Central Adirondacks

Despite living only 4 or 5 hours away, I have spent little time in the Adirondacks.  This year I promised myself I would get up there, and this past weekend I made good on my promise.

I decided to forego the crowded High Peaks region for my first trip, and visit the Central Adirondacks.  We camped at Lake Durant under the summit of Blue Mountain.  My only prior Adirondack experience was camping at Lake Durant several years ago for a whitewater kayaking trip on the Indian and Hudson Rivers.  Blue Mountain was the first Adirondack mountain I both saw and identified, so I decided it would be the first Adirondack mountain I would climb.

Lake Durant is a beautiful campground.  We arrived in the early evening and set up camp.  We decided to go for a hike as the sun began to set, so we set off on the Northville-Placid Trail for a 6 mile jaunt that would bring us to Stephens Pond, and darkness.

Stephens Pond

The northwoods are beautiful with birch, spruce, pine and maple.  Sometimes the forest smells almost sweet.  The trail was easy as it traversed the twilight woodlands.  The trail turned left and descended to the pond, masked in darkness.  There was a lean-to where we took a break; surprisingly, we had it to ourselves.  We hiked down to the water for a view, but it was too dark to take any decent pictures as the stars sparkled overhead.  Stephens Pond is like thousands of other Adirondack ponds- wooded, undeveloped, and serene.  Stumps stuck out of the black waters; the pond seemed a little low due to the dry conditions.  We turned around with headlamps on and hiked back.  The headlamps tunneled through the darkness as we followed the thread of the trail.  We covered the three miles back in under an hour.

Blue Mountain

View from the summit of Blue Mountain


Blue is a majestic mountain, rising dramtically over several different lakes, with its sides scarred by landslides that expose white bedrock.  The trail to the summit is two miles and is a steady climb, but never requires any scrambling.  At first the trail was rocky over webs of roots, but as we neared the top, we entered a spruce forest and the trail followed smooth, sloping ledges.  The ascent tapered off and we were soon at the top where there was a large exposed ledge, and a nice view below the summit to the southeast.  The main attraction is the firetower, which we climbed for even more spectacular views.  Blue Mountain Lake glistened below, and the High Peaks loomed in the distance, faded by haze.  Ridges, summits, lakes, and ponds stretched off in every direction on a carpet of green forests.  The summit was a bit crowded, but the views were excellent and a fine introduction to the ‘Dacks.

Sawyer Mountain

View from Sawyer Mountain

Sawyer is a minor peak, but we decided to hike its one mile trail to a summit with some views.  The trail rose gradually through the woods and over smooth ledges to a summit with some nice views to the west.  Swamps and ponds glistened in the setting sunlight.  We retraced our steps and drove to Indian Lake for a bite to eat.

Chimney Mountain

The Chimney, on Chimney Mountain

On our final day, I hoped we would climb Snowy Mountain, the highest peak in the Adirondacks south of the High Peaks.  But it was clear we wouldn’t have the time.  So we decided to climb Chimney Mountain, another modest peak, but famous for its somewhat exposed summit, caves, cliffs, and its famous rock tower, called The Chimney.

We drove on a quiet country road until it reached a dead end at some cabins.  It looked like a beautiful, serene place.  The trail began by crossing some creeks, a rarity on our hikes, and soon began a steep ascent.  The trail reached some rock outcrops and then dipped to a campsite.  We followed unofficial trails to the summit where there were beautiful views in all directions.  Blue Mountain was in the distance; Snowy Mountain loomed closer.  We met a man at the summit who was a 46’er, a person who climbed all the 46 peaks in the Adirondacks above 4,000 feet.  He said Chimney Mountain was his favorite place in all of the Adirondacks.

We left the summit and took the trail to The Chimney, a 30 foot tower over a series of cliffs and ledges.  It was a fascinating place and the views were excellent.  The mountain has a web of unofficial trails and herd paths that lead to other cliffs and the caves, but we did not know where to go.  Exploring the caves would have to wait for another day.

We packed up and were soon on the road back home.  It was a great trip; the weather was perfect, and the scenery was superb.  I hope to return soon to climb Snowy Mountain.

More pictures.

Fords Lake

Fords Lake

Nestled between forested hills and bucolic fields is serene Fords Lake, located just off of PA 307 between Clarks Summit and Lake Winola.

