Friday, October 8, 2010

Catamount...The Most Fun You Can Have At 3100 ft

Catamount Mountain Autumn Views

Often my favorite peaks are not the higher peaks. It's not that I don't appreciate numbers, after all the world is a quantity based place, but I just like the aesthetics of a hike, climb or summit more than most people who are enslaved to quantity based goals, like miles or vertical feet.

Catamount is a great example of this. It's a lowly 3100ft peak, sort of off the radar of peak baggers. It's too short to waste a trip from downstate to the North Country to climb, and it's not surrounded by anything that would draw a hikers attention to it. However, it's perhaps one of the most beautiful of Adirondack peaks, and the hike is absolutely amazing as well.

Catamount isn't a naturally bald peak and it's slabs for the most part aren't naturally bare. Like many places in the Adirondacks, the bare rock is the result of natural forces that play on the regions typically thin soils, such as slides from sustained torrential rainfall, man made fires. wildfire, or Colvin's surveys. I'm fairly certain Catamount was the result of all 3. The result is this quite steep, slabby mountain, covered with ledges, chimneys (really a boulder filled dike) and cliffs, which must be ascended to get to it's virtually bare summit. Once on top you can take in as much as 270* from many single vantage points, with the ability to see a full 360* with a little footwork from multiple vantage points.

Of course, if you've hiked in the Adirondacks you are already thinking, "but isn't that about 75% of Adirondack peaks, most of which are on some sort of tick list or a lot closer to the major population centers of the Northeast." You got me there, but I will say this, the scrambling is just plain fun on Catamount. In my opinion this is one of the most rugged trailed (unofficially trailed) hikes in the Adirondacks. This includes the High Peaks. Yet the reward to effort ratio is probably superior to anything in the high peaks.

Look, I'm one of the nuts that hikes down 2000ft from my camp in the White Mountains to crawl through caves and than hike back up trails that in many parts of the country would laughed at as insane. A pile of loose talus and house sized boulders you have to go over, under or around does not make a trail to most. Yet, this is exactly the sort of thing I seek out far more so than big mileage days, and Catamount gives a civilized bite sized taste of this without any of the effort required to do harder variations like Saddleback, the Gothics, Huntington Ravine Trail (another truly sick joke of a trail), the King Ravine, and many others.

Having done literally nothing for most of September, Catamount was exactly what the doctor ordered. Short, sweet and technical.

Catamount was also a perfect hike to work on Colvin's climbing skills. He probably won't ever be Caney on the steep sections, but he has already gotten a lot better in spite of really not getting much practice while paddling all summer. Dogs are like people, they need exposure and practice to ever become good at what they do. We did our best to teach him to "climb" this summer and he has improved a lot. Although he still doesn't independently control his back and front paws, he definitely has gotten a lot more proficient at slabs and short walls. Where Colvin still has trouble is he panics anytime he gets to a section he has to think about. He'll look around for alternate options, often finding them, but Catamount was his nemesis. Most of the hike was the easiest route up the mountain so he was forced to actually climb rather than take the long route around obstacles. Although he wasn't quiet about his angst with all the climbing, he made it up and down the entire hike without an assist by me. Pretty impressive considering he doesn't yet have the confidence he needs to be really good. I think with confidence he'll be able to slow down and not try to dyno through everything.

My favorite part of the hike was really that there wasn't any significant stretches of unappealing hiking. The start was a fairly flat grade through now reforesting fields, then the uphill hiking starts but quickly reaches the more scrambly open sections that afford great views of both Catamount and the surrounding landscape. Once on these sections you should be having so much fun you won't want to reach the summit too quickly!

Catamount Mountain USGS Benchmark

When we did reach the top we were equally impressed with the great views. The weather was perfect, and after accepting that I'd missed the good light to catch the remaining fall colors, I decided to take a nap on the summit slabs. The idea was to hang out on the summit long enough to catch the afternoon light. Colvin being very loyal and obedient slept with his head on my pack, growling at anyone that came near me or our gear. We are working on his over protectiveness, but it's nice to have a dog that does his dog duties well. I slept for about 2 hours and 20 minutes under the warm autumn sun with just a slight breeze.

Colvin on Catamount

When I woke up I realized we had a fair amount of time to go till the golden hours, thus deciding to head down part way to another vantage point. When we got there the light was still cool and contrasty, so I decided we might as well descend in the daylight and see if I could find something of interest on the drive to Lake Placid.

Colvin on Catamount

Monday morning we broke camp and hiked into Round Pond, not impressed with the scene or the lighting we headed out and went back to Roaring Brook Falls for a final shot.

Roaring Brook Falls Foliage, Adirondacks

I wish autumn in the Northeast could last longer, but with a little planning you can get about 6 weeks of foliage and temperate weather. Starting in the high mountains in mid to late September and gradually moving to lower elevations, on to larger lake shores (Great Lakes, Finger Lakes, and Champlain Valley), and eventually the coast as late as Halloween! 

Beaver Pond Autumn Reflections - Wilmington, NY

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