“Trails in the wintertime are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” — Forrest Gump, probably at some point during his epic cross-country run, because it’s true. Because you can watch the weather in the mountains all week. You can take a guess at how much snow might be on the trails. You can weigh the likelihood that someone else would have hiked the trail already. You can check the forecast every day and see the chances of precipitation rise and fall. You can guess what the weather and windchill will be at the peak before you begin. But you never know for sure until you get there. Sometimes, it’s way colder than you bargained for. Other times, it turns out that the trail has been packed down so much that it’s now frozen and as slick as a sheet of ice. Maybe you waited until it’s too warm and the snow is melting, resulting in the entire trail becoming a giant puddle. But once in a while, you get lucky and find that the snow is the perfect amount of fluffiness for snowshoeing, and the weather is just right, so that as long as you keep moving, you’re plenty warm.
Lucky for us, this hike happened to be that perfect conditions for a snowshoe hike to a T, and we were able to enjoy our longest snowshoe venture yet. It was just over 7 miles, which is only a third of our longest day hike ever, but I still felt sore the following day. Snowshoeing in the optimal conditions isn’t challenging, but it is still a good workout if you’re only used to hiking! So far, we’ve found that we can snowshoe about 2 miles an hour on peak hikes (or hiking with any significant elevation gain), as opposed to our usual hiking pace of 3+ miles an hour.
Ruins & frozen waterfalls along the trail
Our hike for the day was Sleeping Beauty Mountain, which is on the East side of Lake George and just South of Black Mountain. We opted for this hike rather than one of the fire towers because it was supposed to snow later and all the fire towers are so far away or are much longer hikes. We drove up to Washington County and followed a dirt road off the highway to the trailhead. The road conditions weren’t terrible, but they became less maintained the further we drove. The biggest issue was looking out for all the pot holes. We parked in a lot right off the road (which had not been plowed at all, and only showed the tracks of maybe a few other vehicles that had driven around in a circle) and strapped on our snowshoes. Charlotte was so excited to be going for a hike that she ran as fast as she could in big circles through the tire tracks in the lot. She was SO happy; it was adorable. 🙂
The trail actually started off as a road, and after a mile and a half we discovered that if there had been no snow, the “official” trailhead would have been at this point. Doing this hike in the winter means an additional 3 miles round trip, but we weren’t too upset — the trail was mostly flat and easy.
The frozen lake…Charlotte didn’t quite understand what this meant. Thankfully she didn’t have to learn this lesson the hard way today.
Once we left the road, the trail became steeper and we started gaining elevation. The trail leads to a huge, sheer rock face on which the peak of Sleeping Beauty sits. Once we reached the wall, we came to a fork in the trail. There was no sign here, though we knew there should be one at some point because letterbox clues referred to one. Our original plan was to hike to the peak and then determine if we wanted to make a loop hike or not. But with no sign, we had very little idea which way lead to the peak quickest. There was also some confusion about what actually was considered the peak. Without any clear guidance, Curtis guessed left, and we continued our uphill trek.
Keeping Your Basset Warm on Winter Hikes 101.
On our way up, we didn’t really get any good views of Lake George or the Adirondacks to the West, but we were able to enjoy beautiful icicles and frozen waterfalls on the rock wall to our right. We climbed up, up, up the snowy trail heading generally North, but it wasn’t until we started going downhill that we realized we should have gone right back at the fork. Honestly, it wasn’t such a disappointment because we were able to pass by a beautiful frozen lake and saved the best part — the peak — for last (before beginning our descent). It really didn’t add on much distance to our overall mileage.
We made our way around the lake and began gaining elevation again. The trail was well marked (aside from the missing sign at the first fork) so we had no problem finding our way around the loop. At one point, the trail started going downhill again which made us worry we had missed the peak, again, but as it turns out, the scenic overlook and the peak of Sleeping Beauty are not the same place. But let me tell you, all this confusion was well worth it when we made it to the overlook!
Naturally, it was much colder and windier at the exposed overlook, but we stayed as long as we could to enjoy the view. We really do enjoy the hikes around Lake George and the views that come with them. From here, we were able to see the lake and the Adirondacks to the West, and Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains in Vermont to the East. We ate a quick lunch here, got some pictures, letterboxed, and quickly made our way back into the woods to escape the wind. Again, it was so worth it!
The remainder of the trail switchbacked back down to the fork with the missing sign, and while I have no experience doing this hike the opposite way, I’m glad we hiked the loop the way we did. We made our way back the rest of the way to our car, very happy with the hike. We’ll never take for granted a perfect snowshoeing day that happens to fall on Curtis’ weekend. However, we had to admit that we were feeling pretty worn out by the end — even Charlotte was lagging behind. It’s a good thing we had brownies with us to help survive the drive home. 😉
In case you’re interested in the details of this hike (according to the AllTrails app):
- We hiked the loop counter-clockwise from the “winter parking lot”, and it was 7.2 miles
- The trail gained 1,365 feet of elevation
- It took us about 4 ½ hours including breaks