The Champlain Area Trails System (CATS)
Hiking for me isn’t always about trying to outdo the difficulty of my last adventure. Sometimes I like to just take it easy and visit places I don’t get to go very often. That’s what I had planned for this crisp morning in the Champlain Valley. It was late morning, and as we were wiping the cobwebs out of our eyes we decided to go for a bit of a drive and check out a place we hadn’t visited in a long time. The group Champlain Area Trails (CATS) opened the trail to Cheney Mountain near Port Henry a while back, adding a nice new destination for a family. We figured we'd go there and maybe take a short detour over to Belfry Mountain after. I have to say, for us it is a bit of a drive over to the trailhead for such a short hike, so I was sure Belfry be in the cards. Once at the trailhead we were raring to get out for some fresh air — the stuffy car wasn’t where we wanted to be. At this point there was no snow on the trail, but the clouds looked to be promising something and it felt damp enough, too.
Off to Cheney Mountain
Once across the open field, where the wind tore through our layers, we could be protected by the trees. This trail is like many others in the Adirondack Park, a nice wilderness experience without being far from civilization. After the trail register we enjoyed a nice steady climb along an old woods road that eventually led us through a nice rock saddle. The amber color of the fallen and decaying leaves added a splash of color to the otherwise gray landscape. The open rock that splattered features along the mountainside was a nice addition to the scenic forest. Atop this false summit is a short spur trail, which we of course followed and were rewarded with nice views out over the Lake Champlain Valley. The trail continued on and was quite moderate but very slippery because leaves coated the rocks, creating a very unstable foothold, a typical condition in the fall.
The true summit was woods atop a rocky surface, something that isn't uncommon in the Adirondacks. Views are often found a bit lower on the slopes, and Cheney Mountain is no exception. We followed the trail as it continued past the summit and descended slightly to an intersection; right led up to a rocky overlook that afforded us a unique view of the High Peaks coated in snow. Left brought us to a slightly obstructed view south toward the Champlain Bridge. We could make out the bridge to Vermont but couldn’t capture a decent picture of it. The descent was fast and we felt good, good enough to tackle the battle of the quarter mile trail up to Belfry Mountain’s Firetower.
Over to Belfry Mountain
The drive over to the tower trail was a quick one. The trail was not a rigorous undertaking, in fact I've had a harder time walking down my side steps to the garage. The summit is reached via the maintenance road whose grade is so moderate it hardly feels like climbing. There really isn’t much to say about this hike other than it was much more fun a decade or more ago when the foot trail existed, but that has been long since abandoned except to those who know its location.
We climbed the tower and soaked in the long, sweeping views. The sky was clearing up nicely, giving us much deeper views to the east; however, the wind was not as friendly and our time in the cab of the tower was shortened with every gust that nipped our cheeks. We called it a day and sounded the retreat. The shadows were getting longer as the day was starting to retire. We had a long drive before us and surely that drive would be primed with many cups of coffee along the way.