Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dan Crane: The Art of the Adirondack Dump

Imagine hiking for hours, and the nearest thing passing for a restroom is miles away. And then you feel it. Some call it the spike, others the turtlehead. It means one thing; it is time to answer nature’s call and there is no other choice but to poop in the woods.

One of the most awkward aspects of enjoying the Adirondack backcountry, and consequently one that elicits the most curiosity, is just how does one poop in the woods. My answer is always the same with regards to the Adirondacks: very carefully and as quickly as possible.

Pooping in the woods can be a dangerous endeavor, as it leaves one vulnerable to a whole host of possible attacks. A mischievous fellow hiker with a camera, a black bear with poor judgment in search of something good to eat or even an innocent snake minding its own business but in the wrong place at the wrong time. Worst of all, and probably the most common hazard, is a horde of any of the assortment of biting flies.

A bare butt hanging out as one takes care of business is like a giant bull’s-eye in the forest to a hungry female mosquito, black fly or deer fly. For that reason alone, it is of the utmost importance to get through the entire process as quickly as possible. Always wait until the very last minute before going, as this minimizes the amount of time where one’s butt, and other stuff, is exposed for as little time as possible. Prevent any possible biting by waving a free hand around the more sensitive parts to scare off any hovering flies. Take it from experience; getting bit on one’s privates is definitely something to be avoided!

The mechanics of taking a poop in the Adirondacks are pretty clear. If an outhouse is available then do your business there; it is way more comfortable and a lot more convenient. Keeping the door open while going may be necessary given the popularity of the area, and the time and potency of the last occupant. Afterwards, throw a handful of leaf litter onto your deposit to facilitate decomposition and control the aroma.

When no facilities are available, find a private place 150 feet from water, trail or campsite, and dig a cat-hole 6-8 inches deep. Do your business, throw a few leaves on it and then bury it with the soil from the hole.

Throwing leaves in the hole helps to aid decomposition, especially in the slight case where the mineral soil may be close to the surface. This is usually not likely within the Adirondacks unless you happen to be in an area where the mineral soil is located near the surface (e.g. an old tip-up mound or near a rockslide).

Luckily, no special equipment is necessary for pooping in the Adirondacks backcountry. Some outdoor enthusiasts swear by using a plastic trowel for digging the cats-hole, but this is usually unnecessary with the deep, damp organic layer typically found in the Adirondack soils. A nice sturdy branch, located as I scramble to find an adequate place, always works well for me, except for the few times they break during the my furious digging.

Once the wiping is finished, the toilet paper can be tossed in the hole with your waste. Following strict leave no trace guidelines, the toilet paper should be packed out. In the Adirondacks, I find carrying out the toilet paper to be unnecessary with the moist conditions present in the Adirondacks; toilet paper should decompose rapidly. It is best to use white, cheaper, 1-ply paper, preferably without all the added chemicals of the popular brands. Peeing on the used toilet paper afterward, or poking it with the digging stick, helps to compact it and prevent it from working itself up to the surface.

The best place to deposit your waste is a raised area with little vegetation in an upland habitat. A raised area avoids the possibility of the waste sitting in a pool of water after a heavy rain, and therefore retarding decomposition. Digging your cats-hole in an area devoid of vegetation reduces the amount of disturbance, which is always a good thing in the backcountry.

Positioning during the dirty deed is crucial. There is nothing worse than getting waste on yourself, or falling back into it. My preferred position is the traditional squat. This position requires strong ankles and a good sense of balance. Without those two, there can be some disastrous results. For those needing additional support can position themselves in front of a small tree, holding the tree’s stem for added support. Unfortunately, this limits the number of possible sites. Using hiking poles, stuck in the ground, can be substituted for the tree stem and therefore providing my choice in locating an adequate place.

Some people swear by using a log as a seat, with their butt sticking over the log and the cats-hole dug below. This really limits the number of possible places to go, and in an emergency situation could be a real problem. Sitting on a wet log or having the log break or fall apart in the middle of your bathroom break are just two of the additional hazards that could possibly upset what should be a relieving experience.

Most of these suggestions are only applicable during the warmer months of the year; a winter dump is a whole new ballgame. With the ground usually frozen, and most likely buried under feet of snow, makes a different method of fecal disposal necessary. And unfortunately, it requires packing out the poop.

A good choice for packing out your fecal material is a commercial product such as a WAG bag. These kits are often required in very high use areas where rich, moist soils are rare or nonexistent. The kit consists of an outer, puncture resistant zip-closed plastic bag, a poop bag with a gelling substance for those runny occasions (it also facilitates decomposition and reduces odor), toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Another option is to make your own waste disposal system. Sometimes this method is referred to as a poop burrito. Twenty inch square pieces of waxed paper and brown butcher paper are placed on the ground with the waxed paper between yourself and the butcher paper. After doing your business, roll up the paper burrito style and place the burrito in a paper bag.

A perfect container for this fecal package is a piece of PVC pipe, threaded at both ends with screw-on caps. Just screw off one cap, place the fecal bag inside and screw the cap back on. This prevents the contents from coming into contact with any other equipment. The PVC pipe can be carried strapped onto the outside of one’s backpack too. The contents can be conveniently disposed of upon returning to civilization.

There is no denying that pooping in the woods is one of the least appealing aspects of spending time in the backcountry. But, unfortunately, it is a biological necessity that must be attended to and planned for if civilization is to be left behind for a few days. Instead of dwelling on the negative, imagine the sweet relief afterwards, not to mention it is the only time it is socially acceptable for an adult to play with their own waste.

