Winter Fire Tower Challenge
Azure Mountain lies nestled in the foothills of Franklin County, tucked away on a dirt road just awaiting the vast number of visitors that climb its slopes each year. Corenne and I had never climbed Azure in the winter, and as we work our way through the winter Fire Tower Challenge we decided it was about that time. For us it is a very long drive to get up to the Hamlet of Santa Clara; we planned an early rise to the sounds of the roosters in our head, but the comfort of our bed won over this battle. It was March 21st, the final day of the winter climbing season, even though spring had officially arrived the day prior. Even with this early solstice, climbing lists like the Fire Tower Challenge and the Adirondack 46ers recognize the 21st as being the final day each year.
Blue Mountain Road
I had the worry that Blue Mountain Road on the Paul Smiths side would end up being a seasonal use road leaving it unmaintained in winter, after doing a bit of research on the web, I could find nothing to support or argue my hypothesis. We decided to give it a go anyhow, and if for nothing else, at least we would know for future reference and to share with others. I was correct, sure it happens now and again, but there it is. The road was a limited-use road during the winter and unmaintained through March. And, according to the GPS, roughly 10-miles short of the trailhead. A bit disappointed in the outcome, we turned around and followed Route 30 north toward the northern end of Blue Mountain Road just south of St. Regis Falls. Off Route 30 we followed Route 458 to where Blue Mountain Road comes in on the left and crossed our fingers that this end would be plowed to the trailhead.
Blue Mountain Road quickly turned from paved to a wash-boarded and pothole-infested dirt back road. Partially covered in slush and mud, we had to crawl to the trailhead in order to not rattle loose the body from the frame of our car. The road was plowed and we were relieved to find even the trailhead parking that sets a couple hundred feet off the main road was cleared.
Just say NO to post-holes
The trial was hard-packed under us and the trail register was full, this little peak gets some serious activity all year long. The major problem on this day is that the trail has been post-holed and quite heavily, too. With well over a foot of snow still on the ground the prior users had made holes as deep as 10-inches along most of the trail. This trail gets traffic from all kinds of users including snowshoers, back-country skiers, and ice climbers. Who is to fault? It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that snowshoes should be used, period! This divots, holes, and craters that get produced by those not using snowshoes are a danger to all. These holes will refreeze and become hazards to users. At times the holes will get filled in again with fresh powder hiding their whereabouts and then users will step in the holes and possibly get injured. Even when not covered by new snow, it is a danger for twisting ankles, tweaking joints, and even serious crashes by skiers. Please, for everyone’s sake, use snowshoes, respect the trails, and follow simple trail etiquette for future users.
The climbOnce on the trail we didn’t lose a step as we passed by frozen wetlands, patches of half busied brambles, and a large area of foraged trees; foraged by porcupine whose habitat rests in the caves, and crevasses of nearby rocky landscapes. The trees had been thoroughly debarked by the hungry creatures, which I now hoped would be resting in their homes, for my dog’s sake. We saw neither hide nor hair of the porcupines residing in the area and no strong musky scent to attract Abby to their whereabouts.
A winter storm was moving through, the dark blue sky alerted us to its incoming presence. As we climbed the snow and winds began to increase; so much that we didn’t see the tower until we were literally a stone's throw from the footers. Winter was still here and Mother Nature wanted us to be aware of that fact. We opted not to climb one of the smaller towers in the Adirondacks; the added 50 feet of elevation above the trees would only nip our cheeks and not give us any better viewing opportunities. Myself, I am a glutton for punishment. I wanted to visit the balanced boulder on the face of the mountain and was willing to battle the incoming chill to do so. I pushed myself downhill into the winds, down a wooden staircase that seemed to lead right off the mountainside; Abby to my surprise joined me. Not a fan of cold weather, maybe she felt the need to keep an eye on me, and maybe protect me from the elements if need be.The summit snow, hard packed from the gale force winds, supported my larger stature; I could see the boulder in the near distance taunting me. I was satisfied, and after collecting a few shots I wasted no time in retreating to the shelter of the trees. Our descent was quick and painless at first, wishing we had remembered our butt-sleds for a faster trip. The pace slowed once we reached the holes - this must be what it is like walking through a field of land mines. The ride home surely would warrant a stop at Well-Dressed Foods for a decaf Americana and fresh gluten-free piece of goodness.