Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Stewart Mountain and the Chester Challenge: 10/04/2015

View of Loon Lake and Gore Mountain from Stewart Mountain, Sunday morning, 10/04/2015.

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

Our family hike up Stewart Mountain Sunday morning was embarrassingly short, but it gave us the opportunity to check out a terrific new initiative by the Town of Chester to promote family-friendly hikes. The hike is just a mile (round trip!), but it offers great views of Loon Lake, Gore Mountain and other peaks and hills of the southern Adirondacks.

The hike fit perfectly into our day, sandwiched between other family obligations in the morning and late afternoon. That's the whole point of the Chester Challenge: short but rewarding hikes that are easily accessible to families, tourists, or even experienced hikers looking to get out for just a couple hours close to home. Complete 6 out of 10 hikes and you get a pin and a certificate. All of the hikes are in the Town of Chester, located just north of Warrensburg and Lake George.

Informational kiosk at the Stewart Mountain trailhead

Several of the trails are brand new, having been marked and cleared just this summer. The town received funding for the trail work, including the establishment of parking areas, information kiosks, signs and trail markers. The trail up Stewart was well marked and as nice as any we've hiked. Since many of the trails cross private property, the town worked out agreements with the property owners.

Daniel and Sylvie on the way up Stewart Mountain

As for our hike up Stewart Sunday morning, there's not much to say about the trail. It's short. It's easy. It climbs a couple hundred feet of vertical to the top of a cliff with beautiful views overlooking Loon Lake. There's a terrific view of Gore Mountain, with many of the ski trails visible. In fact it's one of the best views of the ski area I can think of: other hikes near Gore (Crane and Moxham for example) don't have the front-and-center view of the ski trails like Stewart does. And it looks to me like some of the other peaks in the Chester Challenge should have equally good views (Panther, Kipp, Meade and Beckman).

Loon Lake, with Gore Mountain in the background, from the Stewart Mountain cliffs

Front-and-center view of Gore's ski trails

Apparently the dry conditions of August and September have delayed this year's fall foliage. As you can see in the photos, most of the trees were still green, and the colors on those that had started to change was somewhat muted. You could find some isolated color, but at least as of Sunday there's no sea of red, orange and yellow.

There was at least some color starting to show as of Sunday

Congratulations to the Town of Chester for undertaking this trails initiative. Years ago I was of the mindset that a trail under 10 miles wasn't worth bothering with. Now, having young kids of my own, short trails like these are giving me an opportunity to get out when I can and to share the beauty of the Adirondacks with my kids, the next generation of hikers. The Chester Challenge should also be a boost to the town's tourism-based economy.

We found the Meade & Beckman Mountains trail closed. Kipp Mountain too. Luckily Stewart Mountain was open.

I'll close with a couple of suggestions. The Chester Challenge needs to be better promoted. I heard about it through an article in the Post-Star last spring, but haven't seen much else since then. There also needs to be a way to communicate current trail conditions to hikers. We had originally set out Sunday morning to hike Meade and Beckman Mountains, but upon arriving at the trailhead found that the trails were closed until spring (presumably for hunting). The Kipp Mountain trailhead was just a short drive away, but we found that trail closed as well. Luckily the Stewart Mountain trail was open. A Facebook page or page on the town's website could provide important information like trail closures. We'll definitely come back next year to hike Kipp, Meade and Beckman.

If you go: The hikes of the Chester Challenge are mostly located around Loon Lake, accessed from Exit 25 of the Northway. Since most of the trails are new, you won't find them in any of the regional hiking guidebooks. The brochure linked above contains descriptions of each trail and driving directions to each of the trailheads.

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