Pitchoff Mountain

9/22/20

This is one of the last peaks that I need to complete the Lake Placid 9ers, and despite never really hearing any hype about it, I was so ready for this hike. Weather looked promising, and despite not sleeping the night before, I left my house at 7am with a sleepy puppy in tow and made it to the Cascade/Pitchoff parking lot on rt 73 by 10:15am. I was meeting my buddy Steve, and saw him parked in the very first lot closest to the trailhead, but I had to drive up the road a ways to get a free spot. Fortunately I found one – even mid-morning on a Tuesday, these lots for Cascade FILL UP. I took a moment to pack away my water and get Juno prepped for the hike while Steve made his way up to us.

Soon we left the car and walked on the side of the road to get to the trailhead. I had NEVER noticed this trailhead before; it’s literally right off of rt 73, there’s no lot directly in front of it, and it’s across the road from Cascade. We reached it at 10:50am, signed in at the register, and started up the trail. We were happy to note hardly any people signed in at the register, despite the packed parking lots!

Not 5 minutes after leaving the register, the trail started to climb. And boy did it. I was thinking to myself, there’s not enough caffeine in the world for me right now, so I stopped to take a few puffs of my inhaler to prep for the climb, and decided to down a Gu packet for good measure – these puppies are packed with nutrients and electrolytes, and though I’d never tried one, I’d heard great things. The taste was fine but the texture…let’s just say that “Gu” is an appropriate name. Coupled with the Nuun that I’d downed on the drive up, my body was ready, whether or not I was. So we heaved our packs back on and continued our upward slog.

I wanted to laugh; was this how the trail was going to be the whole time?? It didn’t even give us a warm-up, just immediately UP. I reminded myself, the first 20 minutes are always the worst, and 10 minutes later we had crested a ridge. The trail after that was GORGEOUS. We were up on a ridge that dropped off on either side, with a healthy vibrant canopy enveloping us, bright pops of orange, red, and yellow peeking through with the sunlight filtering through from above. I must have said many times “Woooow it’s so pretty!” at nothing really in particular but at the environment as a whole. I felt so content strolling this gentle dirt path along the mountain. We really weren’t particularly far from the road, but we were high enough and within enough trees that none of the sounds reached us.

We happily bopped along for the next 20 minutes of easy walking. I was so stricken by the beauty of the sunlight-dappled forest floor that I paused constantly to snap photos, sometimes without warning so that Steve would nearly slam into me. Sorry Steve! We reached our first lookout peering over rt 73 at 11:20am. I made sure to hook Juno onto her leash for these lookouts – curious rapscallion that she is, she gets a rush out of getting right up to the edge to look over 😬.

We hung out for a minute or two in no particular hurry, then found our next lovely perch some minutes later. I was feeling so much more energized than when I started, something I attribute to the Nuun and Gu. Nevertheless, we took a break here to set our packs down and snack on some fruit while looking over the map. There’s an icon on the map for something called the “Balanced Rocks”. I’d never heard of them, but on the map it looked like the trail to it hooked around and back from the main trail up pitchoff. It was hard to tell exactly where it was and where we were though, so we kept asking ourselves – “Do those rocks look balanced to you?” every time we spotted some boulders. We remained at our nice lookout for another 10 or 15 minutes. As we were packing up to leave, a happy older couple joined us, very excited to pet Juno. They were coming up behind us and asked if this lookout was the “Balanced Rock”. We replied that we thought it was further up the trail, chatted for a bit, then hoofed it on out.

Soon after, we reached some awesome boulders we had to craftily scuttle up, which obviously Juno immensely enjoyed, after which the trail started to descend a bit and wrap around, going deeper into the mountain ridge. At about noon, we heard voices up ahead and paused to let them pass. It was another sweet couple who warned us that the next 15 minutes would be a steep scrambley hell. I figured that maybe they weren’t used to the Adirondacks and assumed it wasn’t actually a nightmare – just as we reached the base of the steepest section of this trail.

This part was tricky to navigate, but honestly I thought it was pretty fun. Tough, obviously, but fun….That’s actually really easy to say now, sitting at home on my couch a day later; my sentiment may have been a little different in the moment….There were many places where we could see that many people had come down different routes. Honestly, it was a hot mess, a choose-your-own-adventure if you will, so we basically just let Juno run ahead and followed in her path. I stopped for just a few moments to admire some tiny mushrooms and the smoothest birch bark, but mostly we just slowly clambered up.

At one point, I could see Juno’s intentions to leap onto a narrow rock ledge on the side of a boulder and barked DON’T YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT IT! She assessed the ledge from another perspective, thought better of it (maybe because I was still shrieking at her) and turned away to effortlessly lope away up the steep mountainside. Showoff.

Amazingly, it only took us 30 minutes to reach the top, where we came to a junction that another couple had warned us not to miss on their way down. Written in tiny letters we could read “Balanced Rocks ->” on the top and “Summit <-” on the bottom.

We bore right to investigate the so-called balancing rocks we kept wondering about and were deposited by the trail onto a stunning slope of bare rock, with yet another boulder.

While we examined the boulder, again wondering, “Does it look balanced to you?” a Ranger approached from up ahead and laughed when I told her we kept wondering if rocks seemed balanced or not to determine if we’d arrived! She said to keep going, and described what we’d see ahead. I’ll not spoil it for you just yet, but we wasted no time in heaving our packs back on and trailblazing forward to figure out what was the deal with these balanced rocks 1.6 miles from the trailhead. Let me tell you……they are QUITE a deal.

I was in AWE. I couldn’t close my mouth, it just about dropped open all the way to my knees. I tossed my pack on the ground, grabbed my camera, and basked in paradise. I wanted to stay there taking photos forever. It was just…perfect. We could see SO MUCH! From the olympic center on the side of Mount Van Hoevenberg, to Mount Marcy and Mount Jo, even all the way to the ski jumps in Lake Placid, blanketed in a shroud of blazing red beneath a hazy sky.

I told him to “do something with his hands” because they looked awkward…

I had so much fun playing with my Peakfinder app and identifying all of the mountains in front of us!

I climbed up onto THE balanced rock (I think) to get a better perspective, and of course Juno threw a fit until she was up there with me! This slope of bare rock is characterized by huge boulders lying around and atop cracks and crevasses that cut straight down into the mountain below.

We remained for 30 minutes. It was so nice to be in no hurry today and to linger for as long as felt right. I took plenty of time to stretch my legs, hydrate (both myself and the pup), and soak in the splendor. At 1pm we turned away and padded back up to the junction, where the first couple we’d met that day was just finishing the steep climb. They remarked that this was NOT the “moderate, family-friendly trail” an acquaintance had told them it was, to which I responded, “It kind of is an easy one, compared to the rest of the Adirondacks”. Even the “easy” mountains here are still rugged. I feel for people who get suckered into thinking climbing an ADK mountain is like a walk in city park. Anyway, we pointed them toward the balancing rocks, and informed them that they’ll know it when they see it, just keep going until the end. Then we made our way toward the actual summit of pitchoff.

Looking back from the Balanced Rocks to see the summit of Pitchoff.

The trail descended a bit from the junction before climbing again. After about 30 minutes we reached what we thought may be the summit, from which there were no views but there WAS a very large boulder. With no signs, we recalled on the map that the true summit is the first high point along the Pitchoff range coming from the West trailhead (as we had), and from there it descends a bit. We continued on hoping for a nice place to stop, enjoy lunch, and stretch.

Sure enough, a few minutes later at about 1:30pm, we reached an open outcropping with a steep slope down the side of the ridge. I was a bit nervous with Juno so I leashed her to me, however it wasn’t really necessary – I had her food, cheese, and water, so she wanted nothing to do with exploring. We three sat and enjoyed our snacks, pondering how the view here doesn’t hold a flame to the one at the balanced rocks.

Still, we had the summit to ourselves, and we waved up to the constant filter of ant-sized human shapes we could see moving about the summit of Cascade across the way.

Again I took the opportunity to play with my Peakfinder app! I have so much fun with this thing. It was identifying peaks alllll the way into Vermont, which we could see as a pale blue silhouette on the horizon beneath a haze of wildfire smoke. My favorite of these was “Breadloaf Mountain”.

We stayed until 2:00pm, then took our leave. We were certain by now that the summit was just the big boulder we passed on the way up, so we patted it with our hands and strolled back to the junction, where we AGAIN encountered that same kind, happy couple for the third time that day. They asked us if the boulder was the actual summit, and said they didn’t explore further but were confused not to have seen us! We talked for a bit, then passed them to fall with style down the steep scrabbly slope. We quickly caught up to another group heading down with difficulty…I myself employed the ADK Butt Slide technique of, you guessed it, sitting on the near-vertical rock slabs and shooting down them on my ass. Luckily my pants are sturdy, and at the next tricky spot I opted instead to climb down backwards, facing the mountain and lowering 1 foot at a time.

That mess of rocks and plants and dirt….is the trail.

Before long we were at the bottom of the steepest section and felt light on our feet as we climbed back up to the ledge along the ridge to view the cascade lakes. We’d repeatedly caught up to the group in front of us, so they kindly let us pass by while gushing at Juno, much to her delight. She knows EXACTLY how cute she is.

A glimpse of Cascade Lakes

We made great time, and at 3:30 we were back at the register signing out while I lazily tried to get a pic of me and Juno together, without much success.

