FLT Map: Switzer Hill Rd (M13) east to Sugar Hill Fire Tower (M14)
17.71 miles, 2.9mph avg moving, 2.2mph avg overall, 6h:08m moving, 1h:53m stopped, 8h:01m total time, max elevation 2178ft, total ascent 2281ft,128.80ft/mi. FLT M13,M14
Total trail miles completed to-date: 358.4 (59.9%)
I had originally planned to hike the weekend of October 17, but on Sunday, October 11 I looked at the long-range forecast and decided to change my plans. Monday, October 12 (Columbus Day) was going to be an absolutely gorgeous day, sunny and highs in the low 70’s. The weekend did not look nearly so nice with the possibility of rain and highs only in the mid-to-upper 40’s. Although I know weather forecasts several days out can, and often do, change, I thought that it was unlikely the weather would even be close to as nice as Monday. So I decided to take the day off and take what might be the last hike of the season.
I woke to darkness – it is upstate New York in mid-October after all. Soon the sun was brightening the sky and it looked to be a great day. The morning started out chilly with temps in the mid 40’s. I got my all of my hiking gear loaded into the car and started out on the 1.5 hour drive to Switzer Hill Rd. It was nearing 9:30 am when I arrived at the trailhead.
I had decided to wear jeans and a long-sleeved over-shirt to start out with, but I had packed shorts that I could change into later once it warmed up. I checked the current temperature, it was 47. I pulled my boots on, lifted my pack on to my shoulders, and grabbed my walking stick and started down the road to the trailhead.
(mile 0.0 – 9:45 am) The trail turned left off the Switzer Hill Road from where I had parked and wound through old pine trees. The ground was soft with needles and the air smelled of pine. I came to a small stream and crossed over and found a campsite. The trail took a turn to the left and crossed through a power line right-of-way.
I was beginning to get warm and decided it was time to remove the long-sleeved shirt. I stopped to change and then continued on feeling much cooler. The trail continued a gradual climb up along the spine of a hill heading north and in a nearly straight line. When the trail began to descend (mile 2.6 – 10:46 am) I decided to take a break and change into shorts, the temp was now near 60 and I was getting warm. After changing and a bit of granola bar and some water I started down the trail. The trail left the woods and descended into a field on a path that had been recently mowed. I looked to my left to see an incredible view, a small lake nestled down in the valley surrounded by the brilliant colors of the fall. It was spectacular.
After taking several photos I continued on down the mowed path and found myself in the side yard next to a house (mile 3.0 – 11:16 am). At first I thought I might have missed a turn, but then I saw the white tag of the FLT hanging on a tree further down the yard. I kept to the edge of the yard and started down towards the road. I hadn’t seen the dog in the back yard tied to a chain, but he announced himself by barking wildly and jumping at his chain; I nearly jumped out of my skin. He looked like he really wanted to come play and go on the walk with me; I am sure that he would have if he could have gotten free.
I continued down the yard to the road while the dog’s barking receded behind me and crossed Sugar Hill Rd. I walked up along a row of trees bordering a field, the trees to my left and the field opening to my right, and then turned into the trees still continuing straight north. The trail climbed up and then turned to the right to deliver me out into a field. I continued to climb up the field and paused to catch my breath near the top (mile 3.3 – 11:25 am). I looked back and was stunned by an even more spectacular view than I had seen earlier. I was at a higher elevation and was able to see more of the surrounding hills. I stopped and took several more photos and then continue on up the field.
The trail reached the top end of the field and turned to the left. I continued on and found several more spots to take more photos. The views from the fields were amazing and I spent a lot of time taking pictures, so much so that my average pace dropped below what I needed in order to make my entire planned trek. I took one last photo and moved on now needing to make up some time.
The trail turned again, this time to the right, and continued up along yet another field before finally reaching the end of the field and entering the woods once again. It continued a gradual climb over the top of the hill before turning to the left and following along an old logging road. Soon after I came to a pair of signs, one pointed to straight ahead to a vista, the other to the right for the trail (mile 4.4 – 11:56 am). I continued on ahead to check out the vista for about 200 feet and found an old cemetery, the grave markers displayed dates from the 1800’s. On the far side of the cemetery was another incredible view. I took a few more photos and then head back to the trail.
The trail descended quickly and came to CR 22. I crossed the road pausing to take a picture from the middle of the road.
