Return to Regis

The tower atop St. Regis
St. Regis Mountain (2865 ft) 
Difficulty: Gradual, and fairly steep for the last mile
Date of Summit: 12/15/2010
Trailhead to Summit: 3.4 miles
Trip Time: 4.5 hrs
Ascent: 1266 ft
Temperature: between 5 and 10 degrees F

Last time Martin Heintzelman and I attempted a winter summit of St. Regis Mountain, we had to turn back due to the inability to find the trail and get beyond an area of blowdown.  The experience was extremely discouraging, and caused us to keep our distance from that peak for quite some time.  Well, on December 15th, 2010 (exactly three years after the first attempt - to the DAY), we decided it was time to give it another try.

The white stuff
The snow levels in the park had not been as typical as usual (not nearly as much accumulation), so we made the decision to skip the snowshoes, as there only appeared to be between 4-5" of powder on the ground at the trailhead.  While I used Stabilicers attached to my boots, Martin went sans-spikes, but had the advantage of using the tread of his new L.L. Bean Cresta's for the very first time.  Outfitted in full winter gear, we set out to reclaim our pride from our old foe, St. Regis Mountain.

Elevation Profile of St. Regis Hike
GPS track of St. Regis Hike
To get to the trailhead, one parks in a small lot about 2.5 miles down Keese's Mill Rd (which starts near Paul Smith's College).  The trail begins about a tenth of a mile down a private gravel road that crosses a stream.  As with many of our outings, we had already made a mistake.  After walking for about a quarter of a mile, we realized that we had missed the trail and found ourselves at the gates of Camp Topridge.  After a bit of backtracking, we found the trail register and sign hidden behind a felled tree that was covered in snow.  In addition to that small set-back, we found ourselves struggling to find blazes at certain points on the trail (especially in the first mile).  The snow's drifting and falling had covered all evidence of human impact from the last time a hiker had been on the trail, four days before.  To make it even more confusing, many of the blazes were older, and were WHITE.  White blazes might be a good idea in the summertime, but that white blaze is nearly impossible to spot when 97% of your surroundings are covered in fresh, white snow.  Luckily, just as our patience was beginning to grow thin, we came across evidence that others had done construction on the trail and added new red blazes as part of the renovations.

The hike was beautiful.  Snow rested on every branch, rock, and needle throughout our trip, dampening the sound all around us to create an experience that felt as if the entire world had been put on "pause" while we hiked up this trail.  We passed massive boulders, walked through impressive stands of hemlocks, admired assorted icicle clumps, and relished in the fact that we were the only ones on the trail that day.  At about 2.5 miles into the hike, things began to get quite a bit steeper.  For nearly the last mile, we steadily climbed up the east face of St. Regis Mountain.  With the snow acting as a blanket of padding, it did not feel like the typical, joint-aching "adirondack rock staircase", which caused the ascent to go by much quicker (and less painful).  Before we knew it, we were at the top of St. Regis Mountain.  Although we didn't have a great view, it felt better to be atop that peak than many of our past victories.

The frostbitten fire tower of St. Regis Mountain
I'm looking forward to returning to this peak again in warmer weather, as an almost completely bare summit is rare to find on a 2800 ft peak.  It also has one of the last fire towers in the Adirondacks, and I'm not sure how much longer it will actually even be there.  The views from this peak are also supposed to be phenomenal, but the cloud cover severely limited our viewing distance.  I was also hoping to use a nifty new booklet that I received as a recent present - Thatcher's Adirondack Peak Finder - which allows one to easily identify what they see from atop a handful of popular peaks in the park.  We decided not to eat our lunch on the summit - although a tradition of many a hiker, the windchill was just too much.  We trekked back down the trail until we found a sizable boulder that would shelter us from the wind, and enjoyed a lunch of meat and cheese sandwiches, hot tea, and gatorade slushies (again, thanks to the chilly temps!).

