Thursday, September 30, 2021

Pitchoff Mountain

Pitchoff Mountain sits directly across from Cascade Mountain above Route 73 between Lake Placid and Keene, NY. within the Sentinel Range Wilderness. Despite its easy access from one of the High Peaks busier trailheads, Pitchoff sees relatively little traffic compared to the much busier High Peaks. An overwhelming majority of hikers at the Cascade/Pitchoff trailhead are headed toward Cascade Mountain. Since Pitchoff doesn't reach the magical 4,000' elevation mark, it doesn't see nearly as much traffic. In recent years Pitchoff was added to the Lake Placid 9er hiking challenge, perhaps adding a little more interest in the mountain.

I read that Pitchoff offers numerous open ledges along its traverse with frequent views. That's what attracted me to the mountain initially. I headed to Pitchoff on Monday, September 20th. I arrived at the trailhead around 10AM and parking was extremely limited at this point, but I was fortunate to find an empty spot at the lot closest to the start of the trail. My dog Choya joined me for this outing.

Although one trail traverses Pitchoff, there are several destinations. The entire trail travels about 5.2 miles, where it reaches Route 73, about 3 miles down the road from the trailhead. The most popular destination is probably Balanced Rocks, only 1.5 miles from the trailhead, and offers sweeping views. The highest point of Pitchoff is reached after 2 miles from the trailhead but offers little in the way of views from the wooded summit. A few hikers traverse the full trail with a car at each trailhead or close the loop by walking the road. If starting at the east trailhead, a short but steep 1.4 mile climb brings you to the north summit with possibly the best views on Pitchoff. With no desire to walk on the busy road, especially with Choya, I started at the west trailhead, hiked to the north summit, and retraced my steps. So even though there is only one trail, you have options for hiking on Pitchoff.

Starting at the west trailhead the climbing begins out of the gate. The first viewpoints come within the first mile with views over the Cascade Lakes and across the valley toward Cascade Mountain. A few brief drops in elevation break up the climbing. Generally the climbing continues with some minor scrambling. A few short herd paths lead to partial views of Cascade Mountain and the lakes.

Cascade Lake

Since I was hiking out and back, I saved Balanced Rocks for the return part of my hike. I continued to the summit. The summit proper of Pitchoff is rather lackluster. A couple of large boulders let you know you are there. A few feet beyond the summit, a short herd path leads to a partial view to the south. 

The real hiking treat begins as you continue beyond the 3,500' summit. (elevation number varies depending on which map you use- I've seen it listed anywhere from 3,488'-3,600') Just a few minutes of hiking brings you to the first open ledge. From here, the trail passes over numerous open viewpoints the rest of the way to the north summit. 

Giant Mountain

Basin, Haystack, and Marcy

Marcy in the middle distance, Colden, and
Algonquin on the right

Hurricane Mountain on left above Route 9N

Although the trail generally travels through forest, it often follows bare rock with views. With clear skies, I enjoyed short breaks at all of the vistas. Although most of the views looked south into the High Peaks, several looked to the north as well.

Walking over bare rock

Occasional paint blazes mark the trail on rock


A narrow ledge

Once on the crest at the high point of the ridge, the trail generally follows rolling terrain as it climbs and descends from the bumps along the ridge. A little over a mile from the high point, the trail leaves an open ledge and drops quite steeply into a gully. The terrain gets rather rough and steep with roots, slabby rock, and a few boulders that require some scrambling as you descend to the col below the north summit. Climbing out of the col to the north summit requires more scrambling. The trail can be a little difficult to follow in this section if you aren't comfortable with minor route finding.

Looking toward 9N with Giant on far right

Some fall color showing

Looking northwest

The north summit is reached about 1.8 miles from Pitchoff's high point. Although nearly 200' lower than the highest point, the 3,322' north summit offers some of  the best views on Pitchoff. The open summit offers views in most directions. The High Peaks dominates the view to the south and southeast. The Green Mountains in Vermont can be seen to the east. The top of Whiteface pokes out just beyond the Sentinel Range to the north. From the east trailhead, this would certainly be a worthy destination if you are looking for a shorter outing. 

