The View From Bald Peak

One of the high peaks’ most enticing alternatives

Ever since my first visit to the Adirondacks some ten years ago, I have been fascinated by the idea of seeing every stone, waterfall and mountainside they have to offer.  Summer was my season, and the rest of the year was for planning my next adventure.  I heard the call of New York’s most capacious wilderness, and the ringing never left my ears.

One summer, three friends and I were camping on an island in Middle Saranac Lake, and we decided to hike up nearby Ampersand Mountain.  The guidebook promised good views, so we took to our canoes, drove to the trail head, and spent the afternoon climbing what would become my first treeless summit.  As I scrambled up, onto the open rock, a 360 degree panorama greeted me and my elation made me see myself in ways I never had before.  Insignificant.  Unnecessary.  Tiny. I loved it.

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Sign marking the trail head

Years later I have happily succumb to the pull of the mountains.  I spend every season hiking the various peaks, both large and small, and I am still amazed by the sweeping, halcyon vitas of green that so casually intermix with the vehement destruction and rot blanketing the soft forest floor.  It turns out the little details are just as sublime as the tallest mountains, and it is with this in mind that I made my first hike of the summer a modest, yet awe inspiring knob called Bald Peak.

As the name implies, Bald Peak’s summit is mostly treeless and affords a view that justifies the effort required to reach it. And yes, this 3.9 mile hike does take a fair amount of effort.  The grades range from easy to very steep, especially near the summit, but the trail winds its way through so many fine overlooks that I never felt guilty stopping to ‘admire the view’.

Leaving the parking area on the level, the path heads straight into a beautiful, open forest before crossing a small stream.  Turning left, the path climbs away from the stream at a moderate grade and rejoins it at just under a mile.  Here the brook is a mossy, tumbling affair, lined with large rocks and decaying logs, adding pleasant background music and rich, earthy smells to the trail as it ascends to the base of Blueberry Cobbles, the first of two small mountains that stand in the way of Bald.

An example of thoughtful trail design, the path keeps to a level area as it skirts around the series of rocky outcrops that ring the Cobble, effectively circumnavigating the steepest sections.  As soon as there is an opening, the trail turns left and heads up, alternating between moderate and steep pitches along the way.  The first of many views is indicated by a small sign that simply says “view”.  I felt compelled to check it out, and was rewarded with a glimpse of my destination, Bald Peak.  From this vantage it seemed far off, but it’s actually only about 2.5 miles away. 

Continuing on, the path maintains its moderate ascension before reaching a short, flat stretch that ends with a fork.  A sign on a tree clearly marks the way; right is a short cut and left leads up to Blueberry Cobbles.  I am not the type to opt for the easier route, so I turned left and made my way up to the mostly open, hump-like crest of Blueberry Cobbles. 

The view here is decent, but it’s the trees, nestled between carpets of lichen and bare rock, that make the setting worthwhile.   Twisted and broken from exposure, some of the smaller pines have a bonsai look, while the larger pines and white birches are utterly mangled.  I took my time here and explored the nuances of the gnarled fauna, delighting in its crooked posture and uncooperative approach to mortality.  Distracted by fascination, I rounded a bend in the path and found myself face to face with Bald Peak, now much closer and significantly more imposing.  The view alone makes the climb up Blueberry Cobbles worthwhile, and it is to the trail designer’s credit that the path includes it.

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Giant from the summit of Bald Peak

Inspired by the climb ahead, I ignored the urge to linger and followed the route steeply down to the notch between Blueberry Cobbles and Weston Mountain, where it merges with the short cut.  The trail is steep as it climbs Weston, winding up small rock slabs and climbing over exposed roots to the summit, which offers good views back to the Cobbles. To my delight, the trail wastes no time dipping down the north side of Weston, after which it makes a short bee-line to the base of Bald Peak.

Feeling confident and eager to reach Bald’s rocky crown, I immediately began the unrelentingly steep climb up the side of the mountain.  After just minutes my pace slowed as I was confronted by section after section of precipitous open rock. On a mountain like Bald, there is no other route for a trail to follow.  It must go straight up; the only other options are cliffs or thickets of balsam so dense they will slice open your flesh.  This is where the real fun is, where a hiker can see the elevation gain as it occurs, where the use of hands is required to keep moving forward, where the threat of falling off the mountain is not idle.  It is where I feel most at peace, and this trail has finally delivered.

Standing high atop Bald Peak, I felt the same sense of smallness that every mountain instills within me.  My perch afforded me a vantage from which I could gaze south, over mountain tops that stretch to the horizon, to the east, where Lake Champlain sits like a great aqueous stage for Vermont’s Green Mountains, to the north, where the dagger of Whiteface stabs the sky some 25 miles away, and finally, to the west, where the immense Dix Range peeks over the shoulder of Rocky Peak ridge and Giant’s slides streak down to the valley below.  The finale is grand indeed, but for me, it is just a single point along 3.9 miles of tranquility.

Overall, the hike up Bald Peak is a worthwhile endeavor.  The trail, although lacking adequate drainage in a few sections, is well designed enough that it never becomes steep until it has to.  There is plenty to see along the way, and the frequent, easy to see trail markers ensure a safe adventure.  The short cut is also a nice touch, as it avoids a steep pitch up Blueberry Cobbles on the way back. 

I highly recommend this trail to anyone looking for a greater challenge than Poke O Moonshine, or as a warm up for the summer hiking season.  For those who are feeling brave, the path continues over Bald’s summit to a ridge of successively higher mountains, Rocky Peak and Rocky Peak Ridge, before topping off on Giant at 8 miles.  A full days outing indeed, bring plenty of water if you attempt the extended route and be aware that the total ascent from the parking area is a daunting 5,300 ft.

APN gives this hike 4 stars.

How would you rate Bald Peak?