4 Winter Hikes for Aspiring Catskill 3500ers

Rough terrain, remote locations, and harsh weather make tackling any of the Northeast’s peak-bagging lists a difficult achievement. Whether it’s the high peaks of the Adirondack 46’ers, the 4,000-footers of New England, or the summits of the Catskill 3500 Club, membership is hard-earned.

Unlike the stewards of New England and the Adirondacks, however, the Catskill Club challenges its aspirants in a different way, by requiring that four of its 35 listed peaks be gained twice—once in winter—for a total of 39 climbs. It’s a wrinkle that ups the ante and affords hikers two unique experiences on some of the region’s finest summits.

As with any winter outing, be prepared for frigid temperatures, shorter days, and potentially nasty weather. Always be sure to check the forecast and trail conditions before heading out. If you’re new to winter hiking, start here.

So which are the must-do winter climbs in New York’s southern range?

A view along the Wittenberg–Cornell–Slide Trail, just shy of the Slide’s broad, flat summit. | Credit: John Lepak
A view along the Wittenberg–Cornell–Slide Trail, just shy of the Slide’s broad, flat summit. | Credit: John Lepak

Slide Mountain

At 4,190 feet, Slide Mountain is the tallest peak in the Catskills and, together with Hunter Mountain, complete the region’s contribution to the NE115 list. It’s Slide’s superlative status that makes it a mega-popular place to be at any time of year, so be prepared to negotiate the crowds on the weekend.

On a bluebird winter weekday though, it’s about as good as it gets. The Curtis–Ormsbee Trail, though neither the most direct nor the easiest route to the top—but decidedly less crowded than the alternative—is an outstanding bit of hiking. Those willing to take on the extra effort though are rewarded with two stellar, sweeping viewpoints, from which several of the Catskills’ higher peaks are visible.

The allure of ticking another 4,000 footer—and a winter one to boot—is also hard to deny. There are a good lot of harder hikes in the Catskills, but Slide definitely has that 4,000 footer-vibe about it.

A 6.6-mile loop hike linking the Curtis–Ormsbee and Wittenberg–Cornell–Slide Trails is one of the best short hikes in the Catskills. For the more ambitious, a full traverse of the Burroughs Range—one of the region’s premier hikes—is an awesome longer (9.8 miles as a shuttle, 14.5 miles as a loop) option.

Black Dome Mountain is front-and-center while descending from Blackhead’s viewless summit. | Credit: John Lepak
Black Dome Mountain is front-and-center while descending from Blackhead’s viewless summit. | Credit: John Lepak

Blackhead Mountain

High and rugged, the peaks of the Blackhead Range loom large over the northeastern Catskills. From west to east, Thomas Cole, Black Dome, and the eponymous Blackhead account for the fourth-, third-, and fifth-highest mountains in the region, respectively, and are traversed by a network of well-signed, well-maintained trails.

It’s easy to see why the architects of the Catskill 3500 Club’s bylaws chose this place—and specifically Blackhead Mountain (3,940 feet)—for one of their four required winter hikes: the ice.

As winter lays siege to Blackhead’s upper reaches, the steep eastern ledges grow dense with thick, accumulated ice, making an approach from this direction substantially more challenging. In fact, the hardness of the ice and the steepness of the terrain often demand that hikers ditch the light traction for real-deal crampons—a pretty unique requirement for a day hike in the Northeast.

The most popular way to bag Blackhead is by way of a 4.3-mile loop from the parking area at the end of Big Hollow Road on the Batavia Kill, Escarpment, Blackhead Mountain and Black Dome Range Trails. Doing it clockwise will have you ascending the heavy ice and descending on gentler ground with prolific views of Black Dome, the best on the hike.

The viewpoint just north of Panther’s summit, a little bit obscured by low clouds and flurries. | Credit: John Lepak
The viewpoint just north of Panther’s summit, a little bit obscured by low clouds and flurries. | Credit: John Lepak

Panther Mountain

Panther Mountain (3,730 feet) and its north–south running ridgeline are best known for offering some of the best views in the Catskills. For better or worse, this is a widely known fact, and a nice weekend day can draw a crowd, particularly at Giant Ledge, a bit south of Panther’s summit.

The snow and ice of winter will thin the crowds a bit, especially past Giant Ledge where the higher-precip years, snow can really pile up enough in the col that even the most intrepid post-holer will turn back (hint: bring snowshoes). Beyond, the moderate ascent is made easier with a good snowpack. Some ledge work will still need to be negotiated and switching between spikes and snowshoes will add some time to the trip, but that’s winter hiking for you.

The terrain is generally moderate and enjoyable, but this hike is all about the views—views that are magnified with winter’s absence of leaves. Unlike in leaf-out season you can really feel the scale of the place the whole time—not just at the viewpoints.

The most direct route up Panther—a 6.4 mile out-and-back on the Phoenicia–East Branch and Giant Ledge–Panther–Fox Hollow Trails—can be made from the south, starting at the hairpin turn on CR-47. A northern approach from Fox Hollow, with a substantial view just before the summit offers a longer (8.8-mile), far-less-traveled option for those looking to avoid the crowds.

The view from the Pine Hill–West Branch Trail, just north of the summit of Balsam Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
The view from the Pine Hill–West Branch Trail, just north of the summit of Balsam Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

Balsam Mountain

Balsam Mountain (3,600 feet), in the Catskills’ Big Indian Wilderness Area is the shortest and most westerly of the required winter 35’ers. Though the summit itself is viewless, a little ledge just to the north offers an outstanding easterly view, and the broad, flat character of the ridge makes for a pleasant, relaxing stroll—all the better with a good snowpack.

The main attraction of Balsam, however, is its location. Proximity to easily accessible trailheads, shelters, and other high peaks make it a great mountain to revisit: alone, as a day hike, or as a longer, overnight trip by linking up with the semi-trailed Eagle and Big Indian Mountains to the south.

Despite its generally moderate grades, winter on Balsam presents would-be summiteers with yet another unique seasonal challenge: water crossings. Climate change certainly hasn’t made mountain weather any more predictable and unseasonable thaws can cause high water, making even the simplest of brook crossings a challenge. Be adequately prepared and know when to turn around.

Beginning at the Rider Hollow Road trailhead and linking the Mine Hollow, Pine Hill–West Branch, and Olivrea–Mapledale Trails makes for an excellent 4.9-mile loop up and down Balsam’s western flank.


Northeast Mountaineering Climbs for All Abilities

Each year, the onset of winter transforms the mountains of the northeast. With the shorter days and plummeting temperatures comes a brand new world of icy, wind-scoured summits and long, snowy approaches. The hiking trails and climbing routes of New York and New England, easily accessed in summer, become entirely different challenges, rife with logistical considerations and objective hazards. Meanwhile, terrain that is beyond reach in the summer opens up—the gullies fill with snow, the waterfalls freeze, and beautiful, blue ribbons of ice adorn the cracks and corners of cliff faces from the Catskills to Québec. Come wintertime, the mountains of the Northeast are a playground for those bold enough to brave the cold.

For the vertically-inclined, it’s winter that makes the Northeast an excellent, low-elevation training ground—what the high peaks of the Adirondacks and the Whites may lack in height, they more than make up for in heinous weather, high-quality routes, and a long history of daring ascents. This is the place to be for mountaineers of all abilities—from those who are just starting out, to more experienced alpinists seeking grander objectives, to the west or overseas.

Should you be among those looking to test their mettle in the east, the following five mountains—and these all-time classic routes—will most certainly oblige.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Easy Snow: Franconia Ridge

High and exposed, the Franconia Ridge—including two summits above 5,000 feet—stands at an important place in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Its western slopes plummet into Franconia Notch, a hub of hiking and climbing in all seasons, while to the east, its flanks drop into the Pemigewasset Wilderness accounting for a sizable chunk of the Pemigewasset Loop, a top-notch classic backpacking trip. By many accounts, Franconia Ridge is the finest high route in the Whites.

While it doesn’t have as many noteworthy technical routes as, say, Cannon Cliff, its neighbor across the notch, it does have a few worthwhile moderate endeavours like Lincoln’s Throat (WI3) and Shining Rock (WI2). It’s Franconia Ridge’s merits as a winter hiking destination, however, that make it an ideal introduction to traveling the mountains of the Northeast in winter. A hike linking the Falling Waters, Franconia Ridge, and Old Bridle Path trails makes for a long, fun day in the mountains. As the trail breaks the treeline and gains the ridge, the exposure and weather combine to create an excellent, non-technical environment to try out some of the tools and techniques required of a true mountaineering objective.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

WI2/Easy Snow: Mount Colden’s Trap Dike 

At 4,714 feet, Mount Colden is the eleventh highest peak in the Adirondacks, a bonafide 46’er, and may appear as a somewhat diminutive selection for a catalogue of classic, Northeastern mountaineering routes. But for one striking feature, however, does Colden draw attention year round: the Trap Dike, a heavy cleft in its northwestern face.

