By Leigh Hornbeck
A small mountain in the southern Adirondacks will reward you with a great view from a fire tower—if you can find it.
It’s scary to get lost while hiking. It’s worse when you have children who depend on you to deliver them safely out of the woods.
I chose Kane Mountain because it’s an easy hike: just 0.7 miles to the summit, with six hundred feet of elevation gain. What’s more, a fire tower offers a panoramic view of the southern Adirondacks. Kane lies just inside the Blue Line near Caroga and Canada lakes. Its trailhead is easily accessible from Route 29A.
We shouldn’t have gotten lost. The trail is obvious, I realized later. But I had never been there before and found the signage confusing. We should’ve gone to the left of the register, but we went to the right, through a gate and alongside a small pond. In my defense, it looked like a legitimate trail; it just never gained elevation.
When I hiked as a child with my father, he liked to go off trail—the deeper into the wilderness, the better. I never liked that. It scared me. To ease my fear, he told me that if I were ever lost that I should listen for water and follow it downhill. I followed water on this day with my boys, but it was a lake. I’d promised them a fire tower. Eventually the phantom trail petered out in a marshy area after we walked about a mile, and I had to admit to Rushton and Devlin we were lost and would have to go back.
Back at the trailhead, Devlin, who is five, refused to hike what appeared to be the real trail. His legs were tired, he said, and he wanted to go home. I pulled out all the tricks of the motherhood trade. The promise of a fire tower to climb and a view from the top didn’t move him. Nor did the possibility of spotting creatures and seeing different types of trees, or accomplishing a goal. I knew, from previous experience, both boys are capable of hiking five or six miles, so I kept working on him. Funny voices made him laugh, but he stood his ground. Finally, I played my trump card, the big bribe. I told him I would carry him if he decided he couldn’t go any farther.
The climb starts out steep, then levels off the closer you get to the summit where the tower and observer’s cabin stand. There is a clearing at the top, surrounded by tall trees. It’s a pretty spot, with sunny areas to relax. According to the sign nailed to the cabin, the fire tower was built in 1925. The current cabin was built in 1961, and fire observers lived there until 1987. It seems soundly constructed: the carpenter knew what he or she was doing. Alas, the edifice is covered with graffiti—lots of typical “so-andso wuz here” tags with dates. Some of it was laughable. “Sex dungeon.” Really? And “She Man Woman Haters Club.” But most of it was vile and made me wish Rushton didn’t know how to read. The sign makes a plea for respect.
“These structures are being maintained for your use and enjoyment by the trail crew from the Northville office of the state Department of Environmental Conservation and your local Forest Ranger, with substantial volunteer assistance from the members of the Canada Lake Protective Association. Please help us protect these historic, recreational and educational resources for future public use. Continued vandalism is likely to result in the closure or removal of the cabin.”
It’s clear no one is taking the warning all that seriously. The word vandalism is crossed out.
And yet, the Canada Lake Protective Association is still trying to keep the place looking nice. The cab of the sixty-foot fire tower had a fresh coat of paint on it to cover the gouges, and although I’d been warned by a friend about the possibility of shattered beer bottles around the tower, we didn’t see any. It was a clear day, and the view was impressive. We could see Canada Lake and a big sweep of forest. I thought the view was somewhat of a letdown because it was past peak as far as foliage goes, but my boys liked climbing the stairs and looking out over thousands of trees. All the wandering around and getting lost were forgotten when they reached the top of the fire tower. After we climbed down, we clambered onto a big rock and sat in the warm afternoon sun. There were several people and dogs around, and on the way down, we passed two teenagers on their way up (one wearing flip-flops).
We got almost to the bottom before Devlin reminded me of my promise to carry him. I put him on my shoulders, and even though he weighed only forty pounds, it was slow going. Eventually, he decided walking on his own would be quicker and more comfortable. Every hike I’ve taken with my boys has held a lesson. This time, I should’ve turned around sooner. There were no trail markers, and that should have been sign enough we were on the wrong track. I was lucky we were in forgiving territory and in good conditions. It is one thing to get yourself lost; it is another thing to get your kids lost.