The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) have announced plans for managing use associated with the popular Cascade Mountain Trail this Columbus Day holiday weekend.
The trailhead parking lots and the shoulders of State Route 73 in the vicinity of the Cascade Mountain and Pitchoff Mountain Trailhead will be closed to public parking beginning in the late afternoon on Thursday, October 4, through Columbus Day. Hikers will be directed to the Cross Country Parking Lot at ORDA’s Olympic Sports Complex beginning Friday morning and throughout the holiday weekend. Only designated shuttles from the Sports Complex will be allowed to enter the Cascade Mountain Trailhead area.
As the upcoming Canadian Victoria Day holiday weekend (May 19-21) kicks-off the start of the busy season in the Adirondack High Peaks, local advocates and officials are assessing overcrowding, making plans to accommodate more visitors, and proposing new regulations and a sweeping expansion of backcountry facilities. » Continue Reading.
On September 16th I hiked Cascade Mountain and wrote about the experience. On that day over 500 people hiked Cascade. I returned the next weekend (on Saturday September 23rd), with a friend and survey sheets and clipboards to ask hikers a series of questions. The interviews took about two minutes and many people graciously answered questions. At busy points, we were both talking with groups as others walked by us. This was a rough survey, undertaken as much to learn about what is necessary for conducting this kind of survey as it was for getting some basic data from the hikers on Cascade Mountain. » Continue Reading.
I hiked Cascade Mountain from the Route 73 trailhead on Saturday September 16th. I went to see the crowds, the condition of the trail, and the general scene of what is believed to be the most popular High Peaks hiking trail. In 2015, over 33,000 people signed in at the trailhead register. In 2016, over 42,000 people are believed to have hiked the summit. Near the top there is now an electronic counter.
My whole trip took about five hours in the middle of the day. Many passed me by on the hike up and many others were hiking down the mountain during my ascent. I stayed on the summit about 90 minutes, which was gloriously sunny with the lightest of breezes. On the summit I counted people twice, with each count topping 100. » Continue Reading.
The growing number of hikers in the High Peaks in recent years has heightened concern for the fragile alpine vegetation found on many of the summits.
If the number continues to increase, summit stewards charged with educating hikers may find themselves overwhelmed, said Julia Goren, the Adirondack Mountain Club’s education director.
“I don’t think we’ve lost ground yet,” said Goren, who heads the summit-steward program. “But I do think it’s not hyperbolic that we’re kind of at a tipping point where there’s not much more we can take before there’s going to be some kind of loss. One summit steward can’t talk to six hundred people in a day and make sure that people are respecting every patch of alpine vegetation.” » Continue Reading.
The Ausable River Association (AsRA) has launched an expanded porta-john program throughout the Ausable River watershed to address the persistent problem of human waste disposal. Each year, over a million people visit the Ausable River watershed according to AsRA; seventy-six percent of these visitors participate in outdoor recreational activities. These large numbers pose a challenge in terms of the proper disposal of human waste. In short, the watershed has a poop problem.
The High Peaks Summit Stewardship Program has reported a 64% increase in visitation to the high summits of the Adirondacks over the past six years. This increase has coincided with a shift towards a larger percentage of day hikers versus overnight users. In many cases these visitors are not prepared to, or informed how to, properly dispose of their waste. As a result, summit stewards, forest rangers, and other backcountry professionals have reported an increased incidence of feces and toiletry products being improperly deposited on, or directly adjacent to trails. » Continue Reading.
Last 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. » Continue Reading.
Hikers and others traveling to Lake Placid from the south should be aware that traffic on Route 73 in Cascade Pass will be limited to one lane for most of May due to roadwork. The highway may be closed to all traffic during one weekend.
Most of the parking area for one of the most popular summits in the High Peaks—Cascade Mountain—will be closed. Parking also will be banned at the western trailhead for Pitchoff Mountain, another popular destination, and Stagecoach Rock. The latter two parking areas are located near the Cascade trailhead, but on the other side of the road. » Continue Reading.
