During our recent spring adventure to Lost Brook we enjoyed three uncommon views that celebrated the prominence of three dominating Adirondack Peaks, plus a fourth view that is common but remains one of my favorites. The common view was Blue Mountain from the crest of Highway 30 between Tupper Lake and Long lake. I love this view because it is a true vista, which gives a greater sensation of size and vertical. Vistas are rare in the Adirondacks, at least vistas that render a higher mountain in all its glory. Blue was already largely snow free but its characteristic bulk from that Route 30 vantage point never fails to draw a breath from me in any season.
The other three views benefited from the calendar. This time of year enhances the sense of a mountain’s scale, with earth tones and green on the lower slopes and plenty of white on high. The Adirondacks may not be perpetually snow-capped, but in late April or early May we can imagine they are and they seem much more lofty for it. » Continue Reading.
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.
Well, 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 skis on. After a few more inches of snow, you probably won’t even notice it. » Continue Reading.
While on a mid-week ski tour in February 2009 I found the summit of Mount Marcy covered in untouched windblown snow. It made for difficult skiing, but the shape and texture of the snow, along with a deep blue later afternoon sky, made for an excellent photograph.
The Forty-Sixers is a hiking organization, requiring the climbing of the forty-six Adirondack High Peaks for membership. The High Peaks were first designated by George and Robert Marshall, and defined as any summit of 4,000 feet or more above sea level elevation, with at least 300 feet of vertical rise on all four sides and at least 0.75 miles from the nearest peak. » Continue Reading.
On Saturday I skied Mount Marcy and was surprised at how good the snow conditions were. I began at the start of South Meadow Road and had to take my skis off only once, on a fifty-yard stretch of the Marcy Dam Truck Trail.
To be sure, the trails were hard and sometimes icy on the approach to Marcy Dam and the first mile or so beyond, but above “50-Meter Bridge” (the second crossing of Phelps Brook), there was good snow: packed powder, with fluffier stuff outside the well-trodden track. » Continue Reading.
After moving to Saratoga Springs thirty-five years ago, Anne Diggory started looking for scenic landscapes to paint and soon gravitated to the Adirondacks. She’s been painting them ever since.
Over the years, Diggory has created several hundred paintings of mountains, lakes, and streams in the Adirondack Park. Starting this week, fifteen of them went on display at the Blue Mountain Gallery in New York City. The exhibit, titled “Turbulence,” will run through January 28.
Why “Turbulence”? Diggory, who majored in art at Yale, explained that she tried in these works to capture the energy of the natural world—whether a stormy sky, a frothy stream, or a wind-whipped lake. “I have a real interest in things that are moving or changing,” she said.
Depending on circumstances, she will paint on the spot or work from her sketches or photos. For Ripple Effect II, the painting of Rogers Rock shown above, she shot video from her Hornbeck canoe on Lake George. Later, she watched the video at home and created a seventy-inch-wide painting. (For a portrait of the artist at work,check out this New York Times story.)
Other Adirondack places depicted in “Turbulence” include Lake Clear, Lake Durant, and the Saranac River. The exhibit also includes paintings from beaches on Long Island and in South Carolina.
She made several of the paintings last summer while working as an artist-in-residence at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. (The name of the gallery is just a coincidence.)
Fortunately, you don’t have to travel to New York City to see the paintings in “Turbulence.” Most of them can be viewed on Diggory’s website. Just click here.
Not surprisingly, Diggory is an enthusiastic hiker and paddler. She and her husband used to take their daughters, Ariel and Parker, on camping trips when the girls were young. Ariel went on to earn a master’s degree in conservation biology from the State College of Environmental Science and Forestry and now works at the Adirondack Park Agency.
One of Diggory’s favorite Adirondack paintings depicts the view of Panther Gorge from Mount Marcy, the state’s highest summit. So far, she has climbed seven or eight of the forty-six High Peaks.
“I’m not going to climb all of them, but I’ll paint them all,” she remarked.
The Blue Mountain Gallery will host an opening reception 6-8 p.m. Thursday (January 5) and a closing reception 4-6 p.m. Saturday, January 28. The gallery is located at 530 West 25 Street in Manhattan.
Johns Brook (the apostrophe fell away long ago) is said to have been named for John Gibbs who lived at (or at least owned) the spot where the brook enters the East Branch of the Ausable in about 1795 (about where the Mountaineer stands today in Keene Valley).
The trail from the Garden Parking Area to Mount Marcy, on which Johns Brook Lodge sits, is said to have been laid out by Ed Phelps, son of legendary Keene Valley guide Old Mountain Phelps. Known primarily as the Phelps Trail (but also called the Johns Brook or Northside Trail), the route also serves as the northern boundary of the Johns Brook Primitive Area. The Primitive Area is one of four DEC management units (the High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Canoe Route, and Ampersand Primitive Area are the others) that make up the High Peaks Wilderness Complex [UMP pdf]. » Continue Reading.
This announcement is for general use – local conditions may vary and are subject to sometimes drastic changes.
Listen for the weekly Adirondack Outdoor Recreation Report Friday mornings on WNBZ (AM 920 & 1240, FM 105 & 102.1) and the stations of North Country Public Radio.
The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional Forest Ranger incident reports which form a stern reminder that wilderness conditions can change suddenly and accidents happen. Be aware of the latest weather conditions and carry adequate gear and supplies.
SPECIAL NOTICES FOR THIS WEEKEND ** indicates new or revised items.
