Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Tupper Lake Triad

Peak bagging is a style of hiking that usually involves a list of peaks.  A peak bagger’s goal is to climb all the peaks on the list.  The saying goes, as you knock off a peak on the list, it’s another peak in the bag. 

Many mountainous regions have these lists.  Some of the more popular lists in the places I have lived are the New Hampshire 48, New England 100 Highest, Adirondack 46ers, and the Colorado 14ers.  While the above lists can be quite difficult and sometimes take the average hiker years to finish, there are also easier lists out there that the less serious hiker can achieve.

One such  hiking challenge is the Tupper Lake Triad.  The challenge consists of climbing three peaks in the immediate vicinity of the Adirondack town of Tupper Lake.  The Tupper Lake Triad seems to be geared toward families.  The roundtrip distances of the three peaks range from only 2-3.4 miles, making them obtainable by almost anyone.  Anyone that climbs all three peaks can submit their accomplishment and receive a patch. Normally, I wouldn’t have thought too much about such a challenge.  I now make Tupper Lake my home, however, and thought it would be nice to visit these local hikes.

While the J Man was visiting, we hiked two days in a row, including a pretty tough hike the first day.  Our second hike, while short, involved a fairly rugged mountain.  With another nice day forecasted, we decided to hit the trails for a third day.  We weren’t looking for anything too strenuous, just some time in the forest without too much travel.  The Tupper Lake Triad fit the bill.  While it isn’t necessary to climb all three peaks in one day, climbing all three requires less than 8 miles of hiking, so we just hit them all in one day.  My dog, Choya, went along with us.

Coney Mountain

We decided to hit Coney Mountain first.  This is the southern most of the three Triad peaks, about ten miles south of town.  The trailhead is reached immediately before the county line when heading south from Tupper Lake.  The hike never gets too difficult and the grade stays fairly gentle as it travels through a pleasant forest.


South end of Tupper Lake and the other Triad Peaks to the north

Gentler terrain to the west and south

Looking toward the High Peak

After 1.1 miles of gradual climbing, you reach the 2,265-foot summit.  The summit offers 360-degree views from its bare top.  The southern end of Tupper Lake pokes out just to the north and Little Tupper Lake to the southwest.  The High Peaks dominate the eastern views.  Mt Morris stands prominently a few miles to the north.  After enjoying the summit views, return another 1.1 easy downhill miles to the trailhead.

Forest just below the open summit

Mount Morris

Choya always enjoys a summit

Pink Lady Slipper around the summit

Goodman Mountain

Goodman Mountain’s trailhead is just past the southern point of Tupper Lake and just north of Coney’s trailhead.  The turnoff has a sign for the Horseshoe Lake Wild Forest that is more obvious then the sign for the peak.  The trailhead features a kiosk telling the story of Andrew Goodman, the peak’s namesake.

Despite less dramatic views from Goodman, the summit was still nice and open

At 3.4 miles roundtrip, Goodman is the longest of the Triad summits.  It is also the lowest in elevation at 2,178 feet.  The trail starts on an old road before turning onto an actual trail.  The climbing never gets too steep.  The trail stayed relatively dry for majority of its length. Unlike Coney’s 360-degree views, Goodman’s views are somewhat limited to mostly the south and west.

Choya enjoying a moment on the summit

Despite its slightly longer length, Goodman isn’t any more difficult than Coney.  My biggest problem with Goodman was the constant barrage of mosquitoes.  The mosquitoes were pesky the entire time in the woods.  At the summit, the mosquitoes let up and the black flies took over.  Bug spray and a head net are recommended during the season.

Mostly wooded views from Goodman

Mt Arab

Unlike the other two mountains of the Triad to the south of town, Mt Arab stands to the west of Tupper Lake.  At 2,545 feet, Mt Arab is the highest of the three peaks.  Despite the higher elevation, the hike travels only two miles round trip, making it the shortest of the three hikes.  Heading west on Route 3 from Tupper Lake, the route to the trailhead is well marked.

From the large parking lot, the trail begins on the opposite side of the road.  The trail climbs consistently from the onset, but the grade stays mellow throughout.  Since the summit is reached in a mile, the climb goes by quickly.  As you approach the summit, several trails branch out.  The main trail is marked, however, they all lead to the summit.

