Friday, April 13, 2018

"Sprucing It Up": Spruce Mountain

A short distance above the trailhead

After a late start, Winter hit the Northeast hard and, once it arrived, it just didn't want to leave. I wanted to take a bare-boot hike on the first full weekend of April, but that almost didn't happen thanks to a storm earlier in the week. After seeing pictures online, I decided I'd take my chances on Spruce Mountain, a short distance north of Saratoga Springs and barely inside Adirondack Park. So close to the boundary, in fact, that trailhead parking is outside the park and you cross the Blue Line between the trailhead and the register. And given the views I had and relatively-good trail conditions, I was glad I went up to Corinth to hike this thing.

The trailhead from road

Spruce Mountain is one of the easiest of the 30 fire tower mountains that are part of the Adirondack/Catskill Fire Tower Challenge. I'd be willing to say it's one of the 5 easiest, given the relatively short and gradual hike, lack of steep/challenging sections, and proximity to civilization. The current trail up the mountain is very new, only opening in 2016. So new, in fact, that the Adirondack Mountain Club guide has the old Jeep road to the tower as the trail up the mountain and not the newly-constructed path. For that reason, I will try and spell out everything in great detail so this post can serve as a trail guide. The round-trip distance is approximately 3 miles per my GPS, with an ascent of slightly over 1,000 feet from trailhead to the summit (elevation 2,009 feet). Including the 20-30 minutes I spent on the summit, it took me roughly 2 hours for the round trip, and that was with going slower than normal over slick areas.

When I pulled up to the trailhead at 10 AM, I was the first car to arrive for the day. Parking is at an unpaved snowplow turnaround at the north end of Spruce Mountain Road, overflow parking is available alongside the road.

Trailhead sign. Undershoots the distance by roughly 1/5 mile if my GPS is correct.

Notice attached to post

Looking back at parking from trail
Taken when I returned to my car, hence the other cars in the lot

Hiking shoes went on, poles retrieved from the trunk, and off I went. We immediately cross a stream via a culvert. There's a small waterfall off to the left.

Small waterfall just to the left of the trail

The path here forks. The level path to the right is on private property and is marked as such. The well-marked Spruce Mountain Trail, blazed with blue markers, begins climbing.

This tree marks the boundary of Adirondack Park

The bad path is even brushed off so you know not to take it

The first 100 yards past the fork (if that) is the narrowest part of the trail.

Narrow, single-file herd path

Soon, the path widens and we reach the trail register, located on the right approximately 0.05 miles from the trailhead.

The register. Please sign it, unlike most of the other parties on the mountain when I hiked it.

The climb soon resumes...

It was generally a pretty steady climb. The first 0.1 mile or so after the register and a section from roughly 0.5-1.0 mile were the steepest sections, but "steep" is relative.

Walking across a stream, there were some ice formations 

Much of the trail had less than 1 inch of snow and there were several places I was walking on dirt or frozen mud. At approximately 0.8 miles, a tree had fallen across the trail and there was a clearly evident path that bypassed the tree to the left.

Around 1,800 feet, the trail started to level off and the snow became noticeably deeper. The trail cuts across a small bit of private property. We reenter state land shortly below the fire tower.

Entering private land

More level, but deeper snow up here

Back on state land. Fire tower is visible through the trees at center

After 1.5 miles or so, we're at the summit.

The fire tower and summit

Spruce Mountain, elevation 2,009 feet, is the third-lowest fire tower on the challenge list and there isn't a view from the summit unless you climb the tower. I didn't find a benchmark, but given that there were 2 inches of snow on the summit, I was only able to check the bare rock immediately around the tower.

After a short break, I started climbing the 73-foot fire tower, hoping to get views from the steps.

The steps. Those poles belong to another party.

Looking north, about halfway up the tower

Much to my surprise, I pushed up on the cab's trapdoor and found the cab unlocked.

Looking north and east, there is a panoramic view of the upper Hudson River valley, while you could likely see the Catskills on a clear day if looking south (it was not clear when I was there).

Looking south

Looking north

Long way down

Looking northeast toward Corinth and the Hudson River

Looking east

After a short time, I was ready to head down.

Going down was easy. I actually had to slow myself down to avoid slipping on the thin layer of snow covering much of the trail. The hour-long climb up the mountain turned into less than 40 minutes down.

A short distance below the summit

An old stone wall winds across the lower half of the trail

The final bit before the trailhead

Spruce Mountain was a good warm-up hike for the summer hiking season. Not particularly difficult, but enough of a challenge to get the blood flowing. The trail is closed during hunting season as a condition of the easement across private land, so no foliage here, but certainly a good hike for the spring or summer. Given how close it is to Albany and Saratoga, I'd suggest avoiding the mountain on summer weekends.