Giant on the left

Marcy, Colden, and Algonquin

Looking over the col at the next bump on the ridge from 
the north summit 

After enjoying the north summit, I retraced my steps back toward the west trailhead. I enjoyed the many open vistas from the opposite direction. Headed toward the west, I caught glimpses into Lake Placid that I didn't notice when I was headed east.

Negotiating a rocky stretch in the col

Lake Placid in the distance

Olypmic ski jumps near Lake Placid

Closer view toward Lake Placid

A good look at the endless mountains in the area

A tree that reached peak color at higher elevation

After I passed the summit, I headed for Balanced Rocks. This is another popular destination on Pitchoff that sits about a half-mile below the summit. The trail to Balanced Rocks isn't signed and could be easily missed if you don't do your homework before your hike. An obvious herd path leads from the main trail. Two arrow signs on trees for the main route are your best landmark. Following this herd path to the end brings you to the large open outcropping at Balanced Rocks.

Olympic bobsled tracks near Lake Placid
 (Mt Van Hoevanberg)

Valley view from Balanced Rocks

High Peaks from Balanced Rocks

From the west trailhead, you can reach Balanced Rocks in about a mile and a half. If you are looking for a shorter hike with views, Balanced Rock is a good option. Although it's fairly short, a beginner might find the trip to Balanced Rocks challenging with steep climbing and short scrambles. Good views into the valley near Lake Placid and of the High Peaks make it a worthwhile destination. After leaving Balanced Rocks, the last 1.5 miles to the trailhead passed quickly.

Choya enjoying a rest at Balanced Rocks

Glimpses of color

Starting at the Cascade/Pitchoff trailhead (west trailhead), I hiked to the north summit and back. With the side trip to Balanced Rocks, this hike covered about 8 miles. After some of my longer trips into the High Peaks this summer (up to 26 mile days), this shorter outing was refreshing. The traverse of Pitchoff Mountain packs a lot of views into a relatively short distance. I lucked out with a bluebird day and great visibility. The leaves have started to get some color, adding a little extra to the scenery. And, I passed only four other groups. Based on the extremely crowded trailhead, I'm guessing Cascade Mountain on the other side of the road was quite busy. I had every vista to myself on Pitchoff. 

Choya on one of the many open views of Pitchoff

Cascade Mountain

Looking over Cascade Pass

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Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Redfield, Cliff, Gray, and Skylight to Finish the ADK 46

Nearly two months have passed since my last hike. I hit the trail pretty often in June through the first week of July. Then the rains came. In July we had only a handful of days without any rain. August wasn't much better. Anybody that has hiked in the Adirondacks during the summer knows that the trails tend to be muddy even in the best of times. After two wetter than average months, I imagine the trails were sloppy at best most of July and August. 

I chose to avoid the trails during the wet spell. I kept in shape by putting a lot of miles on my road bike, while running on the days I didn't cycle. By the end of August, the area dried out a little bit and I was ready to get back on the trails.

Since moving to the Adirondacks a little over two years ago, I have been slowly chipping away at the Adirondack 46er peak list. While I made a point to finish the list, it wasn't my hiking priority until this summer when I found myself with only six peaks left to climb. My last four remaining peaks; Redfield, Cliff, Gray, and Skylight are all relatively close to each other. 

Eager to finish the 46, I chose to climb the four remaining peaks on one hike. Typically Cliff and Redfield are climbed together on one hike, while Gray and Skylight are often climbed together on a separate hike. Usually the four are not climbed together in a day, although some backpack into the area and split the peaks up over multiple days. My plan was to hike the four in a single day from Upper Works. Although hitting the four peaks in a day requires over 25 miles of hiking with nearly 7,000 feet of elevation gain, I have done longer hikes with more elevation gain and was up for the challenge.

I decided to make the trip on Thursday, September 2nd, trying to catch a dry spell between more rainy weather. The forecast called for clear skies to start the day with some clouds moving in later. My drive to the trailhead looked promising with clear and starry skies. Anticipating a long day, I started hiking at 610AM from the Upper Works Trailhead. Unlike most of my recent hikes, due to the longer distance, I traveled without my dog Choya.

