Ampersand Mountain (3352 ft)
Difficulty: Gradual for the 1st half, Steep for the 2nd
Date of Summit: 9/27/08
Trail head to Summit: 2.7 miles
Trip Time: 3 hrs
Ascent: 1775 ft
Temperature: high 50's
I've finally discovered the perfect hike for out of town guests. Ampersand Mountain. Not too short, not too long, and about as close to Potsdam as one can get if you're shooting for a higher peak to climb with a 360 degree view. Emily's childhood friends, Nikki and Joe Gerard, were visiting this past weekend from Duluth, MN. Since Emily's art show is only a few days away, I had the honor of being the Gerard's "Official Adirondack Mountain Guide" for the day. I knew that they were up for nearly anything, as they both had climbed more than their fair share of peaks out west (Joe is an official "Fourteener", which means that he climbed every peak above 14,000 ft in Colorado!).
The Final Push
Although the forecast said rain, rain, and more rain, we decided to laugh in weather.com's face and start driving down to the trail head anyway. Situated just 12 miles after Tupper Lake on Rt. 3, I was looking for the trail sign and packed parking lot I had always noted while driving to Saranac Lake (which is roughly 8 miles further). Unfortunately, due to the sign being completely gone (it looked like someone actually had taken it off the post...), it took us a few extra minutes and drive-by's to find it. Once we finally found the trail head, we parked in the lot with two other cars, and we were on our way! The best part? Once we stepped out of the car, the rain completely stopped.
For late-September in the park, the weather was quite unique. Due to the cloudy day, there was no sun, the air was cool, and just a bit of humidity lingered from the recent rain. Aside from the presence of water - both in the air and in puddles on the trail, it was perfect hiking weather. We made fairly good time, as the first half of the hike was very easy - a well-manicured, rolling trail - nearly the antithesis of typical Adirondack trail conditions. This was of course because Ampersand was saving the best for last. The last mile of the trail was as steep as anything (well, almost anything) in the Adirondacks. My new hiking companions showed no sign of stopping though, as we pushed steadily upward.
The Cloud Shroud
We reached the summit in very good time - about an hour and a half after we left the car. Due to the cloudy day, we were warned by every hiker who passed us that there was nothing to see but clouds from the summit. When we reached the top, we found ourselves immersed in a giant fog, enshrouding us from all sides and restricting our otherwise 360 degree view of the high peaks. As we began to drop our gear and set-up for a typical "trail lunch" of summer sausage, cheese, and Triscuits, something happened. The air became cooler. The humidity dropped. The clouds had parted! The veil on mountain lifted to reveal a beautiful quilt of early fall colors in the valley below! Although we could not see any of the high peaks in the distance, we were able to get short glimpses of the Saranac Lakes spreading out from the base of the mountain. We had the summit to ourselves that day, only sharing it with the remnants of a fire tower, the plaque remembering Walter Rice - the Hermit of Ampersand, and a vicious looking little spider that seemed interested in our presence atop its rock house. After our well-deserved lunch, we departed for our brisk walk down the mountain. In less than an hour, we were back at our car. It's such a great feeling to discover yet another wonderful peak to climb in the park - and there's no better way to do that than with friends!