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Adirondack Hike: Pitchoff Mountain & Balanced Rocks

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I do a lot of hiking in the Adirondacks. I hope my trip reports will help future hikers on the same routes!

Balanced Rocks

Balanced Rocks

On October 9, 2021, my friend and I wanted to head up to the Adirondacks for some fall foliage viewing. Neither of us was in shape to climb one of the forty-six peaks around or above 4,000 feet, so we decided on something shorter and smaller with excellent views. One mountain that fit those specifications neither of us had hiked before was Pitchoff Mountain.

Aside from reaching the 3,600-foot summit on the 1.9-mile hike, there was one of the fun spots for photo opportunities in the Adirondack Park in Balanced Rocks (pictured above). The plateau containing these two huge boulders is only 1.3-miles along the route to the summit, so aside from getting credit for reaching the summit, there are great picture opportunities.

Directions

On the map we use, the High Peaks Adirondack Trail Map (link at the end of the story), there are two trailheads to access the summit of Pitchoff. We decided to use the western one as it was the shorter of the two routes and the one closest to Balanced Rocks.

That trailhead for Pitchoff is hard to spot as it resides across the road from the trailhead to Cascade and Porter Mountains on Route 73, about 7.5 miles outside of Lake Placid to the East. Most drivers will see the people walking on the South side of the road as the majority of people are using the trailhead to Cascade and Porter there, but Pitchoff's is a few feet further to the East and on the north side of the road.

For parking, you can use any of the lots that you would use for Cascade and Porter and there were porta-potties in multiple lots. These parking areas do fill up quickly, especially on weekends when we planned to do our hike, so we made a plan to drive up, pack up my jeep with bedding and sleep over at the parking area five miles down the road at Marcy Airfield.

We were up at 5:30 a.m., got to the same parking lot I had used to do Cascade and Porter the previous year and took an extra hour of rest before waiting for the sun to start rising to begin our preparations for getting on trail. When we arrived around 5:50 a.m., around half the spots were already taken.

The overview of the route as shown in the High Peaks Adirondack Trail Map

The overview of the route as shown in the High Peaks Adirondack Trail Map

We both used the facilities up the road to the west and then threw on our gear. We left the car and headed down the hill and crossed the road when we saw the Pitchoff trailhead signage (pictured below). The stairs that are the beginning of the trail looked a little sketchy, but were fine, and the sign-in book is just past them on the left.

We were signed in and on trail around 7:35 in the morning.

Pitchoff Mountain Sign (West Trailhead)

Pitchoff Mountain Sign (West Trailhead)

The stairway that is the beginning of the trail

The stairway that is the beginning of the trail

Initial Section

The initial section of the hike is a little bit of climbing up and to the east to get onto the ridge. The trail eventually heads farther east and flattens out a bit with views opening up so that you can look out and see the Cascade Mountain slide. The first opening is about twenty minutes into the hike and five minutes later there is a really nice one.

Big boulder as we went across the ridge

Big boulder as we went across the ridge

Leaving the Ridge

After some photo ops on the big boulder (pictured above), the trail continues on and then turns to the left for about ten minutes, with the first really stony scramble in there (see below) until it comes to the cliff face that has Balanced Rocks up on top.

The trail looks as if it goes left and right. There were some hikers who headed to the right and we eventually caught up to them later and they said it was like they had to climb straight up a cliff face to get to where Balanced Rocks were.

The first scramble

The first scramble

We took the left hand turn and realized that this was the main trail with some decent scrambling sections five minutes later (picture below), but nothing out of the ordinary for the Adirondacks.

Heading out to the left and around the Balanced Rocks plateau

Heading out to the left and around the Balanced Rocks plateau

The trail continued up until around 8:35 a.m. we came to some signage, as seen in the video below) with options for Balanced Rocks or to continue up and left to go to the summit of Pitchoff Mountain.

First, On to Pitchoff

We decided to grab the summit of Pitchoff Mountain first and climbed on for another thirty minutes or so and eventually got there around 9:17 in the morning. A couple of decent little scrambles on the way up, but, again, nothing overly technical or dangerous.

On the summit, there was a giant rock and just past was a lookout point with some decent views.

On the summit of Pitchoff

On the summit of Pitchoff

Balanced Rocks

The trip down from Pitchoff to Balanced Rocks only took us about 20 minutes, and it's not far from the signage out to the ledge where the two giant rocks are sitting. We arrived there at 9:46 a.m. and about ten other people enjoying the views.

What a View!

With it being sunny in October, there were some great foliage shots on this hike. We must have spent at least forty-five minutes on the ledge, grabbing a bite to eat and just enjoying the general splendor.

My hiking partner knew some of the other hikers on the ledge from home, so she spent some time chatting them up while I looked around a bit.

We got our jumping photos on the rocks and some with the high peaks in the background before heading down. It was everything we hoped it would be.

Sign Out

At 11:25 a.m., we arrived back at the sign-in book and put our check mark next to our entry to signify we had made it back safely. Five minutes later we were back at the car all packed up and ready to head home.

In total, we spent four hours on the trail, with close to an hour of that being downtime while we enjoyed both the summit, where Balanced Rocks sit, and getting some great photos of the foliage. Mission accomplished!

© 2022 JOC