Trying to ramp up my hike frequency a bit in the runup to my August 2017 Great Eclipse Trip, it was time to fit in another hike before July ended. 'Twas only Rae along for the hike today, and she had expressed an interest in water features - something entirely lacking in the otherwise excellent Jay Mountain
hike we all did two weeks ago.
So, I thought about it for a bit, and decided that a long loop up and down the bottom of Ausable Valley would be perfect for this - tons of little points of interest, mostly water-based: flumes and cascades and waterfalls from the various streams coursing down either side of the steep-walled valley, and at the bottom, the Ausable River itself, with bigger flows and bigger hydraulic features. And Lower Ausable Lake. Such a loop would also have some good views, too: the excellent vista from Indian Head, along with a few other choice lookouts along the way.
Low morning cloud
The day was beautiful. Clear, low humidity, cool. Perfect for hiking. Extensive areas of low cloud pooled in the land's low points as we drove around the southern side of the Central High Peaks region. I knew, however, that all of that would (unfortunately) be burned off before we got to any lookout. So, a quick picture from along the highway was a decent backup option. Completing our drive, we started walking from the parking lot along Route 73 at about 8:30 a.m.
The Ausable Valley is almost entirely within the auspices of the Adirondack Mountain Reserve. As we walked past the golf course, old hotel, and perfectly-finished cottages, I explained to Rae a bit about the history of the AMR and its status within the context of the Adirondack Park. Private ownership, different rules, and an aura of upper-crustedness. An echo of the gilded age.
My plan was to hit the interesting bits along the east side of the valley first. To that end, we turned off onto a connector trail towards the Ausable River right at the Lake Road gatehouse (last did this little bit of trail way back in the mid-90s). Within a few minutes we were on the stony banks of the East Branch Ausable River - the major watercourse draining the entire Ausable Valley. A sturdy footbridge crossed us over to the east side, and the beginning of the East River Trail. We'd be following this trail (with the occasional detour) all the way up to its end at Lower Ausable Lake.
Like the West River Trail on the opposite side (and upon which I hiked on my way to Gothics on a few months earlier), much of the East River trail is relatively near to the banks of the Ausable River, and there are often spots to head down to the water's edge.
Soon we reached the first our side trips: the junction leading to Cathedral Rocks and Bear Run. I've never been up to these features, and I assumed that Cathedral Rocks was a lookout of some sort.
Turnoff to Cathedral Rocks
The East River Trail is already lightly-travelled, but the trail up to Cathedral Rocks is even less so. The track was faint but still mostly discernable, and adequate trail markers assisted us when it wasn't. We climbed moderately steeply for about 15 minutes, then turned left and began a rolling traverse beneath a long wall of low cliffs. At a point where my map said Cathedral Rocks were located was a sign on a tree, indicating that the actual Cathedral Rocks were some distance further along.
A bit more traversing along a faint path brought us to Cathedral Rocks. This wasn't a lookout, as I had thought, but rather... tall rocks. Of the cliff variety. A series of open-book and sharp-edged corners that shot up about 100 feet into the forest canopy. Nice enough, but would've liked to get atop these cliffs. Short of some nasty bushwacking or challenging climbing, this didn't seem possible, so we moved on.
There's a higher loop parallel to the Cathedral Rocks loop known as Bear Run, and initially I had not intended to explore it, but given the slightly underwhelming Cathedral Rocks, I wanted a bit more stimulation. I suggested we go for a ways up the Bear Run trail to see what this was about (and it sound like it might be watery, something in which Rae had expressed an interest).
Pyramid Brook Flume
A few minutes ot steep trail brought us to a series of very small but very pretty pouroffs in an otherwise dry brook (Pyramid Brook). We stopped and enjoyed these for a while, but then decided to explore a bit higher to see what there was to be seen. Here we discovered an extensive area of wide, polished bedrock in the bed of Pyramid Brook. While I'm not 100% sure, I think this is the area known as Bear Run. Very nice.
After exploring the Run, we decided to hike a little ways further up the Bear Run trail and nearly immediately encountered a wonderful lookout - exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for at Cathedral Rocks. The lookout provided a picture-perfect view towards Noonmark and Giant Mountains. A great place for our first food break.
Very happy with our decision to explore this bit of the Bear Run loop, we turned around and headed back down the way we came, then continued on down the remaining bit of the Cathedral Rocks loop to the East River Trail. Now back down at the main river level, we turned right, continuing our journey up Ausable Valley.
The next especially beautiful point of interest was the trail crossing at Wedge Brook - one of many brooks coming down from the Great Range (which was right above us to the northeast). Wedge Brook has many beautiful little rock steps, cascades, flumes and pools - and the spot right where the East River Trail crosses is especially nice, with a chockstone-created twin pouroff draining down into a nicely symmetrical pool. Standing on the bridge gave a perfect view of this.
The East River trail continued southwest, soon following along an edge high above the Ausable River, which at this point had carved a rather deep gorge into the valley bottom.