Pitchoff Mountain Trail
Region: High Peaks
Town: Keene, New York
Unit: Sentinel Range Wilderness Area
Distance: 4.6 miles
Hiking Time: 5-6 hours
… the first of five minor peaks that comprise Pitchoff Mountain. Ridgelines with multiple peaks do not have seperate mountain names if the prominence of a peak does not exceed 980 feet or 7 to 8 percent relative prominence above the highest saddle or col between peaks. In ridges such as this one, with slight elevation differences between peaks and cols, it’s clear why the distinction between mountains and peaks is useful.
This rocky ridge parallels NY 73 and provides excellent views of the High Peaks wilderness to the south. This is an end-to-end hike and easiest to manage with two cars-or park at one end and catch a ride to the other. There are several steep rock scrambles so be prepared during wet and icy conditions.
A Potentially Painful Anecdote
I hiked this trail shortly after finishing the Big and Little Crow Mountains Trail. It was October 10th and the snow cover on the previous trail was not very deep. However, I had mentally noted it would have been nice to have gloves and planned to bring them on the second hike. After parking on the eastern end of the trail, I was fortunate to almost immediately find a ride to the western end of the trail. However in my haste to catch the lift, I left behind the pair of gloves I was planning to bring with me. I realized my mistake when signing in at the trail register. It was the beginning of October and I figured that it would be warming up since it was later in the day and the snow would melt. I decided gloves might not be completely necessary and a luxury I could forgo. The climb to the first peak was steep but my hands stayed mostly dry and not too cold. However as I made my way down into the first saddle the snow was decidedly deeper. The combination of shade from surrounding trees and the higher elevation meant temperatures were a lot lower and the snow was definitely not melting. In fact, the snow in the saddles was twice as deep as anywhere else.Though not deep enough for snowshoes, it went easily over my boots in some areas. Climbing and scrambling between peaks in often icy conditions meant using my hands a lot and the lack of gloves slowly became a problem as fingers became increasingly numb. Finally I reached a section where the only choice was to fully dig your hands into the snow in order to climb out of the saddle. Without the snow, the climb may have been straight forward, but snow drifts had filled what hand and foot holds there were. This was about half way through the hike and it would be another two hours before I could get my hands warm again.
For those that don’t know, I lost a finger in an accident years ago. This rarely proves to be a problem, but the one lingering nuisance from the accident is that if by some off chance my hand gets too cold or freezes then I experience the sensation of amputation all over again when my hand thaws out. The pain is excruciating to say the least and I avoid it at all costs. I had not reached the level of numbness that brings on the sensation, but I was painfully aware that I was close to the tipping point. Brief waves of phantom pain had coursed over the hand already, but this is the type of pain you grit and bear. The other is enough to bring tears your eyes, make you fall down to your knees and a primal howl of pain is often in order. Needless to say, I cursed myself repeatedly for leaving behind my gloves. I blew onto my icy hand in the meager hopes of coming up with a better solution.
Whether I went forward or turned back I would have to plunge my hands into the snow to climb out of the saddle. The climb really was not that high or long and one I would never consider an obstacle with the use of both hands. I felt ridiculous that I was even contemplating turning back. But like I said, I knew the chill in my hand was at the tipping point. I made a couple attempts to climb the bank with just my good hand. I made another attempt with my good hand and elbow. I came sliding down the bank each time. I concluded I would inevitably reach that level of numbness I dreaded and the only question was would it happen more than once. Going back I figured that it would happen once if not twice but this would mean I would not finish the hike. Going forward I knew it was going to happen at least once but then again it might be a lot more than twice. Ever the optimist, I decided to plunge forward and made one last attempt to climb the sheer snow bank ahead of me without the use of the one hand. As I slid back down to the base I remembered an extra pair of socks I had in my pack. The extra socks were there from the day before when I had hiked around Bear and Woodhull Lakes and were a precaution against the off chance I got my boots wet. To say I was extremely glad when I thought to use them as gloves, is an understatement. With my hands snug inside a pair of winter hiking socks I could pull myself up the bank easily. After making the climb I vowed never to go on an Adirondack trail in October without a couple of pairs of gloves (& socks).
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More Trail Info
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Balanced Rock Lookout
UTM Zone(WGS 84): 18T
Latitude: N 44° 13′ 46.95″
Longitude: W 73° 52′ 40.55″
More GPS Data Coming soon!