Branching off the Northville-Placid Trail

James Hopson explores the views of Mud Lake Ridge with the Sacandaga Reservoir in the distance. (Provided photo — Spencer Morrissey)

Fulton County is one of those regions that don’t get much traffic in the way of hikers, outside of Kane Mountain that is.

My close hiking friend, James “Jimbo” Hopson, also known as “Ledge Hound,” and I try to discover new places, especially in areas where visitors do not tend to travel. It’s a goal of ours to introduce people to the hidden gems of this part of the southern Adirondacks and maybe wean a few away from the overcrowded High Peak Wilderness.

On this day we opted to start along the Northville-Placid Trail (NPT) to get up to Mud Lake, and while we were at it, visit a couple “hidden in plain sight” gems that shadow the lake.

Starting from the trailhead off Collins Gifford Valley Road near Northville, we were under way. The trail seemed to be solid from a winter’s worth of tromping, but unfortunately along with that was a landmine of post-holes.

With snowshoes strapped to our back, just in case, we didn’t last long before we started punching through ourselves. Rather than doing a funky jig up and over two peaks over two miles of trail, we just put on our snowshoes and moved along much freer.

The trail had been rerouted since I was there last over a decade ago. The significance of this reroute went from a straight line shot to Mud Lake to a meandering spaghetti route that removed almost any section that was once even approaching steep.

The switchbacks are quite close to one another and in fact can be seen from each other as the trail moves up the slopes. Please DO NOT cut between the switchbacks on trails like these because it can cause unnecessary erosion to the hillside.

The ease of the trail allowed us to get to Mud Lake in stellar time. What a gorgeous lake — long and narrow, held in place by wooded hillsides. This in itself would be an outstanding family destination for a gentle half-day jaunt.

To our left was a small knoll referred to as “Big Oak Hill” because of the oak grove on its gentle slopes. To our right was the long land feature known as “Mud Lake Ridge.”

We would venture to both of these. Not to jump ahead, but if small spur trails were to become possible here, a sweet bang for a buck would be awarded to the family adventures category, with little added effort needed.

First we headed south to Big Oak Hill, a mere 0.2-miles away up open, gentle oak slopes. The snow was still holding in the trees as spring was settling in.

Our snowshoes kept us afloat on the frozen pillows as periodic blunted rocks poked out for some sun. We passed over the boulder-topped, wooded summit to drop slightly to the south face of the peak. This is where the views were reported to be located, and it wasn’t long before the rumor became fact.

From the open slopes, we could see Sacandaga Reservoir to the east and sweeping views to the west all the way to Whiskey Hill and well beyond.

The wind was bitter as it blew in from the north, our faces burned by its cruel breath. We opted to get back in the trees and descend our route back to Mud Lake.

From the lake, we got back on the NPT for a bit longer as it became icy beneath us. After, say around 0.2-miles, we left the trail once again and headed north to the east end of Mud Lake Ridge.

The slopes were gentle and lacking in snow, especially lower on the south face. It was only a moments until we hit our first view. Then another, then another and finally a boulder-strewn rock slab top near the west end of the ridge. We poked around the corner a bit farther, as the slab rock continued and on the far west side was a final view out toward West Stony Creek Mountains: more rocky crags to visit on another day.

Once we finished our visit, we followed our route back out to the trail and down the NPT back to our cars. By this time, the sun had started to deteriorate the snow and the trek out was much more frustrating. Ankles were compromised as snowshoes broke through, partially, into the rotted snow.

I guess it goes to show, spring conditions can vary from one region to the next, one day to the next, and even one hour to the next, so plan on anything in April.

Overall this was a worthy hike and an easy one as well, as long as you have some experience with navigation off-trail. Be sure to remember that a GPS and/or map and compass would be required if you ventured off the NPT. But if you are looking for a nice stroll, Mud Lake is an excellent hike, snowshoe or even a trail run once the snow is gone.

Spencer Morrissey is an author and licensed guide who lives in Long Lake. His outdoors column appears regularly in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Lake Placid News and Embark. He can be reached at adkpeaksurvey@gmail.com, or through his Facebook and Instagram pages “adkpeaksurvey.”


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