Almanack Contributor Phil Brown

Phil Brown

Since 1999, Phil Brown has been Editor of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.



Thursday, March 27, 2014

Skiing Round Pond from Sharp Bridge Campground

Top_roundPond-600x388It was a nearly perfect day for a ski tour. The sun was out, and fresh powder covered the trail and coated the branches of evergreens along the way. Kim Martineau was especially happy to be here.

“This is one of my favorite trails. It’s just beautiful,” she remarked as we headed into the woods next to the Schroon River. “And you never see people.”

Kim and her husband, Ethan Rouen, joined me in early January for an eight-mile round trip from the Sharp Bridge State Campground to Round Pond in the Hammond Pond Wild Forest. Although she and Ethan had hiked the trail in other seasons, neither of them had skied it, and both were » Continue Reading.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

High Peaks Gets Up To 2 Feet Of Snow

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASkiers finally got the big dump they had been waiting for all winter. What’s more, the snow that fell was light powder, not the heavy stuff.

I’d say we got at least a foot in Saranac Lake. That would be in line with North Country snowfall totals reported by the National Weather Service: 16 inches in Duane Center (northern Franklin County), 14 inches in Malone, and 13 inches in Tupper Lake.

Michael Muccilli, a meteorologist with the service, said the northern parts of Herkimer and Hamilton counties got 6 to 12 inches.



Saturday, March 8, 2014

Current Mount Marcy Backcountry Ski Conditions

Summit of Marcy in Winter (Phil Brown Photo)I skied Mount Marcy from Adirondak Loj on Friday. Conditions were very good below tree line; above, there was a lot of wind slab and ice. Bring MicroSpikes or crampons if you are headed to the actual summit. The last signpost was about six feet above the snow. In a good winter it’s buried, or nearly so. Thanks to Ron Konowitz and his helpers for removing blowdown on the ski trail below Indian Falls and shoveling snow to improve conditions. Ron is the president of the Adirondack Powder Skier Association.



Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Don Mellor On Post-Thaw Ice Climbing Conditions

Don first pitchYesterday I complained about the deterioration of backcountry-skiing conditions caused by last week’s rain and thaw. But what has happened to ice-climbing conditions?

I am a novice ice climber. In my mind, I figured a little rain and a little melting followed by subfreezing temperatures would improve conditions. More water means more ice, right?

Not necessarily, according to Don Mellor, author of Blue Lines: An Adirondack Ice Climber’s Guide.

Mellor has been climbing and studying ice for more than thirty-five years and has found that it is frustratingly unpredictable. Just because one route has good ice doesn’t mean another route will.

That said, Mellor thinks certain routes—particularly those in gullies, which hold » Continue Reading.



Monday, February 24, 2014

Checking Out Ski Conditions After The Thaw

Phil at VICLast week’s rain and thaw bummed out backcountry skiers, but things could have been worse. We still have a solid base, but we could use several inches of powder on top of it.

Unfortunately, there are no sizable snowstorms in this week’s forecast. We got a dusting of snow last night, and we may get a total of an inch or so over the next few days. Small snow showers also are predicted later in the week.

The Adirondack Ski Touring Council is recommending that skiers stick to groomed trails until we get more snow. “The only exception is that it never » Continue Reading.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Backcountry Skiing A Pair Of Adirondack Passes

Tim-in-Whales-Tail-Pass1We just finished our March/April issue of the Adirondack Explorer, so I took Tuesday off to go backcountry skiing and take advantage of the recent snowfalls (before a looming thaw sets in).

My neighbor Tim Peartree and I skied through two mountain passes. The first, Avalanche Pass, is one of the most popular ski trips in the Adirondacks. From Heart Lake, it’s about four miles to the top of the pass and an additional 0.6 miles to Avalanche Lake.



Friday, February 14, 2014

DEC: No Reprieve For Marcy Dam

Marcy Dam aerialThe decision is final: Marcy Dam will be torn down.

As reported last month on the Almanack, the state Department of Environmental Conservation plans to dismantle the dam, which was damaged in Tropical Storm Irene, over the next five years. At the time, though, the department was waiting to hear from the public on the proposal.