Photos: Shoulder of Greenfield Mountain in the Five Ponds Wilderness by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Adirondack Family Activities: A Ski To Great Camp Santanoni

A weekend open house to the New York State owned Camp Santanoni is a great reason to get us to strap on our cross-country skis and hit the backcountry for a family outing. The other reason is there is snow and plenty of it in Newcomb. We leave Saranac Lake and the sky is blue and clear. The conditions are more spring skiing than what we have come to expect at the end of February. It is a perfect day.

I make my family visit the stone gatehouse at the entrance to Camp Santanoni in Newcomb but no one wants to linger. They are impatient to hit the trail. It is a busy day due to the Adirondack Architectural Heritage Open House weekend. Normally the Great Camp buildings are closed but today, tours will be given so we get a property history, explore the buildings and a great easy ski.

After registering we take off. The trail in is actually the 4.7-mile carriage road leading past the original farm to the Great Camp. It was described to me as relatively flat but I found it to be more aptly defined as gently rolling. There are definite uphill climbs but everything still falls under the category of an easy beginner ski.

Since I’m the slowest skier in the family, my kids wait for me at various intersections and landmarks. I come to the farm at one mile and they are already playing around the stone dairy and over to the remains of the burned barn. (A couple passing by mourn the loss of the barn, which burned in 2004. They had not been back since and are shocked to not see it still standing.) We continue our ski and make it to the Great Camp in less than two hours.

Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) Executive Director Steven Engelhart starts flipping through old photographs documenting much of the history of this New York State owned Great Camp while my family enjoys lunch at one of the picnic tables provided on the connecting porches. We learn an abbreviated history of the Albany banker Robert Pruyn’s (Prīne) vision to be a gentleman farmer and his wife Anna’s quest for a rustic retreat, which combined to form Great Camp Santanoni in the 1890s.

My children are more interested in Pruyn’s interest in Japanese architecture based on his two-year stay in Japan as secretary to his father, an ambassador appointed under President Lincoln. During the talking points we gather it is believed that the Main Camp architecture of Santanoni was designed to resemble a bird in flight, with its Great Room and single roof forming the bird’s body and the connecting porches forming the wings.

My family leaves the tour when Engelhart mentioned hot chocolate is available at the nearby Artist’s Studio. I continue on the tour and it is easy to image a family being comfortable and enjoying the same outdoor activities we still do today.

There are no plans or need to make Great Camp Santanoni anything more than what it already is, a beautiful year-round destination to Newcomb Lake and a glimpse into a piece of Adirondack history.

Camp Santanoni is open year-round to non-motorized use. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2000. Since AARCH’s intervention in 1991 the boathouse has been completely renovated and the many connecting porches were replaced as well as other structural improvements. The trail is accessible in summer by horse and wagon as well used by hikers and mountain bikers.

The next opportunity to attend a Great Camp Santanoni Winter weekend will be March 17-18.

photo of Great Camp Santanoni used with permission of Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Time.

Diane Chase is the author of Adirondack Family Time Lake Placid and High Peaks: Your Four-Season Guide to Over 300 activities. Her second book will be in stores summer 2012 and cover the Champlain Valley from Plattsburgh to Ticonderoga.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Phil Brown: Bad Winter Skiing Options

Yes, it’s been a bad winter for skiers, but it’s not all bad. People are skiing, though their options are limited by the shortage of snow.

The best skiing seems to be at the two extremes: on high slopes or on mellow terrain. For a sample of what the elite skiers are doing, check out the videos on Drew Haas’s website Adirondack Backcountry Skiing.

If you’re not into skiing slides or other gnarly terrain, your best bets will be former truck trails, old woods roads, frozen ponds, and other smooth, flat terrain. You can find an account of one such trip in the March/April issue of the Adirondack Explorer: a round-trip to Raquette Falls. Click here to read the story.

That said, I had two good outings on intermediate terrain within the past week. On Sunday, I skied from Whiteface Inn Road in Lake Placid to the top of McKenzie Pass on the Jackrabbit Trail. The cover was excellent, but I understand conditions on the Saranac Lake side of the pass are not so good.

On Tuesday, I skied to Avalanche Lake from South Meadow Road. Again, the cover was good except on parts of the Marcy Dam Truck Trail. Click here to read a more detailed report and view a video of my descent of Avalanche Pass.

For other backcountry options, check out Tony Goodwin’s ski report, which is updated a few times a week, and also Adirondack Almanack‘s Thursday afternoon Outdoor Conditions Report, which often includes suggestions for areas outside the Lake Placid area.

Of course, you can always visit one of the Adirondack Park’s cross-country-ski centers if the backcountry isn’t an option. Despite the low snow, Rick Karlin reports in the Explorer that the Nordic centers are open for business, thanks in part to good grooming. Click here to read Karlin’s story.

Finally, if all else fails, you might try to imitate the guy in this video (one of the best ski videos I’ve seen).

Photo by Phil Brown: A skier on the trail to Raquette Falls.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

4-H Adirondack Guide Program Orientation Thursday

The 4-H Adirondack Guide Program orientation meeting will be held tomorrow Thursday, February 16, 2012, at 6:30p.m. at the Cornell University Cooperative Extension Education Center, 377 Schroon River Road in Warrensburg.

The 4-H Adirondack Guide Program is a unique program designed for boys and girls (12-18 years old) who would like to explore, in depth, topics related to natural resources, ourdoor recreation and biological sciences and develop teaching and leadership skills.

