This spring, when New York State was in a lockdown due to the pandemic, it was unclear what that meant for the Adirondacks. Would the outdoor tourism industry thrive or falter? Would people still be hitting the trails? Would small businesses survive?
Editor’s note: This first appeared Jan. 14 in Mike’s weekly “Backcountry Journal” newsletter. Click here to sign up.
It’s been a mild and dry winter so far in the Adirondacks, so when I headed to the Lake George region on a recent Sunday for a hike, I suspected I wouldn’t need snowshoes.
Instead, I grabbed my microspikes for the 5-mile round trip up Black Mountain, located on the eastern side of the lake. As it turned out, that was the right choice. The trail was hard-packed and the base was fairly thin and very icy at times.
There’s no question about it: 2020 was a challenging year due to the pandemic. But luckily, at the Explorer, we sometimes get to escape the realities of the pandemic and go on adventures in the scenic and wild backcountry of the Adirondacks.
Some years ski season is in full swing by late November. That isn’t the case this year, but that hasn’t kept me from considering where I’ll be headed during the upcoming ski season. And I’m wondering where everyone else will be headed.
When out on assignment in the Forest Preserve, I seem to take photos of every trail sign I come across. However, after I download them, they disappear into my archives and are never seen again.
This image isn’t necessarily one of my favorite trail sign shots, but the photo assignment when I took the image was interesting.
That day, in late June, I was tasked with meeting writer Betsy Kepes at 10:30 a.m. at the Cold River near Shattuck Clearing. Kepes was writing a story about backpacking through lowlands in the western High Peak Wilderness.
So that day I got up early, paddled roughly 8 miles to the lean-to at the north end of Long Lake, where I could connect with the Northville-Placid Trail. From there, I hiked in the rain for another 5 miles to meet Betsy and her two friends at a bridge over the Cold River.
According to fastestknowntime.com, a website that tracks and verified hiking challenges around the world, the pair are the first women to do this style of trip through the High Peaks, at this pace. Unsupported means they carried their supplies from the start to the finish and didn’t get any help along the way from anyone else. Supported speed hikers receive assistance from others on their trip.
They were at least the second pair of women to thru-hike the Adirondack High Peaks this fall. Sarah Keyes and Alyssa Godesky did a supported version of the Adirondack 46, with Godesky setting the women’s record in 3 days, 16 hours and 16 minutes.
I was talking to digital editor Melissa Hart earlier this week about future projects, and one of the ideas we settled on was bolstering our web and social media content aimed at people who are new to outdoor activities and the Adirondack Park. I’m talking about topics such as essential gear and info that can aid with trip planning.
At the Explorer, we’ve always focused on this type of content, but now the demand seems even greater because of the continuing rise in new visitors to the Adirondack Park.
The timing to start rolling out this material is also good because this type of info is extremely important in the winter months, when the environment is less forgiving for outdoor users. If you have problems in the woods when it’s 85 degrees, things can get uncomfortable. However, if you get lost when it’s 15 degrees, things can get very serious quickly. So you better be prepared before heading out.
Right now, we’re getting down to crunch time at the AdirondackExplorer, wrapping up many of our writing and photo assignments for the November issue.
We’ve got a lot of interesting news and recreational features lined up for this issue, including ones about Boquet and the Saranac rivers and how they’ve been impacted by dams. Atlantic salmon, in particular, have historically seen their spawning grounds cut off by the dams. Not only in the Adirondack region, but on the west, too.
Wednesday morning I rolled out of bed a little before 5 a.m. to meet up with Explorer intern Francesca Krempa to see if we could catch a glimpse of a moose in the early dawn hours.
Francesca is working on a story about the health and size of the moose population, and in these pandemic times, she had been unable to find a biologist or guide to go out into the field on a moose survey.
People who spend a lot of time in the woods often develop favorite spots. I’ve had plenty of these over the years, and one of my chosen ones was a swimming hole in the Catskill Park.
I developed an affinity for this spot while living and working as a landscaper and dry-stone mason just outside of Woodstock after college. I loved doing this work because it was physically demanding and job sites were in scenic locations. Many days after work, my co-worker and I would be completely exhausted and overheated, so we’d take a drive to a place called the Blue Hole, a little-known swimming hole he’d discovered by word of mouth that was an easy walk from the road.
While crowds of people continue to show up at High Peak trailheads between St. Huberts and Lake Placid, there are still plenty of wild places in the Adirondacks where you can spend time and possibly not even see another person.
Just the other day, I took a quick paddle on Grass Pond in the Sable Highlands, located near Loon Lake in the northern Adirondacks, and didn’t see another soul.
Earlier in the year, I took a bike ride and hike with former Explorer editor Phil Brown on the same easement property and also didn’t see anyone else recreating. That day, Phil and I left from a parking area at Fishhole Pond. We were exploring the property because Phil was working on a story about a bike route and trail that had been planned by the state but had never been implemented.
Phil spent a good amount his time exploring the Sable Highlands easement lands this spring and summer. What he found is that many of the recreation routes that the state had been planning to develop were never completed.
The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted just about every aspect of life in recent months, including backpacking.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stay home. Ask writer Betsy Kepes. She spent a few days with a small group this spring on a trip on the Cranberry 50, a hiking route in the northwestern Adirondacks.
Kepes found the trip enjoyable, but it wasn’t without challenges. For instance, what do you do about sharing a lean-to or camping site with others during a pandemic? What happens when you make hot water? Should you share it?
Hiking the Cranberry Lake 50 during the Covid-19 pandemic are writer Betsy Kepes (greenish/blue shirt, off-white mask), husband Tom Vandewater (black shirt,off-white mask), and friends Amanda Oldacre (white shirt, black patterned mask) and Jim Burdick (gray/blue shirt black patterned mask). Social distancing and wearing face masks were suggested. Photo by Nancie Battaglia.
Editor’s note: This originally appeared in Mike’s weekly “Backcountry Journal” newsletter. Click here to subscribe.
The Adirondack Almanack is a public forum dedicated to promoting and discussing current events, history, arts, nature and outdoor recreation and other topics of interest to the Adirondacks and its communities
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