June 23, 2013

Day of downpours turns into waterfall excursion

By Elizabeth Lee Living With Wilderness

---- — As anyone who has been in the North Country this spring can appreciate, the rainfall has turned every brook into a deluge. 

For me, waterfalls have become premier destinations. In an attempt to turn a rainy day last week into a memorable trip, I took a group to Snow Mountain to check out the falls.

Snow Mountain leaves from Route 73 in Keene Valley and heads up Deer Brook. The last time I was up Snow we were able to hike along the brook to the waterfall, but in 2011 Hurricane Irene obliterated the low trail so now you start into the woods but take the high trail that goes up a private road. The landowners along the road permit hikers to walk up but cars are not allowed. Hikers are asked to stay on the road all the way to the sign indicating where the trail resumes.

The waterfall on Snow is an exciting waterfall that is easy to access. It is steep and flows down from high overhead before rounding a corner and dropping over a long cascade. The flow was coming down so fast last week that we were surrounded in a cool mist. The sound was far too loud to speak over without shouting. The water doesn’t stay long, tumbling over the next drop and on down to join the Ausable River.

As hoped, the waterfall inspired us all and we got back on the trail to head for the nearby summit. Following a very moderate grade, we got up to the saddle between Snow and Hedgehog Mountain then turned up the 0.4-mile spur to the summit. The saddle was saturated in water and the trail was more like a long, narrow pool in places. We tried our best to stay on the trail but in some places the water was deep enough to come over the tops of low boots.

On the summit we found pink lady slippers and a small, beautiful patch of twinflower, the tiny pink bells that come in pairs as the name implies. The bunchberry and three-toothed cinquefoil were bright white and the leaves were shiny from the rain. The three-toothed cinquefoil is also known as Shrubby five-fingers according to some sources — no telling why.

The rain let up while we sat and enjoyed snacks looking at the view toward St. Huberts to the east and Giant Mountain across the valley. We came down via a different route, one that leads to the Rooster Comb trailhead.

On the way down we played a game of natural history jeopardy, as another hiker and I gave the contestants five categories (plants, animals, geology, mountains and trails, and water) and five levels of difficulty (1-5). The contestants handled the challenges pretty well, but were stumped by “What is McNaughton?” and “What is anorthosite?” The game kept the younger hikers occupied for the entire descent and we were pressed to come up with an equalizing bonus question until a large snapping turtle near the parking area distracted everyone.

We like to hike this route from east to west seeing the waterfall at the beginning, but it’s a nice hike of moderate intensity whether you hike from one end to the other or up and back from one end. From the trailhead you gain around 1,300 feet to the summit where you get good views toward Dix and down into the valley that follows the Ausable River.

Elizabeth Lee is a licensed guide who lives in Westport. She leads recreational and educational programs focused in the Champlain Valley throughout the year. Contact her at