The hikers strolled down the rock slab into Crane Mountain Pond, its surface lightly rippling on an overcast summer afternoon in the lower Adirondacks.
"When in Rome, right?" Emily Winslow said. The 23-year-old Manhattan native had slipped out of hiking shoes, sweatpants and damp T-shirt into a swimsuit. She waded in. "Oh, it's cold."
The water was clear above the mostly silt and grassy bottom, its shoreline ringed by trees and rock outcroppings. A light drizzle fell on the blue-black surface hundreds of yards wide and a few hundred yards across.
Though some families would soon follow down the trail from the summit, for a while on a summer weekday it was a private mountain pool. The only sound was birds calling.
The Adirondacks have more than 11,000 lakes and ponds, as well as 30,000 miles of rivers and streams. Almost half the six-million acre park in northern New York is state-owned, the forests laced by trails. Many, like the steep, short hike up and down Crane Mountain, pass nearly pristine waterways carved by glaciers and streams out of the rock.
"I have to say this swim is absolutely necessary," Winslow said. "Now I don't feel so sweaty and nasty."
Silviano Urbano-Perez had jumped in alone earlier, hiked over the mountaintop then came down to join his friend Winslow and go a second time. He slid on submerged rocks as he waded in.
"Do you feel all the fish?" Winslow teased.
"I'm Poseidon. They don't come near me," the 16-year-old replied. He went under, then swam out where it was deeper. Both said they'd been in Atlantic surf off Fire Island that was colder.
It was about a mile altogether to get back to the main trail and down to the parking area, where a group of campers gathered.
The Crane Mountain trail rises 1.4 miles through hardwood forest, up almost 1,200 feet in elevation, to the 3,254-foot summit. There are two wooden ladders over broad slabs, and some stretches are virtual stone staircases. Halfway up, the trail forms a loop, the right branch leading up to the summit and then down to the pond, the left branch directly to the pond.
The bald top is surrounded by scrub evergreens, some fragrant. The vista, a rolling green canopy of low mountains, was half-shrouded in mist.
Urbano-Perez had loped up the trail and gone off on short herdspaths, one to a small pool fed by a small stream or runoff, the other to a slab and overlook, where he stretched out to wait for us. "That's what you get for climbing a rock — solitude," he said.
The state-owned mountain is located in Thurman, 60 miles north of Albany and about 15 miles northwest of Lake George Village busy with summer tourists. The trailhead is reached through a maze of backroads.
Other hikes, in the Adirondacks' popular High Peaks region farther north, lead to Lake Colden and Avalanche Lake, nearly pristine backcountry waterways where swimmers also won't see or hear a JetSki. The Upper Works trailhead parking lot in Newcomb is a short walk from Lake Henderson, a recent state acquisition in the Old North Woods.