Looking down on the frozen St. Regis Pond from the summit
 The trip back to the car was uneventful and relatively easy.  Almost 4.5 hrs later, we once again stepped onto the snowplowed road and headed for the car.  It was a wonderful return to such a great backcountry experience, and actually making it to the top made it all the more sweet.  We celebrated our victory at the Riverside Bar in St. Regis Falls, a favorite place of mine to enjoy a can of beer (yep, I said can, so be sure to bring your own koozie) after hiking in the area.  With St. Regis Mountain finally checked off the list, there's now only one peak that Martin and I have to return to and settle the score with, as a result of the trail conditions being too icy on our last attempt.  Debar Mountain, you're next...

Martin and the great, white, void

Owen & Copperas Ponds - A Winter Wonderland

Looking across Copperas Pond
Owen & Copperas Ponds
Difficulty: Easygoing
Date of Summit: 12/11/2010
Distance: 3.4 miles (round-trip)
Trip Time: 2 hrs
Ascent: a whopping 174 ft
Temperature: 34 degrees fahrenheit

It felt SO GOOD to be back down in the park.  After almost 7 months of no hikes in the Adirondacks, I was beginning to feel ashamed to even still have this blog.  This all changed today, thanks to a visit from my in-laws.  While the ladies took in all that Lake Placid had to offer (ie: shopped), Byron and I explored a little gem of a trail just a few miles northeast of Lake Placid.  I discovered this short hike via Day Hikes for All Seasons by Bruce Wadsworth, my go-to book for whenever guests come to visit the north country and are looking for a relaxing jaunt in the park to fill an afternoon.

Map from "Day Hikes for All Seasons" by Bruce Wadsworth
We chose the Owens & Copperas Ponds hike for a number of reasons.  We wanted to relax.  We wanted to take some nice photos of winter.  We didn't want to get in over our heads (like so many times before).  Perhaps most importantly, we wanted to finish in time to enjoy a beer in Lake Placid after the hike.  All perfect goals, and all were attainable with this hike.  A short 1.75 mile hike in, and the same back, totally about 3.5 miles of hiking.  There was barely any climb in altitude, and no tough scrambling.

Snow Collected Around Buds
Such Soft Snow
We were a bit concerned - as we drove down to the park from Potsdam - that we might have made a mistake in not renting snowshoes.  The snowcover on the side of the road looked to be 12+ inches.  Luckily, our decision was a good one, as the trail contained hardly more than 4-6 inches of the powdery stuff.  It was also a beautiful rendition of snowfall in the park, looking more like someone had decided to hose down the forest with shaving cream, instead of snowflakes.

What a beautiful hike this was! The trail was gradual and easy-going and there was hardly a need for more than hiking boots (in fact, snowshoes would have made it harder to hike, but Byron used his new Kahtoola MICROspikes, which definitely helped).  Every half-mile, a pond would greet you, sitting at the base of a small peak and crying to have its picture taken.  We did just this for the first pond we came across - Owen Pond - which is accompanied by one of the Sentinel Mountains as its backdrop.  I thought I'd test the strength of the ice on the pond, only to instantly find my right leg about knee-deep in icy water (thankfully, my gaiters and waterproof boots stopped most of the water from ruining my day).

Panoramic of Owen Pond

We continued on to the next destination - Copperas Pond - where we planned to take a break at the lean-to overlooking the water.  On our way, we ran into a hunter and his dog, who had been on the search for snowshoe hare that morning.  It felt a bit strange to run into a hunter during the hike, seeing him stand on the trail with his gun, but I quickly realized that he was out there for many of the same reasons we were - to enjoy the wilderness on a beautiful day.  After saying goodbye, we continued on to Copperas Pond.  It was an equally majestic sight, with a small lean-to tucked into the hillside, across the pond.

Not a bad lean-to site on Copperas Pond...
At this point - 1.3 miles into the hike - we decided to push forward around the perimeter of the pond, to make the lean-to our midway point for the day. It was a short hike of about .4 additional miles, that included traversing a few rocks and boardwalks, to the lean-to.   We enjoyed a quick break of trail mix and hot tea in the lean-to, and turned around to backtrack our path to the car.  As we neared the end of our journey, we continued to find excuses to stop and snap another picture, as we were both taken aback by the way the snow had decided to collect on the flora of the park.  I'm definitely returning to this peaceful part of the park in the summertime, as I'm fairly certain that it will be just as beautiful and relaxing in the warmer months as well.

Walking back to the car, from Copperas Pond