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Old 04-13-2017, 09:50 PM   #1
Trail Boss
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Lone on Lyon. 2017-04-09

Photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHskV1ZA9N

I honestly cannot recall, with a degree of certainty, if I have hiked Lyon in the past. My only memory of it is driving past the imposing walls of Dannemora State Prison along route 374. My best guess is I was probably en route to Lyon. Beyond that, I can't remember a single thing about it! Given this very nebulous recollection, it was high time I paid it a visit to set the record straight. In addition, it was an 'achieveable goal' in light of the fact I hadn't hiked in six weeks.

Instead of driving from Montreal to Plattsburgh and then heading west past Dannemora, I decided to follow a more "direct route" using smaller highways and county roads. Aside from one wrong turn, it worked out fine, more or less. It was certainly more scenic than the prison.

The one-mile access road to the parking area (Lowenburg Road) was covered in snow and impassable to vehicles. A few deep ruts indicated someone had tried it but didn't get very far. Several cars had already taken the choice parking spots so I parked alongside county road 29.

The temperature was a balmy 10 C (50 F). I left at noon under a bright blue sky. It felt great to be out in the fresh air again.


Lyon peeks above the trees along Lowenburg Road.

It was my first trip with new hiking poles. The old set of carbon-fiber poles had one torn grip, two two failed locks, and two broken shafts mended with lots of tape. The tape prevented the shafts from retracting so they could no longer be easily stowed. Their many dings and scratches were testimony to being my stoic companions for over six years and hundreds of peaks. Parting with them felt like abandoning old friends but they were overdue for retirement. The new ones worked like a charm.

Upon reaching the parking area I paused to put on snowshoes. I greeted the only skier I'd see all day. From the tracks I saw later, my guess is he had skied down the old Lyon Mountain Trail.

Within 300 yards of the parking area, I turned left onto the (new) Lyon Mountain Trail and paused to sign-in at the trail-register. I noted that there were eight people ahead of me (in three groups).

The snow's consistency varied from supportive to "mashed potatoes". Someone ahead of me (who I would meet later) had chosen to bare-boot the trail. The churned, pock-marked and post-holed surface indicated bare-boots weren't the best choice for the conditions. Some of the post-holes ran deep into underlying water. Not the fastest and most comfortable way to travel.


Snowy mashed potatoes thoroughly churned by bare-boots.

One indicator of an Adirondack trail's age is the presence of switchbacks. Traditional, old-time trails run straight up the fall-line. This design is efficient but rapidly erodes/evolves into a new stream. New trails zig-zag up the mountain (switchbacks) to maintain a gentle grade and resist erosion. The (new) Lyon Mountain Trail employs many switchbacks and is about one and a quarter miles longer than the old one.

Being early April, the trees were still leafless so I was afforded views of frozen Chazy Lake. Otherwise, in summer, I imagine there's not much to see along this trail as it lazily winds its way up the mountain, always at an easy grade.

Upon reaching coniferous woods, it started to rain. Not water falling out of the sky but from snow melting in the overhead fir boughs. I was wearing a single baselayer and the cold shower almost made me put on a rain jacket. Almost.

I emerged at the broad and open intersection of the new and old trails where there was momentary respite from icy drippings. It was also where I met a young couple descending from the summit. They appeared to be in good spirits despite their laborious and unsteady post-holing. I quipped that they'd be more than willing to buy my snowshoes right about now. The young man chuckled and replied he couldn't afford them. We wished each other well and went our separate ways.


Chazy Lake and distant wind farm.

Now on the old trail, I headed straight up the mountain. The "rain" continued unabated and I passed four descending snowshoers all tightly sealed in rain jackets. I met one more descending couple at the summit. Perfect timing because now I had it all to myself.

I waymarked the location of the fire tower and took a selfie on a nearby mound of rock. Hanging around the fire tower was out of the question. It was coated in ice that was rapidly melting in the sunshine. Icy projectiles riccocheted off the superstructure and threatened to ding nearby noggins. I retreated to the exposed rocks on the north side, safe from flying ice and the chilly wind.


Lyon mountain's fire tower.

I paused to add a few layers and gobble up my lunch. Despite the atmospheric haze, I could discern the outline of mountains in Quebec, especially Mont St-Hilaire. Spotting Montreal was a matter of locating Mont-Royal and the nearby skyscrapers in the downtown core.


Identifying Montreal's landmarks on the northern horizon.

Even though the distance from Lyon to Montreal and Mount Mansfield are approximately the same (84 km/52 miles), visibility to the east was better and both snowy Mansfield and Camel's Hump were easy to spot. Just to the left of Camel's Hump, on the far horizon, I could discern the snowy summit of faraway Moosilauke (New Hampshire; 117 kms/110 miles).

I returned to the fire tower and carefully ascended its icy staircase. The final flight of stairs leading to the hatch looked like someone had dumped several buckets of ice cubes. While paying attention to my feet I forgot about my head and bumped it on the low ceiling. A few more stairs to clear and I was through the hatchway and in the cab.


Squeezing through the icy hatch.

It was worth the effort because I now had a clear view to the south and could see Dix, Gothics, Whiteface, Algonquin, and several other major peaks.


Icy curtains.

After descending from the fire tower I decided to try to reach the true summit of Lyon as depicted on maps. The conifers were dense and exceedingly wet. I bushwhacked within 200 feet of the summit before I decided I was no longer having fun and backtracked. My souvenir of this side-trip was a pair of cold, wet pants. No matter, they'd dry out during the descent.

I zipped down the old trail for a quarter-mile and stopped at the junction with the new trail. It swung left (north) into the woods and bore no evidence of anyone's passage. This section of the new trail appeared to have been bypassed by everyone for a long time. Seeing that I was recording a track of my trip, I had to explore this section.

I think I know why people skip this portion. It takes 0.3 miles to end up in the same place the old trail covers in 0.1 miles. The extra 0.2 miles is comprised of switchbacks. This kind of trail is rare in the Adirondacks and I learned it can be quite challenging to follow when the snow is pristine.

On two occassions I had to backtrack to convince myself I was still on the trail. In two other instances, I was thoroughly stumped and just plowed downhill while searching for markers. This gambit usually worked because invariably I was "shorting a switchback" and would intersect the trail. I then walked back up the trail, to the point where I originally lost it, so I could learn from my mistake. Covering this 0.3 miles of trail, in this manner, took a great deal longer than if I had simply barreled down the 0.1 miles of the old trail!

Upon intersecting the old trail, I chose to follow it out. It was marked by ski and snowshoe tracks and riddled with post-holes. Fortunately, the trail is wide and I wasn't obligated to snowshoe over the post-holes.

The balance of the descent was uneventful except for the nagging pain on my right heel. I've worn through the linings of my old boots but that usually doesn't cause problems. However, on this trip, I felt a constant gnawing at my right heel. I was too lazy to do anything about it. At one point during the descent it changed to a sharp pain and I figured that's when the blister broke. Later, back at the car, I inspected it and confirmed the nickel-sized blister had torn open. That's what laziness gets you.

I paused at the trail-register to sign out and then cruised down Lowenburg Road back to my car. After patching up my blister, I settled in for the drive home, made a wrong turn, and ended up in the middle of a wind farm! Overall, quite a fun day!


Along route 190, south of Altona, NY.


Map: http://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=15/44.7144/-73.8451
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Last edited by Trail Boss; 04-14-2017 at 07:12 AM.. Reason: Typos!
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