Thursday, July 10, 2014

Vanderwhacker Mountain: 07/05/2014

High Peaks view from Vanderwhacker Mountain, Saturday 07/05/2014.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.

Vanderwhacker Mountain feels remote before you even get out of the car. Located midway between Minerva and Newcomb along Route 28N, the trailhead lies at the end of a single lane dirt road that penetrates three miles into the Vanderwhacker Wild Forest.

Vanderwhacker's fire tower

From the trailhead, it’s less than 3 miles to Vanderwhacker’s 3,385’ summit. The short distance served us well on Saturday, since we had a crack-of-noon start (2pm actually). I had spent the morning trying to convince family members to go hiking, but in the end it was just Beth and me. Our kids elected to stay behind in Bolton Landing with cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles for an afternoon of waterskiing and lake activity. A good rule of thumb is to never “force” kids to hike (or ski), and I can hardly blame them for choosing lake fun over hiking.

The trail up Vanderwhacker starts out on the level, passing a series of beaver meadows. In one spot the beavers have impounded Vanderwhacker Brook behind a several foot high dam, creating an impressive pond. Plenty of fresh shavings indicate the beavers are actively working this part of the stream.

Beaver pond, with a shoulder of Vanderwhacker Mountain rising beyond

The beavers have raised the level of this pond several feet, drowning trees along the perimeter

A fresh chew

Modern sculpture? Nope, just beavers

At around 1.3 miles, the trail passes the site of the former fire observer’s cabin. Unlike most fire tower mountains, where the observer’s cabin is sited much closer to the summit, Vanderwhacker’s cabin is located at the foot of the mountain. So not only did the observer have to face long solitary stretches in the fire tower, he also had a 3-mile round-trip commute each day, with a stiff climb to boot. At least he was a bit closer to “civilization” for his days off.

Fire observer's cabin, in good repair

Most of the hike’s 1650 vertical feet of climbing is done after the cabin. The trail is quite steep and eroded at first, but the trail condition soon improves with some nicely constructed log steps, and a switchback or two. Eventually Vanderwhacker’s summit ridge is attained and the grade moderates. The remaining ascent to the summit and fire tower is through a very attractive spruce and balsam forest.

My inner skier sees some nice lines through this glade at 3000' elevation

A rock outcropping at the summit provides outstanding panoramic views to the north, including most of the High Peaks. I didn’t count, but I bet you could pick out at least 30 of the 46, stretching from the Dix range in the east to the Sewards in the west. There’s a copper summit bolt from Verplanck Colvin’s 1880 Adirondack Survey.

Summit view from Vanderwhacker Mountain

The views are even better from the fire tower, extending 360 degrees. The tower is in excellent condition, having been recently (2004) restored by volunteers and the DEC. Originally built from logs in 1911, it was replaced with the current steel tower in 1918. Fire observers had a tough and lonely job, but if I had been one 80 years ago, the view from Vanderwhacker would have been a pretty sweet way to pass a summer.

Fire tower view to the north

Fire tower view to the west

After soaking in the summit views for a half hour, Beth and I headed back down the trail, arriving back at our car an hour and fifteen minutes later. The entire round trip hike took less than three and a half hours. Even though our kids didn’t come along, I’d recommend Vanderwhacker as a good family hike. The beaver meadows, fire tower and observer’s cabin add interest to the hike, and the round trip time and distance are about right. One caveat: the 1650’ vertical climb could be a bit stiff for some kids.

Above the treetops, looking west

An unobstructed panorama of the High Peaks from the fire tower

No sign of civilization, just woods, mountains and lakes

For information about the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Fire Tower Challenge, in which hikers climb 18 out of 23 Adirondack fire towers plus 5 Catskill fire towers, click here.

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