Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Best Day-Hike in the Adirondacks

Well, the title of this post could lead to controversy — I’m sure every hiker has their favorite route, depending on location, level of fitness and how much climbing (or none at all) they wish to do in a day.

Last weekend I did the infamous Bald Peak-Rocky Peak Ridge-Giant Mountain traverse, a hike of nearly 12 miles that takes those with strong knees and thighs on a grand tour of some of the most exposed peaks in the park. And that’s got my vote.

To do this route, you need strength, a relatively early start, and two cars (or one car and a bicycle, if you think you’d feel like pedaling another 8 miles after an all-day hike).

The route begins on Route 9, about four miles north of the “dysfunction junction” intersection with Route 73, at an easy-to-miss DEC parking lot on the left as you head north. From here, you hike four miles to the top of Bald Peak, climb down to a col and steeply ascend to the Rocky Peak ridge. Once you’ve traversed the ridge, you have to descend again for the final climb to Giant, for a total of 5,300 feet of vertical in 8 miles.

I did this hike last Saturday with my friend Jim Close. We parked one car at the base of Giant, then drove to the Bald Peak trailhead eight road-miles away. According to the sign-in sheet, more than 20 people had already signed up to do this traverse. Apparently our 9:30 a.m. departure was tardy by hiking standards.

Bald Peak is just a little over 3,000 feet high, but its exposed ledges and wide-open summit gives it a view that seems like a much larger mountain, especially given that the entire High Peaks range extends west and south from its back door. Be sure to take the side-trail to Blueberry Cobbles on the way up, which affords even more cliffy views.

We reached the summit by noon, and took a short break. So far, we had run into only a few people. The temperature was perfect, mid-70s and little humidity, with the August sun diffused behind a thin cloud layer. This was beginning to look like a stellar day.

It’s a long descent, and even longer climb from Bald to the top of the ridge, which starts out just over 4,000 feet and never gets much lower.

Once on Rocky Peak, we began the ridge proper. From here to the other side, a hiker is afforded almost constant views above treeline. Thanks to a fire on this ridge that got rid of all the trees many years ago, the exposure feels more like a peak in the Rocky Mountains than anything you’d find in New York.

After passing a shallow pond called Lake Mary Louise (you can fill your water bottles here, but bring purification pills or a filter). the ridge continues to the top, where a tall cairn marks the summit. From here, it’s a steady descent to another col and the steepest climb yet to the shoulder of Giant.

At this point, I temporarily left Jim. There was a short slide on Giant, visible from Rocky Peak Ridge, that seemed like it was right off the trail. Still feeling still energetic, I was keen to check it out. A very slight herd path led the way, but I quickly lost it and found myself battling the usual thick summit flora. Eventually, I did reach the slide, but halfway up.

Still, the slide itself was clean and fun to climb, as was battling back to the trail. I met Jim on the summit of Giant, at 4,627 feet. The peak was crowded when we arrived, but soon cleared out, giving us a quiet rest on top of one of the most popular mountains in the park.

Another four miles of steep but fun descent brought us back to our waiting car, a stash of cold beer and a swim in nearby Chapel Pond. The total hike took us a little more than eight hours, including stops of various lengths at all the good view points.

It was nearly 20 years since I had last hiked this route. The next time won’t take so long.

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4 Responses

  1. David Thomas-Train says:
  2. Anonymous says:

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