A fall hike in winter conditions

Wendy Patunoff (left) and Tracy Orkin admire a snowman they helped create on the summit of St. Regis Mountain. The view from this mountain is one of rugged Adirondack peaks and the beautiful St. Regis Canoe Area.

On Nov. 3, I was raking leaves and the next day I was building a snowman.

I guess the saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.” is true.

A little snow was not going to stop my friends Wendy Patunoff and Tracy Orkin and I from our planned hike up St. Regis Mountain. This popular mountain is a hike of 6.8 miles round trip with a firetower on the summit.


I dare say the ride to the trailhead was sketchy to say the least. Once we turned off Route 3, the back roads were snow covered and slippery.

With two of our vehicles not having snow tires it was slow driving.

After turning onto the Keese Mills Road, Wendy was excited to spot an otter on a small pond. I was definitely jealous as otters are one of my favorite mammals.


We began our hike with a short walk on the Topridge Road soon taking a right on the main trail. It was surprising to see that we would be the first to tread on the virgin, white snow. The trail was gentle and rolling as we walked and chatted.

Our route led us through a lovely forest of balsam, hemlock and birch. With most leaves already gone, it was easy to view the gigantic glacial erratics on the right. We all took turns leading as with snow covered trails, it can be difficult to follow the trail.

More than once, I pulled out my phone with my alltrails app just to make sure we were on course.


With this being our first ‘winter like’ hike it had been hard to choose what clothes to wear. I had picked a lined pair of pants which I soon regretted as I laughed and complained about my knees sweating. I also had on 400 gram winter hiking boots. Not a good decision. My feet were also sweating the whole way.

Plugging along through over half a foot of heavy, wet, unbroken snow definitely slows you down and warms you up. Before long, we were removing layers to cool down. It was funny to see Wendy hiking up the snow covered mountain with bare arms.


The trail up St. Regis is steeper near the end and you have to take care navigating some rocky areas.

At 3.3 miles, we reached a trail to the right that leads you to a lookout with great views to the west. The wind had picked up and we added a few layers before climbing the bare rock to the summit.

No matter how many times I’ve been on this summit, the views never fail to impress me. Directly below the St. Regis Canoe Area winds through the landscape with its many rivers, lakes and ponds. It was fun to try to identify them, most of which we had paddled. The layers of rugged mountains in the distance is breathtaking.


The tower is open so I couldn’t resist climbing to the top. High in the tower you can see in all directions. It was freezing up there and as I took my mittens off to take some photos, the strong wind grabbed one as I watched it fly away.

Oh no! These were my brand new mittens. I hollered down below to keep an eye out for it.

Lady Luck was with me as Tracy found it barely clinging to the wire mesh surrounding the stairs.


Back on the ground, it was now time for building a snowman. The snow was perfect as Tracy and I constructed our man and Wendy collected the accessories.

With some twigs and evergreen plus some almonds and craisins he turned out perfect.


We stayed on the top close to an hour before heading back down. It was a lot easier following our freshly made trail and definitely a lot quicker. Part way down, we met two young ladies heading up. I told them to watch out as there was a very strange man on the summit. Their concerned look prompted me to add that it was a friendly snowman and I challenged them to build one also. Once in a while, it’s fun to be a kid again.


Before we knew it, we were back at our cars bidding each other goodbye. As I was driving, all of a sudden I realized that I had left my hiking poles. I was just about to turn around when I noticed them tucked in at the base of my windshield. This really was my lucky day.

It had been a fun hike with good friends plus a good primer for winter hiking soon to be upon us.

Tips on preparing for a winter hike

• Check trail conditions, weather forecast and carry proper supplies, enabling you to survive an unplanned night in the woods.

• Do your research and choose gear and clothing that will perform well for you.

• There are many excellent brands of hiking poles, snowshoes, crampons and other traction such as micro spikes from which to choose.

• Don’t wait until you are many miles from civilization to test your new winter clothing and gear.

• Always bring plenty of water and help reduce the chance of it freezing by using an insulated holder. Adding some energy mix can help supply much needed electrolytes.

• I always have my water and snacks on the outside of my pack to make them easily accessible to ensure I eat and drink often.

• The shorter winter days make it imperative that you have a headlamp and extra batteries. I also carry a spare light in case there is a malfunction with my main one.

• Always sign in at trail heads, where often an emergency contact number is posted and store that number in your phone or take a photo of it.

• Always tell someone your planned route and rough estimate of when you should be home and stick to it.

• Always have a turn around time as the mountains will always be there. Be safe and have fun.

Peru resident Joanne Kennedy is a photographer and writer who can be found exploring the many lakes and mountains in the Adirondacks or other wilderness areas. She enjoys sharing the unique places she visits in the natural world with her readers. Reach her at loonsrcool@gmail.com.


At the junction of NY 86 and NY 30 in Paul Smiths, drive N about 200 yards and then turn left onto the Keese Mills Road.

Drive 2.6 miles to a large parking area on the left.

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