Allen Mountain

I’ve consistently seen Allen Mountain ranked as one of the toughest climbs in the Adirondack High Peaks in all of the research I’ve done preparing for climbs over the years and it’s definitely developed a mythical place in 46er lore. I’ve seen numerous reasons why people disliked climbing Allen ranging from length of the climb, to tough trail conditions, confusing directions, or lack of payout at the summit. All of the negative comments regarding the hike kind of lead us put this climb off until the very end, but since Chris and I were sitting on peak #44, it became time for us to finally take a crack at Allen this summer.

We set off around 5 AM on a weekday in July, knowing we’d have a tough 18 mile day to get to the wooded summit of Allen. Nothing about the thought of climbing to Allen that early in the morning was particularly appealing, but we were getting so close to finishing the 46 that it made the task seem just a little bit more exciting than it normally would be. Going into this hike, we weren’t even sure if we would really be able to do this climb successfully because there was a forecast for storms for that day. I told Chris point blank that climbing Allen under a chance of storms would be uncomfortable and borderline dangerous because of the notoriously slippery final ascent of Allen, and the muddy conditions present on the flat sections of the climb, but luckily the storms had passed the night before and the forecast had improved. I knew in the back of my head that even if the skies were nice for the day, the ground was still going to be wet and treacherous, and let’s just say that Allen didn’t disappoint at all!

 

We managed to get to the trailhead by about a quarter to 8, which would give us plenty of time to get the hike completed in daylight, barring any catastrophic injuries or bear encounters. While driving in, Chris put the over/under of how many people we were going to see on the trail at 4.5, and while I took the under, I was adamant we would see at least one other party doing the hike on a nice summer day. The ADK 46 is getting pretty popular and even on the most remote hikes on the randomest days of the week, there always a good chance of running into other hikers doing the same thing you’re trying to do. It didn’t take us any more than a few seconds to see somebody else pull up to the trailhead trying to hike Allen too, so my theory about hiking in the High Peaks in 2017 was proven right immediately. We quickly signed in, and got going on what would be a long day’s work getting to the summit.

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After only walking for a few minutes from the trail register, we already reached the bridge to cross over the Hudson River. Once we reached the other side of the river, the trail quickly deteriorated into a muddy, bog-like condition on and off for a while. We spent the majority of our day trying not to get our boots stuck too badly in the mud, but it was unavoidable and deep in certain spots. The mud deterred our pace a little, but luckily there were some spots on the trail that managed to be a bit better than others. The trail around Lake Jimmy had some nice bog bridging, even though I must admit it would’ve been a little cooler (not to mention quicker) to be able to walk across the lake on bridging, and the trail around the Mount Adams trailhead had some interesting cabins to explore. We stopped to check out the cabins for a brief moment then continued on past Adams.

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This was pretty typical of this day

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The trail descending towards Lake Sally was extremely muddy and eroded to the point where there were clearly established cut-arounds in the woods next to the trail. I do understand the mystique of climbing Allen from Upper Works given all of the hardships needed to get to it, but I’m 100% in favor of the DEC developing another trail to get to Allen from the south because this trail is hardly sustainable anymore. We begrudgingly made our way through the slop and ended up on another one of the old logging roads in that section of wilderness. The nice gravel road that the trail follows along the Opalescent offers some nice respite from the muddy conditions, and it offers some interesting glimpses into the logging past of the woods. As you walk through there, you can make out faint logging roads and old paths that have long since been abandoned, which are some of the only exciting points of interest on the way to the herd path. After passing a steel gate and continuing on, we crossed the Opalescent River on a nice new hanging bridge instead of fording the river like you would’ve had to before. Even though our boots were already wet enough by this point, it was still nice to be able to cross on a bridge versus going over the river, so we do have to give a special shout-out to the trail crews for working diligently on such a remote trail as the East River Trail is.

