After a couple of decades of hiking to and fro in the High Peaks area, the proportion of trails I've hiked in the region versus those that I haven't is quite lopsided - in favor of those I've already done. As a result, I'm finding it more difficult to find new trail under my feet. Still, there are a few corners of the High Peaks region that I haven't yet sampled, and one of these areas - specifically, the so-called North Trail to Giant Mountain, is one of them. Today - July 20, 2014 - was the day to finally hike it.
North Trail Trailhead
The North Trail to Giant - the Adirondack's 12th-highest peak - starts off a ways to the northeast of the peak, along state route 9N, not far beyond the height of land near Hurricane Mountain. Being one of the longest approaches to Giant combined with overall less scenery means it the least-used way to climb Giant. Likely the reason why it took me this long to get around to hiking it.
Solitude itself is an attractive attribute, however, and I was looking forward to a climb of Giant without an endless stream of humanity about.
The distance from the North Trail trailhead to the summit is around 7 miles. To decrease the trudgery factor and add some diversity, I chose to organize this outing as a point-to-point, starting at the North Trail trailhead and ending down in the center of the community of Keene Valley. This would allow a visit to scenic Hopkins mountain on the way down, in addition to providing yet more as-yet-unhiked-by-me trail to follow.
A short bit of road
On today's hiking group roster were myself, Jenn and friends Gosia and Arn. We all travelled down in one vehicle, which normally would be an unremarkable thing to report, except that the distance between the start and end points of our hike was nearly 14km (8+ miles). Our solution for this was to bring along a bicycle, which we left chained to a tree in the parking lot of the Mountaineer outdoor store in Keene Valley. Upon finishing the hike, I would use the bicycle to journey back to the start point to retrieve our vehicle.
After setting up the bike drop, we drove around to the start of the North Trail trailhead, arriving shortly after 8:30 a.m. Somewhat unexpectedly, there was one other car at the trailhead (I had expected zero), and while we were setting up, another arrived. Perhaps not so lonely of a trail as I had thought....
Heading off onto the trail before 9 a.m., we hiked a short ways along a gravel road, across a wooden vehicle bridge, and then made a hard left where the trail sign pointed off into the forest. The trail started climbing gently through very open forest - forest with almost no undergrowth.
The day's temperature was only moderately warm, but the humidity seemed very high. Therefore, despite the slight grade, we were fully drenched in sweat by the time we reached a very nice streamside bank above Slide Brook. We stopped for a short break and so that I could take a nice time-lapse shot of a pretty little cascade along the brook.
A bit steeper and rougher
Beyond Slide Brook, the North Trail became distinctly steeper and rougher. Nothing horrible, mind you - just not the smooth open path we had been hiking on up to this point. You could tell this trail wasn't heavily-used: tufts of grass grew in here and there in the tread of the trail; and higher up, branches and leaves occasionally intruded into your way. The kind of thing you don't see on a heavily-used trail.
Presently we arrived at the forested crest of an east-west ridgeline. Upon this ridgecrest is a crag of open rock known as Owl Head Lookout (not to be confused with nearby Keene Valley's Owl's Head). There is a short side trail here that leads up to this lookout. We turned off and headed up to give it a look-see (lookouts require a look-see, do they not?)
The side trip was well worth the trouble: Owl Head is a superb crag, with steep cliffs falling away to the south and west, affording great views of the wilderness to the east of Giant Mountain. Climbing up to Owl Head Lookout's open rock had another welcome benefit: it exposed us to a very nice cooling breeze - something we desperately wanted on this very humid day.