We started at the Ausable parking lot around 6:15 am on the Saturday of July 4th weekend. There were a few cars there and we were anticipating crowds. I always like to get on the trails early. Rich, Ben, Ian, and I strapped on our packs and headed the half mile to the register and the infamous AMR (Adirondack Mountain Reserve) gate. I never get over how beautiful it is!
We chose to hike the first two miles down the dirt road to get to the start of our trail at the Gill Brook Cut-Off. (Ben and I took the same initial trail up Blake and Colvin a month or two ago). This is the way I did these two mountains a few years ago. I like this approach because you do the long slog on the road in the morning when you are fresh and it doesn’t seem endless. (If you choose to take this trail at the end of the hike--which is what you would do if you hiked this clockwise--it is fine...but it certainly feels very, very long at the end of long day!) When you come off the trail at the end of the hike going this counter clockwise way, you only have about 10 minutes on the dirt road until you get to the AMR gate.
I also chose this route for its steep ascent. I prefer doing the steepest parts of a trail early (again, when we are fresh). This made it so that, for the majority of the hike, we would be hiking at a steady, even pace and/or would be primarily descending for a good chunk of the day.
Rich made it only as far as the end of the dirt road as he has bad arthritis in his big toe. He was lagging behind for that easy part of the hike and just didn’t think he had it in him for what he knew was left which involved a lot of up and down over many miles. We talked and decided he’d go back and come back and pick us up at 3 p.m., which is when I thought we’d likely finish.
So the boys and I continued. We were already getting warm so we took off our jackets and zipped off the bottoms of our pants. The beginning of the hike was quite wooded—you feel hugged by the trees here. There’s a brook to your left, too, and you get some great views of it and its accompanying waterfalls here and there. And then ... well, we just kept going up and up!
Going through Elk Pass, regardless of which way you do this hike, is spectacular. There are two lakes there and finding them when you are up so high up is like being presented with a very special gift—it is just so beautiful.
We saw just a couple of hikers here and there and when we got to Nippletop, we had the summit to ourselves. It was rather chilly at the summit and the breeze was pretty intense, but it certainly felt good. After enjoying the view, the company, and a few snacks, we put our packs and jackets on and then started hiking the ridge to Dial. It’s a pretty cool hike along the ridge because, for a while, you can see beautiful mountains on both sides of you. I kept saying to myself and out loud to the boys “Remember this, remember this.” I was trying to take pictures with my brain and heart.
Again, we only passed a few people. I was surprised because I thought the trails would be crowded this holiday weekend. The forecast was great for that day. Maybe people opted for the more popular trails that day. No matter, as we loved having the mountains mainly to ourselves. On Dial, we had the summit to ourselves, too.
We then passed the summit of Bear Den Mountain and climbed the shoulder of Noonmark (pretty steep going up that). Noonmark is neat because there was a fire there many years ago making the terrain very interesting and different. The feeling on and around that mountain is unique as there’s lots of new growth everywhere. (When I did this hike a few years ago it was early May. There was still some snow and ice around and this area around Noonmark was very special. There weren’t any leaves on the trees so you had completely unobstructed views. It was quite something. Hiking the same mountains in different seasons offers very different experiences!)
We then continued our descent and got to the dirt road after nearly nine hours of hiking and taking in the sites. It was indeed about 3 pm. At the end of our hike, we met up with Rich, who brought us welcomed ice cold drinks and then headed off to the Mountaineer, a favorite outdoor retailer of ours in Keene Valley. We picked up patches for the kids and headed back. (Every time we hike a peak, the kids get a patch for that mountain. Each year, I reframe these patches for their rooms.) The kids then cooled down at the Wilmington Flume again, sunning themselves on rocks in the middle of the water, and enjoyed some fun cliff jumping.
This 15-mile hike brought Ben up to 42 high peaks--we now have hiked the same amount. It brought Ian up to 28 and the fire in his belly is now burning strong. He really wants to finish next year so I will do whatever I can to help make that happen. If I can be out in the woods and be with my boys? Well, there’s nothing in the world better than that. Nothing.
Here's a side note: After hiking these mountains, we decided to head into Lake Placid for some Ben and Jerry's ice cream--a tradition of ours. Who did we see along the highway heading into town? My nephew, Kyle. We stopped and said "hey, what the heck are you do hearing here?" He then told us how he was here with his friend who was managing the Lake Placid fireworks that night. We arranged a campsite for him and helped him set up a hike for the next day, his first high peaks: Cascade and Porter. I think the high peaks bug has hit him...
Next up: Cliff and Redfield and then Gray and Skylight. The boys and I will backpack in and stay two nights so that we can do one pair of mountains one day and the next the following day. Ben and I wish to finish on Skylight. We will watch the forecasts and plan trip accordingly so that we finish on a—we hope—glorious day.