NAILED IT

Walking back on the road I was excited to see the “balanced Rocks” from the road! Another landmark I can now happily identify on my drives through the mountains.

Juno slept the entire 3 hour drive home, after which we scarfed down a meal (sushi!!!) and were in bed by 8:30pm. This hike is in my books as one of my new favorite trails.

Pitchoff Mountain: 3500′ Elevation Gain: 1400′

Round Trip Distance: ~5 miles

Total Duration: 4.5 hours including who knows how long at summits/overlooks

Happy Hiking!

Bear Den Mountain

9/15/20

Now that summer is basically over, the crowds have dispersed, weather is cooler, and I have Tuesdays free, I figure it’s time to get my lazy butt back into the mountains. I’m starting to push myself again to see if I’m ready to hit those high peaks, so I thought a good place to start would be with the Lake Placid 9ers. My plan was to go up Bear Den, then head into Keene to try for Big Crow as well.

I left home by 7am and drove the three hours to Wilmington, with the most bizarre rising sun ahead of me. The only time I’d seen a sun looking like a floating orange ball in the sky, with no aura, is when I’d seen it through smoke from wild fires. Considering the circumstances out west, that isn’t exactly a crazy assumption. I made it to the trailhead of the Flume Trails off of 86 where I met two of my very best friends, Gavin and Steve!

We tried to sign in at the trailhead (“tried” because there were no free spaces on the sign in sheets) and set off on the wide mountain-biking trail at 10:30am, with Juno zipping between the trees left and right. My map didn’t have very clear markings for these trails, but fortunately I snapped a picture at the register of the trail map, which came in handy as we reached each of many many junctions. We stayed on the Corridor trail heading towards the Upper connector trail.

After some climbing, we reached a beautiful “sugar bush” which Gavin was particularly excited about, full of strong maple trees just starting to drop their bright leaves on the forest floor. Gavin gushed at all of the maple trees, hugging a select few special ones, while I oohed and aahed at the MUSHROOMS. The mushroom situation on this trail is unreal. I had to fight the urge to pick them every time I found a large strand of shroomies, so instead, I took photos of them!

It was around this time when I started to realize how out of shape I am. I’m trying to assess if I’m ready to get back into the high peaks, logging 20-mile days with a full pack, so I thought I’d try hiking with my full pack for these smaller hikes to see where I’m at. DANG BUD, IT’S ROUGH. Of course I wouldn’t tell my hiking buddies at the time but my god I felt like I’d be better off dragging my carcass along the trail with my arms! Instead, I insisted on frequent breaks to catch my breath, using the opportunity to get Gavin talking about trees to extend our break (Sorry Gav! I’m shameless), before continuing on. It wasn’t a particularly long hike, but it was a bit more strenuous and a bit more UP than I suppose I was expecting!

Along the way, we passed only one older couple heading down, so I was looking forward to having the summit to explore on our own. We climbed and climbed and finally I could see a break in the trees! We scrambled up to a gorgeous view of Whiteface Mountain practically looming over us at 12:30pm.

We three dropped our packs to soak in the view and have some lunch, and after a few minutes Gavin and I realized we lost Steve! Jokingly I said, ‘Maybe he took a wrong turn and wound up on Whiteface!’, but instead we found a narrow trail leading further up. As it turns out, we weren’t actually on the summit. We left our packs behind, and I felt positively bouncy! I felt so light without the weight of my pack as I bopped my way along the trail. After just a few more minutes we were at a slightly higher outcropping with a slightly nicer view, where we found both Steve and Juno.

Naturally, I immediately set about capturing some photos. I was feeling very frustrated as I stalked around, crouching and leaning to get various shots of the landscape, but the sky was just so….UGLY. It was ugly. There was not a single cloud in the sky, so logically the sky should have been blue, right? But no, it was this greyish-whitish haze that settled to a ruddy orange around the peaks in the distance. It made all of my shots look slightly out-of-focus. One of my biggest pet peeves as a photographer is when people saturate the sky when taking pics, so the sky just looks totally white instead of showing any dimension or clouds…..AND THAT’S WHAT ALL OF MY SHOTS LOOKED LIKE! But they weren’t saturated, just…ugly! So that was the second indication of the day that we were seeing massive amounts of smoke, high in the atmosphere, that had drifted in from the wild fires out west.

Despite the ugliness of the sky, we marveled at the pops of red sprouting in the canopy beneath us.

We hung out for a while regardless, and I turned my focus to a lovely model to distract from the ugly sky – Juno! Her poses were really on point. Check out this saucy look:

At 1:15pm we decided to head back down so that we’d have time to make it to our 2nd peak of the day. Right about at this time we encountered our second pair of people for the day, a couple who also thought the first rocky outcropping was the summit. We directed them to the path to the top, and hustled down the trail.

The descent was much more smooth than the climb, and I was thrilled to find that my knee didn’t hurt! Since we were making good time, I didn’t feel guilty about stopping and climbing into a stream to get some pics.

As I was climbing out of the stream, I noticed Juno acting real odd next to me up on the bank. She was jumping around, wiggling and scratching, and I noticed a small bright yellow wriggling mass sticking out of her haunch: a hornet was repeatedly stinging her viciously in her hind hip! I swatted it away, but it continued to dive-bomb us so we ran ran ran back to the trail to the boys. She was still acting erratic and scratching at her head when Gavin saw another hornet fly out from behind her ear. We looked back at where she and I had been near the stream and spotted a hive on the ground, surrounded by the swarming assholes. Once we were sure Juno was fine, we wasted no time in getting the hell out of there.

Before long, we were back to the mountain biking trails above the marshy pond. We saw a few odd groups of older folks slowly ambling up the trail; for some reason they seemed quite strange to me. Maybe it was the way they were dressed, or that they gave us wary looks as we passed and wouldn’t make eye contact. Whatever the case, we made it back to the parking lot at about 2:30pm, had some snacks, and headed off for Big Crow. Juno never stopped running today, so the first thing she did was pass out in the back seat. Poor thing thought we were done for the day!

Bear Den Mountain: 2650′ Elevation Gain : 1300′

Round Trip Distance: ~4.5 miles

Total Duration: ~4 hours, including time at the summit

Next up : Big Crow Mountain

Mt. Van Hoevenberg

8/16/2020

It’s a gorgeous Sunday, with perfect weather, AND it’s my Birthday! All I wanted was to spend some time in the mountains. I only recently learned about the Lake Placid 9er challenge, since I’ve been recovering from a persistent knee injury for a few years I must have missed it! Now I’ve got my sights set on completing this challenge too, and since the high peaks are overwhelmingly swamped with hikers these days I thought it would be a great opportunity to explore some less-popular trails. So off we went to Mt. Van Ho! There are two main trailheads for this peak – one that starts at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg ski center, and one that starts either at the Loj or at the South Meadows lot. I wanted to avoid the crowds and the parking issues present in the high peaks lately, so we opted to start at the ski center. There were several cars in the lot, but we realized most of them were there to mountain bike, not to climb the mountain. We signed in, I peed for the millionth time that morning (having downed an entire nalgene with Nuun – see Noonmark mountain – to prevent dehydration during the hike), and we set off around the building and over the bridge into the trails right at 1pm.

The trails are fortunately VERY well marked, and it’s very clear that hikers should follow the yellow markers all the way up. There were even distance markers every 0.5 mile. The paths were wide and grassy, and if not for the many many signs at every junction it would have been very easy to get turned around.

The going was very easy along these paths, almost boring, but I was just so content to be out in the mountains, smelling the wildflowers.

After a mile of walking, we reached the junction where the REAL trail branched off and meandered up to the summit. I love the feeling of being nestled beneath the safety of a green canopy, and felt right at home….as did Juno!

As we walked the steady switchbacks, it became very apparent that this trail is undergoing very active maintenance! It was so cool to see! We engineer nerds can’t help but to always wonder how on earth the trail crews move such large boulders and create paths….well, now we have a better idea!

It’s going to be a great trail once they’ve finished, and I imagine it will help a ton with trail erosion. We happily walked along, and as we climbed we started seeing these great boulders with awesome caves built-in! I’m not sure why but my mind always says “Yeah, we could hide in there!”

On our way up we passed only a handful of people coming down. Before we knew it we were at the first incredible lookout with a pair of women sitting and enjoying the peaks.

We chatted for a few minutes before hopping back onto the trail toward the true summit. Just a hop and a skip and we were approaching the next clearing, this time with a sign:

And sure enough….

So cool! I hope that someday I will be able to volunteer on a trail crew to help maintain these trails that I love so much! Plus, I just really wanna know how they do everything 😀 For some reason, we weren’t quite sure that this was the summit (to the best of my knowledge, it was) so we kept going ahead, past another overlook, and back into the woods. At some point I noticed we were now following blue markers and were heading somewhat downhill, so we turned around and settled in at the last viewpoint we had passed.

Check out Saddleback and Basin in the image above! They’re almost exactly in the center of the image, you can see a big saddle-like dip in between the two peaks…Yep, can’t wait to haul my carcass up those high peaks! As ready as I was for my lunch and of course my VICTORY CHOCOLATE, I was super excited to try out an app that I recently put on my phone. It’s called PeakFinder, and it’s not very easy to use, but it identifies all of the visible peaks on the horizon!

I fiddled around with that for quite a while, and enjoyed the knowledgeable feeling I had when a few people from out of state asked which peaks we were looking at and I could answer them! We could even see the ski jumps in Lake Placid.

