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June 6, 2010

There are plenty of mountains to climb close by

Let's assume that now we're safely past any late season snowstorms.

The skis are put away. So are the snowshoes. (Ours, new holiday gifts, never even came out of their boxes.) You've rummaged around and found where you hid your hiking boots last fall. And you're ready for a trail.

You don't want to drive too far. Every year, though, you seem to make Pok-O-Moonshine or Silver Lake Mountain the inaugural hike for the season. Both are certainly worthy destinations, especially Pok-O-Moonshine with its restored fire tower on top.

At the same time, you don't think you're in shape yet for Lyon Mountain, even on its new, and allegedly gentler, trail.

Then consider Catamount, one nearby peak that doesn't seem to garner much attention.

My wife, Marty, and I did — reaching the mountain by following directions in the Adirondack Mountain Club's "Guide to Adirondack Trails: High Peaks Region." The drive is straightforward from either AuSable Forks or Wilmington. For hikers coming from Plattsburgh, instructions could be a bit more clear. Nonetheless, after a wrong turn or two, we found a cluster of cars parked on both sides of the road. That's the trailhead.

At first, the trail is quite easy but only for a few hundred yards. Then one should be prepared to climb. This is a mountain, after all.

ROCK FORMATIONS

I must have missed the news of some recent seismic activity, for the way proved much steeper than I remembered from my last Catamount ascent some 10 years ago. But the trail is easy to follow for the most part. Not until late in the hike did it become necessary to watch closely for stone cairns marking the way.

There's a lot of clambering up and around rock formations, paying attention to footholds and reminding yourself that the path has to level out — which, by the way, it doesn't. You look around at the young kids sharing the trail with you and wonder how they manage to make it look so effortless.

We came to a deep cleft in the rock. Years ago, I had to lift our Labrador retriever Furry over this stretch, making for a memorable photo image that got published in several newspapers around the country. I couldn't get through this time without taking off my daypack and carrying it over my head.

On a crisp, clear day such as we had, there are open views most of the way. Glimpses of the final destination urge you on, though at times they mainly serve as reminders of how much farther there is to climb.

Eventually, you reach a peak. A peak, I emphasize, not the peak. This is the South Summit; the topmost point hovers a bit beyond. But it's a good spot for enjoying the scenery and refueling with the snacks you're glad you brought along.

From the top, there are absolutely spectacular views in all directions, fully justifying a climb that proved more strenuous than planned. Taylor Pond and Silver Lake are visible below, and Whiteface Mountain quickly captures your eye in the distance. Next year, you resolve, you'll stay in better shape over the winter. In fact, you begin to wonder whether you could climb Catamount on those new snowshoes.

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