In summer, the Trap Dike is one of the Adirondacks’ main attractions, bringing hikers from far and wide to its base at Avalanche Lake. The lengthy approach is made worth it by the steep, class 4 climbing, and the thrilling exposure of the upper slabs. At times, even in the best conditions, climbing Colden via the Trap Dike can feel like splitting the difference between a hike and a climb.

In winter, the combination of weather, shorter days, and frigid temperatures take hold, and the water that flows in the dike freezes, introducing in turn a new feature to negotiate: waterfall ice. The Trap Dike (WI2, Easy Snow) opens with two pitches of ice climbing, interspersed with some easy snow, before the route opens onto the exposed upper slabs. While not steep, the slabs are extremely exposed, and be downright terrifying in thin conditions. Easier options for descent abound, though none are short—a frozen Mount Colden is a day-long affair, at least, and a stout challenge for newer mountaineers.

WI2/Easy Snow: The North Face of Gothics

The Great Range, in the heart of the Adirondacks, is one of the most spectacular places in the Northeast. Rugged, remote, and wild, a full traverse covering its eight high peaks—over 20-plus miles—is an all-timer, and arguably one of the hardest hiking objectives in New York State.

At its midpoint, miles from the nearest road, rises Gothics, a steep, dramatic mountain recognizable from afar by its steep, bare north face. Though it’s summit only measures 4,734 feet above sea level, Gothics punches above its weight—even the normal hiking routes are aided by fixed cables on the slabby upper reaches. From any direction, at any time of year, Gothics is a tall task.

Come winter, the North Face (WI2, East Snow) route up Gothics is one of the Adirondack’s premier mountaineering challenges—when it’s in. More often than not though, the season conspires to create sub-optimal conditions, ranging from verglass to bare rock, that can seriously have you questioning the validity of its WI2 grade.

When it’s right though the North Face is a thrilling, exposed climb up a sheer 1200-foot wall. The wide flow offers numerous lines of ascent, with varied difficulty and opportunity to place protection, so experience reading ice and snow is critical. Between that, the scenery, and the approach—a true haul—Gothics’ North Face is a legitimate, must-do objective.

Courtesy: Ryan Wichelns
Courtesy: Ryan Wichelns

WI3: Pinnacle Gully

Simply put, Mount Washington is the centerpiece of mountaineering in the Northeast, a hulking mass around which all other objectives in the region orbit. At 6,288 feet, it rises, literally, above everything around it for a thousand miles, and its remarkable features—from the deep ravines and soaring buttresses of its eastern slopes to its rugged summit cone—are host to some of the most spectacular hiking, climbing, and skiing to be found anywhere.

However, it’s Mount Washington’s “character and hostility,” as legendary climber and author Fred Beckey once put it, for which the mountain is probably best known. The unique topography of the White Mountains, and Mount Washington’s location at the confluence of two, ever-churning weather patterns can result in some famously horrendous conditions. Dangerously cold temperatures, heavy snow and high wind—with gusts reaching hurricane-force—are a regular occurrence in winter. As a direct impact, Mount Washington and the rest of the Presidential Range have a very low treeline (around 4,500 feet) and a ton of exposed, alpine terrain, over which many outstanding winter climbs can be found. One line up “the rockpile” stands out, however, making “best-of” lists left and right: it’s the über-classic ice climb, Pinnacle Gully (WI3).

Ice begins to form early in the north-facing gap between Pinnacle and Central Buttresses in Huntington Ravine. The flow it creates—three pitches of incredible, aesthetic, ice climbing over 600 feet—is about as good as it gets. At WI3 the grade is relatively moderate, making Pinnacle Gully an accessible and popular route in an alpine environment that is unique in this part of the country.

A day on Mount Washington should never be taken lightly, though—the weather is always a factor and even on a bluebird day, high traffic can mean a shower of falling ice. Bring a helmet and enjoy the best of what the northeast has to offer.

WI4: The Cilley-Barber Route on Katahdin

Rising some 4,288 feet from the forest floor, unchallenged, the Katahdin massif dominates the landscape of Baxter State Park, its bulk of rock and ice without rival against the backdrop of Maine’s Great North Woods. Katahdin is wild, remote, and unforgiving at any time of year but it is doubly so in winter, when an ascent by any means is a serious challenge—one that is perhaps unequaled in New England, including Mount Washington.

Already removed from the population hubs of the Northeast, Katahdin becomes significantly more remote come winter, when the seasonal closures of Baxter State Park’s access roads makes for a rigorous, committing, 16-mile approach. Further complicating matters—and adding to that expedition-like vibe—access to Baxter State Park is subject to strict regulations, and winter climbers must apply for permits. Factor in the extreme cold and harsh weather that you’re bound to encounter at some point on a trip to Katahdin, and you have a real-deal, multi-day, winter adventure. It’s fitting then, that its name comes from the Penobscot word for “the greatest mountain.”

The steep headwall of Katahdin’s South Basin, scarred over with dramatic, icy gullies, is the frozen jewel in the crown of New England mountaineering. Classic, technical climbs, have been put up here in all seasons since the early twentieth century. The routes are long and committing and objective hazards—like avalanches and icefall—are very real dangers, and moving fast is absolutely critical. This is as alpine as it gets in the Northeast.

Among these coveted lines is the Cilley–Barber (WI4), a dramatic, ice-and-snow-packed cleft in headwall that soars some 2,000 feet from the bottom of the cirque to the top of the Knife Edge arête. It is a long, sustained, and difficult ice climb—one that is often recognized as one of the best of its kind in the east. The approach, permitting, and weather may lend themselves to the feeling of an expedition, but they also thin the crowds out a bit, and cultivate a wild feel—one unique to the Northeast, that should have a place on everyone’s tick list.


Winter Off-Trail Hiking in the Adirondacks

Overuse on Adirondack trails—especially in places like the High Peaks—is a big problem. One solution to reduce your impact? Get off trail. As winter sets in and snow and ice blanket the park, the solitude of these beautiful and remote places gets even more intense. For those hearty and adventurous explorers who seek a challenge beyond the trail, and are well prepared, winter bushwhacking in the Adirondacks can be both challenging and rewarding. 

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

How to Prepare to Go Off-Trail

Preparing to venture off trail in the rugged terrain of the Adirondacks, especially in winter, requires some vital skills, proper gear, and careful risk management. 

One of the most obvious requirements is developing navigational skills. While modern GPS technology can be tremendously useful, it is important to have adequate map and compass skills before leaving the safety of marked trails. Start by taking an introductory course or practicing in an area like a local park or small trail network where the consequences of becoming “lost” are minimalized. 

Prepare as always for winter hiking with proper gear and clothing, snowshoes, and crampons or microspikes. Learn to read snow conditions and think about if you will be using crampons on an icy hardpack or breaking unconsolidated powder; when in doubt preparing for all possibilities. Realize that moving through tight snow filled woods results in you being constantly wet and snow covered, so often some extra layers, gloves, and even another shell are crucial. 

Trip planning and risk management also become even more vital when bushwhacking in winter months when an unexpected night or two in the woods can have dire consequences. Use traditional maps, online tools like CalTopo, and trip reports from others to carefully plan your route and consider timing of off trail hikes. 

Understand that winter bushwacking often involves breaking trail through deep snow, pushing through thick forests, and bypassing unexpected obstacles like blow down and icy cliff bands. This results in a much slower pace and greater energy use than trail hiking; consider this when planning for both timing and food and water supplies. 

Seeking assistance for an injury or other serious issues is typically a much harder task than on trails or in summer so be sure to prepare at all times for an evening in the cold, let others know a detailed itinerary, and consider use of a personal locator beacon. 

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Our Favorite Hikes

There’s a way to get away from the trail for every hiking ability level, in the Adirondacks. 

Beginner 

Morgan Mountain: This Wilmington hike is a short hop off an easy trail with a nearby pond, lean-to, and slide to explore if interested. Views are limited but the area is still beautiful.

Number 8 Mountain: Number 8 is one of many open summits with nice views of Brant Lake from ledges accessed by the relatively easy bushwacking of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness area.

Advanced 

Elizabethtown #4: Herd paths approach this Keene subpeak, there are loads of open rock for views, and Spotted Mountain is a nearby add-on. Use caution near the beautiful but frigid waters of the South Fork of the Boquet River.

Wallface Mountain: An ADK 100 highest list peak and home to one of the largest cliffs in the Northeast, it’s a great hike on its own. A recent search and rescue left a massive clearing on the summit allowing for unique views. 

Credit: Neil Luckhurst
Credit: Neil Luckhurst

Expert

MacNaughton Mountain: Some hikers call MacNaughton the 47th high peak. There are many different approaches to this one and some are becoming faint herd paths, but it’s still a challenging and long day in winter. This summit has a sign and a pleasant summit ridge. 

Sawtooth #2: The entire Sawtooth Range (not to be confused with Sawteeth Mountain) includes some of the most remote and wild land in the park. None of the peaks in this range come easily, especially in winter. The approach from the Averyville side is preferred. Viewpoints feature Lake Placid, the Sewards, MacNaughton, and beyond.