I can’t believe this little mountain doesn’t get more attention. The climb up couldn’t have been easier and the sights were breathtaking.

We were in no rush as we enjoyed our sandwiches and stretched our bones. Juno, however, was not too happy with us; we tied her to a tree because she kept STICKING HER SNOUT OUT OVER THE CLIFFS. This is why she doesn’t go up high peaks with me anymore! Kids these days…

As much as we enjoyed the summit, we began to grow weary of the sun beating down, so we packed up our things and headed back the way we came, stopping for a few last photos of course.

The descent was gentle, and I relished feeling no pain in my knee or hip….just some in my back, but hey, I’ll take what I can get, I’m an old lady now! 🤣

Just a few minutes later we were back at the wide ski trails heading downhill toward the ski center. I was kind of dreading this part a little bit because it is pretty boring; it’s not what you think of when you think of hiking in the ADKs….That is, until we realized that the trails are lined with red raspberry bushes the whole way down! So obviously we really took our time and snacked during the whole descent – Juno included. Sometime in the last few months, after watching me forage for berries, she learned how to forage too, and now I can’t keep her away from them.

The photo above was taken on our regular walking trails, not on this hike, but you get the idea.

We made it back to the car at about 5pm and wasted no time in packing up and heading down Rt. 73 to the Cascade Lakes to take a refreshing dip before driving the 3 hours back home. And OF COURSE we stopped for Stewart’s pizza and ice cream before heading back, what kind of hikers would we be if we didn’t?! (Campfire S’moreo, in case you were wondering 😉 )

I can’t wait to go back and finish the rest of the 9ers! It feels good to be completing a challenge until my knee can handle the 46ers again.

Happy trails!

Mount Van Hoevenberg: 2940′

Round Trip Distance: 4.4 miles

Total Duration: ~4 hours, including who knows how long at the top.

Snow Mountain

9/13/19

Holy moly, it’s been a while! We’d been so busy traveling this summer that there hasn’t been much time for hiking, so we decided to set out on a lovely Friday afternoon and climb Snow Mountain. This was also my chance to experiment with a certain mix of stretches, balms, CBD oil, and stride-adjustment to see if I could work past my knee issues and get back into the high peaks.

While Snow Mountain is accessible via the main Roostercomb trailhead on Rt. 73, we opted to take a lesser-known trail following deer brook. To access the trail, park just North of the trailhead (marked with a green sign) in a small turnout past the little bridge.

We made it to the trailhead at about 12:30pm, after a late start that morning and my pre-hike stretches, along with applying CBD balm to my leg, taking ibuprofen, and a very full dropper of 33mg CBD oil.

After just a few minutes, we reached a small bridge below some private property. At this point, the trail joined up with the driveway that was just a few feet further past the trailhead. You have the option here to continue straight up the road with private driveways, the “high water route”, or turn right to follow the brook. We turned right to continue our stroll.

I’d never climbed this peak before, nor taken this trail, but I’d heard good things about it – it didn’t take long to see why. The woods are lush and vibrant with life surrounding a sweet little brook.

We really took our time ambling up the slight incline along the brook, stopping frequently to admire the little waterfalls. Of course Juno admired them too, in her own way.

Immediately soaking wet and filthy

At this time of the year, following the brook was quite easy despite the 4(ish) stream crossings back and forth. Though some of us chose to make it more difficult…

In all, the trail conditions were pretty good, with no particularly difficult sections (at least compared to the high peaks). Even so, I wasn’t quite quick enough for Juno, but at least she checked in on us ( or maybe, taunted us) from time to time!

After about 45 minutes, we reached the junction with the high water route. Shortly after came the junction with the path to Lower Wolf Jaw. We continued straight, following the brook.

Just a few minutes later and we were at a two-log bridge over deer brook with a spur trail to the falls. Naturally, we hopped on over to the falls to do some exploring. Well, they did some exploring, while I sat on a large rock and stretched my legs. At this point, I was starting to feel sloooooooow, an after-effect of taking the CBD oil, I’m sure.

Across the bridge, the trail widened and climbed along a hill until it met the junction with the St. Hubert’s trail about 20 minutes after the falls. I’ll be honest here….. I’m writing this only 2 days after the hike and I can barely even recall any details, other than that I felt sloooow and lazy, and pretty goofy I think….so there’s that CBD kicking in! (Keep reading, it gets better).

We’re pretty sure that the distance on this sign is incorrect, since it’s about 1.9-2.0 miles to the summit from the trailhead. That, at least, I remember! A few minutes later and we were at the final junction to the summit of Snow.

I don’t know how the other two tolerated my pace on this trip! I recall remarking how Juno is like a mountain goat and I’m a tortoise…actually, I think I repeated the word “tortoise” a few times because I liked how it sounded (yep, definitely felt goofy).😅 ANYWAY, the good thing is that I was moving so dang slow that I spotted some tiny beauties hidden away in rotting logs…I remember thinking (oh dear…and saying) that maybe there are some small bug adventurers exploring through the tiny forests of lush pine-y mosses, just like us…..yeah, I know……See, the problem with walking so slow is that I had a LOT of time to think!

Somehow I managed to drag my daydreaming self up the mountain to get our first peek of scenery about 2 hours after leaving the trailhead!

That view gave me just the boost I needed. We scrambled up the last bit and reached the summit 5 minutes later.

Juno’s face here makes me laugh so hard

What an outstanding view of the high peaks! Towards the left, we could see Giant Mountain and Nubble, with Round mountain and Noonmark on the right of Rt. 73. Right below us was the Ausable Club.

We sat down in the sun to stay warm in the gusty wind and to enjoy some snacks (but I forgot to bring our victory chocolate 😩)……..And the next thing I knew, I woke up half an hour later. That’s right. I, the person who takes sleeping pills every night because even in the best of circumstances I can’t fall asleep, FELL ASLEEP ON A ROCK ON TOP OF A MOUNTAIN. I woke up….confused. But instantly grabbed my camera to capture these two, taking in the scenery quietly to let me sleep.

Let’s talk about Juno for a minute. This dog has the uncanny ability to find a tennis ball or base ball EVERYWHERE we go, no matter how remote. So, you guessed it, she of course finds one somewhere on top of this mountain. I’m guessing Venus Williams was visiting the Ausable Club and whacked a tennis ball right up onto the mountain. Seems legit.

We hung out on the summit for about 2 hours. At 4:45, we began our descent. Since I was apparently well-rested, it went much more quickly than the climb! Before we knew it, we were already back at the bridge to the falls.

As we crossed, Juno, who’d carried her ball down from the summit, repeatedly dropped the ball down the flume only to frantically retrieve it from the water….to bring it back up and drop it immediately. I thought the flume looked like it’d be a fun water slide!

On the way back we decided to take the high water route for a change of scenery. We stopped once or twice to stretch out my leg. Despite all of my preventative measures, I hadn’t stopped the pain, and it can become crippling if I just power through it (which is usually my mode of coping). We made it back to the car at about 6:30 after picking up HEAPS of trash along the roadside on the 1/4 walk from the trailhead to the car. Yikes!

So, I learned a few new things on this trip….CBD oil makes me basically useless, BUT it totally helps me sleep, AND prevented my asthma from rearing it’s ugly head! So it’s back to the drawing board for the knee, but I guess those other things are cool?

Until next time…

Snow Mountain: Elevation – 2360′ Elevation Gain – 1177′

Round Trip Distance: ~4 miles

Total Duration: 6 hours (including many, many, many breaks)

Mount Colden (11)

10/14/2018

It was a month and a half into the semester and I really needed some solitude in the mountains to replenish my spirits, so I settled on heading out on Sunday to climb Colden Mountain. I woke up at 4am on a cold, dark morning and made it to the trailhead at the ADK Loj right at 7am. The lot was already about half full, and I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t have the trails to myself, but that was to be expected. While I waited in a short line to sign in at the register I took a picture of this amazing sign instructing hikers to poop responsibly and took a super glamorous selfie of my drowsy face.

I headed down the path at 7:30am with a smile on my face, so happy to be spending a day in the woods. After 20 minutes, I arrived at the first junction in the trail. Whenever possible, I like to hike a loop instead of an out-and-back, so I chose to climb up from Lake Colden (the steeper path) and head down via Lake Arnold. With that in mind, I turned left at this junction to head toward Marcy Dam and Avalanche Lake.

About 30 minutes later I arrived at Marcy Dam, 2.2 miles from the trailhead. I took some photos of the rising sun’s rays on the surrounding mountains and took my obligatory 5 minute break at a rock on the other side of the dam at the “Marcy Dam Outpost” sign. I try to take a 5 minute break once every hour to stretch, drink water, and give my back a break from my pack.

At 8:30am, an hour after leaving the trailhead, I reached the next junction and continued to the right to head towards Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden. 30 minutes later I was at the next junction. I continued to the right, and took note that I would be returning on the path to the left toward Lake Arnold.

I was excited about the next portion of the trail, which is surrounded by large mossy boulders alongside the Avalanche Pass Slide.

I was having a heckin’ hard time with my camera today! Every time I brought it up to my eye, everything would fog up! With that in mind, I apologize for the “misty” images on this trip report 😅 I made it to Avalanche Lake at 9:40am, a little over 2 hours after leaving the trailhead. Avalanche Lake is one of my favorite spots in the high peaks. This 9-acre lake sits at over 2800′ in elevation right between the vertical cliffs of Mount Colden and Avalanche Mountain.

