In addition to the Adirondack 46er challenge that I’m working towards, I’ve also decided to try and tackle the Fire Tower Challenge. This challenge applies to mountains in the Adirondack Park as well as the Catskills. There are 23 mountains to summit in the Adirondacks and 5 more in the Catskill Park.
The coolest part of this challenge, in my opinion, is climbing the fire towers. First of all, their history is just incredibly interesting; observers used to watch over the trees from these posts for forest fires and many mountains have their own stories to tell if you researched them. Second, although many of the fire towers have been restored, they’re still quite old and there is something so thrilling to me about climbing up a creaking, swaying fire tower to (third reason) earn a stunning view of the surrounding area.
Spencer and I have really taken the Fire Tower Challenge as an opportunity to continue our passion for the outdoors throughout the winter season. We love the High Peaks but don’t necessarily have the time to drive all the way up to meet them during the winter months. We’re also not experienced winter hikers and my extremities do not fare well in extended cold weather so spending a ton of time out on the trail or an overnight trip to tackle some high peaks just isn’t in our cards. Many of the Fire Tower Mountains are much closer to home and easier hikes than their 4,000+ foot brethren which makes them just right for winter hiking!
We began our Fire Tower Journey in 2016 about an hour north of where we live on the outskirts of Utica, New York. Bald Mountain is a quick 10 minutes north of Old Forge; here you can climb a very easy 500-foot ascent in just about a miles distance to Rondaxe Fire Tower. This is a great starter mountain and would be a great hike for families with small children considering it’s difficulty level and length. The hike begins as a mere stroll through the woods before you encounter your first, and steepest incline of the climb. The eroded ridgeline can be slippery in ice and if wet, however, the ascent itself is not difficult. After this short climb, the trail continues on with more casual ascents and descents. There are many viewpoints along the way so be sure to stop and enjoy the view; the trail itself has a charming sense of solitude in the winter season that you will almost certainly not experience in the busy months.
Bald Mountain’s 2350 foot summit provides a great view of the Fulton Chain of Lakes through the Old Forge Region. The summit is ‘bald’ and wide which supports picnics and impromptu gatherings of all kinds! In the summer and autumn months, the trail and summit will be very busy, however, during our winter hike we only encountered about 5 other hikers from start to finish. A quiet few hours on the mountain made for a short, but beautiful February day that we wouldn’t trade for the world.
Owls Head Mountain