By Mike Lynch
It’s always a bit of a surprise when you look down at a trail register and see “We saw a bear!” scribbled in the notes section of the last entry. That’s what happened when I started my hike at Cook Mountain on a Saturday in early June.
Immediately several thoughts raced through my mind when I saw the note. “Too bad I left my telephoto lens at home” came to mind, as did “I doubt I’ll see it anyway.” And then a short distance into the trip, I pretty much forgot about it.
There have been plenty of times I’ve been hiking when bears had been spotted on my projected route. Rarely do the animals reappear. Plus, in this case, the sighting was the prior day. It was likely long gone.
Lake George Land Conservancy’s land steward Alexander Novick told me after the trip that bear sightings happen on the property because of the large number of the blueberry bushes present.
Located at the northern end of Lake George, Cook Mountain Preserve is one of the 11 preserves owned by the Conservancy. The preserve was originally established in 1990, when the Delano family donated 176 acres. It was expanded another 18 acres by a donation from the Boyles five years later.
George Delano first purchased the property in 1876, creating a sugar bush on the property for producing maple syrup. He also had an apple orchard, of which remnants still remain, likely appealing to bears.
Although Cook Mountain is only 1,213 feet high, it has a reputation for its great views. That’s what attracted me to this trip.
It’s also a quiet hike compared to other trails in Lake George and the High Peaks. Novick said the hike is frequented by locals and dog walkers, and it generally doesn’t attract big crowds. That was true on the day I hiked the mountain. I saw only about a half-dozen on the trail.
One of the people I did meet on the trail was Jeff Nelson, who I ran into in the middle of one of the blueberry patches toward the summit. Nelson grew up in northern New York and now lives in Florida most of the year, but he has a house down the road from the trailhead. He hikes the trail regularly when in town.
Standing among the blueberry bushes, I asked if he had seen the note about the bears in the register and if he had seen any over the years. He replied that he hadn’t seen any bears, but he had seen deer, porcupine, skunks and chipmunks on his hikes. (Apparently, there are also a lot of owls on the property, according to Novick.)
When I ran into Nelson, I was a little less than a mile and a half into my trip and on the Ridges Trail. There are three connected trails on the 194-acre Cook Mountain Preserve. One is the Yellow Trail, which is a fairly flat loop trail that starts at the trailhead and is about seven-tenths of a mile long; the Ridges Trail, which is 1.1 miles long and is reached via the Yellow Trail; and the Blue Trail, which is a 0.15-mile-long spur off the Yellow Trail that leads to a cemetery that dates back to the Civil War.
Another historic note about the property is that an old railroad used to run across it. The old railroad bed can be found in the vicinity of the first turn off of the Yellow Trail. The railroad carried passengers from Ticonderoga to the Baldwin steamer dock on Lake George. I didn’t notice the old railroad bed, and you wouldn’t unless you were looking for it.
Of the three trails, the 1.1-mile Ridges Trail is the most difficult but also the most rewarding. The trail is fairly steep and has an elevation gain of about 680 feet through hardwood forest. Much of the effort is made in the first half-mile of the trail, which then levels out toward the summit.
Once you get toward the end of the Ridges Trail, there are two worthwhile viewpoints. One is toward Vermont and the other looks down the lake. I immediately went to the viewpoint of the lake, which can be found by making a righthand turn at a tree with two red arrows on it. One arrow is for the Vermont view; the other for the lake view. It’s about 1.6 miles to the tree with arrows.
At the lake view, which was only a short walk down the trail from the arrows, there is a rustic bench and a large stone fire pit. From there, you can see Flat Rock and Anthony’s Nose on the east side of the lake and Roger’s Rock on the west. It’s the perfect spot to relax for a couple of hours on a lazy afternoon.
In the 45 minutes I spent at the lake viewpoint, I didn’t see or hear a single other person despite the fact that it was a Saturday. After relaxing on the bench for a bit and taking in the views, I headed to the Vermont side and was pleasantly surprised. The view included the northern end of the lake, what looked like farmlands, and Vermont mountains in the distance.
In the end, I didn’t have the thrill of seeing a bear, but the views and solitude afforded by this mountain definitely made the trip worthwhile.