I started my way around the lake and stopped for second breakfast on a nice rock overlooking the lake. While sitting there, I passively noticed a boat on the other side of the lake…after several minutes, it occurred to me….How did that boat get there?! I assume it was helicoptered in, but I can’t help to imagine a person hauling it over their shoulders on the 5.2 mile trail in!

AFter a few minutes respite, I continued on the trail around the lake. Boy, I had forgotten how intense this trail is! Between the huge boulders to climb over and around, the ladders, and the hitch-up matilda’s along the way, it takes me a solid half-hour to traverse the lake.

At 10:20am I happily found myself at the other end of the lake. I snapped a few lousy pictures before continuing ahead toward Lake Colden.

The trail here because quite muddy, which pretty much set the stage for the trail conditions for the rest of the day. While I was trekking toward Lake Colden, I had an AMAZING moment where I was walking across some puncheon over a muddy bog while a Ranger was coming the opposite way on his patrol. OF COURSE I stepped on the end of a puncheon board and OF COURSE it wasn’t secured at the other end, so there I am flailing my arms while the board flies up in a comically dramatic teeter-totter fashion….AND OF COURSE I did the exact same thing at the OTHER END of the board…At the ONE MOMENT IN THAT LAST 4 MILES that someone else is on the trail.
My gracefulness is really astounding sometimes!

There were a few portions of the trail along Lake Colden that were completely submerged in the lake itself from all of the recent rain and snowmelt, so some bushwhacking was involved to make it across. Before long I had made it to the next junction at 11:00am. I turned left to leave the lake and head up to Colden.

The initial trail up was quite pleasant. It was never particularly steep or too muddy. I foolishly thought “Hey! Maybe it’s not as steep as everyone said it would be! This is nothing!”….Yeah, you all know where this is going. OF COURSE it was way more difficult, I just hadn’t gotten to that point yet. But in that brief moment of bliss, I happily traipsed along and let a large group of French Canadians pass me by.

After about a mile the conditions changed…a bit…(read: The trail amped up to a 10 to cruelly haze the unworthy). Thankfully some AMAZING trail crews had built ladders and steps to traverse the truly difficult sections.

At about this time, I kept catching up to the back end of the large group that I had let pass me. I was getting quite frustrated to have to keep stopping every time they stopped, so just as the trail started to get icy I opted to pass them all and hustle a bit to make sure they didn’t catch up again. (They were quite nice, it was just a large group and I didn’t want to hear voices behind me while I was hiking!) At this time, a couple were coming down the slick slides verrrry carefully and they informed me that there was a lot of ice up ahead. With that in mind, I trudged on.

Sure enough, they were not lying. And I am SO SMART that I, being the stubborn mule that I am, opted not to put on the microspikes that were conveniently strapped to the back of my pack for easy access.

I clawed my way up tooth and nail very carefully along Colden’s smooth rock slides until I reached another ladder, and I just KNEW that this one would bring me to the top.

I turned around at the top and let out a hearty laugh in awe at the views. Those views make everything worth it, every time.

I had really thought I was close to or at the summit, but, and I’m sure this comes as no surprise, I most definitely was not. So onward I went, but now I had some stunning views every step of the way.

I loved seeing the path that I had taken up there from the “almost summit” or whatever it was that I was on. And even better, I had a fantastic view of my favorite trio of peaks along the MacIntyre range.

I climbed up one final stretch to see a stunning view of a chilly Mt Marcy, with some supplied that may have been dropped in for some impending trail work.

I was a little bit confused, as I continued along the snowy trail and was unsure of exactly where the summit was. I came upon a sign designating where to leave a rock carried up from the trailhead, and wandered down a path to a rock in a small clearing. At 1pm, while I was standing on that rock, a couple of fellas came down and “tagged” the rock, at which point I shouted (or yelled and frightened them probably) “WAIT. Is this the SUMMIT?!?” and it was! How anticlimactic! So I snapped a picture of some circle on the rock (I’m so technical) and wandered back out of the clearing to find a nice spot to have lunch.

I enjoyed my lunch of a sandwich, babybel cheese, and some gherkin pickles (oddly delicious after a day of hiking) while looking out towards Algonquin. And can’t forget the victory chocolate!

Now, let’s talk again at how intelligent I am. AFTER I had passed over all of the steep icy sections of trail, while I was sitting at the summit, I thought, hey, it’d be such a great idea to put my spikes on now! So I did….and encountered no more ice along the trail. Ha! At least I tried. As I headed down the path toward Lake Arnold, the trail passed over a bare rocky outcropping, so I sat for a break and to take in the breathtaking sight of Mt Marcy right next door.

At about 2pm I left again for Lake Arnold. The trail down from Colden was quite tough. It was all mud and rockhopping. Almost immediately, my right knee began to ache, so I stopped frequently to stretch and roll out my IT band with my trekking pole. Who knew trekking poles were so versatile?

By the time I made it to the junction with Lake Arnold 45 minutes later, the twinges in my knee had ceased to subside and an old injury in my SI joint was starting to cause lightning-like spasms in my lower back. It’s so fun having a body that acts like it’s been bowled over by a steamroller with the slightest provocation! So I chose not to visit Lake Arnold but went left to keep slowly making my way down the mountain.

Along the way down, I met a couple coming up who seemed perturbed. They thought they were on the wrong trail coming down from Colden because it looked so different from the path they were on that morning. After looking at the map, I suggested that there was no other path down from the previous junction, and that the trail looked so different because all of the snowmelt was turning it into a veritable river. Still unconvinced, we all continued our way down. I passed them up, and about 30 minutes later I came to another junction which verified the path we were on was the correct one. It’s incredible how much water just a little bit of snow can create!

I didn’t take many photos after that. The pains in my knee and back were intense and it took all of my mental acuity to focus on getting down the mountain. Finally, at 4pm, I made it to the junction and lied down on this wooden bridge to stretch my legs and back.

After I probably freaked out a few passing hikers by lying there on that bridge, I continued my way back toward Marcy Dam.

And that’s the last picture I took of the day. The pain was relentless and I lulled myself into a trance-like state to focus through the pain. I continually reminded myself to take one step at a time, and that the worst was behind me. After continuing on like this for 3 more miles, I dragged my aching body out to my car just before 6pm and let out a frustrated huff as I sat down to drive home.

I’m so disappointed that these so-called “overuse” injuries are still plaguing me, considering I’ve been resting with minimal straining activity for 15 months. Back to the drawing boards, hopefully I’ll be back soon.

19 down, 27 left!

Mount Colden: Elevation – 4714′ Elevation Gain – 2535′

Round Trip Distance: ~14 miles

Total Duration: 10.5 hours

Hopkins Mountain

06/21/2018

It’s been almost 1 year since I’ve been in the high peaks….The last real trip I had was Iroquois, Algonquin, and Wright, my absolute favorite trip to date, and my absence from the high peaks has been slowly eating away at my soul. A week after that trip, I suffered a mysterious injury to one of my knees, and haven’t been able to hike since. Lately I’ve been able to tackle small, easy mountains, so I made a deal with myself: If I could manage to climb Hopkins mountain without issue, then I would get myself back in the 46ers in 2 weeks. With that thought in mind, I set off determined to climb this peak.

I arrived at the trailhead for Rooster Comb mountain on Rt. 73 at about 9am, crossed the road and headed away from Keene Valley toward Ranney Way. Ranney Way is a private road, hence parking at the nearby Rooster Comb lot.

This is a nice little gravel road. I continued down this way for about 0.25 miles (continue straight when the road forks to the right) before coming to the trailhead. There’s no register for this trail, just this old sign.

This wood was absolutely GORGEOUS. The trees towered tall and broad with no undergrowth beneath, with verdant rays of light filtering through a leafy canopy. Forests like these always make me feel safe and protected, and it’s so tempting to set up a hammock and lounge. Today however I was on a mission, so that would have to wait.

Much of the trail follows along the Hopkins Brook, providing a nice ambient sound of trickling water and numerous photo opportunities. Unfortunately it seems that many of the smaller off-shooting streams have dried up from lack of rain. At least it wasn’t muddy!

The path is soft and packed, climbing moderately and consistently through the pines with some steeper inclines interspersed. After about 1.8 miles I reached the intersection with the Mossey Cascade Trail and turned left to continue up to Hopkins Mountain.

The going was a bit easier at this point, with some flat sections interspersed with the climbing. I continued to employ my technique of frequent stretching breaks to take care of my bad knee and hoped desperately that it would prove effective to abate the pain during descent. During one of these such breaks, I heard a very peculiar sound coming from the undergrowth to the right of the trail…It sounded like the most pitiful animal I’ve ever heard, accompanied by the rustling of leave as the critter scooted around through the brush. Recognizing the sound as something I heard while climbing Coney Mountain in the middle of the night (and thought it was a snake eating an animal???), I was extra curious to determine the source….It was a ruffed grouse hen! I had never seen one on a trail before, and it turns out the sounds she was making were alarm, distress, and distraction calls! The calls were probably because I scared the guacamole out of her, BUT HEY IT WAS COOL! I was too focused on observing the bird to even consider recording audio or visual, so here’s a link to a video from someone who didn’t totally drop the ball (like I did :P) showing exactly what it sounded like.

