Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Adirondack 46ers: Hike One, Get Three Free

For those who are trying to climb the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks — that is, the peaks originally surveyed at 4,000 feet or higher — there’s nothing better than getting four for the price of one.

There are many peaks where you can do two in a day, mainly when they share the same ridge-line. Cascade and Porter, for instance, are so close to each other you barely break a sweat walking between them. Likewise Esther and Whiteface, or Wright and Algonquin.

There are other cases where you’re traveling so far to climb two, you would be better off doing all three, such as the classic triad of Seward, Donaldson and Emmons in the western High Peaks. You have to climb over Seward to get to Donaldson and Emmons, and back over Donaldson and Seward again to get out.

Or there’s Panther, Santanoni and Couchsachraga, accessed via the road to Upper Works near Newcomb. The last of those mountains is notable not only for being the hardest to spell and pronounce of all High Peaks (most folks call it “Couchie” for short), but also for being the lowest. At 3,820 feet it’s obviously under the 4,000-f00t benchmark, but the original surveyors were off by a bit.

The Forty-sixers defer to history in this regard — there are several other peaks in the group under 4,000 feet. That also explains why MacNaughton Mountain, at 4,000 feet on the nose, is considered a “bonus” peak and not one of the 46 — the first surveyors thought it a bit shorter.

The point is, it’s nice to get a bunch of peaks in on a single day’s hike. That’s why one of my favorite trips into the mountains is the route I did last week: walking the Dix ridge from the south and hitting Macomb, South Dix, East Dix and Hough mountains in one go.

For this trip, I joined a group from Albany that drove to Elk Lake off of Blue Ridge Road (the gate, closed all winter, was fortunately open, saving us 2 miles of road walking to the trail-head). The route leaves the main hiking trail after a few miles to follow a “herd” path up a steep, rubbly slide to the summit of Macomb (4,405 feet — see photo above).

From there, it’s a short walk down and up to South Dix, an hour side-trail to East Dix, an hour back to South Dix, and another hour down and up to Hough. The views get better with each mountain, with Hough affording the best: the nearby, pointy top of Dix itself.

The descents and ascents between peaks is minimal — that’s us leaving Hough to the left. The total hike distance is about 15 miles walking and 4,000 feet of elevation gain overall. We took 12 hours for the trip, with lots of stopping. A fast group could do it in eight or nine hours.

Speaking of fast, on our hike we were quickly passed by a group from Syracuse. As we were staggering our way to the summit of Hough (pronounced “huff”), fellow hiker George took out a pair of binoculars. He pointed them north toward Dix (the highest peak in the range, at 4,857 feet) and said, “Hey, there’s the Syracuse group.”

Sure enough, they had bridged five peaks in the time it took us to climb four. Surely the best hiking deal of the High Peaks.

But for us, it was time to turn around. It was nearing 5 p.m., it was a long walk back to the car and we were all nearly out of food and energy. Still, four in a day isn’t too shabby either.

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To see more photographs of this hike by the author, click here. New users will have to sign in. Note that the slide viewing time can be adjusted by the timer at lower right.

The Dix range follows herd paths, not official trails. Hikers attempting this route should be in excellent shape, carry a guidebook, map and compass and be comfortable with travel along unsigned paths.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

ADK to Host ‘Black Fly Affair: A Hikers Ball’

The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) 14th annual gala and auction, “Black Fly Affair: A Hikers Ball,” will be held from 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Friday, May 21, at the Fort William Henry Hotel’s historic White Lion Ballroom, overlooking Lake George. The Black Fly Affair is ADK’s largest fund-raising event of the year, and proceeds from this year’s event will help support ADK’s education intern programs.

Recommended attire for the event is semi-formal dress (black tie) and hiking boots, although the dress code will not be strictly enforced.

Peter and Ann Hornbeck are honorary chairs, and Gregory McKnight will be master of ceremonies. Beverages will be provided by Adirondack Winery and Cooperstown Brewing Co., and there will be dancing to the music of Standing Room Only.