Alpha Guide: Climbing Little Finger on Lake George

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

With three moderate pitches of splitter granite hanging high above Lake George, Little Finger is one of the Northeast’s most enjoyable climbs.

How many climbs in the Northeast have a paddle approach? One of the most unique climbs in the Northeast, the approach to Little Finger begins with a short paddle approach across the clear, blue water of Lake George. Once situated at the base of the route, climbers are treated to three moderately rated, easy-to-protect pitches of splitter granite climbing 500+ feet above the lake. Be sure to style the climbing—you’re likely to have an audience of captivated boaters below.

Quick Facts

Length: 3 Pitches
Time to Complete: Half-day
Difficulty: ★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through November
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/24493.html

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Climbing Little Finger begins with a paddle approach from Rogers Rock Campground in Hague, New York. Located right off 9N, the campground is just six miles from Ticonderoga.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Canoe Approach

From the boat launch, paddle left away from the swimming area (43.792904, -73.480690). Almost immediately, there’s a large cliff along the shore to your left. That’s not the climb, but it’s a good clue you’re headed in the right direction. Continue hugging the lakeside as you head for a shallow break between the shore and Juniper Island. Round the bend. After a few more minutes of paddling, the face is visible on your left. Aim for the low spot dead ahead (43.797157, -73.466560). Overall, it’s about 25 minutes of paddling.

Pro Tip: The water is deep, it’s often windy, and the waves can be big. Wear a PFD. Also, pack your gear in dry bags and secure them to your canoe, kayak, or SUP.

 

The Scramble

Once you’ve lugged your boat out of the water, scramble up to a sort-of-flat spot just above. This is a great place to transition from paddling to climbing. Empty the dry bags, don your climbing gear, and get ready to scramble along the base of the ledge to the start of the climb.

The scramble across is about 30 yards. It goes across, then down to the water, then up a short blocky section that you’ll want to watch less experienced climbers on. From there, it’s an easy stroll to the base of the climb, which starts at a good platform by a boulder right at the base of a vertical crack running up the entire face (43.797398, -73.466385). On the platform, there’s plenty of room to flake your ropes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The First Pitch

The first pitch follows the obvious vertical crack for about 200 feet to a depression by a small overlap. Anchor there using, among other things, two new-ish pitons. Although the pitons are awkwardly spaced, there are opportunities to use small and mid-sized gear to build a solid three-piece anchor.

The climbing to this point is fantastic. Right off the deck is a short blocky section leading into an awesome crack that pierces the slab. The crux of the pitch is early on, in the bottom half of the crack, but it is never very hard, maxing out at 5.5.

After the initial difficulties, the pitch is a low-angle calf burner. There’s protection everywhere, with the crack eating everything from nuts to mid-sized cams. Since the pitch is long, be sure to bring a lot of gear in that range to ensure you have enough to zip it up.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Second Pitch 

Leaving the first pitch’s belay (43.797676, -73.466774), step up and right into the crack, then charge up it to the bottom of a large roof and build a traditional anchor there. Although it doesn’t look it, the pitch is a long one, running almost 200 feet.

Again, the climbing is moderate and well protected, all in the 5.4-5.5 range. The crack eats mid-sized gear, so protecting it shouldn’t be a problem. Throughout this pitch, there’s also lots of feet, meaning there’s plenty of comfortable stances from which to place gear.

The trickiest part of the second pitch is building the anchor. Just below the roof are several hollow flakes that don’t inspire confidence and aren’t the spot to place a cam. Slightly above the flakes there’s a small slot in the crack for a mid-sized cam and a medium nut. Below the roof, at about 11 o’clock, there’s also room for another mid-sized cam and, with some finagling, a bigger nut. If all this doesn’t sound appealing, there’s a small depression just below the hollow flakes (15 feet before the roof) with lots of options in the crack for a gear anchor.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Third Pitch

From the anchor under the overlap (43.797886, -73.467148), step up so that you can reach above the roof, then traverse right for about 10 feet to rejoin the crack. From here, the climb follows a runnel for about 175 feet toward bolted anchors, one at the top of the crack and another, with rap rings, about 25 feet off to the right.

The third pitch is well protected except for the traverse, where there’s little gear. To protect your second from a big swing, make sure to set a solid piece at the first good spot at the roof’s right end.

If you’re looking for something slightly harder than 5.5, consider the 5.7 variation that follows a thin vertical crack straight up from the belay. After a couple of difficulties, you’ll end up at the anchor just above the runnel that pitch 3 finishes on.

Once you’re atop the third pitch (43.798054, -73.467148), take some time—if you haven’t already—to admire the view. The climb drops away in the foreground, replaced by the deep blue of Lake George and the dark green of the mountains in the distance. It’s a fantastic setting, one you’ll be reluctant to leave.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Raps

Whenever you can break away from the view, it’s three double-rope rappels with 60m ropes back down to the ground. Each of the anchors is bolted and very easy to spot while on rappel. With true 70m ropes, you can do it in 2 rappels, but the last rap to the ground is a rope stretcher.

The last rap will leave you on a ledge a little to climbers’ right of the climb. On the ledge, coil your ropes, then scramble back to your boat. Just before the base of Little Finger, there’s an open slab that drops down into the base of the water. It’s easy to traverse, but watch less experienced folks closely as they cross; any fall would be a long (and wet) one.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Paddle Back

Once you reach your boat, dump your gear in your dry bags, put your PFD back on, get the boat in the water, and retrace the paddle you did earlier in the day. The paddle back will likely be challenging, as it’s usually into the wind and waves. Wakes from passing motorboats can add a little spice as well.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Between the waves and deep water, it’s great to have dry bags to store your ropes, rack, and climbing shoes. A couple of 65L bags from Sea to Summit will hold everything with room to spare.
  • The boat landing at Little Finger is rocky and slippery. Send it in style with a water shoe from NRS such as the Kicker Remix (men’s/women’s) or a river sandal like the Teva Terra Fi 4 (men’s/women’s).
  • On summer days, the sun beats down on Rogers Rock until mid afternoon. Wear a sunshirt like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Hoodie (men’s/women’s) to avoid baking in the sun.
  • Multi-pitch climbers on low-angle routes such as Little Finger are at risk of something either falling or getting knocked down on them. With this in mind, pack a climbing helmet like the Black Diamond Vapor.
  • Two 70-meter ropes, like the Sterling Fusion Nano Dry 9.0 70m allow you to cut out a rappel.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Motorboat traffic can sometimes make communication between climbers difficult. Before you leave the belay, have a plan so that your second will know what to do even if he/she can’t hear you.
  • You might think that climbing above the water is a great choice for sweltering summer days; However, Little Finger has a well-deserved reputation for scorching unsuspecting climbers thanks to the exposed slab and reflective water. Consequently, it’s best avoided on the sunniest summer days.
  • Climb in a bathing suit because there are lots of places to swim on the way back (including the Rogers Rock Campground swimming area).
  • A great way to cool off and replace the calories you burned is with soft-serve ice cream from the Wind-Chill Factory.
  • If you prefer craft beer to ice cream cones, take the 30-minute drive to Battle Hill Brewing in Fort Ann, New York.
  • If you loved Little Finger and are anxious for more climbing, Rogers Rock is home to a lot more routes. Get the beta for the rest of the climbs in Adirondack Rock, the routes around Lake George are found in Volume 2.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Current Conditions

Have you climbed Little Finger recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


5 Mountains in the Northeast that Almost Anyone Can Enjoy

The most talked-about hikes in the Northeast share some common characteristics, namely big mileage, lots of elevation, and rough terrain. While mountains such as Washington, Mansfield, and Marcy get most of the glory, the Northeast is home to numerous hikes that might not match the classics in difficulty, but are their equals in history, views, and fun. If you’re looking for a five-star hike everyone in your party will like, look no further. Here are five mountains in the Northeast that anyone can enjoy.

Courtesy: Studio Sarah Lou
Courtesy: Studio Sarah Lou

Monument Mountain, Massachusetts

Packing fantastic views of the Housatonic River Valley, Mount Greylock, the Catskills, and Vermont into a roughly three-mile hike should be enough to put Monument Mountain in Great Barrington on any New England hiker’s tick list before even factoring in its fascinating history—it drew literary icons such as Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, as well as William Cullen Bryant who wrote the famous poem, Monument Mountain. Bryant’s poem is based on the legend of a Mohican woman who chose to leap from the cliffs rather than marry a husband selected for her. A large pile of stones is piled on the mountain’s southern slope as a monument to her final resting place.

In spite of the grim story of the Mohican maiden, Monument Mountain is a fantastic trip for hikers of all abilities. Covering about three miles, hikers ascend the at-times-steep Hickey Trail, climbing a little over 700 feet through hemlock forests, past boulders, and gaining pale quartzite cliffs. For the best views, connect with the Squaw Peak Trail and follow it over steep cliffs and ledges to the 1,642-foot summit of Squaw Peak, then make the short five-minute walk to take in the view of Devil’s Pulpit, a unique rock formation. From the summit of Squaw Peak, hikers can take the Indian Monument Trail which follows an old carriage road for a mild descent, or continue on the Squaw Peak Trail to its connection further down with the Indian Monument Trail.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff, New Hampshire

Don’t let the relatively slight 2,340-foot elevation of Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff dissuade you from this must-do hike—the views are huge. Situated at the northern end of Franconia Notch, a hike to the summit of Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff treats hikers with two of the White’s best viewpoints, both offering incredible perspectives of Franconia Ridge and the towering Mount Lafayette, Eagle Cliff, Cannon Mountain Ski Area, and Echo Lake.