Stairs along the trail

Whiteface in the distance over Tupper Lake Village

Unlike the other two peaks of the Triad, Mt Arab’s summit is completely wooded.  A lookout tower stands on the summit however.  The tower has remained open and hikers are allowed access to the viewing platform.  The old observer’s cabin sits on the summit next to the tower.  A group called the Friends of Mt Arab maintains the area.  A few volunteers from the group man the summit in the busy hiking season.  Hikers can enter the cabin as well which appeared to have some displays and possibly some items for sale to support the group.  (I didn’t go inside since I had my dog with me)

The south end of Tupper Lake

Mt Arab and Eagle Lakes

From the top of the tower, the 360-degree views are quite impressive.  Lower elevation forests are broken by the occasional small hill in the western half of the view.  Several lakes dot the landscape, most notably Tupper Lake and its northern extension Raquette Pond to the east.  The Village of Tupper Lake can easily be seen with its numerous smoke stacks plainly visible.  Beyond Tupper Lake, the High Peaks rise in the background.  Small children or anyone not keen about heights may not enjoy climbing the tower

View over endless forest

After enjoying the summit, the route returns on the same trail.  If you follow the markings from the cabin, there is a short spur that rejoins the main trail in a few feet.  This spur takes you to an open rock outcropping with a bench.  The spur doesn’t add any distance.

Raquette Pond and Tupper Lake Village

While it’s not likely that the Tupper Lake Triad will be a hiking destination on its own, these three small peaks are worth visiting if you are in the area.  The Triad would be a great place to introduce someone to hiking as well.  The peaks shouldn’t be a problem for most people.  The distance to reach any of the summits stays manageable.  A new hiker, especially a kid, might like the added motivation of receiving a patch for achieving the goal of hiking all three summits.  For a little variation, climb the Triad peaks in winter and receive a second winter patch.

Even as a seasoned hiker, I enjoyed the time in the woods on these short hikes.  These hikes would be a great early or late season outing.  The lower elevations will have a slightly longer hiking season than the higher mountains of the Adirondacks.  All three trails were generally mud free compared the higher mountains we climbed previous days. Since the trails travel through predominantly hardwood forests, they would make nice foliage hikes in the fall. 

I will add that our late May hiking coincided with black fly season.  The summits off all three mountains had a resident colony of black flies that kept you swatting.  As I mentioned, Goodman’s trail had a persistent buzz of mosquitoes that found more than one meal on my behalf.  Prepare as necessary for a bug season outing.

Of the three Triad peaks, if you could only visit one, I recommend Mt Arab.  The views from the tower were the best of the three hikes.  I also enjoyed the view into the Village of Tupper Lake since I now live there and could see my neighborhood.  I would place Coney as a close second, since the summit still offered 360-degree views.  Goodman, while still offering a partial view, didn’t have as extensive views of the other two peaks.

Someone seeking the Adirondack 46ers list probably won’t make the trip to Tupper Lake, specifically to hike the Triad.  If you are passing through visiting the area and have a little time, check out one or all of the three peaks for some short, but worthwhile, time in nature

For more information about the Tupper Lake Triad, click on the below link.
Tupper Lake Triad

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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Hiking the MacIntyre Range and Avalanche Pass

The first two weeks living in the Adirondacks have been quite hectic.  Our new home requires a lot of work and has been ongoing and nearly nonstop.  The weather has been typical of spring, which means lots of rain.  I was ready for a little diversion.

The J Man, my occasional partner in adventuring while in Maine, had vacation time to use by the end of May.  He made the trip to New York to visit, help with a few projects, and some time outdoors.

I was ready for my first Adirondack adventure.  It just so happened to be my birthday, and I wanted to make my first trip in the Adirondacks worthwhile.  I set my sites on the MacIntyre Range.

While I had never explored the Adirondacks, I am fairly familiar with them.  I especially started to look into the area when we bought our home here. The MacIntyre Range is an area I’ve heard about long before I knew I was moving to the area.  The MacIntyre Range is the second highest subrange in the Adirondacks.  The second highest peak in New York, 5,114-foot Algonquin Peak, anchors the range.  The range sits in the heart of the High Peaks Wilderness, surrounded by the highest peaks in the Adirondacks. I first heard of Algonquin Peak nearly 20 years ago, and ever since wanted to climb it.

We started our hike mid- morning on Wednesday, May 29th.  As with many of the hikes in the High Peaks, we began our hike at the Adirondack Loj/ Heart Lake Trailhead.  Despite a decent weather forecast, the rainy weather from the day prior was slow to leave.  While not actively raining, the skies featured a heavy overcast and clouds obscured the higher peaks.
While an out and back hike to Algonquin isn’t too strenuous by itself, we had more ambitious goals.  We put together a loop that covered the three main peaks of the MacIntyre Range, then planned to drop down toward Lake Colden, Avalanche Dam, Avalanche Pass, and Marcy Dam to form a loop.  The High Peaks Information Center at the trailhead advised against this loop due to lingering snow and wet trail, but we forged ahead.

Entering the High Peaks Wilderness

Despite modest temperatures, I immediately noticed the humidity in the air.  Having spent the last five years in Colorado, my body was slow to acclimate to the 100% humidity of the morning.  I soon removed the legs from my pants and continued in shorts.  The trail was wet from the heavy rain the previous day, but not as bad as mud season conditions.  Several streams flowed near the trail as well as a nice waterfall. 

Nice trail work

First of many waterfalls

After 3.4 miles, we reached a junction to our first objective, Wright Peak.  The climb to Wright is fairly short and to the point.  At times the trail follows slabby rock, which made for some interesting footing in the wet conditions.  During the climb, a few breaks in the clouds allowed for some views of Algonquin Peak, but not much else.  Soon the trail climbed above treeline. 

Climbing Wright

Above treeline

At 4,580 feet, Wright Peak stands as the 16th highest peak in New York.  Despite its alpine summit, dense clouds limited the views.  A short distance away, Algonquin popped in and out of the clouds.  The tops of other nearby peaks briefly came into view.  To the north, a higher peak –possibly Whiteface, poked out above the clouds intermittently.  A nearby plaque marks the spot of an Air Force crash in the 60s.  We didn’t linger to long in the obscured conditions.

Algonquin peeking out from the clouds

Not too many views from Wright

I believe Whiteface poking out above sea of clouds

Just a few summits occasionally poked out

We headed onward to Algonquin.  Despite the clouds, we could see our goal.  We passed a few patches of lingering snow along the ridge.  We climbed above treeline fairly quickly and soon reached the open summit.

The trail to Algonquin can be seen in the trees on the right

Rocky route to Algonquin

A rough spot of trail

The first small patch of snow of the day

Above treeline on Algonquin

We took a break on the summit.  Our view didn’t reach much beyond the MacIntyre Range.  Wright stayed out of the clouds for the most part.  To the south, Iroquois was generally visible as clouds passed by.  The ski jumps in Lake Placid could be seen to the north as well as Whiteface as it occasionally poked out above the clouds.  Majority of the High Peaks remained hidden.

A brief ridge visible above the clouds

Looking toward Iroquois

Whiteface poking out again

A break of clouds in the valley

Algonquin's summit

Iroquois making a brief appearance

Tomcat assessing the terrain ahead

Only the MacIntyre Range is visible

Dropping off Algonquin

We dropped off Algonquin, heading toward Boundary and Iroquois Peaks.  As we descended, we started head east and lose excessive elevation.  With the clouds, Iroquois was now hidden.  I suspected we missed a turn toward Boundary and Iroquois.  Looking at the map confirmed my hunch.  We decided to backtrack and saw the unmarked junction that we missed.  I don’t think it was much more than a ¼ mile that we needed to backtrack.

While trails exist, many of the summits in the High Peaks do not have official trails.  These paths are often well defined but have no markings or maintenance.  The trail to Boundary and Iroquois falls into this unofficial designation.