Drivers heading along Route 73 from Keene into Lake Placid can’t miss the activity on the icy cliffs above the Cascade Lakes. Climbers scurry like ants, from dawn to dusk, up and along the major flows that wind down either side of the main cliff. Chances are anyone learning to climb the transient mineral we call ice will end up here before too long in their studies.
This is the most popular ice climbing venue in the Adirondacks. Parking is plentiful, the approach is short, and there is access to the top of most routes for top-roping.
All that convenience makes it a crowded place: come very early or late in the afternoon for the best chance to climb. Roadside conditions are typically inhospitable. High wind sweeps through the pass, making it a bone-chilling place to attempt any chores in the parking lot. Come completely prepared to head directly up the hillside before opening the car door. There are three main parking areas for the central area of the pass. The western parking lot services the Buster and Sisters flows, the center one is for those intrepid souls venturing onto the main Pitchoff Cliff or Pitchoff Left, the easternmost one services climbers heading for Pitchoff Quarry or Pitchoff Right. The most impressive flow is the Sisters formation. Sister Left rises 130’ from its base, with a lot of 3+ and some grade 4 ice to reach the top. Sister Right is shorter, but presents a greater challenge, from 4 to 5 or even hard mixed climbing depending on the line chosen. While the full length of Sister Left must be climbed from the bottom up, the entire face can be top-roped, using a ledge lying about thirty feet upslope. Getting to the top still requires leading something, Buster being the easiest option.
Buster is a perennial favorite for beginners. The main flow is difficult to walk around for top-rope set-up, but by skirting the right edge, only minimal grade 2 ice is encountered, so it makes a good first lead as well. The front face ranges from grade 2 to 4-, and there is a fixed rappel anchor at the top. Above the anchor, another easy pitch provides a good introduction to multipitch climbing as well.
Buster is often crowded, but there are several nearby alternatives. In recent years, a steep flow directly to Buster’s left has formed reliably, providing 3+ to M4 mixed climbing, depending on its condition. To the right, two more flows (Boozer and Bruiser), both with good walk-around access to their tops and fixed anchors, provide enough room for at least four ropes.
Farther to the right, a large flow called Pitchoff Left begins as a vertical curtain of grade 4 ice, then settles down to easy climbing for the remainder of its length. There is no easy top-rope or lead option for this line, all comers will have to tackle it directly on lead. The good news: it has the fattest, most massive ice of any grade 4 flow in this area. Pitchoff Cliff divides the previous flows from those to the right. There are routes on the main cliff for stout-hearted ice aficionados; most mere mortals just gawk at them and move on.
Pitchoff Right is a heavy draw; it is rare to have this area to oneself. Fortunately, there is plenty of room and variety to go around. There is room for up to nine ropes along this wall, on routes ranging from twenty five to seventy feet tall. Top-roping is easy to establish, via a grade 1 walk-around to climber’s right. Difficulty ranges from the upper end of 2 to hard 4, with plenty of acrobatic mixed climbing potential as well. Be cautious about the pillars that form on the overhangs: while people climb them with reckless abandon, they do occasionally fall down.
The rightmost destination in the area, Pitchoff Quarry, is tucked back just far enough to be nearly invisible from the road. Accessed from the parking lot below Pitchoff Right, climbers walk east along the road for 200 feet, then duck into the alders and meander to the cliff. In good conditions, the quarry has a wide band of very steep ice, ranging between grade 4 and 5. Top-rope set-up is possible via access to climber’s right. The main flow dominates the center of the quarry, with enough room for a couple ropes, and flows to either side provide room for at least four more.
Located on the windiest spot of Cascade Pass, Pitchoff Chimney Cliff is visible to everyone who stops by. Given the precipitous road, drivers would be forgiven for not giving the wide, bare rock more than a passing glance as they maneuvered through one of the High Peak’s most scenic routes.
But if they pulled to the side and looked up, they would most likely see climbers plastered all over the rock. And with good reason — the cliff contains some of the park’s best moderate routes. It also has something climbers like best: an easy approach. In late August I spent a day here with partner Steve Goldstein and his teenage son Joe. We climbed several routes, including the justly famous Pete’s Farewell and the lesser-known but quite good route called Great Chimney.
