Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Memorial Day Hike: Wakely Mountain Fire Tower

We began our Memorial Day at 7am leaving home and driving all the way up to Wakely Mountain through the towns of Warrensburg, Wevertown, and Indian Lake. A little more than 11 miles outside of the town of Indian Lake, down Cedar River Road, the trail head of Wakely Mountain sits. The road off of Rt 28 is a little scary, but fortunately does not require four wheel drive. In the winter it is only partially plowed, up to 4.6 miles before the trail head, requiring snowshoes or a snowmobile to get through the remainder of the road.

The trail begins on what appears to be a snowmobile road, where the Warning sign is posted regarding the washed out road. Don't fear - it is easily accessed on foot! The elevation change for the first mile of the trail is barely noticeable. A sturdy footbridge helps you across a brook along the way. We encountered a toad and some wildflowers along the way, including a painted trillium, violets, and some hobblebush.

It's not the best marked trail, but it is pretty obvious where you need to go. At one point you will come across a clearing straight ahead, as the trail veers off to the right. The clearing is the site of an old beaver pond. As you continue along the trail, you will see a side path off to the right which would lead you to a helipad site, visible from the tower.

We were expecting much worse for the final stretch which is an approximate 1100 foot elevation change over about a mile. However, the tower actually snuck up on us sooner than expected. Not too difficult for a three mile distance up a mountain that is only 256 ft short of being a high peak! The mosquitoes were more numerous than the black flies, and laughed at the bug spray despite our multiple applications. They weren't biting as much as they were just annoying, reminding me how I need to learn how to breathe with my mouth closed!

At 70 feet tall, this is the second highest standing tower in the Adirondacks - it is the tallest one that is currently climbable! I believe that most of the towers we have climbed had a chicken wire-like netting around each platform, but this does not, so watch your step because it's a long ways down. One platform on the top half of the tower has a loose board, so beware! I had to sit down on the topmost platform; between the wind, the insecurity of no protective chicken wire , and the massive height of the tower, I had my first experience of fire tower vertigo.

Not only did it lack chicken wire protection, but there was a ladder into the cab of the tower as opposed to stairs, and of course the ladder doesn't have anything for protection on the sides either! Before the stairs and landings were built, the ladder used to be the only access to the cab - can you imagine?! While it was bad timing for me to get vertigo 70 feet above the ground, for some reason I was more worried about dropping my camera than anything. Brave sister went up the ladder first, I followed after regaining my balance and breath. There are some amazing views from that high up! We could pick out Snowy Mt, which we had climbed earlier this month. I found the three high peaks that I get confused and can never tell which of the three is Mt. Marcy. The observer's cabin looked like a little Monopoly piece and we could see the helipad through the trees. A graffiti-tainted poster of Smokey the Bear is peeling off the wall of the cab and unfortunately there is some other graffiti inside the cab, but not as bad as other towers that we've been in. One lonely glass window remains, I assume the rest have all been broken.

On land we tried the door to the cabin, which was unlocked. The interior was surprisingly pristine, unusual for an unlocked and unsupervised cabin. With the aid from the flash of our cameras we could see two cots and a night stand in the bedroom. The kitchen table displayed some antique pickle and flour jars.

The hike took four hours including tower, cabin, and sunbathing time, shorter than what we had expected. It was a comfortable temperature and a beautiful day! Check out all the pictures from the hike on my Flickr.

Below is a video that I attempted to make artistically with most of the pictures that I took and a few from Sister's collection. It was inspired by the beautiful views from the tower and brief vertigo spins attributed to my newly found mild fear of heights. The song used is "Sober" by P!nk.

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