Participants in the program, sponsored by Cornell University Cooperative Extension, advance from the Beginner Guide level, through intermediate, to full advanced 4-H Adirondack Guide status. As Guides progress through the levels they are expected to give back to the program by teaching review sessions and help in testing other youth at the end of each year.

Activities include field trips and classes, canoe and hiking trips, and community service projects. Topics taught include map & compass reading; canoeing; tree, plant, flower and wildlife identification; environmental teaching techniques; woods lore and safety; first aid and lifeguard training; outdoor clothing and equipment; wilderness trip coordination, and global positioning systems (GPS).

Participants have the opportunity to work with licensed Adirondack Guides, Forest Rangers, Fish and Wildlife Biologists, Foresters and skilled woodsmen. The program is conducted in an informal atmosphere, conducive to building confidence and self-esteem. Several aspects of the program are being underwritten by a partnership grant from Outdoor Nation.

For more information, or to register, call the Cornell Cooperative Extension office at 623-3291 or 668-4881. For additional information, ask to speak with John Bowe.

Photo: Tabor Dunn teaches Ryan Bailey, Jared Goodemote and Alex Knecht knots.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Philosophy: The Culture of Adirondack Lean-tos

It’s funny the questions people ask me these days. Earlier this week some colleagues were talking about whether or not to restore a dilapidated lean-to that sits on private land somewhat accessible from a new recreation corridor. The issue was debated around whether the lean-to would become an “attractive nuisance” encouraging travelers to camp at the site. If so, perhaps it should be left to go back to nature, as it were. As the conversation wore on someone turned to me and asked “why do people travel distances and sometimes even risk trespassing on private property just to stay in a lean-to, when they could simply camp elsewhere?”

I understand in years past the Department of Environmental Conservation organized lean-tos in clusters at backcountry campsites. This would have encouraged a sense of community, society and for the faint of heart: safety in numbers. Lean-tos are also often situated at strategic locations to encourage camping in a certain spot. I’m told that many experienced campers find lean-tos cold and buggy compared to the warmth and shelter of a tent. While other backcountry wayfarers may be traveling without a tent, in which case a lean-to is essential in certain conditions.

This begins to address the practical reasons ‘why’ in response to the initial question. However if you know me, you know that I am not the intuitive choice to answer questions about backcountry preferences. And so my response to a question concerning the appeal of a lean-to comes from culture and from story. The Adirondack region, particularly its “wilderness” areas are as rhetorical as they are physical. Their geography is narrative and their landscapes follow a mythological contour. This is what is meant when poets talk of “entering” the world. They’re talking about going in, in philosophical sense.

When we enter a physical landscape this way, we cross over into one or another meandering corner of its identity. I was reminded of this when Steve Signell joined the Almanack team to write about mapping. In his first post he mentions an early description of the region as “parts but little known” with “drowned lands” that are “impassable & uninhabited.” As a romantic I am hopelessly drawn to these tentative descriptions more so than the main content of his fine essay, of databases and downloadable files. I believe that while modern maps tell us how to get to a place and how to navigate around once we’re there, it is through the lore of the landscape that we enter that world and that we follow a path through its terrain of cultural descriptions.

I think travelers in every season continue to seek out lean-tos for more than a dry floor and a partial roof. That names and dates will forever be carved into the rounded walls as a declaration, as evidence, that the ribbon of time opened up and someone slipped in to hear Emerson’s wood-god murmer through the leaves.

Photo: A lean-to near the summit of Mount Marcy (above and beyond in photo) in 1973 (EPA Photo by Anne LaBastille).

Marianne Patinelli-Dubay is a philosopher, writing and teaching in the Adirondack Park.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Five Ponds Wilderness: The Robinson River

What is eight miles long, black as ink, wet all over, rarely seen and present in the northwestern Adirondacks? The Robinson River, of course!

This narrow river snakes its way through the middle of the Five Ponds Wilderness Area, stretching from Crooked Lake and flowing into the East Branch of the Oswegatchie River, well upstream from High Falls. It is rarely visited by people, due to its remote location and distance from any trail. Scattered pockets of blowdown, from the 1995 Microburst, guard much of the river, increasing the effort required to reach its border and appreciate its beauty.

The Robinson begins its life as a narrow, rocky stream, where it acts as the main outlet of Crooked Lake. From its headwaters, the river undulates north alternating between being surrounded by forests and beaver meadow for about half its length before making a sudden turn east. Eventually the river reaches its inevitable destination at the Oswegatchie River.

Along the river’s first half it flows through several features of interest. It flows just south of Toad Pond, through an open shrubby area where once a single engine plane crashed back in the 1940’s. Just north of Toad Pond the river flows through Sliding Falls, where near-impenetrable blowdowns surround on both sides. Between the falls and its sharp turn east, an extensive forested swamp straddles the river.

I feel fortunate to have encountered the Robinson River several times over the past couple years. Given my typical mode of transportation through this area, the river is often perceived as either an obstacle to cross or a feature of the landscape to follow to an eventual destination. Conveniently, the river flows through many narrow, rocky drainages allowing for some relatively easy crossings. The beaver dams, old and new, lies along its run when a rocky-hop is not available.

While traveling to Stillwater Reservoir during the summer of 2010, I rock-hopped what was just a stream, mere feet from its source at northern tip of Crooked Lake. The river is narrow and bordered by thick conifers on both sides here. The shallow, rocky stream near its headwaters fails to foreshadow the larger and darker river it becomes further north.

