Ampersand Mountain, June 22, 2019

This was the first time I’ve managed to hike Ampersand and it not be totally socked in with clouds, rain, fog and soup. On a gloriously sunny, cool, breezy and not-humid Saturday, the trailhead parking lot was a mob scene even early in the morning. We drove over from our campsite at Cranberry. Not wanting to park on road or get a ticket, we drove back another 1+ miles east on Route 3 and parked at the Middle Saranac Lake boat launch parking area where there was plenty of space, and managed to convince the kids to walk back up the road to the trailhead. This turned the day from a short–ish 5.7 mile hike to something closer to an 8+ mile hike. Well worth it either way. The issue with trail access, erosion, crowding, etc. is one we are all going to have to think hard about.

In any case, the trail was in great condition. It’s an easy stroll the first half, and then you earn it for the second half, and the totally treeless and expansive summit offers some of the finest views in the entire ADKs. Again, there are plenty of guidebooks describing the views from the top, so no need for me to recount that here. My son loved naming the peaks as we moved our eyes south from Blue Mountain and rank them counter-clockwise through the Sewards, Nye, Dix Range and up to Whiteface with numerous peaks and lakes in between. It was very cool, very breezy, and just glorious up there on this day. We lingered and lunched on cheese and apples for an hour, not wanting it to end.  Even with lots and lots of hikers, you are able to find some peace of mind here, and there are plenty of nooks and shelves up top for you to enjoy the views. If you have not yet made the trek to Ampersand, I’d highly recommend it.

Trip Lowlights: There is a really neat cave to be found on the right side of the trail just before you get to the summit. As we waited to explore it, we encountered a group of about 8 young men (late teens / early 20s) who were celebrating their friend taking a dump in the cave.

A second lowlight – there was a group of over 20 people in one of the cavalcades coming up the mountain.

Tongue Mountain Range, June 27, 2019

Definitely a high reward to effort ratio, and plenty of solitude to boot. Probably best to avoid this in bug season, I was practically carried up and down the range by a blizzard of bugs, but that could not put a damper on the day. I’d advice you to set aside 90 mins or more for lingering on overlooks and peaks, and to take a dip down in Lake George when you get to the tip of the Tongue, if not more.

On this day the conditions were a bit muddy in spots, which slows you down quite a bit. On a dry day this is 6 hours of walking. I’d recommend planning 8-9 hours or more and really enjoying it.

There are plenty of trip descriptions elsewhere on line. All I will add is that when you first get to the top of Fifth Peak, you get some much needed silence. You are a bit far away to hear the boat motors in front or the traffic on Route 9N behind – one of the decreasingly few places remaining where you hear little but your own breaths and the buzz of a menagerie of insects, and the breeze through the shrubs and trees and grasses. As you walk south down the Range, you get closer to both water and highway, and the physical solitude you are very likely to enjoy the entire time has regular interruptions by the sounds of Lake George revelry. By the time you get down from Frenchmens then First then down to Northwest Bay, you are in a veritable boating manic playground – with enormous Harley Davidson engine sounding powerboats blasting through the choppy lake, radios blasting and engine exhaust belching.

The returning 5 miles from the end of the Tongue mostly follows the lakeshore, in many spots just a few yards away. The trail is really muddy for about 30% of it, but it’s a pretty quick walk out.

It would be great to do this hike earlier in year when more wildflowers are on display and before the bugs and boaters descend on your peace of mind.  Covered about 12.6 miles with detours in 7 hours.

Dial, Nippletop, Colvin, Blake (and Colvin and Fish Hawk Cliffs)

Probably should have written a trip report four years ago when I did this. It was the first hike after a decent hiatus, and decided to see if I could make a grueling day. It was pretty much like this guy said, so I’ll outsource the details to him. I had enough water however, and saw virtually no one on this day, and added the stop to Indian Head, which was as cool as advertised. Can’t wait to go back there. Unlike the fellow from the linked post, I managed to find myself on Blake a second time. One of the joys of finishing some list (and I regret putting myself up to the list, I think, maybe) is that you then can do the hikes you really want to do, and my hike of Pinnacle Ridge then down into the valley and up to the back of Haystack and back out to Elk Lake was one of the most memorable for me. That one required going up and over Blake from the other side of Pinnacle Ridge.

This one did get me to the halfway point of the 46, and after it, it was the first time I actually thought I would finish. I had wanted to do it by 40, but I was a month late (injury and travel are toughies!).

