My First 6'er
Mountain climbing is one of the most popular sports in the Adirondacks, and one that is enjoyed year round. In Saranac Lake, it is popular to embark on the journey of Being a 6er. This is climbing the six peaks which ring the village and lend it the distinctive "mountain town" character we love.
On any such challenge, be it hiking or snowshoeing, we must start at the bottom... of the mountain, that is. This is very true when it comes to climbing Mount Baker, which is also known as Baker Mountain. This double naming of the peak is so widespread that most of us just call it Baker.
Unlike many of our other peaks, where the trailhead leads to a long woods walk before we reach the mountain, Baker's trail starts climbing almost immediately. That is because Baker lies directly on the shore of Moody Pond, in the middle of town, and the hiking trail begins at the foot of the mountain. So while the trailhead sign reads .9 miles to the summit, none of those feet are flat ones.
Each one is beautiful, though. Always, we are in the midst of a forest, and quite often, we get glimpses of our height, and the vistas that are opening up beyond those breaks in the trees.
choice of trails
After a little distance from the trail register we discover a fork. Baker's trail is known as a "lollipop." It has a short trial leading to a loop. The right hand side is steeper, but still popular because of the stunning views from it.
The left hand side is a gentler, less rocky slope, but the views are more obscured by abundant forest. If we are doing the full lollipop, it's recommended to take the rocky, right-hand side first, while our stamina is fresh.
The challenge, I discover, is that the trail soon narrows so that my snowshoes are often needed to be placed one in front of the other, not side by side. The trail has already been firmed up by travel, but most people seem to be using the micro-spikes which work well on packed trails and icy spots. The six inches of powder on either side of the trail shows how a fresh trail would not work without snowshoes.
When I step away from the trail I sink in a couple of inches. Without snowshoes I'd sink to the bottom, wherever the bottom might be. Still, there are advantages to Baker in the winter. Parts are so rocky the trail can be difficult to discern, but with fresh snow, well beaten down, the trail almost leaps out against the fluffier snow on the forest floor.
choice of footwear
As the climb continues, I come to appreciate my trekking poles more and more. They can be extended to test a surface, leaned upon to help hoist me up the incline, and keep me from face-planting in the snow when I forget I'm wearing snowshoes and step on my own, now giant, feet.
I can see how my more active friends are so enamored of the micro-spikes. They would certainly come in handy on the steep stretches when the place to step upon is far smaller than my snowshoe. But the cleats on the bottom of the snowshoe are working as designed.
I start to get higher than the trees around me. Baker is only a mid-sized mountain, less than 2500 feet, but its placement makes for spectacular views of the more distant ranges, and plenty of white frozen lakes scattered on the ground below.
choice of views
This ledge also marks a wonderful view before we even get to Baker's summit. That has been a real tease. I saw a lot of blue sky, off to the left, but that wasn't the summit. However, I could see the real summit from there.
Even if we don't need to stop and catch our breath, we should stop now and then. The views get better and better as we climb, even if we haven't reached the summit yet. The gaps in the trees which offer great scenery can be completely lost if we take a few more steps along the trail.
Being mindful is always a great way to enjoy a hike, but it is especially important when climbing. When a rough staircase of rock is how we ascend, we need to be rather precise about where we are putting our feet, far more so than walking along a flat path.
Baker's summit offers many vantage points, but the very top of the mountain is not the best one. The many ledges which ring the summit have almost the whole compass of directions to choose from. Every skyline has both near and distant mountains for a lovely textured vista.
On a crisp, blue-sky, day the moisture has dropped out of the air and made visibility much greater. And as I make my way down through the forest path, I can see where all that moisture went. The lush snow creates another greatly textured batch of scenery.
One of the things about snowfall is the silence. I am almost on top of the road before I hear any traffic from it. This makes my return trip a more leisurely one. The first part, coming off the summit, has some steep parts, but quickly becomes more winding and gentle.
This is the path to choose for beginners and small children. My snowshoes were not optimum for the climb up, but they shine, here. An occasional wind blows snow crystals through the sunlight, but the forest is so thick I do not feel it.
At no point during this hike do I concern myself about time. Baker is a popular "lunch time hike" for the people leaping over the rocks like gazelles, but it can stretch over a whole afternoon if we are busy taking pictures, having lunch at the summit, or simply enjoying ourselves in the wilderness.
Enjoying ourselves in the wilderness is the point. And there's a great deal of variety in how we can do that.
Thanks to the expert outfitters at Blue Line Sports! They rented me the proper snow shoes, set up my trekking poles, and gave great advice on the climb.