Thursday, July 31, 2014

Black Mountain: 07/26/2014

View of northern Lake George from Black Mountain, Saturday 07/26/2014.

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It almost seemed like cheating. Climbing Black Mountain from the east got us to Lake George's highest summit with only half the vertical that an "honest" climb from the lake shore entails. But when you're hiking with kids, there's no such thing as points for style - a hike's a hike, a summit's a summit.

We had been talking all summer about hiking Black, and with a good number of hikes already under our belt, I knew the kids were more than ready for the 1100' of vertical and 5 mile round trip from the Pike Brook trailhead north of Whitehall.

The trail begins with an easy walk on a woods road. The road transitions to a hiking trail, and then reaches a junction that can be used to complete a loop hike over Black (we just did the out-and-back version of the hike). Above the junction, the grade steepens. There are a few eroded sections, but for the most part the trail is in good conditions and never gets truly steep. The woods are quite attractive, with a mixture of hemlock, pine and hardwoods. Bunchberry, with its distinctive red berries, seemed to carpet the forest floor in places.

Most of the climbing is at a pretty easy grade


Just below the summit, the trail breaks out into a large clearing, the site of the former observer's cabin. The summit fire tower, which now houses communications equipment for the DEC, and a wind turbine, which powers the communications equipment, are visible just ahead.

Sylvie, just below Black Mountain's summit

A beautiful panorama of Lake George's northern basin opens up from the cabin clearing. The lake lies more than 2300 vertical feet below. To put that into perspective, Mount Colden is just over 1800 vertical feet above Avalanche Lake and Mount Colvin is less than 2100 vertical feet above Lower Ausable Lake. The fire observer at Black Mountain woke up to one helluva view every morning (the tower was manned until 1988).

Beth and the kids at the cabin clearing below the summit

After snacking for a bit at the cabin clearing, we went up to the summit proper, where the views are essentially the same. The area directly below the fire tower is fenced off to protect the DEC's communications equipment. The last time I climbed Black Mountain was probably 25 years ago, and I remember there being more of a view towards the Narrows and the southern basin. Perhaps the fenced-off area prevents views in that direction now, or maybe some formerly open areas have grown in, but we didn't find any viewpoints to the south. A fairly large camp group (around 15 kids) had taken over much of the summit, so we found the cabin clearing to be more enjoyable and the views just as spectacular.

Summit view

After the hike, we drove around the northern end of the lake to get to Bolton Landing where my parents live year-round. Anywhere that there was a view of the lake, Black Mountain dominated the view. Even back in Bolton, Black Mountain dominates the view from my parents' dock. Our kids have been looking up the lake at that mountain since before they could walk. It seems fitting that they've now stood upon its summit too.

Looking at Black Mountain from the other side of the lake, near Hague

The view from our dock in Bolton Landing


  1. Jeff,
    The Cranker brothers (Bill and Jim) lived at the foot of Hackensack and climbed it regularly (several times weekly). They each have done the AT among other hiking and climbing cred.
    I believe Jim was the last caretaker atop Black Mt.

  2. Superb. Came here in search of a "Vista Mountain," which Mel Heimer claims in "Saratoga Bawd" (1952) existed just above Saratoga Springs (the book, badly written, is not recommended). Can't find it, but this is my reward. Thanks!