Many are familiar with peak-bagging lists: X-thousand footer lists and hundred-highest lists are quite common throughout the land. There is something to be said, however, for having a list of the finest peaks; those that make the cut not because they satisfy some dry statistic, but instead because they are aesthetically superb in some way. I've done several of these sorts of peaks in the Adirondacks, and they have been highly rewarding: Jay Peak, Ampersand Mountain, and Round Mountain, for example, just to name a few.
Fall at Marcy Field
I became dimly aware not too long ago that there might be a few more of these gems hidden away in the High Peaks region [that I'd not done yet]. And so, on a fine sunny fall day in October, we decided to tackle one: Hopkins Mountain.
Hopkins is not far away from civilization: It sits above and to the east of the town of Keene Valley, and is essentially a small sub-peak of either Giant or Green Mountain, depending on how you look at it. Even if it were a 4000-footer, it would not qualify as one, seeing as its prominence relative to the aforementioned two peaks is only perhaps a hundred feet or so.
Mossy Cascade Trailhead
Still, it was said to be a great peak to climb, and so we made plans to do so by taking what seemed to be the most attractive route up, using a path called the Mossy Cascade Trail. This trail leaves highway 73 at a point just to the south of the crossing of the Ausable River, not far south of the town of Keene Valley. It's not an easy trailhead to find - the sign is not a standard NYSDEC sign and it is very small - but eventually find it we did. We parked on the side of the road (there's a wide shoulder that is good for a handful of vehicles), got ourselves ready under a perfectly blue and crisp, clear sky, and headed out.
The path started out by briefly crossing a small side-brook, then headed steeply up past some cliffs, then back down again. For a few minutes, we were alongside the banks of the Ausable River before the trail climbed back up a dark, shady forest of large pines. A now-flat pine-needle-covered path (likely the route of an old road) then led east through said shady forest. And in a very pleasant fashion.
Briefly Along Ausable River
The trail was very easy to follow (and was marked by red NYSDEC trail markers) as it meandered through the open forest. Off to the left we saw a home or cottage of some sort, and then the path briefly followed a pine needle-covered single-track road (which may actually still be used for vehicular traffic). Trail markers fairly clearly indicated the branching off from this road only a minute or so later. From here, the way is on a true hiking path.
The trail now started to earn its name as we began to follow the course of Mossy Cascade Brook. At first the gradient of both the trail and the brook were very slight, but in very short order, we came to the first section of steeper terrain. The brook here flowed through a small ravine, and the trail started switchbacking upwards, still through quite open, mature pine forest.
For the next four hundred or so yards, the trail made its way up mostly along the southern banks of Mossy Cascade Brook (in places it is a little ways away, but soon returns to its banks). There are several nice small cascades, pools and flumes that flow over (not surprisingly, given the name) mossy boulders and rocks. The forest in this section is still quite open, and so it is a very simple matter to access any part of the brook that strikes your fancy.
There were many nice water-related photographic opportunities here, and we stopped so that I could set up and take several long-exposure shots. Hopefully I did not bore Jenn or Chris too much.
At the top of the four hundred or so yards (mentioned above), the trail crossed the brook and started to head north, uphill and away from the brook. This would be the last we'd see of Mossy Cascade Brook until our descent later in the day.
Upper Crossing of Mossy Cascade
The trail now entered a new realm: that of ridgecrest and 'ridgestep'. The pattern was mostly this: a bit of hiking through beautiful, open deciduous forest along the crest of the main ridgeline coming down to the southwest from Hopkins. Then, once every so often, a steeper portion of ridge would be encountered, and the vegetation would change to completely coniferous; the trail would steeply ascend over spongy forest floor in a few tight switchbacks to another higher section of flatter ridgecrest, and the pattern would start anew. Both the trail and the different environments were quite nice: the trail for being uneroded and easy to walk on; and the environments for providing very scenic in-forest hiking. The terrain on this ridge ascent wasn't your typical closed-in, somewhat grungy-looking brush: instead, it had an airy and tidy feel to it. The fact that the sections of deciduous forest were ablaze in fall colors didn't hurt either!