The small lake covers 73 acres and features several small coves and bays along its undeveloped shoreline.  Fords Lake attracts anglers who ply the water casting for bluegill, crappie, bullheads, and largemouth bass.  For the kayaker, the lake is a peaceful place to paddle away from the boat traffic of larger lakes.  The shallow waters reveal a few stumps where you can expect to see a turtle.  Wading birds, such as herons, also visit the lake.


On these late summer days as the sun begins to wane and the clouds crystallize in the cobalt sky, quiet and secluded Fords Lake is a perfect place to try your luck fishing, or dipping your paddle into the water.

Cobalt skies

A few more pictures.

Little Shickshinny Creek Falls

Little Shickshinny Creek Falls

The Little Shickshinny Creek flows into the Susquehanna River at the small town of Shickshinny.  Along the way it has carved a deep gorge that harbors a beautiful waterfall in State Game Lands 260.  The falls is hike number 21 in Hiking the Endless Mountains.

From the parking area, we followed an easy trail through forests of hemlock.  The trail is an old forest road, just west of the parking area.  The sound of falling water could soon be heard far below.  We reached the top of the falls and descended via narrow switchbacks to the bottom of the cascade, where there was a deep pool.

While the height may be 30 feet or so, what makes the falls so impressive is it setting.  It appears as if the layers of sandstone bedrock had been upturned, creating fins of exposed rock.  There is one such fin at the top of the falls.  The water seems to have chiseled into the one cliff face.  Below the falls are more cascades, dashing over the upturned bedrock between small pools.  The creek continued on, deeper into the gorge under hemlocks.  In the spring, dogwood blossoms dot the forest.

The top of the falls has some kind of old waterworks, with a small dam and old pipes.  Maybe the creek was an old water supply for a mill, or the residents of Shickshinny.

The creek below the falls.

We sat and enjoyed the spray of the water over the moss-covered rocks.  Everyone in the group was impressed by the beauty.

Enjoying the falls.

The hike to the falls is easy and ideal for children, although the base of the falls is rugged and the switchbacks are narrow.  For those looking for a quick hike that offers significant natural beauty, this is the place for you.

More pictures.


Tilbury Knob

View from Tilbury Knob looking down the Susquehanna River.

Located across the Susquehanna River from Nanticoke is one of the Wyoming Valley’s most impressive natural features- Tilbury Knob.  Here, striking red, corrugated cliffs rise hundreds of feet over the river, offering superb views.  The knob is also popular with rock climbers, who come to scale its numerous cliffs and ledges that rise through the trees.

I finally was able to visit the knob, which is now a part of the Harvey’s Creek Tract of the Lackawanna State Forest.  No formal trails lead to the cliffs, so, as usual, we were relegated to a bushwhack.

First, we began to explore the base of the cliffs, comprised of a white or gray sandstone.  There was an impressive overhang which harbored a nest, possibly belonging to a hawk.  We hiked to the top of these cliffs, battling laurel, pitch pine, and scub oak.  Old game trails meandered through the sparse woods, which concealed hidden ledges and cliffs that would drop off suddenly.  We were surprised to see a view to the east, obscured with morning haze, from a sloping ledge.

At the edge

The hike continued as we tried to find the cliff.  We passed a small meaodow with a view to the southwest and crossed a jeep road.  Soon we were at the cliff, as the earth just fell away.

But we were not alone, a few hundred feet from us along the escarpment was a peregrine falcon, voicing her displeasure with screeches and cries.  The peregrine is the fastest animal in the world, capable of diving at over 200 mph.  Peregrines nest along cliffs, and we made sure to avoid her.  We hunkered down below some branches, and she stopped her screeches.

We headed north along the escarpment, away from the falcon, to more impressive views looking up Harvey’s Creek Gorge.  Shadows of passing clouds were cast across the green mountains, under a blue sky.

We turned around, keeping away from the falcon, and reached another view, and proceeded south along the cliff line.  There was a nerve-wrattling overhang that jutted out over the cliff.  I walked out onto it.  I felt like I was suspended in the air.

Not a good time for that rock to collapse

We continued our descent through pine forests when Ryan spied something I have never seen before- a huge, flourescent caterpillar.  I have no idea what kind it was.

Huge, mysterious caterpillar

We soon reached the base of the cliffs and returned to our cars, before heading down the road to the Little Shickshinny Creek Falls.

