OK, so the list really isn’t new – but it might be to you. Have you been working on the 46 High Peaks, but need a break from long strenuous days? Maybe you are up here with the family and you want to do something a bit less challenging? Maybe you want a list to work on with the family so that everyone can have fun without the worry of a 12+ mile day that spans over a 10-hour period of your long weekend? Well then, I must say, the Adirondack Firetower Challenge is right up your alley.
“To complete the Challenge and receive the official full-color patch, hikers must climb and document, by date, ascents of at least 23 fire tower summits: 18 of 23 Adirondack Park summits and all 5 Catskill Park summits. Climbing each tower itself is not required, nor in fact recommended, for those towers that have not been restored for safe public use. The mountain should have a standing fire tower on the date of your ascent.” Information from ADK-gfs.org.
For additional information such as a brochure, list of peaks and peak locations go to the Adirondack Firetower Challenge website.
That paragraph pretty much says it all, but let me break it down a bit further for you by giving you a bit of an overview of the fire tower peaks in the Whiteface Region – or within a skip and jump from Wilmington.
This 2.2 mile round-trip hike/snowshoe will bring you high above the Lake Champlain Valley and Keeseville. It’s simple to reach: from Wilmington just follow Route 86 to Jay, then Route 9N to Keeseville, then Route 9-South toward Lewis, the trailhead will be on your left near the old Pokomoonshine state campground. While “Poko” as many call it, is famous for its rock and ice climbing, it often gets visited by those wishing for a stellar view. From this summit you will surely get that, with Lake Champlain not too far away you can look over those blue waters to the Green Mountains of Vermont. The climb, while a bit steep in areas, is relatively short in distance. Be sure to check out the interesting views along the way as you move along the top of some of the tall cliffs. Take a break at the lean-to on the shoulder of the mountain and maybe brew up some hot water for a cup of tea or hot chocolate. Climb the firetower and extend your views while relaxing in the cab.
To get there follow Route 86 out of Wilmington toward Jay, then take a right onto 9N, stay on 9N through Keene and then take the left (remaining on 9N) toward Elizabethtown. The trailhead will be on your left a few miles up the road. This 5.2 mile round trip hike/snowshoe is one of the most popular firetower peaks on the list and one of the more popular mountains in the region. Situated right on the edge of the High Peaks Wilderness, it gains its own Primitive Area. While the tower itself has not yet been restored, it has been selected to be in the near future. Please don’t attempt to climb the tower at this time, it is in very rough condition and is very dangerous. The tower can be viewed from Route 9N, standing in the distance like a beacon welcoming you to the mountains. It has become a staple destination for locals and visitors for decades. The climb which is broken down into three pitches will gain you elevation rather quickly above the roadside, then through a marshy area, then steep again to a high col with the trail to Crow Clearing. Finally, climb along a short rock scramble to the rocky summit that overlooks the Giant Mountain Wilderness and the High Peaks Wilderness beyond that.
This peak residing in Paul Smiths is a bit further away but can easily be reached and even combined with its neighbor Azure – which I will talk about next. Just follow Route 86 through Lake Placid and Saranac Lake and head into Paul Smiths. In Paul Smiths take a right onto Route 30 and then a quick left onto Keese Mill Road. The trailhead parking will be up the road a short distance on your left. The trail is just up the dirt road a few hundred feet on the right. The easy to moderate hike will bring you through an attractive forest with only one somewhat steep section. Aside from that on lone steep pitch there are several smaller hills to climb on this 6.8 mile round trip journey. This trail is not only an excellent hike it also makes for a great snowshoe trip. This peak’s tower is also in disrepair but slated for restoration in the near future. Please don’t attempt to climb this one either – the bottom staircases have been removed to dissuade anyone from trying. The views from the summit floor are fantastic as you stand overlooking the Saint Regis Lakes and the numerous other peaks in the area.
A bit farther along, but neighboring St. Regis Mountain, is Azure Mountain. Continue along Keese Mill Road from the St. Regis Trailhead. The road will become Blue Mountain Road. You will follow Blue Mountain Road for quite some time, especially in winter when the conditions are bit less favorable, to the trailhead on the left. Azure is a quick 2.0 mile round trip hike/snowshoe to a very remote fire tower peak. The trail is rather easy as you climb the less than 1000’ elevation gain to the rocky summit. The tower can be climbed but it isn’t necessary to gain the fantastic views that await you.
While these four peaks reside the closest to the Whiteface Region, don’t let that stop you from venturing out even further to other firetower peaks or maybe even other smaller mountains in the area. There is so much to offer hikers and snowshoers while staying in Wilmington, it’s almost difficult to make a decision.