On Saturday, August 18, sixteen tired Tramps convened at Logan's Bar in Speculator to replenish their energy (and fluids) after a strenuous ascent up a mountain that, although not a high peak, is not a "piece of cake" climb! We had attempted the climb last year, but a violent thunderstorm forced us to hike to Pillsbury Lake instead - an 8 mile scenic hike that was pregnant with the promise of a moose sighting, however none were visible. This year, the weather cooperated with a picture perfect day, temps in the low 70's and, despite some clouds in the morning, a clear afternoon with a wind brisk enough at the summit that jackets were appreciated when climbing the firetower.
The trailhead is about 6-8 miles in on a dirt road that comes off Rt. 30 to the northwest of Speculator. It is also the start of the mountain bike trail that goes into Perkins Clearing and then Sled Harbor. For those of you that make regular stops at the one gas station in Speculator, you know that Perkins Clearing is regularly noted on their "Moose Sighting" board as the place to see the mammoth mammals. No doubt this is due to the immense wilderness areas (West Canada Lakes to the west and Siamese Ponds to the Northeast) with plentiful water, forage and cover to allow them their privacy and sustain them. Once you get to Sled Harbor, a large clearing on both sides of the road with an interesting history in which French Louie and other trappers played an important part, you park the cars and hike a 1.2 mile 4-wheel drive road to the sign-in. For more info on the history, check out Barbara McMartin's book "50 Hikes in the Adirondacks."
The trail starts with a short downhill to the Miami River, an overstatement at this point, but immediately after crossing the footbridge you start climbing and really don't stop until you are at the summit!
The trail is in good shape, but is a typical Adirondack trail with lots of rocks, rubble and roots that require constant attention to one's feet while moving forward. It was partly for this reason that the frequent breaks taken by our leader were appreciated. Not only did we have a chance to rest and take in fluids, but also could look around. One of the first things we noticed is that some of the leaves were already taking on those fall colors-muted reds & browns in the understory and yellow & orange in the tree tops. The other was the size of some of the hardwoods. There was one birch in particular whose roots had almost fully encompassed the rock on which it had begun life as a small shoot that found a roothold in a tiny crevice or small depression full of dirt.
Just before the summit there was evidence of recent wind activity that had knocked over many trees in a path that swept from one side of the trail to the other. Trail crews had worked hard to cut through some of the bigger trunks that would have otherwise made the trail difficult to navigate. When the trail finally levels off, you are at the summit, the trees have thinned and the mosses are almost flourescent green in their intensity. There are some patches of moss that look as though they were photo-shopped to perfection and the desire to make a bed of them was very compelling.
However, I was the "sweep" and the rest of our group had already reached the firetower as evidenced by sounds of exhileration sifting through the trees so I delayed the desire to rest until joining up with them. The wait was well worth it since the bare rocks at the summit had been warmed by the sun and felt like a hot-rock massage on one's body! The clearing was alive with the sounds of crickets and huge, blue dragonflies that hovered in helicopter precision over the rocks, moss and lichens.
The climb up the firetower stairs was not for the faint at heart as the top level was without any screening and the interim levels seemed to be smaller than on many other towers. The platform at the top is closed, but there is still a magnificent view. You can see the West Canada Lakes Wilderness area with its many lakes, Cedar River Flow, Snowy Mountain, Blue Mountain and some of the high peaks as well as the Great Sacandaga Reservoir and points south. I really believe it was the best view I have ever had from a firetower!
After eating and having some water we were all semi-refreshed, but few were in a hurry to leave, especially not yours truly! The waning afternoon light suggested a nice nap on the rocks, but commitments called and we packed up and headed back down the trail.