Fall & Winter In One Hike: Street & Nye Mountains

The fall colors of the Adirondacks were visible through the snow-covered trees on the trail to Street and Nye Mountains.
The fall colors of the Adirondacks were visible through the snow-covered trees from a clearing on the trail to Street and Nye Mountains.

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.

Access to Nye Mountain and Street Mountain are via unmaintained trails.
“Trail Not Maintained Beyond This Point.”

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.

Signing in at the trailhead.
Signing in at the trailhead.

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!

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Much of the herd path looked just like this. Easy to follow, right?

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.

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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!”

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I found myself in deep water somehow. Leave it to me!

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!

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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!

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The second stream crossing.

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.

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Stopping to check in with the rest of the group via walkie-talkie.

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.

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View from the clearing on the way up. All white everything!

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.

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A lovely view from the wooded summit of Nye Mountain!

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.

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At the summit of my 7th High Peak!

 

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.

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I think I will start calling us the “Three Mountaineers!”

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.

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The view from Street Mountain’s summit was no better.

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.

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Fake smile and thumbs up after finally summiting my 8th High Peak!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Summit selfies are a peak-bagging tradition!

Have you ever hiked an unmaintained trail? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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High Tor Wildlife Management Area & Conklin Gully

A section of trail overlooking Conklin Gully.
A section of trail overlooking Conklin Gully.

I’ve been interested in checking out the trails in the High Tor Wildlife Management Area for quite some time. So when I got a text message from a friend Friday afternoon asking if I was interested in joining a last-minute hiking trip to the area I just couldn’t say no. The High Tor Wildlife Management area is located just east of Naples, NY, about an hour away from Rochester. Tor refers to a hill or rocky peak, which accurately describes the terrain of this area. Hikers are treated to steep wooded hills, eroded cliffs, gullies and waterfalls.

The Hi Tor Blue Trail entrance at the parking area off Parish Hill Rd.
The Hi Tor Blue Trail entrance at the parking area off Parish Hill Rd.

We drove to the parking area off of Parish Hill Road to find a trailhead for the Hi Tor Blue Trail. We set out to hike up to an overlook with a view of Canandaigua Lake, checking out a bit of Conklin Gully along the way. We didn’t bring a trail map since we thought the trails looked pretty straight-forward from our internet research (ha!). Unfortunately it didn’t take very long for us to realize we were no longer following a marked trail and needed to regroup. Around this time we started to hear gunfire in the area, reminding us that we were hiking in a popular hunting area during hunting season. As we discussed how near or far the gunfire might be, we noticed a few shotgun shells on the trail near our feet – ugh! I have no problem sharing outdoor spaces with all types of recreationalists, but I have zero tolerance for those who litter. Leave no trace means exactly that, and leaving shotgun shells on the trail is no different than leaving a granola bar wrapper – just don’t do it, okay?

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We were a little nervous about hiking with two dogs in this area during hunting season, but we decided that it was getting late enough in the day to not pose much of a threat. We backtracked to where we saw the Blue Trail markings turn toward the gully and proceeded along the trail, hoping to make our way up to the Canandaigua Lake overlook. Before long, we crossed a shallow, rocky part of the gully and followed the trail up to a steep ledge along 100 ft. sheer walls. This portion of the trail offered amazing views of the gully’s rocky walls and waterfalls below.

Steep part of the Hi Tor Blue Trail leading up to a camping area and scenic overlook.
Steep part of the Hi Tor Blue Trail leading up to a camping area and scenic overlook.

After stopping to take in the scenery and snap some photos, we pressed on and reached a point where the trail widens to a space large enough to fit an ATV. At this point the trail becomes pretty steep, and goes straight up until a large clearing with a lean-to, outhouse, food locker and fire pits. This is a beautiful camping spot at the Canandaigua Lake overlook, but unfortunately camping is seasonal and restricted to organized groups by permit only.

A well-maintained lean-to on the Hi Tor Blue Trail.
A well-maintained lean-to on the Hi Tor Blue Trail.

