With our landscape still snow-free during this past December, my husband George and I decided to climb West Mountain in Raquette Lake. For boreal birding purposes, we opted for a longer route to the summit beginning the hike on the Brown's Tract Ponds Trail along Uncas Road instead of a shorter foot trail two miles down the road.
It was late morning as we drove into Raquette Lake. The lake was a perfect mirror of the world above, and we stopped for photos.
I assured George that the hike was remote and that we would have the trail to ourselves. As we drove down Uncas Road, I noticed two men in a car at the usual (shorter) foot trail to West Mountain. Thinking we may actually have company, we stopped the car to say hello. The central NY hikers announced that they had just finished the long hike having started at 2 a.m. They were interested in photographing dawn from the summit. Unfortunately, on their hike out, they missed the turn for the shorter foot trail to their car, and ended up hiking out the Brown's Tract Ponds Trail (nearly a mile longer) and then had to hike an additional two miles along Uncas Road to get back to their car, increasing their hike out by three miles! They still had a great time!
Driving on for two more miles, we parked at the Brown's Tract Ponds Trailhead.
Views of Upper Pond were just as still and lovely as Raquette Lake.
A short walk brings a hiker to a bridge over the outlet of Upper Pond where it empties into Lower Pond.
The wide trail now parallels the larger Lower Pond in a mostly deciduous forest.
Just under a mile along the route, the foot trail to Shallow Lake is passed on the left. The habitat now turns boreal as the trail parallels Beaver Brook for the next mile and a half. George commented that the trail is one of the nicest in the Adirondacks. It appears to be an old road. It is wide, fairly level, and free of roots and rocks. On this day it was a carpet of fallen leaves.
Boreal Chickadees, Black-backed Woodpeckers, and the rare American Three-toed Woodpecker can be found in this area. I heard a foraging woodpecker and bushwhacked into the forest toward the sound. George waited on the trail and the trees above him filled with a large, noisy flock of Pine Siskins. This species has irrupted in huge numbers over the past couple months in the Adirondacks.
A Blue Jay also flew to George's location and began to perfectly imitate a Broad-winged Hawk's high-pitched vocalizations. I was laughing as George yelled, "What IS that?" Blue Jays will often imitate raptors – especially near bird feeders where they can scare off the other species, leaving all the food for the Blue Jays! I told George that it was a Blue Jay attempting to frighten him away. The foraging bird in the forest was a Hairy Woodpecker.
At the 2.3 mile point, the bridge over Beaver Brook is reached, and the shorter (by just under a mile) foot trail back to Uncas Road intersects the wider Brown's Tract Ponds Trail.
Just under a mile from Beaver Brook, a short side trail down to Sucker Brook Bay is reached. We took this side trail and were rewarded with beautiful views of the bay. There is a camp site on a hill at this location and a lovely sandy beach.
As we continued on the main trail, a flock of three Boreal Chickadees flew all around us. This species, like many others, doesn't stay still for long, but I was able to take a few photos.
After another mile or so, we came to a high wooden bridge over Sucker Brook. It was a beautiful spot.
Eventually we came to the foot trail toward West Mountain, which is a left turn off the wide trail. The wide trail continues to the shores of Raquette Lake. The foot trail leads about two miles to the summit of West Mountain. There are ups and downs for the first half mile, and then the climbing begins, which quickly becomes quite steep. Snow was encountered as we began the climb with two-inches on the summit.
The trail continues up a steep rocky area. At the top of the steep section the trail goes off to the right, but continue hiking straight to the actual summit and metal marker. (The trail continues over the shoulder of West Mountain and down to Otter Pond to the west.)
It was cold on the summit and we took a quick food break before starting our descent. With a late morning start and short days in December, we spent the last hour hiking out using headlamps.
George got ahead of me in the dark and must have startled a deer. I heard a large animal crashing through the forest as it ran – directly toward me! I froze, but moved as it approached me. I'm not sure which one of us, the deer or me, was more scared! The deer saw my movement and immediately turned 90-degrees and bolted off.
Back at the car, it felt great to warm up with a heater. We headed down the road to the Tap Room in Raquette Lake for dinner and a glass of wine. It was a perfect way to end the day after a 12-mile hike!