August 1, 2020
On this day, I and hiking partner, Lisa explored Hoffman Notch Wilderness in the eastern section of the Adirondack Park. The mid-point of our hike being Jones Hill for the prominent views into the wilderness area. Lisa is a member of the Adirondack Club (ADK), Onondaga Chapter and avid hiker in the north country. We chose a oneway route that traverses the east side of the wilderness area in a direction from north to south. We spotted a car at the parking area 2 miles from Schroon Lake on Hoffman Road and drove to the Dirgylot Hill trailhead on Route 9 north of Schroon Lake, 1.75 miles north of exit 28 of I87 Adirondack Northway. The unofficial as yet route is a proposed segment of the North Country Trail, a National Scenic Trail (NCNST) and under development. Our mission was to provide a trail report to ADK’s trail maven, Mary Coffin who is the force out front and behind the scene on this project. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has delayed work on the incomplete trail.
We set off on the main route that leads under the interstate road by way of a corrugated galvanized steal underpass. The two lanes pinch together here making it a fairly short walk in the darkened tunnel. Following the orange flagging and paint, a color chosen to mark out the alignment of a the trail, we diverged further from the the busy corridor and into the wilderness. This section of the trail was well-built and marked with no problem following the trail tread through the hardwoods. Again I was impressed by the size and scale of the beauties. There were many beech trees, some afflicted with the dreaded bark disease that turns a once beautifully-skinned tree into a pocked mess. They eventually die and fall into a tangled mass of limbs to clear away. I am impressed with the diversity of trees in the Adirondacks including many stalwart oaks, giant white pines and mature maples and yellow birch, etc. living harmoniously together. There is an appropriate forest structure of various species, young and old.
Passing south of Smith Hill, we made our way toward Jones Hill. After reaching the Platt Brook we began to climb up hill in earnest. The brook was the end point of work on the trail. Our route was now a bushwhack but following frequent orange flags and paint that marks the future trail as it switches back and forth across the broad upward slope. Many times we stopped to scan for the markings at the turns, always finding our way to the right or left. My instinct was to march directly uphill but dutifully followed the marked line. This is a good course that will eventually be buffed-out with clearing and benching in the cross-slope trail. Eventually we reached a more gradual slope along the ridge that leads to the summit of Jones hill. Views were poking out and we knew we were close for our respite and lunch up high.
Upon reaching the summit we quickly discovered the main trail leading down to the south toward our spotted car. The views did not disappoint as there was 180 degrees of open views looking into the Hoffman Notch and across to the Blue Ridge Range. Looking north, there were views of the high peaks that I was not able to identify for lack of knowledge. There were also great close views of the various mosses, ferns, and plants that dominated to rocky summit. We observed miniature spruce, pine and cedar trees all popping up together amid the icy moss. The sun was high and the clouds were puffy white cumulous with dark bottoms. My glider pilot friends would be happy with the thermals today. Sitting in the sun on a hot rock, I consumed my emergency beer and leftover snack from the hike the day before. Oh how nice it was to replenish my mind and body with the tranquil time on Jones. Without much care in the world at this time, we lingered on the ridge for a few more minutes before heading down to the Big Pond Trail junction and to Lisa’s car.
Descending Jones Hill was truly a delightful experience on a well-built trail with frequent view points down from the summit. Once back under the canopy of hardwoods we made quick time southward, our elevation falling fast. Along the way, we took note of the dozen or so blowdowns that will need attention for our trail report. After some time winding through the forest we arrived at the junction of Big Pond Trail. Knowing that we had a short one-mile stretch to go and each being parched from the hot day we cruised along at a good pace on the flat terrain. We stopped to appreciate the workmanship of a new trail bridge at the Big Pond outlet, a short distance from our destination. It was comforting to see Hoffman Road and the parking lot but we realized that we mistook a pullout down the road for the trail head. No matter for the extra 1/8 mile walk to complete our 7.85-mile hike.
It was truly a pleasure to walk in the woods with Lisa. She and I have a very compatible pace. I enjoyed her love of nature as we stopped frequently to observe something interesting on the ground. The little things can be the most interesting. Thanks to Mary for her specific notes that helped us find our way, in addition to the ap and pathfinding skills of Lisa, we had a very enjoyable, stress free day in the north woods. After retrieving Lisa’s car at our starting point, we met for some homemade backcountry soup that I often carry with me in the winter. She had a bottle of milk and I enjoyed by second beer of the day as we sat on the park bench overlooking the lake before parting our separate ways. I look forward to doing that again and discovering more of the North Country Trail in my native State of New York. Meanwhile I will keep you posted along the Mill Brook back here in Vermont.