Azure Mountain

Azure Mountain Fire Tower, Completely Frozen

Azure Mountain (2518 ft)

Difficulty: Steep
Date of Summit: 2/9/2008
Trailhead to Summit: 1 mile
Trip Time: 2 hrs
Ascent: 700 ft

This might be my favorite hike to date. Perhaps because of who I was able to drag along (my wife, Emily), or perhaps because of the amazing sight I found atop the mountain. Yet another snow -filled hike, which only multiplies the surrounding beauty (I just realized that I haven't had a hike WITHOUT any snow yet!). The trail was a bit hard to follow, but we kept a steady focus on the various ski and snowboard paths that had been carved in recent days, and it eventually led us to the top. The firetower that sits atop Azure Mountain is unbelievable. As you leave the forest, you're welcomed by this tall, majestic structure that feels both like a tomb and a monument (it probably helped the experience a great deal by it being covered in snow and ice). Just as my hike up McKenzie and Moose with Martin Heintzelman, there was little to no visibility to be experienced from the summit of Azure. But that tower is worth a summit 5 times this length and elevation. I can only imagine how peaceful it must have been for the firetower agents, spending hours atop the mountain with nothing but nature to keep them company. I'm really excited to return to this mountain again, so I can properly follow the trail, get the view the so many people talk about, and perhaps even have lunch up in the tower.

View from the Tower

Atop Azure

Click the pic & check out the frost...

My Hiking Partner, My Em
(frozen waterfall in bkgd)

The tree has almost completely swallowed the trail blaze - what an image...

Up in the tower

The bark has been eaten? clawed?
Probably by some animal (or person...or both...)

St. Regis Mountain

Martin and Me, halfway up St. Regis

St. Regis Mountain (2865 ft)

Difficulty: Gradual, (but read on...)
Date of Summit: 12/15/2007
Trailhead to Summit: 3.4 miles
Trip Time: 4 hrs
Ascent: 1266 ft
Temperature: negative something something

My first time on snowshoes. Quite the experience. Martin Heintzelman and I decided to do a bit of winter hiking before the holidays. Wear on Earth (the Potsdam, NY Outfitter) had only two pairs of snowshoes for rental. Small and BIG. I figured that the bigger the snowshoe, the better. Actually, the bigger the snowshoe, the more snow you're shoveling with your feet with every step. Regardless, it was beautiful. Completely untouched snow the entire hike, which was both good and bad. Unfortunately, the blazes seemed to either be covered with snow or non-existent, leading us to wander through the woods looking for the areas that look the most like they could actually be a path. Did I mention how cold it was? We stopped once for an extended "lunch-break", and after 10 minutes, my leather work gloves that I had taken off had frozen rock-solid, not allowing me to put them back on my hands. (those gloves have been retired for some fleece/wool ones now)

The saddest part of all is that we never actually summited this mountain. We were within 1/2 mile of the summit when the trail completely disappeared. Even if the trail had disappeared, we were prepared to bushwack (snowack?) our way to the summit. But the only problem was that there had been what looked like a freak ice-storm that only had affected areas near the summit. Every single tree had been blown upside down and frozen, creating a field of giant frozen brooms, that were completely and utterly impassable. I can't tell you how angry I was. The first time snowshoeing AND the first time I have not summited an intended peak. Blech.



Mt. Jo

Atop Mt. Jo

Mt. Jo (2876 ft)

Difficulty: Moderate (but difficult without crampons!)
Date of Summit: 11/25/2007
Trailhead to Summit of Jo: 1.2 miles
Trip Time: 2 hrs
Ascent: 710 ft

I hiked this short but sweet trip with my father-in-law, Byron Bennett. With a considerable amount of outdoors experience under his belt, we were both excited to get to the trailhead. We parked in the ADK Loj parking lot and began our ascent. Unfortunately, the entire trail was covered with a few inches of ice. This made the summit a bit...frustrating. But we did it! After breaking our hiking poles and slipping a couple dozen times, we were standing on top of Mt. Jo, with a beautiful view of Heart Lake below. It's a flexible hike, with two different ways to summit/descend. You can take a trail straight up the mountain, finishing quickly without your breath, or you can meander in a somewhat more gradual progression around the side of the mountain.

Mt. Jo was named after Josephine Scofield, who was to be engaged to Henry Van Hoevenburg. They picked out this specific mountain because of its view of Heart Lake (you guessed it - shaped like a heart - see below pic). No great story of the ADK's would go without a bit of tragedy, and unfortunately the famous "Jo" died before their dream home on Heart Lake was even completed. Henry persisted in finishing the home, and it became the Adirondack Lodge (which later was burned down, and it has been reconstructed and named the Adirondack "Loj" now).

This is the trip that made me realize that I just wasn't prepared (concerning gear) for an ADK winter hike. Or any hike for that matter. Until this point, I had been hiking with old/used ski poles, a messenger bag, and 89% of my clothing was made of cotton. Although I have a great deal of hiking/backpacking/camping experience under my belt, my passion for the outdoors went dormant for nearly 10 years, between high school and now. As any poor, starving artist would do, I sold much of my gear so that the ramen bowl could stay filled. Over the course of this hike, we managed to break my ski poles in half, like toothpicks, and slip on the icy trail every few feet in elevation change. Passing hikers who were wearing crampons and using $150 hiking poles made me feel guilty and excited at the idea of crafting my Christmas list around new-fangled hiking gear.

