January 15, 2017

Cathedral Rock Fire Tower

I have been hiking in the Adirondacks my entire life, but almost always in the summer and fall, with some forays in late spring.  I hike and snowshoe locally in the winter, of course, in the flatlands, but seeing amazing pictures of the snowy splendor that is the mountains in winter... it makes me want to get up there and experience it for myself.  However, we don't really have the appropriate gear for those kind of conditions.  My biggest concern is for Frankie.  For the most part, he has very good quality gear.  I consider it a worthy investment for him to be comfortable outdoors, because then we can spend more time there.  However, I cannot find any traction devices small enough to fit him, and that has prevented us from attempting anything with any significant terrain during the winter. 

I follow several hiking groups on Facebook, and yesterday I saw someone post pictures of a hike up Cathedral Rock fire tower.  Knowing how little climbing is actually involved with that hike -- it is mostly flat, with only one steepish pitch near the top -- I asked whether spikes were required.  The friendly hiker responded that the trail was packed out and neither spikes nor snowshoes were required.  He had bare-booted it up and back with no trouble.  I mentioned the idea to Frankie, and he was interested.  It was particularly good timing because school is closed tomorrow for Martin Luther King Day, so he would have a extra rest day, if needed.  Plus, the weather forecast was lovely.  Game on!  

The trailhead is located on the campus of the Ranger School in Wanakena, which gave me the added security of knowing the parking lot would be plowed.  We got a leisurely start in the morning, but I wasn't concerned because the hike is so short and easy.  We arrived around noon.  I've read some grumbling about the trailhead being hard to find, and the trail being poorly marked, but none of that was my experience.  Park in the large plowed lot by the baseball field.  Aside from the entrance to the lot, there is only one other road leaving it.  Follow this a short distance, just a few hundred feet, and on the right is a sign announcing "Latham Trail to Fire Tower."  This sign is short, though, and is likely buried under snow sometimes, but the trail is also marked very clearly with numbered blazes; follow the 10 markers to the tower. 

The trail is essentially flat for the first 0.8 miles, passing through very nice woods.  It then climbs a few hundred feet through switchbacks up and over a large rocky outcrop, and the tower is soon visible through the trees.  There is a small picnic area offering splendid wide open views, than a short straightaway to the tower.  The total distance from trailhead to tower is only 1.1 miles.  We hung out in the cab for a long time, then met the only other hikers we saw all day near the picnic area as we headed back down.  There are a few patches of sheet ice in the section of trail through the rocky outcrop, but that just provides the added fun of butt-sliding.  Frankie did several of these small slides multiple times. 

This is the lower Adirondacks, not the High Peaks, so the mountains are smaller and the views less dramatic.  I was surprised not to be able to see more of Cranberry Lake.  Nevertheless, it was the perfect safe little Adirondack winter adventure for us.  It was definitely worth the long drive! 

the tower is now visible through the trees

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