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.
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.