Short bushwhack leads to flat-topped mountain with long views
By Tim Rowland
A couple of years ago, a short-lived fad had people superimposing vintage postcards over landscapes as they appear today. The same can be done with the paintings of Rockwell Kent, who painted the mountains in and around his Asgaard Farm near Au Sable Forks.
It’s a bit tricky, since Kent would “move” a mountain if he felt it could be put to better aesthetic advantage elsewhere. One such curiosity, I always thought, was a table-like mesa that appears in a couple of his Adirondack works.
Since the Adirondacks is notably short of mesas, I initially assumed this flat-topped mountain had been “imported” from some other locale he frequently painted. Except that one day, driving south on 9N toward Upper Jay, there it was — Mt. Clements, just west of the Jay Range, from that angle appears flat as a pool table.
For good views, we think of pointy mountains (Nippletop, Whiteface); flat mountains (Tabletop, Street, Nye) not so much. So I’d never thought of Clements as a destination, until, climbing in the Sentinels, we saw some promising looking ledges poking out of the trees as we gazed at it from across the Ausable River Valley. So — why not?
The most obvious approach is off the trail to Clements Pond located on Styles Brook Road north of Keene. You can exit the trail pretty quickly and follow the stream that appears on your right, but this route can be a bit wet (streams often are) so the other option is to stay on the trail half to three-quarters of a mile and then head east toward the mountain’s southwest ridge.
This is, of course, a bushwhack, so you’ll want to pack the 10 Essentials — which at my age is a cup of black coffee and nine Advil — but the mountain for the most part is pretty tightly confined by roads, which mitigates the risk of getting hopelessly lost. As deer season approaches, a dash of blaze orange is also an important addition to your ensemble.
Staying on the Clements Pond trail for the longer distance also puts you safely above a private property line, which can otherwise be difficult to avoid.
From the trail to the foot of the ridge, the woods are open and pleasant, with little in the way of obstacles. After a mile or so of hiking the climbing begins, the most obvious route following a drainage just north of the private property line. The climbing becomes steep and the drainage becomes more dramatic, with cliffs and boulders somewhat reminiscent of a (very) poor man’s Indian Pass.
As you climb out of the drainage to the east to access the ridge, a band of cliffs threatens to impede progress, although it’s fairly easy to find little nitches in the fortress that can be penetrated. The climbing remains steep, but the forest begins its transition to red pine, which is easy to negotiate.
Up on this shoulder, after about a mile and a half of hiking and 900 feet of ascent, views will begin to appear. But you have to hunt for them. The best lookouts are to the west, including one that made the trip worthwhile, a dead-on view of Whiteface, set off by the Sentinel Range in the full red blush of fall. Needless to say, the colors will recede but the views will improve as the seasons progress.
Fully satisfied, I was ready to hang the Mission Accomplished banner on the hike, but still being some distance from the summit, it seemed a little more poking and prodding might be in order. Up toward the forested summit there were hints of views through the trees, but nothing better than that first early ledge. Just before the top I began to get readings on my spruce-o-meter, meaning that nasty evergreen thickets were about to take the place of the charming open woods.
I didn’t care if I made the true top; I am not the kind of person who says, “Hey, look at me, I submitted Mt. Clements, yabba dabba doo.” As I turned to go, however, out of the corner of my eye I saw, higher up, what appeared to be the sun shining on a lantern jaw of anorthosite jutting out of the trees and scrub. Sure enough, directly east and about 50 feet below the summit is a grand panorama of the western horizon, from Dix in the south to the chiseled face of Ebeneezer north of Upper Jay and the Stephenson range beyond that. Clements Pond itself is nestled in the lower mountains, visible along with the hamlet of Upper Jay and Route 73 winding up to the Cascade lakes. You can see every dimple of the Sentinels; one of the best perspectives anywhere of Pitchoff; Cascade and Porter; Algonquin and Wright; the Great Range; and some of the not-so-great ranges.
It is quite possible you will wind up sitting there longer than it took you to bushwhack to the top. It’s a pity Rockwell Kent never painted from this venue. I doubt he would have seen the need to move a thing.
- Distance: 3.5 miles (round trip)
- Elevation gain: 1,289 feet
- Elevation: 2,500 feet