Monday, July 9, 2012

Trail-less High Peaks

Today Trail Camp is leaving for the High Peaks. Half the group is heading to the Great Range to climb Marcy -- the tallest mountain in New York at 5,380 feet -- Skylight, Basin, and Saddleback. The other half is going to the Seward Range, the four most western Peaks. If you look at the map below, you'll notice there are no trails on any of the mountains in the Seward Range. Approximately eighteen High Peaks are trail-less.  

More accurately, approximately eighteen High Peaks do not have officially designated trails maintained by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Trails with long dashes are maintained by the DEC and appear on any hiking map of the area. Leaving Heart Lake heading west to Street and Nye Mountains is a dotted line. This is a foot path that is not maintained by the DEC. Street and Nye, then, are "trail-less Peaks" by DEC definition, but are far from outright bushwhacks.

None of the High Peaks, in fact, are bushwhacks. Each Peak sees regular foot traffic all year round. Multiple people walking over the same ground can't avoid making something of a path. Established routes exist to summit all of the 46 Peaks, whether they're DEC maintained or not. At important points in the route up the mountain, it is common to find cairns left by previous hikers indicating that you are on the right track. However, more knowledge and attentiveness to the map and your surroundings is necessary to climb a trail-less peak; even if a vague path exists. 

Following cairns and the general outline of a path left by others is helpful, but climbing less popular mountain like the Sewards requires map reading skills, compass skills, keen awareness of your surroundings, and experience. It is also important to keep up to date on the latest regional hiking guide publications. These books often have important information regarding changes in the landscape as a result of winter storms. A commonly used route from last year may now be covered in blow-down from a blizzard. Trevor and Sam are leading the Seward trip and both have climbed the range in the past. Sam was a camper on this Seward Range trip in 2007 that shows some examples of cairns and some great views.

Climbing a trail-less Peak is a very rewarding experience. For Trail Campers and Auroras, it demonstrates they are becoming strong, capable hikers with a burgeoning knowledge of what it takes lead a wilderness expedition. Check the Flickr stream on Friday for photos from the Seward Range trip.
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