January 2017 - SNOWSHOE HIKING
Vly Creek Falls and Southerland Mountain
By Bill Ingersoll
While there are many miles of trail in New York, it is also important to forego all trails every once in a while and simply plot your own course through the woods. The southern Adirondacks provide abundant opportunities for the wilderness explorer to penetrate into nooks and crannies where few people ever go. Winter is an especially good time for this kind of travel, when snow blankets the underbrush and ice solidifies the running streams.
Here is a trailless route that offers several highlights: a secluded stream valley, a waterfall, an open wetland, and a small mountain with an open view as a destination. While there are easier ways to get the Southerland Mountain, this route from the north via Vly Creek Falls is one of my favorite Adirondack treks, and it makes for a more substantial day in the woods.
From NY Route 30 in Wells, turn west onto Algonquin Drive beside the dam on Lake Algonquin. Then turn left onto West River Road at 0.7-mile, and continue southwest to Blackbridge at 2.4 miles. Turn left to cross the bridge over the West Branch Sacandaga River, and immediately bear left again on Hernandez Road. Follow this road to its end, which is a wide turn-around area.
Vly Creek Falls
From the end of plowing on Hernandez Road, two narrow tracks branch ahead into the woods; they form a 0.5-mile loop through the scrubby woods that now cover one of the farm sites.
To find Vly Creek Falls, follow the track to the right, which leads southeast along the foot of Devorse Mountain. At 0.2-mile you reach another fork located near an old sand pit, where you should bear right off the loop trail. This fork follows a lesser woods road past a “Wilderness Area” sign for 400 feet to the side of Vly Creek. If you step across the creek you may find the continuing footpath, which is not very distinct; lots of deer dwell in this valley, and the manmade trail may have to compete with their herd paths for your attention.
Now on the east side of the creek, follow the path upstream. The route rises gradually as the valley narrows between the mountains, so that soon you are high above the stream. You pass a rock ledge on the right shortly before reaching the top of the waterfall, only 20 minutes, and 0.7-mile from your car. To see it, however, you have to leave the path and scramble down the steep slope to the base of this pretty, 20-foot drop.
What makes this cascade distinctive is its orientation; rather than spilling over the headwall of the gully, it comes down one of the side walls. The flow of water in this stream is not that large, so the cascade may appear completely frozen in the winter.
The route to Vly Creek Falls described above can also be the starting point for a longer bushwhack to Southerland Mountain. The open woods are a joy to navigate, and the route is suitable for summer hiking and winter snowshoeing alike.
Hike to the falls as outlined above, and then continue upstream along Vly Creek’s east bank, passing a four-foot cascade within a few minutes. The faint path that guided you to the main waterfall does seem to continue alongside the creek, although you may swear – perhaps correctly – that it is only a deer trail. The valley opens up considerably above the falls, and it is forested with rich hemlock stands. Ultimately you reach the large vly that gives the creek its name, 0.7-mile south of the waterfall. Here, the weathered remains of dozens of white pines stand guard around the meadow, which permits views of the surrounding mountains and ridges. From this vantage, Southerland appears to be a series of steep-sided, spruce-covered peaks to the southeast.
The best views on Southerland Mountain are found on the southernmost of its three summits, and the best approach is to circle around the east side of the vly, keeping between Vly Creek and the mountain’s western slopes. This course will bring you into the “crotch” between the main bulk of the mountain and its slender northwest-pointing arm. Look for the small stream that drains the notch between Southerland’s middle and southern summits; this is the best “guiderail” to follow southeast up the rocky slopes. Once in the notch, continue climbing southerly up the hemlock-crowned southern summit, and look for the wide-open ledges that front its southern face, approximately two miles from the waterfall.
The rocks are richly carpeted with mosses and lichens that are too delicate to be stepped on, so move about on the bare patches to enjoy the views. The Groff Creek valley is clearly defined before you, and with the aid of a map you can easily identify Groff Mountain, Cathead with its fire tower, Wallace Mountain and Three Ponds Mountain at the head of Devorse Creek, and King Vly Mountain. A corner of Great Sacandaga Lake is also visible.
By backing away from the cliffs through the woods, and down a short grade back in the direction of Vly Creek, you may find a smaller ledge that extends the view to the west and northwest. Beginning with Wallace and Three Ponds, you can trace most of the Devorse Creek valley through the heart of the wilderness. Vly Mountain is visible just north of west, and Finch Mountain is the small, rounded mountain at the foot of the much larger ranges across the West Branch valley.
There may well be other views elsewhere on the middle summit, and if you have allowed yourself plenty of time, you will be able to vary your return route by following the ridgeline north before descending toward Vly Creek. Another option is to head in the opposite direction, descending toward King Vly and exploring what is essentially a small pond if the dam is intact. The bottom line is that this is a very fun area to visit for people who like to wander.
Bill Ingersoll of Barneveld is publisher of the Discover the Adirondack’s guidebook series (hiketheadirondacks.com). For more information on this region, consult Discover the Southern Adirondacks.