I’ve been preoccupied with Adirondack vistas of late. Two recent copies of Adirondack Life had pictures with Burton’s Peak in them: one was a cover picture and the other placed in the 2014 Photo Contest (those of you who are savvy about my Lost Brook Dispatches and have followed the clues can see if you can identify it).
Like so many of us, I cherish beholding a corker Adirondack view perhaps more than any other experience in the park. There is something magical about the combination of grandeur and intimacy in wild Adirondack vistas, studded with lakes, ponds and streams and infused with a dark, raw primeval power impossible to capture in words. Quite frankly I have never experienced a stronger sense of wild harmony and beauty anywhere else I’ve been.
Call me biased, but the view to the east from our own Burton’s Peak is one of my favorites in the park. It’s really spectacular. Yet despite my home field prejudice, even I would not rate it number one… and I do actually have a clear number one. In fact I’m going to share my top five as I get through the article.
For the purposes of this post I’m going to leave out the views from any of the High Peak summits. Those are debated and ranked endlessly and we don’t need to do that again. Besides, I have always found that the best vistas – the most dramatic and stirring ones – occur not on the summit of lofty peaks but on the sides of them, or from lesser peaks. The effect of being in the middle of a bunch of vertical, with depths below and heights above, works a special power upon one’s perception that I think every mountain hiker has experienced. Your eye is pulled downward by the sweep of land below you and that in turn serves to greatly magnify the sense of vertical above you; the surrounding ridges and summits seem more lofty and grand than they really are.
This perceptive effect is very strong in some of the most iconic Adirondack vistas. For example, there is the Ridge Trail up Giant. The first opening onto bedrock as one climbs up from the Washbowl is perhaps the most renowned spot for this vertical effect in the entire park. One emerges onto the curved rock face to see the formidable cliffs on Round Mountain, so imposing and immense when they were viewed at the beginning of the climb along Route 73, now well below you. Beyond them the cone of Dix, looking worthy of a peak in the Rockies from this perspective, towers above you. The effect is tremendous. The first time I saw this view it was dramatically revealed to me as clouds briefly parted in the midst of a stormy afternoon, accompanied by a rainbow shooting up behind me. It was an unforgettable tableau. Notably, the view from Giant’s summit is nowhere near as good as that from the Ridge Trail, which sits squarely at number five on my list.
Other well-known vistas sporting this effect would include Mount Jo, Indian Falls (note the picture posted on the Almanack last week), Castle Rock (which makes Blue Mountain look truly massive), Deer Leap overlooking Lake George and Mount Adams. For my money Indian Head and Pyramid deserve a special category, for the vertical effect in both places is especially incredible. Pyramid sits at number four on my list, Indian Head at number three.
Number two on my list takes some nerve to get to: the open rock upon which one emerges as one comes out of the Mount Colden Trap Dyke. The plunging downward pitch along that face, with Avalanche Lake and cliffs below, is utterly dizzying and the effect upon the view of Algonquin is stunning. This view blows away the analogous panorama from Colden’s actual summit. To stand there (or crouch there, gripping for dear life) is to feel vanishingly small. I highly urge more adventurous readers to try it, however heed this advice: no matter what, don’t attempt this route in inclement weather. I know someone who did that and came hair-splittingly close to biting the farm (but survived, to the dismay and consternation of those who don’t like his diversity posts).
Before I reveal my number one vista, I want to encourage you readers to share yours via the comments. Most of the ones I’ve described are well known but there are innumerable vistas less well known that would be wonderful for people to hear about. So what are your favorites? What’s wrong with my rankings? What glaring winner have I left out? (surely there are multiple votes for Noon Mark…)
I dreamed about hiking to my number one vista for literally three decades, having seen it from afar dozens of times and having always imagined that it must be an incomparable place to sit. When I finally got there seven years ago it actually exceeded my imaginations. Trust me, despite the variety of wonderful views available throughout the park, it has no equal. Certainly it is peerless in terms of the vertical effect. In one direction mountains tower overhead; in another the view extends for forty or fifty miles. Yet despite the overwhelming sense of height and the distant views it is also close and intimate. Virtually by definition of its location it represents the apex of raw, primeval Adirondack awe. Finally, it happens to be a vista very few park visitors or residents have seen.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a throne of rock, made to have your legs dangling over the edge of the abyss: the top of the cliffs on Wallface.
The maw beneath you, jumbled and tumbled with massive boulders, looks more violent and bestrewn than it does from any other perspective. The McIntyres soar far above you on a dramatic diagonal up to the left, each peak in the range ever higher, looking every bit as lofty from this perspective as a range in the Alps – especially in winter. To the south, where the view fades into vaporous ridges, Henderson Lake glistens. The height of the hard, dark cliffs plunging straight down from your hanging feet cause your chest to clench a little. Wallface is an unmatched perch upon which to sit.
There are two ways to get to the top of the Wallface cliffs. One is to be a rock climber good enough to do a 600 – 800 foot multi-pitch ascent in the 5.8 or 5.9 range. The other is to bushwhack up the back side. For those of you who are not up to the rock wall, here’s a bushwhack route to take. Believe me, it is well worth it.
I have explored the back side of Wallface extensively and can testify that there is a hellish amount of blow down and plenty of brush on large parts of the mountain’s upper elevations, but I have found a reasonable path through. You start by taking the trail to Scott Pond all the way to the outlet of Indian Pass Brook. Bushwhack down the brook about a 1/3 of a mile; it’s easy rock hopping. You’ll know you’ll have gone far enough because you will reach a cleft going up the back of Wallface, angled to the Southwest. Just past that cleft take a compass bearing directly magnetic south. Twenty minutes of uphill bushwhacking will bring you the height of the ridge. As you work down the other side of that ridge you will quite suddenly come upon the edge. Push through the bushes and brace yourself; you’ll never forget it.
Give me your favorite vistas!
Photo: Wallface from Henderson Lake