During our recent spring adventure to Lost Brook we enjoyed three uncommon views that celebrated the prominence of three dominating Adirondack Peaks, plus a fourth view that is common but remains one of my favorites. The common view was Blue Mountain from the crest of Highway 30 between Tupper Lake and Long lake. I love this view because it is a true vista, which gives a greater sensation of size and vertical. Vistas are rare in the Adirondacks, at least vistas that render a higher mountain in all its glory. Blue was already largely snow free but its characteristic bulk from that Route 30 vantage point never fails to draw a breath from me in any season.
The other three views benefited from the calendar. This time of year enhances the sense of a mountain’s scale, with earth tones and green on the lower slopes and plenty of white on high. The Adirondacks may not be perpetually snow-capped, but in late April or early May we can imagine they are and they seem much more lofty for it.
Two of the views are known to me but this time they looked significantly different than I had ever seen before. One was the view of the Sentinel Range from 9N descending into the Keene Valley from Elizabethtown. The Sentinels were spotted here and there with white but looming behind them rose the upper reaches of Whiteface’s cone, looking like an snow-bound alp. The vertical on display was visceral and reminded me that these mountains are the real thing.
The other view was of Mount Marcy from the high ridge along 28N just west of SUNY-ESF. Marcy was streaked with snow and ice, looking much steeper than usual. Her prominence, the third greatest in the Eastern United States, is hard to see from most usual angles. But from from this perch, difficult to enjoy after leaf-out, most of Marcy’s rise can be seen, giving her a definitive opportunity to prove she is considerably higher than anything else around and worthy of some surprising Western company (side note: for those who don’t like the pronouns, too bad – thanks to Old Mountain Phelps Marcy shall forever be properly referred to as female).
The third view was new to me and a real surprise. We visited some friends in Keene who have property on a slope facing south. We took a hike to the top of their land, with sizable ridges in all directions. There to the south was a thin, super-steep, snowy apex, so high above the intervening mountains that I had a hard time believing it was really there. I could not place it from its shape and could not imagine what could be so lofty. “That’s Giant,” said my host. I did a double-take – surely not! But it was, it’s cirque-shaped ridge seen from the side as I had never seen it. I paused, marveling at its height above the valley.
Lots of people speak of the Adirondack Mountains almost apologetically, as if they hardly qualify as mountains at all. These views, plus the great vistas I covered in a previous article, give lie to these apologies.
This isn’t just idle blather… well, it’s mostly idle. But I have argued all along that the Adirondacks need to be better marketed as wild and mountainous, two preeminently powerful draws for people looking for outdoor adventure. The national perception of the Adirondacks, such as there is one at all, is that neither of those things is true. I’ve written about the Adirondacks as a wild place many times, but in terms of appeal to people looking for adventure, the fact that they are truly mountains would probably be a more important feature. We need to lose our peak envy, which is based more upon our defensiveness over sea level measures than in reality. Reality is prominence, not height above sea level and it tells a different story. We need to do a much better job of telling it.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Whiteface Ski Resort is marketed as having the highest vertical in the East. That’s nice, but to your average skiing fan the “in the East” part is an immediate dismissal; after all, eastern hills are nothing like real mountains out west. It seems like such a condescension… “in the East.”
I understand that the marketing of Whiteface plays to its regional appeal, but still my question is this: why not market it as having one of top skiable verticals in the entire United States? It does, you know: its vertical is equal to Vail and more than most western resorts of name including Aspen, Breckenridge, Snowbird, Sun Valley, Taos and Mammoth. In fact Whiteface is in the top ten in the country. Here they are:
|Big Sky & Moonlight Basin||Montana||4,350||feet|
|Timberline, Mount Hood||Oregon||3,690||feet|
That’s some heady company. No other eastern resort is even in the top twenty. How many people know that?
Being Queen of Adirondack peaks, Mount Marcy could use more respect too, as that view from 28N demonstrated to me. Here are some statistics that I dare say will surprise most people. Mount Marcy, at 4,915 feet of prominence, would be the fourth most prominent peak in Colorado, after Mount Elbert, Pike’s Peak and Blanca Peak. It would be fourth in Wyoming too. Fifth in Montana. Fourth in Idaho. In fact in any state outside of Alaska it would be in the top ten. Those who geek out over prominence reserve the term “ultra-prominent” for the big mamas, the exclusive club of mountains with prominence greater than 1,500 meters. Marcy misses this designation by only six feet.
So next time you feel a little peak envy, let it go. We’re doing just fine in the Adirondacks.
Photo: Blue Mountain from Route 30