Today was a mild autumn day in Rochester, and as winter draws closer I can’t help but reflect on a wild weekend I had just last month, which provided the first taste of wintery weather this season. The girls planned another Adirondack adventure in an attempt to bag a couple more high peaks this fall. We booked a cabin in Wilmington, near Whiteface Mountain, and decided we would try to summit Street and Nye Mountains on a weekend in mid-October.
Street Mountain is number 31 of the 46 High Peaks, with an elevation of 4166 feet. Nye Mountain is the second shortest of the 46 high peaks, with an elevation of 3895 feet. Nye Mountain and Street Mountain are often climbed together in a single day hike. An unmaintained trail leads hikers to the summits of both mountains from the Mount Jo Trail near Adirondack Loj.
We had the largest group of any hiking trip I’ve been on so far – this time with six ladies and one gentleman (a friend managed to sneak her boyfriend!) – all of varying hiking experience and backgrounds. We got an early start and arrived at the Adirondack Loj first thing in the morning. After parking, packing up our day packs and getting properly layered in outerwear, it was time to make our way to the trailhead.
We had trail maps of the area and the High Peaks Trails guidebook, but we decided to stop and ask someone at the Loj the best way to get up to the beginning of the Street & Nye trail. This proved to be a costly mistake, as the instructions she gave us actually led us almost all the way up Mount Jo in a large loop before finding the unmaintained trail. This added an extra hour-ish and almost 2 additional miles to our planned hike!
Things got interesting after we ventured out on the herd path leading up to Street and Nye Mountains. I imagine that following this herd path is usually pretty straightforward as it is the most popular route up these two “trail-less” high peaks, which are required for one to become an official 46er. However, the combination of leaf cover and light snowfall obscured much of trail for us, making it quite difficult to follow at times. Luckily there were a couple of groups heading up the same route ahead of us according to the trail register, and were able to find the herd path by following their footprints in the mud and snow.
Before long the path comes to the Indian Pass Brook which requires crossing to continue. From what I’ve read, Indian Pass Brook appears to be typically less deep than it was the day of our hike, though I’m sure it can be much deeper in the spring with heavy rain and snow melt. After assessing the situation for some time, we decided to just take off our socks and boots, roll up our pants, and “ford the river!”
This was my first stream crossing, and it was pretty tricky despite the relatively shallow depth. Parts of the stream where we crossed had a pretty strong current, and the rocks beneath the water were sharp and slippery. The water felt barely warmer than freezing. After all, it was cold enough to be snowing during our entire hike! The best part about the stream crossing was putting our wool socks and boots back on after reaching the other side. My feet were in heaven after fording the icy stream!
After a short distance there was another stream crossing, this one was narrower, shallower and had a large log that traversed it. I decided to “scoot” across the log while everyone else easily walked right across. My method worked well, until I tried to exit the log on the wrong side and my right leg slid into the stream up to my thigh. So much for dry feet!
The trail followed a brook most of the way up the mountain, crisscrossing it a few times. We continued on by following footprints of those ahead in the snow and mud. The trail was extremely muddy and wet from the constant snowfall, so after a while it didn’t even matter that my right foot was completely soaked from the stream crossing.
Eventually the fastest hiker of the bunch broke away from the rest and I tried my best to keep up with her. We stopped a few times to check in with the rest of the group behind us via two-way radio, and found out that three of the girls had turned around due to the weather conditions and difficulty of the hike.
We eventually came to a rocky ledge on the trail with a clearing in the trees. This spot probably offers a pretty nice view, but all we saw was a white out. We passed a couple of hikers who were on their way down from the summits, and they said the clearing with the trail junction for Street and Nye was impossible to miss.
Well that was a bit misleading, since we somehow managed to go straight past the junction without even noticing! I suppose it’s because of how closely we were following the tracks to make sure we stayed on the path, but eventually the trail just seemed to stop completely and we couldn’t tell for the life of us where to continue.
As we looked around in confusion, trying to figure out where or how we went wrong, I looked up and spotted the “Nye Mountain” sign above our heads. We had summited without even realizing it! We high-fived to another high peak conquered, and radioed to the other two who were behind us to see how far away they were.
Just as we were about to head down to the junction to wait for the others, they came climbing up to the summit area. We joined them back up at the summit of Nye, snapped a few pictures, and decided to forge ahead to Street Mountain. This time when we came to the junction, it was slightly more obvious but also pretty clear why we missed it on the way up. Coming down the summit of Nye, there was a clearly visible rock cairn marking the spot where the Street Mountain trail veers off that we hadn’t seen before.
The hike from the junction up to the summit of Street Mountain was pretty brutal. I’m not sure if it was the weather, the fact that I was out-of-shape or tried to keep up with a super speedy hiker, but this steep section of trail took a toll on me. I was so relieved when we finally reached the summit of Street Mountain after nearly an hour of hiking from the junction.
Just past the summit of Street Mountain the trail continues to a clearing that (supposedly) offers more of a scenic view. I don’t know about all that, since the only view we got all day was of snowy clouds. We snapped a few more pictures, stopped to eat sandwiches and relaxed at the summit until our body temperatures reminded us to keep moving.
The way down a mountain is always kind of boring during an out-and-back hike, and tends to be more rough on the joints than going up. This adventure proved to be no different, and thanks to my ambitious speed on the way up, I was moving more slowly than ever on the way down. We broke off into two groups, with two people leading the way and two of us following quite a ways behind. This turned out to be a good thing, however, because when we came to the rocky ledge beyond the junction, there was a break in the clouds moving across the mountains which offered an absolutely breathtaking view, completely unlike what we saw on the way up.
My friend stopped for a moment to take in the incredible sight, but she was eager to continue our descent. I had a hard time pulling myself away from the most rewarding part of the entire day’s hike! After I was done taking hundreds of photos and taking in the moment of beauty, we made our way back down the herd path the same way we came up.
When we reached the two stream crossings, we didn’t stop to spend any time considering our best option for crossing – we just forded through, boots on and all. We didn’t want to waste time taking our footwear off and finding the best spot to cross, since we were tired and running out of daylight. We may have underestimated how far the trailhead was from the Indian Pass Brook, and for that entire stretch my wet boots felt like cement blocks on my feet. Before long, however, we reached the end (or beginning?) of the herd path where it met the Mount Jo trail and found the exact point where our instructions steered us in the wrong direction that morning. We passed Heart Lake and came out at the trailhead near the Adirondack Loj, proud to have bagged two more high peaks and eager to get our hard-earned pumpkin pie milkshakes from Stewart’s!
Have you ever hiked an unmaintained trail? Share your experiences in the comments below!