The set up. Overcast sky, occasional flurry, single digit temperatures, and winds 5-15 mph. Must mean I should go for a hike. This weekend’s hike had been planned out at the beginning of the month while my hiking partner and I were considering which mountain we would visit next. Although I have not put myself fully into tackling the Adirondack 46 highest peaks, it seems this winter has been the time of taking on some of them. This weekend we chose to visit Cascade and Porter Mountains. Cascade and Porter Mountains rank #s 36 and #38 among the 46 peaks above 4,000 feet. Cascade stands at 4,098 and Porter stands nearby at 4,059.
The two mountains are often visited in the same hike for aspiring 46-rs looking to “peak bag”. Cascade Mountain is a very popular hike among tourists looking to get great views at the summit without the strenuous hike that many of the other high peaks require.The summit sees a lot of traffic throughout the year with lesser amounts in the winter months. Porter sees less traffic to the summit because of the limited open space and limited views compared to that of nearby Cascade.
We started off early as always from Plattsburgh to get a head start on the two peaks. We prefer to take our time on the trails in order to explore along the way. This is no race to see who can reach the summit first. A whole natural world surrounds us on the way. There was only one car in the parking lot at 8:30 am, but while we were getting our gear together a large passenger van full of boy scouts from Connecticut also pulled in. The popularity of this hike was apparent right away. We are often fortunate enough to get mountains all to ourselves through the winter, but this was not going to be the case this weekend.
The hike is fairly steep but does not require any rock scrambling. I have read in other descriptions of the Cascade trail that it is considered often by people who do not hike often but want to reach a summit. With 15 inches of hard pack snow on the trail, many of the boulders were tucked away under a nice smooth path. The hike starts out through a sparse hardwood forest but climbs steeply. The cold air was strangely humid. I looked back at my partner to see that she had accumulated a frosty coating on her eyelashes and eyebrows as if she had stopped to put on some bright white mascara. I noticed that I too had collected a large amount of ice on my beard when I felt it crack as I smiled at her appearance. We were to be wearing this “Adirondack chic” look for the rest of the day.
Although I love the summit as much as anyone, my favorite part of any winter hike is to reach the frost line. Here in this place where the trees are covered in their thick and permanent winter coating of snow, frost, and ice, I feel at peace. This place to me is the greatest part of any winter hike. The low cloud cover was going to make our outward views limited, but the scenery inside this frosty forest holds its own magnificence. I could stop here, sit a while, and let myself forget the 9-5 or the other happenings of life outside of this space. These frozen woods act as my minds retreat whenever I need to get away.
Shortly before we reached the junction between the two mountains we ran into a fellow hiker from Ottawa. He had done this hike in the past, and chatted with us for a bit about the two summits. Where we were standing was supposed to be the first open view back toward the great range. The thick cloud cover made the “expansive view” more like looking at a wall painted all in grey. In our chat with the other hiker, we decided to take the trek to Porter first in hopes that the cloud cover would move out by the time we reached the more impressive views Cascade offers.
The .7 mile trail to the summit of Porter from the junction is a narrow path through the thick frozen pine forest. We took our time along this easy path to enjoy the beauty of the frost. You can quickly forget you are cold when you are so absorbed in the scenery around you. Not far from the summit there is a large boulder that I imagine offers views on a clear day. I climbed up to snap a photo of Porter before continuing on. The breeze was kicking up and I could feel that the frost I was collecting on my beard and lashes was thickening. Thankfully my yearly decision to sprout a winter coat to protect my face was paying off. At the summit we met up with the other hiker from Ottawa, exchanged time to snap some photos for each other, and quickly retreated back into the thick pines away from the wind. As we rounded the bend just past the large boulder our decision to summit Cascade last appeared to be paying off! For the first time we caught a glimpse of distant mountains and the bald rocky summit of Cascade.
The breeze we felt on top of Porter was pushing the clouds away just as we had hoped. The views through the trees of the far off peaks was exciting, but we paused again at the junction between the two mountains to take in some nourishment. A few other groups had come down from the summit of Cascade while we were there and all expressed that the wind was fiercely cold beyond the treeline . Forewarned, we pulled up our neck gaiters, added our warmest hats, covered any open skin, and tossed some hand warmers into our gloves. There is no such thing as too cold, just ill-prepared. Bellies full and bundled up, we made our way to the summit. Only .3 miles from the junction, one reaches the summit quickly. Much of this path is treeless. I could tell right away why the other hikers had expressed how cold they felt. Although covered, my eyes were exposed. The wind made them tear up and I could feel my tears freezing to my face. Fortunately there were a few hiding spots near the summit with little to no wind to stop for a moment to take in the spectacular views.
The thick cover of clouds had almost completely blown away by this point. We could see some of the other peaks we had summited in recent months off in the distance. Again I started to forget I was cold. With the wind so strong, standing much time at the summit was not in the cards, but I still made my way to the marker indicating that I had made it. I took as many photos as I could, felt my eyelids freezing, and made my way back town to the protected space out of the wind. We couldn’t have asked for better odds of capturing the views. We took it in for a little more time and made our way back to the protection of the trees. In the tree cover, it is as if the wind is instantly shut off. Happy about our good fortune and ready to sit down indoors for some food, we quickly made our way back to the trailhead. The parking lot was now full of other ambitious adventurers out to experience the beauty of the Adirondacks in winter. I can’t think of any better way to spend my days.