ADK boasts one of the largest silent auctions in the region in addition to its very lively live auction, where guests will bid on original artwork, outdoor gear, weekend getaways, cultural events and more. Jim and Danielle Carter of Acorn Estates & Appraisals will conduct the auction. A preview of auction items is available at the
ADK Web site, www.adk.org.

Tickets are $45 in advance and $55 at the door. To make reservations, visit www.adk.org or call , Ext. 14. To donate an
auction item or to become a corporate sponsor, contact Deb Zack at , Ext. 42. Discounted room rates for Black Fly attendees are available at the Fort William Henry Hotel and the Best Western of Lake George.

The Adirondack Mountain Club, founded in 1922, is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting the New York State Forest Preserve and other wild lands and waters through conservation and advocacy, environmental education and responsible recreation.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Phil Brown: Long Standstill Over Paddlers’ Rights

When four canoeists and a kayaker ventured down the South Branch of the Moose one spring day in 1991, passing through posted land, they sparked a legal battle that lasted eight years and ended in a victory for paddlers.

The Court of Appeals, the state’s highest tribunal, ruled that the common-law right of navigation embraces recreational canoeing. Two years later, the paddlers and the landowner, the Adirondack League Club, reached an agreement specifying when the public is allowed to paddle the South Branch.

But it wasn’t a total victory.

For one thing, the agreement says the river is open to the public only from May 1 to October 15 (or the opening of big-game season). But if a river is navigable in mid-April, why shouldn’t the public be allowed to paddle it? Can such an agreement between a landowner and private parties restrict the common law?

For another thing, little has happened to advance the cause of navigation rights since. Last spring, I paddled through posted land on Shingle Shanty Brook, a stream that connects two parcels of Forest Preserve in the Whitney Wilderness. I believe the public has a right to paddle this stream, but the landowners disagree. That there is still doubt about this, more than a decade later, shows that the Moose River decision was not as world-shaking as paddlers had hoped.

Finally—and this is less well known—the Moose River case put an end to legislative and regulatory efforts in Albany to clarify navigation rights.

Back in 1991, state legislators were pushing a bill that would have affirmed that paddlers have the right to travel on navigable rivers. At the same time, working on a parallel track, the state Department of Environmental Conservation was drafting departmental regulations with the identical purpose in mind.

The bill passed the Assembly, but apparently it was blocked in the upper chamber by Senator Ron Stafford, whose district included most of the Adirondacks. I’m told that Stafford was on the verge of coming around when the Moose River controversy erupted. Because of the lawsuit, the bill was shelved.

Similarly, DEC abruptly abandoned its effort to adopt regulations. The department had progressed so far in this initiative that it had drafted a news release.

What’s more interesting, DEC had prepared a draft list of 253 waterways throughout the state that it deemed navigable under the common law. Fifty-five of those rivers are in the Adirondacks.

You can read about this history in the May/June issue of the Adirondack Explorer. The story is available online here.

You also can see online the fifty-five Adirondack waterways on the department’s list. Keep in mind, however, that this was the draft of a preliminary list. If the list were subjected to public hearings, waterways may have been added or subtracted. That being said, it’s thought that most of the waterways on the list probably would have survived.

There is now a bill before the state legislature that would clarify the common law and authorize DEC to draft a new list of navigable waterways. Whether DEC would use that authority is questionable. The department may prefer to negotiate with landowners, as it is doing in the Shingle Shanty case. However it’s done, though, the public’s rights need to be clarified. The Moose River decision was not enough.

Photo of Shingle Shanty Brook by Phil Brown


Monday, April 26, 2010

53rd Hudson River Whitewater Derby at North Creek

The beginning of whitewater season in the Adirondacks will be celebrated again this year with the 53rd edition of the Hudson River Whitewater Derby in North Creek, Warren County.

