When it comes to spring hiking in the Adirondacks, mud is usually a given. Yet as I prepared to bang off my shoes after climbing the 3,694-foot Hurricane Mountain near Keene last week, I found nothing.
Only a few traces of crusty dirt clung to my ankles, and the rubber soles were clean. I hadn’t avoided wet spots, I just had not seen any.
A mild winter and fairly dry spring stunted the mud season, which typically ranges from late April to early June, according Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth. As a result, hikers have hit the trails early and should be out in droves Memorial Day weekend.
Heart of the High Peaks
While some of the state’s 46 tallest mountains, the High Peaks, continuously attract crowds, Woodworth provided other options. He said Algonquin, Cascade, Giant and Mount Marcy are among the most visited in the central Adirondacks, but don’t plan to summit Marcy, more than a mile high, on your first day out.
“You have to know your own conditioning,” he said. “On a warm day, when you only brought one quart of water ... trying to do Mount Marcy in a day ... probably isn’t a good idea.”
More family-friendly ascents near Keene Valley include Rooster Comb, Noonmark, Round and Baxter mountains.
“They’re not the highest peaks, but they offer outstanding views,” Woodworth said.
Some trailheads, such as Hurricane from Route 9N, have limited parking so arrive early or plan alternatives. One resource is the Department of Environmental Conservation’s website, dec.ny.gov, which lists trail conditions, closures and safety tips. The Adirondack Mountain Club’s site, adk.org, provides similar material with recommended routes.
Closer to home
Near Glens Falls, Woodworth said to try Hadley Mountain, a 1.8-mile gentle ascent to a restored fire tower, which is often accompanied by an informative steward from Hadley.
Sleeping Beauty, accessed via Buttermilk Falls Road in Fort Ann, remains one of the few local hikes directly affected by recent DEC road closures from state budget shortfalls. The first parking lot off Buttermilk Falls is open, but hikers have to walk about a mile to get to the trailhead, and the entire trek amounts to about eight miles.
Other nearby closures, which are open to foot traffic, include Jabe Pond Road in Hague and Warrensburg’s Gabe Pond Road and Buttermilk Road Extension. In the Hudson River Recreation Area, Scofield Flats, Pikes Beach and the Bear Slides access roads in Lake Luzerne are accessible with CP3 permits for those with disabilities.
Among the most popular, unaffected hikes overlooking Lake George are Black, Buck and Tongue mountains, and Woodworth recommended Pharaoh Lake (near Schroon Lake), Cranberry Lake (west of Tupper Lake) and the Siamese Ponds regions (North River).
While hiking is relatively simple, both Woodworth and DEC forest ranger Lt. John Solan pointed out the necessity of preparing.
Unseasonably warm weather calls for plenty of water, and Woodworth recommended a hydration pack. Bring food and wear DEET-containing insect repellent, as flies are attracted to sweat and worst on humid days. Bring a compass and trail map in addition to a cell phone. Keep dogs leashed and plan to be back before dark, but bring a flashlight for each person anyways.
Perhaps most importantly, sign in each hiker any time trail registers are provided. Regardless of the length or personal familiarity with the trail, detailed records help rangers account for everyone’s safety at the end of the day.
Each trail’s head count transfers to its funding, which is especially important for the financially deprived DEC.
“This year, we’re going through a scary period because we will not have (assistant forest rangers) in the woods ... for the first time in at least 20 years,” Woodworth said. “For at least 20 years, they were critical presences in the woods... and the public comes to depend on them.”
Now more than ever, tell others your plans and sign in before heading out.
“In case something happens, you sprain an ankle or you break a leg and you’re caught by darkness,” he said. “Boy, that’s the first thing they check ... that trail register.”