A great time of year for a hike
Fall is made for hiking. It possesses the perfect mix of pleasantries — leaf color, pleasant temperatures, and no bugs — that appeals to time outside. So when a couple friends of mine came to visit the other weekend, we hit the trail. That started with an afternoon hike up Baker Mountain, but our longer, planned hike came the following morning when we arrived at the trailhead for St. Regis Mountain – another of the Saranac Lake 6ers.
Colors along the way
A round trip of about 7 miles, St. Regis offers a nice, moderately strenuous hike that features a good climb and a beautiful view as the reward. Word of this is clearly out as the trailhead parking lot was rather full when we arrived, and we laced up our boots and the four of us set off on the trail, which rises and falls easily for the first couple miles. My dog, Wren, nosed her way along the trail, trotting now and then to catch up and to take the lead, and always keeping an eye on me – all good hiking dogs stay close to their person.
My friends and I chatted about various things as we went – physical activity always seems to be a good way to process ideas, concerns, and conversations – and the meandering path led us through a mixed deciduous forest where the leaves were transforming from summer’s green to the polychromatic woods of autumn. There were hints (and often much more than hints) of gold and yellow in the American beeches, yellow birches, hophornbeams, and striped maples, reds and yellows in the red maples, and orange bursting through the sugar maples. Here and there we’d find a tree which had fully transitioned – perhaps it was a tad stressed or the cool fall nights we’ve had of late hit its leaves particularly hard for one reason or another. The understory shrubs were likewise changing, most notably the hobblebush which was shifting from green to the rich, dark purple of fall.
We also passed through portions of the trail monopolized by conifers, and the deep, constant green of eastern hemlocks dominated the space above our heads. It was a contrast to the variegated forest beyond and the hike became a lesson in various stages of the changeover of fall. I know that the leaf colors result from the loss of chlorophyll, which makes them green during summer, and the revelation of pigments such as carotenes and xanthophylls hidden beneath the chlorophyll, as well as the development of anthocyanins during fall, but there’s a point in which it is great to just be in awe of the riot of color and the amazing transformation. It is beautiful.
The climb and the summit
Eventually we reached the low bridge that crosses a small brook a little over 2 miles into the hike. Anyone hiking St. Regis should note that this stream marks the beginning of the climb and we took it as a chance to rest, snack, and drink while Wren slurped from the stream and collected sticks that met her standard for being chewed.
From there we began to ascend the mountain, gradually at first, but we soon reached a few steep sections of rock steps and water bars designed to minimize trail erosion, taking additional breaks and allowing a few folks to pass us who were already coming down from the summit. But St. Regis is not an arduous climb and we soon began to level off as the trail briefly looped around the top of the mountain before opening onto the peak.
A light breeze played across the landscape but the sun was warm, and although I came prepared with extra layers, I never felt a need for them. We enjoyed the view, snacked, and tanked up on water while Wren tried to make friends with other hikers on the summit – I making her stay close to me. Cameras out, we snapped away and identified distant High Peaks and the lakes which characterize so much of that portion of the Adirondacks – including Little Clear Pond, where my friend and I had paddled two days earlier, and Lake Clear where we would end our day with a chilly swim at the beach.
Besides the amazing view, this peak also has a new fire tower, which hikers can climb for an even better view. Since the summit was fairly busy, I skipped the fire tower in order to remain with Wren, but most other folks were heading up for the higher vantage point. Like us, Wren snacked and drank, preferring the rainwater from a clear puddle to the water I poured into her bowl. I was happy to lighten my load all the same. And after I forced her into a bit of a photo shoot while she tried to sniff her way around the summit, she lay and dozed in the sun, resting.
The return trip
We could have likely done the same, relaxing and sleeping with the view as a backdrop, but we knew we had to return to the trailhead – a more filling meal would be calling us soon. And so we began to retrace our steps back down the mountain, taking our time on the steep sections which, like all Adirondack hikes, were wet and slick in spots.
We were soon back at the small bridge where once again we paused for a break and to allow Wren another drink from the flowing water. From the bridge we cruised fairly easily, but our conversations became more sporadic as the quiet of fatigue and hunger began to take over. I did pause at one place to have a conversation with a fall flock of songbirds all the same, making Barred Owl calls to agitate a mixed group of Black-capped Chickadees, Blue-headed Vireos, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Golden-crowned Kinglets. My friends clearly don’t spend enough time with me because they were confused by what I was doing.
We were soon back at the trailhead where we had more water and snacks stashed in the car for the ride home. We loaded up and Wren quickly fell asleep while we drove toward home. But she was soon excited for more fun when we stopped at Lake Clear Beach on our way, where my one friend wimped out (he readily confesses this with pride) while the rest of us took a bracing swim to rinse off the trail sweat and grime. We paused from our chilly dip and looked up at the summit of St. Regis, tying the circle of our route that day and offering one last perspective of the mountain. I wonder if anyone on the peak was looking down at the beach while we did. With that we headed for home and a well-earned dinner out.