SWIMMING THROUGH TREES: Try an adventure to Cellar Mountain near Indian Lake
My buddy Jim and I have this crazy obsession with trailless peaks, and we are always looking for new places to explore and new terrain to break trail on. This week our eyes focused on the Indian Lake area, and a particular 3,000-foot peak located in the West Canada Lake Wilderness.
We focused on Cellar Mountain, no not the 100-highest peak located in the Moose River Plains area, but this one a bit farther south near Lewey Lake.
A recent snowstorm or two had left Indian Lake with a bit more fluff than I had at home, but still none that would require the use of snowshoes. The base was non-existent, and the powder light; the snow sloughed right off the rocks and roots. Abby, my four-legged hiking partner, tried out her new fleece-lined overcoat to see if that would help keep her warm and the snow off her back.
The gate was locked to the Lewey Lake Campground, so we had to nudge our vehicles off the side of Route 30, far enough not to impede. Parking in front of the gate would have most likely found our vehicles at the closest impound yard. The Sucker Brook Trail starts just past the gate, and that is what we would use to access to the shoulder of Cellar Mountain.
We hit the trail in good spirits. I mean, why wouldn’t we be? We were in the woods, the trees coated in a light layer of confection, and the temperature was a mild 25 degrees. The trail was untouched, but for the most part it was easy to follow. We quickly came to the trail register, which is at the intersection with another trail from the campsite — roughly a half mile in. From here we started what would become much more of a wilderness experience.
The snow gave the ground a very false frozen look in areas, some of which were spring-fed mud pits. One cautious step as the lead guy warned “Lucky Jim” where not to step; others ended up being of not much significance at all.
We did have a couple brook crossings, which ended up being tricky. One in particular required us to step in the water and do a makeshift pole vault on our trekking poles; one of mine collapsed. Lucky for me up to this point I was the only one who knew about it.
As we moved along the trail, only a couple locations were obscure, making it a slower move through the woods. The trail began to climb as we passed along the steep ridges of Lewey Mountain. The shoulder of that 100-highest peak on our right produced a steady climb along the trail, which eventually led us to the height-of-land between it and Cellar. The height-of-land was similar to that of a wide valley, open from trees and shrubs and what appeared to be a grassy field in the summer. We hung out here for a while to soak in the solitude.
Then we made a GPS heading in the direction of Cellar Mountain, more so, the north-east ridge. The forest was open, the trees covered in a thicker layer of snow. The chin hobble looked as though it was giving us the finger of welcome. The pines looked like something from a Christmas fairy tale — real but seemingly almost too perfect.
The slopes started to get steeper, and a few balsams welcomed our tour with open arms and open seams through their growth. We headed farther left than we had planned, but the forest to the east was much more inviting than that on the west. We popped out in the col between the summit and a sub-peak along the ridge.
Still in open woods, we moved through the forest with ease; only the prints of a passing variant hare and a random rodent were all that broke the perfect complexion of the snow. An opening through the trees spied us a brief look at the horseshoe shaped ridge of Lewey Mountain, but the low clouds covered it up again like a veil.
Soon we stood atop the wooded summit of Cellar Mountain; a light through the trees to the south caught my attention. I explored a bit off the summit near the “light in the trees” making my way through the thicker spruce. I eventually came to a spot that looked promising. I pushed my way through the thick summit crown and down about 20 feet to the top of a 200-foot ledge on the south side of the mountain.
With a hoot and a holler, I attracted Jim’s attention as he followed my trail down to the view. It was stellar! Blue Ridge directly in front of us, and Little Moose Mountain farther off to the north, we snapped dozens of pictures in hopes to get the perfect one before the clouds came in to rob us of the patch of blue sky we had left. The wind chill was winter-like; we were getting a true taste of the season early on. With hands and noses numbed, we climbed back up to the summit and started what would be a very fast descent back to the Sucker Brook Trail. We made short work of the trail, descending it more in the form of a step and slide format.
Back at the trail register, we opted to take the path into the campground to make a small ending loop to the day. The road through the campsite was now plowed and state surveyors were in there measuring something — lucky for us we didn’t block that gate.