Chase Mountain scratches the itch of spring bushwhacks
By Tim Rowland
Tooling along on the interstates is efficient, but you’re obviously going to miss a lot of local color. Similarly, there are mesmerizing overlooks and comely ponds and wetlands that are within yards of popular hiking trails that go unnoticed by the great majority of the hiking public speeding to a popular summit.
Me included. I’d hiked Hurricane Mountain north of Keene Valley many times from the Crow Clearing trailhead not knowing of some fascinating features that lie less than a half mile west of the main trail. Features such as these can be deduced by:
- studying topo maps (in highly technical, cartological terms, lines that are all scrunched up together are good things)
- or by thumbing through the essential Barbara McMartin/Bill Ingersoll “Discover the Adirondacks” series
- or by blind luck or a combination of all three.
Sign up for the “Backcountry Journal” newsletter, sending trip ideas, recreation news, wildlife stories and more on Thursdays
So this is what happened: In “Discover the Northeastern Adirondacks” the authors point out a serious cleft in the mountains that can be seen from Route 9N heading toward Elizabethtown in the vicinity of Hurricane Road prior to reaching the Baxter Mountain Tavern. Maybe because the eye is drawn to the little window on the Hurricane summit this chasm doesn’t necessarily register to the passing motorist — one of those things you notice without noticing.
This is Connors Notch, with Chase Mountain festooned with some tantalizing cliffs to the left. Accessing this little nook of backcountry drama is pretty easy because the aforementioned Hurricane Trail from Crow Clearing gets you in the neighborhood.
I know there are bushwhackers out there who consider developed trails to be as uncomfortable as a luncheon of toast points in a tearoom, and I suppose you could run a line from the CC parking lot straight to the Chase summit, but otherwise, if your destination is the notch, the trail is kind of hard to avoid.
Hike 1.1 miles from the lot to where the trail splits and take the trail toward Hurricane by rock-hopping across Gulf Brook. Another 20 minutes or so of fairly easy climbing will bring you to a brook. The trail parallels the brook, and at any point you can cross and head west/southwest. Tracking your route on GPS toward this obvious cleft will keep you honest, but really, you’ll get funneled into the notch without really trying.
Connors Notch is Indian Pass in miniature, great blocky boulders covered with ferns and moss, steep cliffs and deep crevices where the good old-fashioned white stuff won’t be melting until June.
To climb Chase, simply hug the cliffs on the right and keep the faith, banishing those “this might not work out” thoughts from your mind as you gain elevation. Really, the biggest irritation is that at times the admittedly narrow shelf you are walking on will be directly underneath the cliffs which, in spring at least, will be dripping enough water to float an Adirondack guide boat. And there’s no way to avoid it without a seriously unpleasant outcome, if you know what I’m saying.
The summit is a high work high reward situation, with alternating bands of tightly knitted evergreens and open rock. But the views are gorgeous, looking over to the tower on Hurricane and, eventually, High Peaks including Marcy to the south.
Instead of returning to the notch, I left the summit hiking to the northeast, negotiating (not always gracefully) cliffs and drop-offs that would appear at inconvenient intervals. This route drops down into some swamps and drainages that can’t quite scare up enough water for a stream, but need to be negotiated with care to avoid wet feet.
Delaying a return to the trail for as long as possible, I turned more to the north where the woods opened up into one of the greatest stands of white birch you are ever apt to see, where a broad sheet of water improbably appeared on a wide plane.
Snow white clouds scudded across the blue skies, and white birch rose like columns on a Greek temple, all reflected in the water and making it appear to glow in an ethereal fashion, like God’s own beaver pond, or something. There were choruses of songbirds along with waterfowl including a blue heron and red-throated grebe.
Enchanted by this heavenly setting, I failed to immediately calculate that this great pond was blocking my route, necessitating a bit of a detour until I found enough downed birch to tightrope my way across.
From there, a short, aimless hike will return you to the trail back to Crow Clearing. In all, it’s a highly rewarding and relatively short bushwhack — the total hike covered about five miles, completed that will take three to four hours, gaining about 1,000 feet of elevation in the process.
And if you get to the moment of truth and decide at the last minute that a Chase Mountain bushwhack isn’t in the cards, the through trail on to Hurricane isn’t a bad consolation prize.
Subscribe now to start your Adirondack Explorer subscription with our annual Outings Guide.
Start planning your summer adventures!
Johnathan A Esper says
Wow, I’ve been to the Crow Clearing trailhead many times, and didn’t know about these bushwack cliffs either! Going to visit these this summer! I love bushwacks to secret views like this!