At just under three-miles roundtrip, Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff is a popular trip for hikers of all abilities. However, don’t let the moderate mileage lull you into thinking this hike is easy; like many classic White Mountain hikes, sections of the trail are direct and rocky. Leaving from the parking lot adjacent to Cannon Mountain’s base lodge, take Artists Bluff Trail for about a quarter-of-a-mile, follow a short spur trail to the summit of Bald Mountain. After soaking in Bald Mountain’s impressive views, backtrack to the Artists Bluff Trail, continuing along on it to an open ledge and more best-in-the-White’s views. Once you’ve had your fill of the spectacular scenery, continue hiking on the Artists Bluff Trail. As you near the road, look for the Loop Trail which will bring you back to your car.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Philo, Vermont

Standing at just 968 feet tall, Mount Philo is diminutive when compared to Green Mountain giants like Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump, but towers over the Champlain Valley. Like its bigger brethren, Mount Philo has been a popular recreational destination for over a century (Mount Philo State Park was Vermont’s first state park), and at one point, a carriage road wove its way to the top. Look closely and you’ll see traces of the old carriage road from today’s paved road to the summit. In fact, the paved road makes Mount Philo the perfect destination for groups of mixed ability; ambitious hikers can take the trail to the summit while non-hikers meet them on top by taking the road.

Hikers heading to the summit of Mount Philo should follow the blue blazes of the Mount Philo Trail. The twoish-mile round-trip hike gains approximately 600 feet in elevation as it winds through quintessential Vermont forest and exposed rocks. From the summit, hikers are treated to splendid views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks—including Mount Marcy—to the west while the peaks of the Mad River region (Mounts Abe and Ellen) dominate the view to the southeast. Fall is a favorite time to take a trip to Mount Philo, not only because it’s resplendent during foliage, but also to watch migrating raptors. Mount Philo holds the record for the most hawks seen in one day in Vermont (3,688).

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Hadley Mountain, New York

Take in the magnificent views of Sacandaga Lake, the Green Mountains, the Catskills, and the Adirondacks from the 2,675-foot summit of Hadley Mountain while ticking a tower off of your ADK Fire Tower Challenge. The 40-foot fire tower gracing Hadley Mountain’s summit was originally erected in 1917, but was closed in 1990 by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Shortly after the closure, the Hadley Mountain Fire Tower Committee was formed and began working on restoring the tower, as well as the observer’s cabin. Thanks to their efforts, hikers today can climb to the top of the fire tower and take in a view not all that different from the one had by the early observers 100 years ago.

Climbing roughly 1,500 feet while covering 3.6 miles, the trip to the summit of Hadley Mountain and back is short, but packs a punch. As straightforward as a trip gets, summit-bound hikers need only follow the red trail markers of the Hadley Mountain Trail to the summit and then return the way you came. The trail remains fairly steep for almost the entirety of the climb, but be sure to save some energy for climbing the stairs to the top of the tower—it’s worth it. If hiking Hadley Mountain in the summer, you’ll likely run into the summit steward who’s there to answer any questions you might have about the mountain and its history.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Mount Agamenticus, Maine 

The confluence of mountains and ocean has led generations of adventurers to explore the rugged Maine coastline. Used as a landmark by mariners to aid in navigation for centuries, Mount Agamenticus’ earliest explorers were indigenous people—the name Agamenticus is derived from the Abenaki name for the York River. Legend has it that Saint Aspinquid, a local Indian chief, either a MicMak or Penobscot leader, converted to Christianity and spent his life spreading Christianity to different tribes. A cairn on the top of Mount Agamenticus was constructed as a tribute to Saint Aspinquid—it’s said that anyone adding a stone to the cairn is blessed with good luck.

Unlike most mountains, the best trail on Mount Agamenticus doesn’t lead to its summit, rather it runs around the mountain. The Turtle Loop is a twoish-mile loop circling the base of the remnants of the 220 million-year-old volcano that is Mount Agamenticus. Featuring 15 interpretive stations, hikers are able to educate themselves on the area’s natural, geologic, and cultural history. If you simply must tag the top of Mount Agamenticus, the approximately quarter-mile-long Blueberry Bluff Trail leads from the Turtle Loop to the summit where you’ll enjoy views of Cape Elizabeth, the Isles of Shoals, and the White Mountains—including Mount Washington.

 

Do you have a favorite hike that is ideal for hikers of all abilities? If so, let us know in the comments below so we can check it out.


Beat the Heat: Top 5 Cooler Weather Summer Climbing Spots in the Northeast

Here in the Northeast we relish the prospect of summer after the long winter months, until we’re all salty and cursing the heatwave that just won’t dissipate. For climbers, heat is a minor nuisance, but sweat makes slick sending. Luckily, the Northeast is endowed with alpine terrain, miles of coastline and countless lakes and ponds, all of which offer cooler micro-climates. Read on for our recommendations of the best climbing areas to beat the heat this sun-drenched season.

Courtesy: Andrew Messick
Courtesy: Andrew Messick

Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont

Roadside Bouldering

The Notch, at a cool 2,165 feet above sea level, sits between Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak in the Green Mountain state. This hobbit hole haven offers over 500 boulder problems as well as “alpine light” trad and sport routes. Trade winds blow through, dropping the ambient temperature to 10 to 20 degrees lower than the tourist town of Stowe, 1,200 feet below. “Bouldering inside the notch has this rather enchanting appeal to it. The cold air floats out from the ice deep within the granite & schist caverns creating these cool air pockets as you walk through,” says Nick Hernandez of Time to Climb.

Cruise up the scenic 108 for drive-in bouldering. Wind around hairpin turns and roadside rocks, park at one of the many pull outs and start climbing in mere seconds. When you’re ready to unwind, head back into town to enjoy a Heady Topper at the world renowned Alchemist brewery.

Courtesy: Michael Martineau
Courtesy: Michael Martineau

Lake Champlain Palisades, New York

Deep Water Soloing

Perhaps the tallest Deep Water Solo (DWS) routes in the Northeast, The Palisades feature 100+ feet of cliff jutting out from Lake Champlain. DWS means free solo climbing (without a rope) but over water; think Alex Honnold, except if one were to fall here they would land in a lake instead of on land.

The approach won’t be easy, nor will the climbing. Located at the easternmost edge of the Adirondacks, boat or paddle from the Westport Marina roughly 4.5 miles south. You will not have to worry about touching bottom (the lake has a depth of 140 feet), however a fall from up high can cause serious harm. Make sure you know how to properly hit the water (you want to enter in a pencil-like position). A gentle breeze will help dry some of your perspiration while climbing, though it won’t do anything for your Elvis leg.

Courtesy: Tim Peck
Courtesy: Tim Peck

White Mountains, New Hampshire

Easier Access Alpine Climbing

The White Mountains are among the highest peaks in the Northeast, which means cooler temperatures and some of the fastest recorded wind speeds on earth. The climbing options are diverse, from long multi-pitch on Cannon Cliff to daring high elevation (for the East Coast) trad on Huntington Ravine on Mount Washington to moderate notch climbing at places like Franconia and Crawford. Be highly vigilant of fast-changing and ornery weather, though the Whites can be a bit more forgiving than backcountry brethren out West due to quicker access to roads and huts.

Courtesy: Kevin MacKenzie
Courtesy: Kevin MacKenzie

Panther Gorge, Adirondacks, New York

Serious Backcountry Climbing

For a backcountry alpine adventure, Panther Gorge is a lesser visited remote locale with a strenuous approach. “It may be one of the most remote places in the Northeast,” suggests local legend, Kevin ‘MudRat’ MacKenzie, who has put up many FAs in the area.

The gorge, at 4,000 feet above sea level, lies between Mount Marcy and Mount Haystack, the tallest and third tallest mountains in New York, respectively. Just to get here requires an eight mile hike with 3,300 feet of elevation, followed by bushwhacking about to find the climbs. You will be rewarded with over 35 trad routes that range from 5.3 to 5.10a, with a mix of single and multi-pitch lines. These not-often-trafficked climbs can be chossy, mossy, and wet, and you’ll want to make sure you are well-equipped with backcountry skills from route-finding and wilderness first aid in order to be safe. You can find detailed descriptions of climbing routes in MacKenzie’s upcoming book, Panther Gorge, on his site adirondackmountaineering.com.

