By Phil Brown/Adirondack Explorer & TimesUnion.com, link to original post AND PHOTOS
Most of the tourists have gone, but the loons haven’t. Their eerie calls echo off the hills, and the yellows, golds and oranges of the changing leaves reflect off the water, so each time you dip your paddle, you set in motion a swirl of color.
Ah, the fall is a great time to canoe. Of course, it’s also a great time to hike. No matter how good the view is from a summit in summer, it’s always better when the forest is awash with autumn hues.
So what’s an outdoors lover to do? That’s easy: both.
The Adirondack Park offers many opportunities for combining a canoe trip with a climb up a mountain. Such outings are a wonderful way to get a full workout of legs and arms. And if you go for a swim at the end of the day, heck, it’s like a mini-triathlon — minus the grueling punishment.
One of the best canoe/hikes in the Park is in the St. Regis Canoe Area. I went there one summer with my teenage son, Nate, to paddle Long Pond and climb Long Pond Mountain.
Now I should mention that Nate wasn’t always the most enthusiastic traveling companion on my jaunts up mountains. He was willing, but only up to a point — a point that usually came about two hours into a hike. On this day, however, he had a fabulous time. “I thought it was going to be tiring,” he said, “but it was fun.” In Nate’s book, that is high praise indeed.
All told, the trip took 51/2 hours. That includes nearly two hours of canoeing, two hours of hiking, a leisurely lunch on the summit and a long swim on the return paddle.
We put in the canoe at a sandy strand on the western end of Long Pond, reached by a short carry from a parking lot off Floodwood Road. Before shoving off, we looked across the water and saw Long Pond Mountain rising in the northeast. Since the pond is shaped like a horseshoe, we would paddle east up one arm, around the bend and then west toward the hiking trail, which starts near the end of the pond’s other arm.
Within a few minutes of launching we heard our first loon of the day. The black-and-white-checkered bird was swimming off our bow, near the outlet of Pink Pond. Suddenly, it dove. We stopped paddling, waiting for it to resurface. After a good 30 seconds, it appeared about 30 yards away. Before the day was done, we would see and hear several other loons. They must enjoy the serenity and quiet of the motor-free canoe area.
When we did this trip, I had not heard about the short detour to Pink Pond. I have since been back and paddled up the boggy outlet to this pretty little water body. It’s only a quarter-mile from Long Pond and worth a look. You can find the outlet on the north side of Long Pond, almost directly across from the put-in (but a little east).
When Nate and I reached the bend in Long Lake, we headed north through a strait to the lake’s other arm. En route, we passed a few fellow paddlers and several pretty campsites set back amid large pines. Rounding the next bend, we again spied the summit rising above the horizon. Several minutes later, we passed through another strait, guarded by a sandbar, and into a wide bay. A white sign on the north side of the bay, barely discernible from this distance, marked the start of the hiking trail.
We landed in a forest of balsam fir and spruce. Two other canoes had been pulled onto the shore. Until recently, the official trail led only a half-mile or so to Mountain Pond, but the state now maintains a trail all the way to the top of Long Pond Mountain.
Less than 10 minutes from the landing, the conifer forest yielded to hardwoods. On both sides of the trail, we noticed many small depressions and ridges — a reminder of the glaciers that sculpted the St. Regis Canoe Area and created its many ponds. In 15 minutes, we arrived at Mountain Pond. Here the trail turns right and follows the shore a short ways before climbing the southern slopes of the mountain.
The ascent is gradual at first, but it steepens soon enough. You’ll see several glacial erratics among the hardwoods — boulders dropped by the melting glaciers 10,000 years ago. Before you get to the top, you’ll pass a few lookouts with good views to the southeast, but these afford just a taste of what’s to come.
Approaching the summit, we heard voices. At first, I was miffed that we wouldn’t have the mountain to ourselves, but my disappointment dissipated when I recognized a friendly face: Brian McDonnell, a guide who lives in Lake Clear, was having lunch with several companions.
As I marveled at the vista, stretching from Whiteface Mountain in the east to Ampersand Mountain in the south — and taking in numerous High Peaks in between — I foolishly asked Brian if he lets his clients in on this little secret. “Naw! Are you kidding?” he replied. “I wouldn’t share this with them.”
Of course, the other people on the summit were his clients. They included Hugo Sonnenschein, the president emeritus of the University of Chicago, and his wife, Beth, who visit Saranac Lake every summer. They had climbed the mountain with their daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.
That’s one of the great things about Long Pond Mountain: it can be climbed by all ages. And yet the view is superb. Given the ease of the ascent, Brian regards the 2,533-foot summit as one of the best payoffs in the Park. All told, the trail covers about two miles and ascends about 900 feet.
Among the peaks that can be seen, besides those already mentioned, are nearby St. Regis Mountain; Mount Marcy and Algonquin Peak, the state’s highest summits; the twin-peaked McKenzie and its neighbor, Moose Mountain; the Great Range; and, in the western High Peaks, the Santanoni and Seward ranges. Herd paths lead to other views toward the west, including Spring Pond Bog, a vast wetland. There are not many peaks where the contrast between the Park’s highest mountains and the lake country to the west is so visible.
After Brian and his clients departed, Nate and I enjoyed a long lunch before heading back to our canoe. The return hike took about 40 minutes. Toward the end of the return paddle, we stopped at a vacant campsite for a swim. We hadn’t realized how shallow Long Pond is until we entered the water and found we could walk almost halfway across. We swam to the other shore and back.
With only five minutes of paddling ahead, we now felt totally refreshed. It was the perfect end to an almost-perfect day. Ah, if only it had been autumn.
This story originally appeared in Adirondack Explorer magazine. For information go to www.adirondackexplorer.org.