The start of this hike was familiar territory. The first 5.4 miles retraced my route of my Mt Marshall hike at the end of June. These first 5 miles went by fairly quickly with little elevation change. Most of the trail in the first five miles is relatively smooth by High Peaks standards. As I reached the Flowed Lands area, the sun started to rise over the mountains. The day was looking promising with only a few clouds on the higher summits that appeared to be breaking up.

Crossing the Hudson near Upper Works

Early junction along the trail

Calamity Brook

Rocky stretch of trail

Flowed Lands is the first scenic area along the route. If you stick to the main trail toward Colden, you only catch a few glimpses of Flowed Lands through the trees. If you travel about a minute down the East River Trail at the junction with Calamity Brook Trail, you will be rewarded with nice views of the surrounding terrain over the boggy waters of Flowed Lands.

Sunny view over Flowed Lands

Upper part of Flowed Lands

Beyond Flowed Lands, the trail reaches the dam at Lake Colden. Excellent views over the Lake provide a nice look at Avalanche Pass. Although I was still in the sun, the clouds seemed to be thickening over the higher summits. The summit of Colden started to cloud over as I passed the lake.

Lake Colden view toward Avalanche Pass

Crossing the dam at Lake Colden

After Lake Colden, the route passes a series of campsites and lean-tos and soon crosses the Opalescent River on a suspension bridge. Be aware if crossing this bridge, it's extremely bouncy whether you want it to bounce or not. You may want to hold onto the cables. By this point, the sun seemed to fade away for good.

Most information about hikes to Redfield and Cliff from Upper Works focus on the long distance. People don't seem to focus much on the journey. Part of the journey travels along the Opalescent River. The trail along the Opalescent passes a series of waterfalls and flumes on a gorgeous, wild river. I stopped frequently to enjoy the tumbling water along the river. The rocky, tumbling river would make a worthwhile destination by itself. Many of the falls are easily accessible and visible from the trail. A few drops plummet through steep, narrow gorges and allow only a glimpse. Give yourself the time to enjoy the travel along the river in this stretch.

Waterfall viewed from the suspension bridge

Opalescent cascading over ledges

Several small waterfalls- I would like to
see this in higher water

A bigger waterfall

Multiple falls

The trail climbed away from the Opalescent and I soon arrived at the Uphill Lean-to. I stopped at the lean-to briefly to consult my map to confirm the start of the herd paths toward Redfield and Cliff was nearby. The two peaks share a herd path for the first few hundred yards, which starts almost directly across from the trail to the lean-to.

Stairs climbing along the Opalescent

Cliff has a reputation for its muddy herd path. To keep my feet dry a little longer, I chose to climb Redfield first. Redfield also features the longest side trail of the four peaks on my agenda, so it was good to get the longest climb out of the way first.

Most people describe the climb of Redfield as a long slog. While it did drag on a little bit, the trail is actually quite nice. Much of the lower part of the trail follows a pretty mountain stream, (Uphill Brook I believe) that tumbles down the mountain with numerous waterfalls. By High Peaks herd path standards, the route may be in the best shape of any of the herd paths in the Adirondacks. It's in better shape than many maintained trails. The pitch is never too steep and the mud was minimal compared to many of the herd paths I followed in the area. Occasionally the path followed the edge of the brook, which might be troublesome in high water.

Along Redfield's herd path

Another nice drop

Redfield's summit

At 4,606', Redfield stands as the 15th highest summit in the Adirondacks. Unfortunately, as I climbed, it wasn't looking too promising for any views. The morning sunshine by this point gave way to clouds. The heart of the High Peaks were pretty much shrouded in clouds. The clouds occasionally dropped to the upper reaches of Redfield. I did get some partial views to the south, but the visibility wasn't the best. With not much to see, and a long day still ahead of me, I didn't linger too long. I managed a few partial views as I descended, but the best scenery was mostly in the clouds.