The Great Chimney is a route that all climbers on the face should try, because it gives ascentionists a chance to see what Chimney Crag is all about. While the cliff looks like solid rock from the road, much of the face is actually a thin veneer of stone, detached except for the base from the mountain itself, and separated by a dark, roofless space known as a “chimney.”
A chimney in climbing parlance is generally a crack large enough to fit a body in. Many of these routes require “stemming” both walls, making a bridge with hands and feet and using opposing pressure to climb up. They can be some of the most physically demanding and intimidating routes, and climbers often emerge exhausted, with clothes ripped and bodies bloodied from the wrestling match with granite.
Pitchoff’s chimney is much more friendly. After a single pitch up the outside corner, climbers find themselves in its dark bowels, hidden from the view outside and clambering among a pile of broken boulders at its base. The second pitch is short but interesting. Rated 5.6 (fairly easy on the climbing rating scale), I found it somewhat intimidating and hard to figure out. It follows an overhanging crack up the chimney to a notch, where sunlight poured down from the outside world.
It was my turn to lead. I puzzled over the crack for a few minutes, and finally reached out to the other side and ascended the route in classic chimney fashion. Climbing chimneys can often feel sketchy, like you can fall at any moment, but thanks to a wall featured with indentations, this one was solid. It took a while, but eventually I went through the notch and found myself back in the world of sun and sky.
Joe and then Steve soon followed, each finding their own way to ascend the route, and agreeing it was more difficult than the rating suggested.
After rapelling back to the ground, we reorganized our gear and ascended Pete’s Farewell, a true Adirondack classic. This is a more traditional route that follows cracks and corners up the middle of the face. We were following a couple, and the lady — a French-Canadian named Myriam — was having trouble on the crux.
“Oh, my God,” she said repeatedly in heavily-accented English, before finally making the move with help from pulling on a piece of rock-climbing gear. It was clear we weren’t the only ones to be intimidated by the stout nature of Adirondack climbing.
Owl’s Head, located between Lake Placid and Keene, is a perfect hike for the entire family. It takes approximately 45 minutes round trip for an average hiker though we always plan for a bit more than an hour each way. The ascent is 460 ft., and very easy for even the smallest climber. The summit is semi-wooded, and has spectacular views of Cascade, Pitchoff and Giant Mountains.
For most families it is unfair to put a time limit on a hike due to frequent pit stops, wildlife sightings and herding of imaginary friends. Not that I wish to besmirch the herding of imaginary friends but sometimes it is enough just to get the children focused without having to gathering troops of people only visible to those under the age eight. Though it may sound tedious to some, we want to be able to take our time and instill the joy of the outdoors to our children.
This time of year scrubby blueberry bushes are in flower and line the path to the summit. Mark the calendar for a return trip midsummer when wild blueberry bushes will be in peak and ready for picking. Feel free to factor berry eating into the time factor as well unless a previous hiker has picked the trail clean.
The trail is a series of ledges, rock faces and switchbacks. To the west is Pitchoff Mountain and to the southwest, Porter and Cascade. To the east look for Hurricane Mountain’s fire tower as well as other smaller mountains and Giant Mountain to the southeast.
Local rock climbing companies use Owl’s Head for training so an added treat is to catch climbers repelling down the craggy ledges. Snacks or lunch and plenty of water are imperative. This time of year, don’t forget the bug repellent.
From the intersection of Route 9 and 73 in Keene bear north on Route 73, about 3.5 miles, turning onto Owl’s Head Lane. Continue 0.2 miles until you come to a Y. The trailhead is directly in front. Park to the left, off to the side. There isn’t a parking area. Please be considerate. The Owl’s Head trailhead and surrounding land is mostly private property.
The Adirondack Almanack's contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The Almanack is the online news journal of Adirondack Explorer. Both are nonprofits supported by contributors, readers, and advertisers, and devoted to exploring, protecting, and unifying the Adirondack Park.
General inquiries about the Adirondack Almanack should be directed to Almanack founder and editor John Warren.
To advertise on the Adirondack Almanack, or to receive information on rates and design, please click here.