Tim Rowland reflects on past year of ‘Explore More’ outings, special moments on trails
My favorite Adirondack trail tends to be the last one I was on. I suspect many feel the same, since every trail has something to recommend it.
It’s logical in a way — no one ever said, “Boy, this is a lousy piece of ground, I think I’ll put a trail on it.” But trails are also organic; they change with the light, with the seasons and with climatic conditions.
So maybe more than trails themselves, we remember snapshots from the trails. That ray of light hitting a mountain ridge just so, or the bear that, as it turned out, was more scared of us then we were of it.
If a storm is rolling down into Keene Valley and low clouds are aggressively scudding through the craigs, give me the back side of Pitchoff on Old Mountain Road for unparalleled primeval drama.
Through Coon Mountain runs a jagged cleft that resembles a watermelon that’s been split open on the pavement. Rainwater runs down this open wound, depositing a surfeit of minerals and nutrients at its base. In spring, there’s an 80-foot stretch of the Adirondack Land Trust’s trail where wildflowers explode out of this rich outwash, and trillium grow to the diameter of tennis balls.
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For an obscenely small amount of effort, you can be atop Bald Mountain north of Old Forge. When the sun sets and the lakes take on a metallic sheen and the woods turn the color of fresh butter, the view will melt your heart.
So, recapping the five most memorable adventures of the past year is something of a fluid enterprise. Tomorrow I might come up with an entirely different list. But as I sit here today, here are some trails that should definitely be on your radar.
This is a new trail that opened over the summer, courtesy of SUNY-Plattsburgh and Champlain Area Trails. This four-mile, semi-loop trail is not demanding, but it is consistently interesting, from the museum of rusting farm implements at the base to the soft, flowing, southerly view of Twin Valleys and Lake Champlain at the top.
Streams, stone walls, varied forests and open glades all add variety to the hike, and the beautiful grassy overlook studded with shagbarks, hornbeam and wildflowers is every bit as scenic as the view itself.
If you can’t wait around on the wildflowers, the views from the overlook would be improved in winter, I would think, because they tended to obstruct the views to the west in summer. Stupid trees.
Another one where the view from the top is not necessarily the main attraction. The key to Good Luck Cliffs is to avoid the trail to Good Luck Cliffs. It tends to be soggy and buggy and not particularly memorable.
Instead, I took the trail to Good Luck Lake through a pretty evergreen forest to the shore, then followed an anglers trail along the scenic shoreline. I’d be lying if I said I planned it that way, but — never mind.
This informal approach joins back up with the official trail, which climbs up a ravine beneath the namesake cliffs. Here, boulders the size of minivans litter the ground having fallen through the ions from on high. There is an obvious lookout, and some less obvious lookouts from which you can look back up to where you had just been standing.
Most interesting is what appears to be a relatively fresh wound from a boulder that calved off the rock face maybe not all that long ago. Not that I would necessarily want to be in the neighborhood when one of those massive chunks cuts loose, but it must be impressive beyond all imagination.
I’ve been dismissive in the past of trails that are only a mile long, but that’s changing. Moose Pond Trail is simply too good to ignore. True, I caught it on a good day, clear autumn skies and leaves at their peak. But this trail would look good in all seasons, plus it’s level, smooth and soft.
Before it entered the Forest Preserve, Moose Pond was populated with tent sites, lodges and the camps, the remnants of which are still quite evident, along with the road that accessed them. But best of all, the scene from the western shore is one of the great unsung views for miles around, the waters set off by the Whiteface and McKenzie mountain ranges. For scenery, history, ease of access and beauty of the trail, it’s hard to beat.
For something a bit more rugged, this little mountain was extra rewarding for the surprises it held in store. There is very little recon on it, except from deer hunters who have pulled some trophy bucks from its flanks.
So the search for views became something of a scavenger hunt, with one super-rewarding spot boasting a panorama from the Stephenson Range to the north to the Dixes in the south. Getting there involves a bushwhack and some intense climbing, but it’s so worth it, and the short distance means the hike can easily fit in half a day.
Since it begins on the trail to Clements Pond, you can hike for a half to three-quarters of a mile on the trail before peeling off toward the mountain. So if you’re not feeling bushwhacky, you can still have a perfectly good outing on a great Adirondack trail.
There may be more Owls Heads in the Adirondacks than there are actual owls. This one is up in the northern reaches of the park, and it has several things to recommend it. You will be able to see Whiteface way off to the south and, with a heaping helping of imagination, trace the route over which settlers from the north sent their merchandise down to the docks of Lake Champlain.
This was the Port Kent and Hopkinton Turnpike, completed in 1833, that’s running unseen through the forests diagonally across your viewshed. Lots of it exists today just as it did nearly 200 years ago.
More to Explore
Also for your amusement, about two-thirds of the way up, is a big hole in the mountain dug in the 19th century by men in search of iron ore.
It’s a beautiful drive to get there, and a beautiful view from the top, with an interesting history and a perspective of the high mountains to the south that is unique. Climbing Owl’s Head is a wise decision indeed.
— Tim Rowland