Almanack Contributor Dan Crane

Dan Crane

Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Backcountry Photography: Which Camera To Carry?

View from Jay MountainImagine hiking for hours alone through an idyllic Adirondack setting, the sky is an azure blue, the birds are singing, the sun is shining, the black flies are biting, ideal conditions for spending time in the great outdoors.

When the trip’s destination finally appears, whether it is a seldom-visited lake, marsh, swamp or mountaintop, the thought of capturing this rarely glimpsed view becomes overwhelming. If only you’d brought that camera. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Backcountry Gear Choices: Tent Or Tarp?

Campsite on MacDonough MountainFew backcountry gear decisions seem as daunting as picking a shelter. Some prefer to sleep John Wayne style (under the stars), others prefer lean-tos, but most carry a shelter of some sort on their back – tents or tarps.

Tents are easier to set up (though I’ve seen exceptions), but are often heavier to carry. Compared to tarps tents offer less ventilation, critical when sharing the space with an aromatically challenged companion. Free standing tents are easier to set up and move – an important consideration in locating a good tent site while bushwhacking.  On the other hand, tarps are better in rain. Erecting the tarp over your gear in an emergency can keep you and your gear drier.  An open tarp provides more ventilation, which also allows for quicker drying.

A tarp system reigns supreme in the weight department, but smaller poles and hi-tech fabrics on new tents continue to chip away at the weight differential.

My history with shelters reads like something out of “A Christmas Carol”, with ghosts of shelters past, present and future. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Commentary: It Ain’t The ‘Dacks, Dude!

Paper birch forest on Jay Mountain's northern slopeAbbreviations and acronyms continue to mushroom in popularity with each passing day. As an increasingly face-paced world collides with new and ubiquitous technologies, these short cuts will likely become more invasive in our language. Their burgeoning use coincides with the development of many modern means of communication, such as text messaging and social networking, which may eventually prove as the death knell to clear and concise communication.

What does this have to do with the Adirondacks?

Despite the prominence of these short cuts in popular culture, one annoying Adirondack abbreviation predates this social media trend. My first encounter with it goes back as far as the 1990’s, but it most likely was in use well before then. Although it does not appear to be in widespread use yet, I still hear it from time to time, and it never gets less annoying. Finding a more demeaning abbreviation would be a difficult task, especially when applying to such a beautiful place as the Adirondack Park.
» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Backcountry Ethics: Leave No Gear Behind

Left Behind Tent StakeNever leaving a man behind is a common motto in the military world; it is even incorporated into the U.S. Army’s Soldier’s Creed. The saying is equally apropos for Adirondack backcountry adventurers, whose hobby has some commonality with the military way of life, except for the lack of gravitas. Although the prospect of leaving behind a comrade is unmatched in seriousness, it is not the only situation where leaving something behind in the backcountry arouses feelings of loss and guilt.

Despite the appropriateness of the motto in the backcountry, it rarely has much bearing on most adventures. Although groups separate on occasion, sometimes with disastrous results, this is not a common occurrence for most people. At least, I hope it is not; otherwise, rescuers would be constantly crawling throughout the backcountry, and/or bodies would be more common than deflated Mylar balloons.
» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Backpacking Gear Choices: Which Knife?

Small jackknifeYouth, inexperience and ignorance were in abundance when I first started backpacking in the Adirondacks many years ago. My knowledge of the proper gear and foods was seriously lacking, not to mention the total ignorance of how to pack effectively all that stuff for a multi-day backpacking adventure. I was not completely clueless though, as I could hike and identify birds. So there was that.

In those early days, my pack weighed in at nearly one-half my meager weight. The pack was too big for me, and it was overflowing with overweight gear. Its weight made my first trip an arduous struggle, with my feet blistered and bloodied by its end. Despite all the difficulties with the heavy gear, it took many years for me to replace it with lighter weight alternatives, which hopefully prolonged my hiking career.
» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Five Ponds Wilderness: The Wilderness Lakes Tract

Small island on Evergreen LakeAreas ideally suitable for a novice bushwhacker are not common in the northwestern Adirondacks. Plentiful blowdowns, extensive wetland complexes and thousands of acres of unbroken forests can appear insurmountable to the uninitiated.

