Alan Wechsler writes about outdoor recreation and is a regular contributor to Adirondack Explorer.
Alan has been coming to the Adirondacks since his uncle took him on his first backpacking trip—with wet snow, followed by temperatures down to zero degrees—at age 15. He says he still hasn’t learned his lesson.
Today, his frequent adventures into the park include mountain-biking, skiing (cross-country and downhill), hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and climbing (both rock and ice). A long-time newspaper reporter and avid outdoor photographer, he also writes for a number of regional and national magazines about the outdoors and other issues. Alan’s piece for Adirondack Life, Ski to Die, is an International Regional Magazine Association first-place feature-writing winner.
The Champlain Valley sometimes seems like a forgotten part of the Adirondack Park. Instead of big mountains and valleys, it offers rolling vistas of farms, fields, and forests stretching to the shores of Lake Champlain. There’s no denying the beauty of the bucolic scenery, but outdoor recreationists such as hikers, paddlers, and backcountry skiers tend to gravitate toward other parts of the Park.
Yet the Champlain Valley’s many quiet, country roads are ideal for cycling, so it’s no surprise that the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) chose the region for a new annual event called Bike the Barns. » Continue Reading.
Four and a half hours after our 4:30 am departure from the Garden trailhead in Keene Valley, my two climbing partners and I dropped our packs and looked around. We were surrounded by cliffs: free-standing pillars, tiered walls, slabby slides, and vertical stone faces, some more than three hundred feet high. There were caves, hidden talus fields, and giant fins of rock. Vertical cracks abounded.
I gaped in wonderment at one of the most remote and beautiful rock-climbing destinations in the Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.
The two-year journey of a 700-pound moose named Alice has inspired plans for a long-distance trail that would connect the Adirondacks to Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park.
The Algonquin to Adirondacks (A2A) Trail would combine existing hiking trails, rail trails, main roads, and back roads to create a four hundred-mile route bridging the two parks. While conceived as a hiking path, options for bicycles and even paddlers are also under consideration. » Continue Reading.
I’m following Keith McKeever and his friends up a mountain-bike trail on a bright summer afternoon. The trail climbs smoothly but unrelentingly as it switchbacks up the side of Winch Mountain in Wilmington.
I’m feeling good at first, legs spinning, tires grabbing the soil. But after a few minutes I start to feel an ache in my chest, my breathing gets more labored, and my speed falters. Soon I come to a stop. Sweat drips off my forehead as I hunch over the handlebars and re-oxygenate my lungs.
Keith looks back as he turns up the next switchback. “Nice job!” he yells. “You’re almost halfway up.” Then he disappears around the bend. » Continue Reading.
Not long ago, as much as a foot of snow fell in the mountains of the Adirondacks and other high places in the Northeast. It was a rare early notice that winter is just around the corner.
For those of us who enjoy playing in it, that means it’s time to sharpen and wax our skis or boards and get ready to begin the season.
And that, too, is just around the corner. Whiteface plans to opens about a month from now, on Nov. 26, with Gore expecting to start around that time as well.
That means it’s also time to start thinking about how to save on those expensive ski passes. Fortunately, there are a number of options. For frequent skiers, Gore and Whiteface are selling their season passes (good for both resorts) at $825 before Nov. 19, $175 cheaper than normal.
For day-visits, Whiteface only will continue their discounted Sundays program, offering $35 adult tickets on Dec. 12, Jan. 2, Feb. 6, March 13 and April 3. In addition, every Wednesday at both mountains, adults can buy a ticket for $38 after presenting a Coca-Cola product at the ticket window (yes, you can drink it first).
Meanwhile, the smaller resorts in the Adirondacks continue to work on volunteer power. Both Oak Mountain in Speculator and Big Tupper in Tupper Lake will be operated mostly by volunteers. Outside Warrensburg, Hickory Ski Center — which reopened last year after a long hiatus — has already been organizing volunteer work crews to prepare the slopes. Expect all these hidden gems to begin operation around Christmastime, or perhaps a bit earlier if the snow cooperates.
And let’s not forget the tiny Mt. Pisgah in Saranac Lake, where many locals learn to make turns for the first time.
In Old Forge, McCauley Mountain will continue to be operated by the Town of Webb. They’re planning to open on Dec. 11.
Need some gear? Check out the annual Ski and Snowboard Expo at Albany’s Times Union Center on Nov. 5 to 7. It’s a great place to pick up terrific deals on ski equipment and clothing. And the first 400 people on line Saturday and Sunday get a free ticket to Gore, West or Whiteface (with, admittedly, pretty stiff blackout dates from late December to early March). For more info, click here.
I’d suggest you get there an hour ahead of the 10 a.m. opening time if you want a close-enough place in line!