** DEC DISCOURGING BACKCOUNTRY USE As of 3:30 pm on 4/28 only the trailheads for the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness located along Route 73 south of Keene can be reached by motor vehicle. DEC is discouraging the public from entering the woods or accessing the waters of the Adirondacks due to significant number of closed roads, impassable river, stream and brook crossings, flooded trails and campsites, and the High Wind Warning that has been issued for Thursday afternoon and evening. Saturated soils could result in numerous trees being toppled and tails and campsites may be covered and blocked by fallen trees and other blowdown. The danger of landslides on mountain slopes is currently high.
** HIGH WATERS – FLOODING This winter’s deep snow pack combined with heavy rains this week have left lakes and ponds brimming, and rivers and streams swollen with cold and fast water. All major rivers are above flood stage and major flooding is occurring and expected to continue through Friday. More than 75 roads around the region have been reported closed, including several major connecting routes. Several roads and bridges have collapsed, and major flooding has forced, or may soon force evacuations along the Hudson, Schroon, Ausable, Bouquet, Saranac, and Raquette Rivers, and along Mill Brook in Moriah, which has been hard hit. Docks, boat launches, and low-lying waterfront property across the region’s lakes and reservoirs are submerged by high waters. Lake Champlain set the highest level ever recorded on the USGS gage at almost two feet above flood stage. Most boat launches in the region are flooded, making it risky to launch and retrieve boats. Boaters and paddlers should be aware that waters are cold and swift and may contain logs, limbs and other debris. High waters also conceal navigation hazards such as boulders, rock shelves, docks and other structures that normally are easily seen and avoided. Paddlers consult the latest stream gage data and use extreme caution. A complete report of the Adirondack Floods of 2011 can be found here.
**HIGH WIND WARNING – EXPECT BLOWDOWN The National Weather Service has issued a High Wind Warning until 8 pm Thursday, for Saint Lawrence and Franklin Counties. Winds are expected to be southwest 25 to 35 mph wurth gusts to 65 miles per hour. Saturated soils could result in numerous trees being toppled and tails and campsites may be covered and blocked by fallen trees and other blowdown. The danger of landslides on mountain slopes is currently high.
** ROAD CLOSURES Numerous major highways and secondary roads have been closed due to flooding and washouts. Any bridge over a major stream or river, and any road running near open water currently has the possibility of closure. Roads that have been recently or are now closed include: Route 28 north of North Creek; Route 28N between Blue Mountain Lake and Long Lake; Route 30 at the bridge over Long Lake and at the bridge over the Cedar River north of Indian Lake; Route 86 in Wilmington Notch between Wilmington and Lake Placid; Route 73 at the bridge over the West Branch of the Ausable River near the ski jumps outside of Lake Placid; Route 73 at the bridge over the East Branch of the Ausable River in Keene; Route 9N between Keene and Upper Jay; Route 9 where it crosses the South Branch of the Boquet River and near Split Rock Falls between Elizabethtown and Exit 30 of the Northway; Thirteenth Lake Road in Johnsburg; Route 28N between Long Lake and Tupper Lake; Schroon River Road at Riverbank; Route 8 between Route 28 in Poland, Route 12 and Route 28 in Deerfield, and Route 10 in Piseco; Route 28 over West Canada Creek between Route 29 and Route 169 in Middleville; Route 5 between Route 5B and Route 233 in Kirkland; Route 922E (River St) between Route 49 and Route 69 in Whitestown and Marcy and the village of Whitesboro; and Route 315 between Route 12 and County Route 9 (Shanley Rd) in Sangerfield. DEC has closed most roadways for mud season. Gates on roads designated for motor vehicle traffic will be reopened when conditions warrant.
** THIN ICE SAFETY No ice on water is safe.
** WET AND MUDDY CONDITIONS DEC is discouraging the public from entering the woods or accessing the waters of the Adirondacks due to closed roads, impassable river, stream and brook crossings, flooded trails and campsites, and the High Wind Warning that has been issued for Thursday afternoon and evening. Lower and mid-elevation trails, those below 2,500 feet, are wet and muddy. Be prepared by wearing waterproof footwear and gaiters, and remember to walk through – not around – mud and water on trails.
SNOWSHOES OR SKIS The use of snowshoe or skis is required in the Eastern High Peaks where ever snow depths exceed 8 inches, as is currently the case above Marcy Dam. Using snowshoes or skis prevents “post-holing”, avoids injuries, and eases travel through snow.
BEAR CANISTERS NOW REQUIRED IN HIGH PEAKS The use of bear-resistant canisters is required for overnight users in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness, and recommended throughout the Adirondacks, between April 1 and November 30. All food, toiletries and garbage must be stored in bear-resistant canisters.
Carry Extra Winter Gear Snowshoes or skis can prevent injuries and eases travel in heavy snow. Ice crampons should be carried for use on icy trails and mountaintops and other exposed areas. Wear layers of wool and fleece (NOT COTTON!), a winter hat, gloves or mittens, wind/rain resistant outer wear, and winter boots. Carry a day pack complete with ice axe, plenty of food and water, extra clothing, map and compass, first-aid kit, flashlight/headlamp, sun glasses, sun-block protection, ensolite pads, a stove and extra fuel, and bivy sack or space blankets.
Know The Latest Weather Check the weather before entering the woods and be aware of weather conditions at all times — if weather worsens, head out of the woods.
Fire Danger: LOW NOTE: We’re entering the state’s historically high fire risk period from mid-March until mid-May.