Partial views on the south side of Redfield

Another partial view from Redfield

View while descending Redfield

I made my way back down to the Cliff/Redfield junction. By this point I was approaching ten miles on the day and decided to take a quick break for a snack.  From the junction, the Cliff herd path looked pretty muddy out of the gate. 

Almost immediately, I encountered a group coming from Cliff that told me the mud was short lived near the start of the trail. Sure enough the worst of the mud only lasted a few hundred feet, and was easily crossed by stepping on branches and rocks within the mud.

Apart from the mud, Cliff has a reputation for a lot of scrambling. It is called Cliff Mountain for a reason. Sure enough, I soon encountered several long scrambles. Not having Choya with me, I could enjoy the scrambles. After several sections of scrambling, the path levels off. Unfortunately this is a false summit. The trail travels another half-mile through a shallow col before reaching the actual summit.

The scrambling begins

One of the more technical scrambles

A view along Cliff's herd path

At 3,960', Cliff is one of four peaks on the 46er list that doesn't surpass 4,000' in elevation. When the list was originally conceived, the mountain was thought to rise above 4,000' feet. Newer, more accurate, elevation readings found the mountain did not reach the 4,000' threshold. To keep with tradition, the peak was kept on the 46er list.

Cliff Mountain often finds its way on people's short list of least favorite 46ers. The long distance to reach it, the punchy terrain, the lack of 4,000' of elevation, limited views, and its muddy reputation all play a part in this. I actually didn't find Cliff to live up to its reputation. Yes, it's a long way from any trailheads, but the reason you tackle a peak bagging list like the 46ers is for the challenge after all. Thankfully, the mud didn't live up to the hype. I've certainly hiked in worse mud in the High Peaks. I found the scrambling fun. Without the scrambling, Cliff would be much less interesting. As far as views, on the descent, there are some peek-a-boo views of the other High Peaks. There are certainly other 46er peaks with less views. Although the cloud cover limited my views, I caught some breaks in the clouds while on Cliff and there was nicer scenery than I expected. 

The wooded summit of Cliff

Looking back at one of Cliff's scrambles


Corduroy helping with the mud 

Convenient logs helped getting
 through the worst of the mud

I descended the Cliff herd path quickly and soon found myself on the main trail again. Gray Peak was my next target. The trail generally climbs as it makes its way toward Lake Tear of the Clouds, gaining around 1,000' from the Cliff/Redfield herd path. By the time the trail reaches Lake Tear of the Clouds, it climbs to over 4,300' in elevavtion.

Lake Tear of the Clouds marks the start of the herd path to Gray Peak. The obvious herd path begins a short distance below the lakes outlet. Gray's herd path features some scrambling over sections of cliff. Despite the scrambling, the rest of the path never gets too steep and gains only about 500' to reach Gray's summit.

Gray stands as the 7th highest peaks in the Adirondacks at 4,840'. Despite its elevation, the summit doesn't quite reach treeline. Even if it did, the low cloud cover wasn't allowing much in the way of views. I caught a few peeks in the clouds near the summit. I had a view toward Colden, but not its summit. The best view looked south toward Redfield. I could see Lake Tear of the Clouds below and occasionally Skylight would peek out of the clouds. Although just over a half-mile away, Mt Marcy remained well-hidden in low clouds. If Marcy normally is visible from Gray, I wasn't seeing any of it.

Peak three of the day


Lake Tear of the Clouds with clouded over Skylight

A small break in the clouds

Skylight emerging from the clouds

I think Redfield is on the right and Allen is just
beyond Skylight's shoulder in this shot

Without any views, I didn't linger on Gray and I dropped back down to Lake Tear of the Clouds. The lake is more of a boggy pond, but has the distinction as the highest pond in New York at roughly 4,346' in elevation. The water in the lake eventually flows into the Hudson River, making it the highest source of the Hudson River watershed.

Lake Tear of the Clouds

From the lake, I reached the next junction to Skylight in a few minutes. The half-mile up Skylight went quickly. Mt Skylight rises to 4,924' as the 4th highest peak in New York. The peak rises above treeline and is said to have some of the best views in the Adirondacks. Unfortunately, the low clouds kept any views hidden. I couldn't see much of anything beyond the summit. I caught a few glimpses of water in the valley below, but not much else. The temperatures on the summit were probably in the low to mid 40s with a nice breeze adding further too the chill.