During the same trip, I again crossed the river on a shabby beaver dam a quarter of a mile downstream from its headwaters. From here, I intermittently followed the river upstream all the way to Toad Pond, as it alternated between flowing through forest and open, wet meadows. Often the open grown vegetation was so high and dense as to almost completely obscure the river.

The river flows through a large, open meadow surrounded by several towering, guardian white pines mere yards south of Toad Pond. An cursory search along the western and northern borders of this meadow for evidence of the crashed plane proved unsuccessful during my visit; undoubtedly it is overgrown by now and impossible to find without some knowledge of its general location.

During last summer, the northern portion of Robinson River provided a convenient route on my return trip from Cracker, Gal and West Ponds. A beaver dam acted as a timely bridge immediately upon my arrival where the river leaves a wide, wet and open floodplain and enters the forest for its final mile before flowing into the Oswegatchie. Aerial photographs suggests several beaver dams along its length as it undulates through its northern floodplain, but good luck locating them given the floodplains uneven and densely vegetated border.

Nothing but uninterrupted mature forest borders the Robinson as it follows the southern base of Partlow Mountain. The terrain varied greatly along the river’s northern shore. Along the eastern portion, the landscape rises only several feet from the floodplain before remaining flat for as far as the eye could see; covered in tall mature hardwoods with less understory than typically expected in the Adirondacks.

Along the middle portion there are numerous tendrils of the floodplain, winding their way into the surrounding uplands separated by a steep slope. The contrast between the large, lowland softwoods and the massive hardwoods upslope is striking. From the top of the slope, safely surrounded by hardwoods, it was possible to look directly into the canopy of the softwoods below; obtaining a view seldom seen except by red squirrels and pine martens. The regularly spaced softwoods were surrounded by a dark, green carpet of Sphagnum on the ground, interspersed with shallow open pools of water and clusters of tall ferns. A long-extinct dinosaur would barely look out of place in such a landscape.

The Robinson River offers a convenient avenue for journeying through some of the most remote portions of the northwestern Adirondacks, but if you plan on visiting the way is not easy by any means. The least arduous approach is via a canoe trip up the Oswegatchie River. The easiest route from trail is either from the south terminus of the Red Horse Trail or from the west via either the Sand Lake or Five Ponds Trails. Whichever route taken, bring plenty of bug repellant, plenty of supplies and a whole lot of patience, you will need every bit of it.

Has anyone else had encounters with the Robinson River worth noting? Has anyone ever been to Sliding Falls? Is it worth the effort of the struggling through the dense blowdowns? Have you ever searched the large swamp south of the river’s sudden turn east for boreal bird species? If so, share your observations in the comments below.

Photos: Robinson River’s northern portion, near headwaters and south of Toad Pond by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wilmington Bike Fest: Family Fun, Sanctioned Races

With a mix of uphill, downhill, serious competition and family fun, the Annual Wilmington Whiteface Bike Fest is set for June 14-17, 2012. The weekend’s free family-friendly events begin with “Fun not Fear” mountain bike instruction for beginners at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 14. In addition to the many free family-oriented events, the weekend also includes a freestyle bike-jumping event, and three sanctioned competitions including the a qualifier for the Leadville Trail 100. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Lost Brook Dispatches: The Discovery

It was Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, 2010. I had driven through the night to make it to the Adirondacks from my home in Madison. I had to see for myself the amazing opportunity I had stumbled upon while browsing around on the web. I was already tired, unknown territory lay ahead, and there I was, face to face with one of the most imposing natural wonders in all the Adirondacks: Vinny McClelland.

No doubt many Almanack readers are familiar with Vinny, but if you don’t know him he is the owner of The Mountaineer in Keene Valley among other vocations and he is intimately involved in the community in a plethora of ways. Amy and I have come to have great affection for Vinny. He is a “salt of the Earth” kind of guy: capable, authentic, generous of spirit.

We also find Vinny to be – and I can’t think of a better way to say this – hard core. Vinny has this way of looking at you, a certain sort of sizing-up. It is not egotistical and it isn’t judgmental of your worth as a human being, but it is as if to decide whether you know what you are doing. Either you do or you don’t, either you make the cut or not. Vinny knows what he is doing. I don’t really know how many things he is expert at: mountaineering, skiing, building, guiding, landscape engineering, exploring… it’s a long list. Vinny knows the Adirondacks; for example he knows that if you are going on a day hike four miles into the wilderness on no sleep, off trail, in new territory, in winter conditions, with two hours of daylight, two thousand feet of climbing and a lot of ice… well, either you know what you are doing or you don’t. Probably you don’t.

At the moment Vinny was looking at me with what I would describe as a level of skepticism. From what he had to go on at that point I didn’t blame him.

Amy and I had been daydreaming, searching on real estate sites for small houses we might buy on the cheap and fix up over several years before eventually fulfilling our long-held plan of moving to the Adirondacks. One such MLS search produced a list that included a sixty acre parcel with a picture that showed a beautiful, densely forested mountain view. These are the sorts of listings I have learned to ignore seeing as I am not a multi-millionaire. But the asking price of this acreage was unbelievably low, far less than any other listing I’d seen except for those that turned out to be poor or recently cut-over land. The picture sure didn’t make it look like it was poor land. How was this possible?