** Central Adirondacks LOWER Elevation Weather
Friday: Chance morning rain and snow, then rain showers. High near 53. Friday Night: Chance of rain and possibly snow showers, with a low around 30. Saturday: Sunny, high near 57. North wind between 6 and 8 mph. Saturday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 29. Sunday: Chance of afternoon showers after 2pm. Mostly sunny, high near 67.
The National Weather Service provides a weather forecast for elevations above 3000 feet and spot forecasts for the summits of a handful of the highest peaks in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties. [LINK]
** Snow Cover Snow is all but gone outside the High Peaks where there is still 15 inches of slushy wet snow on the ground at Lake Colden and more in higher elevations. Conditions there still require snowshoes or skis above Marcy Dam.
** Backcountry Ski Report Snow cover is no longer suitable for skiing below Marcy Dam, and above snow cover is starting to wane and get patchy, there remains about 15 inches to two feet and more at higher elevations. Avalanche Lake should no longer safe for crossing. The bridge is out on the trail to Marcy, see below for details. Phil Brown skied Mount Marcy last weekend and noted that the approximately four miles from the Summit to Phelps Brook still has plenty of snow. “I expect diehards will be able to ski this stretch for a few weeks more,” Brown reported, “but they’ll have to carry their skis 3.5 miles on the ascent and on the descent.”
** Rock Climbing Closures All rock climbing routes on Moss Cliff in Wilmington Notch and the Upper and Lower Washbowl Cliffs at Chapel Pond remain closed to allow for peregrine falcon nesting. DEC has confirmed that peregrine falcons are nesting on the Nose on Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain and 54 climbing routes remain closed including Garter and Mogster (Routes #26 through #82 in Adirondack Rock) through the nesting season. See Adirondack Rock Climbing Route Closures for more information.
Migrating Birds Thousands of birds are currently undertaking their seasonal journey along the Atlantic Flyway from their southern wintering grounds. Flocks of migratory waterfowl like geese, ducks and swans are among the first to arrive, as songbirds like the red-winged blackbird, Eastern bluebird, Eastern meadowlark and American robin take up residence and build their nests. Over the next few weeks, grab your binoculars to watch the spectacle of birds arriving this spring. Visit DEC’s Watchable Wildlife site to find a place near you for great bird and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Whitewater Rafting Season Has Begun The whitewater rafting season has begun on the Moose, Black and Sacandaga rivers. The Hudson River Whitewater Derby will run May 7-8 2011. The event includes novice slalom, giant slalom, and more.
** Trout Season Opened April 1st Trout (brook, rainbow, brown and hybrids, and splake) and landlocked Salmon season open April 1st, but the season is still suffering from high and cold waters. Trout stocking was suspended in Warren County because of cold waters and widespread flooding that has brought streams to record levels. We’ll need at least one dry week to get local waters back to fishable levels. With large lakes like Lake Champlain and Lake George at record levels, smaller lakes and ponds are your best bet. For catch and size limits view the freshwater fishing regulations online.
** Spring Turkey Season Opens May 1 DEC biologists expect the spring turkey harvest to be well below the state’s 10-year average of about 34,000 birds, and likely below last year take of 25,807. This is likely to be a third year of poor production in the Adirondacks. 2009 was one of the worst poult production years on record and as a result there will be fewer 2-year-olds, last year’s poor production means fewer yearlings (jakes). Because those birds make up most of the spring turkey harvest, it will likely be considerably lower than average.
ADIRONDACK LOCAL BACKCOUNTRY CONDITIONS
NORTHVILLE PLACID TRAIL
The Northville Placid Trail (NPT) is the Adirondack Park’s only designated long distance hiking trail. The 133 mile NPT was laid out by the Adirondack Mountain Club in 1922 and 1923, and is now maintained by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Up to date NPT trail condition information can be found online.
Upper Benson to Whitehouse: Just north of the Mud Lake lean-to there has been significant blow-down in several areas across the trail that happened sometime in early December that requires several bushwhacks to get around.
West Canada Lakes to Wakely Dam: The bridge over Mud Creek, northeast of Mud Lake, has been washed out. Wading the creek is the only option. The water in Mud Creek will vary from ankle deep to knee deep.
** High Waters – Cold Temperatures: Water levels are high, major flooding is occurring on most rivers and streams and water temperatures are low. Paddlers and other boaters should be prepared for high waters that may contain logs, limbs and other debris. See High Waters – Flooding Warning Above.
** Personal Flotation Devices Required: Users of small boats are reminded that state law still requires all occupants of boats less than 21 feet in length are required to wear personal flotation devices (aka PFDs and life jackets) until May 1.
** Visits to High Peaks Di scourged: DEC is discouraging the public from entering the woods or accessing the waters of the Adirondacks due to significant number of closed roads, impassable river, stream and brook crossings, flooded trails and campsites, and the High Wind Warning that has been issued for Thursday afternoon and evening. Saturated soils could result in numerous trees being toppled and tails and campsites may be covered and blocked by fallen trees and other blowdown. The danger of landslides on mountain slopes is currently high.
** Limited Access: As of 3:30 pm on 4/28 only the trailheads for the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness located along Route 73 south of Keene can be reached my motor vehicle.
** Opalescent Lean-to: The Opalescent Lean-to is once again available for use.
Preston Pond Trail: The first bridge west of Henderson Lake on the trail to Preston Ponds and Duck Hole went out with an ice jam and is now impassible.
Johns Brook Valley: The Bear Brook Lean-to has been removed and will not be replaced.
