March 20, 2018
If your kids are anything like mine they love breaking records. And second best to holding the record, is knowing the record - biggest number (Googolplex), smallest state (Rhode Island), fastest animal (Cheetah), funniest Minion (Stuart), smelliest feet (Dad for the win).
I had been waiting to bust out my trivia challenge for just the right day. "Tallest tree?" I asked. Silence. With both a 3- and 7-year-old I think that is a record in itself! As a Paul Smith’s College alum I know that there is a grove of White Pines near campus where the TALLEST tree in the Adirondack Mountains can be found, and today my family and I were going to find it.
Leaving downtown Saranac Lake by heading west on Route 86, it is straight and scenic sailing for 10 miles. The only tough part of the drive is keeping your eyes on the road because the views are so darn good. Once you enter the Town of Brighton and start to head down Easy Street, right before the speed limit changes from 55 to 40, you will see a gated logging road on the left. This is where you turn in and park.
For March the gear was simple: snow pants or gators, snowshoes, drinking water, and compass. There are no trail markers but we followed the well-defined logging road to an old log yard — a big open clearing. The trail was flat and the surrounding forest was a typical Adirondack softwood mix.
Leaving the open clearing we continued on a trail, following a south bearing, until we came to the power lines. From Route 86 to the power line is about a quarter-mile. For such a short distance the visual interest along the trail was plentiful - from snowshoe hare tracks to fresh deer beds to habitat trees. Habitat trees are standing live or dead trees that provide habitat in its cavities, bark pockets, large dead branches, or cracks. The kids had fun checking out everything they saw.
While Chilly, our 11-year-old Golden Retriever, was happy to bask in the spring snow and wait for us to catch up.
At the power lines we turned left and snowshoed up the hill about 1000 feet. There is a visible utility pole at the crest of the hill, make sure you do not go that far (you should be about 50 yards shy of it). This is where the trail ends and you will have to bushwhack. Understandably, the term bushwhack doesn’t sound family friendly — but with a map and compass or GPS this was totally doable with a 7-year-old in snowshoes and a 3-year-old in a backpack. Following a south bearing, bushwhack through the forest for about 1000 feet.
You will know when you reach the grove as there are about 50 White Pines in a small ten-acre area. It is said that these trees started growing in 1675 after a large windstorm event. Making these trees not only tall but over 300 years old! The grove, appropriately named the 1675 Grove, is part of Saranac Lake's Wild Forest, a discontinuous 79,000-acre tract designated as Wild Forest by the NYS DEC in Franklin and Essex counties. The massive White Pines are marked above eye level on the north side of the tree with a silver tag.
Once we were at our destination the 3-year-old jumped out of the backpack and the 7-year-old kicked off her snowshoes. Dashing from tree to tree, looking for the tag, reading the number, hunting for the record — the kids had a blast! The packed snow cover gave the kids a height advantage to see the tags, and allowed them to maneuver more easily as the area has a considerable amount of coarse woody debris.
Found it! After 20 minutes of searching we put our eyes on the TALLEST tree in the Adirondack Park. White Pine #103: 160.4 feet of impressive stateliness. It is both humbling and inspiring to stand at the foot of such a tree. We set off on a quest to spot the tallest tree and in return we had a perfect Adirondack day — complete with 40-degree temps, bright white snow, fresh air that smelled like spring, living history, and family fun. Mission exceeded! Now, back to town to warm up with a tasty treat and hot chocolate!
“Stand tall and proud,
sink your roots into the earth,
be content with your natural beauty,
go out on a limb,
drink plenty of water,
remember your roots,
enjoy the view” - Advice from a Tree by Ilan Shamir