Favorite hike on a favorite day - National Trails Day
Each year the first Saturday in June is designated as National Trails Day. There were lots of local celebrations underway last weekend but I decided to do a quick hike on my own to a favorite destination I have frequently done with children--Mount Gilligan. The name itself sounds fun.
The Trail for Gilligan Begins
The trail begins 2.6 miles south of New Russia from a parking area on Scriver Road (not Gilligan Road as you might expect). New Russia is a hamlet south of Elizabethtown that in earlier times was probably bustling but is now a sleepy stretch of road that constitutes the southern end of Pleasant Valley on either side of the Boquet River. A slow approach to the trailhead revealed some big stone entrance gates that are overgrown by poison ivy and a number of nice wooden boats that lie under many seasons of fallen branches and leaf litter.
Access to the trail is from a fisherman's parking area and a short bridge over the Boquet. Around the corner on the left an inconspicuous sign that has been rewritten somewhat recently marks the beginning. The trail is on private property and a nod of thanks to the landowners is in order, although I've never seen anyone at the small brown camp near the trailhead.
Wildflowers of the Adirondacks
Last week I entered the forest expecting that the wildflowers would be thoroughly finished blooming. Most were but it was nice to see fat seed heads on the wild Violets and a few flowers left on the Sweet Cicely. The trail starts through a hardwood grove and there were pretty ferns including some Oak Fern and nice patches of the spiralling Maidenhair. I made a note of the Trillium, Cohosh and Dutchmen's Breeches foliage for an earlier hike next year.
Getting a workout on the trail
After the level beginning the trail climbs a steep section that gets your heart rate up and stretches your calf muscles. There is one staircase of hemlock roots and rocky steps along a cliff where you get a nice view of the rock tripe if you stop to catch your breath. For kids this section feels like very important mountaineering that requires hands and feet at once. A cairn on the left takes the trail to a pretty lookout that faces south toward the Dix Range and the mountain that will soon be renamed Grace Peak. White pines were covered with pollen and the leaves of other trees looked dusty yellow.
Back on the main trail both Black-throated Blue Warblers and Black-throated Green Warblers talked back and forth with one another. The chipmunks were just as vocal, probably objecting to my intrusion in their Saturday morning routine. The first lookout to the west comes quickly and white pine and birch branches frame a nice view of Blueberry Cobbles, Bald Peak and the route to Rocky Peak Ridge in the Giant Mountain Wilderness across the river valley.
I know I was the first hiker up the route on Saturday because I could feel the cobwebs on my face every few steps. There was fantastic blue and green Shield Lichen on a big red oak just at my eye height. Another wider opening in the forest shows a bigger view of Rocky Peak Ridge and Giant. Soon enough I was seeing blueberries with flowers (portending a good berry picking season in July) and then passing the giant tangle of roots that opens like a 3-dimensional mural where a tree fell about ten years ago. You can see the thick, strong roots that once anchored that tree to the ledge in almost no soil.
Around the bend the trail drops into a col and passes an overhanging ledge that cuts back under the great stone slab. There are signs of many small mammals coming and going into the crevices. Just up the hill there is another opening where lots of pretty things grow out of the cracks in the grey ledge. On Saturday a perfect False Solomon's Seal reached out with three bright white plumes of tiny flowers and I found a few priceless berries on a shadbush. The haircap moss was covered with hundreds of capsules on top of tall red-brown stems. Another carpet of moss was covered with tiny rosettes.
Around the next bend the foot trail meets an old skid road for a stretch where birds sang all around me and I wish I knew more of them by their voices. Up the last short pitch and you are at the magical glade of short oaks and wide expanses of reindeer lichen. Everything was lush with the recent rain and the lichen felt like batting in a quilt. There were fuzzy pussy toes and a pretty orange columbine. The trail ends at a garden of a place with low blueberries flowering all around and moss and lichen painting every inch of rock beneath you. Short paper birch and red oak fill the foreground of the view and there is that nice smell of damp moss and rock.
The trail ends around the corner at the sign that says "End of Marked Trail" but the summit is the wooded plateau beyond. The last treasure on the trail was a Rusty Woodsia, a dense clump of fern growing in a shallow pocket of rock.
In honor of Grace, an ADK 46er
After a few slugs of water and a few moments to relax I headed down, setting out for a stop at the Adirondack History Center Museum in Elizabethtown to honor Grace Hudowalski of Adirondack 46er fame. The new exhibit about her will be there all summer and includes great photographs of early hikes. Grace seemed to entirely disregard any notions of a woman's limitations in the mountains, other than those imposed on everyone by the rugged terrain and powerful climate. Long live her passion and inspiration and thanks to the Adirondack 46er Conservation Trust for making the exhibit possible. If you visit the exhibit the hike up Gilligan adds a nice touch, honoring her memory with an easy leg stretch and a view toward the mountain that will bear her name.
2 miles & 2 hours = a nice day on the trail
Gilligan is a little more than 2 miles round trip and took me two hours total, at a very leisurely pace, taking photos and poking around. Could be longer with small fry and shorter if you are just out for a quick trip and no sightseeing. Either way, find the path to the river that is near the bridge and soak your feet or cast a few flies after you hike.