Canoe and kayak enthusiasts have braved the rapids of the Upper Hudson River in the whitewater derby since 1958. Every year the Derby is hosted on the first full weekend in May. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Adirondacks Forest Ranger Report (April 2010)

What follows is the Forest Ranger Activity Report for April 6 through April 18 for DEC Region 5, which includes most of the Adirondack region. These reports are issued periodically by the DEC and printed here at the Almanack in their entirety. They are organized by county, and date.

Clinton County

Town of Beekmantown, Private Lands

On Monday, April 5, 2010, at 6:40 AM, DEC Dispatch received a call from New York State Police Plattsburgh requesting assistance locating Kim McDonald, 56, of West Chazy, NY. The State Police had information that led them to believe that Mr. McDonald may have intended to harm himself. DEC Forest Rangers responded and along with NY State Troopers began a search of the area. At approximately 9:00 AM, the Mr. McDonald was located in a swamp behind his house. He was missing his shoes, suffering from exposure, and had superficial wounds to his face, feet and hands. He was carried out of the woods and transported to CVPH Medical Center. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

DEC Adopts New Fishing Regulations

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced that changes to the state’s freshwater fishing regulations will become effective on October 1, 2010.

Among the most important changes to local anglers is the elimination of the special allowance for five extra brook trout less than eight inches. With the exception of certain water body-specific regulations, the daily limit is now five trout of any size.

Changes locally also include the elimination of special regulations for pickerel in several local waters, for northern pike in Adirondack Lake (Hamilton County), and for yellow perch and sunfish in Clinton, Essex, Franklin and Hamilton Counties (including Schroon Lake); statewide regulations will now apply. The open season for trout in Glen Lake (Warren County) has been extended for ice fishing, and the minimum size limit for lake trout in Lake Bonaparte (Lewis County) has been reduced to 18 inches.

The changes to the freshwater regulations are the result of a two-year process during which DEC solicited public feedback during the development of the proposals, and also provided a comment period for public input on the draft rules.

The full text of the new 2010-2012 regulations can be viewed on the DEC website.

The DEC is encouraging outdoor enthusiasts to consider purchasing a Habitat/Access Stamp, an optional stamp that helps support the DEC’s efforts to conserve habitat and increase public access for fish and wildlife-related recreation. Buying the $5 stamp is a way to help conserve New York’s wildlife heritage. More information about purchasing a Habitat Stamp is available at http://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/329.html


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Northern Forest Paddlers Film Festival Friday

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) will bring its Northern Forest Paddlers Film Festival to Lake Placid on Friday, April 16 at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. and screenings begin at 7:00 p.m.

Four documentary films and a clay-animated short will cover a range of themes on recreational canoeing and kayaking from exploring the Antarctic peninsula and Inside Passage, to finding record whitewater kayak waterfall runs and building a traditional birch bark canoe.

The lineup of films:

– Selections from Terra Antarctica: Rediscovering the Seventh Continent (20 min) An up-close look at the iceberg and turquoise blue water landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula by sea kayak.

– Selections from Dream Result (30 min). A group of extreme whitewater kayakers explore wild rivers and monster waterfalls in Canada, Chile, and Scandinavia, and one dares the world record descent of 186-foot Palouse Falls in Washington.

– Earl’s Canoe (30 min). Follow Ojibwe Nation member Earl Nyholm as he builds an Ojibwe birch bark canoe on Madeleine Island, Wisconsin, using traditional tools and methods.

– Paddle to Seattle (50 min). This independent documentary chronicles the journey of two intrepid adventurers paddling handmade wooden Pygmy kayaks from Alaska to Seattle via the 1,300-mile Inside Passage.

– Kayaking is Not a Crime (7 min). A clay-animated short with a fun pro-kayaking message created by young New York filmmaker Ben Doran.

All proceeds from the festival will benefit NFCT programs and stewardship activities along the canoe and kayak waterway that begins in Old Forge and stretches for 740 miles to northern Maine. There will be paddling-related door prizes and a silent auction.

Tickets are $8 for students and $10 in advance or $12 at the door for adults. Tickets can be reserved by calling the Lake Placid Center for the Arts at .


