Thursday, March 7, 2024

DEC Issues Spring Conditions Advisory for Adirondacks

Mud Season Muddy Trail Adirondacks (Adirondack Mountain CLub Photo)

Hikers Advised to Avoid High Elevation Trails Due to Unstable Spring Conditions

On March 6, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) urged outdoor recreationists to postpone high elevation activities due to unstable spring conditions. With one of the warmest winters on record, current conditions are typically encountered in late-March to mid-April. Recreationists are advised to prepare for thinner snowpack on trails, deteriorating and variable depth snow alongside and off-trail, poor quality ice, slippery trails, and high-water crossings. As snow and ice continue to melt at high elevations, steep trails can pose a serious danger to hikers.

“With the lack of a true North Country winter and a marginal snowpack, trails in the High Peaks Region are proving difficult to navigate,” said Forest Ranger Director John Solan. “Over the last couple of weeks, Forest Rangers were busy responding to numerous backcountry rescues due to icy conditions. Trail conditions will continue to decline as spring weather prevails and April approaches.”

Despite recent warm weather, high elevation trails are still covered in slowly melting ice and snow. These steep trails feature thin soils that become a mix of ice and mud as winter conditions melt and frost leaves the ground. The remaining compacted ice and snow on trails is rotten, slippery, and will not reliably support weight. These conditions, known as “monorails,” are difficult to hike and the adjacent rotten snow is particularly prone to post-holing.

Hikers are advised to take extreme caution even on low-elevation trails. Hikers will encounter variable conditions such as ice, thick mud, flooded areas, and deep, slushy snow. Backcountry streams are particularly susceptible to high waters and flooding due to consistently melting snow from high elevations mixing with spring rainfall. Hikers should not attempt stream crossings during periods of high, fast-moving water. The stream water is very cold and hikers who fall in can become immediately hypothermic. DEC Forest Rangers recently led three long, arduous rescues in the high elevations of the Eastern Zone of the High Peaks Wilderness Complex. More about recent rescue efforts in the March 6 Forest Rangers Week in Review.

Avoiding high elevation trails during the Spring Conditions Advisory helps reduce erosion on and alongside trails while protecting alpine vegetation. Hikers stepping off trail to avoid ice, mud, and snow easily erode the thin soils, severely damage fragile alpine vegetation, and widen trails. When encountering messy trail conditions on low elevation trails, hikers should walk through the mud or snow instead of around it to help reduce trail widening and minimize damage to trailside vegetation. Proper footwear and clothing, such as sturdy boots with gaiters and traction devices, allows hikers to remain on the trail more comfortably despite muddy conditions.

DEC encourages hikers to avoid all trails above 2,500 feet in the Adirondacks, particularly high-elevation trails in the High Peaks. DEC urges hikers to postpone these hikes until conditions improve to protect the Adirondack trail system and reduce the likelihood of dangerous rescue efforts of Forest Rangers and volunteers. Until conditions improve, hikers are encouraged to explore lower elevation trails close to home and enjoy other forms of recreation.

In addition, backcountry visitors should Hike Smart and follow these safety guidelines:

  • Check weather before entering the woods – if the weather is poor, postpone your trip.
  • Be aware of changing weather conditions – if the weather worsens, head out of the woods.
  • Dress properly in layers made of wool, fleece, and other materials that wick moisture (not cotton): a wool or fleece hat, gloves or mittens, wind/rain resistant outer wear, and winter boots.
  • Carry a pack with the 10 hiking essentials.
  • Carry plenty of food and water. Eat, drink and rest often. Being tired, hungry or dehydrated makes you more susceptible to hypothermia.
  • Know the terrain and your physical capabilities – it takes more time and energy to travel through mixed conditions.
  • Never travel alone and always inform someone of your intended route and return time.

Visit the DEC website for a great list of alternative, low-elevation hikes. Check the Adirondack Backcountry Information webpages for weekly updates on backcountry conditions and seasonal recreation information for the Adirondacks. Love our NY lands this spring by finding alternate forms of sustainable outdoor recreation, always practicing Leave No Trace, and giving back through volunteer work and stewardship.

Photo at top: Adirondack Mountain Club photo/Almanack archive photo.

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Information attributed to NYSDEC is taken from press releases and news announcements from New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation.

3 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Why don’t they close these trails like they do (actually are doing now) with roads and snowmobile trails?

    Why do hikers get this special treatment where they just suggest that you don’t hike there, which they mostly ignore?

    This has always been bizarre to me.

  2. Raymond Budnick says:

    With all due respect, I too am a back packer and love all of nature. But, why as hikers do we allow this level of degradation to the environment? The damage in the picture was done by hiking boots, shoes, sandals and even barefoot.
    Shouldn’t we do a better job of self-monitoring our own sport, and responsibly avoid area’s that are not improved to sustain continued abuse?
    Trailless is unmaintained and invites damage and the ensuing erosion. By common sense, trailless means each time you ascend, pick a different new route to the top. And or, just leave nature to itself and don’t even ascend.
    I may never get to see the majestic tundra of the far north. But, just knowing it exists in a pristine state is enough for me. I do not need to defile nor abuse it.
    Why for the sake of self-gratification and a patch are we trampling the life out of the environment we love?
    Perhaps it’s time to responsibly sponsor and wear with pride and satisfaction a 26er patch?

    • Boreas says:

      Indeed – why a “competition” at all? Reminds me of social media “perceived competition”. These “clubs” intentionally or unintentionally push people to overuse particular trails to destinations they “must” reach. While becoming a 46er decades ago it was clear to me what effects the club was having on certain trails. Other routes that were considerably longer but perhaps more gradual in grade went largely unused.

      If we are going to embrace heavy use, the trails need to be hardened to meet the challenge. But this contradicts current SLMP directives for Wilderness designations. We really need to reconsider the SLMP plans and designations for these high-use areas.

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