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Trip Report: Perseids Meteor Watching 2010

August 14th, 2010 · 10 Comments · Personal

Success!! While sky conditions were not optimal, the trip was still well worth the effort, if only to give me a better idea of how to do things next year. I’ll break down the various aspects of it to make it easier to reference later (like, a year from now). If you have no idea what I’m talking about, educate yourself.

The Sky

The whole point to slogging up a mountain was to be under an amazing night sky – and Wakely Mountain delivered. I’ve been to the top of Mauna Kea and seen the sky there, and really the only difference I can make between the two is Mauna Kea is above 10,000 more feet of atmosphere than Wakely, which means less pesky clouds and haze. The Milky Way is clearly visible as a stream of soft white arcing over the sky. There are so many stars you really have to know your astronomy to pick out the individual constellations. Objects like M33 (The Andromeda Galaxy) are clearly visible to the naked eye even when you stare straight at them. Objects like Jupiter are almost offensive to look at because they are so bright.

For us this trip, we had to deal with thin high-altitude clouds the first night and lower, thicker patchy clouds the second night. The first night the sky would dim and brighten as the clouds moved about. Since it’s too dark to actually see them, you’ll slowly notice the Milky Way disappearing, then the stars will become dimmer and dimmer – it almost feels like you’re slowly losing your vision! The second night the effect was more immediate, and we could see these black, oily patches of sky moving about. It was very creepy – the sky is so lit up with stars that thick clouds are like black abscesses in the sky. Very sinister.

The first night, since the clouds were thinner, we were able to see 57 meteors between the both of us. The second, since when the clouds moved in you saw nothing (and this happened more often), we only caught 31. Still, all this was counted prior to the peak of the shower. Since the earth rotates in the direction of its orbit, as dawn approaches we’re driving more directly (from our point of view) into the dust cloud, left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle, that the Perseids come from. We had to stop watching at 3am both nights due to clouds and the best time for watching is 3am to sunrise. Plus, plenty of the meteors were rogues – random debris visible because it’s so dark out. Finally, there were plenty we didn’t see due to the fact that there is a treeline around the summit that blocks the horizon (not very tall) and with only two pairs of eyes, you can still miss plenty. At least 2-3 dozen “maybeors” were caught out of the corner of our eyes but we didn’t see enough to track and confirm it wasn’t just some trick of the light.

This is without a doubt the most accessible spot in the New England area to see this kind of night sky.

The Hike

It’s funny I should say “accessible” because a lot of people probably wouldn’t agree. I almost wouldn’t. The 3mi hike up Wakely Mountain begins with 2mi of easy trekking along a road. And by road I mean two shallow ruts in the ground. In fact, if you look on Google Maps, you can see they have the road charted down. The real hiking begins with a 1mi ascent up to the summit that includes the majority of the 1,600 foot climb to the final 3,766 foot summit. In fact if I were to guess, that one mile includes about 1,200 feet. That’s a lot of up!! To give you an idea of the trail up the mountain, here’s a picture. And when I say “fairly tame” I’m not kidding around – there are some sections that have large rocks eroded out from the ground (the trail is basically a wash from the summit where the water runs down) slanted at ~60 degree angles you have to clamber up. On average the trail up is probably a 45 degree slope.

While the hike to the base of the mountain took us about an hour, the hike up that last mile took about twice as long with around 5-6 stops to catch our breaths. It certainly didn’t help that we were hauling as much as 30lbs of gear! I’ve now learned that to hike in comfort and camp in comfort is a hard duo to achieve with equal success. I did not expect it to take us 3 hours to summit the mountain, so that’s something to keep in mind next time.

We managed to make it down the mountain and back to the trail head in half the time it took for us to get up.

The Surrounding Area

Unfortunately, the one mile trail up to the summit is the only way up or down. I was hoping (although I hadn’t found any indication on the Adirondack Park website) that there would be a trail or two leading off the summit elsewhere, but no luck. We hiked back down to the bottom of the main climb and spent the afternoon climbing along the rocks that made up a stream bed that eventually led back to the main trail, but other than that there’s not much to do – and then you have to climb back up to the summit again.