Bear Resistant Canister Now Required: The use of bear-resistant canisters is required for overnight users in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness, and recommended throughout the Adirondacks, between April 1 and November 30. All food, toiletries and garbage must be stored in bear-resistant canisters.
Giant Mountain Wilderness: All rock climbing routes on Upper and Lower Washbowl Cliffs are closed to allow for peregrine falcon nesting. See Adirondack Rock Climbing Route Closures for more information.
Snowshoes or Skis: The use of snowshoe or skis is required in the Eastern High Peaks when snows are at least 8 inches deep, as is the case above Marcy Dam. Using snowshoes or skis prevents “post-holing”, avoids injuries, and eases travel through snow.
Johns Brook Valley: Lean2Rescue, in cooperation with DEC, will be undertaking several lean-to projects in the Johns Brook Valley over the course of the next several months. DEC will post notifications at the Garden trailhead prior to work being started. The Deer Brook lean-to is currently closed while it’s being moved.
Marcy Brook Bridge: The Marcy Brook Bridge, below the junction of the Avalanche Pass and Lake Arnold trails, was damaged by ice during the recent thaw. The bridge is still usable but one of the railings is bent making the path over the bridge narrow. Skiers may have some problems crossing.
Opalescent Cable Bridge: The cable bridge over the Opalescent River on the East River/Hanging Spear Falls trail has been washed out. The crossing will be impassable during high water periods.
Western High Peaks Wilderness: The unpaved section of Corey’s Road, the main entrance to the Western High Peaks Wilderness, is closed for mud season.
Western High Peaks Wilderness: Trails in the Western High Peaks Wilderness are cluttered with blowdown from a storm that occurred December 1st. DEC has cleared blow down along the Corey’s Road, and in most areas accessed from the that road, including the Seward Trail, although not along the Northville-Placid Trail.
Sentinel Range Wilderness: The Copperas Pond/Owen Pond Loop Trail was impacted by serious winds resulting in significant blow down. While most of the blowdown has been cut out, some downed trees and limbs are still present.
Ampersand Mountain Trail: There is heavy blowdown on the Ampersand Mountain Trail as far as the old caretakers cabin – approximately 1.7 miles in. Finding the trail may be difficult after fresh snows. Skiing will be frustrating as there are so many trees down. Past the cabin site the trail is good but snowshoes and crampon are needed.
Elk Lake Conservation Easement Lands: The Clear Pond Gate on the Elk Lake Road is closed and will remain closed until the end of the spring mud season. This adds 2 miles of hiking, plan trips accordingly.
Bushnell Falls: The high water bridge at Bushnell Falls has been removed, the low water crossing may not be accessible during high water.
Caulkins Brook Truck Trail/Horse Trail: Much of the blowdown on the Caulkins Brook Truck Trail/Horse Trail between the Calkins Brook lean-tos and Shattuck Clearing has been removed. The trail is open for hikers but remains impassable to horses and wagons. DEC crews continue to work to open the trail.
CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN ADIRONDACKS
Moose River Plains Wild Forest: The Moose River Plains Road System is closed for mud season. Gates have been closed at the Cedar River Headquarters and the Limekiln Lake. The road system will be reopened once they have dried out and all necessary maintenance and repairs have been completed.
Ferris Lake Wild Forest: The West Lake Boat Launch was impacted by rains and floods last August. DEC staff have made repairs to the roadway, parking lot and ramps, however, be aware that the waters off the boat launch are more shallow than before.
Perkins Clearing/Speculator Tree Farm Conservation Easement: Gates have been closed on all roads for the mud season. The roads will be reopened once they have dried out and all necessary maintenance and repairs have been completed.
Pigeon Lake Wilderness: DEC Forest Rangers and trail crew have been working to clear blowdown from trails. The following trails are cleared and ready for skiing and/or snowshoeing: Shallow Lake Trail (well-marked with some minor blow down), West Mountain Trail (well-marked, some blowdown remains on section east of the summit), and Sucker Brook Trail
EASTERN / SOUTHEASTERN ADIRONDACKS
** Lake Champlain Fish Kill: Crews are cleaning up the thousands of dead fish that have washed up along the shoreline of Lake Champlain. Thousands of nonnative alevives that died during the winter have washed up near campgrounds and beaches preparing to open for the season. Officials in Moriah told the Press-Republican that workers, including inmate work crews, are hoping to reduce the possibility of a stench from the rotting fish researching public areas. The fish are being hauled to a local landfill.
** Shelving Rock Road: The Town of Fort Ann has reopened Shelving Rock Road.
Ausable Point Campground & Day Use Area: The entry road to the Ausable Point Campground and Day Use Area is closed until further notice due to flooding. DEC has placed barricades at the end of the road and will be patrolling the area to ensure the public is abiding by the closure. The road will be reopened once the waters have receded and it is determined the road can handle motorized traffic without further damage.
Eastern Lake George Wild Forest: The Town of Fort Ann has closed the Shelving Rock Road for mud season.
**Western Lake George Wild Forest: The Bear Slides ADA-accessible route is open.
Western Lake George Wild Forest: The following roads have been closed for spring mud season: Scofield Flats, Pikes Beach, Darlings Ford in the Hudson River Special Management Area, Palmer Pond Access Route, Gay Pond Road, Lily Pond Road, Palmer Pond Road, Jabe Pond Road.
Hammond Pond Wild Forest: The Lindsey Brook Trail is closed due to flooding by beaver activity.
Hoffman Notch Wilderness: Some stream crossings do not have bridges and may be difficult to cross in high water conditions.
