August 31, 2017

Poke-o-Moonshine via the Ranger Trail

We had been planning on climbing Giant today, if the weather was good, in hopes of avoiding the holiday weekend crowds.  However, the forecast was not great, with rain predicted, so didn't set alarms for this morning.  Giant is a big mountain with big views.  Frankie has been looking forward to climbing it for so long, we wanted him to get to enjoy it on a nice day.  The  forecast for tomorrow is clear, so deferring a day seemed like our best option.  It was also much later than planned when we arrived in Keene last night, and then we went out for dinner after we got settled in the vacation rental.  As a result, it was pretty late when we finally got Frankie to bed last night; another good reason to have a slow morning today to rest up for the big push tomorrow.

When we woke up, the summits of the High Peaks were completely socked in, but it wasn't raining.  We decided to hike one the many shorter trails in the area, and settled on Poke-o-Moonshine, which has a fire tower.  It has been on my to-be-hiked list for a while, and got passed over last year in favor of Mount Gilligan and Mount Van Hoevenberg.  I offered Erwin the choice of the two routes up Poko: the Ranger Trail, which is short and steep, and the Observer Trail, which is longer, but with much easier grades.  Unfortunately they are not currently linked, so there is no way to make a loop; both trails are out-and-backs.  Erwin emphatically selected short and steep, and Frankie concurred (more scrambling potential) and that was fine by me.   Any hike in the Adirondacks is fine with me!

We parked in the old campground, and walked through it to get to the actual trailhead.  A truck was parked right at the trailhead, and I had initially started driving in, too, but the access road has deep mud pits and jutting rocks, so I am glad I decided to back out and just park and walk. 

walking through the old campground to the trailhead

there are little caves in the jumble of boulders at the base of the cliffs
I had read that this trail was badly eroded, but trail crews have been hard at work.  There must be hundreds of stairs now!  It is amazing to think how much manpower was put in here to improve this gorgeous trail. 

my little simian

partial views out over the Northway
eft phase of the eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)
After the stair have been climbed, there is a steep section that levels out at the old observer's cabin.  The foundation and fireplace are all that remain, but it is cool to see this bit of history.  This is also the junction with the observer's trail, and a lean-to is visible through the woods.  From here, it is a fairly quick jaunt to the summit, passing over a rocky ledge with nice views en route. 

remains of the observer's cabin

hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides)
first glimpse of the fire tower
I hadn't done my homework and didn't know the fire tower would be locked.  The Friends website actually says that it is open during July and August, but perhaps they mean on weekends.  In any case, it was locked today, and we only discovered this by climbing up.  Frankie was extremely disappointed.  I have only previously taken him up restored fire towers where he has been able to hang out in the cab, and hadn't prepared him for this one being locked.  I felt pretty bad, but got him cheered up pretty quickly.  He ate one pepper stick on the stairs, then climbed down to eat the rest of his lunch on the rocky summit with Erwin.

Frankie was a bit upset that the cab was locked

We were lucky to have the summit to ourselves for quite some time, allowing us to eat and take pictures and lounge about at will.  This was an unexpected pleasure, as I had read Poko can be quite busy.  Perhaps the dodgy weather kept traffic low?  It did sprinkle a bit, but never hard enough to require full rain gear. 

After an hour and twenty minutes, we packed up and headed back down.  The hike out took about half as long as the hike up. 

almost back
Poke-o-Moonshine is a great hike, short and sweet.  It turned out to be a good warm up for Giant tomorrow, with a posted 1,250 feet of elevation gain over the 1.2 miles to the fire tower, a rate of elevation gain quite similar to Giant's Ridge Trail.  Our measured mileage each way was a little greater, due to the walk through the campground first and poking around in the caves and such.  The highway noise is very loud at the start the hike, which is not ideal, but it fades away entirely after a while.  In fact, I had completely forgotten about it until we descended back into the noise zone on the way back down.  The views are pretty nice, though, despite the haze today.  I'd be tempted to hike it again on a bluebird day, especially if I thought the tower would be open.  Perhaps via the Observer's Trail next time...

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