Before Tropical Storm Irene hit, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) closed campgrounds in the Adirondacks and urged people to stay out of the wilderness. In so doing, the department no doubt disappointed hikers and campers as well as the businesses that cater to them, but a spokesman contends that it was the right call. “Based on the damage we’re seeing, we’re confident we saved lives by doing that,” David Winchell said.
Winchell also defended the closure of the eastern High Peaks, Dix Mountain Wilderness, and Giant Mountain Wilderness—perhaps the most popular hiking regions in Adirondack Park. He said the trails are unsafe for hiking.
Many trails have been deeply eroded, and some have been partially buried by landslides. Raging floodwaters washed away bridges, boardwalks, and ladders. There also is a lot of blowdown.
The good news is that the damage appears to have been concentrated in the three Wilderness Areas. “There’s still plenty of opportunities for hiking.” Winchell said.
Just about any place in the central or western Adirondacks probably is safe, Winchell said, but he cautioned that hikers should be prepared to encounter some blowdown and wet sections of trail. He said hikers may experience more difficulties in the eastern Adirondacks, such as in the Lake George Wild Forest and Pharaoh Lake Wilderness, but those regions remain open.
Even Forest Preserve tracts near the closed Wilderness Areas seem to have weathered the storm well, Winchell said. As a matter of fact, I hiked seven miles to Duck Hole in the western High Peaks yesterday and encountered only occasional blowdown, easily skirted or stepped over. I went there to take photos of Duck Hole, which is now largely muck, thanks to a breach in its dam. If you want to see the desolation of Duck Hole, you can start, as I did, at the Upper Works trailhead in Newcomb.
But given the closure of the three Wilderness Areas, many people may be wondering where they can hike near Lake Placid or Keene regions. Here are ten suggestions:
Haystack Mountain: 3.3-mile hike, with 1,240 feet of ascent. Start on Route 86 between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.
Scarface Mountain: 3.2 miles, 1,480 feet of ascent. Start on Ray Brook Road in Ray Brook.
McKenzie Mountain: 3.6 miles, 1,940 feet of ascent. Start on Whiteface Inn Road in Lake Placid.
Whiteface Landing/Whiteface Mountain: 3.0 miles to landing, 7.4 to Whiteface summit, with 3,232 feet of ascent. Start on Route 86 east of Lake Placid.
Copperas Pond: 0.5 miles. Start on Route 86 east of Lake Placid.
Hurricane Mountain: 2.6 miles, 2,000 feet of ascent. Start on Route 9N between Keene and Elizabethtown. (The road to Crow Clearing, the start of another Hurricane trail, is washed out.)
Pitchoff Mountain: 1.6 miles to Balanced Rock or 5.2 miles for one-way traverse of Pitchoff summits, with 1,400 feet of ascent to main summit. Both trailheads on Route 73 between Keene and Lake Placid.
Baker Mountain: 0.9 miles, 900 feet of ascent. Start next to Moody Pond in village of Saranac Lake.
McKenzie Pond: 2.0 miles. Start on McKenzie Pond Road between Saranac Lake and Ray Brook.
Ampersand Mountain: 2.7 miles, 1,775 feet of ascent. Start on Route 3 west of Saranac Lake.
Photo: A closed trailhead in Keene. Courtesy Phil Brown.