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Follow this sign to the bridge over the Opalescent

 

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Bridge Crossing the Opalescent

 

 

The trail junction leading into the true herd path towards Allen were much easier to find than I had expected. The East River Trail does not seem to be travelled beyond the Allen turn off that frequently, to the extent that the established trail actually seamlessly leads off into the direction of Allen without even looking like much of a trail beyond that point. From this easy turn off it’s only maybe a tenth of a mile (probably less than that actually) until you reach a dirt road where this trail ends. You can basically see the gravel pit where you sign in to hike the herd path from this junction to the left, so all you really have to do is turn quickly towards the left and you’re at the start of the climb. We took a quick break at the herd path right around 10 AM or so and let the groups behind us actually go ahead. In my mind, it would be nice to see some fresh foot prints on the trail anyway in case it got hard to follow, but it really wasn’t a problem following the herd path for the most part, even though it certainly wasn’t the best defined or best maintained path in that part of the woods. The 13 point plan that I jotted on a piece of paper from a list I found on a forum was fairly helpful as we got on to the meandering herd path. I followed along every milestone I should see on the way, and it allowed me to pace the climb nicely and keep at ease as we moved through the thick woods west of the peak of Allen. Despite the rain, none of the brooks we had to cross along the way were in any way hard to rock hop, and even the mud levels on the herd path were no worse than the ones on the “maintained” trail to the base of the climb. In about an hour and a half’s time, maybe a little bit less, we reached the waterfall on Allen Brook where we stopped for a second to gear up for what would be a taxing final ascent to the top.

 

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so helpful…

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Turn left at the cairn towards the herd path for Allen

 

 

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Walking towards the clearing marking the beginning of the herd path

 

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As Chris dunked his hat in the waterfall like he typically does on a hot day like this, I took out the map for a second to get a general idea of where we were. It looked from the point where Allen Brook drains into Skylight Brook that there would be roughly one more mile to go to the summit, and almost all of it would be steep and unrelenting. This is where I knew we would have to start being careful because all trip reports I’ve seen indicated that the rock along Allen Brook is unusually slippery, and if you’re not careful you could find yourself going on an unwanted slip and slide ride on jagged rock. I kept this in mind as I made my way up the trail as it swerved on and off the rock faces and into the woods numerous times. I made sure to stay off of the reddish colored rock because that would be the spots where there would be little to no grip. It was hard to get around the running water and slippery rock, but taking it one step at a time made it doable. At one part the trail ended up on a drier, gravelly spot where you could get a good view on the slope you had just climbed. I took a seat on a smooth boulder and looked behind to see where Chris was at, because I didn’t hear him behind me at all. So I sat and waited looking down the trail for a good minute, but still there was no sign of Chris. Even though I’m admittedly less athletic, I do tend to get a little bit ahead of him as he films portions of the blog, especially if I have some good leg strength like I did on this day, but I kind of thought that he shouldn’t have fallen that far behind me under these conditions, so I decided to walk a little ways back down until I managed to see the reflection of the sun off his sunglasses as he climbed up. I never really get too worried on these climbs, but the conditions on Allen might be some of the most dangerous in the High Peaks, so I did get a bit concerned for a second that he went for one of those unwilling water slide rides I’d referenced before. Sure enough, once Chris caught up to me  he told me just that, that he took a fall and if not for a helpful tree root, he would’ve went flying down the mountain in the wrong direction. His hip was hurting pretty bad from the fall, and his elbow was decently cut up as well, but he said there was no way we’d be turning around this close to the summit. I wouldn’t personally recommend continuing climbing if you’re in pain, but we’d been anticipating this climb for a long time and we were pretty close to the summit, so we just took our time and made it up as fast as he could manage.

 

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Ouch.

 

I figured we should stop and regroup for a second, but Chris said it was better for him just to keep pushing through it anyway because his hip would just start locking up, so he really just powered through until we reached the summit. It was probably the least triumphant we’d ever felt reaching the summit of a high peak, but we were just happy to finally get to the top of Allen!

