Thursday, December 31, 2015

3 Adirondack Snowshoe Trips

Santoni_range-1Snowshoeing in the Adirondacks has a long history. Originally a means of travel, it is now a popular recreational pastime. The French called snowshoes raquettes because the paddle-shaped contraptions of earlier times resembled rackets. They were used by hunters and trappers.

Today’s snowshoes are more rugged and lightweight than the wooden raquettes of yore. They’re usually made of aluminum, plastic, and nylon and come equipped with crampons that allow us to climb over ice, bare rock, and deep snow — that is, almost anywhere except up a tree.

Modern lightweight snowshoes (Nancie Battaglia photo)If you’re new to snowshoeing though, you probably don’t want to start out on a High Peak. Below are three trips up smaller mountains that are only moderately difficult. The round trips range from 2.2 miles (Coney Mountain) to 7.8 miles (Treadway Mountain). The elevation gains range from 515 feet (Coney) to 1,800 feet (Mount Adams).

Snowshoeing is not a sport for everyone, but everyone should give it a go at least once. As with any winter outing, you should not travel alone and, in the event of a mishap, you should be prepared to spend the night outside in subfreezing temperatures. (Start your trip planning by checking the Adirondack outdoor conditions reported each Thursday here.)

Snowshoers reach the open summit of Coney Mountain near Tupper Lake (Nancie Battaglia)Coney Mountain

Coney Mountain’s dome, with its receding hairline, rises right above Route 30, making it an ideal short hike for passing motorists. The trail used to follow a survey line and was quite steep, but a more user-friendly trail that winds around the back of the mountain was created a few years ago.

The summit remains the same. It’s largely open, with stunning views of Tupper Lake and the Horseshoe Lake Wild Forest. Goodman Mountain lies directly to the north. Other conspicuous peaks in the neighborhood include Mount Arab and Mount Morris.

I have a deep memory of climbing Coney with my dad in 1995. We didn’t know about the trail (it was an unmarked herd path), so we just parked along the road and bushwhacked to the top. We skirted cliffs, clambered over slabs, and grabbed trees to pull ourselves up. When we reached the summit, we discovered the herd path. The new trail passes beneath the cliffs and open rock, and you’ll see our route wasn’t the easiest way to get up this little peak.

Coney_map-600x800With the new trail, Coney is a fairly easy snowshoe hike. It’s just 1.1 miles to the summit, with an elevation gain of 515 feet. From the register, the route follows the base of the mountain, ascending gradually, and then curls around the north and east sides of the mountain. In places you may encounter rocks protruding from the snow, but overall the trail is relatively smooth. The woods on the east side, especially, are quite open.

Just below the summit, the trail joins the old herd path. Bearing right, you face a short, moderately steep climb up snow-covered slab to the open summit.

DIRECTIONS: From the village of Tupper Lake, drive south on NY 30. At 8.3 miles after crossing the bridge over the Raquette River, look for the trailhead parking area on the left. If coming from Long Lake, the parking area will be on the right 11.2 miles after crossing the bridge over Long Lake.

the view of Pharaoh Lake from Treadway’s summit (photo courtesy Adirondack Mountain Club)Treadway Mountain

Treadway Mountain lies in the 46,283-acre Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area in the eastern part of the Park. Because nearby Pharaoh Mountain is taller, it sees more visitors, but Treadway isn’t that far behind. Winter, though, is a quiet time in this neck of the woods.

The round trip is 7.8 miles, but much of the hike is on mellow terrain. It begins at the Putnam Pond State Campground. If the ice is safe, you can walk three quarters of a mile across the pond to shorten the trip. As for me, I am not a fan of crossing frozen water even if the ice is two feet thick. Perhaps my phobia comes from the time I fell through the ice on the Boreas River or the time I found the bottom of Crane Pond. But you might not share my fear. If you cross the ice, you will cut in half the approach to the Treadway trail.

For those preferring the landlubber trek, start up the trail leading to Grizzle Ocean. It begins at the south end of the parking lot at Putnam Pond and parallels the southeast shore. The trail is mellow, passing through an attractive hemlock forest. The snow usually isn’t that deep as it gets collected on evergreen branches.

Treadway_map-600x604After 1.4 miles, you come to an intersection soon after crossing the outlet of Grizzle Ocean. Take a right here and follow a trail paralleling the west shore of Putnam Pond. After 0.4 miles, you come to a four-way intersection. To your right is a short trail to Putnam Pond. Those who choose to cross the ice should aim for this trail when leaving the pond. Those taking the land route will turn left at the junction.

Now begins a 2.1-mile climb to the summit of Treadway Mountain, with an elevation gain of nine hundred feet. Though the climb is long, the grade is mostly moderate. As you ascend, the evergreens open up and the snow becomes deeper. Views start to appear when you reach the ridge, well before the summit. The vista from the top is spectacular. On a clear winter day you can see the High Peaks to the northwest as well as countless other mountains. To the east, you can see over Lake Champlain to the Green Mountains of Vermont.

DIRECTIONS:From I-87, take Exit 28 and drive east on NY 74 toward Ticonderoga. After 13 miles, turn right onto Putts Pond Road. Follow Putts Pond Road to the end at the Putnam Pond State Campground. The campground is closed in winter. You may have to park at the tollbooth and walk to the parking area. From the tollbooth, go straight and up a small hill to the parking area on the left.

Adams_firetower-1Mount Adams

Mount Adams now has a rehabilitated fire tower that offers an amazing panorama of the High Peaks. I have been up Adams many times to enjoy the view. My wildest memory of this mountain dates to 2003 when I bushwhacked up the peak in fall from nearby Popple Hill. A windstorm in the late 1990s made Popple Hill a disaster field of blowdown. I was hiking on trees that were on top of trees that were on top of trees. At one point I must have been more than ten feet off the ground in an acrobatic act without a net. I’d advise you to take the trail instead.