I continue along the path under the warm sun with the crunching leaves under my boots. The trail opened into a stand of trees with bright yellow and gold leaves against the deep blue sky behind. After crossing a small stream the trail began to climb and crossed over a small seasonal use dirt road. The trail continued climbing up and made a few switchbacks at the steeper sections before finally crossing Maple Lane (mile 6.2 – 12:42 pm).
At Maple Lane I followed the blazes through a parking area and back into the woods. I had made up time and my pace was now back to where it needed to be. Sunset was at 6:33 pm and I calculated that I needed to turn around by 2 pm. I wasn’t sure I would have time to take the side trip up to Sugar Hill Fire Tower, I would have to wait and see what the time was when I got to the trail junction.
I reached the trail junction around 1:20 pm – I would have enough time to head up to the fire tower. I moved up the trail to the tower at a good pace; even though I had enough time, I didn’t have so much time that I could walk leisurely. I reached the tower about 15 minutes later and dropped my pack and sat down near the base of the tower (mile 8.8 – 1:36 pm). I took out my lunch and some water and took a much deserved lunch break.
While I ate my lunch a boy, of about twelve, and his grandfather came over and started up the tower. They asked me if I had been up to the top of the tower, I told them that a couple of months ago I had, but not yet today. They stopped climbing after going up a few flights; it can be a little unnerving, especially if you are not fond of heights. The grandfather came back down, but the boy was determined to go higher. I waited for the grandfather to make his way down and then headed up – I am not fond of heights either, but I wanted to get the photos from the top. I passed the boy at a landing about 3/4 of the way up.
The tower stands around 75 feet tall from base to tip, and the floor of the observation deck is about 68 feet up. I reached the observation deck and found that it was open, although there was no one at the top. The wind had picked up while I was hiking and was making the tower shake a little, so I quickly took a few photos and started back down. I passed the boy again and this time he was headed up to the top.
I took a few more photos from the base and then put my camera back in its case. I picked up my pack and prepared to head back. It was now a little after 2 pm and I knew I would have to keep a good pace if I were to make it back to the car before sunset.
I quickly found myself back at the junction for the trail to the fire tower. I moved quickly along the trail as the leaves crunched under my feet. I very much wanted to get out my hammock and sling it up between two trees and take a little nap in the warm sun, but unfortunately there was no time for it.
I crossed Maple Lane and then found myself back at CR 22 (mile 12.7 – 3:30 pm). I climbed up to the split in the trail for the vista. I checked my pace and found I had gained some time; if I continued at my current pace I would get back to my car around 6 pm. So I headed back out to the vista to take a couple more photos and then headed back to the trail. Before I knew it I found myself crossing into the fields again. It had warmed up to around 75 and I was glad to have a hat on while walking in the fields with the sun beating down.
I crossed over the fields with the amazing views and paused briefly to get a few more photos (mile 13.9 – 4:07 pm). And then I was back on Sugar Hill Road. I remembered the yard and the dog and wondered he was still out; he was. As I came up the side of the yard he started barking and jumping; he so very much wanted to come and join me. I turned onto the mowed path through the field and found myself at the first view I had come to earlier in the day. I turned and took a few more photos before climbing up the trail into the woods.
The trail climbed up from here for a short distance before reaching the top of the hill. Once I reached the top of the hill I stopped and took a short break (mile 14.6 – 4:27 pm), some water and another granola bar. I only had about three miles left to go. After a short rest I moved on following the spine of the hill and gradually descending towards Switzer Hill Road.
The shadows were deepening and the getting longer in the woods now as the sun got lower. It was still warm, but I could feel the air starting to cool. I crossed the power line right-of-way again and knew I was almost back to my car. The trail turned to the right and entered the pine forest. I found the campsite and then crossed over the small stream. A few minutes later I emerged on to Switzer Hill Road and tuned to my right to see my car (mile 17.7 – 5:37 pm). A short walk to the car and I was finished. I stowed my pack back in the car and changed out of my boots and started the car for the long drive home.
The sun set as I drove home and lit up a cluster of clouds that had formed, making them glow. It had been a perfect day for a hike and I was glad I had decided to take the day, especially since it would probably be the last hike of the season – the weather would soon turn colder and hunting season would start. I would have the winter to plan for the hikes of next year.