Incredulous, I called the realtor whose site I had been using and asked her to contact the listing agent with a few basic questions. When she called back to tell me that the parcel held mature timber and views and was embedded in State Wilderness I was stunned. Apparently the price was low because the tract was inaccessible, with no road or trail to it and no possibility for development. In other words it was perfect! It was the embodiment of my life-long dream to own wild land in the heart of the Adirondacks, a dream I had never once considered could become reality.

I was seized with the kind of fear one gets when a miraculous opportunity seems too good to be true. In the unlikely event that the land was anything like it was being represented, then to a value system such as mine it was priceless. Surely there were like-minded people who would covet such a piece of wilderness and be all over this offering. I was sure it was already gone. The realtor called me back: no, it wasn’t sold but an offer was imminent.

Time was of the essence. I decided to be rash. It was Thanksgiving week and my college classes were not in session. I consulted with Amy, she agreed and I headed for the driveway with a pair of boots and a sleeping bag.

On my way through Illinois the realtor called to discourage me from coming out as the offer was expected at any moment. Besides, she said, the listing agent told her that the land was “difficult to get to” and that the last potential buyer he had sent back to look at it “got lost” and never made it. This sounded better and better by the moment. “Too late,” I said, “I’m already in the car and on my way.”

We arranged to meet at 1 PM at a café in the nearest town after which I would hike to the land. In the meantime the listing agent continued to express his concerns. He provided her with a map containing GPS points on the route in. “I hope he has a GPS,” he said. “There is snow up there,” he warned, “It’s off trail.” I assured her that I was experienced.

No doubt harboring a healthy measure of reserve, the listing agent decided to attend the meeting too. I have since speculated on what his thought process must have been… “Here is some guy who lives in the Midwest. He’s driving through the night to look at a piece of land without having the slightest idea what he’s getting into. He’s probably a lunatic or an idiot; I’d better see for myself…”

By now you have guessed the name of the listing agent. Vinny McClelland is also a real estate professional. He typically represents marquee properties but as fate would have it he was selling this little forgotten swath because he had a personal connection to it going back years. He is one of the few people in the world who has actually been there.

It was nearly 1:30 PM before we got started with our meeting. Vinny had assembled an impressive packet on the parcel with a name on the cover: Lost Brook Tract. I asked some questions. Vinny seemed anxious for me to go. He reminded me that late-November days are short, that there was snow up high and a lot of ice. “Do you have gear?” he asked. I said that I did (I had boots, after all). I asked another question or two. “You need to get going,” Vinny urged. “Do you have GPS?” I replied that I never used GPS (I can’t stand the idea of it). At this point I could tell that the “idiot” assessment was prevailing. I decided to play an assurance card. “Vinny,” I told him, “My most recent bushwhack this summer was Allen to Redfield,” knowing full well that not a lot of people try that one. I wanted to think it helped a little but Vinny showed no outward sign that he was impressed. Now that I know him better I think that saying I’d just done the North face of Eiger might have helped more.

In any case, off I went. The way up was indeed icy and progress was slow. I did not get all the way there – at least I never saw his flagging – but I did bushwhack to a small outcropping on the way with a view of the parcel from a short distance. It looked beautifully forested, dark and dramatic, utterly wild. I was enchanted.

I returned to Madison. We made an offer, prevailed somehow and closed on the property two days after Christmas.

On the afternoon of December 29th Vinny took us up to Lost Brook Tract, following an old bushwhack route he first took as a child. For two miles it was easy, relatively open woods and a gradual climb. At the halfway point near a pair of huge boulders Vinny paused for a moment to inform us that the route got “gnarly” from there. The snow deepened, the forest thickened and the grade became formidable. Our snowshoes were subpar, our packs were heavy and we fell well behind. After an exhausting climb we came upon Vinny sitting at an old lean-to, contentedly enjoying a late lunch. He told us he admired our family for doing this, wished us a happy new year and bid us farewell.

We had arrived in a winter paradise. The first thing we all noticed was the snow-draped spruces towering overhead. Some looked to be more than eighty or ninety feet in height, something I’d never seen at this elevation in the Adirondacks. We were filled with wonder at the sight of them. “I think this is old-growth forest,” I whispered. We dug through four feet of snow, pitched our tents and make a fire pit. The temperature dropped to twenty below.

We spend two magnificent days. We explored the immediate area and the interior of the partially collapsed lean-to. We made our way down to Lost Brook, frozen and under a sea of snow. We uncovered part of an original fire ring and for a time got two fires going. Just before leaving I blazed a tree by the brook so as to be able to find the land again. We hiked out on our own, following the snow trail we had made going in. I thought of all the writers of old from my tattered copy of the Adirondack Reader. I recalled their reverent descriptions of the primeval and the wonder of discovery with a new understanding. This is what it is like.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Adaptive Nordic Ski Camp This Weekend

Despite the wet weather, the 2nd Adirondack Adaptive Nordic Ski Camp is still being held this weekend, February 3-5, 2012, in Lake Placid, NY.

This unique 3-day event will bring together new and experienced adaptive Nordic skiers from all over the country for an adaptive Nordic skiing training camp and races at the Empire State Winter Games. The camp is being organized by a partnership of local and regional organizations including Adirondack Adaptive Adventures, Mountain Orthotic and Prosthetic Services, U.S. Paralympic Nordic Team, Olympic Regional Development Authority, Northeast Passage, New England Nordic Ski Association, and Horowitz Associates, Inc. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

10th Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival Slated

The Mountaineer and Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides have teamed up to host the 10th annual Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival on March 3 and 4, 2012. The event celebrates the ski experience both here in the Adirondack backcountry and in the greater ranges of the world.

