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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