These trails continued together for about 0.7 miles before coming to the next junction. At this point the forest became much more lush, full of mossy rocks and ferns, and of course many many many spider webs, which my face  considerately caught for all those that would follow in my steps later in the day. Yep, that’s me, totally magnanimous…

I always get really excited when I see that “0.2 miles to summit” sign…I know the climb is going to be steep, but knowing I’m so close puts a serious pep in my step and I fly right up the trail. This trail did not disappoint! Though not very long, this trail has over 2000′ of elevation gain in a little over 2 miles. It’s not as easy as it seems just looking at a map, which is why I chose it as my “test” to see if I’m capable of climbing high peaks again.

I was soon scrambling out on open rock faces at about 11am and I ran ahead to see this first view.

I won’t lie to you. I knew I had been really missing the high peaks, but I don’t think I realized just how much until I reached this point. My soul, my very essence, seemed to exhale a sigh of relief to finally be HOME. I’ve never felt to belong anywhere as strongly as I feel that in the high peaks of my beloved Adirondacks. There is an almost magnetic attraction to them…After all, home is where the heart is, right? Never in my life have I shed tears of happiness, but as I stood there gazing upon the vistas of the welcoming wilderness, I cried. And I couldn’t stop! Seriously, I’m so glad I had the peak to myself for a while because I had tears streaming down my face for a solid 30 minutes. The past year has been full of trials and tribulations, and the knowledge that I was physically unable to climb the 46ers had weighed on me with a blanket of depression, seemingly deepening with every passing day. Finding myself at the summit of beautiful Hopkins Mountain, sans knee pain, the realization that I would FINALLY be able to climb again seemed to whack me over the head. I’ve rarely been so happy in all my life….but I digress.

From left to right: Dix , Dial, Nippletop, Colvin, Sawteeth, Gothics, Armstrong, Wolfjaws

I climbed my way up to the summit and sat my emotional butt down to eat some lunch and bathe in the splendor of the mountains.

I stayed at the summit for about an hour and a half. A few people stopped by, but they didn’t linger, and I was thankful. I sat to stretch my legs and enjoy my victory snacks before standing up to head back down.

It took a solid 10 minutes for me to be able to drag myself away from the summit, but at 12:30pm I turned away for the last time and made my way back down the steep trail.

I was a bit nervous about impending knee pain, but after 30 minutes of very careful, measured steps and an agonizingly slow pace, I relaxed a bit, realizing that knee pain would not plague me on this perfect day.

A mere 1:15 after leaving the summit and I had arrived back at the Ranney Way road.

Another short 0.25 miles and I was back at my car, taking my leaving photo. This trail, though relatively short, is an absolute joy. Beautiful forest, just-difficult-enough grade, and stunning summit views. Having successfully completed this trek, I can now confidently say to expect a new trip report from the high peaks in the next 2 weeks!

Happy hiking!

Hopkins Mountain: 3156′ Elevation Gain: ~2100′
Round Trip Distance: ~6 miles (from Rooster Comb lot)
Total Duration: 4 hours 45 minutes (including 1.5 hours at summit)

All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may not be used without express permission.

Nippletop(13) and Dial(41) with Bear Den and W. Noonmark Shoulder

07/04/17

I had the day off of work, and decided that the day couldn’t be better spent than by climbing the two peaks that I left out when climbing Colvin and Blake. I left the house at 4am, thinking that the trails might be crowded despite being a Tuesday since it was Independence Day. I enjoyed the sights of dense fog lifting with the sunrise on the drive down.

Barnum Pond

I arrived at the trailhead at St. Huberts just before 6am, put my boots on, and set off toward lake road.

15 minutes later I arrived at the register, signed in, and started my long trek down Lake Rd. I had read mixed reports about whether to climb these mountains clockwise or counterclockwise; many people suggested climbing clockwise, going up Leach trail and coming down Elk Pass because Elk Pass is very steep despite being only 1.5 miles long. However, I would much rather climb up a steep path than down it, and I wanted to do the long lake rd walk early in the hike as a warm up, so I chose to go counterclockwise, anticipating a miserable climb up Elk.

I noticed two signs for “Flume” while I was walking, and decided to check out the latter. Without backtracking all the way, I walked just a few feet along the little spur trail to see some awesome waterfalls.

Usually the walk along lake is boooring, however this time, just as I was cresting a hill, a sweet little spotted fawn came galloping toward me from the other side! She skidded to a stop, as did I, and we stared at each other in shock for a few moments before she bolted into the brook alongside the road, and watched me while floating in a little pool. Hopefully that baby’s momma was close by!

I passed the first sign for Gill Brook, and continued until I saw the second sign for Gill Brook cutoff, while I reached at about 7am, an hour after leaving from the parking lot.

The trail climbed slowly but steadily from this point until reaching the junction with the Gill Brook Trail 20 minutes later.

I went right, up towards Colvin, and ruefully continued straight past the junction for Indian Head a few minutes later. Indian head is amazing, but I’d already been there a month before and wanted to see new things.

The trail climbed pretty steadily on the way up towards Colvin. I hadn’t been bothered by bugs yet, but it was still quite early. I had also expected a ton of mud due to the recent deluge, and though there were muddy areas, none of them were sloppy, boot-slurping mud. After climbing up some rock slabs and stone steps, my stomach started complaining loudly, so I decided to take a short break just before 8am and have a snack.

After a little over a mile of climbing, I reached a decrepit sign at the junction for Elk Pass, Colvin, and Lake Rd at 8:30am. Two of the signs had fallen (presumably recently, because I think they were intact when I was there before), and I spent a moment with a couple of other hikers to ensure we were all going the right way. I headed left from the direction I came to go towards Nippletop.

The trail picked up again, climbing steadily, and I started hearing sounds that seemed out of place for a mountain trail….Frogs. It didn’t make any sense to me, and definitely made me pause for a moment or two in confusion, until the trail took a downward turn and I found myself on a muddy, overgrown little path through a bog. I excitedly took a little spur in the trail to view the bog, and the lumber supplies that hopefully mean a bridge will be built in the future.

It was so beautiful here. After a very quiet morning, the birds were waking up and the frogs were certainly lively. More than once while walking I stepped in what I thought was shallow mud and nearly left my boot behind in foot-deep muck. I’d laugh to myself, remove my foot, and immediately do it again. I was pleasantly surprised moments later to see another small pond, on the right this time, and took the opportunity for a short break.

At this point, the trail was almost lower than the level of the ponds, and boy did it show. The mud was ridiculous, and much more along the lines of what I had expected. I passed through the absolutely worst of it by balancing precariously on a sodden, broken log, and made it to dry land. THEN I took out my pole to help with any future mud. Better late than never!

I had reached a nice dry clearing with views of another small pond, which I later saw was a campsite, and then headed up the trail again.

This is when the real ascent up Elk Pass starts. Honestly, I wasn’t even really convinced I was on Elk Pass until I was almost to the summit of Nippletop because it was so much easier than everyone made it seem. I was expecting some beast with giant rock slabs and slick slides all the way up. While it was indeed steep and constant, it wasn’t at all technically difficult. For reference, I always carry my camera around my neck while hiking and put it away during difficult sections; I never even had to put it away during this entire hike.

The grade was certainly tiring, and I made myself stop for 5 minute breaks every hour (which really helped with muscle fatigue), but it was made so much better by the views I had almost every time I turned around.

While it wasn’t technically difficult, this trail seemed to go on FOREVER. Finally, at about 10:15am, I reached the crest in the ridge and the junction for Nippletop and Dial, and headed right.

20 minutes later and I was standing next to a big rock, asking a man standing nearby “Is this it?” It was indeed! Climbing out onto the rocks, I was blown away by the views of the Dix range.

I hung out at the top for about an hour, chatting with a few different people (shoutout to Doug from Delaware, the surgeon!–I’m trying really, really hard lately to remember things about people…like their names.) and enjoying my lunch and victory chocolate.

I took a photo for a pair of ladies, they returned the favor, and I convinced them to do the loop down elk pass to visit Indian Head. Seriously, the views from Indian Head are some of the best around.

Elk Lake just visible to the South (left)

Finally, at around 11:30, I decided I had to make the move to head towards Dial. Bugs had started to show their ugly stupid faces with the warming sun and mud, flies and sandflies and mosquitos and all, but they weren’t really a nuisance while I was moving, so off I went. I passed the junction with Elk Pass and marveled at the view of Giant Mtn to the NE.

Everyone I had previously spoken to had said that the trail was all downhill after leaving Nippletop heading toward Dial, Bear Den, and back to Lake Rd. This was totally not true, and I had gotten pretty frustrated at having expected it to be so much easier. It was more like, down then up, then down then up to Dial, then down then up to Bear Den, then down then up to Noonmark Shoulder, then down….Anyway, I passed several people travelling the other way while heading to Dial, and asked every one of them if I had accidentally passed over Dial without realizing it…I just kept going downhill, I thought for sure I had missed it!

Along the way, I spied a little spur trail off to the right just before noon, so of course I took it and found some beautiful views from a large boulder!

Finally, 2.1 miles and about an hour after leaving the summit of Nippletop, I reached the summit of Dial Mountain. For some reason, I was expecting the summit to have no views, however I was thrilled to see a huge boulder outcropping.

I hopped right up, and eagerly sat down to enjoy an apple, and snapped a few photos.