Typically, the best areas for an inexperienced bushwhacker contain many prominent features, such as trail networks, old logging roads, lakes, ponds and small wetlands, which increase the opportunities to orient oneself in the landscape.

One such area is the Wilderness Lakes Tract in the southwest corner of the Five Ponds Wilderness, just north of Stillwater Reservoir. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hiking Boots: Change is Good for the Resole

Gouge in hiking bootWe live in a throwaway society. Most purchases come with an expectation of ephemerality, regardless of whether it is a small novelty item or a durable good, like a car or refrigerator. When these manufactured goods meet our low expectations, we toss them in the trash and buy new ones. At least this is the norm for those with disposable income, a term that reinforces our throwaway thinking. The outdoor community has no immunity to this mindset, where gear is often retired well before its time because of small signs of wear and tear.

However, it is often justifiable to retire gear that is showing its age. Exploring the remote Adirondacks requires subjecting outdoor equipment to an excessive amount of backcountry abuse. Outdoor products are typically well-made, with durable materials, but eventually the constant maltreatment reduces their usefulness. At that point, replacement is inevitable to reduce the chance of a disastrous failure, miles from anywhere.
» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dan Crane: What’s So Wild About Wild Forest Areas?

ATV Trail Damage in the Black River Wild ForestLand classification battles are a common feature of new Forest Preserve acquisitions in the Adirondack Park these days, with the Essex Chain of Lakes property being a prime example. Typically, the disagreement boils down to Wild Forest versus Wilderness, the two most common land classifications in the Adirondacks. While Wilderness remains the more restrictive, Wild Forests are supposed to maintain a wild character despite the presence of dirt roads, snowmobile trails, etc. Unfortunately, this wild character seems to be slowly fading away in many cases, making room for increasing (and often illegal) human uses.

According to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, Wilderness are areas dominated by natural forces, where the Earth and its communities of life remain relatively untrammeled by man, while Wild Forests allow for a greater impact from humans, supposedly due to their lack of remoteness and ability to absorb the impact from such activity. The subjectivity of these definitions allows for a great deal of interpretation though. Often the classification of a new area appears mainly political, with the appeasement of certain user groups sublimating all other considerations.
» Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gear Review: Merrell Chameleon 5 Hiking Shoe

Merrell Chameleon 5 Hiking ShoeHiking is often a messy business, especially in the Adirondacks. Beaver flooding, natural seeps and deep, rain-filled ruts are just a few of the reasons for wet and muddy trails. Sometimes, just for a change of pace, a nice hike on a relatively dry upland trail is just what the doctor ordered. On these dry jaunts, a clunky, over the ankle pair of full-grain leather hiking boots is often overkill.

Hiking shoes are a fine alternative for these drier situations. They are lighter weight and dry faster than conventional leather hiking boots, which allows for more miles with less stress on your legs and back. After all, the old adage goes, “a pound on your feet is like five on your back.”
» Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My Day On Lot 8: A Dan Crane NYCO Commentary

Towering White Ash on Lot 8When the results for Proposition 5 came in last November, I decided I must visit Lot 8 in the Jay Mountain Wilderness. Since the voters of New York State made this area yet another sacrificial lamb at the altar of greed and profitability, I knew it would only be a matter of time before the chainsaws, bulldozers and explosives moved in and converted a living and breathing forest into something akin to a war zone.

It soon became evident this juggernaut of “progress” was unstoppable, as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) relinquished their roles of protecting the environment and the Adirondack Park. Instead, these governmental organizations engaged in the complete evisceration of nearly every environmental protection law on the books in an attempt to ensure NYCO Minerals, Inc. destroyed Lot 8 as soon as possible.