This year’s event features guest athlete Glen Plake, star of many ski films and an accomplished backcountry skier, guide and instructor based in Chamonix, France. He will be skiing at Otis Mountain in Elizabethtown on Saturday and offering a presentation on Saturday evening at the Keene Central School.

Guided ski tours will be held on Saturday and Sunday, led by Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides and a group of local ski guides. Skiers with intermediate nordic skills can join the classic Avalanche Pass ski traverse, while intermediate to expert downhill skiers looking to get into backcountry skiing will want to join the Intermediate Tour. Expert skiers with prior backcountry experience and their own gear can refine their skills on the Advanced Tour. Space is limited, so check out their website to register.

Free demos and mini clinics will again be held at Otis Mountain on Saturday. The Mountainfest is benefit event, with all proceeds supporting the New York State Ski Education Foundation’s Nordic racing programs and the Adirondack Ski Touring Council, stewards of the Adirondack Park’s backcountry ski trail system, including the Jackrabbit Trail.

Call The Mountaineer at 518 576 2281 or visit www.mountaineer.com for more information and to register for the clinics.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Free Cross-Country Skiing: Tupper Lake’s Groomed Trails

Nordic skiers in the northern Adirondacks will want to keep Tupper Lake’s free, groomed cross-country trail system on their radar screen. Expected snowfall should have the 10k trail network skiable this weekend. The trails are located on town-owned land and can be accessed from the Tupper Lake Country Club or Big Tupper Ski Area.

Even though the trail system has been in existence for 40 years, it’s something of a well-kept secret. “We’d like to change that,” says John Gillis, one of a half dozen community volunteers who maintain the trails in winter using snowmobiles and a variety of grooming and track-setting equipment. The trail system is free of charge, open to the public 24/7 (conditions permitting) and is dog-friendly.

The trail system’s website and Facebook page are updated frequently with current conditions and grooming reports. Upcoming events include:

– February 4th, 6 pm: Full Moon ski and bonfire at the Cranberry Pond Picnic Area.

– February 11th, 6 pm: Skiing with the Stars. If the night is clear a telescope will be set up.

– February 18th, 10 am: Lumberjack Scramble Ski Race.

– February 25th, 6 pm: Skiing with the Stars. If the night is clear a telescope will be set up.

– March 2nd, 6 pm: Winterfest Bonfire at Cranberry Pond.

Jeff Farbaniec is an avid telemark skier and a 46er who writes The Saratoga Skier & Hiker, a blog of his primarily Adirondack outdoor adventures.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lightweight Backpacking: Sweat the Big Stuff

Reducing the weight of one’s backpack is essential for journeying into the depth of the Adirondack backcountry, where trails are nonexistent and obstacles plentiful. This is especially true as time passes and endurance of youth gives way to the slower plodding of middle age and beyond. Shouldering less of a burden reduces the stress on the legs resulting in more comfortable hiking, healthier joints and blister-free feet.

Although endlessly counting ounces may be tedious, there is no other way to effectively reduce the weight of a backpack. The simplest solution is carry less stuff. Discard the superfluous, such as a large bowie knife, a cast iron frying pan, or a square egg maker (this is no jest, I witnessed all of these articles packed into the backcountry during my backpacking career). Think small when it comes to those essential items.

When going lightweight is in its nascent stage, initially concentrate on the biggest and bulkiest items. A shelter (e.g. tent), sleeping bag and backpack form a triumvirate of heavy equipment typically carried into the backcountry. Therefore, these big boys are where one should start to shave off the pounds.

Making the switch to lightweight is easier today since most manufacturers appear to be making equipment out of lighter material. Unfortunately, many of them are simply playing lip service to this effort. The majority of their products continue to contain numerous unnecessary “bells and whistles.” Keeping the ounces off one’s back requires jettisoning all but the essential amenities.

The best method for getting exactly what one desires in a piece of backpacking equipment is to make it yourself. Although this notion seems unthinkable to some (at least that’s what the major manufacturers are counting on), it is not as difficult as first imagined. Unfortunately, not everyone has the skills or patience to make their own homemade equipment.

The best alternative for those without the skills or inclination to make their own is to modify manufactured equipment after purchasing it. Since it requires steely nerves to start ripping apart a brand new product to remove unwanted bells and whistles, this option may be just as unrealistic as producing equipment from scratch.

For those unwilling to make their own and unable to disassemble newly purchased manufactured products, the only viable alternative remaining is carefully shopping around to find manufactured equipment that comes as closely to meeting ones needs as possible. Just think small and keep it simple.

The shelter is a great place to start reducing the weight of a fully packed backcountry backpack. The bountiful options available makes it easier than ever to lug around more shelter than absolutely necessary. The tent is the most conventional choice in a portable shelter but often other options (e.g. tarp) weigh less and offer better ventilation.

Avoid carrying more shelter than necessary, if possible. Carrying a three-person tent for a single person results in a heavier burden and a lot of unoccupied and thus unnecessary space at the end of the day. The smaller the shelter, the less weight on one’s back. Think small and save potentially a few pounds.

Any shelter with optional poles is an excellent choice for a lightweight shelter. The backcountry has an almost infinite variety of poles, ripe for the using, if one knows where to find them. Standing trees and their fallen limbs make outstanding poles, and they add nothing to the weight of a backpack. Just take care not to damage any living trees in the process.