Firetower-151x300The hike to the 3,520-foot summit is a 4.8-mile round trip, with an elevation gain of 1,800 feet. From the parking area, you descend briefly to the Hudson River, which is crossed on a new suspension bridge. At 0.3 miles, you reach Lake Jimmy. In winter, snowshoers and skiers usually can safely cross the shallow lake on the ice. Because it’s so shallow, I don’t mind crossing this lake despite my phobia of ice. If you feel more comfortable on land, the trail skirts the north shore of the lake.

After the lake, you begin a mellow climb to a restored fire observer’s cabin. Just beyond the cabin, you come to an intersection with the Mount Adams trail at 0.75 miles. This is where the snowshoeing gets more serious. Over the next 1.6 miles, you ascend about 1,700 feet. The climb is easy at first, but you soon reach steeper terrain, though for the most part it’s only moderately difficult. As you near the mountaintop, the trail becomes much steeper.

Adams_map-600x735Eventually, you crest the summit and see the fire tower rising above the evergreens. The tower steps can be very slippery. After removing your snowshoes, you might want to put MicroSpikes or other traction aids on the soles of your boots.

The tower’s cab offers a panoramic vista of the High Peaks, including Mount Marcy, Mount Colden, the MacIntyre Range, the Santanoni Range, and the Seward Range. It also gives you a bird’s-eye view of the old iron and titanium mine at Tahawus.

DIRECTIONS: From I-87, take Exit 29 and turn west onto County 2 (also known as Boreas Road or Blue Ridge Road) toward Newcomb. After 17.8 miles, turn right onto County 25, the Tahawus Road. There will be a sign for the High Peaks at the intersection. Take the Tahawus Road 5.5 miles to an intersection. Bear left and go another 3 miles to a parking area on the right, just past an old blast furnace.

Photos, from above: Henderson Lake and the Santanoni Range lie west of Mount Adams (photo by Nancie Battaglia); Modern lightweight snowshoes (Nancie Battaglia photo); Snowshoers reach the open summit of Coney Mountain near Tupper Lake (Nancie Battaglia); the view of Pharaoh Lake from Treadway’s summit (photo courtesy Adirondack Mountain Club); a panorama of the High Peaks from Mount Adams’s fire tower (Johnathan Esper photo); and Mount Adams Firetower (Nancie Battaglia). Maps by Nancy Bernstein.

This story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here.

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Spencer Morrissey is an Adirondack native who lives and works in the Park. He is as a recreational consultant, outdoor writer, and licensed guide. Spencer is a 5-time 46er and a winter 46er and is believed to be the second person to ever bushwhack all 46 of the High Peaks. He is also a fire-tower challenger completer, a finisher of the Adirondack 100-highest, and is in the pursuit of climbing all the named peaks in the Adirondack Park (currently at 780 of 1740). Spencer is the author of The Other 54, Adirondack Trail Runner, and Adirondack Trail Skier.




6 Responses

  1. Tim-Brunswick says:

    I’m not a “beginner”, but I am a senior and it would be nice to see some 2 to 4 mile round trips on relatively level terrain described/suggested.

    Coney Mtn. doesn’t look too bad, but I would think the others are a little beyond a “Beginners” snowshoeing skill.

    Just my opinion

  2. Evelyn Greene says:

    These are not “beginners’ ” snowshoe trips! Climbing a mountain is not necessary to be able to experience the wonder of a slow motion exploration of the magically transformed Adirondack forest by snow and ice. In trade for possible mud, biting insects, heat, and rough trails, you get a challenge in learning how to dress for being too cold, then too hot after exercising a while–a very necessary series of lessons. And if you do not have a dog with you to mess them up, you get to start learning the tracks and signs of wild animals and birds which are not usually in evidence without snow. Most of the mammals are active after dark but anyone can learn about their amazing lives by paying attention to the natural world instead of “getting there” or talking with companions with eyes only for the trail.

    There is a social snowshoe club centered in the North Creek area which every week collects sometimes dozens of snowshoers (or micro-spikers in recent years!) who walk from 10 till 12 in the morning during the week, then have a well-earned lunch in a nearby restaurant. When there is a crowd they break up into smaller groups who go at different speeds and distances. These are mostly retired people in decent physical shape who want to stay that way, Every area in the Park could have a similar informal group, with people connected by email. We in the Adirondacks have an endless supply of short, easy trails, limited only by big enough plowed parking areas!

  3. Dave Gibson says:

    Thanks, Evelyn. I have shoed up some of these smaller peaks described by Spencer, and enjoyed the experience, but years ago learned from the Adirondack Mountain Club Schenectady chapter trips, led by Larry and Maryde King, how to first become comfortable in deep snow and off-trail in the low lake country, then progressing upwards to the peaks. The Kings produced an introductory snowshoeing how-to film that some readers may have seen, and reserved places like the Arietta Hotel to show it en route to the chosen trip of the day. Good memories.

  4. Running George says:

    Nice article but I dispute that the metal snow shoes are more rugged than the old style wooden style.

    I will take my 50 year old bear paws any day over the 4 year metal frames that are now broken.

    The old shoes keep me from sinking much better, too.

  5. Boreas says:

    Some of the best beginner trails are at the VIC centers. They combine rolling terrain through Boreal habitat with great views, and can all be turned into loops instead of out-back trips. And you will rarely have to break a lot of snow. The last I knew, you could also rent them at Paul Smiths VIC.