The Adirondack Sport and Fitness Magazine is planning its own Winter Expo at the Saratoga Springs City Center on Nov. 20 and 21. Admission is free, and a hundred exhibitors will be there representing all facets of winter sports and travel.
This year, visitors can try an indoor luge set up by USA Luge, which will offer free, wheeled rides on a tiny track. Got dreams of Olympic glory? The team will be looking for luge talent in kids as they try their luck down the “slope.” For more info, click here.
About a decade ago, I was riding a speedboat across Lake George — heading north to the Narrows — when I looked over to the eastern shore. There, right above the land formerly known as the Knapp Estate, was a series of large cliffs below Shelving Rock Mountain.
“I wonder if there’s climbing there?” I thought.
Turns out there is. It took a few years, but several local climbers have recently put up a variety of routes on the cliffs. According to Jim Lawyer and Jeremy Haas, authors of Adirondack Rock, there are six different cliff areas known together as Shelving Rock. » Continue Reading.
To the east is Death Mountain. South of that is Slip Mountain. North of that is Bluff Mountain. So slip off bluff and find death.
Furthermore, without any official trail, and off any main road, these peaks are far off the radar. But after a visit last weekend — free of slips or deaths — I am proud to report that the Jay Mountain Wilderness is not only a lot more user-friendly than one might assume from its blank space on the map, but also that it’s well worth the visit.
To reach the trailhead — yes, there is one, though it’s unmarked — we drove through Keene Valley, passing hundreds of cars. Hikers were here by the flockload, it seemed, eager to take advantage of a sunny Saturday during fall color peak. » Continue Reading.
Advice for anyone who attends the Adirondack Balloon Festival next year: get there early.
Early, of course, is a painful thing when balloons are involved. They take off at dawn, mostly, which means waking up at 5 a.m. if you live an hour away, as I do. It’s even more painful if you get up early and don’t get any balloons. Thanks to high winds, three launches scheduled for Saturday morning and Friday and Saturday evenings had to be canceled. » Continue Reading.
The speed record for climbing the Diagonal route on Wallface Cliff is 3 hours, 14 minutes. I climbed the same route last weekend and I can tell you that the record was never in any danger of being broken by us.
The speed record was set by local climbers Don Mellor and Jeff Edwards, who ran six miles from Adirondack Loj to the cliff, climbed the 700-foot-high route in a half-hour by simul-climbing (with a rope) and placing only a minimum of gear between them for protection. Then they speed-bushwacked back to their car (they were in a hurry because it was their children’s nap time, and presumably their wives didn’t know they had left them alone), according to the book Adirondack Rock.
Since neither myself nor my partner Steve Goldstein have young children, we were in less of a hurry. And that was a good thing, because Wallface is a big, remote place, and if you visit as a climber you should plan to spend the day. Unless you’ve left your kids alone.
Wallface may be the biggest cliff in New York state, but there’s a reason it sees few visitors. The is located deep in the wilderness at Indian Pass, four miles from Upper Works parking lot near Newcomb and six miles south of Adirondack Loj. It’s the deep gash visible to the west from Algonquin and other nearby High Peaks.
I don’t know about the northern approach, but the route from the south has to be one of the worst trails in the Adirondacks — a never-ending slog through mud pits until you get to the climbers’ herd path.
There’s other reasons besides the approach that Wallface isn’t popular: it’s not a pristine cliff. Climbers like clean routes — vertical, devoid of loose rock or vegetation, an obvious line up. Wallface has none of these. It’s a discontinuous face of granite, in some areas chock full of vegetation and loose, low-angle rock, at other spots overhanging and completely lacking in holds. Even finding the base of most climbs is difficult.
Clearly, it’s not a user-friendly area for climbers. “This cliff,” warns Adirondack Rock, the region’s Bible for rock climbers, “must be approached with an adventurous spirit.”
Yet Wallface does have its attractions. For ultra-hardmen, there’s the stiff route called Mental Blocks. For sport climbers, there’s several difficult, bolted routes on a pristine face nicknamed The Shield (Free Ride, rated a hard 5.11, is said to be the “best face climbing on the East Coast”).
And there’s the Diagonal, the most popular moderate route up the 700-foot-high cliff.
After years of talking about it, my climbing partner Steve Goldstein and I finally decided to pack our own adventurous spirits and hoof it into Wallface — the Diagonal our destination.
We left at dawn. After the aforementioned slog, we reached the base around 9 a.m. We eyed our route from below. The Diagonal is rated 5.8, which is just a bit tougher than the average beginner can climb. But most of it is quite easy, and the first third is rather dull.
It follows broken, discontinuous bands of rock up the lower part of the face. Once we roped up, we navigated as best we could through the choss, eventually ascending to the cliff’s most interesting feature.
