Eric Voorhis
Katy Dotson and her dog Omak sit above Keene Vaalley at the top of Rooster Comb.
 
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The sun peaked against a blue sky as Katy and I gathered our gear in the Rooster Comb trail parking lot just south of Keene Valley on the west side of state Route 73 on April 25.

The plan was to trek up to the rocky summits of Snow Mountain and Rooster Comb, a pleasant day hike on two modestly-sized mountains — hills really — circled by a cluster of snow-capped High Peaks.

Both under 3,000 feet, Snow and Rooster Comb are usually hiked separately. To add a few miles and prolong the hike, we decided to hit both, making for a 6.3-mile loop with an ascent of 1,750 feet — a short and challenging hike with the reward of far-reaching views of the High Peaks.

I came across the hike while leafing through an Adirondack Mountain Club guidebook. It was basically a random choice, but it fit our criteria for the lazy Sunday: moderate, less than 10 miles round trip, and at the time, it was free of any snow and ice, according to a forest ranger at the High Peaks Information Center on Adirondack Loj Road.

The other reason we wanted to keep things low-key was to accommodate a third member of our party, a first-time hiker by the name of Omak. He is a gentle and loving dog with the face of a lab and the body of a husky, who stares curiously at the world through one blue eye, one brown.

The hike started at a slow grade on a well-maintained trail, reconstructed in 1998 by the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society. It bent past a mirrored pond, across a swampy, plank-covered boardwalk and through patches of tall pines and black spruce.

The first half mile was perhaps the toughest part of the entire hike as the trail bounced up through an elaborate series of steps before hitting an intersection at .7 miles with the Sachs Flume Brook Trail, which is a longer approach to Rooster Comb with access to Snow Mountain.

Omak’s bright, tawny coat glistened in the afternoon sun as he darted up, sniffing everything in sight.

Although Sunday was his first time hiking we soon found that Omak was our guide, the pack leader with an uncanny sense for sniffing out the trail.

“People always say that dogs are color blind, but I think it’s safe to say that Omak isn’t,” Katy said. “He can obviously read trail markers.”

As we started off down the Flume Brook Trail, Katy and I agreed on our throbbing muscles and beating hearts, still out of shape from the winter. But we kept a good pace, her pony tail bouncing along and pit stains forming on my white T-shirt.

“Oh man,” I said, bending over, hands on my knees. “This is brutal.”

The Flume Trail, dotted with yellow violets, snaked up past the trickle of a cool stream, which gave Omak the chance to splash around and tromp in the mud. With the hope of teaching him a little responsibility, Katy had recently gotten Omak his own pack — a red harness with large pouches on either side — so he could carry his own water and food. He didn’t seem to mind.

Before long we hit another intersection at 1.1 miles, with a bailout trail straight ahead to St. Hubert’s. The trail to the right led to the summit of Rooster Comb and left was a swinging detour toward the top of Snow Mountain.

The detour took a bit of unexpected rock scrambling toward the summit, but we soon found ourselves on a southeast facing ledge, soaking in the sun and views of Noonmark, Round and Giant mountains towering in the distance. Rooster Comb, flanking to the west, was also in our sights as we gobbled down granola bars and drank some water. Before packing up we heard approaching voices — the first people we had noticed all day.

Getting back on the main trail, we headed up toward Rooster Comb, the main goal of the day. The trail cut through steep cliffs and gnarled root-and-rock formations before coming to a four-way intersection at 2.8 miles, with a trail veering south toward Hedgehog and Lower Wolf Jaw mountains. Straight ahead was the broad summit ledge of Rooster Comb, a steep climb that led to a vertical wooden ladder toward the top. It was the first time Omak seemed to pause and contemplate what we were doing out in the woods, but he was quick to scuttle up the ladder.

I was surprised at the views as we made the summit, with 300-foot cliffs on most sides and an incredible panorama of Giant Mountain’s slides, Lower Wolf Jaw, Marcy off in the distance and the quaint hamlet of Keene Valley miles below.

For such a little mountain the views were dizzying.

Minutes quickly turned into an hour as we lay in the sun lounging, eating jerky and enjoying the day. Omak took a nap.

As is almost always the case, the hike out of the woods passed quickly. Omak, like the rest of the day, led us down the mountain, frequently pausing for us to catch up, or checking in to politely ask for a treat.

We reached the trailhead and, perhaps sensing the day’s activity coming to a halt, the mangy mutt took the opportunity to jump into the small pond neighboring the parking lot, caking his paws and underbelly with mud before jumping in the back of my car.

“I’m so proud of him,” Katy said.