See correction below.
By Tim Rowland
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s long-range plans for the 24,000-acre Sentinel Range Wilderness include an upgrade to the the Pitchoff Mountain trail.
The rugged traverse along a rocky crest includes the popular attraction known as Balanced Rocks.
The final plan listed six alternatives for Pitchoff, ranging from rerouting much of the existing trail—accessed from Route 73 between Keene and Lake Placid—to closing Pitchoff Mountain to formal hiking altogether. But the department’s preferred alternative is to relocate the western portion of the trail and its trailhead to the same place as the proposed Pitchoff East Trailhead. This would add 0.4 miles to the trek in to Balanced Rocks, and result in a 5.1-mile loop.
Pitchoff is currently accessed by a trail that rises from Route 73 trailheads on either end and traverses the ridge. State wilderness planners say the trail is unsustainable.
Explorer file photo.
The plan acknowledges that closure “would be very unpopular with a portion of the public; particularly for those who hike this trail as a tradition and the volunteers who have contributed to the maintenance of the trail.”
But it also outlines the challenges involved in finding a suitable solution. The existing trail to Balanced Rocks—which attracts more than 4,000 hikers a year—is steep and badly eroded, and in the state’s view is not sustainable as is.
The DEC’s preferred option is for a single parking lot just east of the Cascade Lakes and a loop trail routing hikers along Balanced Rocks and Pitchoff’s crest and then back to the parking lot.
Another option would be to harden the existing trail to Balanced Rocks with ladders and stone staircases and route the eastern section of the trail to a better and safer parking area than the current one. The downside of this option, according to the report, would be the expense.
Overall, the Sentinel Unit Management Plan improves the handful of trails and rock-climbing destinations on the fringes of the wilderness, but leaves the tract’s remote, rugged core largely untouched.
“The final Unit Management Plan for the Sentinel Range Wilderness provides a variety of recreational opportunities with improved access and means for continued protection of its natural resources and diverse landscape,” Bob Stegemann, DEC’s Region 5 director, said in a prepared statement.
The plan calls for rerouting a steep, worn trail that leads from Route 86 opposite the West Branch of the Ausable River up to Copperas Pond, one of three classic Adirondack ponds in the wilderness that are connected by footpath and offer some limited camping opportunities. The plan also calls for improvements to the Jackrabbit Ski Trail where it follows the antiquated Old Mountain Road that once connected Keene and North Elba, and improves access trails and provides better parking for rock climbers at Barkeater Cliffs, Notch Mountain and Pitchoff Chimney Cliff.
But the heart and soul of the Sentinel Wilderness is the handful of soaring, trail-less peaks that have escaped the public spotlight because they top out just beneath the magical 4,000-foot benchmark that attracts Adirondack peak-baggers. These peaks and several geological features make up what has become a bushwhacker’s paradise. This 10,000-acre core will go largely untouched under the plan, and will remain a sanctuary for those seeking solitude and a true wilderness experience.
CORRECTION: This article has been altered to reflect that the DEC chose a preferred alternative for Pitchoff, proposing a rerouted trail.