The Diagonal is named for a 300-foot-high ramp that is the middle part of the route. It’s an easy section, low-angle and chock full of features. Some sections are pockmarked with tiny holes, like coral or cooled lava, which Steve figured were carved by tens of thousands of years of water drops falling from the overhanging rock above. And out before us was the ever-expanding view of the High Peaks.
The ramp ended at a grassy ledge, which brought us to the third section of the route — two pitches of vertical climbing up cracks and corners. I gratefully handed the lead (and the rack of jingling climbing gear) to Steve, the stronger member of our two-man team. And he gracefully made his way up until he was out of sight, cursing at the wet sections along the way.
I followed him up through some interesting and challenging features until I reached him high on a ledge. He had climbed further than the route description called for.
“Sorry,” he said. “I think I stole about half of your pitch.”
“Fine with me,” I said, thinking of the strange and awkward move I had just wormed up, and glad he had gone first.
Then it was my turn to lead. I took the gear and climbed the last 50 feet, making a few well-protected but awkward moves that had me yelling “Watch me!” as I felt for a handhold that ought to have been there but wasn’t.
At the top, we shivered. The sun had long since disappeared behind the cliff, and a constant breeze left no doubt that we were deep in the mountains, not at some roadside crag with a warm car and cold beer waiting only a few minutes away.
Escape from the top of Wallface comes either from walking around (not recommended due to the thick underbrush and blowdown) or rappelling. The top of the Diagonal, being popular, has fixed anchors. You thread the ropes through and then rappel off, pulling the rope after you to set up for the next rap.
For many climbers, this is the sketchiest part of climbing, especially on long, remote routes. The possibility of stuck ropes is always present, and in this location, with darkness and cold temperatures only an hour away, that would have meant for a long and miserable night.
Fortunately, the ropes pulled smoothly and an hour later we were on the ground, warmer and ready for that beer.
Unfortunately, we still had a long way to go. We raced down the approach path and made the official hiking trail at darkness. Then we spent the next 90 minutes walking by the light of headlamps, searching for ways through the endless muck as Steve regaled me with tales of his misspent college years (“The coolest explosion I was ever involved in was when …”).
We reached the car at 9 p.m., making for a 14-hour day. That three-hour ascent record was safe — after all, we had taken five times longer. But that was fine with us. We had conquered Wallface.
They call it “Crazy Corners” or “Spaghetti Junction” or “Dysfunction Junction.”
For years I’ve driven through the unique, bizarre intersection at Routes 9 and 73 in New Russia, a hamlet of Elizabethtown. For years, I’ve wondered: who on earth designed this crazy confluence, and why?
Today, the route gets about 3,200 vehicles per day, according to the state Department of Transportation, many of which are occupied by hikers, climbers or skiers heading to the High Peaks.
Those who see it for the first time are usually, at least, surprised. When Route 73 hits Route 9, the lanes split off in separate directions, crossing each other in a crazed and seemingly random pattern before coming together again. Even after driving through it for 20 years, I still get confused about where to look for oncoming traffic.
After another surreal experience driving through Dysfunction Junction recently, I decided to investigate. Whose idea was this, anyway, and what’s the point?
My first stop was Peter VanKeuren, public information officer for the state Department of Transportation in Albany. After a little research, he explained that the intersection was built in 1958, using a design that has been instituted (with slightly variations) in other areas, such as Cairo down in the Catskills. That was already news to me, because I always thought it had something to do with preparations for the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid.
According to an engineering book at the time, the design is a “bulb type-T intersection” that “favors the heavier right-turn movement from the upper to the lower left leg of the intersection. Sight distances are excellent and approach speeds are approximately 40 miles per hour.”
VanKeuren, however, was unable to explain why this intersection was chosen for this spot. The Cairo intersection, which I’ve driven through on numerous occasions, involves lanes that are already divided, so it’s less jarring. The New Russia intersection, on the other hand, is just a simple, two-lane country road.
A conversation with Conrad “Connie” Hutchins, historian for E-Town, shed some more light.
The intersection, he reminded me, was built long before the Northway, which was wasn’t completed until the late 1960s. Of course!
Before the Northway, Route 9 was the main artery between Albany and Montreal. The road was filled with motels and restaurants to accommodate the traffic. And the previous intersection — a simple stop sign — would occasionally back up with cars, according to locals alive at the time.
“Route 9 was busy,” Hutchins said of the time. “It would be a real mess if we had the traffic now that we had then.”
Taking that into account, this intersection makes sense for the time. The design allows Route 9 traffic to flow through without stopping, while anyone continuing on 73 would have to wait. Nowadays, they’d probably throw in a roundabout instead, but in the 1950s such an idea would have been seen as so foreign.
At the time the intersection opened, locals didn’t really take much notice of it, said Nancy Doyle, whose husband Walter worked on its construction. “If you follow the signs, it’s no big deal,” she said.
