8:20 hours; 4350’ vertical; 6:40 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Cascade: 7:52 a.m., Porter: 8:13 a.m., Truck: 9:30 a.m.
Bushwhack Cascade from Lakes – Porter – Route 73 via trail – Pitchoff via trail.
Total Mileage/Vertical Ascent:
Dry trail conditions with small pockets of mud on Porter ridge
None…solo hike; Reunion group of 12
Blueberry scone once back at truck, sandwich and veggies on Pitchoff
Long sleeve shirt/switched to breathable shirt, Golite trail running sneakers, 28 lb. pack.
Rabbits, blackflies on Pitchoff
May 30th, 2008 was actually dedicated to my third time leading one of St. Lawrence University’s Reunion day-hikes. I’m the Assistant Registrar and act as a volunteer for the event. Since I still had the 46-Traverse ahead in September and training was on my mind, I decided to add Cascade and Porter to my agenda…beforehand. The Cascade bushwhack is a recent annual tradition that I do before leading the St. Lawrence University reunion hike up Pitchoff Mountain overlook. The weather was crisp and perfect to begin. Blackflies were non-existent for the first part of the day. The timing for both phases of the day couldn’t have been more perfect.
Cascade Bushwhack & Porter
This was really a combination bushwhack/trek up the north side of the drainage. The beginning was marked by a bridge over the stream connecting the upper and lower Cascade Lakes. A well worn trail led to the base of the falls which may either be a mere trickle, torrent or wall of ice depending on the weather and season. The trail crossed just below a worn dam and crystalline pool. It began with a brief slide scramble parallel to the waterfall. I quickly exited the rubble portion of the slide to climb the rock wall nearest the falls. This is sometimes slippery due to the moist environment created by a side stream from the main brook. The rubble slide looks like a tempting route to the top, but leads away from the drainage and into the woods which creates a cripple brush bushwhack of some extent near the summit. The top of the falls didn’t boast exciting views, but water plummeting over the edge of the earth is always interesting.
A series of deer herd paths ascended steeply through a dark conifer forest, though I tried to stay off of them once past the falls. The trees are open enough to allow many choices. The grade gradually decreased somewhat as each stride burned my legs. The cascading brook was the only distraction. Although the “main” falls is usually visible from Route 73, the upper sections of the brook are completely obscured and can only be seen while adjacent to it or above in a plane, I suppose. Mountain pools created by fallen debris were frequent as were other dramatic water cascades. Occasional side herd paths tried to pull me to the left, but a walk in that direction would only add to the duration of cripple brush at the top.
After another quarter mile, the grade lessened further as I hiked among the loosely growing trees. The grade again increased as I neared the slide. The exposed slab was about a hundred or so feet in length and covered in part with slippery moss. The slide can be walked if dry, but becomes slippery when wet even in the bare areas. Above the slide, faint herd paths traversed this way and that through a briar patch/birch forest and finally into the cripplebrush. Fifteen minutes after the slide and after several minutes of pushing through, under and over the dense conifers I found myself just below the last tier of the summit rocks. I sat next to the summit bolt after an hour and ten minutes of steady hiking. It wasn’t my best time, but not bad with a pack.
At 7:52, the air was still crisp, but not cold even with the breeze. Views assaulted from all sides, though I focused on taking pictures of Pitchoff Mtn. far below for the reunion hike participants who I was to meet at 10:00 a.m. at the trailhead. I allowed myself no rest and scamperd quickly down the summit rocks toward the formal trail and junction to Porter Mtn. I hadn’t ascended Porter in spring yet, so I’d added that to my agenda earlier in the week. The trail was wet in many places, mainly those where it was flat with poor drainage. Rico, my regular hiking partner, asked if I’d take some photos of the woods from Little Meadows (between Porter and Big Slide) to Big Slide. A large rock prior to the summit served as my photo vantage point as well as waypoint for my GPS. A path led into the woods which would allow for an easy exit when we bushwhacked from Little Meadows to Porter in September.
I arrived on Porter’s summit (about a mile from Cascade’s summit) at 8:13 and took a couple deep breaths before doing an about-face and jogging the flat portions of the path back to the intersection with Cascade’s trail. I had plenty of time to enjoy the path down and didn’t rush. The first hikers of the day were ascending at various intervals as I made my way down. The 2000’ descend wound over a couple small hills and I arrived at Route 73, about 2.5 miles from the summit at 9:20. My truck was parked .7 mile down the road (a ten minute jog) between the lakes…so ended part one of the day.
Pitchoff and the Reunion Hike
Part two of this beautiful day entailed leading a group up Pitchoff with my friend and Associate Professor of Geology, Jeff C. He was waiting by his car when I drove up the road to the trailhead from the lakes. Two vans from St. Lawrence University were due at 10:00, but actually arrived at 10:45. This gave us time to chat, joke a bit and see a moose…laying in the back of a trailer being pulled by a state vehicle. Someone had a bad morning…other than the moose. Three student workers and eight alumni joined us on the hike up Pitchoff.
The trail to Pitchoff’s balancing rocks (glacial erratics) is about four miles round trip and roughly 1270’ vertical feet of ascent. It begins steeply and then transforms into a soft gentle trail along the ridgeline overlooking the Cascade Lakes and Cascade Mountain. About halfway into the climb, the grade increases with several steep rock scrambles before a quick descent and another steep scramble across a small rubble slide. The trail then wraps around the back of the knob and steeply ascents on a rugged trail to the bare overlook.
The hike started well at a moderate pace up the inclined beginning section. Once on the ridge, two overlooks provided ideal places to let several catch up. The group had quickly split into two groups, with Jeff overseeing the latter. After it became apparent that paces were drastically different, I decided to send a student back to Jeff with last minute directions and a message that I’d bring the first group to the top so they’d have as much summit time as possible. My preference was to keep everyone together, but I also wanted to be fair to those comfortable with a relatively fast pace. Group two, however, got a much better explanation of the area’s geology than I could possibly give.
The first group of hikers arrived on Pitchoff’s overlook at 12:05…enough time for nearly an hour and one half of relaxing in the sun and gentle breeze. No threat of rain appeared anywhere, a paradox to the weather forecast just a day prior. I was curious about the second group of alum. I wanted them to see the fruits of their exertion. There was only one way to find out where they were, so I jogged back down the steep rocky path and found them just after they crossed the small slide. I reassured them it was less than ½ mile more, found each a walking stick to help their tired legs and walked with them for a few minutes before hiking back up to the top to join the rest. Jeff arrived at 1:10 with the second group. Thankfully, they had enough time for a short break before we began the descent. They were well pleased with themselves and the marvelous views, as were all involved.
Pitchoff’s overlook with the balancing rocks offers a wonderland of high peak views, crags for exploration, open slab rock for lounging and glacial erratics (boulders deposited by the glaciers when they receded). Bang for buck, Pitchoff is one of the most fantastic hikes in the Adirondacks. I took photos incorporating terrain and alum for the university and my memories as people relaxed, explored and ate. A large crevasse served as one of the focal areas of exploration.
The alum had to be back at the vans by 3:00 p.m. for the two hour ride back to St. Lawrence University and the reunion dinner. My normal time to get a group back to the vans was about an hour and a half. I stayed with the second small group for the duration of the descent to serve as a safety net in front should anyone slip during the trickier areas. Their footing was sure and a fantastic day ended on a wonderful note. Good conversations and fun in the sun were had by all. Several, I know, would feel the results on Saturday morning!
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