ADK releases 2nd edition fire tower book

Several dozen people gathered at the summit of Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain in July for the 100th anniversary of the fire tower there. The Aeromotor tower was installed in 1917, and is just one of many fire towers that have been restored for use by the public. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

The Adirondack Mountain Club is out with a new edition of its popular “Views from on High” fire tower guide book, with many updates for hikers to take in.

This is the first time the 2001-book has been updated, and in addition to trail and condition updates, the newest fire tower book also includes trail descriptions to fire towers outside of the Adirondack and Catskill parks.

Perhaps the biggest change is that in the first edition, Views included a section called “Adirondack Park Fire Towers That May Not Last.” However, the five towers listed in that section — Lyon, Adams, Spruce, Hurricane and St. Regis — have not only survived the nearly two decades since publication, but all of them have been restored and several are open to the public.

Through a combination of work on the part of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the state Adirondack Park Agency and private groups, towers like the one on St. Regis Mountain, near Paul Smith’s College, have been restored. While the main threats against these towers were the wear and tear of time and the elements, there were also legal issues about the towers being non-conforming structures on state land.

However, the DEC and APA have reclassified the small parcels of land the towers sit on as Historic, which allows many of the towers to stay. Once reclassified, private volunteer groups raised money and used volunteer labor to rehabilitate numerous towers to a usable conditions. DEC forest rangers and the state police aviation unit were also utilized in the rehab work.

While touting the educational and historic value of the fire towers, the authors say that in the past 25 years, 21 towers have been restored “at almost no public expense.

“These natural classrooms provide a unique opportunity for an encounter with an interpreter, or summit guide, during the summer hiking season,” the authors write. “To date, the Blue, Hadley, Arab and Poke-O-Moonshine committees have funded paid interpreters, although many others use volunteers on summer and fall weekends.”

The authors also go on to essentially call on the DEC to fund tower summit stewards, comparing the effort to the ADK’s High Peaks summit steward program.

While the number of hikers tackling the 46 High Peaks has grown exponentially in the last few years, Freeman and Schneider make the case that fire tower hikes should be seen as pleasant alternative to the increasingly busy High Peaks region.

“The most compelling feature of these thirty ascents is that the hiker, having expended the energy required to go there, uphill no less, gets a payoff in clear weather: a view,” they write. “If you are having trouble hiking up Couchsachraga Peak or Cliff, Street, Nye, or Table Top mountains, you have no incentive to keep going except for completion of your list. But here we have a list of peaks with juicy rewards … they all have maintained trails. There are no herd paths to contend with.”

And while some of the fire tower peaks are a breeze (Belfry Mountain took this writer about 16 minutes from trailhead to summit, including time stopped to take photos and write notes), the authors make the case that many of the fire towers are in some ways more difficult than some of the High Peaks.

“This is not to say that these hikes will give you less of a physical challenge than many of the 46 High Peaks,” they write. “For example, Snowy Mountain is a 2,106-foot hike from the trailhead, and Gore Mountain is an ascent of 2,560 feet.

“In the High Peaks, a climb of Cascade Mountain from the Cascade Lakes is only 1,940 vertical feet, and Phelps Mountain is but 1,982 feet above Heart Lake.”

The 46ers may have been the first Adirondack hiking “challenge,” but hiking almost two dozen of the fire towers can also earn you a patch.

For the fire tower challenge, hikers are required to climb all five mountains in the Catskills that have towers, and 18 of the 25 Adirondack tower mountains.

The book also offers a new section called Beyond the Blue Line, which offers trail descriptions to 10 fire towers that are not located within either the Catskill or Adirondack parks. These hikes won’t count toward the fire tower challenge, but quick hikes near Saratoga, Rhinebeck and outside of New York City offer close-to-home opportunities for hikers from all around the state.

For more information or to order the book online, go to