Unfortunately, within 5 minutes of being up there, I was SWARMED by sandflies! These things are awful! Despite having a cap coated in permethrin and being covered head to toe in deet, these things just did not care. One after another I was swatting them off of my hands, my neck, my face, and even from up under my cap. At one point, I took the deet out of my pack and literally sprayed it into the swarm, and they gave me one of these:

So I packed my stuff up and courageously ran like hell off of the summit, without even having my apple snack. After a hundred feet or so I slowed back down and lamented my short stay on the summit. The trail immediately went downhill for about a mile before climbing again up to the summit of Bear Den (1:30pm). There weren’t any views from Bear Den that I could see, and I didn’t even realize I had reached the summit until I saw the sign at Noonmark saying I had already passed Bear Den.

After a half mile descent from Bear Den, The trail again began climbing. While somewhat demoralizing to be climbing again (my knees were hurting from all of the ‘down’, and going up only means climbing right back down, and then some), the trail up to the W shoulder of Noonmark Mtn was stunning. A fire had ravaged the area in 1999, creating now-beautiful views from the summit of the shoulder and a unique young forest full of birch and aspen trees, with white bark and bright green leaves.

I climbed the slab up to the shoulder and plopped my butt down. The views were AMAAAAAZING. I wanted to sit there for so much longer than I did, but alas, bugs. Writing this the day after the hike, I have a number of itchy bites, where mosquitos had bitten THROUGH MY DEET-SOAKED PANTS. What even are these things?! How do I prevent this?! Grenades?! Ugh.

After only a few minutes respite, I continued on up and over the shoulder and again headed downhill through the beautiful forest and some mud.

From here on out the trail was much easier. There was less mud and the decline was less rocky. At some point I passed this beautiful little mushroom, still somehow intact despite residing in the middle of the trail.

A mile and a half later I was back on Lake Rd, and at the parking lot at about 3:45pm, about 9hrs and 45 minutes after leaving.

I learned some valuable information on this trip:
1. Adirondack bugs don’t give a hoot whether you’re wearing deet or permethrin. If they’re hungry, you’re lunch.
2. Elk Pass wasn’t bad at all, and I would recommend any and everyone go up Elk and down Leach, for several reasons. First, you get the long walk down lake road out of the way early on, and it serves as a nice warm-up before any climbing. Second, you reach Nippletop for some awesome views faster than you would if coming from the Leach Trail. Third, it’s easier to climb up steep, slippery rocks than to climb down them.
3. The Fourth of July isn’t a crazy busy hiking day when it’s during the week (except maybe on a Monday or Friday). I only saw a handful of people all day. Good to know!

13 down, 33 to go! Happy Trails!

Nippletop Mountain: 4620′

Dial Mountain: 4020′

Bear Den: 3399′

Total Duration: 8.5 hours of hiking + 1.25 hours at summits

Round Trip Distance: ~14 miles

All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may only be used with express permission.

Jay Mountain

05/20/2017

Today was a perfect day for hiking, so Juno and I loaded up our packs and headed out at 7am to get to the trailhead at 9am. I just have to say, ::SPOILER ALERT:: this was in the top 2 of the COOLEST MOUNTAINS I’VE EVER CLIMBED! Seriously, even though this mountain isn’t a high peak, it should not be overlooked. Clearly, other people already know that secret, because the little parking lot at the trailhead at the intersection of Jay Mountain Rd and Upland Meadows Rd was already full when we arrived. We parked on the street, took our starting photos, and headed off.

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New hiking backpack!

The trail started climbing right from the start, gradually and continually via switchbacks. We signed in at the register a few minutes after leaving the trailhead, and soon after followed a cool low rock wall along the trail.

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Rock Wall

Juno was so excited to be sporting her new pack so that she could carry her own water! Or maybe just I was excited to not have to carry her water! Either way, she trotted back and forth excitedly, while I trudged up behind her.

I’ve come to realize that the first 30 minutes of any hike are the hardest! I’m constantly checking my watch, thinking “It must have been an hour already!” and it’s only been 15 minutes. After those first 30 minutes I tend to find my stride.

Juno was on her best behavior today. About 20 minutes in, this little cream colored poodle came running up to us from behind, owner nowhere in sight, and started BITING JUNO! She jumped back, looked at me like “What the heck, Mom?!” and then chased him off. She made sure the dog stayed away from me, then came back, and we waited together for the irresponsible owner and his dog to pass us. I thought this would be a one time thing, but unfortunately those two would continue to haunt our beautiful hike. This happened two or three more times throughout the day. The owner claimed the dog was just afraid of big dogs, but  scared dogs tend not to run up to big dogs trying to fight. No, sir, your dog is just aggressive, not scared. I don’t want to go on about this anymore, just, if you have a dog that’s not friendly with other dogs and doesn’t respond to your commands, KEEP IT ON A LEASH! My poor pupper was snapped at/possibly bitten 4 times during this hike, while she has never bitten anything/anyone in her entire life, and there were so many other dogs on this trail that the angry little dog could’ve hurt. Anyway, that’s enough of that. We were determined to enjoy our day to the max anyway, and continued on our way, enjoying the bright greenness of everything around us. What a welcome sight after dreary winter!

After about an hour of steady but gradual climbing, we paused for a short snack and water break, and to let a couple of young guys and their sweet hound pup pass us. A little bit afterward, I looked to my left and saw a tall mountain through the trees. I thought, “Hey! That might be Whiteface! I remember reading that there’s a great view of it from Jay!”, then I realized, nope, that tall mountain that looks sooooo far away is, in fact, Jay Mountain. So, we picked up our pace.

So I learned for sure during this hike that my dog requests my permission to do things (you wouldn’t know at home, when she’s constantly scheming and stealing socks). She saw these big boulders, ran over to them, then looked at me and started heading back, expecting to be told “No”. So when I encouraged her to go up there, she ran back excitedly, hopped up on the biggest boulder, and literally posed for the camera. Later, she did the same thing at a much more dangerous rock cliff that she wanted to climb up, I told her no, and she sighed and fell into line behind me.

Since Juno and I apparently dawdle–a lot–we had to stop quite a few times to let speedier people pass us up. We don’t mind though! Everyone was so happy today, and happy to see my sweet little girl, and she was happy to see them. After about a mile, mile and a half of climbing, we reached a little col over to Jay mountain, and Juno got a nice refreshing drink from the stream.

I was well prepared for bugginess today, with deet and permethrin, but there really weren’t many out! I also thought it was be a sea of mud, but again, nothing! It was really a perfect day, clear blue skies, moderate temp, and I couldn’t have asked for more.

Nearing 2.5 miles into the trail, the woods cleared out quite a bit, and we got a sneak peek of the amazing views behind us.

Shortly after, we reached a small junction where the trail split to the left and right. We chose to go left, which led us up to a gorgeous bare-rock lookout where a few of the people who passed us were lounging and having a snack.

I looked to the right, saw an impressive-looking rocky peak, and asked the nearest couple if that was indeed the peak of Jay. They confirmed this, and said that even though the ridge looks like it’s wooded from this angle, we’ll be walking along the other side where it’s open.

We were excited about the ridge, and didn’t want to waste any time, so Juno and I took a last look at the views, then headed off. We went back to the junction, met a really fun group of young men heading up to the lookout, then turned left at the junction to head up to the ridge.

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Whiteface Mountain, with it’s many ski trails.

This is where things got interesting. Very soon after this point, the foliage really thinned out and I could see we were indeed following a trail across a ridge where we could see out all around us. It was INCREDIBLE!! I couldn’t stop pausing to stare in awe. There were some thin trees that I could see through and around, and a lot of green ground foliage.

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This is the ledge where Juno would later find her own dog pack

The trail continued climbing steadily, but I really didn’t notice it since I was so absorbed in the scenery. When we surpassed the little thin trees, we were basically in open air, often climbing on bare rock ridge in between following dirt trails.


The mountain in the distance, in the center, is Big Slide Mountain with the smaller Three Brothers leading up to it just to the left

The summit(s) looked so far away, but honestly it was nice to know that we’d have so much time to travel along the ridge. It was like a great book that you don’t want to finish because then it’d be over; we wanted to prolong the adventure for as long as possible.

There weren’t any blazes or trail markers along the ridge, but luckily, there were many many cairns leading the way. There were so many times when I’d stop and look around, unsure of which way to go, and I’d spot a cairn placed just perfectly to guide the way.

While the trail up Jay is pretty mellow for the most part (until the final stretch up to the real summit), there were a couple of places where I had to pause and plan how to climb up a huge vertical boulder. Juno of course just popped right up to the top with no effort at all, and would sit at the top to watch over me while I dragged my butt up there too.

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False summit on the left, true on the right.

We followed this for about a mile and a half before we reached what we had been thinking was the peak at about 11:45am. Well, it turned out that it was a false peak, and to get to the “real” summit we would have to first descend, then ascend very steep, large rock faces to get to a slightly higher elevation than we were already at. It was probably only less than 0.5 miles away, but I guessed it would take at least half an hour to climb. As much as I hate not making it to the summits of mountains, I didn’t want to make Juno come back down that steep trail to the summit and risk hurting her joints. I decided to just stay where we were and enjoy more of our time at the false summit instead of using that time to hike to a slightly higher peak. Plus, there were a bunch of people at the true summit but I had the false one to myself for the time being!

Juno and I sat down and enjoyed our lunches, she ate almost all of her kibble and half of my Babybel cheese on top of that. Refreshed, we put our feet up to soak in the sun and feel fresh mountain breeze and I enjoyed my victory chocolate.

After a few minutes, I unpacked my tripod, switched to my wide-angle lens, and trekked over to the other side of the ridge to take some photos.

