Saturday, July 29, 2023

Jay Mountain

At less than 8,000 acres, The Jay Mountain Wilderness contains the smallest area of any Adirondack Wilderness. Jay Mountain stands as the centerpiece of the Jay Mountain Wilderness The Jay Mountain Trail is the only trail within the Wilderness. The photos I have seen from Jay Mountain look quite impressive. With a long, open ridge and expansive views, I knew I wanted to see Jay Mountain for myself.

A taste of Jay Mountain offers

I finally headed to Jay Mountain on the first day of summer. A good forecast without too much haze or wildfire smoke looked promising. Make sure you have good directions to find the trailhead. It's fairly remote. When I hiked it, there was no sign at the trailhead and it may not be obvious if there are no other cars there. With my dog Choya, I hit the trail around 8AM.

The hike starts out easy enough on the Jay Mountain Trail. The trail generally travels through hardwood forests on its lower reaches. Early on, an old stone wall stands near the trail. The footing is good by Adirondack standards and the elevation gain is pretty gradual.

Old stone wall

Easy trail early on

Red eft

Snail on the trail

The official trail travels 2.5 miles before reaching a junction. A signs directs you a short distance to an overlook. I followed the trail to the overlook. The first outcropping provides good views toward the High Peaks. Travel just a little further and a more expansive view takes in nearly a full 360 degrees. If you are short on time or just want an easier hike, this overlook is a good place to turn around. From the overlook the views are quite nice. I took in the vista from the overlook while Choya drank some water. I then continued back to the junction.

The junction to the overlook

The Great Range from the first overlook

Looking east, with Champlain visible


Looking toward the ridge of Jay

Back at the junction, a sign with an arrow points the way to the ridge. Although the path along the ridge stays well defined most of the way to the high point of Jay Mountain, the route is not maintained beyond this point. Even with the great views at the overlook, Jay is best known for its long, open ridgeline that lies beyond the officially maintained trail.

An early clearing on the ridge

The views get better as you go

Soon after leaving the junction, you begin the traverse over the open ridge. The views are nearly continuous. Much of the time you travel over exposed rock. Occasionally the trail dips back into the trees, but never for too long. Cairns sporadically mark the route over the open rock. When in the trees, there is usually a worn herd path to follow.

One of the first open views towards the High Peaks

Besides the views of the surrounding terrain, a neat aspect of hiking on Jay is being able to see the full expanse of the ridge leading to the peak. The hike from the end of the maintained trail to the summit of Jay only travels 1.5 miles, but its easy to linger and take in the continuous views. At times the route approaches areas that require scrambling. Most of the times a well worn path bypasses the rougher scrambles. A few places still require care and be prepared for at least some scrambling.

A good look ahead along the ridge toward the summit

The route is pretty obvious

A large, open stretch

Part of the way along the ridge, a massive cairn stands out in a large clearing. This would also make a good turn around point or spot for an extended break. This however is not the summit. Beyond the cairn, you will reach some of the tougher sections that require scrambling. In general the hiking becomes more challenging beyond the big cairn.

Choya enjoying the view from his rock

Rougher terrain ahead

Lake Champlain

Working around a rock wall

It may be a little difficult knowing when you reach the actual 3,600' summit. Several of the open areas stand at relatively the same elevation. The view at the clearing at the the summit proper, while still quite nice, is not quite as expansive as the view from the last open bump on the ridge just before the summit.

Another look at Champlain

Looking back at the ridge near the summit

From the higher open areas along the ridge, you can see in all direction. Probably the neatest view is looking back along the ridge itself. You can see where you already hiked and where you would be heading on your return along the ridge. Whiteface towers beyond the ridge almost as if it was framed. The High Peaks, dominated by the Great Range stand across the valley toward the town of Keene. Lake Champlain sits below to the east, with the Green Mountains of Vermont in the distance. The slightly higher Saddleback Mountain stands immediately to the south, with the Soda Range rising a short distance beyond Saddleback in the Hurricane Mountain Wilderness.

Once at the summit, I retraced my steps back along the ridge. I stopped for a break to enjoy the views at the more expansive clearing just before the summit clearing. Hiking back along the ridge, you get to enjoy the ridge a second time with views in the opposite direction.

The Great Range

Saddleback with the Soda Range beyond

Making my way back along the ridge

It's quite impressive looking ahead at the rocky ridge, knowing you will be traversing it soon. As I made my way back along the ridge, I passed several groups making their way towards the summit. There are plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the scenery. On the return, the view towards the Great Range and High Peaks dominates to the southwest for much of the time along the ridge. Whiteface always seems to be looming ahead as well.

View across the valley toward the High Peaks

Gentle open section

Whiteface always seems to loom over the ridge
on the return trip

Traveling near the edge of the ridge

Once back on the official trail at the junction to the overlook, you enter the woods for good. It's a  gentle descent the final 2.5 miles to the trailhead that goes by quickly. When I arrived at the trailhead in the morning, there was only one other vehicle. When I wrapped up my hike, the parking lot was full.

Working my way across a smooth section of open rock

The Great Range

Closeup of the Great Range

Hiking the full length of the ridge to the summit of Jay Mountain covers about 8 miles roundtrip. If you enjoy hiking along open ridges, Jay offers one of the best in the Adirondacks. Even compared to hikes in the High Peaks, Jay's ridge stands out. If you can hike it on a clear day, you won't be disappointed with the nearly constant views. 

Choya on an open area of the ridge

Choya resting

Jay Mountain's ridge makes for a beautiful hike with no shortage of great scenery. I probably wouldn't recommend hiking Jay if you are new to hiking however. While the route is relatively easy to follow along the ridge, the trail isn't officially maintained. Several paths splinter along the ridge. There are also a few areas that require some scrambling depending on which path you take. This could be problematic if you are uncomfortable with finding you own route or scrambling. At one point I tried to work around a scramble since I had Choya with me. I ended up getting into a short bushwhack and brief class 3 scramble to get back on route. I'd probably consider this at least a moderate hike.

My favorite view from Jay

If you already hiked to Jay Mountain and want a similar hike with an exposed ridge, check out the Nun-da-ga-o of the Soda Range. This is another exposed ridgeline hike with no shortage of views. The Nun-da-ga-o Ridge sits immediately south of Jay Mountain in the Hurricane Mountain Wilderness. Nun-da-ga-o also features an unmaintained trail with less traffic than Jay.

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