Courtesy: National Park Service
Courtesy: National Park Service

Acadia National Park, Maine

Coastal Climbing

Cooling sea breeze awaits climbers at Acadia. The ocean battered granite features some of the most classic climbs in the Northeast, from the salt-sprayed Adair by the Sea (5.10b/c) to the 3-pitch Story of O (5.6), among many others. America’s most easterly national park, Acadia is the first place the sun touches in the U.S. from October to March. In the summer, you will still want to arise early to capitalize on the daily changing low tide (otherwise your rope and belayer are liable to get caught in the waves at seaside areas like Otter Cliffs). Check out The Precipice for inland multi-pitch routes or Canada Cliff for some forested bouldering.


How to Send at the Gunks, According to EMS Guides

Roofs, old-school grades, and steep routes are just a few signature characteristics of climbing in the Gunks. Another staple of climbing in the Gunks is the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School, the oldest climbing school in the East, teaching technical climbing since 1968. We spoke to two of the Climbing School’s current guides in the Gunks—Patty Lankhorst and Marcia Stephens—to learn what makes the Gunks so special, get a few tips for climbing at the iconic area, and better understand the challenges and advantages of being a female guide and climber.

Courtesy: Patty Lankhorst
Courtesy: Patty Lankhorst

Why the Gunks Rock

The closest climbing destination to New York City, the Shawangunks proximity to a major metropolis is just one of many reasons for the area’s popularity. Another reason is the diversity of climbing found at the Gunks, which offers both single-pitch and multi-pitch traditional climbing, top roping, and awesome bouldering (with problems established by climbing luminaries such as John Gill, Lynn Hill, and Russ Clune). While you won’t find any sport climbing in the Gunks, you will find climbing rivaling the steepness of the Northeast’s sport crags along with huge roofs and tremendous exposure.

Patty, an AMGA Rock Instructor and one of the handful of female guides in Northeast with the certification who’s working as a full-time climbing guide, has been living and climbing in the Gunks for over 22 years, helping clients up the area’s classic routes for the last 16. A local fixture, she “knows the cliffs like the back of her hand” and recommends that every climber make at least one trip to this rock climbing mecca.

Marcia does, too. As a longtime climber and guide, one thing Marcia loves about the Gunks is that there’s “something for everyone, from ages 6 to 60+!” Visitors to the area will discover everything from cracks to jugs to routes ranging from 5.0 to 5.14, and slabs to complement the steeps. Some of Patty’s favorite routes at the Gunks are High Exposure (5.6), Cascading Crystal Kaleidoscope (CCK) (5.8), Bonnie’s Roof (5.9), and pretty much everything on the Arrow Wall.

Once you get tired from all the climbing at the Gunks, there’s fantastic rest-day activities such as hiking, biking, trail running, and swimming. And if you’re checking out the Gunks this summer, Marcia recommends ending every climbing session with a dip in the refreshingly cool water at Split Rock—a great way to beat the heat!

Courtesy: Thatcher Clay
Courtesy: Thatcher Clay

Tips for Sending at the Gunks

You might think sending classic routes at the Gunks is a great chance to flex your “tee-shirt muscles,” but Patty and Marcia—who are both petite female climbers—stress that size, strength, and ape index won’t get you through every crux. Instead, they emphasize that no matter your size, footwork, technique, and flexibility are keys to overcoming the area’s most notorious obstacles.

One of Marcia’s favorite techniques is the high step—where climbers use hip flexibility to hike a foot up on a hold. She regularly busts it out for tackling the crux of Gunks classics such as No Picnic (5.5) and Black Fly (5.5), routes she commonly guides.

Patty wholeheartedly agrees with Marcia’s emphasis on footwork. She stresses that “climbing is all about the feet, especially at the Gunks.” If your feet are not positioned correctly, she advises, it puts added weight on your arms and fingers, making the route seem more challenging because your arms get pumped out so quickly. For routes with big roofs—like Shockley’s Ceiling (5.6)—Patty recommends high feet, as “getting those feet up and putting your weight on them as soon as possible keeps you from peeling off.”

While Patty is quick to acknowledge that taller people tend to have an easier time reaching through some cruxy roofs, she also recognizes the advantage that her size provides on more “crunched” up moves and smaller handholds. Because every climber’s body type is different, when guiding she tries to help clients “recognize their strengths and weaknesses and maximize what they do have.”

Courtesy: Thatcher Clay
Courtesy: Thatcher Clay

Protecting Yourself On the Way Up…

Climbing at the Gunks is different, with moves and exposure unlike many crags in the Northeast. For those new to the area, Marcia suggests familiarizing yourself with the routes and approaches, initially choosing climbs with grades below your normal sending level. This is especially important because there’s a long history of sandbagging at the Gunks, resulting in climbs feeling harder here than similarly rated routes elsewhere.

Since many anchors at the Gunks aren’t bolted, Marcia and Patty recommend that visiting leaders carry sufficient gear to protect the pitch and build a gear anchor. For many climbers, especially those unfamiliar with the route they’re climbing, this often means doubling up on critical cams.

The Gunks are also riddled with horizontal cracks and finding the best way to protect them can often befuddle first-time visitors. Tricams work wonders here—so much so that the Pink Tricam, better known as the CAMP 0.5 Tri-Cam Evo, has become synonymous with the area. According to Patty, they’re also the most commonly stuck pieces found on the cliffs, so practice placing, and removing, them before visiting the Gunks. Marcia encourages carrying “Big Blue” (a Black Diamond #3 Cam), citing the cam’s knack for protecting the crux of many Gunks classics. Worried about the weight of the big blue cam on the steep stuff? Check out the ultralight version of the classic cam, the Black Diamond Ultralight Camelot #3.

There’s a lot more to staying safe at the Gunks than just having the right gear. In particular, don’t forget the typical safety checks before you start up a climb. Among the questions Patty recommends asking before leaving the deck are: is the climber’s figure eight tied correctly? and is the belayer’s device threaded properly?

…and on the Way Down

Because many routes at the Gunks are between two and four pitches, spending a day (or more) climbing there means that most climbers will spend a good amount of time transitioning from climbing to rappelling. Before heading down, climbers should double check whether the rappel rope is properly threaded through the rap rings, the rappeller’s device is properly connected to the rap ropes, the rap ropes are properly tied together (if using two ropes), and the rappeller has a “third hand” backup. Patty also reminds us, whether at the Gunks or at our home crag, rappeling with stopper knots tied into the ends of the rope is critical, especially if you are unfamiliar with the rap route.

Courtesy: Patty Lankhorst
Courtesy: Patty Lankhorst

Go with a Guide

Despite recent efforts by the AMGA and others to promote diversity in the profession (including a new women’s-only Rock Guide Course), guiding remains a male-dominated profession. But whether it’s breaking guiding’s glass ceiling or sending Shockley’s Ceiling, Patty and Marcia are some of EMS’s go-to guides in the Gunks. Both are passionate about showing friends and guests how amazing, beautiful, and adventurous the area is and are excited to share with others what drew them each to the area and has kept them there. Learn more about climbing in the Gunks or tick a few classic routes by visiting the Eastern Mountain Climbing School’s website and booking a day of climbing with Patty or Marcia.


The Top 5 Shorter Trips Along the NFCT

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail, or NFCT, travels over 700-miles from upstate New York to the Canadian Border in Maine. It follows lakes, streams, ponds, and rivers to connect historic old trading routes. Paddlers who travel its waters experience solitude, joy, and challenges. But thanks to its length, few people paddle it in one go, end to end. Most will opt to paddle in smaller pieces in days or weeks, but even this isn’t easy: There are a number of spectacular sections of this trail, but not all are accessible to paddle in shorter chunks. Thankfully, some of the best pieces of the NFCT are do-able in a short trip, and are begging to be paddled.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

1. Fulton Chain of Lakes

Beginning at the Western Terminus of the NFCT, the Chain of Lakes connects eight flatwater lakes and ponds through the Adirondacks. This section requires some straightforward portaging through dense woods and is home to some of the most well-managed and pristine campsites around. There’s a reason thru-paddlers are captivated by this trail from the start.

Where: Old Forge, NY to Raquette Lake, NY

Distance: 20 miles (1-3 days)

Portages: Three; You’ll want a set of wheels for this section. The Fifth Lake (.4 miles) and Eighth Lake Campground (1 mile) portages are a short distance and wheelable, however the Brown Tract Carry from the north end of Eighth Lake follows a rougher trail that might require moving by hand for short distances.

When To Go: Late summer to fall. The bugs can be vicious and the lakes get crowded with visitors during early summer, meaning there could be lots of boats and jet skis.

Camping: Plentiful. Primitive lean-to’s at Seventh and Eighth Lakes between miles 13 and 17. State Campgrounds located on Alger Island (mile 5.5), Eighth Lake (mile 16), and Brown Tract Pond (mile 20) by reservation for a fee.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

2. Long Lake & The Saranac Lakes

In the heart of the Adirondacks lies one of the most pristine sections of the NFCT. The trail travels 9 miles across Long Lake to the winding and gentle Raquette River before entering the Saranac Lakes. This stretch is fairly wild and remote, with quaint waterside towns, and excellent swimming and camping. Depending on the wind, this can be a quick paddle.

