A remote, lesser known peak pairs well with an even lesser known song
By Tim Rowland
South of Poke-O-Moonshine and north of Jay Mountain is a rugged stretch of backcountry mountain land containing some pretty incredible natural features that are, alas, on private land.
On the positive side, the Northeast Wilderness Trust and Open Space Institute have been gaining toeholds near Poke-O, and further south there’s a seldom-accessed chunk of state land that offers a good interior glimpse of this remote range.
Shaped like a mirror image of Idaho, this 636 acre parcel is known as the Black Mountain Tract of the Taylor Pond Wild Forest, and its central feature is Daby Mountain, a trailless, 2,000-foot eminence known for — nothing, really.
Every spring I jump the gun on gardening and bushwhacking, so not wanting to break old habits I took Stickney Bridge Road south of Au Sable Forks to Green Street and then Black Mountain Road. BMR is a steep dirt road and, like Caligua, possesses many moods depending on the weather.
It’s usually in good shape until you arrive at the DEC sign just past the last camp, announcing public land is just 4/10ths of a mile away. You can park here or, if you have a possum-pursuit vehicle you’re confident in, keep going until you come to a logging landing with a nice view of the East Branch of the Au Sable River Valley.
If by this point you have had about all the four-wheeling fun you can stand you can park here, or you can soldier on to the end of the public right of way where there is parking pull-off.
If you are hiking in, you will soon come to a Forest Preserve sign on the right. Do not enter the woods here, however, because it will land you in one of those beautiful but messy cedar swamps, and I don’t care how good a log-hopper you think you are, you may get 99.9% across it, and just as you are celebrating your prowess, one last misstep will land you in muck up to your earlobes.
Instead, enter the open woods at the parking pullout across the road from the private Gulf Forest sign. Heading south into the woods you will see what appear to be two fried eggs on the topo map, representative of two little hills. Go between these hillocks and then down into a small stream valley. Squeezing between these mounds will essentially point you in the southerly direction that will last the entire route. A stream acts as a handrail. Stay to the right of it until you work up the gumption to tackle the ridgeline on your right that leads to the summit.
I had looked up into the mountains from the logging landing and seen snow on the range, but rationalized that 1. It won’t be that deep; 2. I can find bare patches and 3. It will probably melt by the time I get up there.
It was, I couldn’t, and it didn’t.
Clamoring up an exceedingly steep pitch of spruce knee deep in snow is no way to go through life, and I’d just about decided to pack it in when there occurred one of those wondrous curiosities of bushwhacking: You can be in the most hellish conditions imaginable when 50 feet to one side or the other exists the most most sanguine open forest offering dry ground and birdsong, beckoning you as if to the gates to heaven itself.
Which is exactly what happened. I popped out of the dark evergreens to my left and saw the streaming sunlight indicative of open cliffs. From this opening, you can look back to the northeast to see the mountains of Black and Long Tom, which form the cliffs on the eastern side of The Gulf, a 500-foot gorge on private land.
From this first overlook, a clockwise circumnavigation of the summit provides fine views every so often to three of four compass points, including the Green Mountains of Vermont, the mountains north of the Jay Range and, best of all, a look southwest to Whiteface and the communities along the Ausable River Valley.
The route back down was largely the same as the approach — options for exploration are limited due to the narrow chimney of public land leading to the summit. Still, there are beautiful streams and stretches of forest marred only by the fact that out of the blue I was hit by an earworm of a song — “Humphrey the Camel” by Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan — that I swear I had not thought of once in the last 50 years.
Whatever you do, do not go to the internet and Google “Humphrey the Camel,” because you will deeply regret it. Tie yourself to the mast like Ulysses to avoid the temptation. Do not do it.
Overall, if you park at the DEC sign this is about a five mile hike, allowing for a good bit of wandering around, with an elevation gain of more than 1,100 feet, most all coming in the last mile of the ascent.
While undeniably steep, the conditions are generally good. It’s sprucy in places, but only for short bursts, and even these are not of the crippling sort.
You listened, didn’t you, and now you have “Humphrey the Camel” embedded in your brain. I tried to warn you, so I wash my hands of it.
It goes without saying you are almost certain to have the little mountain all to yourself. It may not earn you any bushwhacking bragging rights, but I can promise you will almost certainly be the only one in the bar who’s done Daby.