Finding the Mountains of New York

Highpeaksdrifter’s tale about how he found Whiteface got me thinking about how I came to the mountains of New York.

Twin Ponds

I could pretend that it was part of a grand plan — but it wasn’t. The summer after my junior year in college, I was looking for an adventure. I pulled out a map of the northeast and looked at the big patches of green: the Catskills, the Adirondacks, the Greens and the Whites. The Adirondacks looked especially wild and untamed to me.

My best friend and I spent 10 days cycling and exploring the park. We had the time of our lives. This was my first experience with the idea of “Forest Preserve.” Huge areas of wilderness, without rules or fees. The feeling of freedom was liberating.

I grew up on campus at RPI in Troy, New York. Winter was cold, snowy and long. Back then, I loved winter. I thrived on it. On Saturdays we’d sled down Chipper’s Hill from 8am until after dark, with 30 minutes for lunch. After church on Sundays, we’d go to the free skate at the RPI field house, and then head back to the hill for more sledding.

But winter was not always my favorite season. In 1969, my parents got out of grad school, and took jobs in New Jersey. We left winter behind. It was plenty cold, but we really didn’t get any snow. For me it was a joyless time of year.

In 1978, I returned to NY state when I entered Hamilton College. Clinton, NY had my kind of weather. Beautiful cold fall days followed by a long, snowy, winter.

I remember my freshman winter clearly: constantly changing weather, with wandering bands of intense lake effect. I think we had 300 inches of snow.

After college I was back in New Jersey, where I’d actually come to dislike winter. Then, in 1989, a friend dragged me up to “this really cool place that her parents thought I would like.” Yeah, right.

It was Garnet Hill Lodge in North River, NY. In the beginning, the Lodge’s groomed trail system seemed LIMITLESS to me. After a few years, I started to notice these dotted lines that led off the edges trail map, to places like Puffer Pond, The Vly and 11th Mountain. I started to explore and fell in love with the remoteness of the Siamese Ponds Wilderness.

Adirondack backcountry

I kept coming back to the Adirondacks — usually once in the fall, and as many times as possible in winter. I started exploring every part of the Siamese you could access in a day-ski from the 13th Lake Trailhead. Eventually, I started going out overnight.

Twin Ponds

Back in the flatlands, I had a USGS map taped to the wall in my “war room.” I’d fantasize about every creekbed and hunter’s path in those woods. Within ten years, I knew that end of the Siamese pretty well. With a family, I don’t get out there nearly as much anymore, but I still consider it to be my neighborhood.


I know Vermont has more snow. And Quebec has a longer season. And Utah has the lightest, fluffiest, greatest snow on earth. There are plenty of reasons why those places are well-loved. For me, the appeal in mountains of New York is the wilderness, and the freedom it affords anyone with the energy to get out there. I love New York.

10 comments on “Finding the Mountains of New York

  1. “For me, the appeal in mountains of New York is the wilderness, and the freedom it affords anyone with the energy to get out there. I love New York.”

    Here here!

  2. Great story, and that second pic is classic. We love our digital cameras, but there’s something to be said for those bleached-out colors from an Instamatic.

    Whenever I send pics from the ADKs, Cats, Gunks, etc. to people out west or in Europe, they’re always surprised to see how much legitimate nature we’ve got here. “That’s New York?”

  3. Great post Harv. I grew up in Montreal and some of my first “real” outdoor adventures were in the northern Adirondacks, climbing at Chapel Pond, Pitchoff Chimney, Owl’s Head and other spots. The one and only bike tour I ever did was through the heart of the ‘dacks and my first “ski date” with the future Mrs. SBR was at Titus Mountain, near Malone, NY. Only skied at Iceface, er, I mean Whiteface, once but have fond memories of riding the single chair (with a frayed yellow rope for a safety bar) and careening downhill, out of control on my stomach as a result of a tele-fall.

    Hmmm, maybe time for a return visit.

  4. Thanks guys. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Why do I like New York so much? I’ve always rooted for the underdog. (Let’s go Mets!) After thinking about it, I realized NY is unique in some ways I really value.

    I gotta say SBR, to Zelda and I, Canada is like the holy grail. If I walked into the living room right now and woke her up to tell her we were moving to Quebec, she’d start packing her bags. Also sounds like you and Jeff have some things in common. You guys should connect.

    Kid – do you possibly recognize that shirt? I remember that ratty old thing, but can’t conjure up whatever logo is on it. Of course the pic is no help.

    I reached out to my college buddy in those pic. And sent him a link. It’s been a while since we’ve spoken. Hey Roger!

    Can anyone guess where that last pic was taken?

  5. Harv–As a passionate GHL devotee, can you tell me if they have any Saturday program for adults? Thought my other half might enjoy doing some XC with other folks her age while the kiddies do our thing at Gore.

  6. SIAWOL … In the 90s we spent a lot of time at the Lodge. When Zelda and I got in married in 2002, we built the cabin. After that we mostly skied backcountry. And now with a child, we ski Gore, to use lessons and daycare services. Summary – I’m not up to date on GHL’s ski services.

    But there’s a wide mix of terrain at GHL, from easy to very challenging. After seeing your comment I reached out to Mary and Joe – the Lodge owners – to get their input on your question. I’d bet Zelda would love to have a female xcski partner. Maybe we could connect.

  7. Great story Harv! I actually grew up in Clinton, NY where hockey, Don’s Rok, and the Village Tavern are religion. After college and no calls from the NHL, skiing became my winter passion, and Gore was where this would occur.

    As 20 years have passed now, it is amazing to look back at the transition that Gore has made, from a basically completely on-piste area, to the awesome glade and woods skiing that we now enjoy, as well as the massive expansions that have taken place.

    I had the good fortune of being able to check out other area of the US, such as VT, NH, Utah, Colorado, and California, but North Creek is the place for me. Thank God!!

  8. Shaman it’s a small world … I’m thinking you are younger … I was in Clinton between 1977 and 1981. ECAC Hockey was the best! Our skaters were too small to play in the big leagues, but man they were fast and they skated HARD. A little guy named Lenny was our hero. Good times.

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