The adventure of climbing Azure Mountain begins on the road to the trailhead. Azure sits off Blue Mountain Road north and west of Paul Smith’s and hikers have a long and winding road to drive whether they come from the south or north. I drove in from the south out of Paul Smith’s, negotiating nearly 20 miles along Keese Mills Road and Blue Mountain Road to reach the trailhead.
The advantage of such a road is that it extends the exploration of an area and Wren and I were almost immediately met by a pair of White-tailed Deer fawns in the road, their tails waving as their white-speckled coats disappeared into the woods. I stopped at a few places to look and listen for birds, but overall the muggy afternoon was quiet as Wren smelled along the edge of the road. All the same I did hear Blue-headed Vireos, Red-eyed Vireos, Northern Waterthrush, and I found Cedar Waxwings hawking insects along the edge of the streams.
In one place we found a large pile of bear scat – evidence that the road can serve for transportation for more than just cars. A bit further along the road as we approached the bridge crossing Quebec Brook I noticed a set of large tracks walking the center of the dirt track. I stopped the car and walked back finding a string of Moose tracks in the sandy surface, reminding me of the ice cream I had in my freezer. They had been rained on so they had to be about a day old. Excited by our finds we continued our drive while looking for wildlife.
We finally reached the trailhead and set out, as a Common Raven croaked overhead. We met three parties of hikers coming down the mountain and I paused briefly a few tenths of a mile along the trail at the remains of the old fire observer’s cabin. There was also a small stream there where Wren could drink and as we continued hiking part way up the mountain I could see that the darkening sky was building. Quickening our pace to be sure a storm didn’t hit us while we were hiking, we began to work hard. Azure is not a long hike, measuring only one mile each way, but it becomes quite steep – particularly beyond the remains of the cabin. We hoofed it as sweat dripped off my face in the humid air, reaching the top to exhale for a spell.
And Azure’s summit offers a great place to relax. A series of wide steps takes hikers to an amazing overlook from a rocky slab and I stood there taking in the view as low, dark clouds covered and obscured the more distant peaks. Wren nosed her way around the summit looking for food other hikers had left behind. After taking several photos, I climbed the restored fire tower which offers a splendid 360 degree view from the peak. As I stood there in awe of my perch, the sky rumbled a short ways off - signaling the time to come down the stairs. The clouds were now pregnant with rain and we needed to be off the peak.
We made quick progress back down as the distant rumbles continued to threaten us, and the clouds began to allow their promise of rain to patter on the leaves above us. Stopping again for Wren to drink at the stream, we quickly moved on. It was still just spitting rain, but it appeared a deluge was imminent.
We reached the car and I stood stretching while I checked my maps. I had hoped to explore a few other places while we were so far out Blue Mountain Road, but I didn’t know if the weather would allow it. We hopped in the car and began to drive just as the rain began to fall more steadily. It moved from steady to downpour fairly quickly and we splashed along through the ponding roadway amazed by the amount of falling water. We had managed to complete our hike just in time!