Stone Valley Trail

Byron Bennett at the Racquette River

Stone Valley Trail

Difficulty: Gradual
Date of Hike: 11/26/2008
Loop Distance: 7.5 miles
Trip Time: 4 hrs
Temperature: 30's w/ wintry mix

This trip once again taught me that going "local" is always the best choice - whether it be locally grown food, local businesses with great customer service, or an amazing 7.5 mile just 15 minutes down the road from Potsdam. The Stone Valley Trail takes the hiker along both sides of the of the Racquette River shoreline (3.2 miles on each side with a .9 mile stretch linking them together via a bridge on either end). If you're an amateur geologist, you'll love this hike because of the diversity in the rock types (and informational geology plaques) along the trail. If you're a fan of waterfalls, you'll also love this hike, due to the frequent pockets of cascading water formations that one comes across throughout the hike. If you're a rock lover who enjoys fast moving water, I can't imagine how much this hike would make your day.

The Raging Racquette River

Byron and Cheryl Bennett were visiting us for Thanksgiving. After the treacherous Mt. Jo hike last year on this very same holiday weekend, I wasn't sure if Byron would ever want to take a walk with me in the outdoors again. Luckily, he was very much up for another challenge, so after assessing the weather forecast and realizing that there was a likely chance that the roads to the Adirondacks would be covered with snow/ice, we thought it would be best to stick closer to home.

Two Falls

After parking near downtown Colton (which consists of a bar, a library, and a hair salon), we started our northbound journey along the Racquette River. The first 1.5 miles was packed with great views of the cascading falls, complimented by a gradual foot trail that was a welcome change to the "straight up the mountain" philosophy of the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks. The sun decided to peek through the clouds for a few minutes, only to leave us in an overcast and desaturated wash for the rest of the hike. The middle 4.5 mile portion of the hike found the river at a more peaceful state, as the intensity of Colton Dam's open floodgates had lost their power this far down the river.

The Colton Water Tower

With the Colton Water Tower serving as our beacon, we crossed the river on Brown's Bridge. After a quick (and light!) lunch of powerbars and tortilla chips, we began to follow the river back to Colton, by way of another trail on the other side of the river. This route turned out to be far superior to the first half, as it provided us with amazing views of the Racquette River. Even though we passed many of the same spots on the first half of the walk, it seemed almost as though the rock outcroppings on the second half of the trip existed specifically for us to walk out on them and catch dramatic glimpses of the river's power.

"The Tub"

We ended the trip with a beer at The Finish Line, which turned out to be the perfect end (title and location) to the trip, perched atop the Colton Bridge, overlooking the distant southern rapids of the Racquette. Overall, this trip was quite a surprise - I didn't realize that something so special and majestic could be so close. Just as with Owls Head in the Adirondacks, this will surely be a hike that I frequent with visitors, due to the accessibility, convenience, and sheer "wow" factor it provides.

Owls Head - Short but Sweet

Atop Owls Head

Owls Head (2120 ft)

Difficulty: Easy
Date of Summit: 11/22/08
Trailhead to Summit: .6
Trip Time: 2 hrs
Ascent: 460 ft
Temperature: 'teens

Over this past weekend, we were blessed to have two very good friends visit us. Sarah Miller and Andy Sewell, newlyweds and recently installed east-coasters, drove up from Northampton, MA to spend the weekend with us. It was quite a treat for me especially, for I was unfortunately not able to attend their wedding this past summer out in San Francisco, so this was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with them - and of course - do some hiking! After pouring over the map the night before, Andy and I decided to keep our options open with a few different peaks, and wait to make a firmer decision the following day when we arrived in the high peaks area of the Adirondack Park (near Lake Placid).

Chasm near summit of Owls Head

After dropping off the ladies in downtown Lake Placid (Shopping & Starbucks), we quickly realized that the combination of our late arrival to the region and the relatively early sunset time meant that it would be best for us to shoot for a smaller, shorter peak. We decided on Owls Head, which turned out to not only be the perfect size for our small window of free-time, but a wonderful peak to serve as a taste of the Adirondacks for Andy. The trailhead was about 10-15 minutes outside of Lake Placid, towards Keene, and was nestled back off of a private road, with only a small sign that said "trail" to signify it's location. Upon parking, we immediately set foot onto the trail - Andy in my stabilicer cleats and I with my hiking poles - prepared for the worst snow and ice the mountain could throw at us (Andy was so impressed with the Stabilicers that he purchased a pair of his own at the EMS in Lake Placid, immediately after the hike!).

