When I went up Cobble Hill last summer I did so on a whim, with no idea what to expect. A simple search on Google for Cobble Hill, Lake Placid yields plenty of results, but in none could I find the definitive how-to navigate the labyrinth that begins almost immediately stepping inside the tree-lined perimeter. And so I went, I got lost, I found a way (not the right one), I came up against a large stone wall and I had to return, having scaled nothing but my own ego (I'd dropped it somewhere near the beginning of the hike, probably near where I dropped my keys and my first wrong turn).
I've been defending my lackluster climb since then; "Cobble Hill isn't a hill," I'd say, "It's a corn maze perched on the side of a mountain." But when it comes down to it, I was ill-prepared, out of shape, uninformed and more than that, it was pretty foolish and could have been dangerous. I've walked the woods before, but always on the wide, well-groomed, well-maintained trails of Paul Smiths VIC or Bloomingdale Bog, I've lived in the Adirondacks long enough to know that not all trails are wide enough to drive a car through. In fact, most aren't. Most are just like Cobble and some are even more difficult to navigate. So with a more realistic outlook and a little more preparation, I went back to Cobble Hill. Here's what I learned:
Research & Preparation
With few exceptions (like if you are a very experienced hiker that keeps any and all equipment and plenty of water on your person or in your car at all times) don't ever just decide to hike anything on a whim. Do a little research, make sure you know exactly what you're getting into and make sure it's something you can physically do. This means more than looking at just one web page. As I learned the first time, lots of people have hiked Cobble Hill and written about it, but I have yet to find completely clear instructions on how to find your way (though Lake Placid's trail information is the clearest I've found, even that isn't perfect). Don't just take one person's word for it, shop around for your hike!
Anne's Insight: Don't underestimate the power of incline and elevation. I am by no means an Olympian, but I'm in relatively good shape. I don't smoke, I have a pretty high endurance level and being a lifelong singer with a conservatory education in vocal arts I maintain a naturally high oxygen efficiency. When you add altitude (the vertical distance between where you were and where you are going) and inclination (the angle you are going up) you are changing your body's normal state and using your muscles and lungs in a way you may not be used to.
Once you know where to go, make sure you have everything you need. I found this Adirondack Hiking Guide to be a great resource for hike planning and preparation. Even on short hikes, bottled water, snacks, appropriate footwear and a walking stick play a big part in your safety, your success and your enjoyment!
As I mentioned earlier, hiking trails in the Adirondacks come "Au Naturale". There may be fallen leaves or a tree covering the trail or you might come across a deviation off the trail and it's hard to tell which way to go. While that makes for a great adventure, it also makes it pretty easy to get lost if you don't know what you're looking for. I was lucky this time around in that I'd ventured out into the wilderness with an experienced hiker who could show me where I went wrong and how to choose the right route next time. If you don't have easy access to an experienced hiker, the Adirondacks have a tradition of professional guides who specialize in the knowledge of our mountains. In my experience, if your budget allows, hiring a reputable Adirondack guide, especially on your first hike, is worth every penny. Not only will you benefit from years of experience on your hike but also gain a wealth of information that you can apply to future hikes.
Which way would you choose?
Which way would you choose? This is not an unusual view when hiking in the Adirondacks. If you are faced with a fork in the road, you can tell which is the one less traveled by which trail has more moss. The rocks that are cleaner are the ones that see more traffic and that is most likely your road.
The only way isn't up!
The only way isn't up! Just because you are hiking up, doesn't mean you should always be going in that direction. Trails are cleared different ways for different reasons; maybe to avoid an impasse or maybe to bring you by a particularly scenic view. If you aren't sure where you should be going and have a choice of up or down, a better way to decide would be to compare the moss on the rocks and much debris is embedded in the trail.
Don't Hike Alone
After my glorious failure last year, I was definitely not going to try it alone again. Ideally, one member of your party has hiking experience, but even if you're both new to the activity, having another set of eyes makes a big difference when you're following a trail. Just as important is having a second person available in case of emergencies. Hiking through the Adirondacks is no walk in the park; it isn't manicured, it isn't perfectly cut, it isn't cleared and maintained on a daily basis - that's part of the draw! - but that also means it's a little bit dangerous. A party of two safety minded people ensures that if one person is injured there is another who can get help. Just be careful not to get so wrapped up in your company that you completely miss vital trail marks!
Anne's Insight: Because going down puts less pressure on your lungs it might seem easier, but coming down is just as difficult as going up. Twisting, falling, slipping, and tumbling are all more likely to happen on your descent for several reasons, not the least of which is that it is much easier to misjudge footing when it isn't in or near your line of sight. All the more reason to bring a friend. If you went up alone - make one at the top! Beautiful views and a new friend? Win, win!
With the right preparation and planning, you can enjoy season after season of Adirondack hiking; each affording its own unique charm. Mid-spring is an exciting time of year; despite the occasional snowstorm, winter is gone and although trees may not yet be in bloom, tell-tale signs the Adirondack Mountains are waking up are solidly in place. Summer offers the kinds of temperatures that would please even Goldilocks and with the trees in full bloom, even a rainy day can be enjoyed under the forest canopy. Autumn foliage signals our hiking season is nearing its end, but with fallen leaves obscuring the Adirondack trails there's still time to enjoy your most challenging hikes of the year before the snow falls.
It's a good time to play the Adirondacks, anytime! And Lake House will be here when you're ready to come inside.