Tilbury Knob is an impressive place, offering towering cliffs, superb views, and great wildlife.  It rises over Harvey’s Creek with its rapids and pools and commands a dominating presence over the creek’s gorge.  I look forward to exploring more of this tract in the Lackawanna State Forest.

More pictures.

Camping at the Quemahoning Reservoir

Quemahoning Reservoir

The Quemahoning Reservoir is a beautiful place.  In recent years, it has been opened to the public, featuring miles of undeveloped shore, clear water, and fine camping.  It is perfect for kayaking, since motorboats are not allowed.  The reservoir is big, covering over 900 acres.

During my paddling weekend a few weeks ago, I camped at the Quemahoning Family Recreation Area along the reservoir.  We got a site right next to the water.   The campground was nice, cheap, and featured warm showers.  It would make a fine home base to explore the Laurel Highlands or paddle the Stonycreek River.  Alcohol is not allowed.

The mirrored surface undulated with gentle ripples, reflecting muscular cumulus clouds.  In the morning, heavy mist draped over the lake and veiled the mountains.  We did not stay very long the next day, as we loaded our cars and headed down to the Casselman River.

Morning mist

More pictures.

Kayaking the Stonycreek, Casselman and Lower Yough Rivers

Perfect day- Bob Holliday on the Stonycreek River. Photo courtesy of Bryan Mulvihill.

A few weekends ago, I met up with my friends Bob Holliday and Bryan Mulvihill to kayak some rivers in southwestern Pennsylvania.  This dry year has done little for those seeking whitewater.

Our first river is one of my favorites- the Stonycreek River.  This river has enjoyed a rebirth of sorts.  Efforts are underway to clean the ravages of acid mine drainage, trails are planned along the river corridor, and whitewater releases have begun from the Quemahoning Reservoir. For the paddler, the river is famous for its playwaves and one of the longest series of rapids in the east.

Although a release was planned on the weekend we were to go paddling, it was cancelled for repairs to the valve in the dam.  Fortunately, there was enough rain from previous days to keep the river up.  We put on by ourselves under beautiful sunny skies and made our way down the deep, swirling current that soon whisked us to the first rapids at Shade Creek.

Shade Creek was flowing good, pumping a lot of water into the Stony.    We continued down the Stony with non-stop ledges and wave holes where we surfed a little.  We saw one other paddler and talked to him for a little bit.  We continued down the gorge by ourselves running rapid after rapid in a gorge of green trees, large boulders, and faint waterfalls cascading in from side streams.

We took a quick break at a low dam and I ran Pipeline Rapid just below on the left.  The river soon brought us to the takeout where we relaxed and talked.  Another paddler took out as well, and we gave him a ride to his car at the put-in.

The next day we drove down to the Casselman River.  This river is more tame than the Stony as it flows through a beautiful wooded gorge.  The famous Allegheny Passage Rail Trail follows the Casselman.  At the put-in we elected to run a sidestream that was fairly high, it felt like a water bobsled run as we dodged rocks and boulders before joining the river.

The river was easy.  After the first railroad bridge, it became a little more exciting with bouldery rapids and some nice waves.  After the second railroad bridge there were several playwaves that were a joy to surf.  There was even eddy service.  We took out at a developed launch that even featured a stockade to change clothes.

Next was the famous Loop of the Lower Yough in Ohiopyle State Park.  This is a paddler’s paradise with runnable flows almost all year long.  The put in is right below the impressive Ohiopyle Falls.  We began with a bang- Entrance Rapid with many waveholes and some pour-overs.  This rapid often confuses me and I went too far right, went into a pour-over hole, and soon flipped after a desperate side surf.  Two roll attempts followed and I soon swam.  I self rescued my boat and Bob came by to help.  I was on a rock surrounded by fast current; there was no way I could get in my boat.  I pushed my boat across the current into an eddy and followed by swimming.  I was soon back on the water.

We ran the rest of the rapids clean, including Cucumber and its surging wave train.  We took out as it began to thunder and pour.  Keeping our boats on our shoulders, we walked out on the rail trail back to the cars.  A visit to the Falls Pub soon followed.

It was a great weekend of paddling on some beautiful rivers.  When it is too hot to hike, the water is a fine substitute.

A few more pictures.