Snowy and Lewey Mountains
A nice pair of Adirondack hikes in May 2021. My first mountains this year — now that me and my friend Strat are fully vaccinated — and a warm-up for the season while working toward my goal to visit the ADK Hundred Highest. Both of these summits were new to us, as we had only seen a few of the hundred highest outside of the 46 high peaks. We both enjoy avoiding crowds and off-trail adventures, so we’re really looking forward to seeing more of the “other 54”.
Snowy Mountain, Friday evening
Arrived at the Snowy trailhead around 5:30 pm. Just one other vehicle in the parking area. A very quiet evening with calm mild weather; just a cloud of flies to keep us company as we prepared. My pack was pretty heavy with assorted gear, not knowing whether to expect cold/snowy/wet conditions, and also it always takes a couple hikes each spring to relearn efficient packing strategy.
The lower parts of the Snowy trail were quick and pleasant. Looks like the trail had some improvements in recent years? The dry easy footing afforded us more attention to all the spring wildflowers (trout lilies, dutchman’s breeches, etc.), the open woods, and eventually a rather nice brook. We passed one other party coming down the mountain, and that was our only human contact for the entire weekend of hiking.
The main climb to Snowy’s summit was pretty much the steep eroded workout I expected and enjoy, but the snow and ice I feared based on reports from the high peaks region never materialized, except for a few tiny patches tucked in a corner on the steepest part of the climb (Strat didn’t even notice it on the climb, and couldn’t believe it when he spotted it on the way down). I gave it a little poke and moved on.
Cool summit and a cute little fire tower with incredible views. Thought it was interesting that the observer cabin was a bit distant and downhill from the tower, with basically no clearing around the tower itself: it was awash in trees right up to the foundation. Trees which thoughtfully caught Strat’s hat after it blew off of his head up in the windy tower cab.
Hopped back down and finished the hike at dusk, making a game of getting back to the trailhead before headlamps were required (which is getting harder every year as our night vision weakens). Reminisced in the near-dark about various weird wildlife sounds and smelling bears during previous bushwhacking adventures.
Lewey Mountain, Saturday morning
Next morning we slept in a bit, got coffee at Stewart’s, and arrived at the Sucker Brook trailhead at 7 am to climb Lewey Mountain. Perhaps I misread the guidebook, as I had the impression that the Sucker Brook trail would be lightly maintained and tricky to follow — more like a herd path — but it was a beautiful, perfect piece of singletrack all the way to the col below Lewey. A soft duff surface under towering pine trees with several very freshly cut logs as evidence of maintenance. Totally dry conditions and easy rock-hopping at the stream crossings. [ed: credit to the Albany Chapter of ADK club for recent maintenance.]
We found the height of land marking Lewey’s east ridge and stepped off the trail to begin our climb. Made note of a twisty tree trunk to see if we could find this spot on the return trip. The climb started gently in wide-open woods, then the grade notched up in steepness every few minutes. Soon we were swimming through spruce, practicing our limp-arms technique to just phase through the limbs instead of fighting them. We found what we swore was a herd path, and with it we were able to make excellent time through much of much of the thick stuff all the way to the summit. The usual series of false summits and fun little ledges, but overall a really friendly bushwhack.
We were nicely warmed up now with the morning sun at our backs all along this westward trajectory, and now overhead in clear blue skies. We ate some sour patch kids, drank some water, and shed some layers. Next step was to set a course for the descent. We checked the map and compass and calibrated our shadows so we could navigate by the sun.
The original descent plan was to follow the west ridge; the cirque between the ridges was also an option but I had wondered if that would be wetter due to mud season. But now it seemed pretty clear that mud would not be a concern today. So as we angled toward the west ridge and it was evident it would be a longish walk through some pretty thick trees, we allowed the slope to push us south toward the cirque. After riding out a ledge that was too tall to hop, we continued downward and very soon were in more open woods. The west and east ridges were visible above to either side, and also the summit behind us. Hard to ask for easier navigation.
We decided to explore the cirque route since we could easily return to the ridge if things did get wet. But that never happened. Just easy going through increasingly open woods, even did some running. We encountered and stepped across several drainages that collected to form a small stream, staying on the right bank of everything to keep closer to the west ridge. We recognized various plants that belong in wet areas, and the ground had the appearance of getting soft and muddy from time to time, but today was a dry day.
We were moving so fast we began to fear that we would blast right by the Sucker Brook trail. Not a big concern, since the trail parallels Sucker Brook proper and there’s no way we could miss that (and worst case, just going downhill/following all water downstream should guarantee you will return to the road). About 30 seconds after this discussion, we found the trail and it was clear as day. Turned left and headed back to the trailhead, and found the twisty tree exactly where we left it. We didn’t go through much of our water but the streams looked so clear and cold that I couldn’t help filtering a bottlefull for the road.
Wrapped up the morning with pizza and ice cream in Speculator, airing out our spruce-scratched legs in the sun (sorry, passersby). A great start to the summer hiking season!