Monday, August 8, 2011

How I Survived Allen Mtn: 07/27/2011

The view from Allen's summit. 
The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.

It doesn't happen often, but on Wednesday, July 27, the stars fell into alignment for Beth and me to have an entire day for outdoor activity together, without our 2 kids. The weather looked great, I scheduled the day off from work, and most importantly the kids would be at Grandma & Grandpa's house in Bolton Landing all day.

Beth: Let's hike Allen!
Jeff: Ummm... Or we could do Nippletop, you need that peak too!
Beth: No, I really want to get Allen done.
Jeff: Or... We could go rock climbing.
Beth: Allen.

Beth's enthusiasm and resolve to check another peak off her list of the 46 Adirondack four thousand foot peaks is common among asipiring 46ers. And I can only blame myself, having encouraged Beth to finish her 46. What's more, I've been through this before with friends, who got caught up in "46er fever" after I finished my first round of the 46, and dragged me back to peaks I figured I'd never re-visit.

The first of two stream crossings. Believe it or not, this is the Hudson River.

For aspiring 46ers, Allen's reputation as one of the most demanding hikes of the 46 frequently conjures up images of a 15-hour death march. I'll tell you right up front though, this wasn't a "suffer through it" hike at all. It was certainly challenging, but it was also fun, rewarding and beautiful.

Crossing an arm of Lake Jimmy on the approach to Allen

We left the house at 6am and signed in at the trailhead at 7:30. I felt pretty sure we could do the hike in less than 12 hours, though it's not uncommon for some parties to take 14 hours or longer on the 18 mile round trip. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous about route-finding, since about half the hike is an officially "trailless" route and it had been nearly 20 years since I last climbed Allen. Those concerns turned out to be unwarranted, as the route is well established and very distinct the entire way.

Looking up the Opalescent at the second stream crossing

The 7+ mile approach to the foot of Allen Mountain is long, but mostly easy. Two stream crossings involve mandatory wet feet – the suspension bridges that formerly crossed the Hudson and Opalescent Rivers have been out for years, and rock-hopping is not an option.

View of Mt. Redfield, elev 4606', along Skylight Brook

Eventually the route leads to Skylight Brook, at the base of the mountain. From that point, the hiking becomes significantly more challenging as the route climbs steeply, first along Skylight Brook and then along Allen Brook, gaining nearly 2000 vertical feet in a mile and a half.

Moss carpet along Allen Brook

Allen Brook

Allen Brook is lined with beautiful old cedars

Allen Brook is beautiful, with numerous cascades, small falls and areas of open bedrock. The route follows the brook quite closely, frequently crossing it and at times ascending directly up the stream bed. Typical of most “trailless” peaks, there are countless boulders and downed trees to be climbed over, under and around.

Herd path route ascending Allen Brook

Eventually, the route tops out on Allen’s summit ridge, just a short distance from the true summit. We had wanted to make the summit in 6 hours of hiking, and we hit it in 5:45. The summit is wooded, but two short paths lead to dramatic views that offer a unique perspective of the surrounding peaks.

Allen's northern viewpoint

The northern viewpoint looks straight into Panther Gorge, one of the remotest spots in all of the High Peaks region. Surrounding Panther Gorge are Skylight, Marcy and Haystack, three out of the four highest peaks in the Adirondacks. Panther Gorge is visible from very few other locations, and to see it up close and dramatically framed by its surrounding peaks is a treat, a view that can't be duplicated from any other of the 46.

View to the northeast. Dix is the highest point just left of center.

The second viewpoint, which looks out to the north and east, is almost just as nice. The peaks are more distant, with Giant and the Dix range forming the horizon line. Dial, Nippletop, Colvin and Blake are closer in, but hard to pick out against the backdrop of the other peaks. Below Allen is a broad valley containing the Boreas Ponds and Marcy Stillwater, another remote and rarely visited part of the High Peaks.

Slide just below Allen's summit

Views of the western High Peaks descending the Allen herd path

After maybe 40 minutes on the summit we began our descent, really too short of a time for a summit that I may not re-visit for another 20 years. It's hard to keep a fast pace on the steep herd path along Allen Brook, but eventually the route flattens out and our pace picked up. We arrived back at the trailhead a little more than 5 hours after leaving the summit, and nearly 12 hours after signing the trail register at the start of the hike.

Lake Jimmy in late afternoon light

Mount Adams above Lake Jimmy

In a way, it's too bad that Allen doesn't get more visitation - it's mostly just climbed by hikers seeking to become 46ers. The beautiful route up Allen Brook and the dramatic summit views from Allen's unique position in the High Peaks more than compensate the hiker for his effort. You can drag me back there anytime.

Allen Mountain, elevation 4347', order of height: 25. First ascent 1921, Bob and George Marshall and Herbert Clark. Approximate round-trip distance from Upper Works: 18 miles. Approximate vertical ascent: 3200'.


  1. Thanks for the post and photos! 'Sounds awesome and magical!

  2. Nice to see a positive report on the peak everyone groans over!

  3. Wow! Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Herb and I hiked this one about 9 or 10 years ago. They had just logged the long flat section in the middle. It was UG-ly. I think the bridges were still up, though, because I don't remember wading across the river. The rest of the hike I remember being pretty nice, though long and hard. The view into Panther Gorge is indeed unique.

  4. Gillian, that logged section in the middle was aftermath from Hurrican Floyd in Sept, 1999. That area was devastated by Floyd. When I last hiked Allen around 20 years ago, that section was mature, deep forest. It's actually a pleasant section of trail now - second growth and lots of openings provide views towards the peaks plus abundant raspberries and blueberries. I didn't include pics from that section in the trip report above, but there are some in an album I put on Facebook. I think that link allows public access to the album even if you don't have a FB account.

  5. Great pics! Back then we were still using film. I'll have to dig up some of the prints and see if I can get them scanned. It would be a fun blog post to show then and now - it's amazing how quickly the forest can recover.