Hiking to Gore Mountain Fire Tower • April 15, 2017 • Written by Curtis
With spring finally coming upon us, it’s time for us to knuckle down and finish some of our hiking goals for New York, first and foremost of which is the Adirondack/Catskill Fire Tower Challenge. We’ve got 15 down and only 8 to go! The one problem with this challenge is that what remaining peaks we have are either a 2+ hour drive away, or are 6+ miles long (or a combination of the two). Not to say that we are any stranger to driving 4 hours a day for silly things, or of hiking long mountain trails, it simply takes a little more effort and planning to get them done right.
But after being stuck inside for most of the winter, we weren’t about to let a weekend go by without at least some effort. So we watched the forecast change day by day from showers, to sunny, to thunderstorms, back to showers, back to sunny, until Friday when we made the decision. We would make the shorter drive up to North Creek and hike Gore Mountain before the rain came that evening.
We were up by 0700, (not our earliest by any stretch), and at the trail head by 0930. The trail (called the Schaeffer Trail) starts in the public ski center/park off of NY 28. In the first mile, the trail crossed multiple Cross Country Skiing/biking trails gradually going up. There was patchy snow, but it was generally avoidable and we didn’t think much of it. After maybe a mile, we left the ski trails behind and started to approach a stream. It was about this time that Charlotte bolted down the trail whining. It struck us as odd and so we ran after her catching up with her maybe a thousand feet down the trail. She seemed fine, so we figured she was simply chasing a squirrel.
We started to follow the stream up the mountain. All the recent rain and snow melt had made it quite swollen and made the multitude of waterfalls quite enjoyable to watch. Of course waterfalls mean steep drops, which meant that the trail was quite rocky and steep at places, but nothing we couldn’t handle. About two miles in we reached the source of the stream, a small reservoir covered with fragmenting ice. The trail made a wide (and muddy) pass around the reservoir before picking up the stream again on the other side. It was around this time that the trail started to become more and more snow covered. And not just a light dusting, or a few inches on the trail, but the remnants of drifts 6-8 inches deep in places. Fortunately, it wasn’t that slippery, and so long as we stepped right, we were mostly able to stay on top of the snow.
At about 3.5 miles, the trail made a sharp turn and finally crossed the stream and really started heading up the mountain. We crossed an access road several times, but largely stayed in the forest, slowly plodding along, carefully stepping through the melting snow. At the 4 mile mark, we broke from the woods into a clearing. We had made it to the ski slopes. It was at this point that I realized I had severely underestimated the amount of snow still left on the peak. All the slopes were still covered in a very slick icy snow, and the trail at this point simply followed the slopes to the peak. Our progress slowed considerably as we carefully climbed upwards staying to the edges where the snow was less packed down.
Our entire hike up we had been completely alone, and I thought that might continue at the top. My understanding was that the ski lifts were closed for the season. But if there’s snow, I guess there are skiers. It wasn’t long before snowmobiles laden with skiers passed us on the slopes. That’s one way to do it. They were very friendly though, and one even stopped his snowmobile to pet Charlotte. It turned out that he had owned basset hounds in the past as well. Once a basset lover, always a basset lover!
The last mile on the slopes was rough and slow. We were hiking UP a blue square ski slope! Without snow shoes, crampons, or yak traks; just poles. But not to quit once we’ve committed, we eventually made it. We found the firetower (it’s “closed” because it’s now used as a radio tower) and then found a place to eat our lunches. We found our way to the top of the slopes where all the snowmobilers and skiers were congregating. And for all the trouble the ski slopes gave us, at the very least they offered some beautiful unrestricted views of the mountains. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to see that far from a mountain.
Once we’d finished our lunch, it was time to head down. Down the blue square slopes with only hiking boots and poles. All the skiers and snowmobilers passed by and the last one made sure to tell us that we were now the only ones on the mountain. Fantastic! Now no one can see us make fools of ourselves as we “sled” down the mountain. I cut off some large strips of paper birch bark thinking that they would make a passable sled for the steepest parts. Turns out birch bark isn’t that strong, and we ended up sliding down the steeper parts on our butts. Lord knows we would’ve ended up on the ground anyway if we had tried to walk down!
We picked up the trail again and continued our way down (on our feet…for the most part). We crossed the access roads, crossed the stream, and followed it back towards the reservoir. Now, generally speaking, so long as there are no major hazards or other hikers, we (read I) let Charlotte off the leash. She’s either too pokey or too much in a hurry for me to comfortably handle on a leash so it’s generally better to let her run free. But just as earlier in the hike, she all of a sudden bolted down the trail, whining as she ran. Again, I ran after her, but this time rather than sticking to the trail (which she usually does pretty well), she started running into the forest. And like a dutiful owner, I ran after her eventually catching up to her maybe 2000 feet off trail up an embankment…with a porcupine quill in her nose.
I of course attempted to remove the quill then and there and have done with it, but Charlotte would have none of it. And since she had clearly settled down some, I decided to simply keep her on a leash and deal with her later. We finished the remaining 3ish miles with the last bit in a light drizzle, the whole time wondering where Charlotte could have possibly picked up a porcupine quill. It was only the one, so we felt it unlikely that she had a run in with an actual porcupine, and it wasn’t a bunch of them like the week before when she rolled in one so we didn’t think it was a carcass. The best we could figure was that porcupine shed their quills and nosy Charlotte sniffed one the wrong way. After further research I did find that on one map the area we were in was called “Barkeater Glades” — perhaps a reference to our spiky friends?
Back at the jeep, I attempted to use a set of tweezers in our first aid kit to remove the quill, but it was stuck fast. Or rather, it was in there well enough and Charlotte had no desire to be helped that we would need something with a little more grip. So we drove home with Charlotte looking absolutely pathetic. She didn’t appear to be in pain, (so long as no one touched her nose), but she definitely draws sympathy.
Once at home, Jessica and I tag teamed Charlotte. I held her down and clamped her mouth shut while Jess used a set of pliers to pluck the quill. And just like that, the ordeal was over. Unfortunately, just like before, we highly doubt Charlotte has learned anything…