Bear Den Mountain and Flume Knob are two low-ish subsummits situated on two of the many ridgelines coming down from Whiteface Mountain, the northernmost of the Adirondack 4000-footers. And although I've been up Whiteface and Esther (a 4000+ foot subsummit) a bunch of times over the last few decades, I had never really noticed these two little bumps. In fact, it took a ping from a visitor to my website -- Jonathan Cammarata -- to bring them to my attention.
Although this outing was short (less than 10 kilometres and only about 5 hours in length), it was very significant for a special reason: our visit down to the Adirondacks today marked the first time in almost exactly two years since our last hike (the fantastic climb up the East Face ascent of Algonquin on March 7, 2020
). The gap in between was due to the global Covid pandemic, of course, and all of its attendant travel restrictions.
Although I invited many people on this "return to the 'daks" trip, ultimately it was only Jenn that elected to attend. I was pretty sure that a big part of the reason was the fact that the Canadian government still had a restriction in place that required anyone coming back across the border into Canada to have completed a Covid-19 test within 24 hours. More detail on that aspect at the end of this report.
There are a couple of access points to the trails leading up to these two subsummits. We elected to park at the trailhead for The Flume trail network, which is located on route 86 just east of where the highway crosses the West Branch of the Ausable River, not far from the town of Wilmington.
The trailhead was spacious and well marked and -- at the time we arrived, nicely empty. The day was forecast to be cloudy, but it was more of a thin, high transparent haze. A haze through which the sun was easily able to punch. We stepped out of the car at 10 a.m., and the sun had driven up the temperature to a point far above last night's chilly low.
Trailhead Interpretive Board
The trail looked quite beaten out at the trailhead, so we elected to start with microspikes and no snowshoes. Before heading out on the actual hike, we scrambled down to the edge of the Ausable River, which goes through a bit of a gorge as it crosses underneath the highway. There was lots of evidence of a recent winter flood and freeze, with huge blocks of thick ice jumbled and piled up here and there.
Back up from the river's edge, we started off. We kept left, staying on the trail that hewed close to the riverbank. A nice open marshland area gave us a great overview of the terrain above us, including the two bumps of Bear Den and Flume. We had decided to head up to the higher, westernmost point first (Bear Den), hence the reason for us heading in this clockwise direction. After climbing Bear Den we would traverse east, over to Flume Knob, then back down to our trailhead, in a kind of lumpy, misshapen, horned pseudo-loop.
This being our first real "mountain" hike in two years, the hike along the Ausable River's banks was a nice easy intro. The trail was a little soft and much less broken out (than it had been at the trailhead). It made sense at this point to make the switch to snowshoes.
After a mostly flat stretch of riverbank walking, the trail gradually began to curve away and slope upwards through forest. Soon we emerged, rather abruptly, into a very large parking lot crammed with hundreds upon hundreds of cars. We had arrived at the Bear Den Parking lot of the Whiteface Mountain Ski center. It's not usually the case that we encounter a shopping mall's worth of cars in the middle of a hike.
On the opposite side of the parking lot from where we had emerged, we found another trailhead kiosk, well-signed for Bear Den Mountain. (In case it isn't obvious, parking your car and starting this itinerary from here is also possible). We briefly stopped to delayer (it was feeling much more like a sunny spring day than we had anticipated) before heading off on the uphill trail from here, well-tracked out and well-marked with new red NYSDEC trail markers.
An unusual mid-hike sight
Away from the crowded parking lot, the peaceful forest returned. The low-altitude forests of the Adirondacks are often very open stands of maple and birch, and this was the case here. A nice early spring sun and fresh, powdery snow made for very pleasant hiking conditions.
Two parallel trails head uphill along both sides of the drainage and creek that separate Bear Den from Flume. We were looking for the first of these trails - the one heading up Bear Den. It didn't take us long, with the signage for the junction coming into view within 15 minutes.
Junction at start of climb
We started up the yellow-blazed trail to Bear Den Mountain. Conditions continued to be perfect. We had been wondering if the trail up these rarely visited peaks (well, in my mind, at least) would mean an unbroken trail, but no - the trail looked very nicely broken out. At first things weren't too steep, and the trail stayed fairly close to the central creek that drained the Bear Den-Flume area. It was quite a deep little ravine in spots. The trail followed the crest of a pretty little forested ridge that directly paralleled the ravine's depths. An old moraine, perhaps?
Andrew climbing towards Bear Den
After twenty minutes or so of ravine-side hiking, the trail began to curve left, away and up towards Bear Den's ridgeline. Although the terrain was now much steeper, the trail tended to traverse back and forth, reducing the trail's effective steepness. Footing on the packed-out snowshoe track was perfect. Conditions like this is why winter hiking in the Adirondacks is so great.
Thirty minutes and about 700 feet of huffy-puffy climbing (remember, this was our first real mountain hike in two years) brought us to Bear Den's ridgeline, where, after pushing through a small band of fir trees, we arrived at the first of the ridgeline's nice lookouts. An impressive vista of the eastern flanks of Whiteface Mountain unfolded in front of us. Nestled in the various drainages below were the many runs of the Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort - an Olympic class facility that had hosted the ski events for both the 1932 and 1980 winter olympics. A fair number of skiiers (ant-like from our vantage point) were enjoying today's beautiful conditions.
Although the view of Nearby Whiteface Mountain was the most impressive sight from the Bear Den Ridgeline, I was also happy to find that one is able to see through Wilmington Notch (the pass to the west of us) towards the mountains of the MacIntyre Range. Algonquin's East face was distinctly visible, once again reminding me of that final pre-covid hike
two years ago.
From the first lookout, the Bear Den trail leads south along Bear Den's ridgeline, mostly open to the west, until one reaches the main open rocky viewpoint and highpoint. It is a fantastic spot, with a roughly 180-degree wide view from south to west to north.
With the relatively mild conditions and a few good sitting rocks available, we stopped for a quick lunch here.