Hudson River Recreation Area: Gates on the Buttermilk Road Extension in the Hudson River Special Management Area (aka the Hudson River Recreation Area), in the Town of Warrensburg remain shut and the roads closed to motor vehicle traffic.
** Hudson Gorge Primitive Area: See the High Waters – Flooding Warning Above. Water levels are high and water temperatures are low. Paddlers and other boaters should be prepared for high waters that may contain logs, limbs and other debris. Paddlers, hunters and other users of small boats are reminded that state law requires all occupants of boats less than 21 feet in length are required to wear personal flotation devices (aka PFDs and life jackets) between November 1 and May 1.
Santa Clara Tract Easement Lands (former Champion Lands): All lands are open to all legal and allowable public recreation activities beginning January 1. The gate to the Pinnacle Trail remains closed until after the spring mud season.
Whitney Wilderness / Lake Lila: The gate to the Lake Lila Road is closed. Public motorized access to the road is prohibited until the gate is reopened after the spring mud season. Cross-country skiers, snowshoers and other non-motorized access is allowed on the road. Trespassing on lands adjacent to the road is prohibited.
** Taylor Pond Wild Forest: Peregrine falcon nesting has been confirmed on The Nose on the Main Face of Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain, rock climbing routes between and including Garter and Mogster (Routes #26 through #82 in Adirondack Rock) will remain closed through the nesting season. See Adirondack Rock Climbing Route Closures for more information.
Norton Peak Cave / Chateuagay Woodlands Conservation Easement Lands: Norton Peak Cave has been reopened to the public following the expiration of the cave closing order on March 31. The cave is a bat hibernacula with white nose syndrome present. DEC is considering whether to close all bat hibernacula caves on state lands and easements to protect the bat population. It’s best to stay out of caves at this time.
GENERAL ADIRONDACK NOTICES
Accidents Happen, Be Prepared Wilderness conditions can change suddenly and accidents happen. Hikers and campers should check up-to-date forecasts before entering the backcountry as conditions at higher elevations will likely be more severe. All users should bring flashlight, first aid kit, map and compass, extra food, plenty of water and clothing. Be prepared to spend an unplanned night in the woods and always inform others of your itinerary.
Personal Flotation Devices Required Paddlers, hunters and other users of small boats are reminded that state law requires all occupants of boats less than 21 feet in length are required to wear personal flotation devices (aka PFDs and life jackets) between November 1 and May 1.
Cave And Mine Closings White nose syndrome, the fungal disease that’s wiping out bat populations across the northeast has spread to at least 32 cave and mine bat hibernation sites across the New York state according to a recent survey. Populations of some bat species are declining in these caves and mines by 90 percent. White nose was first discovered in upstate New York in the winter of 2006-2007 and is now confirmed in at least 11 states. DEC has closed all bat hibernacula caves on state lands and easements to protect the bat population including Norton Peak Cave in Chateuagay Woodlands Easement Lands and also Eagle Cave near Chimney Mountain. Please respect cave and mine closures.
Practice ‘Leave No Trace’ Principles All backcountry users should learn and practice the Leave No Trace philosophy: Plan ahead and be prepared, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and be considerate of others. More information is available online.
——————– Warnings and announcements drawn from DEC, NWS, NOAA, USGS, and other sources. Detailed Adirondack Park camping, hiking, and outdoor recreation and trail conditions can be found at DEC’s webpages. A DEC map of the Adirondack Park can also be found online [pdf].
The new DEC Trails Supporter Patch is now available for $5 at all outlets where sporting licenses are sold, on-line and via telephone at 1-866-933-2257. Patch proceeds will help maintain and enhance non-motorized trails throughout New York State.
Heavy rain, thunder and lightning, flood watches, the Yankees vying for first place, the Mets vying for last—it seems that spring has arrived.
Not so fast. This past Saturday, I skied Mount Marcy with Sue Bibeau, the Adirondack Explorer’s designer and sometime photographer, and we were amazed at how much snow remains up high.
We took the Van Hoevenberg Trail from Adirondak Loj. Except for three short sections—at Algonquin Brook, Marcy Dam, and Phelps Brook—we kept our skis on the whole way. As we approached the tree line on Marcy’s summit, we found the last signpost, at the junction with the Phelps Trail, completely buried in snow except for the top few inches. I’m not sure how tall that signpost is, though I’m told it’s under five feet. In any case, I’ve been up Marcy many times in midwinter and not found that much snow.
Of course, the snow is not going to disappear overnight. So despite the rains this week, there will be skiing on Marcy next weekend and (if we’re lucky) perhaps into May. As the days pass, skiers will have to carry their boards farther and farther to find snow. In past springs, I’ve lugged my skis as far as three and a half miles. That still left me with nearly four miles of good skiing.
Yes, it’s a lot of work, but there’s nothing quite like skiing Marcy’s bowl in a T-shirt. It’s no wonder we saw thirteen other skiers on the summit on Saturday.
Incidentally, I did the trip on the Madshus Epochs I reviewed here last week. The skis worked fine, though I was unable turn them as quickly as my wider skis. One big advantage is that the Epochs are a few pounds lighter than my other skis and can be used with lighter boots. This makes a huge difference on a 7.4-mile ascent.
Paddlers, too, should be grateful for the abundance of snow in the peaks. As it melts in the weeks ahead, the creeks will be running high. This is also good news for anglers: the cold, rushing water will scour silt from the holes where trout hide out and lay eggs.
Sunshine, melting snow, mild temperatures—it sure felt like spring this past weekend. But not everywhere.
