Niagara Mohawk (and other officials) during the construction of the hydro project. One feature of the facility (since removed) was a fish tank fed by the waters of Cold Pond.
St. Lawrence University purchased the property in the mid-60s. I recall the fish tank. Ruth and Joe McWilliams acquired the property in 2005 for recreational and forest management purposes. The lodge was available as an exclusive-use rental. They also began flat grooming trails in winter for their guests and others.
The lodge changed owners again in 2020. Dan and Autumn Meldrim still maintain the trails, including grooming when they can, but the lodge is a “family and friend retreat.”
Although only 500 feet higher than Higley Flow State Park (and nine miles to the southeast), the trails have a reputation for holding snow, so the hardcore skiers of St. Lawrence County often end their season at Catamount.
Doug and I checked out the skiing in early March. We parked near the lodge kiosk along Route 56 and walked the 100 yards to the trailhead at the lodge. It was not our intention to ski to the top, nor is the trail groomed beyond the junction with the Blue Trail, though snowshoe tracks indicated recent visitors. We skied down a short spur to the reservoir following the snowmobile tracks. The crunchy snow was a bit treacherous, so we returned to the car along the shore.
Catamount served as a survey station for Verplanck Colvin, though at the time, it was known as Bog Mountain. A slightly lower peak a half mile to the east was the original Catamount, but the names were switched at some point around the turn of the 20th century. Barbara McMartin (1990) describes the hike from the eastern flank along the old Hollywood Road (now the Carry Falls Road) where the Mountain House, a late nineteenth-century hotel, entertained “famous guests” in the 19th century. This access is no longer on current topo maps and is posted.
Our ski excursion lasted less than an hour. An out-and-back to the top can be accomplished is about two hours.