Friday, September 2, 2011

Colvin and Blake Mtns: 08/27/2011

Waterfall and chockstone along Gill Brook. Colvin and Blake Mtns, 8/27/2011.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.
It’s always a treat to hike through the Ausable Club / Adirondack Mountain Reserve lands in Keene Valley. Although there are restrictions prohibiting camping, swimming, off-trail travel and dogs (sometimes overzealously enforced), and parking is more than a half mile from the trailhead, the benefits are worth the trade-off: easy access to the interior via the Lake Road, and well-maintained trails through some of the most beautiful old-growth forest in all of the High Peaks.

When Beth and I left home Saturday morning, we had intended to hike Nippletop, but kept open the option of hiking Colvin and Blake instead. The approach is the same, with the trail splitting at about the 5-mile mark in Elk Pass: Nippletop to the left, Colvin and Blake to the right.

AMR's gate on the Lake Road

Our route followed the Gill Brook trail, which leaves the Lake Road around 2 miles from the AMR gate. The footpath follows the brook closely for about a mile, with seemingly continuous flumes, pools and waterfalls, until the trail veers away around the point where it leaves the AMR and enters State land. Eventually we reached the Nippletop – Colvin trail junction and it was decision time:

Jeff: So, left for Nippletop? Or do you want to do Colvin and Blake instead?
Beth: Well, which is harder? Let’s get the harder hike done.
Jeff: That’s probably a toss-up.
Beth: Hmm, left gives me one peak, right gives me two. (Beth already has Dial)
Jeff: OK, Colvin and Blake it is!

Pool on Gill Brook

As it turns out, I’m convinced Colvin and Blake was the harder hike (more on that in a moment). The decision to hike Colvin and Blake was also something of a bonus for me, as Blake is one of the handfull of peaks I need for a third round, if I ever bother with documenting my second and third rounds.

Lower Ausable Lake, Gothics, Armstrong and the Wolfjaws (L to R)

The trail from the junction to the summit of Colvin is relatively easy, gaining the remaining vertical in short, steep steps interspersed with level sections. Before long, we were standing on Colvin’s summit rocks.

L to R: Basin, Saddleback, Gothics

In my opinion, Colvin is one of the under-rated peaks, often overlooked in favor of bigger neighbors. The view from its summit is spectacular, with fjord-like Lower Ausable Lake two thousand feet below, and a wonderful panorama of the entire Great Range, from the Wolfjaws to Skylight. Looking in the other direction, Nippletop stands close by, nearly 600’ taller, with its slide stretching from Elk Pass nearly to the summit.

Colvin is also notable for being named for Verplanck Colvin, superintendent of the Adirondack Survey and the individual perhaps most responsible for the establishment of the Adirondack Park and State Forest Preserve. If there’s anybody in Adirondack history that I’d like to meet, or to be, Verplanck Colvin is probably at the top of the list.

There were a few other small parties at Colvin’s summit. One party, guests of an Ausable Club member, had taken the “deluxe” route up Colvin: they took the Club’s bus up the Lake Road to Lower Ausable Lake, paddled down the length of the lake to the landing at the far end, hiked up Blake and then up Colvin, and would then hike back down to the lake for a bus ride back to the Clubhouse. If anyone is a member of the Ausable Club, or knows a member, and would like to adopt me as a guest, I am available!

The trail to Blake, the nice part

As enjoyable as Colvin’s summit was, time was a factor (we had to get back to pick up our kids in Bolton Landing, not to mention the pending storm) and we set out for Blake in short order. I should have more accurately titled this post “Colvin, Blake and Colvin again,” because the route to Blake is an out-and-back that necessitates re-climbing Colvin on the return.

Well-constructed ladder, still on the nice part of the Blake trail

The 2.6 mile round trip between the two summits reminded me why I’ve hiked Colvin many times over the past 25 years, but Blake only twice. Since this is a family-friendly blog (email me if you want the R-rated version), I’ll describe the route as being rough, steep, badly eroded, and generally more difficult than many of the trailless peaks. Most of that difficulty is on the Blake half of the route, with the Colvin half in significantly better condition. The hiker is rewarded on Blake by a wooded, viewless summit, although in fairness there are some interesting views along the way.

Blake's undramatic summit

Generally beat-up and thirsty (yup, I ran out of water), we eventually arrived back at Colvin’s summit, paused for about 3 seconds, and skedaddled on down the trail, taking the Gill Brook Cut-Off trail back to the Lake Road and out to our car. Round-trip time was 9 hours for the 15 miles and 4000’ of climbing.

Footnote: 24 hours after our hike, tropical storm Irene was raging. This part of the eastern High Peaks was hit hard, and undoubtedly some of the landscape looks very different now, post-Irene. As of this writing, the full extent and details of Irene’s impact in the backcountry are still unknown. Keene Valley and all of the High Peaks region is a very special place to Beth and me, and our hearts go out to the people and the communities that suffered losses in the storm on August 28, 2011.

Colvin Mountain, elevation 4057', order of height: 39, first ascent Verplanck Colvin and Mills Blake, 1873. Blake Mountain, elevation 3690', order of height: 43, first ascent Ed Phelps, 1874.


  1. Good trip report. I have never hiked Colvin. I rode the bus about 20 years ago when they allowed non-members to ride for a small fee. Unfortunately, they had a real condescending attitude towards us and they were not very welcoming. Never bothered to ride the bus again. However, a paddle out on the lake in one of the beautiful guide boats they have in the boat house, that would be an experience.

  2. Thanks Anon. I rode the bus around 25 yrs ago too. As far as I know, the bus is no longer available to members of the general hiking public - it's members only. The chance to paddle the lake would be fantastic, but that too is members & guests only. About the nearest you can get to that experience is to ski the frozen lakes in the winter. Which reminds me, here's a link to an excellent winter report from Colvin.

  3. Thanks for the great trip reports and photos! Always interesting to read!

  4. Just one note, you are not allowed to cross the lake on the ice in winter. I walked across to hike Blake years ago during one of our low snow winters, but it is off limits today.

  5. Thanks Anon, I didn't realize that access to the lakes for winter travel had been ended.