Monday, November 12, 2012

New Moxham Mountain Trail A Scenic Treat

I have driven past Moxham Mountain in Minerva many times and admired its cliffs from afar. Back in the seventies and eighties, rock climbers put up more than a dozen routes on these steep slabs, but because the approach crosses private land, Moxham was omitted from the most recent climbing guidebook.

That must be frustrating for climbers, especially since most of Moxham Mountain lies within the public Forest Preserve. But even though you can’t scale the cliffs, you can enjoy the view from the summit, thanks to a new trail that ascends Moxham on state land from the other side of the mountain.

The Student Conservation Association built the 2.7-mile trail in July under the auspices of the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Starting on a dirt road on the north side of the mountain, the trail goes over a hill, descends to a beaver meadow, and goes up a narrow ridge to Moxham’s 2,361-foot summit.

When I did the hike in August, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of views during the climb, but I was happy to be proven wrong.

From the small parking area, the trail ascends gradually through a hardwood forest. Within a few hundred yards, I noticed an old stone wall. Evidently, the forest once was a pasture or farm field. According to DEC, the state acquired much of the land around Moxham for back taxes during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Most Adirondack trails are hard packed, and often eroded, but I found myself walking on soft duff—one of the pleasures of a new trail. At times it was hard to distinguish the trail from the forest floor. Still, there was little chance of getting lost: the trail was marked not only by yellow disks, but also by pieces of pink surveyor’s tape used to lay out the route. DEC intends to leave the pink ribbons in place until the trail becomes more defined through use.

At 0.6 miles, I reached the crest of a hill with a view of peaks near and far, stretching from the southeast to the west. The vista was a mere taste of things to come.

After a gentle descent, I crossed a shallow creek, the outlet of an old beaver pond that filled in long ago to become a wet meadow, partially visible through the trees. If you want a closer look, you can bushwhack through the open woods a hundred feet or so. Within a quarter-mile, after a second stream crossing, the trail began a short, steep ascent to another lookout, a slab of bedrock where I encountered a couple with a young daughter resting and enjoying the view. This vista was better than the first. To the south lay Gore Mountain, easily identifiable by its ski trails. To the southwest were the pristine peaks of the Siamese Ponds Wilderness, including Puffer and Bullhead mountains. Also visible was the garnet mine in North River.

By this point, I had hiked 1.6 miles. As I climbed the ridge to the summit, a little over a mile away, I enjoyed one view after another—too many to bother counting. Perhaps the best was reached at 2.3 miles, where grassy outcrops afforded a spectacular view of the summit cliffs. A little beyond here, as the ridge continued to narrow, I discovered a rare vista to the north. Stepping onto a rib of rock just off the trail, I could see a big mountain on the horizon. Since it was off my map, I could not identify it, but later I was told it may have been Vanderwhacker.

All this was a prelude to what awaited on the summit. Popping out of the woods, I was awed by the scenery. Looking south, beyond the hamlet of North Creek and Gore Mountain, I discerned

Crane Mountain, standing out among smaller peaks. Likewise, Blue Mountain rose above its neighbors in the west. These and numberless other peaks populated a vista extending across three points of the compass—east, south, and north. Also visible was the Hudson River on its journey between North Creek and Riparius.

The cliffs made it all seem more sublime. I approached the verge of rock and sky and stared down a few hundred feet at a delightful scene: a stream meandering through a green wetland with a collection of small ponds nearby, Mud, Long, and Clear. Turning to the west, I could see the narrow ridge I had just come up, with its cliffs and lookouts. And to the east, just a mile and a half away, I saw still more cliffs, the huge slabs of Moxham Point, the terminus of the Moxham Range.

As a budding rock climber, I was tempted to bushwhack to Moxham Point to check out the slabs. The woods looked fairly open, but given the late hour, I thought better of it.

Moxham Point is where climbers established their routes years ago. Except they called it Moxham Dome. The routes were described in climbing guidebooks published in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, but not in Adirondack Rock, which came out in 2008. The problem is lack of legal access: although the upper part of the dome is in the Forest Preserve, the lower part is privately owned.

In theory, climbers could take the hiking trail to Moxham Mountain, bushwhack to Moxham Point, and rappel down the cliff in order to ascend it, but few are likely to go to such lengths, especially since much of the rock is, in the words of one online poster, “too dirty to be enjoyable.”

If DEC were to secure an easement for climbers, the rock might become cleaner through frequent use. “There has been a lot of thought regarding access for climbing,” Tad Norton, a DEC senior forester, told me in an e-mail. “However, access on private property requires a willing seller.”

Norton pointed out that most of the private land below the cliffs is posted. Should Moxham Point become accessible someday, it would open new terrain to novice and intermediate climbers. Most of the routes in the old guidebooks are considered easy. Not that the slabs should be treated cavalierly. In the late 1700s, a surveyor is said to have fallen off the mountain. He died, but his name lives on. He was Robert Moxham.

Photos by Seth Lang:  Above, a hiker ascending the ridge of Moxham Mountain; below, the view from the summit.

More stories about the Adirondacks can be found in each issue of Adirondack Explorer, the non-profit news magazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park.  Get a full print or digital subscription here.

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

9 Responses

  1. Bill Quinlivan says:

    Recently made the same climb with the Cold River Chapter of the ADK and wrote up the hike experience for the Chapter Newsletter, Cold River Currents. It is a magnificent view for relatively little effort. I am looking forward to a possible snowshoe up during the Winter. For me, that trail keeps on calling to me, there certainly in something magic about it. It is one of the nicest in this section of the Adirondack Park.

  2. Bob Meyer says:

    Did this wonderful new trail 2Xs & saw sow & 3 cubs below in the beaver meadows the 2nd X… FYI:the view North was of Santanoni Peak.

  3. Phil Brown says:

    Bob, thanks for the identifying the peak. A bear and three cubs! That was quite a wildlife sighting.

  4. Julie says:

    Notice in the top picture, the lovely deer lichens (and others) that are under the hiker’s feet. There are many thick layers of lichens along this wonderful trail. I worry that with more foot traffic, and hikers walking off the trail onto the rocky overlooks, that these fragile and beautiful species will disappear from Moxham Ridge, another victim to human traffic. I think we need a sign to educate people to stay on the trail, or provide short spur trails to the overlooks, in the same way the alpine vegetation is protected in the high peaks.

    • Solidago says:

      I wonder how old those colonies of lichens are and what species might be present… does the DEC do any detailed studies of areas like this before putting trails through them?

  5. Geoff says:

    This sounds great. Exactly where is the trailhead? Off of McKee Rd? 14th Rd?

  6. Phil Brown says:

    Sorry the directions were omitted. To reach the trailhead, turn west onto Fourteenth Rd from NY 28N in Minerva. At 1.3 miles, bear right at the fork and continue 0.8 miles to parking area on left. It’s 0.2 miles after pavement ends.

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