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Alan Wechsler: Suggested Hikes For Mud Season

It was T.S. Eliot who wrote “April is the cruellest month.” He also wrote, in his epic poem “The Waste Lands”: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

Substitute “mud” for “dust,” and Eliot might have been talking about the Adirondacks after the snow melts (although, you want to talk about cruel, let’s talk black flies …but that’s a subject for another post).

Anyway, as we reach the spring mud season, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation issues its annual “please don’t hike on muddy High Peaks trails” request, may we suggest a few dryer alternatives?

For starters, cast your eyes southward. The Lake George region, which gets much less snowfall than other areas in the park, is also one of the first places to warm up in the spring. There’s enough hikes there to last a full season, but we can easily recommend a few: » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Long-Time Hiking Advocate Fred Schroeder Remembered

More than 200 people came to an Albany church April 1 to pay homage to Fred Schroeder, an avid hiker who introduced the Adirondacks to hundreds of underprivileged boys.

Schroeder, who lived in an assisted living center in Bethlehem (Albany County) with his wife Martha, died March 18 at the age of 85.

Schroeder, a long-time director at several branches of the Albany Boys Club, also directed the group’s Camp Thacher in the nearby Helderbergs every summer until it closed a few years ago. Part of that work included introducing the boys to hikes and camping trips around the nearby woods. And those who excelled at woodscraft were later invited to the Adirondacks.

One of those boys was John Antonio, now a retired music teacher living in the Albany suburb of Colonie.

“For many of us it was our first encounter with the forest,” said Antonio, who spoke at Schroeder’s memorial service.

Antonio’s first Adirondack mountain was Noonmark. The popular peak in Keene Valley, with its 360-degree view of the Great Range and beyond, was Schroeder’s favorite. Antonio grew up to be a counselor at the camp, and began to lead his own trips to Noonmark and other peaks.

“Every hike I go on from now on, his name will probably be mentioned,” Antonio said. “He introduced so many people (to the mountains), it’s amazing.”

Schroeder had very personal reasons for working with city children: he grew up in orphanages in New York City until graduating high school. He also served in Europe during World War II.

He was a member of the Adirondack 46ers, the Catskill 3500 Club, the New England 111 Club (whose members must climb all peaks over 4,000 feet in New York and New England). He was active with the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Taconic Hiking Club, the New York New Jersey Trail Conference, and the Long Path North Hiking Club. He also designed and organized the development and maintenance of miles of hiking trails.

In 1998, Fred and his wife provided the funds to build and endow the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center on the grounds of the former Camp Thacher.

For the past 30 years, he was an active member of the Albany chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club, leading weekly hikes to the Adirondacks and every other mountain range within a two-hour drive of Albany. Even later in life , his hiking pace astounded his friends.

“When I met him he was in his 60s, and he could hike anything,” said friend Karen Ross.

To read more about Schroeder, click here.


Monday, April 5, 2010

DEC Region 5 Forest Ranger Report (Feb – Mar 2010)

What follows is the Forest Ranger Activity Report for February 6 through March 21 for DEC Region 5, which includes most of the Adirondack region. These reports are issued periodically by the DEC and printed here at the Almanack in their entirety. They are organized by county, and date.

Essex County

Town of North Elba, High Peaks Wilderness Area

At noon on Saturday February 27, 2010, an avalanche occurred on a slide on the northeast side of Wright Peak. The two skiers that triggered the slide were partially buried in the avalanche but were able to rescue themselves. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Don Morris: Paddling Spring Snowmelt is ‘Snow Big Deal’

It’s springtime! While it’s still a bit early to be paddling lakes, the rivers have opened up and have been ready to paddle for a few weeks now. Let’s discuss the extent to which snowmelt contributes to being able to paddle rivers in the spring.

Every year friends and co-workers who know that I’m a paddler ask if I’m excited about this year’s snowmelt and I always give the same answer – Yes, but for the most part it’s not the snowmelt as much as it is the saturated ground and the rainfall.

