A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Fall Hikes in the Adirondacks

October 19, 2019
Emilie Phillips

Last weekend in the Adirondacks, Tyson spotted several small summits with cliffs. That weekend was a flying weekend, so we had to wait until this weekend to explore. Two of the mountains were described in “12 Short Hikes Near Keene Valley”, Hurricane Mountain and Owls Head Lookout. The third mountain, Knob Lock Mountain, appears to only have a bushwhack route. We flew out to Marcy Field (1I1) in Keene NY and Benoît picked us up at Marcy Field.

Winter is Coming

Last weekend was peak foliage. Since then, the red and orange maple leaves have blown off. The small parking lot for Hurricane Mountain was overflowing. People must have come out for the remaining yellow birch and beech leaves, and the sunny day. We found a spot when someone else pulled out.

Isaac found snow

Two thirds of the way up the mountain, the seasons progressed even more.

“Hey Isaac, look” I pointed out, “snow.”

He turned around with a grimace like “Mom stop pulling my leg.” Then he saw the little bits of white on the ground and his eyes got bigger and bigger and he grinned. “Snow!”

He pointed out more snow patches as we climbed. “We could ski here,” he said indicating a spot where the snow completely covered the leaves, but not the roots.

Meanwhile, the sun was melting the snow on the upper branches, far above our heads. Drip, drip.

When the sun backlit the falling, splashing droplets, Isaac giggled, “Look Mom, it’s raining. No it’s snowing.”

No mater how much we argued technical semantics over whether it was raining or not, I got wet and had to put on my rain jacket and pack cover. Tyson and I had expected the snow. When we checked the forecast for Marcy Field the night before, the website said “Current conditions: snowing.”

Tyson and Benoît on Hurricane Mountain

Most of the other hiker’s hadn’t anticipated the snow. On one particular icy section near the top, they clung to the rocks. Isaac put on his microspikes and felt extra proud when the other hikers praised him for being so well prepared.

We ate lunch near the fire tower with long views all around. People would walk towards the fire tower to climb it, then a chunk of rime ice would break off, crash on the stairs, and fly rattling through the chain railing. The people would shake their heads, “not today”, and find somewhere else to enjoy the view. Tyson hoped if we waited long enough, the tower would drop all its ice. But even at 3pm, it was still too dangerous.

Photos From Saturday

GPS Track from Saturday

The Tree

Sunday, we hiked Owls Head Lookout, just a bit south of Hurricane Mountain. It is the eastern edge of the Adirondacks, away from the high peaks. When we flew over a week ago, we were surprised to see people waving at us from the rocky knob.

Unexpected waterfall on the hike to Owls Head Lookout

We found two unexpected features along the hike. The first was a swimming hole and a rocky cascade on Slide Brook. A bit farther up, we spotted a long cliff band that looked interesting to climb. The trail followed the cliffs up the valley. Until we got to the very top, the trail stayed in the trees.

There was one tree I couldn’t identify. It was the only tree that still had some green leaves. The bark was what caught my eye. From the middle of the tree up to the crown, the bark was light green and smooth with occasional black markings. From the base to ten feet high, the bark was gray and deeply furrowed.

Benoît thought it was an Elm.

“Haven’t all the elms died,” I countered, “from Dutch Elm disease?”

“No, they are still around like the chestnuts,” he explained, “dying back and re-sprouting. I remember full grown elms in Edmonton, and there are a few still in Montréal.”

“This one isn’t a regrowth,” Tyson observed, “It’s old.”

By my eyeball the trunk was a foot wide at chest height.

“And there are many of them,” Tyson pointed out more mature specimens intermixed with the beeches, birches, and leafless maples.

Leaf from the tree

The tree’s leaves were jagged like a beech leaf, but they were more heart shaped than a beech. The only other tree that I know which has rough bark at the bottom and smooth light colored bark at the top is the sycamore. This tree had the same stately beauty as the sycamore, but not its wide branching structure. The trunk of this tree rose like a candle stick from a gray candle holder. The main trunk was a single tapering cylinder with only minor branches off the side, not like the maple’s wide fan of coequal branches, or the oak’s knobby fractal division.

I continued watching the trees as we hiked up to Owls Head.

“The top bark has eyes like an aspen,” I decided. “The leaves aren’t right for an aspen, but aspens are in the cottonwood family. So maybe this is another relative.”

“Maybe it is a poplar?” Tyson suggested.

“I’ll look in my tree guide when we get home.”

Top of Owls Head Lookout

We waited until the top of Owls Head Lookout to each lunch even though it was windy. I saw a patch of blue sky to the northwest. Then Benoît saw rain clouds to the southwest. Tyson pulled out the radar map on his phone. He found a whole storm system moving northeast towards us. We needed to get back to the plane before the clouds moved in.

We skipped exploring the cliff band. I stopped staring at the unknown trees. Tyson hiked down as fast as his knees would let him. It was raining when we got to the car. We drove through the mountain pass back to Keene Valley. We could see the tops of the mountains the whole time. We hopped in the Bearhawk and flew back through the same pass, with the mountain tops still clear of the clouds.

Back home, I looked up the trees.

First, I found that Dutch Elm disease hasn’t spread to western Canada yet. According to this site, Montreal has mostly Siberian Elm, but some American Elm. There are efforts to breed disease resistant elms, including the liberty elm project in Keene New Hampshire, just a few towns west of our house.

As to the mystery tree, I think it is a large toothed aspen. UNH’s bark description matches exactly. According to Wikipedia, it’s also called a white poplar. So both Tyson and I were correct. Multiple sites list bigtooth aspen as a common tree in the Adirondacks.

Every time I see a tree I like, I am tempted to plant it in my yard. The problem is I would have to cut down some other trees to make room for a bigtooth aspen sapling.

All Photos from Sunday

GPS Track from Sunday