NUN-DA-GA-O RIDGE (ADIRONDACKS): 6/25/15
I had a strong craving to get over to the Adirondacks after a two-year absence, and Stowe was just close enough to make a feasible day trip to the Keene area. So off we went, driving around 45 miles along I-89 and then on country highways through gorgeous farmland to the Charlotte-Essex ferry. We lucked out and arrived at the ferry launch just before the 10:00 departure. Here the northern Adirondacks were in sight ahead. This is always the best part of the approach journey.
From Essex, NY we followed several roads to Elizabethtown and headed up Rt. 9N to the gap on the south side of Hurricane Mountain. The winding Hurricane Rd. brought us to gravel O'Toole Rd., which climbed steeply to the high, remote trailhead called Crow Clearing. Here Carol found and logged a cleverly-hidden geocache.
Meanwhile, a hiker came out whom I recognized as Peter Fish, the legendary longtime ranger in the ADK High Peaks, now retired. Peter has climbed Mt. Marcy more than 500 times.Today he had been scouting out a bushwhack trip he was leading in the near-future. He has also spent considerable time recently clearing the sporadically maintained and mostly unmarked loop path over the Soda Range (better known as the Nun-Da-Ga-O Ridge) in the Hurricane Mountain Wilderness.
This six-mile circuit, which also includes Weston Mountain and Lost Pond, is considered by some veteran ADK hikers as one of the best treks in the Adirondack Park. Along the loop numerous open ledges provide wide views of the High Peaks from ever-changing perspectives. Our original plan had been to hike from this trailhead to Hurricane Mountain, whose bare fire tower-clad summit is one of the best viewpoints in the 'dacks, but it was rather cloudy and hazy as we drove across, and I wanted to save that summit for a crystalline day. With a pond and multiple viewpoints, the Nun-Da-Ga-O loop sounded like a better hike, if possibly tricky to follow, so Carol and I agreed that would be our choice for the day's adventure.
We did the loop counterclockwise, which would bring us to Lost Pond first. The first mile was as smooth and easy a hiking trail as we've ever walked.
After just over a mile we veered left towards Lost Pond as the trail to Hurricane departed to the right.
For a few minutes the trail followed alongside Gulf Brook.
Just off the trail was the Gulf Brook Lean-To, one of more than 200 open-front shelters in the Adirondack Forest Preserve.
In another half-mile we ascended to picturesque Lost Pond, tucked onto a high plateau at 2800 ft. There are hundreds and hundreds of these secluded watery gems in the Adirondacks.
Weston Mountain (3182 ft.), our next destination, peered over the far end of the pond. The ledges near the summit looked inviting.
After a twenty-minute sojourn at the pond, we continued on the trail behind the west shore. At one spot a short path led out for another view, this one looking across to trailless Peaked Mountain.
Here there was also a view back to Hurricane Mountain and its tall fire tower.
Beyond the pond is a second shelter, the Walter Beismeyer Lean-To, featuring a rustic privy.
Parts of the climb to Weston Mountain are steep.
Slender birches on a mucky shelf.
Arriving at the summit ledges of Weston Mountain was a "wow" moment. The skies and peaks had cleared, and the views were stunning.
We were amazed at the expansive vista of the High Peaks.
I also savored the more intimate view of Lost Pond nestled below Hurricane Mountain.
Dix Mountain, Nippletop Mountain and Mount Colvin rising behind Lost Pond.
From this perspective you peer straight into the Johns Brook valley all the way out to Mount Marcy.
Nearer at hand are Porter and Cascade Mountains, with Algonquin Peak peering over on the left..
Wild country to the north of Hurricane Mountain.
After a nice stay on the Weston ledges, we descended 500 ft. to a col and then ascended to the first of several ledgy bumps on Nun-Da-Ga-O Ridge, with a view looking back at an adjacent ledge-fronted knob.
In the next mile there were a number of ledgy viewpoints. This area was burned over in a 1908 forest fire, and areas of bare rock persist, to the delight of hikers.
A down-look from one of the cliffs.
Looking back at Weston Mountain, with Peaked Mountain to the left.
Carol and I agreed: What a great hike!
The ledges just kept coming, separated by sections through conifer and birch woods with many ups and downs, some of them steep.
Views from ever-changing perspectives.
Taking in yet another High Peaks vista.
Lots o' rock.
From one spot there was a look north at the wild, ledgy Jay Range, topping out at 3600+ ft.
Gotta go check this ridge out on a future visit.
One of the more abrupt pitches along the ridge.
A neat lichen garden beside the path.
The biggest view of the day was from the high point of the Nun-Da-Ga-O Ridge (3107 ft., a NY 3000-footer). All told, from the various viewpoints I spotted 33 of the 46 ADK High Peaks.
The Dix Range, showing some of the many slides on Dix Mountain.
Giant Mountain, with Rocky Peak Ridge peeking over Green Mountain on the left.
Carol took a few photos with her IPhone.
Mounts Whiteface and Esther.
The top of the descent off the summit ledges was wicked steep, with two tricky pitches.
The ridge descended slowly, with several climbs over little bumps. There were more views on the way down, including this one looking across a wide basin to Hurricane Mountain, with a beaver pond down on the floor.
One last significant view ledge.
The simple sign at the junction with the officially maintained trail to the ledgy peak called Big Crow. We didn't have time to make the short climb to Big Crow if we wanted to catch the ferry back to Vermont.
Sunset from the ferry, capping off a remarkable day.