Thursday, May 11, 2023

In praise of low peaks, lowlands

In his seminal 1869 book, Adventures in the Wilderness, William H. H. Murray is less than enamored with the southern Adirondacks. He calls the area “the least interesting portion of the Adirondacks. It is the lowland district, comparatively tame and uninviting.”

We lowland residents would not agree.

Is the Adirondack High Peaks region less appealing because the Rocky Mountains are higher? Do the waterbodies of the area suffer in comparison to the Boundary Waters of Minnesota? Do the splendid attractions of the High Peaks render the remainder of the Adirondack Park irrelevant?

Higher and bigger is not always better. Foothills offer a different and no-less-valid experience. Even the southernmost portion of the elevated plateau that distinguishes the Adirondacks has allures that are not diminished by the superlatives of other regions.

There is natural beauty everywhere within the Adirondacks.

OK Slip Falls is impressively high. The view is well worth the hike to see it. But that visage does not diminish watching the enjoyment of the falls on Goldmine Stream. The water crashes through a jumble of rocks where the trail meets the stream. Upstream, a series of waterfalls splash over the almost gold-colored rocks. One might enjoy sitting on them during a hot summer day.

Paddling the Raquette River is a splendid journey through a floodplain. But no less so than the West Branch Sacandaga. There are herons and kingfishers galore, and a number of beautiful little lakes along the way. One favorite is Good Luck Lake, where every July, the pickerelweeds lining the narrow access provide an amazing violet-colored show.

Like many of the high peaks, climbing Cascade Mountain is a significant accomplishment rewarded with a stupendous view. But one does not need to be above 4000 feet to have the same thrill. Snowy Mountain has a similar wonderful view, and though it does not quite reach the arbitrary cut-off, its ascent is just as taxing.

These comparisons do not matter. The southern portion of the Adirondacks will never match the grandeur of the High Peaks. But life in the Low Peaks is no less grand. The wild nature of the Adirondacks permeates.

Within walking distance of our home just inside the Blue Line are a myriad of features that are taking a lifetime to explore.

A few hundred yards into the forest, the trail is nearly the only evidence of man. The wisps of long-unused logging roads beckon one to leave the trail and follow deep into the forest until they disappear. A compass, map, and GPS ensure your safe return. Or your tracks in the snow.

Walking upstream beside the tributaries that run down to the lakes where one paddles will take you past pretty little waterfalls that you would otherwise never see. Upstream, you can find ponds where the beavers are so unaccustomed to humans that they’ll go about their business while you watch.

You are never alone. The land, water, and air support innumerable creatures most active when human presence is minimal. The fish, the turtles, and the amphibious salamanders move below the surface. On the water, one often sees any number of geese, ducks, and a few loons. Ospreys and eagles fly overhead while the chickadees and warblers flit through the trees.

Deer appear often, and occasionally in the wrong places, as drivers of damaged vehicles will attest.

The less-commonly-seen creatures keep you alert and searching. The bears are all around, but smart enough to make themselves invisible most of the time. The same is true for the fishers, porcupines, and coyotes.

Hearing an owl at dusk is not unusual. Actually seeing one is.

And not the least of the benefits shared throughout the Adirondacks is fresh and clean air. Heartily inhaling the pine-scented gases “tastes” great. It makes one want to breathe it forever right here in the Low Peaks.

And when breathing’s time is done, under those pines is where our ashes will be spread.

All photos by the author

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Randy Fredlund enjoys hiking, paddling, and taking pictures of the area around his camp on Stewarts Landing. He is happiest when breathing Adirondack air.

16 Responses

  1. Sean says:

    Murray had his head up his ____!!!

  2. Bill Kitchen says:

    Where was the photo at the beginning of the article taken?

    • Randy Fredlund says:

      Bill, the photo is looking east from Stewarts Landing toward Lily Lake. Unseen Canada Lake is farther east. Kane Mountain is one of the hills shown. The foreground is in Stratford and the rest is in Caroga.

      • Bill Kitchen says:

        Now I see it and by zooming in I can also see a sliver of Canada Lake and a blurry tall object that is the Kane Mt. firetower.

        This photo must have been taken from a plane, is that correct? That’s what kind of threw me off as I mistakenly assumed it was taken from high up on land.

        Beautiful area to visit or, in your lucky case, to live in.

  3. Beth Rowland says:

    What a delightful piece—thank you! Before we moved to the ADK, we thought and long and hard about whether to go “low or high.” We went high but loved so much about low as well. So now we visit. Your article gives us new places to explore.

  4. Joan Grabe says:

    I spent my childhood summers on Lake Efner, one of 3 sister lakes – Hunt Jenny and Efner on the mountain above Corinth. My father had been a camper and a counselor at Camp Womego and he loved Efner. We children did not love the outhouses or the bugs but the lake was a joy. My brother bought the rental property we used for years, his daughter just rebuilt it and my nephew now has a camp on Jenny Lake. As I drive 2 hours or more past the Corinth exits on the Northway these summers to our camp on Upper Saranac Lake I sometimes regret our choice but I can attest to the fact that the clean air, the chill nights, the magnificent trees, the wildlife, almost everything is similar and, oddly enough, almost the same as it was when I was so much younger. It is a magical place.

  5. Bill Kitchen says:

    Also, the area between Hunt/Jenny/Efner and Lake Desolation/Ireland Vly/Steele Reservoir is some of the best moose habitat in the Adks. Has been for decades now with a stable population.

    • Randy Fredlund says:

      I feel the need for a hike with a camera.

      • Bill Kitchen says:

        Chances of seeing moose are slim to none unless there is snow on the ground and you can find tracks to follow. In winter it’s usually easy to find tracks in this area.

  6. Randy Fredlund says:

    Thanks for the tip. Hiking in the snow is a joy whether or not skis or snowshoes are required. Tracking a moose or two will add to the enjoyment!

  7. Bill Kitchen says:

    For sure. Besides being able to see tracks that are hard to locate during other seasons, winter also allows for seeing much further into the woods with all the greenery gone.

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