My initial estimate for the hike was 18.6 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation, but given the linked trip report, if he’s right, then I would have to put the vertical on this day close to the 6,500′ range and the mileage a bit over 20 given the out and back to Indian Head.  Either way, it’s certainly doable in a day, and it pretty much has all of the aspects of ADK High Peaks hiking that you can conjure, all in one. I think I’d reemphasize how strenuous I remember the beginning part of this hike to be on the way up to the shoulder of Nippletop.

Bear Mountain

We tend to have to drive a lot to New York City / Long Island from Rochester to see my family. It’s not fun, and especially tantalizing always coming through the Poconos or Catskills or Harriman on the way down. In order to break up the monotony and make the trip more worthwhile, I’ve committed to making a stop somewhere halfway and hiking for a few hours. Incredibly, in my entire life despite living very close by, I’d never hiked the famous Bear Mountain. It is located on the West side of the Hudson River, just south of West Point, and close to a couple of amazing breweries (Industrial Arts nearby on the same side, and Hudson Valley over in Beacon on the other side). On this day, it was pouring raining the entire car ride, so by the time I pulled into the park, it was pretty empty. The park reminds me a bit of Letchworth, with just tons of old 1930s stone work obviously done by the CCC crews. The park seems like a great place to hang, and there is a nice little lake down there too, overlooking a cable suspension bridge over the Hudson, and sitting beneath Bear. On this day, I decided to hike a little down the lake, and then wanted a challenge, so picked a steep section and bushwhacked straight up the face to the summit. Once again, an auto road goes to the top (more on this in another post). Incredibly, and I am still stunned by this, not only was the road closed, but I did not see a single hiker the entire time I was hiking, resting and enjoying the top, and most of the way down. The views of the river were great, and the big, flat summit had tons and tons of nooks and great viewing areas. The tower was closed on this day, I would have loved to see if I could see the Tappan Zee and Manhattan, because the angle of the mountain and bend of river doesn’t permit that view from the trail or summit. Took the traditional AT on the way down, and I can’t describe it to you – they literally made stone staircases the entire way. If you want a pleasant walk up an incredible mountain near a major metro area, that is certainly something you would want to consider. From the way I went it was a pretty steep climb up, and I think from the other trails it is pretty steep too. Still doable for kids, but they’ll be huffing. All in all, highly recommended, especially if the time you have is tight.

Prospect Mountain

If you stay in one of the kitchy 1960s style “resorts” on the west side of Lake George down in the village, you are walking distance from a lot of neat little shops and restaurants. It’s kitchy, but nothing like Gatlinburg, it has an old-timey vibe to it, and also a Long Island vibe too. In any case, Prospect Mountain looms right behind the town, and you can walk there from your resort if you are so inclined. We were in a rush after a great day on the boat (took a full-day tour of the entire lake on the Mohican, which included a couple cannon blasts and fantastic views of all of sites and homes). I needed exercise, and wanted to see the peak, yet my gang wanted dinner. So I ran from the hotel and up to the top – you can get up there in less than an hour doing this, it took less than 45 mins for me. I got to trailhead along the Northway at 4:42 and was on the summit marker at 5:23. Was signed out of the trail register by 6pm after hanging on top for a bit. This is actually a decently strenuous little hike, not at all like the lovely grades we saw on Brown or down in Tennessee this year. So, while it says “kid friendly” I’d expect some unhappy mucking up this one if you are not prepared.

Brown Mountain in the Tongue Range

Probably among the best views you are going to get of the Lake George Narrows from the west side of the lake. The hike was really pretty, gentle grade, though my companions were a little scared of the rattlesnake warnings. This would be a wonderful through hike of the entire range. After Brown, we ventured over to the Deer Jump, but did not get too near the (hard to find) cliffs that are very prominent when you look up at it from the water.

Note to get that view of the narrows and the islands, you need to bushwack a little bit north of the actual summit of Brown and the lookout that you may be inclined to settle for. It is well worth doing it (only a few hundred yards anyway).

Leconte via Boulevard, and Some More

Family was down in Gatlinburg area for a vacation. Couldn’t find a hiker shuttle that was not booked solid, so my dear wife woke up early and drove the 35 windy miles up to Newfound Gap so I could get an early start (7am) on what would be a glorious hiking day. Given what I have imagined about the hiking and views in Smokies, the amazingly perfect trail conditions, the great weather, the fact that the park gets 11 million visitors a year,  I was half-expecting a miserable, crowded day over worn out trails and overhyped lookouts … boy was  wrong. I only encountered a total of 5 hikers between the time I started in Newfound Gap all the way to nearby the Grotto waterfalls well over a dozen miles from where I started. And it’s not like this was not THE place to be hiking. The quality of the trail conditions, combined with the light gradations (given the enormous Eastern elevations) and the many, many, many excellent vistas, and the idea that Leconte is one of the must go-to destinations for Smokies hihers really would have made this think unhikeable up in the ADKs. It would have been a madhouse.