So, bring a book next year 😉

The Summit

While there is plenty of room at the summit for several tents to be pitched, everyone should have a bedroll because the majority of the ground is rocky. The fire tower is climbable and offers amazing 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains. While I did climb it at night as well, there’s really no point since the top has a roof on it. It’s solidly built with plenty of handrails to hold on to for your ascent/descent. There is a cabin where the park rangers on watch used to stay that had a latch but it has rusted and broken off. Inside there is a main room with enough space for 5-6 people on the floor, as well as another room with two cots. It is well insulated and stays warm at night – however you’ll have to get over the spooky factor of sleeping there at night 😉 Speaking of staying warm, there is a fire pit and ample amounts of fallen wood (it’s illegal to down live trees) with which to build a decent fire for cooking and warmth at night – it can get into the 40’s. Luckily since it’s so dark having a fire going won’t mess up the night sky at all.

The Drive

The roads up to the trail head are all great. The route I chose going up spanned three scenic US roads, and coming home we hit a fourth. Also, since it was such a nice day driving home I decided to take the Taconic Parkway back south instead of staying on I-87. The main concern I had going up was the fact that I knew at some point the final road to the trail head turned into dirt, but I could not determine the condition of the road. In my sports car, it could have meant an end to the trip after 6 hours of driving! But I gambled it wouldn’t be that bad and it wasn’t. Four miles long, the biggest concern while driving on it for a car like mine was clearance, but there weren’t any rocks in the road big enough to cause problems. After that, it was just taking it slow so I didn’t get a flat tire from the rocks that were sticking up out of the ground. Some sections I could get up to 20mph. No doubt many people were a bit flabbergasted at seeing my car on that road!! In fact, while driving out one park ranger stopped his truck heading in the opposite direction to ask if we had really made it all the way in.

Next Year

It is most definitely on for 2011! Hopefully conditions will be better and more people will be able to tag along. To that end, I have scheduled two separate trips. Although the shower peak is on a Fri and Sat morning next year, which means we would have to leave Thurs, given the fact that the sky is so dark peak times don’t matter too much we could also go Fri-Sun. We’d only get one day of peak activity, but the next day will still produce some meteors as well. I’ve created two Facebook events. Whichever gets the most people will win.

Perseids Meteor Shower Watching 2011 – Thurs,Fri,Sat
Perseids Meteor Shower Watching 2011 – Fri,Sat,Sun

Here’s looking to 2011!!

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • kudurru

    Thanks for all the info on Wakely Mountain, and it’s great to see someone enthused about astronomy and actually getting out there to watch.

    Have you had a chance to see the zodiacal light?

  • Gaiiden

    Yep, I saw it during my trip to Mauna Kea mentioned in the post above

  • kudurru


    We’re going to try to see it in the next few days…

  • kudurru

    Mucho gracias for your great pictures of the Wakely hike.

    What kind of latch would you recommend to be installed with a simple screwdriver on the door of the rangers’ cabin?

  • Gaiiden

    Latch? Why would you need a latch? I don’t even know if installing one would be legal or not

  • kudurru


  • Gaiiden

    Haha. If you’re sleeping next to your food you deserve it 🙂

  • kudurru

    We do have a rope to tie the food up. But we carry our food (sausage & cheese) up in our backpacks, and bears have a very good sense of smell.

    I’d rather not have an inquisitive bear come nuzzling around in the middle of the night.

    You mentioned the latch that used to be there is all rusted out.

    Would you remember how much wood is inside on the jamb and on the door to screw in a simple latch that can be temporarily secured? Or could you suggest some other way to secure the door?

    We can bring up a tent, but you mentioned that the cabin is well insulated, and these nights it will be below freezing up there.

  • Gaiiden

    Sorry, can’t remember all to well but I’m pretty sure there was plenty of doorjamb to do what you’re thinking of. Also, there’s nothing to say the park hasn’t re-latched it since I’ve been there…

  • Perseids Watch 2011

    […] peak doesn’t start until tomorrow – I’m viewing from my backyard this year as my Adirondacks trip did not work out this time around. But still, the heavens did not disappoint! Even better is that […]

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