Ever-changing springtime conditions on Winch Mountain
Fifteen years — that’s how long it’s been since I set foot on Winch Mountain. It was time to revisit an old friend.
At nearly 2,700 feet in elevation, it overlooks much of the area, and getting to it isn’t very demanding. The rewarding part about this hike is you don’t have to go to Winch to get a stellar payoff. You could simply just go to the end of the trail at Cobble Lookout. But, I never said I was normal.
To get there, follow the Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway from the four corners in Wilmington. Just prior to the toll booth, take a right on to Gillispie Drive and locate the Cobble Lookout trailhead on the right in just over a quarter-mile.
Sam the “Moose Whisperer” joined me on this little before-work adventure in the Wilmington Wild Forest. I was sure he would approve. Sam gets his nickname mainly because wherever he goes, he sees or finds evidence of moose. This day would be no different.
The trail was well trodden and in mid-April, rather icy too. It wasn’t all that long until we started to see moose tracks. It was quickly apparent that it was a family of three that had just passed along the trail — hours or maybe minutes before us.
I have not yet been lucky enough to see a moose while hiking, but I am sure that time will come and hopefully it will be under equally curious reactions. While I may sound like a bull moose walking through the woods, I am quite positive I am not as limber (at least they can’t climb trees, but then again that makes two of us).
This trail has been before me several times, the view from Cobble Lookout is just THAT GOOD. I understand that at one time it was more of a locals trail or herd path to the view, and eventually it became adopted and marked by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. That would explain the path we found to Winch, but more on that in a bit.
While the trail meandered a bit like an old river as it undulated over the rolling landscape, it truly was an easy hike with minimal elevation change. This quick hike to a view is always a treat to the senses and absolutely perfect for just about everyone to score.
After we left the lookout, we proceeded back down the trail for a few hundred feet to an old trail/woods road on the right. I had seen this each time back here, and honestly had no idea where it went. All I could tell was it was going in the right direction for Winch Mountain.
This trail/road was in outstanding condition and the snow was hard enough to hold us up, so we left the snowshoes strapped to our backs like a small child in a carrier (but less whiny). This old trail may be part of the locals’ trail system I mentioned earlier and was in splendid shape. To my luck, it got us to within a half-mile of the summit.
From there we bushwhacked the open forest and hit up the southern slopes. The crossing of Stephenson Brook was a bit challenging, but we managed to find a downed tree we could perform a balancing act over. Once we hit the steep slopes the ground was nearly bare from snow and was now cloaked in last year’s leaf litter. Microspikes were a must for traction.
We followed deer trails for much of the steep scramble, and before we knew it we were at several viewpoints and eventually on the upper face of the bluff-like southern exposure. The summit was just a bit farther away, but its views were lacking, so we just touched it and retreated to the chill of the northern breeze on the open face.
The snow was now resembling that of creamed corn. What we walked on earlier without snowshoes was now a landmine of post-holing opportunities. No thank you. The snowshoes were now a necessity.
It was an easy walk back following our tracks. We never did see those moose or the group that came in after us, who surely must have questioned our motives.
Remember, springtime in the Adirondacks, and in particular April and May, are tough months to judge the weather up high. Please be prepared for anything. Plan on the possibilities of lingering snow, snow squalls, rain, sleet, warm temperatures, zombies, icy footing and, of course, sunshine.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or through his Facebook and Instagram pages “adkpeaksurvey.”