Last half-mile of climbing of the day

Just below treeline on Skylight

Making my way across Skylight in the clouds

Not too much to see

Looking across Skylight's summit

The extent of the views 

I reached the summit of Skylight just a few minutes before 2PM. This was my final peak of the Adirondack 46. My first couple 46ers were in the clouds, so were my last couple. Like the other three summits of the day, I enjoyed this one by myself. By this point, I had hiked in the neighborhood of 16 miles and was a bit hungry and ate a chocolate bar. With chilly air and no view, I started my descent after 10 or 15 minutes on the summit.

Last 46er summit

Heading back down Skylight

Cloudy descent

Final destination: Upper Works

For the most part, I was done climbing for the day. I was looking forward to the hike out. On longer hikes like this, I will pick up the pace and run where the terrain allows. I usually don't run on the steeper downhills to preserve my knees. I also will avoid running on particularly rocky terrain to avoid injury. From Skylight to Lake Colden, I picked up my pace, but the rocky terrain didn't allow for much running.

Last look at Lake Tear of the Clouds

I'll pass on running this stretch

Bog bridges over wet trail

Looking upstream at a creek crossing

As I reached the section of trail along the banks of the Opalescent River, I took some extra time to enjoy the waterfalls. With limited views throughout the day, this wild stretch of the river, with its falls, was probably the scenic highlight of the day. I climbed down a few places to the river to get some better views of the falls at water level and take some photos.

Cascades on the Opalescent

Waterfall framed by a narrow gorge

After the trail crosses the river on the suspension bridge, the route leaves the Opalescent for good. As I mentioned earlier, this bridge takes you for a ride as you cross it. A sign warns you not to bounce on the bridge. That's easier said than done. It bounces pretty good by the time you reach the middle of it whether you want it to or not.

Suspension Bridge over the Opalescent

Getting ready for the shaky bridge

Easier said than done

After the bridge, I soon reached the dam at Lake Colden. I enjoyed the view here for a few minutes before moving on. Beyond the dam, the terrain was more forgiving for running. I made one last stop to enjoy the views at Flowed Lands. Beyond Flowed Lands, the trail stays pretty flat to a gradual downhill. I was able to run most of the last five miles back to the trailhead.

Indian Pass from Lake Colden dam

Flowed Lands

Mt Colden

Trailhead sign at Upper Works

I reached the trailhead at 530PM. Going by mileage in the ADK High Peaks Trails Guide and maps, this hike clocks in close to 26 miles. According to Caltopo measurements, the route gains over 6,800 feet in elevation. While it's certainly a long hike, much of the mileage came from the long approach from Upper Works. From Upper Works to the base of Skylight, you travel 9.5 miles by the guidebook numbers. The side trips to the summits from the main trail range from a short .5 miles each way to Skylight to about 1.2 miles each way on Redfield. Despite climbing four peaks, I didn't feel as tired as I did on some of my shorter trips into the High Peaks. The Santanoni Range and the Colden-Tabletop-Phelps loop were both shorter but more tiring to me.

Although the weather didn't cooperate with me for mountain views, I didn't think this hike was that bad. I probably wouldn't combine the four peaks again in a single day, but I would visit theses summits again. I particularly would like to catch Skylight on a better day. Skylight is known for its views and I didn't get them. I also didn't find Redfield and Cliff to live up to their reputations as long slogs. 

As for finishing the Adirondack 46, I'm glad that I hiked the peaks. I wouldn't say it was a life changing experience. There are definitely some worthwhile hikes that I enjoyed. There were also plenty of peaks that are nothing to write home about. I'm sure that I will revisit many of the 46er peaks again, especially my favorite. I will write a synopsis post about hiking the ADK 46 in a future blog post, so check back if you're interested in that. You can read about any of my other hikes on the 46 peaks by searching this website.

After the hike, I came home to
this congratulatory sign from
Puma. The lower part shows all
46 High Peaks completed.

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