The summit of Allen was just as non-descript as it’s billed to be, just a height of land in the woods with a plaque on a tree. There is, however, a very nice lookout to the northeast of the summit with pretty cool views of the surrounding mountains like Haystack and the lower great range, so all-in-all it’s actually not the worst summit of are of the High Peaks (Blake still wins that competition I think, though Couchsachraga is a close second). The lookout was a nice spot to stop and enjoy the summit before heading back down into the sloppy descent and long walk out that was between us and the parking lot. The group ahead of us on the mountain was happy enough to offer us some first aid supplies, as I hadn’t packed too much with me for the hike, so Chris bandaged up his cuts as best as he could and it didn’t end up being too serious of an issue from that point on. One thing is for certain though; I’m definitely bringing a better stocked first aid kit next time just in case of emergency. We may have spent 15 minutes on the summit overall since we were a bit too anxious about the descent to really enjoy the triumph of reaching another peak, and we headed back down eager to get that slippery descent behind us.

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1 To Go!

 

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Going down the steep section of Allen was just as treacherous, and on the way down was my opportunity to wipe out as well. I decided I was going to walk across a stream instead of finding a drier route, and I did my best Charlie Brown kicking a football impression, falling flat on my pack faster than I could even realize what was happening. It was a bit of a wake-up call to really slow the pace to a crawl, and we spent the rest of the descent taking it at an extremely casual pace. Once we reached the waterfall again we both breathed a sigh of relief knowing our risk of further injury just decreased significantly. We both really bemoaned the standing water and mud on the trails coming in, but to a small extent we welcomed the return of the mud over the slippery rocks by that point. We kept going after stopping for a second, and went on for a while before we made our way back to the herd path trail register right around 4 PM.

It was a tiring and frustrating walk back to the car after all of the slipping and sliding of the day, but we trudged on nonetheless. This was one of those moments where you wish you could just snap your fingers and be back at the trailhead, but no, we had to drag ourselves back unassisted (sigh). It was an extremely uneventful walk back comparatively, even though it was interesting seeing dozens of frogs and even a couple of snakes in the marshes that were passing as marked trails. I don’t think I’d ever seen a snake on a trail before, so that was kind of a fun surprise on what was overall a generic walk back. The mental exhaustion of the day was far greater than the physical exhaustion, in both of our opinions, so we managed to find our way back slowly and steadily without breaking stride for any photo opportunities or extended breaks like we normally do. Climbing Allen wasn’t the greatest hiking experience we’d ever had, but at least we managed to get our 45th peak in the Adirondacks and got it in with plenty of daylight to spare, arriving at the trailhead a little bit before 6:30 PM. It was a long day, but at least it was another interesting experience to share as we got that much closer to completing our 46!

Recommendations: Allen Mountain isn’t a fun hike. I’d only recommend it to people seriously interested in the 46 because it’s a somewhat unpleasant experience. If you do plan to climb Allen, make sure you read up a little bit on the trail before you go up, and be careful on the final ascent because it is no joke. Allen really isn’t terribly steep (with the exception of the slide section near the summit) or overly challenging from a physical standpoint, but it’s a taxing hike nonetheless, so be mentally prepared for a long day.

Ratings:

Difficulty – 10

Views – 1 (5 from a lookout just off of the summit)

Maine Trip Day 4 – Old Speck Mountain

After 3 days of taking on whatever Maine could throw at us we decided to head over to Old Speck Mountain to finish out our trip.  We knew it was going to be a little bit of a drive to get to the trailhead so we decided to get up a little bit earlier to head over there.  We checked out of the Spillover Motel at around 6:30 in the morning before making our way out of Stratton and towards Rangeley.  We were fortunate enough to stumble upon a solid Bagel Shop for a quick breakfast before ultimately heading towards the trailhead.  I had completely given up on my GPS for the week so Andrew was co-piloting with a road map which proved to be a much more effective method of navigation than getting led to your death down an unpaved hunting road…

After driving through a windy road for over an hour we arrived at the Old Speck Trailhead which much to my surprise was a paved parking lot at around 8:45 a.m.  We could see the task at hand right in front of us as the summit of Old Speck is visible from the parking lot.  Looking at a map in front of us we knew it wasn’t going to be a long hike (7.6 miles) but exactly how the terrain would shake out was to be determined.  After looking for a spot to pay the parking fee we figured out that there in fact were no parking passes or anything of the sort so we just sort of started hiking at that point.

