Open ridge offers views of Boquet Valley, Lake Champlain, more
By Tim Rowland
Hikers in many parts of the ADK are familiar with the ruddy rock that occasionally elbows its way up from the depths and, for a while, provided the backbone of the Eastern Adirondack economy.
USGS geologists have said they don’t entirely understand the forces that created this Adirondack iron ore — it is different from the bands of ore that formed among the sediments of ancient ocean floors — but it’s special, and of particularly high quality. Adirondack iron was, in fact, put out of business only when science was able to make use of poorer quality, and more easily extracted, product.
There were great veins of ore in the Adirondacks of course, but there were also more random deposits throughout the mountains. Local historians have told me that when a farmer needed to trade for a bolt of cloth or a keg of nails or an iPad, he could shovel up a wagonload of ore and haul it to the nearest waterfall where invariably there would a forge (which also served as a bank, a general store and hub of community gossip) in need of raw material. If you’ve noticed what appears to be a man-made pit in the mountains dug for no apparent reason, this could be why.
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One likely source of random ore was, not surprisingly, Iron Mountain just south of Elizabethtown. Today this mountain’s finest resource isn’t metal, it’s a great ridge of bare rock, like God’s Own Balcony, offering inspiring views of the Boquet Valley, New Russia and Giant/Rocky Peak Ridge to the south, and Elizabethtown and the Jay Range to the north. To the east, the view includes Lake Champlain and Vermont’s Green Mountains.
If you keep climbing to the top, there’s a western horizon of Hurricane and Owl’s Head Lookout, and the bushwhackable cluster of Green, Knob Lock and Tripod.
To get to the parking area, head south out of Elizabethtown and just past Lobdell Lane where there’s an unmarked pullout on the right. Whether there is a trail up Iron Mountain is arguable. Apps like AllTrails and Mapcarta say that there is, but there are no official markers or trail trail descriptions.
There is some flagging to mark the route, and it’s been sketched out with bench cuts, switchbacks and the occasional water bar, but it is by no means a finished project. It’s a bit eerie in fact. Stones are piled here and there with the obvious intent of being incorporated into the infrastructure, but the work was never done. It’s almost as if the trailbuilders were suddenly attacked by flesh-eating viruses, leaving something of a zombie trail that appears and disappears at various points in your hike.
There are also two sets of flagging, one bright orange, one bright blue. Perhaps they were to lead to two different destinations. Perhaps the trail was built by fans of the New York Mets. Who knows? But taken altogether, it’s a good reason to take your own navigational devices with you, especially with downed leaves obscuring what little trail there is.
From the parking lot, the ‘official’ trail bears off to the right, but a more obvious old logging road enters the forest to the left. These two paths will converge at a couple of different points, so pick your poison. The road is more direct, but is punishingly steep. But it’s easier to follow.
The climb as a whole is mostly steep regardless of your route, gaining nearly a thousand feet per mile, which is not chopped liver. At about a mile in, the trail turns rather sharply to the right (north) to skirt a band of cliffs. After flanking the cliffs, this quasi-trail heads back south and keeps climbing until, about two miles in, you will have a choice.
Continuing on the trail will take you to the top at a distance of 2.7 miles from the road and an elevation of 2,450 feet or thereabouts.
And a fine summit it is with beautiful views and lots of irony red rock, but the more interesting feature is the long stone ridge that runs more or less parallel to the trail, a bit to the south. If you’re making a half day of it, there’s certainly time to do both, but if you’re pressed for time you can just hike the ridge and be perfectly satisfied.
Either way, at this two-mile point you will notice two little knobs on your topo map about 500 feet to the south. Aim for them. After you’ve reached open rock, it’s just a matter of following the descending ridge to the east until it peters out, at which point you will turn left (north) and descend steeply (boy howdy) through an open forest until you rejoin your original track.
I have also found flagging in this locale that, I guess, was to have been a route to the ridge. But the route not improved at all, and other than pointing out the general direction you want to be heading in, was of no particular use, other than as a general-interest “Would you look at that Edna, someone put tape up here” type of thing.
Iron Mountain, like its name, is a sturdy climb. But with both a summit and an open ridge to visit, it is also a really cool adventure that receives very little use and can be completed in the dwindling daylight of late fall.
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Mike Cotroneo says
I read that Adirondack iron ore was used for the Golden Gate Bridge due to its high quality.
Tim, living on Lobdell Ln, I’ve hiked up Iron many times and enjoyed your article. Are you aware that your compass goes haywire around the summit?
John Sasso says
Good write-up Tim!. Back in 2017 I was with a trail crew helping to build a trail up Iron Mountain for the DEC. Unfortunately, the DEC abandoned or put on hold the project. There is an open sub-summit of Iron Mountain which has some iron eye-bolts which once held down Verplanck Colvin’s signal station tower. There was also a Colvin bolt there (so I am told) but it was stolen. Colvin made an ascent of Iron on 9/9/1886 and placed Bolt No. 169 on it (which implies this sub-summit also served as a triangulation station for his then State Land Survey. Mills Blake made some observations from this sub-summit on 9/12 of that year.