2014-10-01-Climb up Bear Den Mountain
We picked today to take a longish hike because the weather was spectacular; around 65 degrees max and full sunshine. The climb up Bear Den Mountain is considered (by those who have commented online about Adironack hikes) to be an often overlooked but not to be missed trek; and trek it was. We drove down the street to Whiteface Mountain where the trail started. It is weird to be at Whiteface Mountain when it is not snow-covered or rather, ice covered and below zero and today the ski runs seemed like scars across an otherwise hand-painted canvas of reds, yellows, greens and oranges.
For the first half mile, the trail was not all that challenging from an exercise standpoint but, from a trailfinding standpoint, well, that was another thing altogether. Though accompanied by Recon Marine Bob (aka Bird-Dog) finding the trail was really hard because the trail itself was obscured by the falling leaves that littered the forest floor in an unbroken blanket. The trees didn’t have “blazes” cut into them as we are used to but did occasionally, and I really mean “occasionally”, see yellow plastic “buttons” attached to the trees with the Adironack Mountain logo imprinted on them. It became a game to see who could see the yellow buttons first or figure out which way the trail might go. As we came to each trail marker, Bob entered it into the hand-held GPS he had with him so we could find our way back in case we missed the trail markers though we were prepared with matches, our Bear Grylls knife and paracord and other survival gear, including extra batteries, water and granola bars in addition to lunch just in case….Of course, immediately after mentioning that the trail was not that challenging from a climbing standpoint, the trail made a 90 degree uphill turn and it continued to rise steeply through the forest for another two miles. We saw a stream with a waterfall but otherwise, it was quite dark in the forest. The canopy was golden and the forest floor was gorgeous with the newly fallen leaves but it was eerily quiet with only a sporadic scold from a squirrel. Occasionally, we could see through the forest to a valley below with trees highlighted by the sun. With the rise in elevation, the trees changed as well; from sugar maples below, to birches and oaks and finally, to evergreens including pine, spruces and best of all, Balsam firs. It smelled like Christmas! Up and Up and Up and around and Up again and again and again we went. We talked about turning around after 2 hours of steady climbing made slower by the tree roots, fallen trees and boulders just waiting to reach up and snatch your foot or ankle but didn’t and eventually, after 2 hours, 20 minutes (to go only 2.4 miles), we reached the top. It was worth every single step! The top, though forested with stunted spruce and ground covers, consisted of smooth granite boulders and there was an expansive view of Whiteface Mountain and the surrounding peaks and valleys. What an incredible sight and absolutely, worth the climb. The autumn colors looked as though a painter had taken gold, yellow, orange, red, brown and green paint and sponge painted the valleys while leaving the dark green evergreen layer intact. It was stunningly beautiful and the colors were at their absolute peak. We scrambled around the top of the mountain and then sat for some well deserved lunch. However, the rest period was short lived since we had to get started down before it started to get dark. It only took an hour 45 minutes to get down though the footing was more treacherous. The way-points on the GPS helped a lot.
We are obviously (1) not in good shape; and (2) not as young as we once were because we were both tired from the trek. Still, I wouldn’t have missed it and would definitely make the climb again.