In any case, no reason for trip reports. I should have been patient and found more places to walk, the weather and conditions were so nice. As it were, with all of the side trips in here (Jump Off, Myrtle, Brushy and a walk all the way out of Gatlinburg), was able to cover apx 22 miles in 8 hours on a fairly iffy right calf (I know, wimp I am). Did not encounter much wildlife on this day aside from some quiet and flitty juncos here and there.

Windham High Peak

Breakfast at Long Island’s awesome Bagel Cafe, a quick visit to Suarez Family brewery for a wheat pils and some great views of the Catskills from the many orchards and farm fields near the brewery, and then into the Maplewood area and the Black Dome Range trailhead. The trail was recovering from a bit of weather, but still fairly fast footing. The best views are about 2/3 of the way into the hike, just before you begin the somewhat steeper part of the ascent of Windham.

Franconia Ridge Trail Plus

One of the best things about hiking upon a spectacularly beautiful trail is that it is spectacularly beautiful. One of the not best things is … you never really get to see the entire panaroma of the hike and amazing trail! So, after trying to get a perfect shot through the thick morning fog and failing, and after failing to get a nice view from Lafayette, and even after failing to get it from down in the park, and after failing upon a wonderful (brisk little one too) hike up Mount Pemigewasset, I did what any reasonable person would do …

Franconia Ridge

I went in for some old time mountain kitsch, headed into Lincoln and stopped at a neat old mountain resort that is right out of the 1950s vacation guidebooks by the name of Indian Head “resort” … and by all means it was a pleasant place, immediately accented with a gift shop stuffed in every cubic inch with, obviously, memorabilia and trinkets from the great native american tribes from … out west. Be that as it may, there was still plenty of White Mountain schtuff in there too. But the coolest part of the place was that it built an old lookout tower with those pay per view binoculars on top, and there was like a $1.00 charge to walk through the turnstile out into the tower. You had to, of course, go into the gift shop to secure the token that operated the turnstile, but it was one of the best dollars I have ever spent. In any case, once up there, if you hold your hands up high enough over the railings and viewers, you can get a pretty decent view looking north up the Franconia Ridge, which includes the entire range trail plus a couple others. From closest on the crop on the picture on the right we have Flume, moving north and to the left of the frame we have Liberty and then continuing up the range we have Little Haystack, then Lincoln and then peering itself up over the back, about 20% from the left of the picture is the tallest in the range, Mount Lafayette. The Notch actually separates Lafayette in this picture from the wall of mountains you see to the left, which includes Cannon, and the old site of the Old Man.

so, onto the actual hike. I had a hockey clinic to attend in Concord, NH over the weekend of the 23-24, so when it looked like the weather would be nice I booked a campsite at the Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch SP and tried to get as much hiking in for the two days prior to the event as I could. I highly recommend the SP campground, it sits along the Pemi River and Pemi Trail and the park has a great many attractions running the 8 mile chute from the Flume up to Cannon. There is an awesome paved bike trail (it is steep and hilly, but awesome) that connects the entire park, and a cool footpath running alongside it. So if you are in the mood not to have a car, you could set up shop here and do a ton of exploring on foot and bike including reasonable hikes to two AMC huts, several lakes, a pile of 4,000 foot peaks on each side of the Notch, and some really cool geologic features such as the Basin.

The night before the hike of the Ridge, was able to get over to Crawford Notch visitors center (again with no lack of places to explore and views to indulge) and had a really pretty hike up to Mount Willard, which affords you a south facing view of the valley running south from the Presidentials and some neat in your face mountain views. It was a pretty warmup for the day before. If you only have a couple of hours, this a nice little hike to do, and it leaves right from the visitors center / train station in Crawford just passed the Mount Washington Hotel.

