May 2016 - Hiking
A Perfect 10 on Number 8 Hill
By Bill Ingersoll
Number 8 Hill is a small mountain in the southwestern corner of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness. Like many other summits in this highly scenic area, this one was burned at some point in its history, and the result is a mostly bare summit. What makes this particular summit so distinctive, in a region with many memorable small mountains, is its location relative to Pharaoh Mountain: few other vantage points provide such a stunning vista of that mountain’s craggy cliffs.
As climbs go, this one is not especially difficult. You have to bushwhack to reach the summit, but the off-trail portion of the hike is only about 0.3-mile or so, with a vertical ascent of roughly 600 feet. However, Number 8 Hill is somewhat remote, so getting there and back occupies the better part of the day.
Its numerical name is easy to explain: this hill is the highest point in Lot 8 of the Schroon Tract, acquired in 1908 as part of a bulk purchase of land that added most of what is now the western Pharaoh Lake Wilderness to the NYS Forest Preserve. But this area was not always an unpeopled wilderness; there were once several farms at the foot of these hills, and the trail that will bring you to the foot of Number 8 was once the main road for this community. That makes this an interesting hike not only for its scenery, but for its human history as well.
The trailhead is located near the hamlet of Adirondack on the east shore of Schroon Lake. From US Route 9 in Pottersville, follow County Road 62 around the southern tip of the lake, and then bear left onto CR 15. This winding route leads to Adirondack and bears right once you reach the middle of town. Continue east through town until reaching Blair Road, which leads north for 0.6-mile to the parking area at the state land boundary.
The foot trail leading into the wilderness is essentially a continuation of Blair Road. Whereas the southern portion of the road was widened and hardened for use by automobiles, the portion that you are about to hike was never modernized. It is wider than the typical trail, but much wetter than you might expect of a road.
It leads northerly through a tall forest with a few stands of nonnative Norway spruce trees and sections of stone walls to the right and left. You have to look closely to find the foundations and cellar holes, but there are several located very close to the road. These farms fell within the bounds of Essex County, but they were geographically closer to Warren County. They do not appear on the 19th century gazetteer maps of either county, however, so I cannot say which families lived at which sites.
After passing the foot of Pine Hill the old road swings east, although the turn is so gradual you may not notice it. You draw closer to Sucker Brook, with several small wetlands visible at the foot of Spectacle Pond Hill. In addition to the stone walls and foundations, there are numerous lumpish piles of rock at seemingly random places. It was customary for pioneering farmers to make these piles as they cleared their land, and they can be found in many places throughout the Adirondacks that were once cleared for agriculture.
The abandoned road comes to an end at 2.5 miles, where a sign points right to the continuing foot trail. It exits a small clearing and embarks on a rolling course up and over several small hills, generally parallel to Sucker Brook. You are presently at the foot of Number 7 Hill, passing through a forest of mostly hardwoods.
As you hike through the valley it may be difficult to tell where exactly you are in relation to the surrounding landmarks. The best clue that you have reached the foot of Number 8 Hill is a prominent beaver dam to the left, near the head of Sucker Brook at 3.6 miles. The pond is small, but it is formed by a large dam within sight of the trail – so many gallons of water held in place by such a crude mound of mud and sticks!
From this point the hiking trail climbs to a height-of-land between Number 8 Hill and Coffee Pond before dropping down to Desolate Brook; it ultimately leads all the way to the outlet of Pharaoh Lake. Any point between the beaver pond and height-of-land is a good place to begin the bushwhack. Number 8 Hill is located to the south of the trail, no more than 0.3- to 0.4-mile away. Most of its slopes are moderate in grade and unencumbered by thick woods, until you reach the mountain’s highest point. Here a crown of cliffs and ledges will send you circling around the summit for a way up; the best route might be a spot on the north face where a break in the cliffs serves as a steep ramp to the open rock on top.
Someday the summit of Number 8 Hill might fill back in with trees, but for the immediate future it offers near 360-degree views. You can see a long portion of Schroon Lake, a sliver of Brant Lake, and a broad swath of the High Peaks from Rocky Peak Ridge on the right to Mount Marcy on the left; Hoffman Mountain cuts off the view to the west of Marcy. But perhaps the most distinctive feature are the dark cliffs on the southwestern flank of Pharaoh Mountain, two miles away; this vantage point offers a full-on view of the largest mountain in the neighborhood.
The summit view is the most inclusive of Number 8’s vistas, but there is another opening that might be more photogenic. You’ll find it on the easternmost shoulder of the mountain, about 0.3-mile from the summit. A steep ledge hangs high above the valley of Desolate Brook, which worms its way through a wetland that is picturesquely arranged between Number 8 and Pharaoh. You’ll recognize this ledge by its precipitous drop-off, unobstructed view and vertical thumb of rock.
Bill Ingersoll of Barneveld is publisher of the Discover the Adirondack’s guidebook series (hiketheadirondacks.com). For more on this region, consult Discover the Eastern Adirondacks.