Written by Ben Nephew
There are many mountain trails in the Northeast that don’t get much attention because they don’t surpass the magical 4000′ mark. There is also a lack of shorter FKT’s, as if only longer routes are worthy of FKT status. One of my best days in the mountains was on the Franconia Ridge Loop in NH, as I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of running fast up steep climbs and over technical terrain. I recently hiked Pitchoff Mountain in the Adirondacks with my family, and realized that it would make a great FKT route.
I drove back the next day, was lucky enough to have another day of great running weather, and did an out and back over the Pitchoff Ridge with a mandatory visit to the Balanced Rocks, in 2:07:26.
Pitchoff Mountain is a 3600′ peak just east of the well-known 4k summits of Cascade and Porter. The trail consists of a 2 mile ascent from the western trailhead on route 73 to the main summit and ridge. The ridge itself is over 1.5 miles long with numerous views of the surrounding High Peaks. You then descend steeply over 1.5 miles back to route 73. While mileage estimates vary, the total for the double traverse including a trip to the Balanced Rocks is around 10.2 miles, with over 3800′ of climb.
The trail starts off with a short steep section that levels off onto one of the few fast sections, and then climbs in steps to the summit. Along the way there is a 0.1 mile side trail to the Balanced Rocks, which I believe is technically a sin to bypass. There are some steep technical sections on this initial climb, but most are relatively short.
Once on the ridge, you are constantly winding in and out of the trees, crossing numerous bare rock stretches with spectacular views. Technical sections and the minor climbs to the four other summits make it difficult to maintain much speed, but it’s great running. Once you cross over the last summit, the trail drops steeply to a short muddy section, and starts to plummet down to the eastern trailhead. I don’t recommend this with an infant pack, good thing Aiden was strapped in there tight! This is a long and steep stretch of technical running which is challenging even when dry, I’m not sure I’d want to see it when wet.
The return trip starts with the rough climb back up to the ridge, where the hands get used often. The roller coaster ridge starts to wear on the legs just in time for the 1500′ descent back to the western trailhead. With plenty of technical sections and numerous ledges to descend, I went with my old Inov-8 Flyroc 340 GTX and really appreciated the protection and stability. Roclite 315’s, Trailroc 255’s, or Terrafly 313’s would have also been great shoes for Pitchoff.
With the hike the day before my run, I can provide some sample photos of the trail, with technical demonstrations by my wife, Steph, and our oldest son, Gavin. Our one year-old, Aiden, was providing moral support from the command pack.