Hike A Handful Of High Places
Claim the crown jewels of any mountain range when you link several summits in one long day.
New York: Adirondacks’ Great Range
High peaks are like potato chips: It’s tough to stop after just one. You taste the sweet smell of balsam in the air, hear the crunch of tundra underfoot, and feel a sudden, irresistible craving for the next panoramic payoff. Fortunately, summits are better for your arteries, not to mention that part of your soul that needs the nourishment of high, quiet places.
My favorite big day back East involves a 24-mile traverse of the Adirondacks’ Great Range. A daunting marathon of summits and saddles, this hike gains and loses more than 10,000 feet in elevation as it passes over eight 4,000-footers. The high point is New York’s tallest peak, 5,344-foot Mt. Marcy, but each mountain offers its own delights. There are shimmering views of Vermont’s Green Mountains, delicate clumps of diapensia clinging to fissures in lichen-encrusted rocks, and dwarf fir twisted by the wind into shapes so grotesque you wonder if trees feel pain. On the steeply tilted slabs leading to several of the summits, you understand why Easterners sometimes sniff at the Rockies: There’s an airy, alpine feel to the high Adirondacks that complements the verdant forests below, reminding us that you can enjoy the best of both worlds in one day.
Starting from The Garden trailhead at the end of Johns Brook Road off NY 73 in Keene Valley, follow the Phelps Trail 9.1 miles to the summit of Marcy. Descend south via the Marcy Trail, taking the Elk Lake-Marcy, Bartlett Ridge, and Haystack Trails around to the Range Trail. Enjoy the wide open summits of Haystack, Basin, Saddleback, Gothics, Armstrong, and Upper Wolf Jaw as you gradually descend to the Wolf Jaws Trail. Turn left to the Southside Trail, which passes several splendid swimming holes as it parallels Johns Brook back to The Garden.
Guide: Guide To Adirondack Trails: High Peaks Region ($16.95, includes map).
Contact: Adirondack Mountain Club, (518) 523-3441; www.adk.org.
Tennessee/North Carolina: Iron Mountain Gap to Nolichucky River
Just north of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, this 17.8-mile section of the Appalachian Trail offers rugged climbs and nonstop scenery. One moment you’ll be standing on the wide grassy bald at Beauty Spot, enjoying a 360-degree view of the green, undulating Black Mountains, Big Bald, Flattop, and Roan Mountain. Another, you’ll be threading through a stand of red spruce, a rarity in the Lower 48, atop Unaka Mountain. The towering trees and bare, eerily quiet forest are unlike anything you’ll experience elsewhere in the Southeast. Start at the trailhead on NC 226/TN 107 at the state line and finish at the Nolichucky River, near Erwin, TN. Catch a shuttle back to your car, or spend a day rafting the class III rapids.
Contact: Nolichucky/Unaka Ranger District; Cherokee National Forest, (423) 638-4109; www.southernregion.fs.fed.us/cherokee.
Colorado: Hagues Peak to Lawn Lake
For a day that combines solitude, challenge, and superb scenery, try this 22-mile, shuttled loop that takes in 5,600 feet of elevation and Rocky Mountain National Park‘s fourth highest summit. Begin at the Dunraven/ North Fork trailhead, located 2 miles north of Glen Haven on Devils Gulch Road, near Estes Park. After 13 miles and several alpine lakes, you’ll summit Hagues Peak (13,560 feet). From there, hike down the south ridge to Rowe Glacier Lake (snow travel often required) and continue down the 9-mile Lawn Lake Trail. Take a break at Lawn Lake and gaze upward to several surrounding high peaks, including Mummy and Fairchild Mountains. Hike out to the namesake trailhead near the Park’s east entrance.
Contact: Rocky Mountain National Park, (970) 586-1242; www.nps.gov/romo.
Washington: Glacier Peak Wilderness
Steep, fractured walls and high, ragged peaks along the crest of the Cascades beckon hikers to this wilderness. Quiet groves of soaring old-growth conifers blanket the area below treeline. Above treeline, meadows stretch out below tattered ridges and at least a dozen summits cloaked with active glaciers. Cirques and hidden basins hold more than 200 lakes, many unnamed. To sample this splendor in a day, follow the 20 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail between Suiattle Pass, near Darrington, WA, and Stehekin Valley Road, between High Bridge and High Bridge Camp.
Contact: Mt. Baker Ranger Station, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, (360) 856-5700; www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs.