46 High Peaks: Cascade & Porter 8.27.15

Each New Year’s Eve, my family tapes a big sheet of paper to the sliding glass doors in the living room with the words “In (year), I want to…” at the top. Throughout the night, we all add things to the list. Some are personal goals. Some are hopes. Some are small joys. There are no rules, really. The list stays there all year and reminds us of the things we say we want but don’t always make time to do. This year, one of the things I added to that list was “Climb a High Peak.”  I’d climbed smaller Adirondack mountains – Poke-o-Moonshine and Rattlesnake are family favorites – but wasn’t sure I was ready for the longer, tougher trails.

Last week, with summer drawing to a close and that 2015 hope still taped on the door, I decided it was time to give it a try. I set out on a morning that was a little shaky in the weather department but decided to go anyway. I figured that if I still enjoyed climbing high peaks in the cloudy drizzle, I’d know that I wanted to do more.  My plan for the morning was to climb Cascade, which has an elevation of 4098 feet, with an ascent of 1940 feet, and then tackle Porter as a side trip if all went well. Cascade on its own is 4.8 miles RT, and the side trip up Porter adds 1.4 miles to the hike.

This is a climb that starts almost right away, after you enter the woods from the trailhead along Rt. 73 between Keene and Lake Placid. There are three small parking areas, and even though I arrived on the late side (around 10am) I was able to find a spot in the busy summer climbing season, probably because it was a cloudy weekday. And then I was off and climbing…

Approaching the summit, it became clear that today was not going to be one of those “million-dollar-view” days. I was essentially climbing into a cloud.

This was my first hike with so much climbing above the treeline – a new experience that I loved! The yellow hashes and some cairns mark the route, not only for ease of travel but also to keep hikers off fragile alpine vegetation. Here I am at the top of my first High Peak, after about an hour and fifteen minutes of climbing…

Stop laughing at my hair. It was drizzle-windy, and I forgot to bring a pony tail holder.

Given the lack of nice views, sunshine, and general warmth at the top of Cascade, I didn’t spend long at the summit. I found shelter behind a boulder, ate some grapes and a granola bar, drank some water, and headed back down to the junction with the trail for Porter.

This trail descends maybe three tenths of a mile before it starts climbing toward the second peak. It was muddier than the Cascade Trail. I met some people hiking this way with nice, clean sneakers and felt a little sad for their shoes.

I loved this tiny salamander. It’s an Eastern Red-Spotted Newt in the juvenile, or eft, stage.

On my way to Porter, I met another hiker who warned me that the summit isn’t all that obvious, so many people pass right by, thinking it’s a false summit. I was thankful for that information and paid attention to my GPS so I’d know when I was close to the end of the .7 mile trail. Happily, when I reached the small, rocky summit on my second High Peak, the clouds were starting to part just a bit.

While there’s much to be said for hiking on a gloriously clear day, it was also pretty amazing to see the clouds part, little by little, to reveal the surrounding mountains. I caught a glimpse of the Cascade summit and wondered if another climb up might yield a prettier view now that the skies were clearing. So I headed back through the mud to Cascade. Approach number two looked more promising…

When I reached the top, it felt like a whole different mountain. The Adirondacks are pretty amazing that way.

I had lunch at the summit (warmer this time!) and headed down to my car. All in all, the hike took about four hours with summit time, and I am officially in love with these high peaks. I’m hoping to do a few more before the summer/fall season ends, and I’m already dreaming about which mountains I’ll write on that paper taped to the wall for 2016.