I found myself with Jerod and Melissa once again hiking in the Indian Lake Region, but this time on three somewhat secluded peaks that I have been eyeballing for some time. However, seeing them from Route 28 and studying their topography they led me to believe we would end up with nothing stellar to talk about, but the facts changed and one became a great find.
Something else was much more intense and unexpected — the black flies. I don't remember a day in recent history when they were this bad. I will be investing in a bug net this year.
The original plan was to hike Mill Mountain, Little Mill Mountain, and White Birch Ridge, then ford the Cedar River and climb a small peak unofficially named Bullhead Pond Mountain, then hike the snowmobile trail back to town. However, the recent rains had swelled the rivers in the area to a point where wading the frigid waters was not a safe option. We opted for just the three peaks and saved Bullhead Pond Mountain for another day.
We nudged our cars off the shoulder of Route 28 in an area that would surely make us look a bit mad to passersby, but we were used to the odd looks of wonder, so we rolled with it. Parked on the corner of state land we dove right in and started our walk in the wild through an open hardwood forest. The early morning was still nice and cool, which might be what was keeping the black flies at bay, but we could feel the temperatures and humidity rising, almost with every step on the steeper slopes of Mill Mountain.
Over small ledges and the slippery footing of dead leaves and muck we soon reached the wooded summit of Mill Mountain. The trees were dispersed lightly atop the long ridge, which awarded us a springtime view out over Adirondack Lake. The northwest ridge of Mill would gain us quick access to its smaller brethren, Little Mill Mountain. Resting a couple hundred feet lower than our current position, we didn't figure we would have a tough time on the traverse. The descent was steep and the footing slippery from the moist mineral soil being saturated by the recent rains, but the col came quickly. Once again we would climb, but not all that much — only about a hundred feet or so was between us and another wooded summit.
The fire cherry trees were taking over the small summit rock, and we were starting to lose hope of any kind of view, but as we descended through the trees toward White Birch Ridge I could see open rock on the south side — maybe, just maybe. This anticipation prompted us to move a bit faster and in no time flat we stood along the snowmobile trail. We now would need to battle the massive wetland between us and the peak, but with the help of the map it was decided that the snowmobile trail would possibly get us around the majority of it.
We followed the trail for a bit and upon the exact moment I chose to branch off into the balsam thickets we located a herd path leading us through it. We followed it, as its perfect construction gained us easy access through the swamp and back into the hardwoods on the other side.
The black flies were now even hungrier for blood, making me apply some rarely used repellant. I can usually just ignore them, but in this case it was not happening, and as a mouth breather I was sucking in more than my share. A direct heading brought us to the base of our first rock scramble, with great views opening behind us.
The moss on the open rock made our steps much more important and quickly gained us a narrow rock spine, which we thought was going to be the summit. Over the spine was a deep trough littered with boulders that had fallen from the tall ledges of the summit proper. The boulders were strewn in a perfect fashion, giving us a staircase up the steep slopes and essentially over the ledges to the open summit ledge.
The true summit was just beyond in the trees, but we spent most of our time on the ledge, where a periodic breeze put the black flies at bay. The Little High Peaks were in perfect form out in front, with the very tip of Snowy just coved by passing clouds.
We needed to get moving again, and maybe keep the flies at our backs and not in our faces, but whenever we made a directional turn we seemed to walk right into them. We didn't hesitate in forward momentum.
This traverse would require us to reclimb Little Mill and Mill Mountains, a reverse traverse format we usually avoid, but it wouldn't be a hard endeavor to achieve. So we made our way back to the herd path, back to the snowmobile trail, back up Little Mill, down Little Mill, up over Mill, and back down to Route 28 without even as much as a restroom break. Six miles or so was the round-trip distance and the forest made it easy enough to do this before lunch in just a hair over 4 hours. I made a pact to not let the little black buggers get me down and keep me inside, and 2016 would not be any different.