Monday, March 4, 2024

Hopkins Mountain

3,166' Hopkins Mountains stands discreetly in the Giant Mountain Wilderness less than three miles from its taller neighbor, Giant Mountain. Across the valley, the Great Range features a long range of 4,000' peaks one after another. With its loftier neighbors, many of which are on the Adirondack 46 climbing list, it's easy to see how Hopkins Mountain may not be as well known.

Even with its modest elevation and unassuming profile, Hopkins sees some attention among Adirondack hikers. Over the years, I have seen Hopkins mentioned several times. The summit of Hopkins is said to have one of the best views of the High Peaks. The photos I have seen over the years definitely looked impressive. I wanted visit Hopkins and see the view myself.

View from Hopkins

Several trail access Hopkins. The most popular seems to be the Mossy Cascade Trail, just south of Keene Valley. According to the guidebook, this trail travels past a decent sized waterfall and passes a couple of view points. I originally planned to hike this trail, but the parking area was full of snow. Just a pull off along Route 73, the parking area wasn't plowed. I was worried about getting stuck in my van and decided to park at the paved Rooster Comb Trailhead, closer to Keene Valley. I decided to use the Ranney Trail. 

The guidebook and online trip reports don't say too much about the Ranney Trail compared to the Mossy Cascade Trail. Both trails climb over 2,000' to the summit of Hopkins. The Ranney Trail runs about a 1/2 mile shorter, reaching the summit in 2.7 miles and a roundtrip of 5.4 Miles. The Ranney Trail seemed to be quite a bit less traveled than Mossy Cascade.

From the Rooster Comb Trailhead, the Ranney Trail sits a couple hundred feet south on Route 73. The trail isn't marked at the road. A sign for Ranney Way marks the beginning, followed by crossing a solid vehicle bridge over the East Branch of the Ausable River. I continued on the dirt road. The road runs through private property, so stick to the road.

Bridge at the beginning of Ranney Road

With recent warm temperatures, the road was a mix of dirt and ice at the start. Despite a low in the teens the previous night, It was already around 50F when I began the hike just after 9AM. I was a little worried the conditions would be messy. Eventually the road became more snow covered and icy. The road passed a gated driveway and a sign marking the way to Hopkins and Giant.

Traveling the snow covered road

Sign marking the trail

A few more minutes on the road, the trail finally began. The start of the trail was mostly bare, with just a ribbon of ice in the middle. Generally I could step around the ice. The trail followed closely to a nice mountain creek, Hopkins Brook. Several small cascades dropped along the trail. Although there was a fair amount of open water, most of the falls were still icy. I thought the brook was quite pretty.

Not much snow at the start of the trail

Frozen cascade

The trail soon turned into a solid snow cover. The trail itself was fairly icy and I put on my microspikes for the rest of the climb. Generally the traction was decent. A steeper sections were icier and required a little extra caution. The trail passed through a mix of forests and was quite pretty and peaceful.

Not far from the start, the trail was snowy to the summit

Icy section of trail

Hiking through open hardwoods

About 2 miles from the trailhead, the Ranney Trail joins the Mossy Cascade Trail for the final mile or so to the summit. After a modest start, I hit a few more steeper sections. The trail narrowed as it passed through patches of coniferous forest. The trail reached a saddle before the final push to Hopkins.

Junction with Mossy Cascade Trail

More coniferous trees higher on the trail

Choya ready to move on

The last .2 miles to the summit of Hopkins climbs quite steeply. I've read that the trail is quite rooty. Under the cover of snow, the steep section wasn't too bad with all of the obstacles covered. Quickly I reached the clearing at the start of the summit's open rock. Out of the shadows of the forests, the summit held very little snow.

Junction just below the summit

Leaving the forest for the open summit

No snow on the summit ledge

Once on the open rock, the views open up and they won't let you down if it's a clear day. The summit provides a great prospective up the valley toward the Ausable Lakes. Mt Colvin and Sawteeth create an interesting focal point that centers the view. Colvin appears quite pointy from Hopkins, while the serrated ridge of Sawteeth really stands out. Dial, Nippletop, and a dramatic profile of Dix stands to the left of Colvin. The lower Great Range, dominated by Gothics, stands to the right of Sawteeth. Marcy and Haystack peek out beyond the Great Range.

First view near the summit

Lower Great Range with Gothics near the middle
and Marcy nearly hidden

Colvin and Sawteeth framing the view

Dix, Nippletop, and Colvin dominating the horizon

Away from the central view, several other High Peaks stand out. Giant towers over Hopkins, just 2 1/2 miles away.  The slide and profile of Big Slide stand out. Algonquin's snowy summit stands out as well. Whiteface can be seen through the trees if you wander to the edges of the clearing. 


Closeup of Colvin and Sawteeth

Algonquin is snowy peak in distance with Big 
Slide on the right

Choya was more interested in what I was 
doing more than the view

The morning was quite warm. I didn't wear a hat, gloves, or jacket during the climb. A pretty strong wind blasted the summit. I needed my hat and jacket to cut the wind. I enjoyed the view for a while, took some photos, and shared some water with Choya on the summit. I would have liked to stay longer, but after twenty minutes or so, I was ready to get out of the strong gusts.

Heading back into the woods

Back at the junction with the Mossy Cascade Trail

The descent went by pretty quickly. I had to watch myself on the steeper sections. The firm surface was getting wetter and more slippery as  the temperature climbed. I stopped to check out some of the cascades along the brook as I descended. With no snow, Hopkins Brook would be a scenic little creek.

back in the hardwoods on the descent

Another frozen cascade

As I approached the road, I reached the snow line. Some stretches of trail were completely snow free. Others appeared clear, but had small patches of ice. I took off and put on my microspikes a few times in the last 1/2 mile. Once back on the dirt road, the ice gave way to mostly mud for the last 1/4 mile. Back at my vehicle, I was surprised that the thermometer read 60F. It felt more like late April than February 27th. Despite the warm temperatures, the snow on the trail was pretty firm throughout the hike. It didn't really get slushy until I was pretty low on the trail. At that point it was only a couple inches deep and not really an issue.

A brief section exposed to the sun with no snow

I find it interesting only the waterfall is frozen but
not the rest of the brook

The road was muddy by the end after it warmed near 60F

Hopkins Mountain certainly didn't disappoint. The summit's large open area provides a vast viewing platform to take in the Great Range and many of the High Peaks. I wouldn't hesitate to call it one of the best views from a lower mountain in the High Peaks area. Even though reaching the summit requires more than 2,000 feet of climbing, the modest distance makes it attainable for less ambitious hikers not ready for some of the more rugged Adirondack peaks.

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