Looking East to Lake Champlain below the horizon with Vermont’s Green Mountains beyond.

After about 25 minutes, a large group arrived and set up near where I had left my pack. Juno and I headed up there and made quick friends with the boisterous group. They were so funny, cracking the same weird kinds of jokes that I do, and we enjoyed each others company while Juno cozied up to them trying to get food. I offered to take a photo of them, and they excitedly obliged. Meanwhile, while they were lining up, one of them shout-laughed at Juno to “Get out of my bag!”. Yup, my little schemer was using the opportunity to snoop and look for morsels. That’s my girl! Then she and I lined up to have our photo taken.

I really enjoyed the group of people I was hangin’ out with, and we sat and chatted for quite a while. Just as Juno and I were getting ready to go, a group of 4 older people came to the false summit from the real summit, fawning over Juno. Seriously, it must be nice to be such a cute dog. The other group left, and June and I sat and chatted with this awesome, energetic, HILARIOUS new group for a few minutes and took a photo for them, too. We were so lucky to meet such awesome people today!! So many times, people we pass just look miserable on hikes, and just mumble as we pass them, but the thrill of hiking was contagious today.

We talked for a few minutes, the we all headed down the mountain at about 1pm. This part of the hike was hilarious. While climbing up the rocky ridge, there are a lot of very well-placed cairns to show the way exactly where and when they were needed. However, on the way back down, there wasn’t such luck. The 6 of us got turned around about 5 times, slipped gracefully down some very loose scrabbling, and tripped over Juno since she’d adopted them all as her packmates for the day.

After a while, I ended up leaving the little group behind. They were enjoying the views, and I was concerned about getting Juno back into the shaded woods, out of the sun. I had hoped to see them again before we left, but no such luck 😦

At one point, I had paused to admire the scenery, and when I turned back to the right, Juno was up on a rock ledge…with 3 other dogs!! They were all SO CUTE with each other! She fit right in, like they were all just a pack of sweet dogs that had known each other forever. Then, yet another dog showed up, a mastiff who looked like she was really over all of this “exercise” business, and all four dogs went to greet her, tails wagging. This was just the sweetest thing, they were all so happy together.

We left them to continue on their way, and made our way back into the forest. The rest of the descent was completely uneventful. We didn’t encounter any of the fun groups we’d met on the way up, just a hiker or two here and there making their way up the mountain. We kept up a good pace, with Juno mostly following right on my heels. I was almost surprised when we made it to the trail register and signed out by 3pm, and couldn’t believe the amount of cars now lining the road!

We took our leaving photo together, which didn’t go very well, and headed to the car to pack up. This was such a great day, with great people and perfect weather. I can’t wait to climb this one again, and make it all the way to the summit! Happy Trails!

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My fabulous hat hair

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One sleepy pupper

Jay Mountain: 3600′ Elevation Gain: ~2000′
Round trip distance: ~8 miles
Total Duration: 5 hiking hours + 1 summit hour

All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may not be used unless with express permission

Gear and Tips

Hiking solo is one of the greatest joys I’ve experienced in my adult life. You learn a lot about yourself when it’s just you and your own two feet conquering a mountain. There are feelings of wonder, peace, and pride at having accomplished something so great on your own. That said, hiking solo isn’t something that I take lightly. I strive to be Prepared, Informed, Strong, and Smart for every single trek, no matter how small. I research the trail location, plan my route, plan for backup routes, check the weather, and check the trail conditions all the day of the expedition. Here’s how it all starts:

Pre-Hiking Prep:

  • Clean and waterproof boots (once per year). I use Camp Dry Water Repellent Spray found here.
  • I wear a baseball cap during buggy months which I coat in Permethrin (once a year) to protect against flies, mosquitos, and ticks. Find it here. Now I use a hat with a built-in bug net! IT’S THE BEST! Check it out here.
  • Check trail conditions and weather, inform a friend of mountain name, trailhead location, intended route, estimated time of arrival and estimated time of departure.

What to Wear:

  • Here’s my typical outfit, from bottom to top, for warmer months (spring to fall):
    • Gel Toe Protectors to go on my toes to prevent blisters and calluses. These are THE BEST THING ever. Buy them.
    • Sock Liners to help prevent blisters (I also apply blister bandages to problem areas before I leave)
    • Wool Socks (and I keep a spare pair in my pack)
    • Shorts or Running Pants, or Water Resistant pants, depending on the weather.
    • Synthetic Fiber T-shirt or tank
    • Lightweight running jacket -> I love this, it keeps me cool when it’s warm out, and warm when it’s cool out.
    • Waterproof Windbreaker -> This is absolutely essential. I keep it in my pack at all times. You never know when it might rain, and the summit is usually much cooler than ground  level, not to mention much windier. I’ve gotten chilled even on hot days from the wind hitting my sweaty back, and this has been a lifesaver.
    • Baseball cap for when bugs are out
    • TIP: Avoid wearing ANY cotton while hiking, during any time of the year. Opt for wools and synthetics to help wick moisture away from your skin to keep you dry and prevent blisters.
  • This changes a bit in winter:
    • Socks stay the same
    • I wear Thermal longjohns underneath my Spyder ski pants to keep me warm and dry
    • Thermal longsleeve shirt
    • Lightweight jacket/hoodie
    • Spyder ski jacket
    • Fleece Cowl -> I love this thing, it keeps everything warm, from neck to ears to chin to mouth/nose, and head.
    • Glove Liners -> These are awesome to wear just on their own or under mittens and have fingertips that allow you to use touch screens
    • Mittens -> I clip these to my coat sleeves to remove them easily without losing them

In my Pack:

  • Here’s a list of things I typically keep in my pack during the warmer months:
  • My Pack  carries up to 50L, and while I do like it, I’m considering getting a slightly larger one to accommodate all of my gear. Though I LOVE hiking alone, one of the drawbacks is that I have to carry all of my emergency gear myself, instead of spreading it out across multiple packs. This pack also has a rain fly that you can remove and cover it with to protect the contents.
    • A 3L Camelback  + 1 bottle of gatorade -> Mostly for longer trips/hotter weather. This way, when the camelbak runs dry, I still have 1 bottle left while I search for more water.
    • The day of the hike, I pack my food, and always pack more than I think I’ll need. I include salty things (crackers and trail mix), sweet things (fruits and chocolate), proteins (bars), and sweet gherkin pickles for electrolytes to fend off cramps. 
    • I learned the hard way that dehydration and heat exhaustion hit me HARD, fast, and unexpectedly. (See the Noonmark Mountain adventure, where I had to be rescued by rangers). Now I will never be without Nuun tablets, Gu gel, and Salt Stick chews. 
    • An extra pair of wool socks and liners
    • Carmex chapstick, hand sanitizer, and tissues
    • Deet Wipes that I use to cover all of my clothes, bare skin, and even my pack. I like the wipes because I’m not inhaling the aerosolized vapors, and I put the used wipes in the mesh pockets of my pack to help keep bugs away. Reapply every couple of hours.
    • Bear Spray for obvious reasons
      • Learn about bear safety HERE
    • Gaitors to keep my legs dry in rain or muddy conditions, or when walking through a stream
    • A Headlamp + extra batteries for those early morning starts or in case of emergency
    • Trailbook and Map for the regions I explore
    • Hiking Poles -> These are decent and retract down to a small size, however be careful that they’re tightened properly before putting weight on them.
    • Water Purifiers -> I carry both Iodine drops and a Sawyer Mini filter. The Sawyer is the greatest, its tiny, and quick and easy to use.
    • I carry This first aid kit + an Ace Bandage + a knee and an ankle brace
    • Stormproof Matches
    • Emergency Kit -> including :
      • Whistle flashlight * 1
      • Multifunction calipers * 1
      • Mosquito Head Net * 1
      • Hand see-saw * 1
      • Flint bracelet * 1
      • Risers * 1 (10M)
      • Fast hang buckle * 2
      • Outdoor emergency blanket * 1
      • Earplug * 1
      • Hooks * 2
      • Fishing line * 1 (33M)
      • Bait * 2
      • Swivels * 2
      • Floats * 6
      • Compass Thermometer * 1
    • I also carry an additional emergency blanket, several large, medium, and small carbiner clips, a Swiss Army multitool, a Tactical Knife, Sunscreen, extra blister bandages, Ibuprofen, Tick-repellent bug spray, a large ziplock bag (which can be used in a variety of circumstances, including keeping my camera dry) in which I keep a roll of TP, a plastic grocery bag, a brick of super high energy emergency food (lasts for like 6 days), an external battery supply charger for my phone, and a waterproof container.
    • From late fall through early spring, I keep a pair of HIGH QUALITY Microspikes carbined to the back of my pack, because you literally never know when there might be ice (see Whiteface Mountain, where a lousy pair of spikes broke halfway up the mountain)

I pretty much draw the line for hiking solo at WINTER. It’s too dangerous with too many unknowns, and I mostly only partake in small ventures during these months. Plus I just really, really hate winter. However, during those small ventures, in addition to everything listed above (expect for the bug and bear sprays and sunscreen), I carry snow shoes, a face cover, ski goggles, packs of hand warmers, a beanie, and a thermos full of hot chocolate or tea. but usually I prefer to go snowboarding instead 🙂

  • Extra Stuff (Camera Supplies)
    • My camera is a Sony Alpha 6000
    • A Lowepro shoulder bag that I carry my camera in outside of my pack
    • A sturdy, reliable tripod that collapses to fit in my pack (barely)
    • A wide angle lens
    • Lens filters, cleaning Q-tips, cleaning cloth, spare battery, spare memory cards

I think that’s about it, though I’m certain I’ve forgotten some things. Now you know why I complain about my pack being so heavy! If you’re still reading this, I hope this helps you plan your own adventures! Any questions, feel free to ask. Happy Trails!

