AUG 2015 - HIKING & BACKPACKING
an Adirondack Gem
By Alan Via
Baxter Mountain is a hiker’s gem located on the edge of the High Peaks between Keene and Keene Valley.
There are three trailheads for the mountain, this being the only easy one to locate. From the intersection of NY routes 73 and 9N, drive two miles east, uphill, on Route 9N. When the road stops climbing, look for the trailhead at 1,670 feet (N44 13.237 W073 44.947), marked by the prominent DEC sign. Parking is on a wide shoulder with enough room to handle vehicles for this popular hike. Because traffic on this busy highway is only steps from your car, it’s important to keep children close and dogs leashed.
The trail begins in a shady conifer forest where the trail register is located. Beyond the register the trail crosses a power line right of way, and begins with a slow warm up, gaining less than 200 feet in the first 0.3 miles. In this first part of the hike you’ll walk through a section of fragrant balsam, a pleasant sensation that brings a smile of recognition to everyone.
Considering the hiker traffic this popular destination receives, the trail is in remarkably good shape, but can be wet in places after periods or rain or snowmelt. A dog might be able to catch a drink in a puddle after a period of rain, but since there is no reliable water, carry some extra for Spot.
As you continue your hike, deciduous trees make their appearance, as maple, birch, and beech show up with more frequency. At approximately 1,950 feet, the trail gradient steepens, with the ascent made easier by a series of well-placed switchbacks.
At 2,145 feet, there is a trail intersection (N44 12.959 W73 45.515). Straight ahead, red markers leads to Beede Road, one of the other difficult to locate trailheads. Make a right turn here and follow blue markers toward Baxter’s summit. It’s a stroll for the first 30 feet beyond the turn, and then the trail gets serious again right through the next switchback farther uphill.
A short distance ahead at 2,200 feet, there is a tall rock band – not the kind that plays music. The trail passes over it and can be slippery after rain (and treacherous if icy). At its base (N44 12.940 W73 45.577), there is an unmarked herd path on the left. A casual glance gives it the appearance of just another unmarked path to a view point, the kind you see on many trails. In this instance, the path leads to a ledge surrounded by blueberry bushes and wildflowers, and provides a view of Tripod Mountain over the summit of Round Top – and a few feet beyond you see the rocky cone and fire tower on Hurricane Mountain.
Like viewpoints everywhere, you step off the trail to take in the sights, shoot a few photos, and resume your hike. This time you’ll discover a 0.2-mile unmarked path through flowers, berry bushes, and open ledges with almost continual mountain views: Giant, Hurricane, Dix Range, Noonmark, Nippletop, Dial, Bear Den, Colvin, Blake, Lower and Upper Wolf Jaw, Armstrong, and more of the Great Range.
There are no trail markers, and a retired DEC forest ranger said that this path began as a winter detour in icy conditions. It should not be taken by hikers uncomfortable with unmarked paths or scrambling up sections of rock slab. The path rejoins the blue marked trail (near N44 12.927 W73 45.904), at an approximate elevation of 2,320 feet, where the marked trail turns rocky as you head toward Baxter’s first, lower summit.
At the first summit (N44 13.020 W73 35.919), look around for a short path leading to another ledgy viewpoint. Nearby, another trail enters so be certain to bear right on what will now be yellow markers. The trail starts downhill contouring around the first summit, and then dropping less than 100 feet into a shady col, before climbing to Baxter’s 2,428-foot high point.
This last section of pine-needled trail is bordered by blueberry bushes and bracken ferns as it wends its way through a couple of short ledges. You’ll see two faded trail signs near the summit
(N44 13.017 W73 45.924), one pointing toward to the Beede Ledge trailhead.
There are no views from the high point, but a long rock a few yards away may be your lunch spot of choice. You’ll enjoy views of the Dix Range, Noonmark, and many of the other peaks seen earlier on the hike.
On the way back to your car, look for a large rock (N44 12.932 W73 45.669) on the first summit. There is a short herd path on the right that parallels the trail for 100 feet, providing some last great views, before it rejoins the blue trail back to the cars.
If you enjoy ferns and wildflowers, bring guidebooks to help identify the ferns, baneberry, trillium, cucumber root, wild sarsaparilla, bear berries, pale corydalis, and many more you’ll see along the way. Baxter Mountain isn’t a big day at three miles and 2,700 feet ascent, but after time in the woods here your senses will be filled!
Alan Via of Slingerlands has written hiking-related articles in a number of publications. He is the author of “The Catskill 67: A Hiker’s Guide to the Catskill 100 Highest Peaks under 3,500-Feet” by ADK. He’s working on two new hiking guides, set in the Adirondacks and Catskills.