Keene Valley was, the first time I saw it, jaw-droppingly astounding. All those peaks and ridges, jagged, monumental, stretching high into the sky, more and more dramatic as we drove up from the south.
It was a beautiful day, many years ago, and a friend and I had a vague idea about scaling a mountain or two. Maybe we’d go over The Brothers to Big Slide and down.
Well, we hiked and climbed a long way, but we were greenhorns, rather unprepared, and we never made it all the way around. One of us injured a leg; the other had an unfortunate encounter with a toxic plant. We had to turn around and go back the way we came.
Perhaps we were too ambitious or maybe we weren’t hungry enough to pay the price. Not everyone is ready or willing to bag a High Peak or cover a dozen or more up and down miles in a day.
But everyone loves the outdoors on a beautiful day, everyone loves the outrageous views high ground provides, and everyone needs a little exercise. 12 Short Hikes Near Keene Valley can help. The third in a series of pocket guides from the Adirondack Explorer, it was written by the newsmagazine’s editor Phil Brown and publisher Tom Woodman.
This guide, like the previous two, 12 Short Hikes Near Lake Placid and 12 Short Hikes Near Old Forge, is a gem. The emphasis is on relatively short and very sweet, suggesting hikes that won’t take all day, wear you out, or push young children beyond their abilities, while still providing great rewards.
The information is detailed and precise, including trailhead coordinates, the distance of the hike, the elevation gain, and the elevation of the final destination. The hikes are ranked for distance, elevation gain, average grade, ease of hiking, and scenic opportunity. The directions to trailheads are clear and the descriptions of what you see on the trail are informative. The text is well-written, and the layout (by Susan Bibeau) is clean. There are photos by Adirondack veteran Nancie Battaglia, and hand-drawn maps by Nancy Bernstein with mileage gauges (missing in too many publications).
Each chapter includes a snippet of history or local lore — how Noonmark Mountain got its name, for example — which is a nice touch. Another big plus: the 60 or so pages are in a pocket-size format, so the guide takes up no room at all in your pack or pocket.
Noonmark, with 2,250 feet of elevation gain, is perhaps the most ambitious outing in the book. The other eleven hikes are Hurricane Mountain, Giant’s Nubble, Hopkins Mountain, Snow Mountain, Rooster Comb, Baxter Mountain, Little Porter Mountain, Nun-da-ga-o Ridge, Blueberry Mountain, Owl Head Lookout, and First Brother. If you’re a longtime hiker, you likely know them all but perhaps need to be reminded of their charms. If you are new to the Adirondacks, you shouldn’t leave home without this guide.
As a bonus hike, Brown and Woodman recommend Indian Head in the Adirondack Mountain Reserve. This is private property, but the trails are open to the public. The hike to Indian Head is longer than the others in the book, but the reward is a stunning overlook of Lower Ausable Lake.
As a lifelong outdoorsman, I look for gear and stuff, such as fishing tackle, hunting equipment, clothing, guides, and maps, that I classify as useful — high quality and serving its purpose well. 12 Short Hikes Near Keene Valley is both, for sure. All three guidebooks can be found in stores and at www.AdirondackExplorer.org. The price is $9.75.