Recently, I submitted a freedom-of-information request to review the public comments. Given the popularity of the dam, I was surprised to learn that DEC heard from only two people—and both agreed that the dam should be removed.

One of the writers, Wallace Elton, suggested that a dam failure would damage the environment » Continue Reading.



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Saranac Lake Murder Suspect To Pursue Insanity Defense

Angela BallA woman charged with murdering her ex-lover in Saranac Lake in November plans to raise an insanity defense, according to Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne.

Champagne said Angela Ball filed a notice of the defense strategy last week. As a result, each side will hire a psychiatrist to examine the defendant. If the prosecution expert concludes that Ball was sane at the time of the killing, Champagne said, the case could go to trial as early as this fall.

If both experts agree that she was legally insane, Ball will be committed to a psychiatric institution for at least a year, Champagne said. Thereafter, her fitness for release would be reviewed every two years.



Monday, February 3, 2014

Marcy Trail Needs More Snow For Skiing

Unbroken-trail-600x4501Well, I couldn’t wait any longer. After we got a few inches of snow Saturday night, I decided to ski Mount Marcy.

From Adirondak Loj Road, I started by skiing up South Meadow Road. On Saturday afternoon, I had skied the road and the Marcy Dam Truck Trail as far as Marcy Dam. The road had been in great shape for skiing, but the truck trail had a lot of exposed rocks.

What a difference a day makes. The extra snow was enough to bury virtually all the rocks. Also, Forest Ranger Jim Giglinto cut through the worst of a tree that had fallen across the trail. It’s now possible to slide over the tree with » Continue Reading.



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Can’t Backcountry Ski? Try Ice Climbing

Dan Plumley climbs a route at Dipper Brook. Photo by Phil Brown.I don’t need to remind you how bad the backcountry skiing has been this year. As of this morning, the Adirondack Ski Touring Council wouldn’t even recommend skiing on the Marcy Dam Truck Trail.

But it has been cold this winter, so I figured the ice climbing must be good. Just over a week ago, in fact, there were ice climbers crawling all over Keene and Keene Valley during the Mountaineer’s annual Mountainfest.

Nevertheless, Don Mellor, author of Blue Lines: An Adirondack Ice Climber’s Guide, says the climbing this winter has been only so-so.



Friday, January 24, 2014

Skiing to Moose Pond Near Saranac Lake

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was another cold but brilliant day in Saranac Lake. I skied to Moose Pond on my lunch hour, a pristine water body with knockout views of Moose Mountain and Whiteface Mountain.

As usual this winter, I was worried about the amount of snow cover and so was glad to discover that the trail has been skied a lot in recent days. There were well-packed ski tracks all the way to the pond. Snowshoers also have been using the trail. I want to thank them for hiking to the side of the ski tracks.



Thursday, January 23, 2014

Skiing To High Rock on the Oswegatchie

Sue Bibeau, and her dog, Ella (Bibeau photo)Earlier this winter, after several long days in the office, I went to bed dreaming of my first backcountry ski trip of the season, a jaunt to High Rock in the Five Ponds Wilderness. Conditions would be perfect. Over the last few days, we had received eight inches of fluffy powder.

Then I woke up. Outside, it was twenty-four below zero, according to my Weather Channel app. Like any sensible person, I immediately broadcast this fact to Facebook. A few people suggested I postpone my trip.

“I have skied at 20 below, but I was 14 and foolish. Stay home, for god’s sake,” posted a former colleague.

But most » Continue Reading.



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Backcountry Skiing: Fresh Snow, But More Needed

Evergreen-flats-web-600x4143We got several inches of light snow over the weekend, so I went to the Jackrabbit Trail on my lunch hour Monday to check out the ski conditions. I skied the two miles from McKenzie Pond Road to McKenzie Pond. The woods were beautiful, with fluffy snow adorning the branches of the evergreens. The trail looked nice, too.

Unfortunately, there was little or no base underneath the fluff. For the most part, this was not a problem. In several places, though, roots and rocks lurked beneath the surface. The diciest spots were on two small downhills on the return trip. Both sections have rocks. I took these slowly. If the trail gets skied and the snow » Continue Reading.