This left me little choice but to put hastily together a 6-day bushwhacking trip through the Jay Mountain Wilderness, with an entire day allocated to exploring the condemned Lot 8 in all its natural glory before its destruction. I felt it would ease my conscience somewhat for not doing enough to prevent its impending demise in the first place. Unfortunately, despite getting up-close and personal with Lot 8, I only ended-up feeling worse. In between the joy and wonder of experiencing this property for myself firsthand, was a sense of deep sorrow, bordering on moroseness, as the fate of everything I saw, smelled and heard was never far from my mind.
» Continue Reading.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Jay Mountain Wilderness: Not Exactly A Walk In The Park

Jay Mountain RangeThey say variety is the spice of life. This is certainly true of backcountry adventures as anything else. Every few years, I diverge from my comfort area of the Five Ponds and Pepperbox Wilderness and venture out into other parts of the Adirondacks. Recently, I took a six-day sojourn into the Jay Mountain Wilderness, the smallest Wilderness Area in the Adirondacks.

The main impetuous for the trip was my desire to see Lot 8 in all its unspoiled glory, before saw, drill, bulldozer and explosives leave it nothing more than a giant hole in the ground. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Adirondacks Are More Than Just The High Peaks

View from Cat MountainThe Adirondack State Park is a huge place, encompassing approximately 6.1 million acres. It stretches from Lake Champlain at its eastern end, almost all the way to the Black River valley in the west, and from nearly the Canadian border in the north to the doorstep of the Mohawk River valley in the south. It is the largest state park in the contiguous United States, and, in fact, larger than several states. It is even larger than the combined area of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier and Great Smoke Mountains National Parks.

Its size is not the only unique aspect about the Park. Within its borders lies almost unimaginable beauty. Nature’s bountiful gifts take many different forms, including a near infinite number of lakes and ponds, more swamps than one can shake a stick at, acres upon acres of dense primeval forests, and of course, more than a few majestic mountains.

Yet there are those that would reduce the Park to a mere fraction of its size. These are not those people who routinely decry the restrictions and regulations, who seem to want to cut, build and pave their way across this beautiful park; these individuals love the natural beauty of the Park, although apparently, only a small portion of it. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dan Crane On Backcountry Litter

Milky Way wrapper near Middle Branch Oswegatchie RiverThis scenario is familiar to any backcountry enthusiast, regardless of whether they prefer the well-worn trails of a popular area or the trailless expanses that see more moose and black bear than they do people. Surrounded by forest, a multitude of birds singing in the canopy, a frog’s occasional throaty call emerging from a nearby wetland, it is as if there is not another living soul within miles around, and there may not be. Just as this feeling of remoteness engulfs the mind completely, the unnatural color of something on the ground assaults your senses, dispelling any fanciful notion of being in the only person in an unbroken wilderness.

Whether it is a candy bar wrapper, an old glass bottle, or a Mylar balloon, it does not matter. It does not belong here. It is not natural. It is litter. And it just shattered a finely-honed illusion of wilderness.

What is litter anyway? Why does it anger many backcountry enthusiasts so?
» Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bushwhacking for Boreal Birds

Bog south of Crooked LakeSpending time in the backcountry provides many benefits, from the physical exertion of traveling through a harsh terrain to the spiritual rejuvenation that only the sounds and smells of nature can provide. One important benefit for me personally is the pleasure of being intimately immersed in the sounds of bird life, some unique to the Adirondack region.

Unfortunately, this enjoyment appears to be in jeopardy as some of the most precious Adirondack bird species are in a deadly struggle for life and death. Some of the most iconic species of the north woods appear to be losing.
» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Backcountry Hitchhikers: When Nature Comes Home

Mucky spot along Upper South Pond TrailThe Adirondack backcountry is a fascinating place to visit. It provides a respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life, where slow traffic, demanding bosses and other aspects of the daily grind are left far behind for the relaxing solitude that is increasingly rare in the modern world. Tranquility, outstanding photographs and a satiation of peace and quiet are just a few takeaway benefits of spending time in the remote backcountry.

It is not all forest bathing and new age communing out there, as these positive aspects of a backcountry adventure are not the only things making their way home with us. There is a whole host of nefarious backcountry things that may show up in your gear, your home, or heaven forbid, yourself.
» Continue Reading.


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