Paddle/hike to Frederica’s lookout
TUPPER LAKE — I stripped down to my underwear and slipped into the dark brown waters of Lake Lila. I could see only one other person, and they were far enough away that I wasn’t too self-conscious to enjoy my post-trip soak in the surprisingly warm water.
On a sunny weekday, I had loaded up the kayak and took off to paddle across Lake Lila, which I’ve never been on before. It’s in the heart of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s William C. Whitney Wilderness Area, and by all accounts is an Adirondack gem.
I had set out that morning from the sandy beach that makes the launch area after a quick walk from the parking area. Tossing my backpack in the front of the kayak, I pushed off and was soon feeling the effects of a blazing sun, despite it still being mid-morning.
I took my time making the 2.9-mile paddle across the lake, passing islands and rock outcrops; seeing people swimming from campsites in the distance. The lake is dotted with two dozen backcountry campsites, and more than a few were occupied, even though it was mid-week.
Rounding one of the points that juts into the lake from the northern shore, I saw a couple of prominent cliff bands and got the first glimpse of my final destination: Mount Frederica.
Mount Frederica is the only mountain with a designated hiking trail in the area, and as such, offers seldom seen views of the central Adirondacks. Although the mountain itself is not impressive from the water, its southeastern-facing cliffs offer plenty of promise.
The hike up the mountain can be done one of two ways: paddle across Lake Lila to a take out or walk a few miles down a dirt road first.
The road starts at the same parking area, and roughly follows the shore of the lake. While this is a good option for those without access to a canoe or kayak, I imagine the road hike would be pretty mundane.
The take out for paddlers is located about 100 yards to the right (north) of the site of the old lodge. The prominent clearing can be seen from across the lake, and offers a much better target than the small brown DEC sign nailed to a tree. Just aim for the clearing and then go a little to the right to find the take out.
According to the DEC’s management plan for the area, the Whitney Wilderness had been in private hands since the 1770s, when a pair of men, working on behalf of some ship builders, bought about 1.15 million acres from Native American proprietors.
More than 120 years later, William C. Whitney partnered with Patrick Moynihan to buy about 68,000 acres. In the late 1890s, when logging of the property was underway, an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry was signed, and a man named Henry Graves was put in charge of the logging operations.
Graves was also tasked with providing a scientific approach to logging, similar to what famed forester Gifford Pinchot was doing. As such, the DEC says the Whitney Wilderness was some of the first land to be stewarded over by professional foresters. Only pine and spruce 10 inches and over were taken, and dragged by horse to waterways to eventually end up in Tupper Lake.
In the process of developing and logging these lands, a large lodge was built on the western-most shore of Lake Lila. The lodge was torn down, but the site remains a good marker.
From the take out, there is a short trail to a road. The trail is marked with blue discs, and once you reach the road, hang a right and go a few hundred feet to another road on the left.
From the shore of the lake, the trail up Mount Frederica mainly follows these roads. A little more than a half-mile farther on, the trail crosses the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor railroad tracks, and finally leaves the road at the 1.1-mile mark from the shore.
Here, the trail turns into classic Adirondack singletrack, and makes its way up and around to the back side of Mount Frederica. The trail is gentle going up, gaining only about 400 feet in elevation.
But that modest elevation gain leads to some amazing views not only of Lake Lila, but also of the distant Blue Mountain and the High Peaks to the northeast.
When I arrived at the summit, there were a half-dozen people there, all occupying campsites on Lake Lila. One man marveled at the fact he and his wife had an entire island to themselves, and another couple sat in the cool shade of a pine tree.
While the hike is not difficult, the views from Mount Frederica are stunning. The entirety of Lake Lila stretches out before you, and there’s a small glimpse of the railroad tracks through the trees. Honestly, I couldn’t help envisioning the splendor of sitting on those cliffs in the midst of peak leaf season, watching a locomotive rumble by below.
I caught a glimpse of the caving-in roof of the old train station, and soon made my way back to the kayak. Fighting a headwind, the paddle to the sandy shore where I put in was a bit more difficult than the morning paddle.
Drifting in a circle as I snapped some photos, the lake rippled gently against the boat. I paddled on and within an hour was back at the shore, sweating like crazy. Glancing around, I stripped my clothes and sank into the lake, letting the tannin-stained water cool me off.