To celebrate Earth Day, Paula and I took the day off from work to be outdoors and hiked a section of the Tongue Mountain Range. We had wanted to complete these six peaks during the winter season but time got away from us. I secretly had been dreading this range because Paula had hiked it years ago and kept mentioning the relentless ups and downs. Also: rattlesnakes. I had also wanted to hike this range last Autumn as a training run for my ultra but was too afraid to do it solo because all of the recent trail reports mentioned multiple sightings of rattlesnakes. Yeah, no thank you.
Hiking this range in late April was the perfect time to go, here’s why:
The views! The trees didn’t have any buds on them whatsoever so you had views of Lake George for almost the entire day.
We parked at the Clay Meadows Parking lot and headed down into the woods at 7:34AM. Within a short distance, we were crossing a man-made bridge over a swampy area, with a beaver dam to the left and two ducks swimming along, minding their biz. I don’t know how this caught my eye but I saw a painted turtle stuck in the dam! Hims was stuck in a vertical position and with his legs and head up in the air. I sprung into action and walked out on the damn (luckily it was very sturdy) and freed the little fellow. Good deed of the day done!
The hike up the red trail was beautiful – while a steady incline, there were many gorgeous waterfalls along the way. We stopped a number of times to take photographs and take in all of the green; it was a welcome, Spring sight! During this section of the trail we heard an owl and I spotted my first orange salamander of the season.
Before long (2.6 miles), we were at our first junction of the day: we now had to follow the blue trail toward 5th Peak. We followed the signs to the lean-to, unsure if that would lead us to the summit, and it did! It also lead us to our first set of views for the day.
This would be a wonderful spot to camp out at – I’d consider it next spring! There’s even a privy! We took five minutes to grab a bite to eat and take a look at the map; we decided to bushwhack down to the trail to head over to French.
I didn’t take any photographs along this section but I don’t remember it being difficult (any part of the hike really). It took us about an hour at an easy pace (no rush on this day) to make it over to French Peak and once again we were rewarded with sunshine and more views. We sat down to eat our lunches (it was 11AM) and couldn’t stop saying, “this is a perfect day!”
The trail from French to First Peak again took us about an hour, stopping once to admire all of the frog eggs and salamanders in a vernal pool. There were so so many eggs, and they must have been fairly new because they were only but tiny black specks. (Sometimes you can see the tadpoles moving around in them.) There were more – you guessed it – views along the way and this was about the time that I mentioned I could see why it was an attractive area to rattlesnakes. There was less tree cover and more and more sections of exposed rock = warmth. We didn’t stay on the summit of First too long because we had just eaten and we knew we had a number of miles to still cover in the day.
This is where the trail starts to go down down down – nothing too tricky but being my first long Spring hike of the year, a couple of spots did have me scooting down on my butt to avoid tripping. Gotta re-learn to trust the boots! We saw a deer running off in the distance, many robins, one red winged black bird, a big-ass spider that took my breath away scurrying under some leaves, some minnows and Paula wiped a tick off of her pants. So much wildlife!At the base of the range around mile 8, there’s a second junction. We opted out from visiting Monticalm Point and headed back toward the lot, still following the blue trail. This section was right along the lake! The day was starting to get a little warm but the breeze off the water kept us comfortable. AND kept the annoying flies away. Win! There are less trail markers on this side of the range but we easily stayed on track. We even saw the remains of a deer! The trail had rolling hills, nothing that made me stop and question what the heck I was doing out there and despite my feet starting to ache, my spirits were high.
While Paula and I were in conversation, me following her, I saw this HUGE shadow appear on the ground. Paula immediately stopped and my gaze was up toward the sky: a bald eagle! I see them often on my runs in Cohoes but this one was fairly close. She had seen it too and gave me a hug: such a good day!
But it gets better! As we were approaching bear point, we started to hear loons calling to each other. I had never heard them mid-day! The peepers were peeping, we saw a frog at one of the water crossings (nothing too tricky) and then we saw it again: the bald eagle flying and swooping around the point. I had once heard that seeing a bald eagle fly was good luck; that it signifies that it’s watching over you like a protective guardian and also symbolizes power and freedom – the stamina to unearth your capabilities and the liberty to move ahead triumphantly. I Googled that list bit and it confirms what I had previously heard, ha! Nonetheless, is was a beautiful sight and a great way to wrap up a great day / hike. We were back at the car by 4:30PM with 13 miles on my watch.
I loved this hike and can’t wait to go back and hike the other three peaks – but I can promise you it won’t be when the snakes are out!