Get ready for a photo-heavy post! Last weekend, hubby and I achieved a long-cherished dream of ours: climbing our first two Adirondack high peaks. And we started on another long-cherished dream (and one that will take much longer to realize): becoming Adirondack 46ers.
The Adirondack Mountains were our backyard when we were growing up in northeastern New York State. I lived about two hours south of the mountains, but my family made it to our lake house in the foothills almost every weekend during the spring, summer and fall, and we spent many happy winter days skiing Gore and Whiteface Mountains up north. Hubby lived in the Adirondack region itself and has fond memories of the area, too. For years I’d harbored a secret ambition to be a “46er” – a.k.a. one of the elite club of hikers who has summited all 46 of the Adirondack high peaks – and when we decided to move back to New York State – even though we were headed for Buffalo, not Albany or Saratoga – we made a commitment to try to achieve that goal.
For our first two mountains, we chose Cascade and Porter. At number 36 and 38 on the elevation list, and billed as the two most “accessible,” “approachable,” and “family friendly” mountains, we decided they were the place to start our Adirondack climbing journey – especially since we were toting a little hiker with us. Peanut was joining us on the first of our high peaks adventures. We realized that we would not be able to take her up every mountain with us (some are simply too technically challenging to permit carrying a toddler up with any degree of psychological comfort) but we wanted her to come along at least for this excursion.
We arrived at the Cascade trailhead around 9:30 a.m. – later than we’d hoped for – and signed into the trail register by 10:00 – much later than we’d hoped for. Things were starting off rocky and got even rockier, if you’ll pardon the pun, when we realized that the trail was basically three miles of boulders straight up. I was able to negotiate the trail without much trouble – short as I am – and I breezed right up. Hubby, however, was struggling almost from the beginning. Turns out, carrying thirty pounds (6 pounds of backpack and 24 pounds of child) is tough enough, but when your load is wiggling, kicking you, falling asleep with her head hanging out of the pack, telling you stories about baby sea lions, and basically just being the dearest and most precious thing to your heart, you really care about not falling down… even as your balance is impaired by the wiggling and kicking and napping in impossible positions.
(^Snapped after I’d pushed her head back into the middle of the pack, and approximately 0.3 minutes before it flopped out again.)
We took our time up the steep, rocky trail (the picture above was about as mild as it got), stopping for breaks as needed and letting the faster groups go by us. After about 1.8 miles – which took far longer than it would have had it been an adults-only hike – we came upon the false summit of Cascade and our first views of the day.
Even I was a little wobbly-kneed scrambling up over the bald ledge, but the views were well worth every anxious moment. Just past the false summit we came upon the trail junction between Cascade and Porter.
Our first Adirondack summit was only 0.3 miles away! We steeled ourselves for a push to the summit.
The summit of Cascade is bald, thanks to a massive fire in 1903 which not only destroyed the vegetation, but burned away the soil as well. Some delicate Alpine botany has taken hold up there again, and it’s beautiful but fragile – so hikers are well warned to walk only on bare rock and never ever ever step on the grass, the flowers, or even the dirt.
We scrambled up the bare rock face and reached our first Adirondack high peak summit.
The views were astonishing. I knew that they would be – of course – but actually standing on top of one of the Adirondack high peaks and looking out over the park was beyond anything I could have imagined. I truly felt on top of the world.
(Hello there, Mount Marcy. I’m coming for you.)
We chatted briefly with the summit steward – a volunteer park ranger of sorts, whose job is to stand on top of the mountain, welcome hikers, take family photos (he gets the credit for the shot above), answer questions, and remind you not to walk on the grass. He pointed out the peaks in the distance for us and then directed us to a ledge where we could sit out of the wind, have a snack and enjoy the view before heading on to our next stop.
We took our time, drank in the views and then started down the mountain.
We reached the trail junction in no time, descended into a col, and began the brief climb back up Porter – Cascade’s nearest neighbor and our second high peak.
Porter is not nearly as busy as Cascade, even though it’s right next door. There was no summit steward, no crowds – we had the place to ourselves, a major difference from the crowds swarming over Cascade – and not even a benchmark. I confirmed that we had summited when I spotted signs for the trail leading to Marcy Airfield and the Garden.
Porter is a wooded summit, unlike Cascade’s bald top, but it still affords 360 degree views. It was a bit less spectacular than Cascade, but well worth the extra 1.4 miles round trip to add it to our day.
We even got a view back to Cascade and spent some time marveling at the fact that we were just there and now we’re here.
Exhausted, but happy, family on top of Porter, with two Adirondack high peaks under our belt!
Cascade Mountain: Elevation 4,098 feet / 36 of 46 ADK high peaks
Porter Mountain: Elevation 4,059 feet / 38 of 46 ADK high peaks
Fun Facts About The Adirondacks, Cascade and Porter
- The Adirondacks are the only mountains in the eastern United States that are not geologically Appalachian. They are the southernmost section of the Canadian Shield, a geologically distinct area.
- The Adirondack Park is the only forest and wildlife area to have Constitutional protection. Other parklands and wildlife refuges are protected by statute, but the Adirondacks’ protection is built into the New York State Constitution.
- Porter Mountain is named for Noah Porter, a Yale professor who was the first person to summit.
- There are traditionally 46 high peaks – peaks over 4,000 feet in elevation – in the Adirondack region. (Mount Marcy is the highest, at 5,343 feet, and is also the highest point in New York State.) In fact, there is at least one mountain (McNaughton) that does have a summit over 4,000 feet but didn’t make the cut, and some of the traditional ADK high peaks are actually slightly under 4,000 feet elevation, because of mis-measuring about 100 years ago. ADK 46ers tend to be a tradition-loving bunch, though, so they’ve kept the list as-is.
- Cascade is named for a series of waterfalls on the mountain, and is close to the bobsledding venue from the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
(Facts came from our guidebook, from lakeplacid.com, and from the summit steward on Cascade.)
- We did not carry enough water. Hubby ended up drinking almost our entire supply, leaving me pretty uncomfortably thirsty, especially on the trip down. I didn’t begrudge him the water – he had our daughter on his back, after all – but I did need some of it. In the future, I’ll make sure that I have at least one bottle for myself.
- We did not get nearly as early a start as we needed to, especially given our slow pace climbing with a kid. For future peaks we will need to get earlier starts – especially when we start getting into the “big” ones (ha, they’re all big) like Marcy, Algonquin, and Gothics.
- On that note… while it was fun having Peanut along, she is not invited on any more ADK high peak adventures until she can climb under her own steam. Cascade and Porter were billed as family-friendly… but I really didn’t think they were. There was too much scrambling, too much technical climbing, to make a climb with Peanut “a walk in the park.” I saw plenty of families with kids ages 5 and older handling the mountain with no trouble, and there were a few other families struggling along with younger ones in backpacks, but… it wasn’t for us. I did not believe Cascade was nearly as “easy” as our guidebook claimed, and if that was the “approachable” peak… my goodness. This journey will be adults-only for quite some time.
Two high peaks down, forty-four to go! We’re already planning our next trip up one of the peaks (we’re thinking Giant Mountain next, but it won’t be until the fall so we’re still exploring options). Have you ever climbed one of the Adirondack high peaks? Or a mountain closer to home?