(UPDATE: Thanks to Byron, I now have a new pair of hiking poles AND some heavy duty crampons. I guess I just need to take this guy on more trips and have my things "conveniently break" :)

Unfortunately Undrinkable

Thanksgiving Ice

Byron enjoying the view

Heart Lake below, atop Mt. Jo

Porter Mountain

Sign at the Cascade & Porter Trailhead

Atop Porter Mountain

Porter Mountain (4059 ft)
(#38 in 46 Highest ADK Peaks)

Difficulty: Steep, straight up the mountain, and overcrowded trail
Date of Summit: 10/30/2007
Trailhead to Summit of Porter: 2.8 miles (.7 miles from near the top of Cascade)
Trip Time: 4 hrs (Cascade & Porter Summit Combined)
Ascent: 1901 ft

This was the second peak we (Nate Meunier and I) bagged in one day, as the trail shoots off at 2 miles into the Cascade trail (then it's another .7 miles to Porter's summit). This is definitely the less-popular peak between the two, but still very worth the climb. The 1.4 mile round trip side summit actually extended our trip a great deal, since it dips a bit in elevation before ascending to the peak. This peak was actually named after Noah Porter, the Yale University President, as he made the first recorded ascent of this peak in 1875. While the summit is no "bald beauty" like that of Cascade, it was a relaxing break from the busy trail leading up to Cascade.

Nate Meunier Enjoying the vista atop Porter

Probably not the fastest way to get to the airport...

Cascade Mountain

Almost there...

Cascade Mountain (4o98 ft)
#36 of 46 ADK High Peaks

Difficulty: Steep, straight up the mountain, and overcrowded trail
Date of Summit: 10/30/2007
Trailhead to Summit of Cascade: 2.4 miles
Trip Time: 4 hrs (Cascade & Porter Combined)
Ascent: 1990 ft

This was the first peak we bagged in one day. Although the view from Cascade was beautiful, we shared it with many other hikers, from international hiking professionals to 15-person church youth groups. I summited this peak with my friend, Nathan Meunier, who was visiting from Durham, NC. Since I had hiked McKenzie & Moose just a few weeks earlier, and found a foot of snow on the ground, we both came prepared for some winter trekking (Nate was especially ready - since his fingers and toes go numb at 55 degrees F, his preparedness caused me to mistake him for someone ready to summit Everest). But to our surprise, the fall that turned to winter a few weeks ago had now turned to spring, effectively drowning the entire trail in about 5-10 inches of water and mud. About half the people we passed were hiking in tennis shoes, and I'm ashamed to say I couldn't help but laugh at them (under my breath) for not being prepared. The hike up the mountain was intense and crowded full of people, but relatively short, nonetheless. The last 200 yards before the summit open up to a beautiful bald spot, and the final push reveals the 360 degree view of the ADK's. While I'm aware that this is one of the most popular hikes, I can't blame people for their attraction to this short and beautiful climb. I would do this 10 times again (in off-peak hours to avoid the crowds, that is!).
Nate, hanging on for dear life

View from Cascade Summit


McKenzie & Moose Mountains

View from McKenzie's Summit

McKenzie Mountain (3861 ft)
(#55 Highest ADK Peak)

Moose Mountain (3899 ft)
(#50 Highest ADK Peak)

Difficulty: Moderate - Steep (not an ADK trail, but an Shore Owners Association (SOA) trail)
Total trip time (in snow): 6 hrs
(1978 ft ascent)
3.6 miles from trailhead to Summit of McKenzie
3 miles from McKenzie to Moose
3.4 miles from Moose summit to trailhead
(10 mile round-trip hike)

This was my very first hike in the Adirondack Park. I hiked this saddleback pair in October of 2007 with Martin Heintzelman. At the trailhead, it was warm and there wasn't a flake of snow anywhere. By the time we summited the peaks, which lie just outside Lake Placid, there was a sizable amount of snow everywhere! Altitude definitely does make a difference in this case. McKenzie was the first of two peaks we would summit on this day, followed by Moose. Both oare accessed by trails maintained by the Lake Placid Shore Owners Association. Walking by the giant "camps" of the shore owners on the lake near the beginning of the trail provided an interesting counterbalance to what would be the primitive and desolate summit on both McKenzie & Moose. Despite the overcast weather, it was still a beautiful view as the view of the trees quickly succumbed to the fog.

Wind Sculpting the Snow on McKenzie

Martin Heintzelman atop McKenzie

Me, pre-daypack Acquisition

Along the trail on Moose Mtn.

View from Moose Summit

View from Moose Summit

Paul Smiths VIC

Emily, in her Adirondack Lean-To

Paul Smiths VIC

Date of Hike: 9/15/2007
Multiple Trails, each with a different length
Trip Time: 1 hr

I've actually visited the Paul Smiths VIC (Visitor Interpretive Center) a few different times. This center is located right next to Paul Smiths College, in the northwestern part of the ADK's. I've taken both sets of parents there, as well as Emily. It's the perfect destination for people that either don't want to do much extreme hiking, or need to be introduced to the outdoors for the first time. There are about half a dozen different trails that all begin from the VIC, including one that is wheelchair accessible. A caveat to hardcore hikers - every single trail is COMPLETELY MULCHED (as in, they've dumped tons of mulch on the trail, for easy hiking), so it felt a bit weird to be walking down trails that seemed like they belonged in some suburban setting. The multiple Adirondack Lean-To's scattered along the trail made up for the mulch, by perfectly capturing the essence of Adirondack hiking history (built by Paul Smith's College students a bit ago). The main visitor-center building itself is well designed, and serves as a nice, free mini-museum about the natural history of the ADK's. The 20-minute video that they show is very helpful for those who want a crash course on the region's history (human and natural). This is the IDEAL place to bring beginners, children, and anyone else that just wants a small taste of the Adirondack region.

View from near the VIC

Up on one of the observation decks