Monday, February 28, 2022

Keeping an eye on Tupper Lake, on the ground and above

coney mountain in tupper lake

The day dawned as blue as a robin’s egg and comparatively mild, but big snow and bitter cold was in the forecast. So I had a choice. I could spend the day attending to the tough but essential details of North Country living, laying in firewood, fueling the tractor and shoveling the existing snow off the roof of the old garage. Or I could do the totally irresponsible thing and go for a hike.

Ninety minutes after this dilemma had presented itself, we were at the trailhead of Coney Mountain   in Tupper Lake, strapping on the ’shooz and reading a history of the little peak on the kiosk by the trail register.

There were multiple reasons for being there, one being that I was doing “research” for a 2023 Explorer piece I’m working on about the Tupper Triad, a three-mountain challenge that includes Coney, Goodman and Arab.

But we also love the village of Tupper Lake, which has maintained a wonderfully gritty and authentic Adirondack feel, the way you suppose the park was like back in the day. Placid, Saranac Lake and the Forge have their charms, but nobody is going to out-flannel Tupper.

Yet Tupper Lake is going to be a community to watch over the next decade, with plans to redevelop the abandoned Oval Wood Dish factory, arrival of a signature rail trail and revamped scenic railroad, and a growing reputation for astro-tourism.

In the dark, unspoiled skies of Tupper Lake, Coney Mountain is itself a destination for stargazing, something you’ll want to add to the to-do list. Until 2011, those wishing to climb Coney were more or less on their own, setting a dead-reckoning course straight up the southern face. Today, the trail gently circumnavigates the knob like string wound around a top.

After a largely level prelude, the trail ascends a swale (I know the accepted, hiker-community word here is “drainage,” but I don’t like that term; it reminds me of a head cold) to a fascinating hardwood forest dominated by massive, elderly sugar maples, some of which still stand, some of which lie prone and spent on the forest floor.

coney mountain in tupper lake

With a good snowpack the modest trail is fit for skiing, but under most winter conditions snowshoes will be more appropriate. The final ascent of the 1.1 mile hike (elevation gain less than 600 feet) is a little steep, but by then you’re breaking out onto open slabs with 360-degree views that make you forget the effort.

Coney reportedly gets its name from Verplanck Colvin surveying days, when he made reference to its bald “cone.” The name stuck. But one survey crew didn’t, abruptly quitting the arduous work after hearing those five dreaded words, “Boys, we’re out of rum.” At least that’s the story.

Many have rhapsodized on its views of Blue Mountain, Tupper Lake and, in the distance, the snow-covered Seward Range, and beyond that a further assembly of the magnificent High Peaks. On the summit we met a couple from the Hudson Valley, here on a week’s vacation to ski and snowshoe and to check out the Tupper Triad. It was a good choice — better than stacking firewood.

Photos by Tim Rowland

Editor’s note: This first appeared in Adirondack Explorer’s weekly “Explore More” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Tim Rowland is a humor columnist for Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Md., and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include High Peaks; A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene and Strange and Unusual Stories of New York City. He has climbed the 46 high peaks, is an avid bicyclist, and trout tremble with fear when they see his approaching shadow. He and his wife Beth are residents of Jay, N.Y.

4 Responses

  1. Nathan says:

    it is always so hard to do things you need to do on a sunny day after many dreary days. Going for a hike, sun shining, great views is way more rewarding than bringing in the firewood or shoveling a roof, early sunsets are good for doing the more mundane things near dusk or after dusk.
    After dark, the wood is brought in, rope thrown on roof and tractor dragging rope to pull snow loose, add a few boardss if needed. the Relax with feet to woodstove and stew in hand maybe a glass or beer or wine to finish a fine day!

  2. Evelyn Greene says:

    A good story re Colvin, but I understand he did not allow any alcohol. I can understand why.

  3. Lindsay Putnam says:

    Love your article about Coney Mt. and looking forward to hearing about the Tupper Lake Triad. I hope I can get over there from Vermont while we still have winter to ski those peaks. I also love your reason for not using the word “drainage”! Ha! I am compelled to say about this that an orienteerer would call it a “reentrant”. Technical term for a valley-like feature that cuts into and up a slope, perfect for ascending to a ridge. I believe that “swale” is more technically a low point between 2 ridges or two points of higher ground. I am open to being corrected, however, about a swale!

  4. Mike says:

    Nice article on Coney, it’s a local favorite. A lot of bang for the buck with the 360 view on top. Maybe you have better sources but I always heard that Colvin and his crew cleared the top of Coneys trees to get a sight line for the Surveying. ???