I really enjoyed my hikes over the last few weeks, but I was very happy to be back in the Adirondacks, and to continue my Fire Tower Challenge! And for this return to this mountainous region that I love so much, I decided to tackle Poke-O-Moonshine, a small mountain located a few miles south of Plattsburgh.
In fact, my partner and I passed by the mountain when we were driving on Interstate-87 recently on our way to Connecticut. From the highway, you can even see the metallic silhouette of the fire tower at the top of the mountain in the distance. It was enough to make me want to come back, and that’s what I did a few weeks later!
There are two trails that go to the top of Poke-O-Moonshine: the Observer’s Trail, a trail of approximately 7 kilometres (4.8 miles), which is newer and slightly longer but offers an easier climb, and the Ranger Trail, a trail of approximately 5 kilometres (2.4 miles), shorter but steeper and more difficult. Access to both trails is along Route 9. Because I enjoy physical challenges (especially after my recent challenging hike to the summit of Mount Lafayette), I decided I would follow the Ranger Trail to get to the summit of Poke-o-Moonshine.
It appears that the mountain’s particular name comes from the Algonquin words pohqui and moosie, which mean “broken” and “smooth” (a possible reference to the exposed rock face of the mountain). This rock face is one of the reasons why Poke-O-Moonshine is so popular: its rock cliffs are considered among the best for rock climbing in the Adirondacks.
The hike on the Ranger Trail begins almost at the foot of these cliffs. In the forest, the trail gained elevation almost immediately and took me around many large rocks. I initially thought they were large erratic blocks, but I later learned that they were actually pieces of the cliff that water, ice and gravity eventually caused to fall over the last centuries.
From there, the climb got a little steeper. In fact, in some places, the trail almost looks like a long rocky stairway. The Adirondack Mountain Club did that trail work to slow down erosion, but also to allow better water flow, and thus limit muddy sections (although there were still some sections where there was a little mud and water on the trail, as well as some more slippery rocks).
I really liked how well laid out this trail is. At one point, the stone stairway runs along the rocky cliff, giving the impression of climbing up along it. In another place, wooden stairs were built to help climbing above a large rock. The trail is not very technical, but it definitely offers an interesting physical challenge.
And in several places along the trail, the view opens up to offer a look at the landscape. The horizon was a little foggy on this summer morning, but the Adirondack mountain landscape was, as usual, magnificent.
The trail flattened out a bit at the point where the Ranger Trail and the Observer’s Trail join, just before arriving at the ruins of the old fire tower keeper’s cabin. The cabin would have been built in 1936 and have been destroyed by lightning in 1996. The foundations and the chimney of the cabin are still clearly visible in the forest.
I have to note here that I really liked that this trail also served as an interpretation trail and that I was able to learn a lot about the history, geology and ecology of the mountain. There are leaflets with information at the trailhead, and a descriptive sheet near the ruins. As I said above, this trail is really well laid out and my nerdy side really enjoyed learning all kind of facts about the mountain.
The climb resumed after this short interlude, with a few more sections that looked like stone stairs. Then the trail flattened out again, and it became a bit less rocky but a little muddier, then there was one last big rock to climb on and suddenly, between the trees I could finally see the metallic structure of Poke-O-Moonshine Fire Tower! I had reached the top of the mountain!
At an elevation of 664 metres (2,180 feet), Poke-O-Moonshine is one of the smallest mountains in the Fire Tower Challenge. But the view at the top is incomparable. The rocky promontory offers a magnificent view of the Lake Champlain valley (it is possible to see the lake on a clear day) and of the small mountains of the eastern Adirondacks. To the southwest, you can see the famous High Peaks. The sheer cliffs of the mountain give the impression of being at a dizzying height.
The fire tower at the top of the mountain was built in 1912, and remained in use until 1988. I was looking forward to climbing it to see what the view looked like from the top of the tower, but when I arrived at the end of the stairs, I was surprised to find that the access door to the cabin was locked… I’m not sure why that was the case, but I guess the view from the top of the tower will be for another time!
But hey, I had reached the summit of my fifth mountain of the challenge, and what’s more, I was able to enjoy the summit and the landscape to myself for a few minutes before other hikers arrived.
I came back down on the same trail. The descent was not too difficult. The path is steep, but well laid out, so it felt like going down a long stone staircase. In total, my hike totaled approximately 6 kilometres (3.7 miles) with an elevation gain of 380 metres (1,246 feet). And as usual, this hike in the Adirondacks made me look forward to the next ones even more!