Up to the challenge: More hikers tackling Adirondack trails in bunches

A lone hiker enjoys the view from the summit of 3,353-foot Ampersand Mountain, one of the Saranac Lake 6er hikes. Photo provided

A lone hiker enjoys the view from the summit of 3,353-foot Ampersand Mountain, one of the Saranac Lake 6er hikes. Photo provided

An invigorating hike up an Adirondack mountain is the quintessential celebration of the autumn season. This fall, with COVID-19 pushing folks outdoors, more people, especially families, might be climbing those mountains.

“This year, when COVID hit, we saw a crazy amount of hikers, and more of them from surrounding towns and New York communities, people who were traveling in state,” says Katie Stuart, Tupper Lake and Hamilton County regional marketing manager for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.

To make those outings fun for kids and to keep visitors coming back, there are Adirondack challenges where a hiker earns a patch and has his or her accomplishment posted online after completing a series of mountains.

The Tupper Lake Triad is a favorite for beginners because the trails are only one or two miles long.

“We’ve had 2 1/2-year-olds do the Triad. It’s a great introduction to get your feet wet hiking in the Adirondacks,” says Stuart. “And each mountain is kind of cool. Mount Arab has the fire tower and the steward’s cabin. Goodman Mountain has the whole history, with Andrew Goodman and civil rights. (Goodman, a summer resident of Tupper Lake, was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in 1964.) Coney Mountain has the best 360-degree view in the Adirondacks because it’s a total rock face up top.”

In five years, more than 7,000 hikers have picked up Triad patches, and 500 canine patches for their four-legged companions have also been handed out.

Because they are fairly easy, some hikers do all three treks in one day. Others spend the night and do them over a weekend. When the village offices are open, hikers can walk in, fill out a form and get their patch right away instead of waiting for snail mail.

“The kids coming in and getting their patches, they’re super-excited about it,” Stuart says.

Charlie Hoffer, a Tupper Lake retiree, started the Triad challenge, and hikers often meet him on the trails.

“Last year, we met with Charlie. Because it was getting so big … we took it off his hands and it’s just continued to grow,” Stuart says.

The Triad also inspires some hikers to try other, more difficult challenges, such as the Saranac Lake 6er or the Lake Placid 9er.

“We have a lot of people who, when they send in their registration, say ‘The Triad was great, now we’re on to the 6er,’ or they’ll say it was great preparation, we’re going to try the 9er.”

In Saranac Lake, 20 miles east of Tupper, more than 4,200 people have climbed the six mountains near the village and earned a patch since Mayor Clyde Rabideau came up with the idea seven years ago.

“We were noticing an increase interest in hiking and doing the 6er challenge even before COVID, and the number of people on the trails has increased significantly this summer,” says Jamie Konkoski, Saranac Lake’s community development director.

And here’s another Rabideau brainchild: After climbing all the mountains, hikers are invited to ring a bell in Berkeley Green, across the street from the Hotel Saranac.

Three of the mountains — Baker, St. Regis and Haystack — are over 2,000 feet, and the other three — Scarface, Ampersand and McKenzie — are over 3,000.

“They are not super-easy,” Konkoski says. “These are all mountains that are in reach for people who are in reasonably good shape.”

The summits offer spectacular views of lakes. “That’s really different than if you are used to hiking in the High Peaks, where you see mountains upon mountains and mountains.”

Baker Mountain is popular because it’s close to town. “You could actually walk to Baker Mountain from downtown,” she says.

With an increase in visitors, the village is focusing on hiker education based on national and international campaigns by Leave No Trace.

“One message is plan ahead and be prepared. Know what the essential items are. The other is to dispose of waste properly,” says Konkoski. “I definitely noticed an increase in the amount of trash on the trails this year. These are great trails and they seem well-used and loved, but they are all in wilderness areas. There’s no parks cleanup crew that comes and cleans up after you.”

Proper footgear, not sandals, is really important too, she says.

“Everywhere you go in the Adirondacks is pretty rugged … with mud and tree roots and rocks.”

And be aware of weather conditions.

“In October, the weather can change very quickly in the mountains. Being prepared means having a warm jacket for the summit. Be prepared for spontaneous weather and for the trail conditions to be very different than summer,” Konkoski says.

Take a hike! Ready to go hit the trails? Here’s a list of Adirondack challenges:

  • — Adirondack Fifty Falls Waterfall Challenge
  • — Adirondack Mountain Club Fire Tower Challenge
  • — Adirondack Quest
  • — ADK Kids Challenge (Adirondack Mountain Club)
  • — ADK6PACK
  • — Fulton Chain Trifecta
  • — Lake George 12ster
  • — Lake Placid 9er
  • — Northville-Placid Trail Challenge
  • — Saranac Lake 6er
  • — Tri-Lakes Trifecta
  • — Tupper Lake Triad


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