Stompin’ around the Champlain Valley is a good time in my mind, but on this trip I found myself reach out just a bit further. While doing a bit of historical research online the other day I happened across this preserve, set up by the Lake George Land Conservancy (LGLC), called the Pole Hill Pond Preserve. I've never heard of this spot before but I have heard of Pole Hill, and although I knew its general vicinity I remembered it was on private land. Reading on, I discovered this 1,300–acre Northwest Bay tract was purchased by the Lake George Land Conservancy in early 2000, sold to New York state in 2004 and is now part of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. That's a huge win for hikers and snowshoers.
Rising early in the morning, I found that most of the Adirondacks were draped under a thick blanket of settled fog that was freezing in some spots. It's an odd concept, I know, but when fog forms in temperatures that are below freezing the tiny water droplets in the air remain a liquid. Freezing fog leads to rime ice. This occurs because the liquid needs a surface to freeze upon, like a roadway or bridge, so my driving was a bit cautious. Rime ice is a common ice formation on summits and open ridges. It collects on the windward side of objects and often forms a stacking pattern on the side it hits.
Arriving at Bolton Landing, I met up with a friend and we caravanned to the trailhead. The trailhead was hard to locate and my driving well past it proved its hidden location. If I had only read the brochure more closely I would have realized that I should have looked for a driveway with two stone lions guarding it. The trail is across the road. I also hate reading directions on how to put something together — typical guy, I know. We did an about face and found it rather easily on the way back. The trailhead is just up a dirt drive, which from the roadway looks to lead nowhere, or maybe to a residence, but it's there.
The preserve consists of two loops, and we would venture on both this day. We started out with the longer loop of 5.7 miles, which leads over Middle Mountain and Walnut Ridge. The fog wasn’t lifting, but I was optimistic that it would before we reached the viewing area. The trail was well marked with blue DEC disks, and we made excellent time climbing the easy slopes. Eventually the trail became slightly steeper and quite picturesque. The forest opened up around us as we approached the summit of Middle Mountain, but the clouds persisted and created a sort of eerie ambiance. It was as though the trees were alive — we could make out each and every dark branch as it stood against the backdrop of a gray sky.
A bit disappointed that no views were to be had, we still enjoyed its wonder as we rested our minds along the shore of a glass-like vernal pool. The amber-colored leave stood out like a lush carpet and the reflection of the tree stems gave depth to the waters. A half an hour or more passed before we moved on toward Walnut Ridge. The drop in elevation was minimal as the trail meandered along the upper ridge until we stood in a deep col at a sign leading us to the views. We climbed steeply up the short slope, past rock jumbles and cliffs of nearly black granite, and we came to our first rime ice experience of the day.
The fog coated the local white pine community, giving the trees a glistening white look against the deep blue sky. The sun was starting to burn though the moisture, but would it be strong enough to clear it out? Unfortunately, no. The clouds, rime ice and features of the forest added a certain feeling of enclosure, and we basked in it.
The photos of the experience were magnificent, but the day was getting shorter and we needed to continue on. We passed over the open rock of the ridge and descended steeply at times until we came to what looked like a cliff before us, where the trail just dropped off the face of the earth. As we drew closer, it was not a cliff at all but a small rock lip overlooking Pole Hill Pond. The pond took on no features and mimicked the foggy sky. It was quite compelling and hard to capture with a camera. There we no ripples on the water, only feathers of thin ice giving it texture.
Moving on, we followed the trail around the pond and started another descent, now along an old forest road. We put distance between us and the pond and found ourselves at the yellow marked trail that leads up and over Bear Knob. We knew we would need to climb once again, but we wanted the extra distance and elevation to round out the day. This trail appeared to be a rarely visited one, and its course would have been hard to delineate if it wasn't so well marked. This rugged trail quickly elevated us to a viewing area just below Bear Knob. We were now under the fog but clearly the ridge was still fully engulfed. Without further hesitation we continued along the trail and started a steep descent back down to the blue trail, near where we started the day. Once we stepped back onto the blue trail we had a mere quarter mile or so back to the trailhead.
I would chalk this day up to a successful climb and a worthy internet surfing find. While a bit out of the Champlain Valley, I highly recommend taking a gander at these loops, especially if you are hanging out in the Ticonderoga Region of New York’s Coast and don’t mind a drive down Route 9N. You can download your own brochure by visiting the LGLC website.