September 1, 2016

Cascade Mountain: Frankie's First High Peak

4,098 feet  |  ranked 36/46 in height  | 2nd peak climbed (repeat)

Last year at Labor Day weekend we rented a big house in Keene Valley with Jason and Susie and their girls.  The house had a huge wrap-around deck with views of Giant Mountain.  Frankie immediately began asking to hike it: "I want to climb Gigantic."  Giant as a stand-alone (without Rocky Peak Ridge) is generally accepted as one of the easier of the Adirondack High Peaks.  However, it is still about 6 miles round trip with more than 3,000 feet elevation gain.  Since Frankie was four at the time, and hadn't yet climbed any High Peaks, we deferred.  I told him I wanted him to climb Cascade Mountain first, and if he liked that, we would consider taking him up Giant.  And he did not forget... he's still talking about "Gigantic."  So this year at Labor Day weekend, we rented a little house in Keene with views of Cascade Mountain.  And Frankie climbed his first High Peak!

When climbed via the standard trail from Route 73, Cascade is only 4.8 miles round trip with 1,940 feet elevation gain.  It is the most accessible of all the High Peaks, and as such, is a very popular hike.  Labor Day weekend is super busy in the the Adirondacks because it is also a holiday weekend in Canada.  To avoid the crowds, we always head up early, to have a few days of peace and quiet before the hordes descend.  This year, we drove up Wednesday and came home Sunday.  It worked out great: we were able to hike Cascade on Thursday, when traffic was relatively light.  Which is good, because my boys have not quite perfected the alpine start.  It was about 8:45 am when we arrived at the trailhead, and we were still able to pull right into one of the prime spots mere feet from the start of the trail.  There was a slight queue to sign the register, which was somewhat alarming, but the trail never felt excessively busy after that.  

We went slow, of course, to accommodate Frankie's pace and were passed many times, even lapped by a few parties.  I never mind a hike taking all day though, truly -- there is no better way to pass time and no better place to be.  It took us about 3.5 hours to reach the top, including a few brief stops to snack the boy and wrestle him out of his long-sleeve.  Frankie is always oddly reluctant to adjust layers, even when his comfort levels could obviously be vastly improved.  This phenomenon was only accentuated by the fact he that he was wearing a brand new volcano shirt that he'd been unable to wear yet because of the whole pesky summer effect.

The trail climbs steadily, but is not excessively steep; there are no cliffs or tricky scrambles.  It is 2.1 eroded, cobbly miles to the intersection with the trail to Porter, with one slabby ledge with amazing teaser views fairly close to the junction.  We met a family there with a 5-year old and a 7-year old headed to Porter; they had hiked Cascade last year and came back this year for Porter.  We met them again near the base of the Cascade summit cone as we were headed down.  From the small clearing with the intersection, the trail briefly re-enters the green tunnel.  It is only 0.3 mile to the summit of Cascade, and the trail soon emerges into a small boggy meadow with new board bridges from which the rocky summit cone is visible.

Frankie had summit fever by this point and was practically skipping.  When the full rocky dome of the summit came into view, he was agog with joy.  Finally he managed an enthusiastic, "FUN!!" and bolted forward.  There was a wooden staircase/ladder at one point that he liked so much he went up and down and up again.  He needed no help or encouragement of any kind, and rapidly scrambled upward, exclaiming enthusiastically the entire way.  It was all I could do to keep up at this point.  He kept thinking a ridge he couldn't see over was the top of the mountain, and was repeatedly overjoyed to see there was more rock ahead.  He was utterly triumphant when we topped out and found the survey markers.  The summit is entirely bald with 360 degree views.  It is stunning.  

We finally convinced Frankie to sit down and eat a bit.  The spot Erwin initially picked was very windy, so we added layers, then eventually moved to a more sheltered spot where we had to shed them again.  Once Frankie had finished eating, there was no more rest for him.  He was just bursting with excitement and the need to explore this awesome new environment.  He decided he wanted to go climb up and down the ladder a few more times, so I scurried after him in case he needed spotting anywhere.  I'm not sure whether he realized the ladder was almost all the way back down at the treeline or not, but down we went, then up again, then around and around...  I wanted him to sit and rest his legs a bit more but he was just way too amped up.

We'd been at the summit for about an hour and half when we finally convinced Frankie to start back down.  The descent was uneventful, aside from a close encounter with an outrageously adorable and very tame chipmunk that chased us down the mountain for a while, obviously looking for handouts.  The chipmunk had an exceptionally short tail; I couldn't help wonder if it was due to some traumatic entanglement resulting from its boldness (à la Beatrice Potter's Squirrel Nutkin).  Frankie was utterly enthralled by the creature and chattered away about it for a while as we hiked down, naming it Edie.  He was starting to drag a bit by the time we approached the trailhead, but stayed awake in the car and remained alert and energetic throughout an early dinner at the Noonmark.  We stopped at the Mountaineer on the way back to Keene and got Frankie a patch.

I last climbed Cascade 21 years ago.  It was so great to be back in this gorgeous place, to share it with Frankie, to see his awe.  To look forward to returning again.    

photo by Erwin

view from the ledge at 1.8 miles

view from the ledge at 1.8 miles
summit dome peeking above the trees = summit fever

Missing Debbie -- last time I climbed Cascade was with her and my Dad.

photo by Erwin

photo by Erwin
whorled aster (Oclemena acuminata)
photo by Erwin

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