Sunrise Notch ~~ A hike through history
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Sunrise Notch

A hike through history

I have looked at this hike many times over the years while driving through Wilmington Notch or looking at the maps I have so neatly organized at home; it was finally time to go. Looking at older maps I noticed a trail that used to exist through the notch, I wanted to see if I could locate it. The trail started near what is now, High Falls Gorge, on the west side of the Ausable River and ended near the current location of the Whiteface Brook Lean-to, on the south side of Whiteface Mountain.

Finding the abandoned trail

After scoring permission to use the bridge at High Falls Gorge to access the notch, I and a couple friends planned the trip and one bright morning we were there. We got a personal escort across the bridge. We located an old trail through the trees, the original trail, we were not sure; from there we started our adventure. Once we were on the trail we managed to keep it under foot for about a half a mile before it became harder to locate. As we scurried up and down slope to avoid some downed trees we managed to relocate the trail on occasion, but its course ended up being lost in no time at all.

In the pass

On a couple occasions we made our way closer to the Ausable River just to retreat away from the wet depressions and back to the open hardwoods above. Just prior to the drainage that drains Sunrise Notch we found a sizable open area that could have easily been the location of a camping area, cabin or old logging camp. Upon closer inspection we couldn’t find any sign that anything existed in this particular spot aside from us at that particular instance.

Not far beyond we found ourselves dropping down a washed out embankment and crossing the drainage. The abandoned trail according to the map followed the course of the brook, but this just wasn’t feasible for ease of travel. The brook had recently been widened significantly from heavy rains and any sign of a trail would surely be lost. We did however stick fairly close and for a short time we located what seemed to be a path, so we opted to use this for ease of travel through the area.

This narrow, hardly discernible herd-path traveled steeply uphill and eventually brought us to the ridgeline above the notch. This ridgeline is a slender stretch of land with limited views to the north and south. The path continued along the ridge for a while before it dropped to slightly below the actual top.

A hidden waterfall


The views stayed slightly suppressed to the north but we did notice a rather impressive waterfall through the trees that we would have to investigate. We literally took the fall line off this ridge through one of the most jumbled, moss covered rock fields I have seen in some time. It was surely femur-eater country and I was invited to dinner. The hillside being as steep as it was got us back down to the brook rather quickly where we made a B-line to the drainage coming off Whiteface Mountain which we figured was the whereabouts of the waterfall we saw. After a short steep push through the scrub we managed to get to the point where we could hear the rushing water. The actual brook ended up cascading at the bottom through boulders of dissimilar sizes making the approach to the actual waterfall a bit of chore but totally worth the extra effort. We soon found the base of the falls with the sun shining brightly through the shallow sheet of cool high mountain water. We carefully made our way back down the falls and up the steep slopes. We unfortunately did not find the path we original walked, its faint structure must have caused us to walk right over it. 


To the top of the pass

After studying the map again for a bit we decided to take a direct heading toward the top of the pass where the legend has it, some remnants are located, including an old metal cauldron; we didn’t find anything other than possible locations of camps, but nothing to prove our theory. This ended up being lunch spot and apparently something else’s as well. With the abundant piles of deer hair in the area, it seems as though a feast was had here over the winter. Now it was time for the final descent out to the Whiteface Brook Lean-to. We still had high hopes of finding something historical but as we made out route through the open forest along the brook, we found nothing. I’m not sure if it was false hope or what, but it seemed as though we were seeing old roads or trails where they really were not, maybe it was lack of real food.

Most of the descent was uneventful, not like our climb up with the unexpected waterfall discovery. Although, as the slopes receded from under our feet and the flat terrain presented itself we did walk right out into a low lying grassy area with the slow moving babbling brook cutting right through it. The mistake we made was we should have stayed right in the brook from that point if possible, the shores were the thickest part of the day, but with that being said it was only a few minutes to the trail. We hit the trail just below the lean-to and not a minute too soon, as we all agreed.


Finally at Whiteface Landing

The hike out was nothing but typical for hiking an Adirondack trail, mud, mosquitoes, rocks and erosion. Then a short rest break at the dock at Whiteface Landing got us all primed for the dash to the car. Unfortunately we didn’t find anything like run down logging camps, old trail markers, an axe growing through a tree or a jar of gold coins, but we did find seclusion, views and an odd sense of relaxation in an open forest of deep greens and cool breezes.


Interested in hiking through Sunrise Notch or possibly an adventure elsewhere, which might get seldom visited, check out or guide services for further details. Need a tall soft ice cream or maybe a split to celebrate your outstanding adventure, Wilmington has some of the best ice cream in the park. How about a cooling dip in the Ausable River, check out the town beach at Lake Everest for a spell.  

Spencer Morrissey

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