Saturday, July 18, 2015

Lost Brook Dispatches: Homage to Cascade Mountain

Hilltop ViewLast Wednesday was the day that my wife Amy and I finally closed on our Adirondack house in Keene. The morning of the closing I awoke to a cloudy, fogged-in day and an overwhelming need to get my head right and reconnect to this place I have so come to love. I decided to hike up Big Crow, a substantial promontory that rises from one of the ridges of the Hurricane Mountain complex, directly behind our new house. Big Crow has a lot of open rock and a rise of several hundred feet facing the Keene Valley, promising a huge view of the High Peaks beyond. As I began my ascent visibility was a few dozen yards at best. This circumstance is my favorite for an Adirondack climb: I knew the clouds would break as the morning progressed, to spectacular effect. I determined to take in the theater from the summit no matter if it took all morning.

My wait did not disappoint. The initial reveal through the shifting curtains of wind-blown mist was of tree tops far below, then part of the shoulder of Hurricane to my left. The clearing proceeded mainly from the northeast; the first dramatic rise to be uncloaked was Little Whiteface, its taller brother still well in the clouds. Then a far ribbon of Route 73 emerged right at the point where it enters the Cascade Pass, accompanied by the rocky shoulders of Pitchoff which suddenly appeared with razor-sharp clarity.   The ridges of the Brothers and the Great Range teased in and out of view, the cloud ceiling still engulfing all the higher summits.

Then directly across the Keene Valley from me the mist began to slide up the bulky massif whose familiar and beloved shape I was most anticipating. It was a good half hour more before the lifting clouds offered me the summit ridge of Little Porter, giving way to Porter and then, at last, the small conic peak of my Adirondack intimate, Cascade Mountain.

When I began to explore the High Peaks region in earnest, primarily from the Upper Works trail head, you never would have convinced me that modest Cascade Mountain, which at 4,098 feet is near the bottom of the forty-sixers in height, would become my most cherished High Peak. It is true that Cascade has a bald summit to recommend it (courtesy not of its elevation but of the 1903 fire which blow-torched it bare) and a solid trail, greatly improved over the years. But while the view is good, it is not the equal of the more celebrated vistas in the Park. Plus there is the fact that Cascade is the easiest High Peak to climb, with the shortest round trip and the second least vertical to ascend. That means it is swamped with hikers. In fact the Cascade trail head is the second busiest in the park, behind only Adirondack Loj. So if you like getting away from it all Cascade is not your ticket.

Yet Cascade has a whole lot more going for it than ease of access. For one thing its profile is one of the most dominant in the Adirondacks, belying its relatively low height ranking. This is because of a few factors. For one thing the Cascade-Porter-Little Porter system taken as a whole is a lot of mountain, a truly prodigious bulk. Positioned as it is at the far northeastern edge of the High Peaks it is visible from many well-traveled vantage points.  For another, Cascade’s immediacy to the Keene Valley gives it a lot of prominence. The low point of the hamlet of Keene, very near our new house, is a mere 800 feet above sea level. Cascade, rising to the southwest, offers nearly 3,300 of prominence, a big number by Eastern standards. This fact is part of the reason Cascade has become so important to me. Our house sits on a grassy hill and from the front porch and windows Cascade and Porter loom dramatically over the low ridges bracketing Keene. Cascade will be my neighbor and constant companion, from break of day to sunset. And then there is Cascade Pass, as dramatic a piece of mountain scenery as one could wish for. Not only does Cascade’s steep walls and dramatic waterfall enhance the sense of vertical, but nowhere else in the park does the passing traveler get as powerful a sense of the northeast-southwest glacial sweep that defines the ranges of the Adirondacks.

Of course those who have followed my Lost Brook Dispatches and reasoned out the location of my forty acre paradise know there is another reason I cherish Cascade.   Cascade’s northwest flank may be overrun with hikers on a sunny summer day, but the side facing Southeast, plunging downward and stretching upward again to Big Slide, comprises one of the more remote parts of the Adirondacks. Below is Railroad Notch, wild, withered and trail-less, dotted with lonely ponds and low, unnamed ridges. Railroad Notch (which never had a railroad, only a scheme for one, the details of the plan being lost in time) gives way to Burtons Peak, which anchors Lost Brook Tract, followed by the Brothers, Big Slide and the Great Range beyond. When we ascend Burton’s Peak and look north from the ridge that we call the Palisade, Cascade and Porter dominate our view once again.

So it is that random fate has made Cascade my intimate neighbor on not one but two counts: one picturesque and one sublimely wild. With our plans to move this fall, it is only a matter of time before I set a compass bearing over Cascade’s shoulder from my porch, grab a knapsack and bushwhack right from one property to another. And when the day comes that I am too old to make it to Lost Brook Tract, I will see it from my porch anyhow, clear in my mind’s eye, just behind the mountain that shields it and protects it for my imagination.

Photo: the Cascade Range from the new homestead

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Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

6 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    Congratulations on your move to the ADK and the purchase of your house, Pete.

  2. Curt Austin says:

    I failed to reason out the location of Lost Brook, thinking it was further West. I’m glad to hear you are setting up your base camp in Keene, a great community. I’ve come to know it as a member of the Market Street Brass (Keene Valley); should we need a trumpet player, I’ll let you know.

  3. Phil Terrie says:

    Was on Big Crow about 10 days ago. It was hot and hazy, but the view toward Cascade and the other high peaks was nonetheless splendid. We hiked around the Nun-da-ga-o loop; at each ledge, as the afternoon wore on, the ridges and peaks around Marcy seemed paler and less distinct. Like everyone, I love the views on a crisp, clear, blue-sky day. But the same spots on humid, murky days are just as moving. Glad your move to the Adks is getting closer.

  4. Paul says:

    Hey, welcome home!

  5. Lorraine Duvall says:

    Pete and Amy,
    Welcome to Keene.

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