Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pok-o-Moonshine Mtn.: 06/27/2015

Taking in the view from Pok-o-Moonshine's summit, Saturday morning, 06/27/2015.

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

Weather forecasters had been predicting a washout weekend for days, but as the details solidified it appeared we'd have a reliable window of clear and dry weather for at least the first half of Saturday. Looking to beat out the approaching storm, the kids and I got an early start and headed due north to hike Pok-o-Moonshine Mountain, the prominent peak visible from the Northway between exits 32 and 33.

Poko's fire tower

First things first: I have no idea how to properly spell the name. The DEC, ADK and USGS all have different spellings for the mountain. I'm going with Pok-o-Moonshine, right or wrong. Apparently it is no small matter, as someone has attempted to eradicate a stray "e" from the DEC's version on the trailhead sign.

The fact that we got to the trailhead and were hiking by 8am was itself a significant accomplishment considering the kids' ages (7 and 11) and the fact that we drove more than an hour. The early energy burned off quickly however, as Poko's steep grade (1250 vertical feet in 1.2 miles) put the kids to the test.

The climbing starts immediately...

...and just keeps going

In fact, Poko's steepness has also been the source of some controversy. DEC's draft Unit Management Plan (2011) for Poko considered closure of the trail due to "unsustainable" steep and eroded sections. In response to that threat, the Friends of Pok-o-Moonshine have undertaken a fundraising campaign to rebuild the trail. An alternate trail, the "Observer's Trail," up Poko was established several years ago, taking a more gradual 2.3 mile route to the summit, but the original route, the "Ranger's Trail," is the historic path, offering a direct trek past Poko's cliffs to the summit. In addition to ongoing maintenance of the Ranger's Trail, the Friends have also published an interpretive brochure and restored the fire tower, which dates to 1917.

Skirting some of Poko's many cliffs

It seems like you're never going to get a break from the climbing, but after a mile the grade tapers off at the site of former observer's cabin (all that remains is the foundation and stone chimney). Just beyond the cabin site are the first real views, a beautiful ledge with views of the Jay range and Whiteface.

View from the ledges below the summit


The final quarter mile to the summit passes quickly, and soon the fire tower appears through the trees. Just beyond the tower, expansive ledges (beware, there are some very steep dropoffs) provide sweeping views of Lake Champlain, Vermont and the northern Adirondacks. It's an impressive view for a 2200' summit.

Approaching the fire tower

Summit ledges

Summit panorama view, click here for full size

Thanks to our early start, we were the first hikers on the summit. A few more parties arrived within 10 or so minutes, including the Summit Steward. The Friends of Poko have been funding a summer Summit Steward for the past 10+ years to provide an environmental education presence. The steward unlocked the cabin atop the fire tower (it's locked when the steward is not present to prevent vandalism) and invited us up. Poko's got a great view even without the fire tower, but climbing the tower provides a 360-degree panorama that extends to Canada.

Inside the fire tower cabin

View to the south and west, including areas of restored alpine vegetation

Labrador Tea growing on Poko's summit.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.
The summit steward showed the kids how fire spotters used a map and pointing device to spot fires, and also explained the summit revegetation efforts that are underway. Similar to the successful efforts on many High Peak summits, areas of alpine vegetation that had previously been trampled by hikers have been restored, with markers to keep hikers off the sensitive vegetation.

Between the fire tower and the ledges, Poko's summit held our kids' interest for quite a while. High clouds gradually filled the sky from south to north, so it was time for us to head down. With gravity on our side the hike down passed quickly, and we were back to our car by just past noon. Poko's a great half day hike for kids and adults, next time we're up we'll try a loop of both the Ranger's Trail and the Observer's Trail.

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