Winter is coming, but before the snow sets in for good, I wanted to do another hike of the Fire Tower Challenge in the Adirondacks. So I headed to the northeast of New York state, with the goal of hiking to the top of Lyon Mountain, another mountain on which there is a fire tower!
Lyon Mountain is the most northerly mountain of the challenge, and therefore probably the one closest to the Canadian border. And yet, I waited a long time before doing this hike. This is because Lyon Mountain has a reputation for being one of the toughest hikes of the challenge (it’s also one of its tallest peak), so I wanted to make sure the conditions were right before trying it.
And as the weather over the last few weekends has been rather gloomy, I have postponed this hike several times. Finally, on a fall Saturday when the weather was forecast to be nice and mild, I decided it might be the perfect day to do this hike (and maybe my last chance before winter) so I headed to Lyon Mountain in Clinton County, New York.
The trail to the summit of Lyon Mountain is located in the Chazy Highlands Wild Forest Area. The trailhead can be accessed via a small parking lot, which is located at the end of a dirt road (Lowenburg Road). The trail was recently rebuilt and offers a climb which is now done via a series of switchbacks (whereas the old trail went straight up to the summit). The new trail is longer, but the climb is more gradual and less steep (plus, this trail has been developed in better harmony with the environment).
I didn’t have too much difficulty finding the trailhead, and after a few metres of walking in the forest I arrived at the trail log which I signed, crossed a small stream and officially began my climb towards Lyon Mountain. The only problem: the forecasted sunny day was not quite there.
So it was in the rain that I started this hike. And with all the trees stripped of their leaves, it made the trail look a little gloomy. Fortunately, the climb was gradual and not too difficult, and although there were a few sections that were a bit muddy, I found that I was still progressing at a good pace.
After about two kilometres, I crossed a small stream with some pretty little waterfalls on it, then the rain became a little more intense, so I hurried on. To think that I thought this day was going to be sunny! I had only been hiking for a few minutes and I was now completely soaked! Luckily for me, the rain stopped about a kilometre further on. Which was a good thing, because straight ahead I could see the towering silhouette of Lyon Mountain, and I knew the real climb would soon begin.
At this point, the mixed forest transitioned to a forest composed mainly of spruce and balsam fir. The ground was covered in green moss in places, and sometimes I had to navigate around large rocks. It reminded me a little of Loon Lake Mountain (another mountain of the challenge), except I found the climb less strenuous as it is done in switchbacks along the mountainside.
The rain may had stopped, but the sun still didn’t seem to want to come out. In fact, the higher I went, the more I felt like I was walking into a thick fog. Impossible for me to see the landscape, or to measure the extent of my climb. But I admit that the fog gave a little eerie air to the forest, which I liked.
During the climb, the new trail crosses the route of the old trail a few times. Then, when I only had a few metres left to go, the routes of the two trails come together and that last stretch is therefore on a section of the original trail. This is undoubtedly the most difficult part of the hike. The trail is steep and involves a bit of rock scrambling. There was also a lot of water coming down the trail, making the rocks slippery, and giving me the impression was hiking in a little stream.
But despite my exhausted legs, my wet feet and my general fatigue, I gradually got closer to the summit, and finally, between the trees, I was able to see the silhouette of the fire tower… In fact, it’s quite the only thing I could see in the thick fog!
At an elevation of 1,164 metres (3,820 feet) above sea level, Lyon Mountain is the tallest peak in New York north of the Saranac River. It is also one of the tallest peak in the challenge (only Snowy and Hunter Mountains are taller).
The fire tower dates from 1917 and has been restored, so it is possible to climb it. It seems that on a clear day, it offers an incomparable view: you can see the skyline of Montreal to the north, the Green Mountains of Vermont to the east, as well as the famous High Peaks to the south. But for my part, I could barely see the trees which dot the rocky plateau of the summit.
I waited a little at the summit, to see if the fog would eventually clear (I still had hopes that the forecasted sunny day would become a reality). But the strong wind and cold got the better of me, so I eventually left the summit and started heading back down the same trail. Ultimately, it was a good decision. It started raining again during my descent, and when I returned to my car, almost two hours later, the summit was still covered in heavy clouds.
In total, I hiked about 12 kilometres, with a vertical gain of 602 metres. Maybe it wasn’t the conditions I wanted, but this hike that I was a little dreading ultimately wasn’t as difficult as I expected (it’s just very long… one of my longest in the challenge so far). And it reminded me that it’s not the views at the top that matter, but the journey to get there!