Where: Long Lake, NY to Saranac Lake, NY

Distance: 42 miles (3-6 days)

Portages: Three or four. The first of them, the 1.3-mile Raquette Falls Carry isn’t easy. Most of the trail has too many roots and rocks to navigate, making wheeling unlikely. After allocating some time to this portage, paddlers are rewarded with views when they put-in below the falls. During high water in the spring, the bridges along the brief Stony Creek stretch will force paddlers to briefly portage around. Half of the 1.1-mile Indian Carry from Stony Pond is challenging to wheel and finally the Bartlett Carry is quick and wheelable on a road.

When To Go: Spring through fall. This area can be buggy so it might be best to wait until after all the snow has melted in the High Peaks for a more enjoyable experience.

Camping: Plentiful and spread out, but require some planning for the Saranac Lakes area. Many beautiful lean-tos placed along the shores of the 10-mile Long Lake and the Raquette River. There are several primitive campsites along the north shore of Stony Creek Pond and one at Huckleberry Bay on Upper Saranac Lake. On Middle and Lower Saranac Lakes, the sites are state-managed and require a reservation and fee. You can stop in at the State Bridge boat launch and if sites are available, and can register the same day. Once you re-enter the Saranac River, there’s a lean-to near Lower Lock.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

3. The Connecticut River

Sandy beaches along the winding Connecticut River offer a fun, leisurely trip for both new and experienced paddlers. It can be paddled in one long day or split into two. Through bright agricultural valleys and old trestles, New England’s longest river gives a peek into logging and railroad history. The river meanders south, with the occasional rips and osprey nests. As you approach Groveton, the NFCT turns left up the Ammonoosuc River, where you’ll have to travel 1.5 miles upstream before reaching the Normandeau campsite (the alternative is to take out at Guildhall).

Where: Bloomfield, VT to Groveton, NH

Distance: 22 miles (1-2 days)

Portages: None

When To Go: Late summer to fall. Water levels on the Connecticut are not a concern, so it can be paddled anytime between spring and late fall, but the camping areas along this section can be buggy May through July.

Camping: The Maine Central RR Trestle Campsite (7 miles in) and Samuel Benton Campsite (13 miles in) are primitive NFCT camping areas along the river. Both are located on private property where the landowners permit paddlers to stay assuming they pack out all trash and otherwise leave no trace. Remember to treat water from the river before drinking.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

4. The Maine Lakes

This is perhaps the most ambitious trip on this list, but not without great reward. It is mostly flatwater paddling across some of the most pristine immaculate lakes in Maine: Umbagog, Lower and Upper Richardson, Mooselookmeguntic and Rangeley. Paddling times can vary depending on the weather and wind, but the abundance of wild camping provides plenty of places to rest and relax. Most of these lakes are home to more wildlife, namely the Bald Eagle, and few people.

Where: Errol, NH to Rangeley, ME

Distance: 44 miles (3-6 days)

Portages: Three. You will want wheels for this section. The first portage, around Errol Dam, can easily be avoided by coordinating a shuttle. The largest portage of this stretch is the Rapid River Carry, which travels 3.2 miles along an unwheelable trail and then an old road. The Upper Dam portage to Mooselookmegntic (0.1 mile) and Carry Road to Oquossoc (1.5 miles) are easy and  wheelable along roads. Other portages may be required if water levels are too low.

When To Go: Summer and fall. Despite being quite remote, these lakes are popular destinations for travelers during mid-summer. Aim for August or September for ideal conditions.

Camping: Plentiful, but requires planning during peak season. Most of the remote campsites along this stretch are State or privately managed and require a small fee. The remote, water-accessed-only sites on Umbagog Lake, Rapid River, Lower and Upper Richardson Lake, and Mooselookmeguntic Lake are State- or privately-managed and require a reservation and small fee. In late season, it’s possible to pay for empty sites retroactively. On Rangeley Lake, The Rangeley Lake State Park is busy with RVs and car campers; it’s less-than-ideal for paddlers.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

5. The Allagash

Paddling the Allagash River in Northern Maine presents iconic backwoods paddling at its best. It’s on just about every Maine Adventurer’s bucket list and for good reason: Its remote and wild setting is the perfect place to unwind and relax. This marks the grand finale of the NFCT where paddlers are rewarded for weeks of hard work with frequent wildlife sightings, fishing, soaking in the river and stunning camping. There are some shorter sections of Class I to II rapids on an otherwise calm and easily traveled river. It’s an entertaining trip for the whole family, kids included!

Where: Chamberlain Lake, ME to Allagash Village, ME

Distance: 86 miles (5-7 days)

Portages: Three, maybe four. It would be helpful to have wheels here. The Tramway carry from Chamberlain to Eagle Lake is short and wheelable, and features some spectacular logging history. The portages around Churchill Dam and Long Lake Dam are very short (.1 mile), except if you want to avoid the whitewater at Churchill, which requires a longer carry. The final portage, around Allagash Falls, travels on a well-worn path through campsites and is fairly straightforward.

When T Go: Spring to early fall. Spring and early summer allow higher, more enjoyable water levels, but campsites can get full. If you’re looking for greater solitude and cooler temperatures, the Allagash makes for a wonderful fall trip as long as the water levels are above 300 to 400 CFS.

Camping: Plenty available for a small fee. The Allagash Wilderness Waterway sites cost $6/night per person for Maine residents and $12/night for non-residents. When you get to Churchill Dam, visit the Ranger Station and pay (cash or check only) for the number of nights you’ll camp along the river. Groups cannot exceed 12 people and children under 10 are free. The campsites include privies, picnic tables, and fire pits.


Alpha Guide: Hiking The Devil's Path

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Not for the faint of heart, the Catskills’ most notorious trail is rugged, wild, and just as challenging as it is rewarding.

Point blank, the Devil’s Path is hard. In its 25 miles, this hike gains over 8,500 feet in elevation while running over some of the roughest terrain in the Northeast. The five Catskill high peaks it traverses—Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf, Plateau, and West Kill Mountains—are separated by dramatically steep descents into low notches, requiring hikers to scramble and even downclimb in some spots. The kind of loose rock that makes your ankles hurt just looking at it is seemingly everywhere and, depending on the season, water sources can be few and far between. The challenges this hike presents are unrelenting.

The reward, however, is apparent in the abundant, fantastic viewpoints and the wild vibe of the trail. For being just two hours from New York City, this hike feels a lot more remote than it actually is.

Quick Facts

Distance: 25 miles, thru-hike
Time to Complete: 1-3 days
Difficulty: ★★★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May to October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/5265.html

Download

Turn-By-Turn

The Devil’s Path is often thought of as two halves, east and west, with its midpoint being the intersection with NY-214 at Stony Clove Notch. Truth is, once you hit Stony Clove Notch (hiking westbound) you’ve done the bulk of the work with most of the mileage, elevation gain, and the decidedly rougher terrain behind you.

Most folks like to tackle this trip in a weekend, camping close to the trailhead on Friday night and splitting the Eastern and Western sections between Saturday and Sunday. For the brave, doing the “Devil in a Day” is also an option, though an early start and ample preparation are absolutely critical.

From the Thruway (I-87) take Exit 20 and head west on NY-212. After 2.3 miles, take a slight right onto Blue Mountain Road. Continue for 1.4 miles, then take a left onto West Saugerties Road. From there, it’s 5.2 miles to Prediger Road (on the left) and another 0.5 miles to the trailhead parking area.

This is a one-way ticket, so you’ll need to post a shuttle car at the other end on Spruceton Road.

The view from Orchard Point on Plateau Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
The view from Orchard Point on Plateau Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

The Eastern Section

Beginning at the Prediger Road trailhead (42.13396, -74.10435), the Devil’s Path starts out easy, heading southeast on a wide path over the mostly flat ground. At 0.2 miles the blue-blazed Jimmy Dolan Trail splits off to the right. Bear left and follow those red blazes. Fortunately, for all the myriad obstacles this trail is going to throw at you, route finding isn’t one of them—every junction is very well-signed and the blazes are plentiful.

At 1.7 miles, the trail runs into a T intersection with the Overlook Trail—take a right. In about 200 feet, the trail splits again, with the Overlook Trail heading straight (south) and the Devil’s Path breaking off to the right (west-southwest).

A short distance straight on the Overlook Trail is the Devil’s Kitchen Lean-to (42.11896, -74.08716), a very popular shelter and the first of its kind on the trail. Should you be looking to do this hike in a weekend, the Devil’s Kitchen is a solid Friday night option, and will all but ensure an early start on Saturday morning. You almost certainly won’t be the only one with this plan in mind, though, so don’t bank on a spot in the shelter proper.

A view through the trees on the way up Indian Head Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
A view through the trees on the way up Indian Head Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

Indian Head Mountain

After the junction with the Overlook Trail, the Devil’s Path begins its first ascent, moderately gaining elevation as it climbs the northeast face of Indian Head. At 2.9 miles the trail reaches Sherman’s Lookout, an open ledge with excellent views back to the east. From here, the trail meanders over the ridge, climbing and descending easily to another great view, this time to the south. Beyond this lookout, the grade steepens and requires some easy scrambling over rocks and roots—a mere warm-up for what’s to come—to the viewless 3,573-foot summit of Indian Head (42.11640, -74.11456), your first of five Catskill 3500-foot peaks on the trip.

