One interesting thing about the Soda Range - something I've noticed since I first did the NunDaGaO loop twenty years ago - is the preponderance of unusually large lichen. They carpet the ground on either side of the trail in many spots, and look for all the world like the raw material for model train set dioramas.
We start thinking about lunch on one of these sunny and scenic Soda Range crags, but the chilly wind keeps us going, keeps us looking for perhaps a north-facing lookout that will be in the shelter of the trees. All of the lookouts face south and are fully exposed to the wind, however. Eventually we relent and choose a nice wide south-facing ledge with a great view.
We don't quite realize it at the time, but we've chosen a lunch spot that is very near to the western end of the Soda Range's crags. Soon after setting off, we came to a somewhat poorly marked spot where the trail descends down the face of the cliffline in a steep scramble. Once down, the trail turned more to the southwest, staying mainly in the forest but still on a gently undulating ridgecrest.
Scramble down into Forest
Completing the downscramble
We were now nearing the completion of the NunDaGaO loop route. Ahead of us we could see a bump covered with tall conifers: Big Crow Mountain. The trail skirts around this bump and then heads down to the Big Crow parking lot and the completion of the loop. However... this is not the plan for us today. Instead we stop at a junction below the summit of Big Crow, and turn to climb a trail that leads to its summit. This is the start of the side route "over the Crows" and down to an obscure trailhead on Hurricane Road (We've left the CR-V at this lower trailhead).
The climb to the top of Big Crow is short and quite steep; we arrive at the top with hearts pounding. Although the northern aspect of Big Crow's summit is covered with tall conifers, its southern aspect has wide open slabs with superb views. There are a few other people scattered about here with lawn chairs and books - I guess enjoying nature while reading? Certainly they are only a short way from the Big Crow parking lot, so perhaps the presence of lawn chairs is not so surprising.
After enjoying the views, we continued west, over the top of Big Crow, following new-looking red NYSDEC trail markers. The trail descended steeply, on bedrock slabs. Ahead of us we could see the lower bump of Little Crow, which our trail would soon be visiting.
The col between Big Crow and Little Crow was a suprisingly magical place today. It was nearly entirely peppered with thin maple trees, and they had at this point dropped a majority of their leaves. The small saddle must have been carpeted five inches thick with a fluffy layer of golden maple leaves. Combined with low afternoon light and blue sky, it was a magical little spot.
The top of LC Mountain is only slightly above the col, and a few minutes of gentle uphill hiking brought us to it. There is one very nice view to the south at the top, but that is about it. My theory about the lower part of the Crows trail being more colorful at this late point in the season turned out to be right - we saw plenty of brilliant reds now, both from the lookouts and from the forest around us. Nice. We had not missed maximum color in the Adirondacks after all!
Following the trail became a little more complex as we descended off of Little Crow Mountain, a result of the combination of fallen leaves and frequent little zigs and zags. Partway down, we arrived at a final lookout and simply had to stop for a few minutes to soak things in. A full gamut of fall colors stretched out not far below us, far brighter and more saturated than at any point yet on our hike. A fitting finale to an already excellent-ly scenic hike.