Getting Here

Spruce Mountain is located in the Town of Corinth, the trailhead being roughly 12 miles north of Saratoga Springs and 2 miles from NY Route 9N. Spruce could definitely be hiked in conjunction with Hadley Mountain, located 19 miles away via roads.


Southern Adirondacks Backcountry Information - Trail conditions for the Spruce Mountain area

Friday, April 6, 2018

South of Frissell: Connecticut's Highest Point, plus the CT/MA/NY Tripoint

In county highpointing, there are several counties where the high point is not a summit, but somewhere along the county line on sloping terrain. We call these "liners". Only one state high point can make such a claim and that's Connecticut. Yes, Tennessee and South Carolina have their highest points along their borders, but these are actual summits. A dozen or so others have their high points within a few miles of another state. But Connecticut is the only one with a prominence of 0 feet. Not even a summit, the official high point is the South Slope of Mount Frissell. The summit of Mount Frissell lies 150 yards inside Massachusetts. Most of the hike to the high point lies inside Massachusetts. Bear Mountain, a couple miles to the east and 50 feet lower, is the highest summit inside Connecticut itself. Connecticut's true high point is the south slope of Mount Frissell, an elevation of 2,379 feet marked by a survey spike. It's not as fancy as other states, but the view isn't something to sneeze at, either.

There are three ways to hike here, and all are surprisingly difficult for a state like Connecticut. Easiest way is from the east, and that is what I'll write about here. You could also hike from the southwest over Brace Mountain or from the northwest near Alander Mountain, but each of those is a strenuous hike starting well under 1,000 feet. The eastern trailhead is just shy of 1,900 feet and, while you need to climb over Round Mountain and Frissell itself, it's a moderate hike.

The trailhead from the east is on East St in Mount Washington, Massachusetts. A small amount of parking is located near the state line, with room for a few cars on the east side of the road just north of a boundary marker.

CT/MA boundary marker along road

Having left slightly later than I intended, I set out at 10:45 AM From there, I hiked west along the blue blazed and aptly-named "Mt. Frissell Trail". This trail generally runs along the state line, first heading northwest and ascending ever so slightly. After roughly 1/5 mile, there's a sharp turn to the south. Just after entering Connecticut for the first time, it turns west and the trail became steeper as I climbed Round Mountain, with a couple minor scrambles for good measure. Maybe 3/4 of a mile into the hike, the trail levels off at the bald summit of Round Mountain. Round Mountain, elevation 2,296 feet, is the second-highest summit inside Connecticut.

Cairn marking Round Mountain's summit

View south from Round Mountain

After taking a 20-30 minute break on a rock for water and an early lunch (it was already quite warm at 11:15 AM) while enjoying the view of the mountain I was about to climb, onward and downward I went. Steep at times, the trail descends into the col separating Round and Frissell and we eventually start to climb Frissell. Near the summit of Frissell lies a very short spur trail to the true summit, marked by a sign, cairn, and register, along with directions from here to the CT high point. Sign your name, head back to the main trail, and continue on (and DOWN) the remaining 300 yards to the high point, which is located at the right (north) side of the trail, approximately 1.5 miles into the hike.

A little anticlimactic, isn't it?

Well, there we go. That little survey spike lies on the highest piece of land along the Connecticut/Massachusetts border. There's an ammo box here containing a register. While its main claim to fame is being the only state high point that isn't a summit, this place does have a nice view, even if it is only to the south. Much better view than the highest points of several states, actually.

Two looks south from Frissell

Once you're done at the high point, you have some options. Either you can return now, or you can continue downhill to the tripoint marker (and to Brace Mountain if you're so inclined). I continued on. After a short gentle downhill section, there are some steep scrambles. Roughly 1/4 mile west of Connecticut's highest point, we reach the tripoint lying on the trail.

The CT/MA/NY tripoint marker

MA occupies the entire north half of the marker (right side if coming from the east). NY is the southwest corner, CT is the southeast corner. For some reason, Connecticut's name is not etched on the marker.

From here, many people continue on to Brace Mountain, highest point in Dutchess County, New York. Since I wanted to get to Rhode Island's high point before it closed for the day, I hightailed it back to my car and did Brace a few months later from the spectacular western approach (future post).

Saw this sign across from the trailhead on my way out

While only 3.2 miles in length, this hike took me 2-2.5 hours, including breaks. Lots of rock scrambles to slow you down, plus I took plenty of time to enjoy the view and make sure I had water. A large amount of the difficulty here stems from the amount of rock scrambles and how exposed the trail is.

