Adirondack Life

Switching It Up

The first Adirondack trails were ad hoc routes to get hikers—and particularly fire observers—to the summits ASAP. After twisting past downed trees, boulders, cliffs or water, their lines would straighten right back out. Trails out West generally curve along the contours and use switchbacks to ease their ascents, but not here. Most of our old direct goat paths are still in place.

Ampersand Mountain used to host a fire tower, prominent over Middle Saranac Lake, and has a gentle approach before hitting the thousand-foot wall that guards its summit dome. The original route went straight up, to let the fire observer commute posthaste. It was a rocky, rooty, muddy scramble.

But what goes up must come down—water as well as hikers: the straighter the line, the faster the descent. As Adirondack ramblers multiplied, further scouring trails, so did the HO, craving the shortest distance. Overused, poorly

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