In my years of springtime paddling, it seems to me that most of our snowpack has come and gone before the rivers get high enough to paddle. This is almost certainly the case for the lower elevation rivers and those that have large expanses of wetlands and lakes (think the St. Regis and Saranac). My experience is that snowmelt does relatively little to bring these rivers up. Most of my runs on these rivers occur after decent rainfalls. The snowmelt saturates the lands around the rivers and the trees do not yet have their leaves. This results in a lot more of the rain winding up in the river itself. It’s not uncommon for a relatively small amount of rain (say a half-inch) to bring up a river in April. However, if you’re paddling the same river in mid-May, after the ground has dried and the leaves are out, it may take double or triple the amount of rain to result in a paddleable level.

The exceptions to this rule of thumb are the rivers that drain high, steep mountainsides—think the Ausable. For one, the high mountain snowpack is more substantial than that at lower elevations, so it extends later into the season. Also, there is more of a tendency for the meltwater to course down over rocky shelves, which don’t soak up water. Streams draining the higher mountains are sometimes not paddleable early in the morning but can become so later in the day, especially when it’s warm and sunny. You can often see this on graphs of gauge readings.

I planned on writing on this topic a while ago. However, I’ve noticed that this spring I’m paddling more on snowmelt than in most other years — that’s the problem with generalizations. I guess the river gods just wanted to make their point.

Photo: Wadhams Falls on the Bouquet River on March 31, 2010 Courtesy of Kathryn Cramer


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Alan Wechsler: Why I’ll Never Be A Winter 46-er

I was driving over Cascade Pass with a friend recently when we noticed all the cars parked near the trailhead to Cascade and Porter mountains, the two easiest of the 46 High Peaks.

Was there a party going on? There must have been hundreds of people climbing that peak on this warm Saturday in mid-March.

Then my friend hit upon it: it was the last day of winter. Anybody wanting to gain the honor of “Winter Forty-Sixer” needed to climb these peaks by the end of today, or have to wait another season. » Continue Reading.


Monday, March 29, 2010

After 30 Years, Some Adirondack Rivers Are Still in Limbo

Peruse the colorful Adirondack Park Agency land-use map and you’ll notice that many of the region’s rivers are overlain by strings of big black circles, small black circles, or open triangles. These rivers are part of the state’s Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers System (WSR).

And then there are the eight rivers overlain by open circles. These are “study” rivers, candidates for the WSR system.

The legislature first asked the APA to study these rivers in the 1970s—more than thirty years ago—and the APA did recommend that all eight be added to the system, but apparently for political reasons, they never were.

The rivers are the Osgood, North Branch of the Saranac, North Branch of the Boquet, part of the Oswegatchie, Main Branch of the Grass, Pleasant Lake Stream, East Stony Creek, and the Branch.

In addition, the APA identified in the 1970s at least eight other waterways as potential study rivers: the Chubb, Little, Jessup, and Miami rivers, Hays Brook, Otter Creek, and Fall Stream.

WSR rivers receive an additional measure of protection from development—something that doesn’t always sit well with local politicians and landowners. This, no doubt, is the reason that no river has been added to the system since the late eighties.

The Adirondack Explorer brought attention to this issue in a series of articles five years ago. The articles inspired the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) to deploy a team of volunteers to paddle a number of rivers in the Park to ascertain whether they should be added to the system.

ADK Executive Director Neil Woodworth told me he hasn’t given up on the WSR initiative. As a matter of fact, the club has drafted a bill to declare the Chubb—a lovely stream that winds through the High Peaks Wilderness—a Wild river. This is the most protective designation.

Yet Woodworth said this isn’t the right time to introduce the legislation, not with environmentalists fighting to restore cash to the Environmental Protection Fund and waging other battles as well. “The bill is certainly important, but we have other issues and other priorities right now,” he said.

Although WSR provides some protection against development, critics say the restrictions need to be strengthened.

