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Little New York Adirondack Peak Features Big Stage

Taking in a view on the way up Mount Jo.

It’s a little mountain with a classic ledgy stage.

Stand on it to see New York’s High Peaks rising tall and proud.

Plus, it’s not all that difficult to reach.

Mount Jo is a much-loved Adirondack peak a few miles from downtown Lake Placid and its Olympic touches from the two times it held the winter contests (first in 1932 and then 1980, in which the much-heralded “Miracle on Ice” U.S.-Soviet Union hockey game took center stage).

The 2,876-foot peak serves up outstanding High Peak views, including one of 5,344-foot Mount Marcy—the state’s tallest—located in the High Peaks Wilderness Area of the expansive 6-million-acre Adirondack Park.

Locals laud it, making the hike a midweek excursion since weekends typically mean an onslaught of hikers packing the Adirondack Loj Road fee-based trailhead parking area near the Adirondack Mountain Club’s High Peaks Information Center.

Location is everything and the 2.3-mile loop hike up Mount Jo is one of those treks attracting the masses (an estimated 14,000 people climb it annually), including many hiking newbies who may or may not be equipped with basics like hiking boots, backpacks, and even food and water. Seasoned hikers might want to pack a bit of patience in their packs for this one that travels through an area devastated by a giant forest fire in 1903.

On a mid-September Sunday afternoon with the first colors of an impending fall highlighting the high woods, we (Maine’s aptly self-described funmeister and writer Carey Kish, his understanding wife Fran Leyman, and I) headed into the forest for the jaunt up some 700 feet. We decided to employ a counter-clockwise approach by using the steep Short Trail to go up, followed by a descent on the Long Trail.

Benches on the shore of Heart Lake invite reflection.

Benches on the shore of Heart Lake invite reflection.

Don’t be lulled into complacency on the first steps along the trail with its soft underfoot gravel. There’s some grunting ahead. But do be cognizant of nearby 640-acre Heart Lake easily spotted through the trees. A traveler can take one of the paths down to its shores, which contain wonderfully placed benches for those who want to contemplate nature while seated in front of a rippling horizon. There’s also a small nature center along the trail hikers may want to pop into, when it’s open.

Not far from the trailhead it’s decision time at a junction, and we took the Short Trail up as planned. We were not alone, the trail contained couples, solo hikers, and families, including a wailing child apparently not enthusiastic about mom and dad’s decision.

The summit is readily reached, but first with a nice side show of a long ledge with teasing views south and also north for those who like to do a little exploration. With a set of wooden stairs and a rock scramble, there it is—the stunning southern view, with Mount Marcy a highlight. There, stare upon Mount Colden and Avalanche Pass. The other 5,000-foot-plus mountain in the High Peaks, Algonquin, stands rigid with Indian Pass. Heart Lake commands the fore while peaks like Cascade, Porter, and Phelps add to the landscape.

The Long Trail, not as well-maintained as the way up, contained some muddy and wet sections but also a young family with two girls. Dad carried the pink backpack while regaling one of his daughters with a story she requested, a breath of fresh air from the wails on the way up.

Soon enough, the family was a memory. Back down, we all had more energy and decided to hike the easy mile-loop around the shores of Heart Lake. We also crossed by an old ski slope and a collection of lean-tos called South Camp before stopping into the rustic 1927-built Adirondack Loj with its moose head above the Great Room’s fireplace, concluding a day of short hikes with big views both inside and out.

Images by Marty Basch

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