June 6, 2010

There are plenty of mountains to climb close by

By Richard Frost
A Day Away

— 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.


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.


Want to begin with something a bit easier and enjoy a longer scenic drive in the process? Consider a drive to Blue Mountain Lake. Take time to visit the Adirondack Museum, always a worthwhile stop no matter how many times you've been before. Then head a bit south on Route 28, toward Indian Lake. The trailhead for Sawyer Mountain will be on the right.

One begins with a few stone steps to the sign-in kiosk then there's a scramble over a few boulders and entry into the woods.

There were only a few wet spots along the way, to our glee but to our mud-seeking Labrador retriever Ripken's chagrin. As always in the Adirondacks, we found some impressive rock formations, including one boulder tenuously balanced atop a bedrock outcropping. The woods offer a few burls, and, more interestingly, several pairs of tree trunks twisted around each other.

The summit, unfortunately, is not an open one. However, just a couple of hundred feet beyond, there's a lookout point. Even though you can gaze in only one direction, the view is exhilarating.

Snowy Mountain, a peak we still haven't climbed, stood out among the many summits in our panorama. We managed just a peek at Blue Mountain, barely visible through the trees and off to the right. Several of the many lakes in the region are easily seen. We had just enough of a breeze to keep the bugs away, making it pleasant to sit, eat lunch and drink in the scenery.

This trail extends only 1.1 mile, most of it climbing gently. If you feel the need to burn off some extra energy while in that area, we can recommend two additional long-term favorites. Blue Mountain, with its fire tower and commanding views, is justifiably popular. The route can be fairly crowded on a nice summer day. We also like Castle Rock, a shorter climb that offers a wondrous vista over Blue Mountain Lake. These trails, like the one up Sawyer, are detailed in the Adirondack Mountain Club's "Adirondack Trails: Central Region."

Whether or not these are among your first outings of the season, follow some basic common sense rules. Wear hiking boots, not sneakers; plenty of spots will be more slippery than you expect. Carry adequate water; none of these trails has guaranteed water along the way.

Don't try to tackle something beyond your ability. As you get into better shape, you can increase the challenges. None of these mountains are going anywhere.

They'll be ready when you are.

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