Having never hiked more than 2 days consecutively in my entire life prior to this week and this being day 4 in a row my legs felt like sludge.  The entirety of our hike would be on the Old Speck Trail which coincidentally was also part of the Appalachian Trail.  Even though the trail briefly started out flat it did not last for long, and my body was not so appreciative of this fact at first.  We started what would be a 1 mile ascent to a trail junction where the Old Speck Trail and the “Eyebrow Trail” would meet.  The trip up this 1 mile ascent was absolute murder on our legs.  On any other day this would have been cake for us, but considering the fatigue that we were both experiencing it took a while to make it.  Nonetheless we soldiered on only really stopping to admire a few waterfalls along the way.  Another factor although insignificant for this time a year were a few stream crossings which were very easily navigated.

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After what seemed like forever (in reality it was like 35 minutes) we finally reached the trail junction that we were looking for.  We took the opportunity to get a needed rest for our legs as well as hydrate.

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After the junction we did seem to level off for a little bit, but that was ultimately very short lived as expected because we were less than halfway to the summit and had plenty of elevation left to gain.  Andrew and I kept on walking until we reached some boulders that gave us a little bit more of a perspective as to where we were in relation to the summit.  From the looks of things we looked like we were further away than when we started.  The idea when this trail was blazed was clearly to make the ascent/descent a little more forgiving but in doing so made it kind of ass-backwards.  We also noticed a pattern where it looked like we would rapidly ascend plateau and repeat until we would reach the summit.

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One of many Appalachian Trail Markers we found market with an A and T forming an arrow

Andrew and I really did not take many extended stops up to this point but we also weren’t breaking any records either.  We continued to ascend and plateau for another 20 minutes or so before we finally took the packs off to take a real rest.  While I’m not one who likes to stop too often this day was different.  I was perfectly at peace with just taking our time for a change since the day was so short on mileage, it was perfect outside, and we earned the flippin’ right to just chill for once.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Getting closer

 

We knew from where we sat that there looked like we had one steep spot in front of us followed by a very gradual ascent to the summit.  Not having a lot of mileage to go we started on a slow pace once again.  The trail actually took a brief descent before rapidly gaining elevation once again.  Surprisingly Andrew and I did not have too many issues getting up this steep portion despite the fatigue we were feeling.  With our legs somehow getting a little juice back into them we kept on pushing for the summit.  About a half mile away from the summit we came to a point where there was a nice lookout into the Maine wilderness.  Up to this point there were really no major obstacles that we had to manage other than your basic hike along a trail.

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Eventually I heard Andrew who got ahead of me whilst I was busy vlogging.  I wasn’t sure what he said at first but I thought I heard him say trail junction or something of that sort.  I then saw what he was talking about as he beautifully presented the following sign.

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Seeing .3 miles to go was just what I wanted to see as my body had just about enough up to this point.  We took it easy for the last 10 minutes until we saw the clearing and firetower marking the summit of Old Speck Mountain.  The area on the summit was left kind of a mess from people who apparently elected to camp there.  I saw a great deal of trash which Andrew and I attempted to clean up along with fire pits that people had created on the summit.  Although seeing this stuff does bother me I was not about to let it sour this great mountain for me.  I made my way up to the top of the fire tower where I could get some of the best views Old Speck had to offer.

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Andrew and I spent 45 minutes on the summit.  We deserved the rest and the opportunity to admire the work we had done the last 4 days.  6 peaks over the course of 4 days was a nice achievement for us while I’m not sure we would do that again it was great hiking a new part of New England and getting away from life for a little bit.  All of that aside we began our leisurely descent of Old Speck Mountain.  It took us 2 hours and 10 minutes to reach the summit from when we started and it was not much more to make our way back down.  When we reached the parking lot I looked back up one final time to take in the day before we headed back to Massachusetts.  57 down and 58 to go.

Recommendation to hikers:  If you want to make the trip to Old Speck it will be worth your while regardless of your hiking experience.  If you want to ascend the firetower on the summit you will be rewarded with some fantastic 360 degree views, but even if you don’t youll find Old Speck to be a pretty easy climb with a nice spot to look out from the summit.

Old Speck:  Views – 7  Difficulty – 3