Consider the Chubb. The proposed Wild stretch passes through one parcel of private land where there used to be a small hunting cabin. Several years ago, the cabin was replaced by a large house. Even if the Chubb had been in the system, that would not have prevented the construction of the house. APA regulations allow landowners to replace an existing structure with another. The new structure can be bigger, taller, and more obtrusive, as long as it’s not closer to the water.

As of today, all or parts of fifty-one rivers in the Park—totaling more than 1,200 miles—belong to the system. It looks like we’ll have to wait till next year, or longer, to see if the Chubb becomes the fifty-second.

Photo by Phil Brown: a paddler on the Osgood River.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ice Climbing: Reflections on the Season’s End

A few days after we had climbed the Chiller Pillar, a one-pitch ice route near Whiteface Mountain, my ice-climbing partner Steve Goldstein of Latham called me up.

“If I had seen this article in Rock and Ice, I might not have led that route,” he told me.

“What article?”

“A climber was critically injured in Colorado. He was climbing an ice pillar and it collapsed under him.”

“Oh. Would that have kept you from climbing the route?”

“I dunno,” he said. “Maybe.”

It’s easy to ponder the transitory nature of ice when you’re climbing it. Rock-climbing routes rarely change. You can climb a face once, come back ten years later and the holds will still be the same. In fact, a critical hold breaking off a popular route often makes news in climbing circles.

Ice routes change not only year to year but week to week. In fact, ice can change even as you’re on it, turning softer and wetter from the sun. And it’s quite common for large pieces of ice to fall off as you ascend, hacking and skewering your way up the face.

Ice climbing is surely more dangerous than rock, and never more than when the temperature goes up. In February, 2002 a climber was killed at Pok-O-Moonshine while climbing the Adirondack classic testpiece Positive Thinking. The route detached from the wall when the climber about a hundred feet off the ground.

The first pitch is thin to begin with. It’s more of a veneer of ice, pasted to a featureless rock slab for a hundred feet. It also faces east. “A few hours of strong sunshine causes the ice to detach from the smooth, crackles rock,” reports Don Mellor in the book Blue Lines, the region’s ice-climbing guidebook. Even in the best weather, he adds, “the first pitch is often a frightening, crackless shell.”

As the weather warms, ice routes disappear. At this point, there’s only a few routes left – thick, protected from sunshine and at higher elevations, according to Rock and River’s climbing site. We climbed at Pitchoff Mountain’s North Face last Saturday, in fact, and Central Pillar was in fine condition, albeit soaking wet.

Warm-weather ice climbing has its advantages. Pick placements are easy to make in the soft ice, and you don’t risk frostbite while belaying. On the down side, you get sponge-wet gloves from dripping routes. And routes tend to disappear quickly.

Yet with an end to the season well in sight, it’s hard to say no to one more trip.

Which brings me back to Steve and the article he saw in Rock and Ice, a popular climbing magazine. The article told of a severe injury on The Fang, a freestanding pillar of ice near Vail, Co. A climber, who had spent 15 years preparing to ascend this Rocky Mountain jewel, fell a hundred feet when the six-foot-wide ice formation collapsed beneath him.

It was a dangerous route, but very different from Chiller Pillar. Still, it was just as well Steve hadn’t read the story yet. And we approached our route with caution.

The Pillar had a strange look to it – more like white frosting than blue water ice. And there was a horizontal crack only a few feet from the top, which meant the climb had settled at some point, detaching from the final few feet.

Yet is was a cool day, with no sunshine to cause undue melting. The route was thick, and tapered from the bottom to the top. The wall around it looked dry, and the ice itself held the test-screws we placed at the base.

“You can top-rope it,” I told Steve. That meant we could scramble up an easier way and set up a rope on the top, which would hold him in case the ice collapsed.

“I should be OK,” he said, and began to tie into the rope to prepare to lead.

Safe ice climbing is about knowing the conditions, and making judgment calls. At the end of the day, though, there’s a bit of faith involved. You believe you are strong enough to climb to the top, and you believe the ice is strong enough to hold you up.

