It had been long - far too long, in fact, since our last hiking outing. A long stretch of busy weekends after our Oct 1 return from our most recent Desert Southwest trip chewed up the better part of a month. An on-and-off-and-on-and-off again plan to do a 2-day Huntington Ravine Ice climbing session in the Whites with Caroline never panned out (either not enough ice was present, or avalanche conditions were beyond our liking). So, as the clock ticked towards three months since the last hike, we decided it was time to get the ball rolling again, so to speak.
Blueberry-Porter from the East
We chose a perennial favorite: the Porter-Cascade traverse. The "back-way" to Cascade, as it were, starting from a trailhead down in Keene Valley and traversing an occasionally scenic ridgeline towards and over Porter Mountain, and then on to Cascade. A very short descent down the Cascade Mountain 'regular' trail would drop us off at the trailhead near Cascade Pass. What makes this variant of climbing Porter-Cascade better? perhaps it is the extra challenge (it is two or three times longer than the standard route and involves more than 3000 feet of elevation gain), or the scenery (there is a lot of very nice terrain and scenery as the trail climbs up and over Blueberry Mountain), or perhaps the solitude (often you will see no one else until you reach Porter Mountain).
Approaching Marcy Field TH
Now, doing the Porter-Cascade traverse normally requires a car shuttle. There were only three of us hiking today, though: myself, Jenn and Caroline. Not enough folks to justify two vehicles. We still wanted to do this hike, though, so we elected to go with one vehicle, and hope for a ride/hitchhike at the Cascade Pass end. Since the regular Cascade Mountain trail is so short, scenic and popular, we figured there was a high chance of success.
Porter Mtn Long Trail
We therefore approached the trailhead at the southwestern corner of Marcy Field shortly after 8 a.m., on what promised to be a fine [near] winter solstice day. Cloudless, calm, and with a forecast high only a few degrees below freezing. Somewhat surprisingly, the trailhead was completely deserted. That probably meant us-only for the first three-quarters of our journey.
We started off right around 8:30 a.m.. The snow was frozen fairly solidly, and the tracked-out trail easily bore our weight without any sinking in. So, we elected to go with a bare-boot start, with a likely switch to snowshoes as we gained elevation and the sun warmed the southeastern slopes of Blueberry Mountain.
Beginning of first major rise
There was little to no blowdown as we followed the obvious track up through the open woods below Blueberry Mountain. A short slope brought us to a flat section, and then to the start of the major elevation gain: a long, sometimes steep 1800-foot ascent up to the top of 3000-foot Blueberry Mountain.
After following along the banks of a small brook, the trail made a hard right and started steeply up the sunny slopes of Blueberry Mountain's southeast aspect. As we ascended, the snow became soft enough to warrant a switch to snowshoes. At a slow but steady pace, we made good time up to the start of the beautiful open patches near Blueberry's summit.
Open forest, Blueberry slopes
Great Range begins to show
In winter, the Adirondack mountains often sport a decent snow cover - in the trees. The bare-rock open areas, however, frequently melt out and are snow-free. Not so today, happily: all of the open spots had a nice thick base of snow, allowing us to snowshoe directly up and across them.
Blueberry's dome-like clearings
We were now high enough and in the open enough to get nice views of the surrounding countryside. Far off to the east and south, we noticed an extensive layer of undercast. Too bad that undercast wasn't close up, as it can be very scenic to walk above the clouds.
The grade eased as we neared the summit of Blueberry Mountain. We continued along the fine snowshoe track, crossing open lookouts and winding through small open glades in the thick conifer scrub. This section is definitely one of the most scenic parts of this traverse.
Caroline, Blueberry Summit
Pleasant semi-open wandering
A short stretch through dense forest brought us to a final, especially large area of bare ground. A large, very distinctive glacial erratic sits perched in the middle of this bare area. A small pile of stones piled up on one side of the fifteen-foot high rock no doubt indicated the scrambling route of many a young kid.
Pleasant semi-open wandering
A view of what is to come
After crossing the scenic bare spot, the trail plunged back into thick forest, descended to a small col, and then began a new ascent. This was the start of the 650-foot ish climb to the eastern end of Porter Mountain's summit ridge. Once atop the ridge, at about 3700 feet of elevation, we would be finished with the vast majority of the day's climbing.