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SWIMMING THROUGH TREES: Mount Tom: A short but steep adventure

November 7, 2019
By SPENCER MORRISSEY - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

We had just come off of Indian Lake Mountain, and we were raring to go again in the Moose River Plains. We now set our sights on a late-afternoon jaunt, albeit a short excursion, but a bit of something different no less.

Mount Tom was our destination, a 2,600-foot peak just off the Moose River Road. Mount Tom is an impressive looking peak as we noted from the Mitchell Ponds Trail a couple trips prior, and this was the perfect opportunity to go for it.

Looking at our topo map we could see the stacked contour lines and knew we would have a steep scramble or at least some cliffs to overcome. Either way, it was less than a mile off the road and we could do just about anything for that distance.

Article Photos

Stellar view from the cliffs
(Provided photo — Spencer Morrissey)

We used our trail map to navigate the road to the perfect spot at the base of the mountain, and upon our arrival we settled on a designated campsite right at the base. The campsite was freshly abandoned as the smoke still billowed from the stone fire pit. (Sidenote: Leaving a campfire unattended is a dangerous proposition. Please put out your fire before leaving any campsite. Cold Out = Dead Out.)

From the campsite, we entered the hardwood forest and wallowed through a wet lowland area where passage was a bit more difficult than we had anticipated. As we climbed out of the mire, we started to see boulders all around and eventually a large field of them piled up creating small, deep caves and openings (dangerous for a hiker's chins if not careful).

It was a test of scrambling, pushing and pulling, up over boulders, under some and even around many. The around was actually harder, as the growth was thick and tedious to get through.

Once the boulder field subsided we were at the base of a massive cliff - well over 100 feet of sheer rock, some overhanging but most just straight up, a pure awesome sight.

As you can imagine we are not built, equipped or even tempted to climb these cliffs, so we went with the typical plan A for a situation like this: Hike the base of the cliff in one direction or the other until we can go up.

We opted for a left turn signal, and it seemed to work out pretty well as we didn't need to descend much or very often. We actually continued to gain elevation slowly.

We happened upon a sandy dike, lined with steep cliffs on both sides, but the dike itself was very steep too. We started to climb up through. I grasped my trekking poles just above the tip and used them as an ice axe. I pounded one in, then the other, then the other, but I could just not get solid purchase with my boots.

There was the good probability that it would be a path to nowhere anyhow and a dangerous descent if we needed to go back down. We decided it wasn't worth the risk, so we crab-walked back to more level terrain.

We kept working around the base, and after a very steep climb up some insecure footing and loose rocks that kept giving way beneath us, we found what looked to be a solution. This wide platform, while amazing in steepness, offered us trees for assistance and a clear route to the top of the cliffs.

With three points of contact at all times, we worked our way up. Moss sliding beneath us, and sandy columns of earth scattered our steps but we eventually emerged on top.

Slightly farther up now we took in the view which was actually a bit jaw-dropping as we peered from atop the vertigo cliffs.

What a rock climbing mecca this could be - and for bouldering, too. Of course it may already be so. As for me, I will stick to solid ground and leave that to the professionals.

Now above the cliffs it was clear sailing. Periodic areas of spruce scratched our exposed skin as we passed over the now flatter terrain. It remained as such to the base of the next section of steep terrain.

We were expecting - and actually hoping - for more cliffs to play around on, but we had absolutely no idea what to expect.

The terrain was as steep as expected and as shown on the map, but no cliffs gained our attention. While disappointed in the lack of views on the higher part of the mountain and the summit, we were happy with the cliffs and views from that one fantastic spot.

We pushed around the summit a bit more in search of views and chose a slightly different route down, mainly to avoid that scary descent that we came up earlier.

We continued to search for an added view on the route down, but the terrain didn't open up anything for us. The forest was much more open and friendly to our tired bodies and minds and we were OK with that.

We stepped back out onto Moose River Road about a half-mile from the car which gave us a nice walk to the end of our day and loosen up our tense legs before the log ride back home.



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