Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Big Slide Mountain

After casually climbing the peaks of the Adirondack 46 the last twenty or so months, I've come down to the last eight. The easiest remaining peak on the list was Big Slide Mountain. The only real trailhead to access the peak is the Garden in Keene Valley. The Garden stands as one of the busiest parking areas in the Adirondacks. I planned on hiking Big Slide in winter to avoid the summer crowds and hopefully ensure a spot to park at this overused trailhead.

On Friday, February 26th, the forecast looked promising. Adirondack winters aren't known for sunshine.  The rare sunny days tend to be excessively cold. This day forecasted sunny skies and relatively warm temperatures. Best of all it was a weekday, so I could avoid some of the crowds of the weekend. Big Slide offers good views and I didn't want to hike another peak socked in with clouds.

When I left my house, I was a little concerned that the weather wouldn't pan out. Steady light snow was falling. As I drove closer to the trailhead, the snow let up and I could see breaks in the clouds. I began hiking around 720AM. Since this hike travels entirely withing the High Peaks Wilderness I wore my snowshoes as they are required when the ground is covered in at least eight inches of snow within the Wilderness (skis are also allowed if terrain permits).

I began my hike on the Brothers Trail. This trail traverses three lower peaks called The Brothers. The trail travels over several ledges with frequent vistas along the way. The first ledge came quickly with views toward Giant Mountain and over Keene Valley. The view was a little hazy from cloud cover, but still pretty good. 

Trailhead sign

Hiking through hardwoods

Early view of Giant Mountain before clouds lifted

Lower Great Range obscured by clouds

Trail following close to a drop

The first half of the Brothers Trail offers the best views as it travels close to ledges and snowy outcroppings. The views improve with elevation, stretching over most of the Great Range. The lingering morning clouds lifted quickly and I soon had bright blue skies. As the trail climbs, it travels into the forest away from the views. The snow covered branches in the forest make quite the pretty scene.   

Saddleback with Basin in distance

Most of the Great Range

Basin in the distance

Hiking along a snowy outcropping

Hiking through open terrain

Hurricane Mountain is the highest peak in the frame

Shoulder of Gothics, Saddleback and Basin

The trail goes into the clearing ahead

Since Big Slide features excellent views and a relatively short approach, Several others were enjoying the day. I passed a couple hikers during the climb and played hopscotch with a couple others. A few early risers packed out the trail ahead of me. The trail was well packed out in the lower elevations. With less traffic higher up, the snow was fluffier but still tracked.

Hiking into dense, snow-covered balsams

Brilliant blue skies

Working my way through the dense forest

Around 3.5 miles, the trail reaches a junction, .3 miles before the summit Big Slide. The last .3 miles of the trail become significantly steeper. Soon after the climb starts, a short side-trail stops at the edge of Big Slide's namesake slide. From the slide, nice views extend over the John Brooks Valley to most of the Great Range.

Looking up steep section of Big Slide

Looking across the slide of Big Slide

Beyond the slide, the steep climb continues to the summit. Big Slide's 4,240' summit provides excellent views. The entire Great Range dominates the view. Haystack and Marcy, the first and third highest Adirondack summits, come into view at the summit as well. The Dix Range can be seen beyond the Great Range. Giant dominates the view to the east with the ridge of Vermont's Green Mountains in the distance. Lake Champlain can be seen beyond Giant as well.

Wolfjaws, Armstrong, Gothics, and Dix in distance

Marcy

Haystack

Giant with the Green Mountains
 in Vermont in the background

Haystack and Marcy

I shared Big Slide with two other solo hikers and a family of three. All the groups were quite respectful and I enjoyed chatting with all of them. I think everyone was in awe of how beautiful the day turned out and in extra good spirits. The forecast predicted a windy summit. Not only was the sky clear, but the wind was almost perfectly calm, which is very rare any time of year on a open summit. With the calm and clear conditions, I spent about 40 minutes on the summit.

Zoomed in view of Haystack and Marcy

Although the shortest route to the trailhead is returning over the Brothers, I always appreciate a loop. I descended via the Slide Brook Trail. This route adds nearly two miles, but avoids some elevation gain when reclimbing the Brothers. Joe, one of the others on Big Slide was ahead of me on this trail. I caught up to him and hiked with him part of the way.

