NOV 2015 - SNOWSHOEING
A Winter Adventure for Snowshoers
By Bill Ingersoll
The firm of Bradley & Underwood began lumbering along the West Branch Sacandaga River near the southern Adirondack hamlet of Wells in the 1870s, building an iron bridge over the stream near the home of Elias Kellogg. The town purchased this span, known as Black Bridge, from the lumbermen in 1880 for $430. Today, Blackbridge remains a quiet residential neighborhood straddling the banks of the West Branch Sacandaga River; the current bridge, which is rust-colored instead of black, was built in 1991.
Although there are no state trails in the area, this does not translate into a shortage of places to explore. One of my favorite destinations is Finch Mountain, which stands to the southwest of Blackbridge. At roughly 2,010 feet in elevation, Finch is smaller than nearly all of the mountains that are visible from it. However, the ledges on its west face are so perfectly placed that they provide an eagle’s perspective of the broad valley of the West Branch Sacandaga, the only such view to be found. An ascent of Finch Mountain from the east is an excellent way to spend a winter’s day. Just be sure to arrive at the summit in the morning, before the sun moves westward into the view.
To find Blackbridge, turn west from NY Route 30 in Wells onto Algonquin Drive, within sight of the Algonquin Lake dam. West River Road is a left turn 0.7-mile later. Drive over West Hill and down the other side, reaching the junction with Blackbridge Road 1.8 miles from Wells.
The best year-round bushwhack route to Finch Mountain begins on Blackbridge Road. Cross the West Branch Sacandaga and continue south for 0.7-mile, to a point where the road crosses a small stream that flows through a corner of state land on the right. Note the NO PARKING signs that appear just beyond; there is a private residence at the end of the road that you should not block. Park on the side of the road near the stream.
The land adjacent to the road was once a field, as attested to by the presence of hawthorn, shadbush, aspen, and stout white pine trees. Start by finding the small stream that flows through the parcel, being mindful of the remains of an old barbed wire fence nearby. This stream flows from the east side of Finch Mountain, and it is useful as a guide to the mountain’s foot. Follow the stream west, crossing a branch that flows in from the south, and not far beyond you reach the mouth of a deep ravine. Although the slope is steep, you will want to climb up to the south rim of the ravine, where the forest will be much more open and the walking much easier. The rim of the ravine is clearly defined, and you can follow it west for nearly half a mile. Where the stream and its valley start to arc more to the north, head due west toward the mountain. After about 45 minutes of walking you begin the final climb up the mountain’s east side. Deadfalls and rock outcrops will be your biggest obstacles.
The summit is 925 feet above Blackbridge Road, and 1.2 miles west of it. Unlike many larger mountains, the top of this one is forested almost entirely with hardwoods. The summit itself has no open views, so you have to cross to the far west end and start to descend around the sequence of ledges you will find there. One upper ledge at about 1,950 feet in elevation offers so-so views of the valley, but if you continue down another 100 feet you should find an easily accessible ledge with the best views of all.
Here, the vista encompasses Dunham, Cutknife, Speculator, and Hamilton mountains to the north, Dugway and Swart above West River Road, and Three Sisters Mountain in the distant west. The valley of Ninemile Creek is clearly defined cutting through the ridge that borders the valley to the south. Not everything that you see is pristine wilderness; you can see parts of West River Road, a few houses, and some of the Scotch pine plantations that now occupy the old farm fields. A few offsprings of those Scotch pines have taken root on Finch Mountain.
Anyone who has ever spent any time exploring the West River Road area will find this perch very enlightening. Photographers need to get here early, before the sun moves into your field of vision.
Bill Ingersoll of Barneveld is publisher of the Discover the Adirondack’s guidebook series (hiketheadirondacks.com). For more on this region, consult Discover the Southern Adirondacks.