On Saturday, I climbed the Trap Dike and the slide on the northwest face of Mount Colden. The snow throughout the ascent was hard, like Styrofoam, ideal for ascending with crampons. When my foot did break through the crust one time, I sank up to my thigh. The trip served as a reminder that winter lingers in the high elevations long after spring arrives in the valleys. If you’re willing to carry your equipment two or three miles over muddy trails at the start, you sometimes can ski Mount Marcy into May.
Spring skiing is great fun if you catch the right conditions. Ideally, the nights are cold enough that the snowpack remains hard, but the temperatures climb enough during the day to soften the surface. If snow remains too firm, you’ll have a hair-raising descent. If it softens too much, you’ll be sinking into mashed potatoes.
A friend of mine snowboarded Algonquin Peak and Wright Peak on the day I climbed the Trap Dike. In photos posted on Facebook, his friends are seen crossing an open brook with skis over their shoulders. This kind of thing is typical of the approaches in spring.
A few years ago, I did the Algonquin/Wright trip with four others and wrote about it for the Adirondack Explorer in a story headlined “Winter’s last redoubt.” If you’re interested in reading a detailed account of spring adventure, click here to see the story and Susan Bibeau’s photos.
Spring skiing leads to odd juxtapositions. I once skied Marcy and played golf on the same day. Other times, I drove to Albany after a ski trip and saw flowers in bloom, with temperatures in the seventies. If you tell people you went skiing on a day like that, they look at you funny.
Indeed, many people do not realize how long winter hangs on in the High Peaks. On a warm day in April, I once encountered a hiker on the plateau below Marcy’s summit, sinking to his knees with each step. I asked him why he wasn’t wearing snowshoes, as required by law. He informed me that “the season is over”—referring, I suppose, to the skiing/snowshoeing season.
I’m skiing and you’re sinking up to your knees in snow, but the season is over?
Another day, I started out from the Adirondak Loj in a T-shirt. The temperatures must have been in the sixties, and it got warmer as the day progressed. Nevertheless, when I got to Marcy’s summit cone, the wind-chill made it feel well below freezing. I put on my winter layers. Meanwhile, a hiker was struggling up the slope in shorts, looking miserable but determined to get to the top.
So if you’re planning to climb a High Peak in April or early May, don’t be misled by the mild weather at the trailhead. Winter can be nasty, even in spring.
Photo by Susan Bibeau: skiers ascending Algonquin Peak in spring.
What follows is the January and February Forest Ranger Activity Report for DEC Region 5, which includes most of the Adirondack region. Although not a comprehensive detailing of all back-country incidents, these reports are issued periodically by the DEC and printed here at the Almanack in their entirety. They are organized by county, and date. You can read previous Forest Ranger Reports here.
These incident reports are a stern reminder that wilderness conditions can change suddenly and accidents happen. Hikers and campers should check up-to-date forecasts before entering the backcountry and always carry a flashlight, first aid kit, map and compass, extra food, plenty of water and clothing. Be prepared to spend an unplanned night in the woods and always inform others of your itinerary.
Every year I skin up and ski down this mountain, at 5,344 feet the highest in the state. Sometimes twice. The 14-mile route is considered by many to be one of the finest backcountry tours on the East Coast.
All these trips, and I still can’t help feeling on the way down that I’m about to die. Mind you, my ski gear has improved significantly from the first time nearly 20 years ago, when I used cross-country skis and boots so floppy that when I sat down and held my legs out in front of me the skis ticked back and forth like a metronome.
Today, I use telemark skis and plastic boots. I wear safety goggles. But I still can’t shake the feeling that around every curve is sure to be a fatal collision with a blue spruce tree or an overweight snowshoer.
Fear is my undoing, because it’s not my terrible skiing that turns a ski down Mt. Marcy to a fall down Mt. Marcy. It’s the speed, which makes me want to stop, which then causes me to fall. The only good side of this is that there’s not a chairlift in sight, so at least no one’s watching.
Marcy, being New York’s highest mountain, has always attracted visitors. And the extra bonus is that the trail was made for skiing. Unfortunately, it was made for skiers who clearly don’t mind shooting pell-mell down a tobaggan-run of a trail so curvy you never know what’s 20 feet ahead until you’ve risked becoming intimately acquainted with it.
I’ve always been envious of those who can ski down this trail with grace and poise. A few years ago, I was doing my usual ass-over-teakettle descent when I passed Tony Goodwin, the local trail guru. He was calmly and methodically descending the mountain on his old leather boots and cross-country skis, carving out a perfect snowplow in the spring powder as I blundered by. How did he do it?
I’ve had some good descents, generally dependent on snow conditions. Powder slows you down a lot, and makes turning easier, as does wet spring snow. During my most recent descent, with Adirondack Explorer Editor Phil Brown, the snow was powdery but also quite fast. Phil fell once. I lost track of the times that I threw my hurling body to the ground. But I made it down unpunctured by errant tree branch and uncontusioned by face plants.
The record for descent from peak to trailhead, as I understand it, is about 43 minutes. That’s by local skimeister Pat Munn of the famed Ski to Die Club, who was accompanied by his dog Otis. The time includes the few minutes he used to chat with friends at Marcy Dam. Doubtless he stayed upright the entire time. My descent time was more like two hours, though Phil and I did stop to take pictures (and a video, which you can see here).
Why do I keep coming back? Mt. Marcy is the consummate backcountry ski experience: a long skin up, a treeless summit (sometimes with a bowl filled with powder just below the top) and 3,000 feet of vertical drop that is — well, no matter what your skill level — never boring.