Descending Slide Brook Trail

After Joe stopped for a quick break, I continued hiking. The Slide Brook Trail descends gradually. On the snow covered trail with all the rocks and routes hidden, I made quick time to the Phelps Trail.

A few open pockets on Slide Brook

Junction of Slide Brook and Phelps Trails

The last three miles to the Garden travel along the Phelps Trail. Since the Phelps Trail serves as a major thoroughfare into John Brooks Lodge and most of the Great Range peaks, the trail was packed pretty solid. It was almost like walking on a sidewalk. The trail takes on a much prettier scene in the winter compared to summer, especially with the bright blue skies contrasting the snowy landscape and bare hardwoods. I passed quite a few groups my final miles to the Garden, mostly skiers.

Open water on Johns Brook

Thin hardwoods along Phelps Trail

Shed sized glacial erratic along the trail

I reached the trailhead just before 1230PM. With my 40 minutes on the summit of Big Slide, my 9.5 mile loop took about 5 hours.With the broken and packed trails, the miles flew by. If hiking out and back over the Brothers, the hike can be completed in 7.6 miles.

Haystack and Marcy from the summit

The weather failed to cooperate my last several outings that I sought a peak with a view. This hike was much needed. It's rare to have a day as nice as this in the summer or winter in the Adirondacks. Big Slide was my 39th of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks.

Giant and slides on Lower Wolfjaw

Whether or not you are trying to climb all of the Adirondack 46 High Peaks, Big Slide is a worthwhile mountain to climb. It's open summits provide excellent views. Just don't expect to have it to yourself. It ranks as one of the easier and shorter hikes of the Adirondack 46. It's not exactly a secret. In summer, this means an early start. The Garden trailhead is one of the busiest in the Adirondacks and fills very early in the morning since it accesses the Great Range and John Brooks Lodge. As of this writing, parking at the Garden cost $10.

Gothics, Saddleback, and Basin

Elevation profile of the loop

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Monday, February 22, 2021

Hitchens Pond Overlook

Wherever I live, there is usually a place I visit frequently for a quick escape relatively close to home. Spread out over various Wild Forests, conservation easements, and Primitive Areas; the Bog River Complex contains 25,000 acres of forest and water, just south of Tupper Lake. I have spent more days in the Bog River Complex than any other part of the Adirondacks. There are numerous opportunities for hiking, cross country skiing, paddling, and mountain biking. 

Within the area stands numerous low mountains. One of my most frequented spots is Hitchens Pond Overlook, sometimes called Lows Ridge. At only 2,170 feet in elevation, the small mountain is easy to overlook among a sea of mountains in the Adirondacks. Despite its low elevation, its summit features bare cliffs with nice views with not too much effort. I have climbed to the vista a handful of times in the past year.

In warmer weather, the trail to Hitchens Pond Overlook can be accessed by bike, foot, or canoe/kayak. The actual trail runs only a mile to the summit. Gates limit access however, and a relatively flat road leads 2.3 miles to the trailhead. The 2.3 miles can be walked or traveled by bike. Alternatively, paddlers traveling the Bog River Flow toward Lows Lake can access the start of the trail from the portage between Hitchens Pond and Lows Lake. When the trails are snowfree, I occasionally utilize the route as a trail run. Once the snow flies, the approach runs a little over 2 miles longer and requires skis or snowshoes. On February 14th, I decided to make a winter trip to Hitchens Pond Overlook.

Snow plows stop about two miles short of the summer starting point to the trail. In winter, this is just after the first campsites on Horseshoe Pond. On skis, the first two miles go by quickly. The road is groomed for snowmobiles and skies nicely, just listen for snowmobiles and stay out of their way. Along the way, the route passes a couple of nice spots to look across Horseshoe Lake.

After about two miles, I reached the gate that marks the summer parking area for this trip. A sign shows the distances for Lows Dam (where the trail begins) and to the Overlook itself. My easy travel came to an end.


Horseshoe Lake's outlet

Open water in Horseshoe Lake's outlet

Horseshoe Lake

Skiing on snowmobile packed road

Turn toward Lows Upper Dam

The next 2.3 miles travels over a dirt road that remains closed to motor vehicles apart from the occasional DEC truck. With the exception of a lone deer track, the road was untouched. Even with skis, the travel was relatively slow. The snow pack was roughly 30 inches deep as measured with my ski pole. The road doesn't really change much in elevation. Despite the deep snow, I made better time than I expected on the road. The route travels through a relatively nice forest with an occasional view over a snowy bog or within sight of a low mountain. The deer tracks followed the road the entire 2.3 miles to Lows Upper Dam.