For the Ridge hike, I wanted to get up fairly early so we could spend as much time up above treeline as possible and really enjoy the long sunlight. It happened to be the first day of summer, which in addition to being solstice, also happened to be this day. Fortunately I did not get any empirical evidence that this designation was fitting. The plan was to hike the old bridle patah trail from the campground, hit the Greenleaf trail and then on to Lafayette. From Lafayette, you walk the range above treeline (it’s better than advertised) southward to Lincoln then Little Haystack. Now, at that point folks usually make a loop right back to Lafayette campground via the Falling Waters trail. But the ridge runs much farther (it’s on the larger Pemi Loop), and so since the weather was so perfect, it made absolute perfect sense to walk over to Liberty and then Flume, and you are handsomely rewarded for doing so.  After making the way over to Flume (the walk is quicker than the mileage, despite the ups and downs), you can decide to stay on the Pemi Loop and walk the slow and long descent back to Lincoln Woods – but then you need a ride back somewhere, or you can go down the Flume slide (I chose not to do that since I had not read enough on it and I suspected it was wet, even though it was a very dry day out), or you can walk back to Liberty and head down the Liberty Springs trail (part of the AT) back into the Notch and then walk the 2.5 miles along the Pemi River back up to the campground – that is the route I chose in part because I was curious to see the AT encampment just west of the Liberty summit, and also because going back to Liberty was a fun walk and the views from Liberty were exemplary. All in all, if you were hustling, this is a very, very doable hike in very doable time. I wanted to hike all day.

Got my start at 6:05 from the old bridle path trailhead, and was standing on a totally socked in, fogged and freezing and very windy summit of Lafayette just 2 hours later even though it was 4 miles and about 3,500 of climbing. It was good footing (not really like the ADKs thankfully), and despite the quick ascent above the thick forest, you just want to keep walking and walking around the great horseshoe to Lafayette. With a stop for water at the Greenleaf Hut (folks inside were having a very emphatic role-playing game on impact and how to handle litter and litterers, so I sat on porch enjoying the setting), was on the top by 8:00. I huddled very cold up top for 40 minutes or so hoping for the thick fog to blow over so I could see over into the Pemi wilderness or into the Notch, but that was not happening, even though you felt at any moment that the fog was ready to burn off (it would). I wore a short and long sleeve shirt for the hike, and by time was on top added the fleece, some fleece gloves and a thick wool hat and was ready to add the wind layer, it was cold. I spent as much time enjoying the wildflowers and the cool way the fog and sun intermittently framed the views east and west. With plenty of time to savor the day, and lingering on the cool blocky ledges of Flume, and having a few fun conversations with other hikers, was back at my tent after 17 miles (I am estimating) and something greater than 5,000 feet of climbing by around 3pm.

Rather than give the blow-by-blow of the hike, I’ll just add a couple of impressions and a few pictures and leave it at that. My first impression is that the hike is as high in the reward to effort ratio as you will ever get on a good-sized hike. Within an hour of starting it you are emerging onto the big ledges and boulders, with Lafayette staring you in the face on the other side of a really cool looking horseshoe ridge, and you stay excited and rewarded for just about the rest of the day. I will say that while we all know about the huts, they nevertheless remain eminently jarring to encounter, especially as the weather is turning and the terrain real rugged. The Greenleaf Hut in peak season charges folks in the mid-$100s, which is fine, I understand they are expensive to run – but, well, I’ll be losing my capitalist credentials if I say too much more. In any case, the hut is a gorgeous cedar shingled oasis, and it is built well into the surrounding scenery – it just doesn’t seem to “fit.”

The hike from the hut quickly gets you above treeline and is less than an hour to the top of Lafayette, and is well marked by cairns along the way. The summit is marked by a trail intersection, and it is here that you first hit the AT as you begin your journey south. While there are ups and downs the rest of the way, most of the heavy climbing is by now out of the way, which is why I think so many folks seem to prefer hiking the trail in this direction rather than finishing on Lafayette, though I think I might like it better coming the other way. From Lafayette, you are on the trail you see in the pictures, a neat gravely narrow path narrowing off into the distant focal points. At no place is it really a knife’s edge, so if you are worried about exposures this is not the hike to be nervous about – go and enjoy it. I think the ridge between Lincoln and Little Haystack is marvelous, and the walk beyond Little Haystack and over to Liberty and Flume seems to me to be massively underappreciated – the walking is great, but both of those peaks are fantastic as well. In any other arrangement, each would be a much sought after destination on their own for the neat ledges and 360 degree views they offer, but seem to get lost in a sea of excellence up on the ridge.

I’ll keep the rest of my thoughts to myself – coming up here was glorious and well worth it, and surely makes one want to figure out a way to make it a much more regular part of one’s life. My kids would love the idea of it, and being plopped onto the top surely would have felt the magic, I just don’t think they have the passion to do it. I am to blame of course, but that’s for another post. In the meantime, some pics below.