The route, despite no maintenance, is fairly straightforward.  After traveling through scraggly trees and bog, Boundary Peak’s open summit is quickly reached in .2 miles.  Boundary is considered a subpeak of Iroquois and not ranked.  From Boundary, the trail dips back into the trees before reaching rough stretches of rock above treeline.  After .7 miles we reached 4,840-foot Iroquois Peak, the 8th highest summit in New York. 

Bog bridge enroute to Boundary

A closer look at Iroquois

Clouds engulfing Iroquois

Iroquois featured the densest cloud cover of the day with no views.  We retraced our steps over to Boundary.  In this short distance, the sky quickly began clearing.  To the west and north, the views really opened up.

Clearing as we retrace our steps toward Boundary


A cloudless Algonquin

As we descended toward Lake Colden, the clouds started to disperse all around us.  We were given a solid view of Mt Colden and its impressive slides as well as Mt Marcy just beyond. 


From Algonquin’s summit to Lake Colden, the trail drops 2,350 feet in 2.1 miles.  Despite traveling downhill, the travel was incredibly slow.  Water flowed in much of the trail.  Patches of lingering snow slowed progress a few places.  At times, the trail seemed to follow a creek bed that required rock hopping to traverse.

Snowy section of trail

That's the trail

Is it the creek or the trail?

Small waterfall

Pleasant section of creek

Travel was much slower than I expected.  With all the water came a lot of mud as well.  Despite the treacherous travel, the trail follows next to, and often in the creek, which features numerous waterfalls along its course.  We were happy to finally see Lake Colden and the end of the wet and muddy descent.

Nice cascade

Yet another waterfall

As far as I could tell, none of these falls are named on the map

A long slide

Pretty multi-tiered falls

The trail climbed gradually from Lake Colden.  This is a key junction in the High Peaks.  Algonquin, Mt Marcy, Mt Colden, and Avalanche Pass are accessible from this junction.

Soon the trail reached Avalanche Lake.  This area is often regarded as one the finest spots in the Adirondacks.  From the outlet of Avalanche Lake, Mt Colden and Avalanche Mountain frame the lake.  Mt Colden features solid rock dropping to the lake and its well-known cleft, the Trap Dyke. Avalanche Mountain’s sheer cliffs frame the west side of the lake.

Avalanche Lake

Trap Dyke

The trail follows the catwalk along the cliffs

Cliffs off of Colden

The hike around the lake is quite scenic.  The trail is a jumble of rock that makes for slow progress.  Where cliffs make a trail impossible, bridges hang from the cliffs and travel over the lake. The water is surprising deep just a few feet from the cliffs.  Frequent small ladders negotiate gaps in the rock and steep boulders.  An impressive waterfall flowed the length of the Trap Dyke. 

A look up the lake toward Avalanche Pass

Closeup of the cliffs

Another look at the cliffs

JMan ascending a ladder in a rocky section

Once past the lake, the trail finally climbs to the height of land in Avalanche Pass.  Once on the north side of Avalanche Pass, the trail substantially mellowed.  We made much better time as we descended to Marcy Dam.  We picked up the pace below the dam on much easier terrain and we were happy to finally reach the trailhead. 

According to the mileage on the map, the total distance for the loop was around 13.5 miles.  I figure our total to be around 14.0 miles with our backtracking at the missed turn to Boundary and Iroquois.  Our time to complete the loop was about 9 hours, which is somewhat slow for us.  The travel between Algonquin and Avalanche Pass was particularly slow on the jumble of rocks, rough downhill, mud, and water flowing on the trail.  I wouldn’t recommend this route to someone new to hiking, even in better conditions.  This was a pretty rugged hike.  More experience hikers would enjoy the scenery and challenge, but perhaps a little later in the season.

We made this hike early in the season.  Mud season had not yet ended at certain sections of this route.  Although limited, rotten snow further complicated matters.  High water and run off, particularly above Lake Colden, hampered travel.  At least the bugs were nonexistent until we reached the trailhead at the end of the hike.

While I would have liked the skies to clear sooner on this hike, I did enjoy the area.  I would have liked more views of the surrounding mountains while we above treeline.  The clouds that obscured our visibility made for interesting views nonetheless.  The route seemed to be a good introduction for my first hike in the Adirondacks.

Tomcat on Algonquin with Iroquois in the distance

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