Lone deer trail in otherwise 
untouched snow

Snow is about 30 inches here

View over bog toward low mountains

30 inches of snow on the stump

The road reaches another gate after 2.3 miles. This is the site of Lows Upper Dam. An old stone structure also stands near the gate. The trail to Hitchens Pond Overlook begins near the stone ruins. Before I began the climb, I skied below the dam to Hitchens Pond, about a 1/4 mile downhill. In the summer, this is the portage trail to Lows Lake above the dam. More stone ruins stand along the trail. There are picnic tables and a privy for use in warmer weather. In summer, the area sees a lot of paddler traffic. In the winter, I appeared to be the person here in a while based on the lack of tracks. The ruins date to the beginning of the 1900s when Abbot Augustus Low dammed the area to provide power for the Horseshoe Forestry Company's infrastructure.

Lows Upper Dam

Ruins

More ruins

In summer, the area makes a worthwhile paddling destination. I have seen loons, bald eagles, and even a moose on Hitchens Pond (see Kayaking the Bog River with a Swimming Moose.) The fishing is also decent on Hitchens Pond. Above the Lows Upper Dam, on Lows Lake, numerous campsites allow for a nice wilderness paddling destination.

Hitchens Pond under snow

Swimming moose on Hitchens Pond from 2019

The moose after his swim

After taking a few photos at Hitchens Pond, I made my way back to the dam. I started my climb toward the Overlook. Because of the hills and narrow trail, I switched into snowshoes for the mile to the Overlook. With uneven terrain under 30 inches of unconsolidated snow, the travel was rough. Even with snowshoes, I sank deeply in the powdery snow. With the exception of a few very old snowshoe tracks near the start of the trail, there was no evidence that anybody traveled this trail in weeks, or longer.

Bog River below Lows Upper Dam


Hitchens Pond Overlook above the ruins

Start of the snowshoeing

At least 30 inches of unconsolidated snow

Fortunately, the trail only covers about a mile and gains 400 feet of elevation. I reached the Overlook in about 40 minutes. By comparison, I will cover this stretch in about 15minutes when trail running. Although the forecast called for partial clearing, the snow picked up as I reached the viewpoint. I still had good views over Hitchens Pond and Lows Lake, but the distant mountains remained hidden by low clouds. I included a few photos below of the vista on a nicer day.

Limited view in the snow from the overlook

Same view in September

Distant High Peaks on a clear day from the overlook

Hitchens Pond from the overlook

Same view in September on a clear day

Low mountains obscured by snow and several
snow covered bodies of water

The descent took half the time as the climb. My previous snowshoe tracks and gravity's assistance brought me to the start of the trail in less than half the time. Back at the start of the trail I switched back to skis. The last four miles of my trip retraced my tracks back to the beginning. With my old ski tracks in place, the skiing went by with much less effort.

Silver Lake Mountain visible on decent

My ski track on my ski back to the beginning

The same road in September

View over Hitchens Marsh

Roundtrip, this outing covered just under 11 miles with just over 2 miles on snowshoes and the rest by ski. Although I finished the outing in a little over four hours, I felt like I was out much longer after breaking deep snow much of the way. Hitchens Pond Overlook usually provides a nice quick escape with pleasant views a nice reward for not too much effort. However, with the deep and unconsolidated snow over much of the route, the trip was somewhat of a trudge this time. The lingering snowfall decreased the views quite a bit and made the trudge less rewarding on this particular trip. If nothing else, it was a great workout.

Nonetheless, I still enjoy climbing Hitchens Pond Overlook when I want a relatively quick hike or trail run. On a clear day, the open ledges on its summit provide a look at the High Peaks and countless lower mountains. The views over the nearby ponds and lakes are quite pretty as well. This was my second winter trip to Hitchens Pond Overlook and I'm 0 for 2 with weather cooperation. For a better payoff, I'll wait for a pristine, blue sky day next time I visit in winter to make up for the extra work.

To see a map of this area click on the links below. My route started on the south end of Horseshoe Pond by the blue "P" parking symbol and continued down Lows Upper Dam Road to the Hitchens Pond Overlook Trail.  


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