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The trail less traveled: Pitchoff’s northeast ridge

September 7, 2011
By DIANE CHASE, For The News
With the eastern zone of the High Peaks, Dix and Giant Mountain Wilderness areas closed due to damage from Tropical Storm Irene and an alternate list of hiking options posted on the state Department of Environmental Conservation website, we wonder what type of madness we are inviting by attempting a hike on Labor Day weekend.

The Cascade Lakes trailheads are popular spots on the quietest of days, let alone if the High Peaks are off limits. With a muggy day in sight and a forecast of rain, we choose to climb Pitchoff, but solitude is not on the agenda.

Even with Cascade Mountain trailhead closed, the parking area is overflowing as rangers keep wishful hikers up-to-date. We bypass the first parking area heading for Pitchoff East, just 2.7 miles further on state Route 73. This trailhead is not the usual kickoff for the majority of hikers.

From our experience, people will most commonly bring two cars, leaving one at the Pitchoff East trailhead and another at the Cascade trailhead (southwest section above the Cascade Lakes) and traverse the five ridges that comprise Pitchoff Mountain for a distance of about 5.5 miles. By starting up the northeast section, we are essentially going against traffic.

The distance to the northeast summit is just 1.4 miles from the trailhead. Even though the parking area is full, the register holds very few names. Most cars are obviously there for that one-way trek. It has been a while since I’ve done the whole ridge. (Our usual hike up Pitchoff is from the other side, a 1.6-mile hike to the “balancing rocks” vista overlooking Cascade Mountain and the Cascade Lakes.)

This quick jaunt will be a different experience all together.

I am a slow hiker and easily distracted by waterfalls, wildflowers and red spotted newts. I meet newlyweds Emily Croteau and Cy Mott, both biologists, who are of a similar mind. They are making a slow pace to the summit with more interest in seeking salamanders than views.

The trail is surprisingly dry, considering the recent rain. There are steep inclines and a few rock scrambles but even with rest stops and snack breaks, it takes my family less than an hour to make the northeast summit.

The view is overcast, but we can still make out Owls Head to the south and the Jay Range to the east. On a clear day, we’d be able to view the High Peaks and Hurricane Mountain.

We encounter very few people while we eat our lunch on the ridge. We take time to explore all the rocky knolls where usually we are in a hurry to make the final descent. The people we do see are completing the whole pass and making the last downhill journey before picking up their vehicle at the parking area below.

Diane Chase is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities guidebook series. The first book, “Adirondack Family Time Tri-Lakes and High Peaks: Your Four-Season Guide to Over 300 Activities (with GPS coordinates)” is in stores or online at

Article Photos

Photo by Diane Chase
This rock scramble heads up an incline from the Pitchoff East trailhead.



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