Finding solitude on a misty mountain

The Hadley Mountain fire tower rises into the mist. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

Most people, including myself, typically climb mountains for the views. But with an ever-increasing crush of hikers entering the Adirondacks, perhaps the best way to get some solitude is to climb a mountain on a weekday in the rain.

A couple weeks ago, colleagues and I were heading to Albany for a journalism awards ceremony. I decided to take advantage of the trip down south to get in a hike outside of the Tri-Lakes, and since I hadn’t been to Hadley Mountain in more than 20 years, it seemed like a good one to tackle.

It threatened rain most of the way there, and as I turned onto the aptly named Tower Road, the skies opened up. I sat in the empty parking lot, debating whether I could hear any thunder, as climbing a rocky mountain topped with a big metal tower during a thunderstorm is generally something to avoid.

After a couple minutes, I put on a rain jacket and headed up the mountain, happy to be alone. It rained steady, but there were a few times when the rain lightened up enough that I could take my hood off to enjoy the quiet woods.

The hike up Hadley is not very challenging, but the first mile climbs steadily on a moderate grade. After the first mile, the trail levels out some and although there’s still elevation to gain, it’s broken up into short climbs with level spots in between.

Coming out of the woods, it was still raining but I was securely within the clouds. The tower emerged slowly, its gray metal blending perfectly with the moisture in the air. I climbed the wooden steps and reached the padlocked cab of the tower. I was disappointed to not have a place to get out of the rain, but not really bothered since there would be no view anyway.

The clouds, which seemed stationary at the parking lot, were moving quickly around the summit, with wisps visibly hitting the rocks and being redirected. I jotted a couple notes and headed back down, with the rain still falling.

After reaching the car, I drove about 10 miles in soaking wet pants, shoes and shirt, only for the sun to emerge in what could be described as a mostly-sunny day. Of course.

The fire tower was erected in 1917 after years of big forest fires in the area.

“In 1903, 1908, 1911 and 1915, parts of the West Mountain Ridge, including Hadley and surrounding forest burned due to wildfires,” the group’s website says. “The 40-foot steel fire tower, originally from Ohmer Mountain, was erected on Hadley Mountain in 1917. The tower was closed by DEC in 1990.

“The Hadley Mountain Fire Tower Committee was formed in 1995 to work with DEC personnel to restore the observer’s cabin and fire tower. Workers replaced the tower’s windows, bolts, stairs, landings and various other things by materials that were flown in to the summit by a state helicopter. In 1996, the tower footings were replaced and in 1998, the tower was repainted. The tower’s roof was replaced during the summer of 2000.”

The Hadley Mountain tower was one of the original fire towers in New York, and was supposed to be located on Ohmer Mountain in Saratoga County, according to the National Historic Lookout Register.

“Hadley Mountain Fire Tower was one of the original 10 steel fire towers purchased by the state,” the NHLR says on its website. “The 40-foot Aermotor LL-25 structure with 7′ x 7′ metal cab was placed in the middle of a 12,000-acre area that had burned repeatedly during the previous decade.

“From The Aermotor Model LL-25 by Bill Starr, NHLR State Registrar: ‘The AerMotor Model # LL-25 was proposed to the State, and 10 of these towers were ordered. All were delivered by railroad early in 1916 and nine were immediately erected at Cathead, Fort Noble, Hamilton, Makomis, Moosehead, T – Lake, Tommy, Wakely, and Woodhull mountains. The last tower was for Ohmer Mountain although the State was unable to secure an agreement with the land owner there, so Hadley Mountain was selected to replace Ohmer. Construction of the 10th tower began late in 1916 on Hadley and was not completed until early in 1917.”

Although I wasn’t lucky enough to enjoy the views from the summit, Hadley Mountain offers views of the southern High Peaks, Lake Champlain, the Great Sacandaga Lake and the surrounding area, including the nearby fire tower peak Spruce Mountain.

With its proximity to the state-run Lake Luzerne campground, I-87 and Lake George, weekends are likely to be far more crowded than a rainy Tuesday. But with an easy grade and (supposedly) great views, Hadley Mountain is a quick and rewarding hike that can be coupled with Spruce Mountain, making a great day for those looking to complete the Fire Tower Challenge.


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