You push your way up, with each step the view growing more and more impressive. And then, on a perfect day, the top is bathed in sunshine; the summit cone standing out like a tower amid the stunted forest below treeline; the High Peak’s most rugged peaks are your closest neighbors.
At the top, you fuel up on food and water, rip off your skins and prepare for the long descent. In Phil’s case, he brought a ski helmet. I just wore my fear. And some safety glasses.
Still, for all my sloppy schussing, I’ll keep coming back. The effort, the view (or the white-out, as was the case this year), and that exhausted feeling of satisfaction at the end makes it all worth it.
And the knowledge that with every trip I’m learning. Some day, I know, I’ll ski it clean.
* * * Interested in skiing Marcy? Park at Adirondack Loj near Lake Placid (fee), and plan for five to seven hours for the round-trip. Backcountry ski gear is available for rent at The Mountaineer in Keene Valley and EMS in Lake Placid. The Visitor’s Center at the Loj parking lot also rents ski gear, but most skiers may find the equipment more suited to lower-angle trails than the steep slopes on Marcy. Remember not to go too fast!
On the spring equinox of March, 1969, I snowshoed and skied into Bushnell Falls, on the slopes of Mount Marcy, with Sam Lewis and two friends of his from college: Henry, a young English professor, and Doug, who had recently graduated with Sam from Franklin and Marshall. It had been the first of a series of major snowfall winters, and we made our way along the John’s Brook Trail after the usual college kids’ late start in the gloom of another approaching storm. The accumulated snow lay seven feet deep in the pine plantation, as we judged from the height of the telephone line to the ranger cabin that we had to step over periodically as it zigzagged back and forth across the trail. We broke trail on wooden Northland and army surplus skis with screwed on metal edges, cable bindings on hiking boots, and climbing skins. It was half a dozen years ahead of the cross-country ski boom of the mid-seventies brought on partly by those same snowy winters. My bindings kept getting screwed up. We carried one aluminum frame pack, a pack board, and two canvas rucksacks: one army surplus, the other a nice European model. We wore army surplus silk glove liners and silk union suits. John’s Brook Loj was closed, half buried, the only signs of life the fresh red squirrel tracks that led from the foundation under the eaves into the nearby spruces.
We passed the Loj after drinking tea from a thermos and eating gorp out of a plastic bag. The trail climbed. It was dusk. Deeply mounded cushions of powder blotted out everything, including sound. A party of real climbers, alpinists with ice axes and good equipment, their faces and beards frost-rimed, met us coming down from the summit of Marcy. “Bad ice and fog,” one of them said. “Don’t try to climb it now.” We wouldn’t, we said. We were only heading to the lean-to at Slant Rock. “If you can find it,” he said.
The light was gray and flat. It was almost dark when we found the rounded tumuli at Bushnell Falls, below Slant Rock, that showed where the lean-tos were buried. We chose the easiest one to reach and dug our way in through the space where the lean-to’s log sidewall met the wall of snow that closed it off. Inside, we lit candles, placed them on the shelves and spread out our equipment—a cotton duck-feather sleeping bag for me, the others had good down and nylon bags. Then we scooped a hearth out of the snow a few feet from the front of the lean-to and built a fire with dead pine branches on a base of aluminum foil. The concave snow wall, the smoke hole at the top and the air holes we dug out at the sides created a perfect draft. Within minutes the interior snow wall had glazed over and filled the lean-to with reflected heat and flickering light that kept us warm and well-lit through the night. Sam’s ski thermometer, which he had hung on a nail outside, read zero F.
Henry had a brass Svea stove and we soon had it going and camp food boiling. Henry was older by a few years, an English instructor at Franklin and Marshall, with a bushy black beard—a meditator and follower of the Beats. He had winter camped and climbed in the Sierras, in California, where he was from, and in the Cascades, and had memorized Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, one of the Ur-texts for Sam’s and my Adirondack excursions at summer camp on Lake George, and together on weekends. We were budding conservationists and wilderness advocates in the spirit of the times, had read Aldo Leopold, John McPhee, Colin Fletcher and Rachel Carson. It was Henry and Doug’s first time in the Adirondacks, and Sam and I filled them in on what we knew of the place, our experiences there, and the pending legislation, long in the works, for an Adirondack Park agency that would regulate development and wild-land use in the six-million acre protected area in New York State’s prominent northern bulge.
After dinner we shared the brandy we had decanted into aluminum bottles and read to each other from William Carlos Williams’ “Paterson,” from Wallace Stevens, and “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Boozy good fellowship obtained. We decried rumors of the secret bombing of Cambodia and shared stories of draft avoidance and evasion, our own and others we had heard of—a major preoccupation of draft-age men at the time. Henry told of a reporter friend in Oakland who had been assigned a Man On the Street piece on the bombing rumors. Most of the responses were predictably non-committal or against the war—it was the sixties in the Bay Area—but the quote of an African-American veteran stood out. “Man,” he told the reporter, “Richard Nixon is a lying motherfucker and his heart pumps shit.”
Henry’s friend reported it dutifully and handed in the piece. “It’s a great quote, but we can’t use it,” the editor said, to his friend’s disappointment and our great amusement. Henry, it seemed, was fond of turning quaint turns of phrase or expressions into musical rounds, to be sung while consuming various mind-altering fungi. He handed around a bag of psilocybin mushrooms and after a couple of attempts assembled from the quote the following round, which we sang (at length) in four parts and to the tune of “Frere Jacques.”