Lyon Mountain

4/23/17

It had been 5 months (gasp) since I’d last climbed a mountain, and I’d been itching to hike for quite some time. I wanted to start the season with a relatively easy mountain to get back into shape and knowing that there would most certainly be some vestiges of winter remaining towards the peak. It was a beautiful 60 degree day, and it was also Juno’s 2nd birthday, so I wanted to give her a really fun day. So, after a miserable winter of constant asthma, flu, and pneumonia (I really hate winter, guys), I excitedly set off with Juno to climb Lyon Mountain! We got a late start and arrived at the trailhead at 11:30am.

The trail was muddy, as expected, and not 2 minutes in we encountered our first pair of people, who remarked how cute Juno was as she raced by at 40mph. Surprisingly, despite the full parking lot, we didn’t encounter any other people until we were almost at the summit. 5 minutes after leaving the trailhead we signed in at the register, crossed a cute little bridge, and were on our way.

The trail immediately started out in a gradual climb. There are actually two trails up this mountain, the new one with gradual switchbacks all the way up to the summit, and the old trail which is literally just straight up the mountain. Knowing I was out of shape, I opted for the longer, more gradual route. I’m embarrassed to say that, as gentle as the climb was, I had to stop SO OFTEN to catch my breath and relieve some of the weight of my pack from my shoulders. I could already feel my lungs resisting me, but after about 20 minutes the trail leveled out onto a sort of ridge that we followed for quite some time over to Lyon.

This trail was really nice. There still weren’t any leaves on the trees, so we could see out behind us to the scenery beyond the trees (though the camera couldn’t quite capture it). Being early spring, there were also a number of gushing streams in which Juno had a field day splashing around. Despite the trails muddiness, there were no bugs out yet!! I was sure to tromp right through even the muddiest patches so as to prevent further erosion of the trail.

After about an hour, I was feeling pretty hungry so we stopped for a little trail mix break. At this point, Juno realized I had packed an extra-special summit snack for her–a hard-boiled egg. She lost all interest in her kibble at that point, haranguing me about that dang egg until we left again.

It was about this time that the climbing started to pick up again. We continued for another hour or so, and began to notice more and more snow lying in patches on the ground; it was only a matter of time before the trail would be covered as well, and I patted myself on the back for packing crampons this time (see the disaster that was ampersand mountain).

Well, as we continued to climb, there certainly were winter conditions, but there wasn’t really ice, just about a foot of snow packed onto the trail. It wasn’t SO bad, until my foot would go straight though the snow unexpectedly. Even poor Juno was having this problem, though she didn’t seem to care too much at first. We carefully trod along for about half an hour, until I heard voices. I pulled Juno off to the side, where my foot again crashed through several feet of snow so I was up to my thigh in snow, while the group carefully tried to pass us. None of the four people passing us were dressed appropriately (wearing shorts, regular sneakers, no packs, etc.) and they looked MISERABLE. I can’t imagine having done this hike with exposed legs and crappy shoes. They pointed out that I was about 2/3 of the way done, and that when I got to the intersection with the old trail up ahead, I should go left to take the old trail up the rest of the way; it was steeper but went straight to the summit. This…was bad, BAD advice, but I didn’t know that at the time, so I followed it. A few minutes after leaving the group behind and crashing through ever-deeper snow, we came to the intersection, and turned left to go UP. I can’t express how awful this was. There were literal FEET of snow, probably deeper than I am tall, sometimes over running water from the snowmelt. There was now way around it, and I could see tracks in the snow where people had decided to slide back down on their rears, which was a bad omen for our return trip. Juno and I SLOWLY made our way up, wondering if we would ever reach the summit, when I turned around for my first glimpse of scenery.

Imagine that the slide in the picture continues up past me, very very steeply, and that was what we were climbing. I was worried that my foot would crash through so deeply that I would get stuck, but I only ever went in up to my hip. As we climbed, several other groups passed us going both up and down. One of the pairs coming down was another group of thoroughly unprepared people wearing cargo shorts, and one of the unfortunate men had bloody scrapes all down his legs from punching through the sharp snow so many times. FINALLY the slope leveled off a bit, and we continued up. The going was a bit easier at this point, since the trail was in shadow and the snow wasn’t as melty, we were able to stay on top of the snow a lot better. Unfortunately, it was also starting to get slippery, and my crampons were still safely carbined to the back of my pack. With no easy way to get them on my feet, I just made my way up very slowly and carefully. Just as I was feeling like we would NEVER reach the summit, I looked up and saw this:

Somewhere along the way, Juno had discovered a sopping cotton glove, and when I looked up I saw her thrashing it around, water spraying outward like a sprinkler. She proudly carried it up to the summit, where were found a nice rock in the sun to enjoy our late lunches. I enjoyed my sammich and she downed almost all of the food I had brought for her, then delightfully ate her egg, and shared my apple with me.

I didn’t even realize until later that night at home that I NEVER EVEN ATE MY VICTORY CHOCOLATE! I was so focused on that stupid egg for the puppy. Anyway, after we had our lunch and relaxed our legs for a few minutes, I got my tripod out and trekked over to the outer rock ledges to take some photos. The views were really incredible from this mountain. Lyon is pretty much a standalone peak at the most northeastern point of the Adirondack park. From the summit, we could see Chazy Lake, with Vermont’s Green Mountains in the distance to the East, to the south we could see the magnificent high peaks of the Adirondacks, and, from the firetower, we could see straight through to Montreal to the North.

Chazy Lake

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High Peaks

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Wind Farm!

Now, let me preface this by saying that I HATE climbing firetowers. I know they’re safe and all, but high winds freak me out, not to mention climbing a rickety metal structure on top of a mountain. However, I really wanted those views, so I left Juno to hang out at the bottom (expecting she’d stay around there) and started to climb up, with the intention to go only to the second or third landing. Well, a few steps up, I look behind me and there’s my sweet, faithful little hound right behind me. I continued my way up, took some photos, and decided to go back down. I beckoned to Juno to follow me, she said “No can do, Mom,” and refused to come back down. Of course. I went a few steps down, urging her to come with me, when I looked up and saw some of her fluff peaking through the steps heading towards the very top of the firetower. So instead of going down, she went higher up. Of course she did. I made my way up there, and the winds were ridiculous. I took the opportunity to take in the views, then led her back down by the collar, her brave little legs shaking. I still cannot believe she followed me up there.

Before we went up the firetower, there were a few pairs of hikers enjoying the views, but when we came down everyone was gone. It was already 2:40pm, and I didn’t want to be the last person on the mountain (for safety reasons) so we packed up our stuff (well…I did. Juno needs to get a backpack.) and headed back the way we came.

I was considering just sliding down the whole mountain on my butt, taking the steep old trail, but was really dreading going back the way I came and sinking into the snow. At some point during the descent, I reached what I though was a little junction, and took the more worn-looking path to the left. The trail here was difficult to follow at times, but thanks to the snow I could follow the footsteps of other hikers. However, though I continued to see red trailmarkers on the trees, I was confused because this was definitely not the way I had come up. After a few minutes of this, I met an older couple who confirmed that I was following the newer, gradual trail, not the steep older trail I had turned onto on the way up. Let me tell you…this trail was GREAT! Sure, maybe it was a little longer, but I didn’t crash through the snow once, partly because I learned how to avoid doing that (stay towards the middle of the path), but mostly because it wasn’t steep at all and I had my crampons on this time. Shortly after meeting that couple, I came to the junction where I had left the safe trail before, and continued straight to stay on it. OMG the going was SO much easier this time. In no time at all, the trail was mostly cleared of snow, so I took off my crampons at a little stream, cleaned them off, and continued on down. At this point, Juno was flat out exhausted. She had been following in my exact footsteps the whole way down to avoid falling into the snow. I would occasionally look behind me to see where she was, not hearing her running rampant, only to find that she was practically on my heels. She was an absolute angel during the whole trip, actually responding to my commands even where there were other people around! I guess that’s the difference between being 1 and 2 years old.

The rest of the hike was bliss. I was much more appreciative of the gradual slope and the beautiful birch forests on the return trip than on the way up. There were no rock scrambles or difficult sections, and it was easy on my knees, which were hurting regardless. This hike would be beautiful to do in late spring-early summer, when it’s apparently abundant wildflowers are in bloom. Even the old trail would be nice to do, since you have constant views of the scenery behind you during the ascent, and even more so on the descent, though this path is much tougher due to it’s steepness and scrambly-ness. Lots of loose rocks and erosion. Juno and I made it back to our car at about 4:40pm, making our descent 1 hour faster than the ascent, which I contribute to not taking the old path down from the summit. That ate up so much time. So the two of us, covered in mud, headed home, where the birthday girl got to enjoy her ice cream and promptly passed out until morning, when both of us were loathe to get out of bed. That’s the sign of a good day’s hike!

Lyon Mountain: 3830′  Elevation Gain: ~2000′
Round trip distance: ~6.8 miles
Total Duration: ~5 hours
 All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may not be used unless with express permission