In the interest of keeping to mountain hikes on a semi-regular basis, it was time for another outing. We'd mentally penned-in this outing as an "intro to newbies", but it turned out that none of the true newbies (i.e. none of the true newbies I was thinking of) were available. However, the idea of an easy hike stuck, and I turned to a perennial favorite of short Adirondack hikes - sporty little Catamount.
Short but prominent
Catamount rises dramatically out of relatively flat land somewhat north of Whiteface Mountain. Because of this, it looks a lot more interesting than its relatively modest 3100-ish foot summit elevation would lead you to believe. In addition, I knew from experience that the trail up Catamount offers one of the "sportiest" short mountain climbs in the Adirondacks - a few short scrambly bits, along with lots of lookouts, views, and open areas.
New Catamount Trailhead
Although we didn't have newbies with us, we did bring along newcomers - to Catamount, that is. Caroline, Arn, Gosia, Nel and Kai had all never done Catamount, and so even though this would be a relatively easy outing, it was something new and interesting for them.
Speaking of new and interesting things, I was quite surprised to see a new official NYSDEC trailhead and parking lot infrastructure at the Catamount trail trailhead. I probably skimmed past the announcement for this somewhere in the forums or in newsletters. No more will the Catamount Mountain trail be an obscure little you-have-to-know-where-it-is sort of thing.
As is my custom, we'd waited for a day of nice weather to coincide with our schedules, and such was the case for this Sunday, March 29. A quite cold night (-23C / -9F) was followed by the crispest, clearest morning with a dark blue sky and a strong sun. A recent snowfall had dumped a surprising amount of fresh snow as well, creating a perfect triad of "C" superlatives - crisp, clear, and clean. It was in many ways similar to a spring Catamount hike we had done two years ago, almost to the day (March 30, 2013 Catamount hike
Knowing that Catamount is a fairly short hike, we arrived at the trailhead fairly late (by our standards): 10 a.m. Pleasantly - even though the Catamount trailhead was now clearly marked - there were no other cars in the snowy parking lot. We had the mountain to ourselves!
Across the flats
We started bareboot; the two or three inches of fresh snow covered a very firm base that easily supported our weight. We hiked north, across the roughly 1km (0.6 miles) of flat and forested terrain to the beginning of Catamount's slopes. Here, a beautiful open deciduous forest cloaks the lower slopes, and on bright spring days such as this, it is a wonderful spot to soak up some sun.
Beautiful lower slopes
Uphill meant we needed more grip, and at this point we elected to put on traction-aid devices. We then continued on. The Hyndman kids (Nel and Kai) both exhibited a burst of energy, with Kai especially sprinting far ahead of the group. Staying with him, I eventually recommended that we wait at a big flat bedrock ledge halfway up the first long grade.
Once everyone else caught up and had a break of their own, we continued. We transitioned out of the open lower deciduous forest and into the realm of conifers. The recent snow had coated the trees' green boughs and created a very christmas-y scene.
The soft-snow-over-hard-trail produced a few steep and slippery spots that were tricky to navigate. I had brought along my ice ax, and Kai grew quite fond of asking to use it to help him climb up these bits.
Entering Winter Wonderland
In relatively short order, we completed the first principle grade of our climb, and arrived a flat section. This flat section sits at the base of the cliffs of Catamount's sub-summit. The first nice views are reached here, looking south towards Whiteface, Esther, and the MckEnzie range.
The trail disappeared back into the forest for a minute or two, and then arrived at the base of the first bit of true scrambling - a place I like to call "the chimney". This is a narrow gash in the bedrock - almost like a steep stairway - granting access up through cliffs towards the sub-summit. Today there was quite a thin layer of snow over quite a bit of hard ice in the chimney. I went first and used my ax to chop some steps for the others to use.
Once atop the chimney section, there is still a stretch of quite steep terrain before one arrives at the top of the subsummit. With all of the new snow, slightly more careful routefinding was required to find the least steep way to the top. Generally speaking, though, the tracks we were following led the proper way up this section.
Arn, Whiteface, and McKenzies
The brilliant sun and relative lack of wind shielded us from feeling the true temperature. On the open subsummit, however, a breeze reminded us that it was still well below freezing. The bit of chill was more than made up for by the fantastic clear views, now available in an approximately 270-degree arc. Off in the distance to the east, a strip of brilliant white snow marked the ridgeline of Mount Mansfield, Vermont, where we had been just over a month before