Calvin Wrisley, 61, a lifelong resident of the town, says he doesn’t remember any bad accidents occurring there. “I think it’s fairly safe.”
Of course, now the intersection makes less sense. Most traffic is heading not northeast on Route 9, but northwest on 73 — especially on weekends. And today’s drivers, used to traffic circles and traffic lights, are often flummoxed when they are confronted with this intersection for the first time.
Looking back, the choice certainly seems at least a bit short-sighted. After all, plans for the Northway were already underway when this intersection was being constructed. Did no one think: “Hey, when the Northway opens, traffic on Route 9 will be totally different…”
Still, if it’s any consolation, the state won’t be using this design anymore. Not because it’s unsafe or, yes, dysfunctional. But for another reason, says VanKeuren: it takes up too much space.
Cat and Thomas mountains have only been open to hiking for the past seven years, but word is getting out.
On the Adirondacks’ most famous and perhaps most scenic lake, hikes abound. Visitors can choose from challenges, like Black or Tongue Mountain, or easy afternoon climbs, such as Sleeping Beauty or Pilot’s Knob.
Still, among those treasures, Cat and Thomas stand out for their ease of access, stellar views and, well, relative solitude. Located near Bolton Landing on the lake’s west side, the hikes just aren’t as well-known as the usual suspects. But that, of course, is changing.
The mountains, formerly private, were purchased by the Lake George Land Conservancy in 2003 for $1 million. Visitors can hike one or both mountains, or — my favorite — connect them both via a 6.5 mile loop. The mountains are reached via former logging roads that don’t ascend more than 750 feet. However, the connecting loop includes a difficult trail that requires scrambling up and down some considerably steep sections.
Thomas is the lesser of the two peaks, at least in terms of views — it faces west, so you can’t see the lake. There is, however, a neat cabin at the top (or at least there was the last time I visited — the property owners have been planning to remove it at some point).
Cat offers a stellar view of Lake George from its bare, rocky summit. Spread out before you is Bolton Landing, Tongue Mountain, and in the distance, the range of peaks stretching up the lake’s east side.
To reach the preserve, take Northway Exit 24 and head east. After two miles, make a right on Valley Woods Road. The main parking lot is on the right shortly after the turn. There’s also a separate parking lot further down for those who just want to climb Cat Mountain. The trails are well-marked and easy to follow.
I recently spent a few days touring around Colorado by bicycle. It was my seventh trip to the state, in both summer and winter.
The trip took me on a few parts of the Colorado Trail, a 450-mile hiking route that follows the spine of the Continental Divide from Denver to Durango. It also took me to some of Colorado’s old mining towns, most of which have been recast as a combination tourist attraction and burgeoning home to the young, artsy and outdoorsy.
The trip got me thinking about the differences between the Rocky Mountains and the Adirondacks, where I first learned to climb mountains and have spent the last 25 years exploring. » Continue Reading.
If you ever wanted to plan a multi-day paddling trip on some of the Adirondack’s best water routes, the next few weeks are a prime time. Only fall-foliage season beats early spring for sheer perfection.
You’ve got long, sunny days. Even the most popular lakes around, such as Long and Lower Saranac lakes, are mostly free of power boats. And the bugs won’t come out in earnest for another two to three weeks.
After multiple canoe trips this time of year, I’ve found the only thing I miss are the leaves, which had not yet budded during an early-May trip to Long Lake. Having done a trip a few weeks later, where we had leaves but also black flies, I think I’d take the bare trees. However, know that even if it’s the heart of black-fly season, if temperatures are cool enough the bugs will not be a problem. » Continue Reading.
It was T.S. Eliot who wrote “April is the cruellest month.” He also wrote, in his epic poem “The Waste Lands”: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
Substitute “mud” for “dust,” and Eliot might have been talking about the Adirondacks after the snow melts (although, you want to talk about cruel, let’s talk black flies …but that’s a subject for another post).
Anyway, as we reach the spring mud season, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation issues its annual “please don’t hike on muddy High Peaks trails” request, may we suggest a few dryer alternatives?
For starters, cast your eyes southward. The Lake George region, which gets much less snowfall than other areas in the park, is also one of the first places to warm up in the spring. There’s enough hikes there to last a full season, but we can easily recommend a few: » Continue Reading.
I was driving over Cascade Pass with a friend recently when we noticed all the cars parked near the trailhead to Cascade and Porter mountains, the two easiest of the 46 High Peaks.
Was there a party going on? There must have been hundreds of people climbing that peak on this warm Saturday in mid-March.
Then my friend hit upon it: it was the last day of winter. Anybody wanting to gain the honor of “Winter Forty-Sixer” needed to climb these peaks by the end of today, or have to wait another season. » Continue Reading.
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