My shelter preference is for a modular tarp system; I have not seen the inside of a tent in a decade. The tarp system was manufactured by Golite using Ray Jardine’s designs. The system consists of a tarp (the Cave) and a hanging insect netting interior (the Nest). Trees or sticks function as poles, though sometimes in a pinch I will use my hiking poles. Unfortunately, Golite no longer offers this product (although a tarp kit is available directly from Ray Jardine’s website), though they do have many other lightweight tents currently available.

The sleeping bag is another one of the more weighty backpacking essentials. Its bulk and weight is mostly due to the insulating material that keeps one comfortable and warm on a chilly Adirondack night. Enough insulation is necessary for the lowest potential temperature encountered on a trip but going overboard in this regard can be costly weight-wise. If it gets colder than anticipated long underwear, coats and rain gear may be worn as pajamas.

Choosing down over synthetic insulation is the best way to reduce the weight of a sleeping bag. Down insulates better, is more compressible and weighs much less than the synthetic alternatives. Some may find such a notion complete lunacy in the temperate rainforest known as the Adirondacks, since wet down offers little insulating ability. A waterproof stuff sack, backpack liner and/or pack cover insures a dry down sleeping bag, even in the Adirondacks.

For the last half dozen years, I have almost exclusively slept in the Western Mountaineering’s Highlite sleeping bag during the warmer months of the Adirondacks. It is engineered to be as lightweight as possible, with such features as down insulation, lightweight fabrics and a reduced sized half zipper. Unfortunately, it is offered in only a few sizes and I had to settle for the 6 feet length option. At around 5’8” (and that is with my boots on), this sleeping bag is much too long but I lack the nerves of steel required to do something about it.

Shaving off weight by replacing the backpack with a lighter equivalent is best saved for last. Since the backpack must offer enough support to comfortably carry all the equipment, it is best to pare down the weight of its contents before making the leap to a lightweight equivalent.

Some features to avoid in a backpack are a top pocket, side pockets, metal or plastic stays and even a highly cushioned hip-belt. Although these features might appear essential, they are easily abandoned with some planning. The extra support provided by the stays and highly cushioned hip-belt is unnecessary when the weight of the contents of the backpack is reduced sufficiently.

Golite’s Pinnacle is my primary backpack during the summer months in the Adirondacks. It is extremely lightweight but roomy enough to carry over a week’s worth of supplies and is highly durable. Over the years mine has traveled from Cranberry Lake to Stillwater Reservoir (and back), through some horrendous recovering blowdown along Oven Lake, and deep into the interior of the Pepperbox Wilderness.

Reducing the weight of one’s backpack allows for more comfortable hiking and a more enjoyable backcountry experience. Concentrating the initial effort on the larger equipment lays the groundwork for reducing the weight on the less substantial gear. Think small, keep it simple and enjoy a renewed spring in the step on the trail.

Photos: Cave/Nest tarp at Moshier Reservoir, Highlite sleeping bag on Cat Mountain and Pinnacle backpack at Streeter Fishpond by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

DEC Accepting 2012 Summer Camp Applications

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will be accepting applications for its 2012 Summer Camp Program starting January 28.

The summer camp program offers week-long adventures in conservation education for children ages 11-17. DEC operates four residential camps for youth ages 11-13: Camp Colby in Saranac Lake, Franklin County; Camp DeBruce in Livingston Manor, Sullivan County; Camp Rushford in Caneadea, Allegany County and Pack Forest in Warrensburg, Warren County. Pack Forest and Camp Rushford also feature Teenage Ecology Week, an environmental studies program for 14-17-year-old campers.

“As the parent of a son who spent a week at Camp Colby, I can personally attest to the quality of the camp experience for teenagers and the valuable environmental lessons learned at a DEC summer camp,” said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. “Many DEC camp alumni have followed their interests into careers in the environment and wildlife conservation throughout our 64 years of operating DEC summer camps.”

Campers learn about environmental stewardship through hands-on experience in the outdoors. They participate in a wide variety of activities including fishing, bird watching, fly-tying, archery, canoeing, hiking, camping, orienteering and hunter safety education. Campers also learn about fields, forests, streams and ponds through fun, first-hand experiences in these habitats. DEC counselors teach youth conservation techniques used by natural resource professionals, such as measuring trees and estimating wildlife populations.

Changes for the 2012 camp season:

Youth camp attendees now range from age 11 to 13.

Teenage Ecology Week attendees now range from age 14 to 17 and will be offered at Pack Forest from weeks 1 through 5 and at Camp Rushford during week 5.

All four camps will run for seven weeks, beginning July 1.

Children who have attended camp in the past may register for any of the weeks within their age range.

Campers may attend for more than one week. The fee for the total number of weeks must be included with the application (Note: campers may not stay at camp on Saturday night, so parents should make alternate arrangements if two consecutive weeks are selected).

DEC is also encouraging sporting clubs, civic groups and environmental organizations to sponsor a child for a week at camp. Those groups who sponsor six paid campers will receive one free scholarship when all applications are sent together.

Applications from both sponsors and parents can be postmarked starting January 28, 2012. The cost for camp remains at $350 a week.

For complete information, including when applications will be accepted, visit DEC’s website or call 518-402-8014. Interested parents may also sign up for the camps’ listserve on the same web page, visit the camps’ Facebook page at “NYS DEC Summer Camps” or contact DEC in writing at DEC Camps, 2nd Floor, 625 Broadway, Albany, New York 12233-4500.