We stopped for a while again to enjoy the spectacular view of the lake and conveniently use the outhouse near the camping area. A few hikers came from the other end of the trail and stopped briefly to chat. They had driven from Buffalo to spend the day in the area. We decided to follow the Blue Trail a bit longer, until it intersected a section of the Finger Lakes Trail that connected back to the steep, wide section of the Blue Trail again.

A gorgeous fall view of Canandaigua Lake.
A gorgeous fall view of Canandaigua Lake.

On the way down we wandered off trail a bit to explore a tributary which ran into the gully, creating a small waterfall. We climbed down to the top of the waterfall and looked over the steep ledge down to Conklin Gully before making our way back to the trailhead via the Blue Trail.

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Standing on the “edge of the world!”

As we passed by the Conklin Gully overlook section of trail again, we noticed two men hiking through the gully below us. A popular way to hike this area, particularly in warmer weather, is to hike straight through the gully. Some sections of the gully have steep waterfalls, and sometimes there are ropes to help hikers traverse these sections. The waterfall directly below where we were was one such section, and we watched the men use the rope to climb up alongside the waterfall with ease.

Two men hiking through the gully below, approaching a steep waterfall.
Two men hiking through the gully below, approaching a steep waterfall.

It was a short hike back to the trailhead, which made us realize exactly how far out of the way we had initially gone when starting out. Overall it was a very enjoyable hike, with some challenging uphill sections, gorgeous views and exciting terrain. I’m already looking forward to coming back to the area in warmer weather to hopefully hike all the way through the gully. We’re also hoping to plan a section hike of the Finger Lakes Trail, which passes through the High Tor Wildlife Management Area and connects to the Hi Tor Blue Trail. So much to explore!

We're coming for you, Finger Lakes Trail!
We’re coming for you, Finger Lakes Trail!

What’s your favorite hiking spot in the Finger Lakes? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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“Falling” at Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park in the fall.

It’s November now, and in Western New York that means the snow can fall at any time. That’s reason enough for any outdoor enthusiast to get out and enjoy every remaining minute of this beautiful fall season. So last weekend we set out to do exactly that by making the drive down to Letchworth State Park.

A photo of orange leaves on a tree in Letchworth.
Go peep some leaves while there’s still time!

Letchworth State Park, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” is located almost 60 miles south of Rochester and was voted the best state park in the country by readers of the USA Today and 10Best in 2015. The park features three waterfalls surrounded by lush forests and offers 66 miles of hiking trails and plenty of other recreational activities.

Middle Falls at Letchworth State Park in the Fall.
Middle Falls in the fall.

We got a late start, leaving Rochester in the early afternoon, and hoped to hike a portion of the Gorge Trail, which offers some of the best views of the park’s waterfalls and scenic gorge. We set out from the parking lot at the Portageville Entrance and planned to hike four miles out to the Great Bend overlook and back, for a total distance of about 8 miles.

Ready to start our hike in the rain at the south end of Letchworth.
Ready to start our hike in the rain at the south end of Letchworth.

The Gorge Trail follows Park Road for much of the section we hiked, with easy access to and parking areas near most of the scenic overviews along the trail. While this is great because it allows folks of all fitness levels and physical abilities to take in the magnificent scenery, it was quite a different experience than the type of scenic hiking we are accustomed to.

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When climbing a high peak, for instance, you might spend several hours in the deep woods before summiting and after your hard work you are (sometimes) rewarded with an absolutely breathtaking view. I imagine stopping at these overlooks amongst park-goers in their street clothes, fresh out of their warm vehicles, is similar to climbing a mountain that also has summit access by car or chairlift. Your journey wasn’t the same, and you may have had to work a little harder, but the shared appreciation for mother nature’s beauty is undeniable.

Photo taken by a nice woman who drove to the Great Bend overlook, which was 4 miles in to our hike.
Photo taken by a nice woman who drove to the Great Bend overlook, which was 4 miles in to our hike.

Do you have a favorite state park? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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