Getting Here

Connecticut might be a relatively-dense state, but its high point is in a pretty remote area. The trailhead is located on East St just north of the CT/MA state line at the southern edge of Mount Washington State Forest. No services are anywhere near the trailhead There are three main ways to get here:
  1. From MA Routes 23/41 to the north. This is the most direct access from points north and the Mass Pike/Interstate 90 and how I got to/from the trailhead. Roughly 2.5 miles is unpaved.
  2. From NY Routes 22/344 to the northwest. This route goes past Bash Bish Falls and merges with the above route near the trailhead. Doing this, you could easily add a stop at the falls. A minimum of 2.5 miles is unpaved (as above), more will be unpaved if you cut a corner and bypass Mount Washington Center. 
  3. From US Route 44 in Salisbury. A minimum-maintenance road heads northwest from Salisbury and is the only way to reach the area of the CT high point through CT itself by car (though you cannot get to the high point without entering another state). Most of this route is unpaved and it does not get a ton of use. About 6 miles is unpaved.


Mount Washington State Forest: On the MA side of the border in this area

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Short Hike #3: Driskill Mountain, Highest Point in Louisiana

Summit kiosk (all pictures mine)

As a whole, Louisiana is pretty flat. And by "flat", I mean flat. But luckily for us, Northern Louisiana has some hills, including the state's highest point. Driskill Mountain, with a summit elevation of 535 feet, is hardly a mountain in the normal sense of the term and the third-lowest state high point, but it's hard to find higher ground in this part of the country. That being said, it's quite a pleasant hike and not particularly difficult. If you're traveling on nearby Interstate 20 (less than 15 miles away), Driskill is an interesting detour that will take less than 2 hours.

I started up Driskill around 8:30 AM on the morning of March 17th from the trailhead at Mount Zion Presbyterian Church, roughly 10 miles south of Arcadia. May have been early on a Saturday, but it was already humid and heating up.

Trailhead is at the back of the parking lot next to a service road

The trail is pretty easy to follow and is generally wide and clear. Initially, it follows the access road for a cell tower and oil well.

Alongside the church cemetery

All turns along this trail are signed, so don't turn when the access road does.

Cell tower is to the right. Continue straight.

Oil well to the right. Keep going straight.

Sign marking the designated trail just past the oil well turnoff

Soon enough we get to a gate and the "real hiking" begins.

There's a fork immediately past the gate. Right goes uphill to what is referred to locally as "false mountain". As the name indicates, False Mountain is NOT the true summit and you'll be adding a decent amount of unnecessary ascent/descent by taking this route. Use the much wider and clearer official trail to the left.

The fork. Left is the Driskill trail, right leads to "False Mountain"

A little ways past the False Mountain fork is another fork. This time, you want to go right, but I don't think that's too hard to figure out.

Right here leads uphill to the summit.
Once we're past this fork, we're over half a mile into the hike and at the home stretch. This is where the uphill segment begins.

Marker shortly after fork

Sign at marker. Entire trail is on private land, so please stay on the trail.
Some more twists and turns up here as we make our way to the summit.

Steepest hill on the hike is right here, less than 1/4 mile before the summit

Hard left turn at the top of the steep section

Final little bit along the ridgeline

After walking along the summit ridge for a short bit, we reach a clearing and the true summit.

Summit area from trail
The true summit is marked by a cairn to the right of the kiosk.

Summit cairn

After touching the cairn to claim high point #19, I signed my name in the summit log.

First ascent of Driskill on March 17, 2018 was made by yours truly. For some reason, I put "2017" in most of the summit logs I signed this trip. Oops.

To the left of the kiosk is a short path leading to a viewpoint with benches installed by the Highpointers Fountation.

The only view from Driskill

The bench
A sign next to the kiosk points to a trail that should be used to return down, but signage disappears immediately.

Don't use that trail to return to the trailhead. Go back on the trail you hiked up.

I tried the "return trail", but after losing the trail and not seeing any blazes, I returned to the summit and retraced my steps down the main trail.

Approaching the parking lot

Even with my wild goose chase on the "return trail", I made the round trip in under an hour, with 20-30 minutes of hiking each way between the trailhead and summit.

Getting Here

Driskill Mountain is in a rural area of Bienville Parish, Louisiana, approximately 10 miles south of Arcadia, 20 miles southwest of Ruston, and 60 miles east of Shreveport. The trailhead is located at Mount Zion Presbyterian Church on LA Route 507. A sign in front of the church indicates that this is the state highpoint.