Up next is your first, steep, characteristically-Devil’s-Path descent, dropping around 500 feet in 0.6 miles into Jimmy Dolan Notch. Compared with the descents to come, however, this one is relatively moderate. At the low point of the notch (4.5 miles), the eponymous, Jimmy Dolan Notch Trail descends to the right. This is the same blue-blazed trail the Devil’s Path crossed at the beginning of the trip so should you need an early bailout option, this is one will take you right back to the car.

A break in the clouds from Twin Mountain’s south summit. | Credit: John Lepak
A break in the clouds from Twin Mountain’s south summit. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Twin Mountain

Rising to the west, on other side of Jimmy Dolan Notch, is Twin Mountain, the second 3,500-foot peak of the hike. Much like your descent into the notch, the climb out is short and steep, regaining all the elevation you just lost in short order. At 4.9 miles, the trail gains the south summit and rewards your early efforts with a really outstanding view to the south. Continue on a relatively level ridge walk, descending slightly though thick evergreens and climbing again, easily, to the true summit of Twin Mountain (3,640 feet) (42.12559, -74.12903), at 5.6 miles, and another good viewpoint.

A short distance down from the summit you’ll come upon a cave on the trail’s right hand side. A spacious rock overhang makes this a solid, protected spot to post-up for for a breather and maybe even some lunch—if you’re trying to bang this out in two days, the timing will likely work out.

Make sure to enjoy the break though, because past this point, the Devil’s Path really starts to show its teeth. This descent, into Pecoy Notch, gets steep quickly and the pace slows right down. There are a few rock features through this section of the trail that require some serious scrambling and one that’s actually more of a downclimb. These can be dangerous in wet or icy conditions so an abundance of care is necessary to negotiate them safely. Keep on descending into Pecoy Notch where a junction with the Pecoy Notch Trail (blue blazes) at mile 6.3, provides another eligible bailout if needed.

A short spur trail past Sugarloaf’s summit offers a nice view when it’s not in the clouds. | Credit: John Lepak
A short spur trail past Sugarloaf’s summit offers a nice view when it’s not in the clouds. | Credit: John Lepak

Sugarloaf Mountain

From here, the trail presses on to the West and the steep ascent of Sugarloaf Mountain. One fun feature of the eastern section of the Devil’s Path is that the ups and the downs get progressively more difficult for the west-bound hiker. So, that this little section ups the ante—climbing around a thousand feet in a little less than one mile—should come as no surprise. It’s rough, as the trail scrambles over rocks and roots until, after what seems like forever, you reach the summit ridge and level out for a short, gentle approach to the 3,800-foot viewless summit (42.13130, -74.15014) at mile 7.5. A yellow-blazed spur path just beyond leads to a good viewpoint south.

The descent into Mink Hollow is—you guessed it—steep and rough. There are plenty of obstacles to negotiate as you drop almost 1,200 feet in 1.05 miles so the going is predictably slow.

When the trail finally levels out it’s joined by the blue-blazed Mink Hollow Trail on the right at mile 8.55. These two trails run together for a short while before the Mink Hollow Trail departs to the left. Following that will bring you to the Mink Hollow shelter (42.13564, -74.16247) and decent water source. Depending on what time of day you get here, this is also a beautiful little spot to set up camp for the night. If not, it’s still a prime opportunity to take a break and fill-up before the rough hike back up, the latest in a series of progressively harder climbs.

A view from an outlook just shy of Plateau Mountain’s wooded summit. | Credit: John Lepak
A view from an outlook just shy of Plateau Mountain’s wooded summit. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Plateau Mountain

Continuing straight on the Devil’s Path, the terrain steepens just about immediately and the scrambling resumes as you make your way out of the hollow. Intermittent views back towards Sugarloaf make stopping to catch your breath a bit more enjoyable but the ascent is steep. At 9.6 miles, after 1,250 vertical feet of some pretty heavy duty hiking, you gain the summit ridge and top-out on Plateau Mountain at 3,840 feet (42.13780, -74.17419).

As the name would suggest, the summit of Plateau is relatively flat for a leisurely 2.1 miles through dense, fragrant conifers. Roughly 0.4 miles after the summit, the Warner Creek Trail breaks off to the left.

Plateau’s ridgewalk culminates with two excellent viewpoints. Known as Danny’s Lookout and Orchid Point they offer nice views to the North and West, respectively and the open ledge of the latter is another great spot for a rest before heading down to Stony Clove Notch.

Notch Lake and NY-214 in Stony Clove Notch, the unofficial halfway point of the Devil’s Path. | Credit: John Lepak
Notch Lake and NY-214 in Stony Clove Notch, the unofficial halfway point of the Devil’s Path. | Credit: John Lepak

 

Stony Clove

From Orchid Point, the trail continues on to the left, dropping quickly over some large rocks before beginning a long, moderate descent. While ‘moderate’ may sound lovely here, especially after the drama of the previous several descents, the Devil’s Path has another plan for it’s weary hikers: loose, broken, ankle-rolling rocks. If you’ve chosen to split this hike into two days, you may be coming down in the dark here, so take care and make sure that headlamp is charged. Eventually the grade and scree will ease up and turn into a rough staircase as you make your way into Stony Clove Notch.

If you’re making this a two day affair, Devil’s Tombstone Campground (42.15466, -74.20599) is a good place to stop. It’s wildly popular so make sure to reserve a spot in advance. If you’re hiking in the off-season, when the campground’s closed (October to May) consider another option—the campground is regularly patrolled and the fines for illegal camping are steep.

Note: The Devil’s Tombstone Campground is closed for the 2019 season for essential infrastructure updates. Existing reservations will be accommodated but there will be no staff or amenities on site. More information is available here.

The Devil’s Path as it climbs out of Stony Clove Notch. | Credit: John Lepak
The Devil’s Path as it climbs out of Stony Clove Notch. | Credit: John Lepak

The Western Section

The trail resumes across NY-214, winds through the campground, and crosses a footbridge before reentering the woods. Another steep climb begins almost as soon as you get into the trees as the Devil’s Path switches back and forth over rocks and roots, steadily gaining elevation. This is one place to pay particularly close attention to, as some of the switchbacks are hard to see and it’s easy to just keep on walking straight off the trail. The blazes are there, just keep a close eye.

 

The grade eventually eases up and the trail proceeds over the relatively mild terrain in the col between Hunter and Southwest Hunter Mountains. At mile 15.1 the yellow-blazed Hunter Mountain Trail, which leads north to the summit of Hunter Mountain, begins on the right. Continue straight and just past this junction find the Devil’s Acre lean-to ( 42.16544, -74.23084)—another serviceable option for spending the night—and a reliable water source just off the trail to the right.

The next 2.2 miles are among the Devil’s Path’s gentlest as the trail traverses the southwestern flank of Hunter Mountain and descends into Diamond Notch.

The low-point of the notch features Diamond Notch Falls (42.17519, -74.25791)—a lovely place to take a break and get some water—and a junction with the blue-blazed Diamond Notch Trail. If you’re looking for a place to spend the night, this is a good opportunity—take a left and the Diamond Notch Lean-to is just 0.5 miles south. If not, keep on going straight—West Kill Mountain, your final high peak of the trip, awaits.

Buck Ridge Lookout, before the marked—but viewless—summit of West Kill. | Credit: John Lepak
Buck Ridge Lookout, before the marked—but viewless—summit of West Kill. | Credit: John Lepak

 

West Kill Mountain

The Devil’s Path crosses a sturdy wooden foot bridge over Diamond Notch Falls and turns right, paralleling the Brook briefly before swinging left and beginning to climb. The ascent opens with a short bit of rock hopping before easing into a soft, mostly dirt footpath. The grade is steep but steady and the terrain is far easier than any of the previous climbs on the route.

Nearing the top, a few rock obstacles require short scrambles before the climb out of Diamond Notch culminates with a cool rock overhang at 18.7 miles. The trail skirts the overhang to the left and gains the ridge with one final push.

West Kill Mountain’s long ridgeline has four distinct “summits,” and just past the rock overhang marks the first one. Beyond, the trail dips down into an easy saddle before beginning its ascent of the true high point. The enjoyable stroll winds through dense evergreens to Buck Ridge Lookout, an outstanding southerly viewpoint at 19.65 miles. If you’re looking for a breather, here’s a good place to do it.

Another gentle 0.15 miles takes you to the true summit of 3,880-foot West Kill Mountain (42.16787, -74.28959), marked by a cairn and a sign. Continuing on, the Devil’s Path drops, steeply at times, as it traverses West Kill’s ridge. Cross over another small knoll and continue traversing the ridge on your way to Saint Anne’s Peak.

A short final climb up Saint Anne’s Peak (3420, mile 21.85), the westernmost of West Kill’s summits, marks the final real ascent of the journey. Past here the Devil’s path descends steeply to the northwest before swinging back to the southeast. At mile 22.8, the trail meets a brook and takes a hard right.