Photo: A fishing lesson at Camp Colby. Courtesy DEC.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lost Brook Dispatches: Cold Rain and Snow

Amy and I had tarried too long in town, visiting friends, getting a tour of a local art collection, enjoying a leisurely holiday pace. We did not start the long climb up to Lost Brook Tract until after 2 PM with a scant two hours of daylight remaining. It was an icy climb and even with trekking poles to help lever the ascent our progress was halting. By the time we were three miles in and two thousand feet up, nearing the junction where the way to Lost Brook Tract leaves any hiking trail altogether, it was close to pitch black with spotty freezing rain. We didn’t mind as hiking in the dark is fun. But we were about to be stupid… well, not so much “we” as me. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dan Crane: Backpacking Through Middle Age

Facing middle-age is a traumatic prospect for many people, more so for those who enjoy exploring the Adirondack backcountry. During this period of life, the wear and tear of many decades begins to erode the physical abilities of youth. This physical erosion puts increasing demands on the body from backpacking, making enjoying the backcountry more arduous, but not impossible.

Backpacking, with its heavy lifting, long hikes over aggressive terrain and precarious stream crossings, is typically regarded as an activity of youth. There is no reason this must be the case though. With a little determination, some minor adaptations and a sizable portion of luck, it should be possible to continue exploring the backcountry throughout middle-age and beyond.

Many changes within the aging human body negatively impact the ability to backpack through the backcountry. Collagen fibers within muscles and tendons become less supple, cartilage in the joints wears down and becomes more brittle, and back issues, such as degenerating disc disease, are just a few of the changes brought on with age. Although it may be impossible to reverse these negative changes (for now), there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the effects.

Training is important for anyone engaging in strenuous exercise, and especially important for older hikers. Preparing the muscles for the arduous physical activity accompanying backcountry exploration is a necessity for exploring the backcountry, as much as map and compass skills, properly fitting hiking boots and prodigious amount of mosquito repellant.

Regular aerobic exercise (such as running, cycling or swimming), combined with weight training (especially those strengthening the core and legs), should be performed for months before lacing up the hiking boots. Although these activities prepare the muscles for physical activity, there is no substitute for getting on the trail and doing some day hiking. If coming off a long down period, start out slow with shorter distances and lower backpack loads, working up to farther distances and heavier loads over time.

Stretching before exercising is increasingly important as the years advance. Stretching prepares the less supple muscles and tendons for the rigorous activity required on the trail. It is especially important after spending hours riding in a car before reaching the trailhead. Concentrate the stretching effort on the legs but do not forget other important area such as the back, neck and arms.

Another important way to deal with the negative physical effects of middle-aged involves reducing the weight of the backpack. The weight of a backpack places an enormous amount of stress on the joints of the hips and legs. By reducing its weight it is possible to reduce the amount of stress placed on these joints so they stay healthier over the long haul. Plus, a lighter pack is a major advantage when trying to outrun a hungry bear.

We are living in an age of technological proliferation, and the backcountry products industry is not immune. Many of the improvements include a reduction in weight, due to stronger and more advanced materials. Anyone who owned a backpack from the 1980’s and 1990’s can attest to their impenetrable yet weighty materials, like carrying a tank on one’s back. Although these heavy materials prevented the occasional rip or tear, they put a lot of stress on the back and knees. Today, the trend is using more advanced materials to reduce the weight of equipment including clothes, sleeping bag, tents, and backpacks.

Despite the best effort to train, stretch extensively and reducing backpack weight, issues pertaining to middle-age can persist. Middle-age is accompanied with some inevitable slowdown, which can manifest itself in a slower speed on the trail, a reduction in the distances traveled per day or greater weakness in carrying heavier loads.

All the squatting, stooping and crawling associated with backpacking takes a serious toll on the back and joints of middle-aged backpackers. Crawling in and out of a tent or other shelter, cooking hunched over a small stove and squatting while answering natures call are just a few of these activities leading to back, neck or leg strains. And there is nothing worse than losing one’s balance due to a muscle cramp while squatting over a cat hole.

Sleeping on hard surfaces such as hard-packed ground found in heavily used areas and inside lean-tos becomes more difficult with age. Anyone waking after a restless night without the ability to stand up straight is familiar with this pain. Thankfully, this pain can be ameliorated with the addition of a couple different sleeping pads. Camping in areas rarely (or never) used by others may be helpful in providing a more comfortable sleeping experience due to thick layers of leaf litter and other detritus not highly compacted by many years of use.

In addition to the physical changes accompanying middle-age, there is the inevitable decrease in eyesight. This decrease in performance due to age is called presbyopia. Presbyopia is a perfectly normal loss of close focusing ability due to hardening of the lens inside the eyes and usually begins occurring around age 40. Just in time to accompany the other physical limitations brought on by middle age.

Presbyopia can be compensated for by initially holding reading material further away but over time requires wearing reading glasses.

Presbyopia affects backcountry enthusiasts mostly through the reading of topographical maps. The faint print on these maps, especially the elevation numbers, are often difficult for even youthful eyes in the best lighting, let alone those in middle-age. The print on many handheld GPS units often proves difficult to read as well.

Reading glasses are useful for compensating for the effect of presbyopia. Unfortunately, transporting reading glasses through the backcountry is often difficult due to their fragility. Folding reading glasses are useful in compensating for this fragility.

Middle-age is definitely a difficult time for backcountry enthusiasts with its many physical changes. If you are dreading the coming of middle-age or frustratingly dealing with its impact on the ability to enjoy the backcountry, take heart, there is some hope as backpacking during old age is going to be much more challenging.

Photos: Middle-aged trees at Sand Lake by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.