Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Extreme Adirondack Cross-Country Skiing

One of my favorite winter trips is what one might call “extreme cross-country skiing.” That is, skiing on routes that aren’t generally considered by the cross-country community. Routes you won’t find in Tony Goodwin’s Classic Adirondack Ski Tours.

Some of these routes are long and committing. Others require the use of snowshoes or skins (unless you’re a member of the Ski-To-Die Club, a group of locals who took extreme skiing to a new height by taking wooden cross-country skis in the 1970s down mountain descents that would give most people on modern alpine gear pause).

A few years ago, I thought it might be a good idea to ski from Upper Works near Newcomb up to Indian Pass. From there, I’d strap on snowshoes and carry my skis up to the col between Iroquois and Marshall, a steep climb even without carrying long, narrow planks. From there, I’d drop down to Lake Colden, and ski out again.

Well, I made it (alone, because the problem with adventure-skiing is that other skiers are loathe to join you, knowing that you’re asking for trouble). The climb was tougher than I expected. The ski out was icy and intimidating. But it was a great adventure.

Another trip we tried was from Adirondack Loj up over Klondike Notch, and then down to John’s Brook Valley, where we’d ski out to a second car placed at The Garden parking lot (why do they call it “The Garden?” Looks more like dirt to me).

This time I brought my then-girlfriend Tessa along, plus my friend Jim. But apparently Tessa was not as advanced a skier I thought she was. She made it to the top of the notch, but was exhausted and angry that I might suggest such an adventure. I ended up skiing back down to the Loj, with Tessa walking the short, steep section while carrying her skis, wearing a scowl that would last through the rest of the day.

I redeemed myself a few years later when I brought Tessa on a grand loop around Santanoni Preserve.

The ski to the old Great Camp is justifiably one of the most popular in the Adirondacks. What’s less popular is combining that with a ski across Newcomb Lake. From there, you follow the trail to a junction with another trail that leads to Moose Pond (you can keep going, climbing a hill to look out over the pond, or return to the parking lot). It’s a long but not-too-challenging day, and a great introduction to the world of extreme cross-country (alright, it’s not that extreme, but we felt challenged enough at the end of the day).

Several weeks ago, before the thaw, I did another great x-c loop, following the trail from the Tahawus parking lot around Mt. Adams and north along the Upper Twin Brook River. From the turnoff to the Allen Mountain trail, you head up a three-mile climb to Hanging Spear Falls and Flowed Lands.

What I call the Hanging Spear Route combines some of the best views in the mountains. It starts out through an area of open land, where hundreds of trees were decimated by Hurricane Floyd and later removed. When the valley narrows, you get a close-up view of the rugged slopes of Calamity Mountain. When you reach Flowed Lands, you see even more mountains, including Iroquois, Algonquin and Colden.

When I did it, there was little trail to break and I reached Flowed Lands, a distance of nearly nine miles, in less than five hours. With no wind and no clouds and temperatures around 30 degrees, it was hard to imagine a better place to be.

Interestingly enough, there was already a ski track in the snow during the challenging ascent up to Flowed Lands (for which I wore skins on my skis to keep from sliding back). I forgot to check the register book later to see who it was, but clearly, extreme x-c skiing is catching on.

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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.





8 Responses

  1. Kevin B. MacKenzie says:
  2. Alan Wechsler says:
  3. benjita says:

    Would love to hear about the gear you used on this trip!