By Tim Rowland
Classic Adirondack bluebird days seem to be fewer and further between, what with smoke in the summer and gauzy humidity in the winter, so when one comes along there is pressure to get out there and enjoy it — even if the temps are in single digits.
Which they were on Sunday when I bulldozed the pickup into the unplowed parking lot at the Clements Pond trailhead in the mood for a grand mountain view with minimal long-term exposure to a frigid breeze. Clements Pond is only four miles from the town of Keene, but while trails along Route 73 are frequently overrun in summer, Clements Pond attracts little attention because as far as most hikers know, it’s just a pond.
And a nice pond it is, but it wasn’t my destination on this day. I was headed to a rocky nose at the end of a ridge with commanding views of the Sentinels, Cascade-Porter and the Great Range. The Clements Pond trail itself meanders within a whisper of this overlook, but there’s no indication of it, and even if you know where to look it’s well-disguised.
Being dangerously cold I assembled all the appropriate gear, but then when I reached for my snowshoes I found that one was hopelessly stuck behind the driver’s seat. When I had adjusted the seat, apparently the strap apparatus of the snowshoe got wound up in the electric seat mechanism and was cinched up tight.
Just when you think you’re prepared for anything … .
Truly, you can Ten Essential yourself out the gazots but there’s always going to be something you’ve never planned for.
Anyway, it took about 10 precious minutes to free the snowshoe, but soon enough I was strapped in and crunching through a world of sky blue skies and snow white snows.
The climbing is steady but not hard, and at about a half mile the trail scoots right up and out of the little drainage and meanders more or less along the contour around some interesting rock formations before at three-quarters of a mile it dips and jogs to the left.
If you keep going, the trail steepens significantly on its way to a saddle between two ridges before descending to the pond. Just before this steep pitch, and about eight-tenths of a mile, there is a blue trail marker on a hornbeam in front of a beefy three-stemmed oak.
This is your cue to make a 90-degree right turn off the trail and head for a rock outcropping that, in winter, you can see through the hardwoods.
Continue walking perpendicularly to the marked trail and after about 60 yards you will notice a rather small but distinctive two-stemmed white birch — ideally you’ll be on the uphill side of the birch.
From here the rock outcropping is clearly visible to your right with, by all appearances, no earthly way to get to it. Logic will tell you to bear to the left where the climb looks steep but possible. Don’t do it. Just keep walking on faith straight into what appears to be a dead end until lo and behold a little funnel through a cleft in the ridge presents itself.
The funnel is right steep but very short, and with poles and a toothy pair of snowshoes is not too great a barrier. At the top of this little channel your target is directly on your right, but it’s best to continue straight, dropping down a bit on the other side before curling back around to the rocks in a spot that’s easier to ascend.
The view is fabulous, particularly considering that it’s just 9/10ths of a mile from the trailhead — but with enough of a challenge to make you feel like you’ve earned it. The Sentinels glistened a crystalline white against the blue skies, but further to the south the summits of Pitchoff and Cascade were adorned with soft hazy haloes, much like those pictures of Jesus your grandparents hung on the kitchen wall.
After drinking in the scenery you can return to the trail and continue on to the pond or, if you’re comfortable off trail, you can scamper back down the little outcrop and then climb the ridge that parallels the trail on a high cliff with an interesting perspective on the landscape through open woods. The trail will gain elevation until it mostly catches up with the ridge, making it an easy thing to scramble down a short slope on your left and rejoin the official route to the pond.
Either of these two options will leave you with a satisfying, 3-mile round trip with an elevation gain of about 750 feet.
Of course if the temperature is 8 degrees it might be more satisfying to rest your case on the overlook alone, and head home to a warm fire.