Overcast but still beautiful

It turned out to be an extremely easy hike. After a climb that seemed to consistently reward us with rock outcroppings and miniature views, we found ourselves near the top much faster than we had expected. Due to the cloudy/snowy day, our views weren't superb, but then again I've always been a fan of those overcast days - the trees and landscape seem to evaporate into thin air as they mix with the fog and clouds in the distance. After a bit of snacking and hydration, we set foot back on the trail for our descent, which was equally simple, providing an overall sense of "relaxation" to this hike that one doesn't always find on an Adirondack trail!

Andy Sewell, atop Owls Head

Overall, the hike was wonderful. I can see myself repeating this hike with many different people, thanks to its relatively short length and great view. After completing the hike, Andy and I both agreed that we needed to do this again - perhaps turning a two-hour hike like this one into a multi-day trip, as it appears that we both have a passion for the outdoors, and there's no better place to feed that passion than in the Adirondacks with good friends!

*Special thanks to Andy for providing the camera and taking most of the pictures!

Me, atop Owls Head

Third Time's a Charm on Mt. Jo

My father, Bill Beck, halfway up Mt. Jo

Mt. Jo (2876 ft)

Difficulty: Moderate
Date of Summit: 10/30/2008
Trailhead to Summit of Jo: 1.2 miles
Trip Time: 2.5 hrs
Ascent: 710 ft

It took me three tries, but I finally took the easy, more enjoyable way up this mountain. Accompanied by my father, Bill Beck, we climbed the back side of Mt. Jo, which was much, MUCH more gradual than the short and steep version that I had experienced in the first and second ascents. After dropping my mother, Kathy Beck, off in the Adirondack Loj for a few hours of serious reading and relaxing in their lounge, my father and I began to tromp through the 6-inch deep snow (that's right - six inches in late October!) towards the trailhead. While we knew that our route would be the longer and more gradual trail, we were still concerned about the snow. As we passed the off-shoot to the short, steep route, we knew that we had made the right decision, for there was not a footprint to be seen on that portion of the trail.

Icicles made of...?

As we slowly climbed around the backside of the mini-mountain, we came across some beautiful icicle formations which appeared, due to their color, to have a substantial amount of iron in them (that's my guess at least). We joked that perhaps this water source was not from a pure mountain spring but perhaps an extremely large animal who just couldn't hold it anymore. We felt lucky to have poles and crampons, for we didn't fall or slip even once on the climb, up or down the mountain. We passed one couple who was resting along the trail, which meant that the duty of blazing the trail through the untouched snow was now our burden, which we gladly accepted. This situation also meant something else - we would be the first people to reach the summit that day, which is always an extra bonus for any hiker.

The clouds rolling over Algonquin

By the time we reached the top, the clouds had left the immediate area, leaving us a nice and open view that could be seen until roughly just before the very top of Algonquin. This allowed for some wonderful pictures (of which we took many, for this was my father's very first Adirondack hike!). As we began to dig into our summit snacks of pretzels and summer sausage, the party we had passed earlier arrived to join us at the top of Mt. Jo. With their help, we snapped a few more pictures and made a call on their cell phone to my mother (we knew that she was worrying about our lives and talking to the ranger about "emergency mountain rescue" at that very moment, just 700 feet below us).

Atop Mt. Jo

Twenty minutes later, we were back on the trail, heading down to my anxiously awaiting mother in the Adirondack Loj. The descent was extremely easy. The six inches of snow made every step feel as if the ground was reaching up with a pillow to cushion your impact, thus easing your joints. Since the temperature wasn't too cold, it was nearly the perfect conditions for a hike in the late (snowy) fall. Having done this mountain three different times now, I can honestly say that it never gets old - the view, the trail, and the company is always changing, which keeps things extremely interesting!

Six inches of snow in October