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SWIMMING THROUGH TREES: Furnace Mountains: Exploring the unknowns of Upper Works

Hiking near the McIntyre Furnace and the Upper Works (Provided photo)

If you hear someone say, “I’ve never heard of the Furnace Mountains,” don’t feel bad. They aren’t officially named as such. You can find these peaks across the Upper Works Road near Newcomb from the site of the blast furnace. It just seemed fitting to refer to them as such.

I hooked up with my hiking buddy Joe Dadey, who admittedly made the mistake thinking that a mile and a half is a good way to ease back into bushwhacking. I think he forgot who he was going with.

We parked our cars by the blast furnace, walked down the road and jumped right in. The forest played friendly at first, so we were optimistic for the day’s uncoverings. The balsams were well spaced and pole sized in diameter, which also made for a lovely experience. Even so, I think it takes some toughmindedness to bushwhack.

As we moved closer to the base of the peak’s higher summit, we began having to navigate slightly denser growth. More noticeably, small cliff bands were draped in a colorful mineral tinted ice. There is always a way to the top, but it might not be apparent at first. All we needed was enough to give our snowshoes purchase and a solidly mounted tree for support.

The summit was just ahead, atop another cliff, or so we thought. At least we gained a screen view through the trees. The top was just a bit farther ahead, so we thought once again. In fact, it was so densely populated with firs and spruce, we couldn’t see the highest point.

McIntyre Furnace near Newcomb and the Upper Works (Provided photo)

It wasn’t until we were descending to the smaller summit (which had the view) that we noticed a higher rise on the opposite side of a deep, rock lined gap. A steep and immediate drop along a downed tree gained us that valley, and a wicked steep climb brought us to the wooded summit among a pile of pickup stick dead trees. It was all we could do not to fall through.

We returned to the valley and finally started our traverse to the lower peak and the open rock we wanted to visit. Of course, our slow ascent of the first peak allowed for weather to move in and unpack an inevitable snowstorm that quickly wiped away the views like an eraser of time.

The descent through this valley was awesome. The snow was deep so we could cruise with well planned steps of glissading, which brought us to the shallow col looking up at a steep climb. Of course, with that we had another cliff band to get around. Once that was done, we had a nice stroll to the summit, or so we thought. Again, we found ourselves on a false summit not depicted on the map, but clearly in front of us was the higher point across yet another deep ravine.

This descent proved to be a tough one. It was lined with tall cliffs and dense firs. How in the world would we get down off this magical rampart? The only option was a steep drop with two small rocky areas that were safe enough to explore. The trees helped us with strong arms and steadfast stems, and a short butt slide was all it took to get over two small areas to gain the bottom. Joe managed to get the help of a dead snag at the bottom that cozily laid beside him. I couldn’t get the camera out fast enough; otherwise, I would amuse you in the humor that I witnessed firsthand.

The climb was minimal at this point with only a few feet of added climbing. We passed over the wooded top to the open rock I knew was there from my time exploring Google Earth. As expected, the weather moved in, and our views were gone. We only had views under the clouds.

Yet again, we were faced with more cliffs and a steep descent. Were much less reserved on this occasion as the terrain was slightly friendlier. We donned our backside for the ride down to flatter ground. I don’t fill my brain with can’t dos; I focus on the can dos. There is always a way off the mountain that’s safe, fun, adventurous and good for your mental memory card.

In the valley heading back to the Upper Works Road, we found some amazing chunks of rock that surely divorced a nearby cliff. It was uneventful from that point getting back out, but it was nice to be in an uneventful time as this juncture. The road and sound of a passing car was music to our ears as we were still surprised it took us nearly three hours to go only a mile and a half. But, as my other hiking buddy Jimbo said, “When bushwhacking, it’s not miles per hour, but, hours per mile.”