Climbing Hopkins Mountain – or rather Getting Lost Trying

It was time for my annual Adirondack hike. I picked the Mossy Cascade Trail to Hopkins Mountain from Keene Valley. From the book Adirondack Trails, High Peaks Region, it looked like a good solid day hike that should not give me too much trouble.

It started out just fine.

I arrived at the trailhead, just as described in the book, right before a steel bridge off Highway 73, 2 miles south of Keene Valley. I got there at 8:00am, and there was not another car to be seen. Clearly, I was going to be the only one on this trail.

A nice footpath started, and the trail was marked by red blazes. It climbed steadily, just as the book said, up to a place where there is a “camp” at about 1.0 mile.

Here is the cabin. It was obviously not occupied. I loved it though. I could live there a good part of the year. This was as close as I got. I didn’t dare risk getting shot or attacked by some dog.

Then here are the instructions going forward from the camp:

I underlined the critical section. Cross the brook (I did) and start climbing. I saw the yellow blazed property line. I went another hundred yards or so, and suddenly the trail fizzled out. Completely fizzled out. I was sure I had missed it, so I double-backed to the brook and tried again. No success. The trail was gone. Here is what things looked like there:

Can you see any trail?

How about here:

I found myself scrambling over logs and through brambles. The going was very tough and against all hope, I never found another trail. Here is the map of me scrambling about, finding the trail:

You can kind of see the panic, can’t you?

But I thought I could possibly do it. The GPS showed the trail (fat dotted line) and I know I was right around it. So I thought I might just be in a bad spot, and if I just kept going, the trail would clear up again and I could walk on without strugging through the bushes. Here are my efforts:

Near marker 10 the trail stopped. You can see this section in the map above. Marker 8 is the end of the road for me, where I turned around. You can see, I kept roughly on the trail, but it took enormous energy. I kept having to hike with the GPS right in my hand, turning constantly to stay on “the trail” that was not there. You can see me rambling back and forth.

When I got to marker 8, at 1.7 miles, I rested and got to thinking:

  • Going was very slow and very laborious, since I was climbing clear through the woods. Without a GPS I would already be lost and if it weren’t for the creek I could hear within earshot, I’d have no sense of direction anymore.
  • If my GPS failed for any reason, I’d be toast right there. It would already be tricky to find my way back.
  • If I broke a leg or incapacitated myself any other way, I’d be toast, too. Nobody knew where exactly I was. I had no cell phone reception at all. Since there was no trail anymore, nobody would find me, even if they looked. Since the trail was gone due to lack of use, clearly, nobody just comes around here.

This would have been different had I been with a buddy, and with a backup GPS. We could have slugged on and up, even though it was very slow and rough going. Being alone, the risks were way too high – so I decided to do the only right thing, and turn around.

After some meandering back – you see that on the map above, I found the original trail and just retraced my steps back.

When I look at the full map of my trip, I notice an odd thing. See the red and blue arrows? I went up and down this trail on a footpath no more than two feet wide. I retraced my steps exactly. How then is the GPS showing the two lines apart as far as they are? Something obviously got it offset and confused at the top. It goes to show me, even the GPS is not bullet proof. The distance between the two lines, which I know are identical, are at least 50 or more feet in the real world. Enough to get lost.

All in all, I  was out for about 140 minutes and hiked a total of 3.4 miles. I didn’t get anywhere near Hopkins Mountain, and probably never will.

Hiker be warned. Trip 51 in the High Peaks Region book, 13th Edition, the Mossy Cascade Trail, describes a trail that is simply no longer there.

So – having extra time on my hands – I cheated – and drove to the top of Whiteface Mountain. But that’s another blog entry.

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