Monday, January 20, 2014

Green Groups Say NYCO Drilling Would Violate Law

plumley lot 8Earthjustice, an environmental group that specializes in legal issues, contends that NYCO Mineral’s plans to drill for wollastonite samples in the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area would violate several state laws and regulations.

Earthjustice, headquartered in California, stakes out its position in a January 17 letter to state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens, written on behalf of Adirondack Wild, Protect the Adirondacks, the Sierra Club, and the Atlantic States Legal Foundation. These environmental groups oppose NYCO’s plan to expand an existing mine onto the Forest Preserve.



Monday, January 13, 2014

DEC Plans To Dismantle Marcy Dam

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen Tropical Storm Irene damaged Marcy Dam, draining most of the pond behind it, hikers debated passionately whether the dam should be rebuilt to restore an iconic vista enjoyed by tens of thousands of visitors over the years.

It looks like it won’t be.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation recently decided to dismantle the wooden dam in stages over the next five years.

DEC spokesman David Winchell said the cost of rebuilding the dam to modern standards would have been too costly and may have conflicted with the management principles for the High Peaks Wilderness Area. Those principles seek to minimize the presence of man-made structures.



Monday, January 13, 2014

On Old Beer Cans: Artifacts Of The Trail

Mike-Jarboe-600x3193On Thursday I skied to Burntbridge Pond deep in the Cranberry Lake Wild Forest. About four miles from the road I came across a historical artifact: an old Black Label can hanging from a branch.

It reminded me of a humorous essay by Mike Jarboe, “Happiness in a can,” that we published in the Adirondack Explorer in 2000. Mike wrote about scavenging for old beer cans at a dump below Death Falls near Raquette Lake.



Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Western Adirondacks Best Bet For Nordic Skiers

The view this morning from Baker Mountain outside Saranac Lake.The Tug Hill region east of Lake Ontario got clobbered by a lake-effect snowstorm Tuesday.  I was hoping we’d get a decent snowfall in Saranac Lake, but we received only a little more than a dusting. The woods on Baker Mountain looked pretty this morning, but they would have made for ugly skiing.

The western Adirondacks, however, picked up several inches of fresh snow.

Chris Tapper, business manager of Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company in Old Forge, said the Old Forge area got about five inches of light snow. The area now has about eight inches on the ground, and Tapper said most trails favored by Nordic » Continue Reading.



Monday, January 6, 2014

New State Lands: An Explanation and Analysis

The Essex Chain (Nancie Battaglia)After months of public debate and behind-the-scenes negotiations, the Adirondack Park Agency voted in December to prohibit motorized recreation on most of the former Finch, Pruyn timberlands the state purchased from the Nature Conservancy a year ago.

The unanimous decision will create a 23,494-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness and ensure that the quiet of the remote Essex Chain Lakes will not be disturbed by motorboats. Under the APA plan, the lakes will be the centerpiece of a 9,940-acre Essex Chain Primitive Area.



Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Green Groups Question Aspects Of Classification Decision

snowmobile-bridge-600x432Three green groups are taking the Adirondack Park Agency to task for failing to provide an analysis of the environmental impacts and legal ramifications of its classification of forty-two thousand acres of state land in December—including twenty-two thousand acres of former Finch, Pruyn land purchased from the Nature Conservancy.

At its monthly meeting, the APA board voted unanimously to create two motor-less tracts, the 23,494-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area and 9,940-acre Essex Chain Primitive Area, with a snowmobile corridor (classified Wild Forest) running between them.  (You can read about the decision in the latest issue of the Adirondack Explorer.)



Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Issue Of ‘Explorer’ Analyzes Essex Chain Decision

Explorer Cover January 2014We’ve just finished the January/February issue of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine. Our lead story is a lengthy analysis and explanation of the Adirondack Park Agency’s classification of the former Finch, Pruyn lands—one of the agency’s most important, controversial, and complicated decisions of recent years.

My reporting for Adirondack Almanack—six stories in the week before the decision—laid the groundwork for the Explorer story, but the print article pulls it all together and adds quite a bit of new information. Fittingly, the Explorer will publish the article on the Almanack as well.

The Finch, Pruyn package takes up five of the newsmagazine’s sixty pages. Besides the main story, it » Continue Reading.



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