Hurricane Mt. Firetower
Hurricane Mt. Firetower

Many times, 3694-foot Hurricane Mountain has been in the news due to demolition threats to its 35-foot fire tower (built in 1919 and closed in 1979). No more: 2015 will see the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) restore the historic structure to full public access and provide interpretive materials related to the tower’s history.

This long-awaited turn of events will likely draw even more climbers to “Old Hurricane, a sharp cone on which the sun seems to hang as it bids the valley good night. (…) one of the finest high views to be obtained in the Adirondacks, said to some to be second only to that of Whiteface,” wrote Seneca Ray Stoddard in his 1874 edition of “Adirondack Illustrated”.

According to the history section of the area’s Unit Management Plan, the name Hurricane derives not from the weather but from a Native American name for the mountain, No-do-ne-yo, which means “hill of the wind.” The current Jay Mountain Road over its north shoulder was in use as early as 1790. The Old Military Road, which followed the approximate path of the current NY Route 9N, was started at the turn of the 19th century, providing a means for settlers to enter the area, and for local products to be transported to markets on Lake Champlain and beyond.

As the area was being logged for softwood, Verplanck Colvin, superintendent of the Adirondack Survey (1872-1900), was looking for a location that offered a clear view of Juniper Island and the Split Rock lighthouses on Lake Champlain. On July 21, 1873, he set out to climb Hurricane:

“After a lunch in the woods at the foot of the mountain, the men (3) shouldered the heavy knapsacks containing the transit instrument in its box, etc., and we made a rapid ascent. The prospect from the summit was enchanting. In the east, midway between us and the billows of the Vermont Mountains, lay Lake Champlain… while in the south-west the haughty, high peaks of the Adirondacks were clustered in dark magnificence.”

Through triangulation, Hurricane Mountain’s exact location was determined, and used to extend the survey inland.

Gordon College Volunteer
Gordon College Volunteer

The numerous exposed rock outcrops and stands of white birch are a result of the devastating forest fires of the early 1900s which consumed most of today’s Hurricane Mountain Primitive Area. In 1908, one fire in particular started on East Hill in Keene and burned most of the surrounding land.  As early as 1910, an observer was assigned to the summit, but not until 1919 did the addition of a fire tower provide some relief from the elements and a better view.

Already by then, and still today, Hurricane’s summit could be reached from the east, north and south, a testimony to its historical importance, unparalleled location and exceptional views. In 1928, the state purchased the mountain and some of the surrounding land from the Champlain Realty Company. That same year, an observer’s cabin was built along the Elizabethtown trail approximately 1.2 miles from the trailhead. The cabin was removed in the 1980s.

Because Elizabethtown was the most important tourist town nearby, the 2.25-mile fire observer cabin trail (today’s Hurricane Lane Trailhead), maintained by the State Conservation Department (today’s DEC), was at first the most used route to Hurricane’s expansive summit ledges. The Route 9N trail’s present parking lot was originally a public campsite. Nowadays, climbers choose the Hurricane Lane route every year by the hundreds and the Route 9N approach by the thousands! The least used but perhaps oldest official route began at Hurricane Lodge (present-day Crow Clearing), which started as a nine-room guest house and expanded to a 30-room hotel by 1891.

Pro-Crew doing rock work
ADK Pro-Crew member doing rock work

Thanks to zillions of footsteps and intense beaver activity, in spite of occasional maintenance and some relocation in 1935, the century-old trail from Route 9N trail has been in dire need of a make-over. Over 12 weeks in 2014, a herculean effort by many teams, all state-funded, resulted in what many have since labeled a spectacular trail re-route.

At first glance an extra 0.8 mile of path and a few hours to spare was all that was needed. Not quite, as we never cease to be amazed at what it takes to make the old new again:

  • Some six years ago, Rob Daley (supervising forester, DEC Division of Lands and Forests) scouted out the re-route; Tate Connor (DEC forester / Forest Preserve manager) finalized the path and acted as project manager.
  • ADK professional trail crew members spent three weeks building the upper section of the re-route and another two weeks installing steps and water bars.
  • A volunteer ADK crew of seven spent two weeks (2013 and 2014) working on the lower sections.
  • A Student Conservation Association (SCA) Adirondack crew of seven spent a week building bog bridges.
  • For six weeks, New York State Department of Corrections inmates carried lumber up to the work sites and tended to drainages and trail stabilization/hardening.
  • A 13-member crew from Gordon College’s Saranac Lake facility volunteered a couple of days each in fall 2013 and 2014.

And last but far from least, Victoria Challingsworth, from Pennsylvania, spent most of her 2014 DEC summer internship working on the trail. Often sleeping in her car to save time, she went up and down, carrying either planking or large buckets of nails. She probably worked on that trail 40 long days, but never made it to Hurricane’s summit for lack of time!

Six re-routes, four new lookouts and 240 feet of refurbished bog bridges later, the Route 9N Hurricane Trail is a longer but significantly easier climb than one would have ever thought possible. We are all very thankful for the time and effort put in by everyone involved, and look forward to climbing Hurricane Mountain in 2015.