Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review: Life Under the Fast Lane

Life Under the Fast Lane by Tom DuBoisThe Adirondack Park has its share of guidebooks—for hiking, paddling, birding, fishing, cross-country skiing, you name it. Just when you think the field has been exhausted along comes another.

The latest addition to the genre is one I never would have foreseen: a guidebook to the culverts under the Northway.

The author, Tom DuBois, is a veteran bushwhacker who likes to scout out remote cliffs for rock climbing. Life Under the Fast Lane grew out of his efforts to find crags in the Dix Mountain Wilderness, Hoffman Notch Wilderness, and other state lands on the west side of the Northway (I-87).

The book gives detailed directions to eleven “walking culverts” between Exit 28 and Exit 31 that can be used to reach public lands that otherwise would be inaccessible. As the name suggests, all of these culverts are large enough to walk through (and sometimes drive through). You may need to ford a river or bushwhack to get to a culvert, and once on the other side, you’ll need to bushwhack if you plan to hike any distance.

I have used two of the Northway culverts on approaches to trailless peaks in the Dix Mountain Wilderness, including Camel’s Hump, Wyman Mountain, and Nippletop Mountain (not the High Peak). These and other peaks in the region offer solitude and great views not found elsewhere. I’ve also used the culvert that leads to an old trail up Makomis Mountain near Exit 30 (the very top is on private land and off limits to the public).

Several of the culverts may be familiar to fans of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s High Peaks guidebook. The fourteenth edition included directions to four culverts leading to the Dix Mountain Wilderness. The revamped fifteenth edition, High Peaks Trails, retains directions to three of the four. These four culverts are probably of most interest to hikers as they give access to the aforementioned trailless peaks.

DuBois devotes more space than the ADK book to describing the routes to culverts and what might be found on the other side. The real value of Life Under the Fast Lane, though, is that it opens up new bushwhacking possibilities. Judging from DuBois’s descriptions, you won’t always find knockout views, but you are almost guaranteed to find solitude. And for some people, that’s more important.

I was surprised that some of the lesser-known culverts get any use at all. As it turns out, rock climbers use two of them to reach cliffs known as the Northway Express Wall and North Hudson Dome, and hikers in pursuit of the Adirondacks’ hundred highest peaks use a third to get to Blue Ridge Mountain in the Hoffman Notch Wilderness. Visitors to the Lincoln Pond State Campground can pass through a culvert to reach a rocky knob so popular that it had a register book on the summit.

Apparently, riders of all-terrain vehicles also use culverts. DuBois mentions seeing ATV trails near a few of them. Although ATV use generally is forbidden on the forever-wild Forest Preserve, landowners sometimes have deeded rights to cross the Preserve on ATVs. DuBois doesn’t indicate whether the ATV use in question was legal or not. In his introduction, he says the walking culverts were built to facilitate passage by wildlife and/or people and in some cases to preserve access to private camps.

Under the Fast Lane is a slender book, just fifty pages, but it contains numerous color photos of the culverts, parking areas, and approaches as well as topographical maps. The book contains just about everything you need to know about Northway culverts, but its design is unattractive—a fault shared with many self-published publications.

The book can be purchased at the Mountaineer in Keene Valley or on the store’s website for $9.99.


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Phil Brown is the former Editor of 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.

4 Responses

  1. Tom DuBois says:

    Thanks, Phil! This little book was a lot of fun to research and to write. As I mentioned when we spoke at the Mountaineer, it isn’t fancy – “just the facts.” But it has a bunch of information that is not published anywhere else, and it’s pocket sized. I hope it opens opportunities for some folks to explore new places. Thanks again. – Tom

  2. I’m going to have to pick this up. I’ve read accounts of many beautiful trips into the lesser explored areas in the Dix Mtn. Wilderness that begin at one or another of those culverts. Thanks for putting this together!

  3. Kevin's Evil Twin says:

    Some years ago, the question of why and how the culverts were designed and built arose – perhaps on the now nearly-defunct Adirondack 46er Listserve. If I recall correctly, the question of whether the culverts were put in for the purpose of wildlife crossings was NOT the reason they were built. They were constructed as people passages, not animal passages. Wildlife crossings over/under busy highways have to be carefully designed; animals just don’t necessarily use a culvert because YOU, the human, think they will. In fact, they would most assiduously avoid most, if not all, of these culvert passages, as un-natural (which they are). Anyway, I think the question of the culverts’ purposes was clearly answered in that exchange/discussion some years ago.

  4. John Sypek says:

    Great idea. We have used the culvert just south of exit 28 in Schroon Lake many times, when we used to take our kids hiking up Mount Severence. It was so helpful. Is that one included in your book?

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