Richard Nixon, Richard Nixon Heart pumps shit, heart pumps shit Lying motherfucker, lying motherfucker Heart pumps shit, heart pumps shit.
“You had to be there,” Sam would say later, when telling the story. “And tripping.”
It was more than two years before the New York State legislature passed the APA act and Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed into law the most comprehensive and visionary land-use law of its time. It was also four months before the first Earth Day; four years before the first gas crisis, four years before Watergate and six before the last helicopters fled Saigon. Outside the lean-to more snow fell softly over all the living and the soon to be dead, whose stories and memories would merge like snowflakes into the pool of general myth, confused feeling and sentimental distortion that would come to stand for the vanished Adirondacks of the industrial frontier.
That night we slept the sleep of the clueless, the fire lighting our wilderness womb through the night. The next morning we skied down the firm, snow-cushioned bed of John’s Brook on eighteen inches of new powder, glissading over the frozen falls. Sitting on the bridge to Lower Wolfjaw in the snow muffled silence I saw myself in a distant adult future, reading by lamplight in a wilderness cabin, surrounded by books. Thus I had read of Harold Weston, the artist and activist, doing when he lived and painted in St. Hubert’s in the Twenties. It should be possible, I thought, however naively, to live that way again.
Later that morning Sam informed me that Doug and Henry were a couple and that they were helping him apply for a draft deferment on the basis of being gay. (He wasn’t.) Big choices and commitments were in the air. I was attending college in Toronto but spared the draft by a 4-F deferment based on the inflated diagnosis of a minor condition by my family’s doctor, a Korean War veteran and amputee. I had considered emigrating but here was a reason to return. There was a feeling of a new kind of thing coming into existence—right here in the Adirondacks!—something that ran counter to the general violence and confusion playing out around the country, and we could be part of it.
The vestiges of the industrial frontier had grown dim, with all its rustic imagery and technology, but the new thing hadn’t formed yet. The Northway hadn’t penetrated the high peaks. We camped in floorless canvas tents, had only recently stopped building our mattresses out of balsam tips. The accepted paradigm at DEC was that moose would never be able to coexist with deer in the Adirondacks because of a nematode the deer carried that made the moose crazy. You drove for miles without seeing another car. Whitewater rafting, a Western invention, was a decade in the future. But a common feeling existed, a flavor of experience that resided in the effects of seasonal light, sound and smell combined with echoes of the regional twang.
After lunch at the Spread Eagle Inn we stopped at Skyline Outfitters, in Keene, located in the blue and white Victorian on Route 73 that’s still there. It was run by “Ma” Schaefer, wife of the early conservationist Paul Schaefer, a neighbor of my family’s in Schenectady. (She was also the mother of long-time Johnsburg resident, Evelyn Greene.) We were looking for a new burner for Henry’s Svea and in the course of watching her dig around in the jumble of stock and hiking gadgets—good outdoor equipment was less fussy and more utilitarian then—the conversation drifted toward the snow, change, the “act,” old-timers, and such archetypes as Rondeau, whose journals we had devoured in Maitland DeSormo’s estimable self-published biography. She had known Rondeau, had camped at the hermit’s Cold River City during her summer-long hiking outings with her children. He was a drunk, she said. “Of course all those old characters are gone now,” she added, no spring chicken herself by then.
We nodded to acknowledge the passing of a reality of which we knew nothing, and turned to the door.
“Except me,” she said, solemn faced. We left her standing behind the counter on a snowy late afternoon in early spring, watching us leave.
For advanced skiers who are looking forward to hitting the High Peaks this winter, the Adirondack Ski Touring Council has some good news: There are now fewer opportunities to get skewered by branches or whapped in the face by evergreen boughs when skiing down Mount Marcy.
Tony Goodwin, executive director of the council, joined two other local skiers last September to prune trees along the 7.5 mile trail from Adirondack Loj to the summit of the state’s highest peak. This was their second pruning trip in a year. Long a popular ski route as well as a hiking trail, it’s the only official ski trail to the top of a High Peak.
The route was first built with skiers in mind but has been allowed to grow inward over the years. Recently, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has allowed skiers to go in and clear the trail to the width allowed for skiing – six feet in most places, eight around turns.
The work, which included the use of expandable poles up to 20 feet long – the snow is often five to ten feet deep by March, meaning the dangerous branches are far overhead in summer – drew some curious stares by warm-weather passers-by. “People actually ski this trail?” was a frequent question, Goodwin said.
A week after their work on Marcy, a larger group headed to the Wright Mountain Ski Trail (which stops below the summit), which was also cleared of dangerous branches.
“We’re definitely making a noticeable improvement,” Goodwin said.
Backcountry skiing in the High Peaks has grown into a very popular sport in the past decade, with the advancement of high-tech alpine and telemark gear, a ski festival in March and the release of a photographic guide to skiing slides.
But many serious skiers complain the DEC has refused to consider making the mountains more backcountry ski-friendly, such as creating separate trails for skiers and hikers, allowing the widening of unofficial routes or permitting the pruning of small saplings in areas that would make nice glade skiing.
“They’ve definitely made it clear we can’t go too far beyond the six-foot width for trails,” Goodwin said.
In other ski news, the Town of North Elba has created a small parking lot on McKenzie Pond Road near Saranac Lake for users of the popular Jackrabbit Trail. The parking lot coincides with a new section of trail that takes advantage of an easement purchased by the council to ensure continued access from that point.
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