Soaking it all in
We arrived at a small, dirt parking lot big enough to fit three, perhaps four cars. The road continued into the forest. The track ahead was covered in six inches of water. This was our path to Floodwood Mountain. It seemed like the mountain may live up to its name.
I slipped off my shoes and peeled off my socks, readying myself for the water. Justin Levine, outdoors writer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and Lake Placid News, called to me from the parking lot entrance, informing me that he was going to take a picture of the sign.
I turned to the sunken trail and readied myself for the mud. Images of hobbits braving haunted swamps popped in my brain. Then Justin called out again.
The trail I was ready to endeavor led to somewhere, but not to Floodwood Mountain. Note to travelers: Read the signs.
The trek to Floodwood peak began on a bumpy dirt road, but that didn’t last for long. From the parking area, we took a left and then soon after hung a right onto another dirt road. A legion of yellow birch trees guarded the sides of the road as we gallivanted along.
Eventually we came to a thin dirt path that advanced up the side of the mountain. Here, we left the wide road and cramped into a single-file line.
The birch trees remained scattered throughout the hike, but now were accompanied by other tree species like beech, as the trail moved away from the road toward a Boy Scout camp.
The ascent up the mountain was gradual. Even I — an out-of-shape 21-year-old who interpreted the motto “enjoy life while you can” as an invitation to loaf around — was able to push my way up the mountain with relative ease.
When a trail doesn’t suck the air out of your lungs and the energy out of your legs, one can indulge in discussion with fellow hikers. Unless one is alone, in which case they may still talk out loud, but at the risk of sounding like a lunatic.
Justin and I discussed the influence of humans on popular crops, the bizarre books of Stephen King and the many aspects of being a journalist. Boulders as tall as either of us were scattered along the path — perfect places to relax and take a swig from our water bottles.
We found difficulty in the final, steep ascent. Recent rain slickened the rocks and transformed the surrounding dirt into mud. Justin and I proceeded cautiously.
Not trusting the soles of my street shoes, I relied on my hands to latch onto trees and large rocks. Several slips and trips risked ending our short hike even sooner.
Conversation was paused to allow full concentration. Thin trees watched our struggle silently. Only the whisper of the wind disturbed the silence.
We trudged up a steep, yet short, rock face and were finally able to relax. Up ahead, stood a few more trees — but only a few. Behind them, a blanket of gray and white clouds signaled the end of our ascent. Ahead waited our reward: the view.
The top of Floodwood Mountain was mostly populated with trees, but on certain points to the north and south were rocky portions unsuitable for vegetation.
From the summit, one can see what draws so many visitors to the Adirondacks. Lulls and bumps carpeted in various shades of green, interrupted only by pockets of blue ponds and lakes, stretched out to where the horizon slips into the grey distance.
At the first vista, we could see the sharp, protruding peak of Whiteface Mountain. On a mountain far to the right of Whiteface, a small dark pimple that is a fire tower identifies St. Regis Mountain, a popular hike for students of nearby Paul Smith’s College.
From the first lookout, there was a sign pointing toward the southern summit. This last short part was unmarked and could be difficult to follow. But expansive views toward Tupper Lake made the minor risk worth the reward.
A structure that looked like a silo towered over rooftops. Clusters of small homes occupied a small area of the green and blue quilt. The vastness of the wilderness reminded me how small humans are.
Jokes and enough picture taking to satisfy a millennial, filled the empty vacuum that was previously occupied by the sound of nature: rustling leaves and not much else.
After memories were sealed in our plastic contraptions, we sat and ate. I munch on an apple, Justin a brown, bumpy bar. We devoured our meals and swapped stories of previous hikes. Ahead of us lay the landscape.
After 45 minutes, it was time to descend. We pushed through the tall grass back to the north peak. We took one last glance at the mountains and hills, and prepared to leave when a flash of yellow and black caught our eye, flitting about in a small cherry tree.
The bird, which Justin later identified as a black-throated green warbler, sat on a branch of a tree hanging over the cliff. This wildlife sighting was the first of a few others, all of them toads.
Small, gray toads with brown splotches hopped near the trail as we descended Floodwood. Each toad was about the size of a thumb, making them nimble and hard for Justin to catch.
Eventually one was too slow for Justin’s hands, but they had a second defense: urine. Justin’s hand was tainted after the encounter, but a picture was taken, making it worth it.
The only other distinct natural encounter — other than the trees, grass and rocks — was a mushroom that huddled near a yellow birch along the road. Its orange and red bulb distinguished itself from the monotonous green and brown of its surroundings.
My legs felt like Jell-O at the end. We arrived back at the small, brown patch where Justin’s car was parked. The sun finally came out, but the breeze cooled us off.
All in all, it was a great hike. Not too easy, not too hard. Just enough energy was exerted for this slacker’s liking.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Distance: 3.9 miles round trip
Directions: From Saranac Lake, take state Route 86 toward Paul Smiths. Turn left on state Route 186 and go 8.9 miles to Floodwood Road on the right. Bear left to stay on Floodwood Road and turn left toward Floodwood Reservation at the 6-mile mark. Go 0.3 miles to the parking area on the left. From the parking area, go left on the road and continue to the next fork and go right. The trail sign is on the right.