The middle of winter, after a big dump of fresh snow, is an excellent time for an Adirondack mountain outing. Especially if the day is forecast to be crystal clear, as this particular February 17th was predicted to be.
Originally slated to be an outing up Gothics with a work colleague of mine, we switched at the last minute to lower but still-scenic Pitchoff ridge. And instead of my work colleague Chris (who couldn't make it out today), we enlisted former colleague Andy and wife Andrea.
Bumps of Pitchoff Ridge
We'd last done Pitchoff ridge quite a long time ago - more than nine years ago, to be precise - in the fall of 2004. In fact, Pitchoff Ridge was Jenn's very first Adirondack hike. For whatever reason, this short but scenic destination had slipped off my radar. It was a perfect fit for today's requirements.
Eastern Trailhead, Pitchoff
There are two ways to get onto Pitchoff Ridge: the 'western' trailhead, on route 73 at the height of land just west of Cascade Pass, and the 'eastern' trailhead, on the downslope just east of Lower Cascade Lake (also on route 73). A continuous trail runs up and along the ridge, connecting the two trailheads.
In my opinion, Pitchoff Ridge is best done as a traverse. And, although we only had one vehicle, I intended to do this outing as such: I had packed a pair of sneakers with me so that I could jog back along the roughly 2.6 miles of highway connecting the two trailheads, once we had completed the hike. Either that, or I'd try and hitch a ride with a passing motorist.
We arrived at the eastern trailhead - our starting point - at about 8 a.m. Although it was perfectly clear and sunny, it was quite cold, and the prospect of generting some internal heat meant we wasted no time in suiting up and getting out on the trail.
Although there had been a significant snowfall event just a few days prior, there was already a well-packed snowshoe track leading up through the woods. Fortunate for us!
Mr. Brown and Crisp Mtn air
The trail headed back west, up gently rising terrain. After a few minutes of this, it bent more to the north, heading directly for the cliffs of Pitchoff Ridge - which, in the winter, are clearly visible through the trees. Soon the grade steepened, but with a good track and the proper snowshoes, we were able to power up without any sort of slippage.
With cold toes now very gradually starting to thaw, we continued our climb up towards Pitchoff Ridge, stopping here and there for a quick breather or to take in the beautiful winter forest scene. As it nears the ridgecrest, the trail becomes quite steep (we could see that other hikers coming down had chosen to butt-slide this section). It doesn't last long, though, and soon the trail flattened out and led into a shallow notch (kind of like a little canyon) just below the ridgecrest. We were now deep into conifer terrain, and the thick new snow on the boughs of the trees made for a very Christmas-like scene.
Once regrouped after our steep bit of climbing, we continued on, soon rounding a 180-degree turn in the trail and climbing up west onto Pitchoff's ridgecrest, and the first the lookouts. Not a cloud in the sky and excellent clarity. We were also fortunate to have very light winds; the temperature was quite cold and any sort of strong flow would have generated a powerful windchill.
Picture perfect conditions
After taking in the views, we continued on. Now atop Pitchoff Ridge, the next phase of our hike began: following the line of the ridge west, staying more or less on the crest. I knew from my last experience nearly ten years ago that there were many more good lookouts to come.
Observing the ridge ahead
Happy Mountain Couple Shot