In this case, both climber and ice rose to the occasion. But I stood far back from the route as I belayed him. Just in case.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Phil Brown: Wider Backcountry Ski Trails?

At a recent public hearing in Keene, more than a dozen people spoke in favor of keeping the fire tower on Hurricane Mountain. Several others spoke in favor of keeping the lean-to along Gulf Brook. And one person spoke in favor of improving trails for backcountry skiing.

That would be Ron Konowitz.

Konowitz, a Keene schoolteacher, has long been one of the region’s most passionate and adventurous backcountry skiers. He is the only person to have skied all forty-six of the High Peaks. In a typical year, he skis more than 150 days.

Whenever I ski with Ron, he fills my ear with complaints about how backcountry skiers are getting a raw deal in the Adirondacks. I heard them again one afternoon last weekend when we skied the first five miles of the Mount Marcy trail from Adirondak Loj.

Since I’m a backcountry skier, you might say I’m biased, but I think he has a point.

One problem is that the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan—the document that guides management of the Forest Preserve—fails to recognize Ron’s sport. This is not surprising, because few people pursued this sport back in the early 1970s, when the plan was written.

I’m referring to down-mountain backcountry skiing—climbing and descending a peak, slide path, or steep glade.

The State Land Master Plan does recognize ski touring, or cross-country skiing, but this isn’t the same thing. The plan requires that cross-country trails must have “the same dimensions and character” as foot trails. Generally, skiers are sharing hiking trails, but in any case, a ski or foot trail is supposed to be only six feet wide. That’s okay if you’re skiing over gently rolling terrain, but for safety’s sake you need more room to make turns and control your speed when descending steep slopes. That’s just common sense.

Down-mountain skiing in the backcountry has grown greatly in popularity over the past twenty years, thanks to improvements in backcountry equipment: wider, shaped skis, plastic boots, and beefier bindings. At the same time, snowshoeing also has grown in popularity. So we now have more skiers and more winter hikers sharing the same narrow trails.

One solution would be to widen, only where necessary, those trails commonly used by down-mountain skiers. This is not a new idea: a 1952 state brochure titled “Lake Placid Trails” notes that “in 1936 the original Van Hoevenberg Trail was conditioned for skiing.” This was in the era before lift-service resorts lured skiers out of the woods. Over the decades, the trail has been allowed to grow back in to its current dimensions.

As Ron and I ascended the Van Hoevenberg Trail along Phelps Brook the other day, he pointed out the older trees off to the sides that once marked the boundaries of the trail. Clearly, the older trail was several feet wider.

What’s more, Ron said this section of trail was once reserved for skiing. Since the 1970s, it has been used by hikers as well and has been eroded as a result of heavy foot traffic in summer. A similar thing happened to the old Wright Peak Ski Trail. Hikers once used a different trail, but when that trail became eroded, DEC closed it and moved hikers to the lower section of the ski trail. Since then, this part of the ski trail has become eroded and grown in. Skiers now dodge rocks, trees, and snowshoers on the descent.

In an earlier post, I noted that Tony Goodwin of the Adirondack Ski Touring Council has proposed an easy fix for the Wright situation: reopening the old hiking trail as a ski trail, deploying volunteer labor. It shouldn’t cost the state a dime, but DEC isn’t interested. Nor does DEC seem inclined to widen trails to accommodate down-mountain skiers.

In contrast, DEC spent a great deal of time and money on writing new guidelines for snowmobile trails in response to complaints from the snowmobiling community. The guidelines were approved by the Adirondack Park Agency last year.

Like ski trails, snowmobile trails are required by the State Land Master Plan to retain the character of a foot trail. Yet DEC’s new guidelines allow snowmobile trails to be up to twelve feet wide in places.

Proponents say the snowmobile guidelines are needed for safety. They note that snowmobiling has changed: today’s snow sleds are bigger and faster than those of yesteryear.

Well, backcountry skiing has changed, too. We need to talk about that.

Photo by Phil Brown: Ron Konowitz at Indian Falls. Video taken along Phelps Brook.