Monday, June 27, 2011

Cat Mountain: 06/26/2011

I really wanted to hike this weekend. Beth and I had planned to hike Colvin and Blake (two of the peaks Beth needs towards her 46) on Friday, but a dismal weather forecast caused us to scuttle those plans. Saturday was our rain date, but we cancelled that due to… more rain. The weather forecast was better for Sunday but we didn’t have child care, so I pushed for a family hike.

View of the Narrows from Cat Mountain. 

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View of the Narrows from Cat Mountain

For a variety of reasons, we wanted to keep the hike pretty close to home, and I selected Cat Mountain, near Lake George. Cat Mountain is part of the Lake George Land Conservancy's Cat and Thomas Mountains Preserve in Bolton Landing. We’ve hiked Thomas Mountain several times, and it’s one of our favorite family hikes, but we had never done Cat.

(click to enlarge)
Cat’s a bit of a longer hike than Thomas (6.5 miles round trip versus 3), but that distance can be shortened to about 5 miles by accessing its trail via an unmarked route from Town-owned property near Edgecomb Pond. If you’re starting to think that this is a prelude to “How I Got My Family Lost in the Adirondacks,” that’s not at all what happened…

Finkle Brook

The shortcut worked like a charm, and we picked up the yellow-marked Cat Mountain trail without incident. Along the way we passed near Edgecomb Pond, Finkle Brook and several beaver flows and wetlands, all of which are as interesting to our kids as a summit view. Abundant red-spotted newts and mushrooms added more kid-appeal.

Also abundant, unfortunately, were mosquitoes – particularly in the lower elevations. And when I say the bugs were bad, keep in mind the fact that I am legendary (at least within my own family) for being oblivious to mosquitoes and black flies. Fortunately the bugs didn’t seem to be bothering the kids too much. But the hike was longer, steeper and muddier, and the trail was much rockier than we’d anticipated. For a while it seemed like we’d never get to the summit, and the kids started getting cranky. That’s when the weather went against us and it started to rain.

When the going gets tough, break out the Gummy Worms

At that point I knew we had to be very close to the summit. We held up under some trees until the showers passed, and then made the summit with just a few more minutes of hiking. Despite the showers around us there were still decent views: there’s a 270-degree panorama from the open summit, extending from Tongue Mountain and the Lake George Narrows, through the Lake’s southern basin, and out to Crane and Gore Mountains to the west. After a few snacks, we headed back down.

Looking south from Cat Mountain's summit

There were light rain showers for most of the hike back to our car. The mud and loose rocks on the trail made Daniel slip a few times, which elicited comments like “I’m never going hiking again” and “Why do we always have to go hiking?” But the footing improved, his attitude brightened, and then he found “the Crystal,” a multi-pound hunk of milky quartz (I’m guessing) that I carried the rest of the way back to the car for him. Long before we got back to the car, the kids forgot the hardships from earlier. The forecasted partly sunny skies never materialized until we were back at my parents’ home in Bolton Landing later that afternoon, but just before we left for home that evening, a beautiful double rainbow arched over Buck Mountain, directly across the lake from us.

In the end, the hike was a success. But the day was also a good illustration of things to keep in mind when hiking with kids:
1) Weather is key on family hikes. I pushed the hike on the basis of a sketchy but improving afternoon forecast. But no forecast is a guarantee, and the weather turned against us.
2) Know your route. Route finding wasn't an issue, but on the way up it was difficult to judge how far along we were and how much further the top was. That made the hike feel longer than it really was. Also, the trail is an old logging road and it is rocky (think loose, softball-sized rocks), muddy or both the entire way. This is tolerable on the shorter hike up Thomas, but it gets tedious on the longer Cat Mountain hike. For that reason, I don't really recommend Cat as a family hike - Thomas is better suited. One interesting option is the blue-marked foot path from the Thomas Mountain summit to Cat Mountain, but this is a longer route (7.5 miles round trip), probably too long for young kids.
3) Make it fun for the kids. Engage them in the stuff that they find interesting. For our kids, that's water (moving water is good, a small waterfall is fantastic), fish, amphibians of any kind, mushrooms, rocks with quartz or garnet, boulders to climb around, under and over. Views are secondary.
4) Lots of snacks for the kids. Do not hesitate to bribe with M&Ms, gummy worms, whatever it takes.

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