Wakely Mountain sits as a lonesome sentinel brooding above the Moose River Plains, and it is one of the tallest mountains in the park outside of the High Peaks Region. Wren and I set out on the trail over the weekend with plans to reach the 3,744 foot summit which was blocked mostly in clouds from what I could see from the bottom.
The initial portion of the trail is fairly level and gradually climbs over the first two miles. The path is also wide and easy and my pace was quick as Wren trotted along. The wet woods were mostly quiet. Here and there we heard the chatter of Black-capped Chickadees or spooked a Hermit Thrush off the trail, but the damp, breezy day had hushed most things. Leaves were starting to litter the trail and overcast days have the benefit of making their colors seem all the brighter in the gloom. After all, overcast days can be good for photography as a result.
Perhaps a mile along the trail we were startled by the feathery machine gun fire sound of a Ruffed Grouse taking flight – we had inadvertently spooked the bird. Wren wagged her tail and watched the bird rocket through the trees. "There might be more," I said to her; and one, then another, then another shot off on cue. All told there were six grouse – a hen with her nearly grown brood of chicks - and Wren didn't know which way to turn in the excitement of whooshing wings. I smiled as we moved on and Wren's tail kept wagging as if it propelled her along the trail toward the peak.
At about two miles the trail takes a hard right bend and a thin trail leads ahead to an old beaver meadow. We poked into the meadow briefly to see if any wildlife might be present, but not seeing anything we reversed and regained the main trail to the summit. The first two miles of hiking had been easy, but the last mile, like on so many Adirondack peaks, was straight up to the summit and my pace soon slowed despite my efforts to move quickly.
A Misty and Windy Summit
As we climbed we also arrived into the misty and windy segment of the mountain and the trail in many places was slick and muddy. The breeze did help cool us as we climbed and the forest soon became entirely coniferous. As we neared the top the balsam fir and red spruce became low and brushy, making Wakely an outpost for breeding Bicknell's Thrush and Blackpoll Warblers, among other mountain species. Some of those species had already migrated south while those that remained were hunkered down in the windy mist. But as we reached the summit the clear voice of a White-throated Sparrow pierced the damp and I smiled at the bird's resilience.
Wakely's summit is mostly surrounded by conifers, therefore not giving much of a view from the ground, but it does sport the tallest fire tower in the state which has been fairly recently refurbished. I started to climb the steps for a better view and Wren was soon climbing with me. Rather than have her go all the way up in case there were gaps in the wire mesh around the stairs, I stopped at a viewpoint for a few photos and turned back. Most of the view was obstructed by clouds anyway and I was happy to drop below where the cold wind blew steadily on my sweaty body. Wren explored the porch of the old fire observer's cabin at the summit and we started back down. I wanted to be off the mountain with plenty of light.
My slowest mile – like usual – was the steep descent from the summit as I took my time on the wet rocks, wondering how I had steadily climbed in some of sections of greatest incline without noticing the footing. Wren scrambled down easily, but I made sure to pause at the water crossings further downhill so she could stop and get a drink. We cruised quickly along the final two miles of trail to the trailhead, and returned to the car both sharing a hard-boiled egg and some snacks. Then we drove a short distance down the road to Cedar River Flow where Wren swam and I rinsed off some of the mud and sweat from my legs and face. Our post hike ritual complete, it was time to point the car toward home for dinner and a good night's sleep.
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