The remaining 1.55 miles follow the path of the brook, gently rolling over minor elevation gains and losses through a shady evergreen forest until one last, steep descent to the parking area on Spruceton Road (42.19209, -74.32433).


 

In the clouds at the 3500 foot sign, on the way up Twin Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
In the clouds at the 3500 foot sign, on the way up Twin Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

The Kit

  • In the mountains, two trees are often easier to find than a flat, rockless clearing. Consider eschewing the tent for an Eno Singlenest Hammock. It’s also a whole lot lower-impact, which is a nice bonus.
  • Soaked socks are the worst, so a second pair is critical. Darn Tough Vermont Hiking Socks are wicked comfortable and just about indestructible—just what you’re going to need after a day on this trail.
  • Sacrificing taste for weight is rough but there are a ton of good freeze-dried options out there. Good To-go is an outstanding one with vegan and gluten free meals available. Try the Herbed Mushroom Risotto.
  • Get those meals cooked with the MSR Windburner Stove System. It’s lightweight, packable, and doesn’t skip a beat up high or in a storm.
  • Whether you’re doing it in a long weekend or a single day, at some point, you’re going to be hiking in the dark. A headlamp, like the Petzl Actik Core, is essential—the rechargeable battery is a real plus too.

Above Diamond Notch Falls, before ascending West Kill Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
Above Diamond Notch Falls, before ascending West Kill Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

Keys to the Trip

  • In drier seasons, water can be hard to come by out here so be prepared to fill up early and often. Do your research before you go: Know where reliable springs can be found and keep an eye on the trail conditions and weather reports.
  • Backcountry camping is permitted below 3,500 feet and at least 150 feet away from trails and water sources. Lean-tos at Devil’s Kitchen, Mink Hollow, Devil’s Acre, and Diamond Notch are good options as well.
  • If you want to go fast and light and not lug too much food (or water) with you, NY-214 crosses the Devil’s Path at its midpoint, making an ideal spot for a supply drop. Just keep it out of reach of the bears.
  • The Devil’s Path is a long, point-to-point hike that requires a shuttle. If you’re going solo, or your party doesn’t have access to a second car, you can book a ride with Smiley’s Transport. It’s always wiser to hike back to your car, so make sure to give them a call in advance.
  • Once you’re out of the woods, grab a post-hike beer at nearby West Kill Brewing. Just 1.7 miles East of the trail’s end on Spruceton Road, this little gem—and its eclectic menu of beers featuring locally harvested and foraged ingredients—is a welcome respite.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked any part of the Devil’s Path recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


5 Top Spots to Paddle and Bike Along the Erie Canalway Trail

New York’s Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor is an adventure-seekers dream. With more than 500 miles of interconnected canals, rivers, and lakes, and 365-miles of Canalway Trail, you can paddle or cycle your way across the entire Empire State.

You’ll find beautiful scenery, fascinating history, and truly unique cycling and paddling along the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this living waterway adds distinctive flavor in the form of canal structures like locks and lift bridges, working tugs and other vessels, friendly vacationers in boats of all stripes, and canal communities that are intriguing and fun destinations.

And with more than 140 paddling access sites, as well as several boater-biker-hiker facilities that allow overnight camping at canal parks, it’s easier than ever to enjoy the waterway and trail. For cyclists, more than three-quarters of the Canalway Trail is off-road and relatively flat. On-road segments are well marked, making it easy to ride longer distances. For paddlers, it’s all about the experience of being on the oldest, continuously operating canal system in America. You’ll navigate century old locks, pass stunning stone aqueducts, paddle alongside tugboats and cruisers, and experience narrow flatwater stretches and wider river segments. You can also expect to see a diversity of birds and wildlife, unique geology, and varying terrain.

Pro tip: When you come, be sure to participate in the Canalway Challenge. Choose a personal mileage goal—15, 90, 180, or 360 miles—and track your progress on the water or trail to earn rewards, including discounts from EMS! Here are several best bet trips for cycling and paddling (listed west to east), guaranteed to take you on an unforgettable journey along the Erie Canal.

Picturesque Lockport. | Credit: Robert Dunn
Picturesque Lockport. | Credit: Robert Dunn

Buffalo to Rochester

Distance: 90 miles one-way
Recommended Activity: Cycling

This 90-mile stretch in western New York boasts some of the best cycling along the Erie Canal. Plan a long weekend, so you have time to poke around the many canal villages along this route, each with their own unique shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions. The trail is off-road and flat, so it’s great for families, as well as experienced cyclists. You can easily break the route into a series of day trips.

Along the way, be sure to make time to stop in Lockport. Here, you’ll find a staircase of five locks used in the 1800s alongside two towering locks that replaced them in 1918. Lockport’s canal historic district includes the Erie Canal Discovery Center, with fun canal exhibits for kids, as well boat tours, paddling rentals, a cave tour, and a zip line over the canal for the adventurous. There are good dining options nearby, including an urban winery and premium local ice cream.

Twilight on the Erie Canal in Fairport. | Credit: Keith Boas
Twilight on the Erie Canal in Fairport. | Credit: Keith Boas

Pittsford to Fairport (just east of Rochester)

Distance: 13 miles round-trip
Recommended Activity: Cycling

Here’s a short cycling trip that will give you a taste of all that the Erie Canal has to offer. It’s a 13-mile round trip that is entirely off road. Start at Schoen Place in Pittsford, a lively waterfront destination with numerous specialty shops and restaurants. Cycle east to Fairport, another popular summer spot for canal travelers. You’ll find lots of choices for food, ice cream, coffee, and craft beer on both ends, as well as in Bushnell’s Basin, which you’ll pass about 3 miles east from Pittsford. If you want to sample both cycling and paddling, cycle to Fairport and rent a kayak there to get out on the water for an hour or two.

Cycling over the Old Erie Canal in Dewitt. | Credit: Kristin Mosher
Cycling over the Old Erie Canal in Dewitt. | Credit: Kristin Mosher

Cycle the Old Erie Canal

Distance: 36 miles one-way
Recommended Activity: cycling

This cycling trip takes you along the section of the Erie Canal that was used throughout the 1800s, but was abandoned in 1918 when the canal was enlarged and the route moved north of Syracuse. The old canal still has water in it and will give you a firsthand sense of the scale and character of the canal that opened a continent. You’ll cycle east on the former towpath through the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park, which runs for 36 miles from DeWitt to Rome.

You can cycle this route in one day, but making it a two-day trip will leave more time for you to enjoy all there is to do along the way without rushing. Just 5 miles from the start, take a hike or swim at Green Lakes State Park, which boasts two deep, aquamarine glacial lakes. At 11 miles, visit Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum, where canal boats were once built and repaired. Further on in the Village of Canastota (mile 18), you’ll find everyone’s favorite cycling fuels: ice cream and craft beer. When you arrive at the endpoint in Rome, visit Fort Stanwix National Monument, and refuel again at one of several outstanding Italian restaurants.

The Erie Canal in Little Falls. |Credit: Bart Carrig
The Erie Canal in Little Falls. |Credit: Bart Carrig

Little Falls

Distance: 6.2 miles round-trip west or 10.6 miles one-way east
Recommended Activity: paddling

The town of Little Falls is a historic gem on the Erie Canal. It was once a hub for shipping local cheeses throughout the world. Now, it is home to antique and boutique shops and an arts center, and is known for its rock climbing, annual cheese festival, and boating and cycling opportunities.

You can rent a canoe or kayak at Little Falls Harbor or launch your own and paddle west to Lock E18 through a beautiful part of the Mohawk Valley. At Lock 18 you can paddle for some distance up the Mohawk River to get a sense of what the river looked like before it was canalized. You’ll travel with the current back to Little Falls for a 6.2 mile round trip.

You can also paddle east from Little Falls through the largest lock on the Erie Canal, Lock E17, stop at the home of Revolutionary War General Nicholas Herkimer, pass through Lock E16, and end at a place with warm showers at the Saint Johnsville Municipal Marina. This is a 10.62 mile one-way trip, best suited to experienced paddlers.

Paddlers in the Waterford Flight. | Credit: Stephanie Obkirchner
Paddlers in the Waterford Flight. | Credit: Stephanie Obkirchner

Waterford Flight

Distance: 2.7 miles one-way
Recommended Activity: paddling

Erie Canal Locks 2 through 6 make up the Waterford Flight, a set of five locks with a total lift of 169 feet in just over 1.5 miles. Until recently, these locks were the highest lift in the shortest span in the world. Paddling through the flight makes an outstanding half-day trip, with dramatic scenery, towering locks, and pleasant, easy paddling.

You can rent a kayak or launch your own at the Alcathy’s Boat Launch at the top of the Flight and take out at the Waterford Point Boat Ramp at the end. You’ll want to leave a vehicle or arrange for a ride at the take-out point to facilitate your return. This trip takes you through two guard gates, past the Waterford Canal Shops where canal boats are repaired, and through five locks. Each lock takes about 20 minutes. This is an excellent trip for beginner to experienced paddlers.

Canalway_Challenge_Banners2