Hiking Vanderwhacker Mountain, New York • November 19, 2016
Last Friday when we checked the forecast for the weekend, we saw it was to be 60º and sunny on Saturday, followed by 30º and snowy on Sunday, with the rest of the week being filled with cold and chances for more snow. Obviously, that’s a sign from God that we NEED to hike on Saturday! That may very well be the nicest, warmest day we’ll have for a long while, so we made the most of it by spending it outside. Even if we stay inside for the rest of the winter, we will be thankful for the many awesome memories we made in the past 3 months of living in New York. (Side note – how has it only been 3 months? We’ve had so many awesome experiences crammed into such a short amount of time! Also, this month — October 20 – November 20 — was the first complete month that we spent at home while living here. Haha)
We had a special little houseguest staying with us this weekend, so we decided to either choose a hike that would accommodate her hiking abilities, or leave her at home to play with Charlotte. Oh, I suppose I should mention that she’s a dog. Her name is Zoe and she’s Charlotte’s friend. We almost considered just Curtis and I going and doing a longer hike in the fire tower challenge and making it all about us. However, we realized that if Charlotte didn’t come with us, then she wouldn’t be eligible for the New York Fire Tower Challenge Badge. We are VERY committed to making sure that all 3 of us complete the challenge and earn the badge together, so that idea was thrown out the window. Instead, we chose to hike Vanderwhacker Mountain, a shorter hike that we thought Charlotte’s friend Zoe could do as well.
We set off on Saturday morning, taking back county roads all the way up to the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest, South of the High Peaks. We noticed that the scenic highway roads through the Adirondacks were much quieter than they had been a month before, when the fall colors were in full swing. I guess not everyone got the memo that today was “Get out and enjoy possibly the last nice day of the season”! (Or maybe they know something we don’t and we still have nice days ahead?? Wishful thinking 😉 )
Once we turned off the highway onto the dirt road that leads to the trailhead, I was almost instantly glad we were doing this today rather than in the snow. The road was rocky and rough as it was, I’m not sure what it would look like in snowy or icy conditions. However, I didn’t see any signs that it closes through the winter months like the road to Pillsbury Mountain does. As we drove down the long and winding road, we passed by some hunters, as well as campers and tents, which we assumed were hunting camps. They’re everywhere this time of year! Curtis has expressed interest in trying it out some year, but with limited free time and many hiking goals, it just wasn’t a good year to try. The trailhead is several miles down the long dirt road, and when we arrived around 10:30 am, there were only 4 other cars there.
As we began hiking the trail to the peak, I tried to recall what I had heard about Vanderwhacker. I knew I had overheard other Adirondack hikers saying something about it, I just couldn’t remember what. After about a mile into the hike, a very easy mile at that, it came to me: the first mile or so of the hike is very easy and flat, and the last mile or so goes straight up the mountain! We have become familiar with the ways of the Adirondack Trails, how they tend to opt for the shorter, steeper way up rather than the longer, steadier way switchbacks would take you. But today, we saw another reason why having switchbacks would be much more beneficial. This straight-up-the-mountain nonsense becomes much more challenging when it comes to snow melt and water descending the mountain — because just like us hikers, the water chooses to stay on the trail rather than wandering through the wilderness and getting lost along the way! The trail was very muddy, and many parts had water flowing down the path. Having switchbacks would at least make it so only parts of the trail are muddy, rather than the entire trail!
Oh well, there’s nothing we can do to change things now I suppose. The first mile, like I said, was very easy and enjoyable, and followed a stream with several small waterfalls. We crossed over it a handful of times as well — almost all of the crossings were made easy by bridges, however the first one we came to was just over rocks, and the water seemed to be flowing higher than normal. It made both of the dogs and myself nervous, so Curtis had to help all 3 of us ladies across. Such a gentleman. 😉 The last thing we saw before reaching the steep section was an old ranger cabin beside the trail — not only that, but it had some really nice old furniture on the porch and inside! It’s always so fun to find these when we hike!
We took our time going up the last mile and a half, taking a couple breaks and letting the dogs drink the water as it flowed down the rocky parts of the trail. I suppose that’s a benefit of having a wet trail. Finally, we came to the ridge where it was an easy walk to the end. Like many of the fire tower hikes, the only good 360º view can be found at the top of the fire tower, but we had a little break in the trees in the perfect spot to sit on some rocks and look out at the high peaks region. What’s more, we had the peak to ourselves. We took turns climbing the tower, and had lunch with the puppies on the ground level. We saw some big birds flying around — two were crows and were squawking at another one which we thought looked like a bald eagle, but we only got very brief glimpses of it.
We finished up our lunch and started back down the mountain. Of course, it was more difficult going down the wet and muddy parts than it was going up. Not only that, but we even got off trail at a couple of points — there were so many leaves covering the path that we sometimes struggled to find it! But we made it back down and to our car safely, with only 1 fall this time. And when we came to the “scary” river crossing, Curtis had to help all 3 of us across AGAIN. 🙂
We finished the day with driving back home to the tune of Nik Kershaw’s Greatest Hits, graveyard letterboxing, and a gorgeous sunset. The next morning, we woke to snow on the ground and in the air. Winter is here! We’ll see you next spring. 😉 (Just kidding of course, I still have to finish writing about our fall trip. Haha.)