Welcome to my number two of the alavigne.net fall 2022 Adirondack hiking season. Hike number one up Giant in late September
-- while a lot of fun and a great intro to three new adirondack mountain hikers -- was pretty much devoid of fall colors. Basically, we had preceded the turning of the leaves.
Ideally we would have returned two weeks later, but various challenges had prevented that. So, here we were, three weeks later, in mid-October. Would we be too late? Would the colors be past-peak?
In order to maximize our chances of seeing color so late into October, I chose a route that was at a low altitude but which still had a lot of excellent viewpoints: the NunDaGaO loop north of Hurricane Mountain and south of the Jay Ridgeline.
Being low, the NunDaGaO loop was closer to (or in places, within) the zone of deciduous trees (in other words, trees that had color-changing leaves). And to further maximize our color-viewing chances, I decided to alter the standard NunDaGaO loop route and tack on a finale that led over and down the Crows, two lower bumps that were surrounded with and mostly covered by lots of maple and oak trees.
Big Crow, Big Group
We managed to recruit a much larger than average gaggle of hikers today: some from my workplace, and some from the regular roster of hiking companions. Eleven in all we were.
The start point for the NunDaGaO loop is the Big Crow parking area and trailhead, located uphill from the town of Keene and reachable by driving up Hurricane Road and then turning off onto the gravel surface of Otoole Road, which climbs up towards the Soda range until it dead-ends at the trailhead. Consistent with the recent trend of overcrowded Adirondack trailheads, this normally out-of-the-way parking area and trailhead was nearly full, even though we had arrived at a reasonable 8:30 a.m.
This is primarily a loop route, and I chose to set off to the south-east, in the counter-clockwise direction. I did this because I wanted to get the less interesting hiking out of the way first, and have the good views and (hopefully) the best colors towards the end.
Heading out counter-clockwise
A very flat, wide and nicely-graded trail heads southeast from the Big Crow Parking lot and Trailhead. There were a lot of leaves on the ground; many trees had already lost most of their foliage. Generally, the color palette was comprised of yellows and browns. The more brilliant red and orange colors were not to be seen.
We very gradually gained ground as we stayed close to the waters of Gulf Brook - the main drainage for the terrain north of nearby Hurricane Mountain. Presently we came to the junction with the northern ascent trail to Hurricane itself. Wanting to stay on our loop (the NunDaGaO loop), we kept left. I noticed that the Gulf Brook Lean-to was no longer present at this junction, and very soon realized why - it has been moved a short way uphill and further away from the trail and the brook.
Wet leaves and slick roots characterized the next segment of trail, which became rougher and steeper as it wound up towards the remote little body of water known as Lost Pond. There was new beaver activity around the pond itself, raising its level and drowning out a few of the lookouts along its shore.
Careful footwork kept our feet dry on the wet trail skirting Lost Pond. Minutes after starting to head away from Lost Pond, we arrived at another Lean-to, in a nice little cleared out area in the forest. A very tidy little spot for a get-away bit of camping.
Arriving Lost Pond Lean-to
The trail led north from the Lost Pond Lean-to. Soon it steepened significantly, climbing a short distance to our first summit of the day - 3,200-foot high Weston Mountain. One emerges suddenly from forest hiking to excellent views over Lost Pond and Hurricane and to the main Central High Peaks. Even though from this vantage point it did indeed appear as if peak colors had passed, suitable oohs and aahs were uttered from all eleven of us. The view is grand. Especially photogenic from here is the view south towards the small triangle of Lost Pond, framed against nearer hills and higher peaks further beyond.
Lost Pond and the Central HP
Everyone was fired up from the exhilaration of this first scenic viewpoint, and we forged ahead, looking forward to promised future views. The trail soon descended steeply to the low point between Weston and the next section of high ground, known somewhat vaguely as the Soda Range. The Soda Range is effectively a very long ridgeline, sprinkled here and there with open crags along a sharp-ish south-facing cliffline.
At the Weston-Soda Range col, we began an easy ascent back up through the forest and soon reached the first of many open areas of bedrock atop south-facing cliffs. The Hatko girls especially enjoyed scrambling and exploring the airy edges - perhaps slightly at the expense of a bit of anxiousness on the part of their parents.
The next mile or so of hiking along the crest of the Soda Range is perhaps the best part of the NunDaGaO loop. There's a nice mix of cliff-crest open hiking and flat hiking along a ridgecrest that is often carpeted with unusually and well-developed areas of lichen and moss. The day is turning out to be sunny but a rather chill southwest wind keeps us moving and warm (instead of stopping for an early lunch, as some of us suggest).
The NunDaGaO loop encircles a large bowl of terrain, bounded on the north by the Soda Range, to the east by Weston Mountain, and to the south by the slopes of Hurricane Mountain. These Soda Range crags that we are now atop give an excellent view down into that bowl, today filled with particularly brilliant puffs of yellow - not the reds and oranges we had hoped for, but quite beautiful nevertheless.