In the early 1900s the Ford Company sent an early film camera crew to the Adirondacks to record the life and work of the region’s loggers. The footage they shot shows the logging camps, the icing of roadways for skidding, the interior of a sawmill, loading and hauling logs, and more.
The original footage is held in the National Archives, but I’ve posted a short clip of a group of river drivers working a small log jam at our YouTube page along with a clip form the PBS documentary The Adirondacks that shows similar color footage. Check it out here.
A star rises above the black spruce flats of the northwestern Adirondacks during the darkest time of year. It’s one of the simplest yet most startling holiday displays in the Adirondack Park for the utter lack of any other light.
Wanakena residents Ron Caton and Ken Maxwell first strung Christmas lights on a fire tower belonging to the SUNY-ESF Ranger School there eight years ago as a joke. “We weren’t sure how it would go over,” Ron says. He remembers Army helicopters from Fort Drum circling the first night the tower was lit and wondering if he was going to get in trouble. But the beacon over Route 3 was a hit, and he and Maxwell have decorated the 43-foot-tall structure every year since. The lights go on in early December and are turned off New Year’s Day. » Continue Reading.
It’s that time of year again, where all the world becomes, as Jack London would say, bald face. It’s time to shave down for this year’s Adirondack Donegal Beard Contest.
A Donegal Beard (also called a chin-curtain or Lincoln) is a particular style of Irish hirsute appendage (facial hair) that grows along the jaw line and covers the chin — no soul patch, no mustache. In order to take part in the contest (and all are welcome) contestants must be clean shaven January 1st and grow a Donegal Beard by St. Patrick’s Day. On the day of the contest — which will be held at Black Mountain Inn at the corner of Peaceful Valley Road and Route 8 in Johnsburg (North Creek), 4 to 7 pm — all beards must conform to the Donegal standard.
Contestants are judged on the following criteria:
1. Length 2. Fullness 3. Style and Sophistication 4. General Manliness
To see pictures from last year’s contest, and to join the Facebook group, go here.
I do a fair amount of skiing in the backcountry, often solo, and I’ve thought a lot about what I would do if something went wrong and I had to bivouac overnight. What would I do for shelter?
Snow shelters commonly covered in outdoors books include the igloo, quinzee hut, and snow cave. But all of these take considerable time and effort to build. I figure if I can build an igloo, I probably can get out of the woods—in which case I don’t need an igloo. Moreover, the snow conditions in the Adirondacks are not ideal for building igloos and snow caves. For igloos, you want wind-packed snow that can be cut into blocks. For snow caves, you want drifts that are at least six feet deep. You might be able to find appropriate snow in some places in the Adirondacks, but the chances are slim that one of them will be the place where you break an ankle.
A quinzee hut, in contrast, can be built just about anywhere there’s snow. Basically, you shovel snow into a large mound, wait a few hours for the snow to set, and then dig a room inside the mound. In an emergency, though, you want something that’s quicker and easier to construct.
Like a snow trench.
“In the Adirondacks, if you’re in an emergency situation, most of the time a trench is the most practical shelter,” says Jack Drury, an outdoors author who founded the Wilderness Recreation Leadership Program at North Country Community College in Saranac Lake.
For a trench, you’d like the snow to be at least three feet deep. If it’s not, however, you can use excavated snow to build up the walls.
A one-person trench should be dug three or four feet wide and six or seven feet long. Drury recommends leaving at least five or six inches of snow at the bottom as insulation against the cold ground.
Given enough time, you can create an A-frame roof from slabs of snow, but in an emergency, you can just lay branches and evergreen boughs across the trench and then place snow over the boughs for insulation. If you have a tarp or a waterproof shell, lay it over the boughs before piling on snow. Once inside, stop up the entrance with your pack to keep warm air from escaping.
Drury recommends that winter travelers keep a piece of closed-cell foam in their packs to use as a sleeping pad. It should be long enough to stretch from your shoulders to your butt. If it’s an emergency and you don’t have a pad, place evergreen boughs on the bottom of the trench for insulation. He also recommends carrying a lightweight sleeping bag or heavily insulated pants and jacket for emergencies.
“You might not be comfortable, but you’ll survive the night,” he said.
Drury said the temperature in a properly constructed snow trench should stay in the twenties even if it’s colder outside.
With the Vancouver Olympics only a few months away, many are curious about how these elite athletes get to the top of their sport.
Where do they live when they are away from home training? How do they stay on top of their game even when training conditions are less than optimal? The Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Lake Placid works to meet these needs of visiting athletes.
The OTC opened in 1982, in the building where the Northwood’s Inn is today. It opened in its present location in 1989, and mostly serves winter athletes. I was fortunate enough to take a tour of the facility with intern Matt Bailey. Contrary to popular belief, summer athletes rarely visit the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid; most reside in the Chula Vista or Colorado Springs facilities. The exceptions are the canoe and kayak team, (who are coming to the Lake Placid OTC next week), the rhythmic gymnastics team, and Para-Olympians. The resident athletes represent biathlon, freestyle skiing, bobsledding, skeleton, luge, Nordic combined, and ski jumping. The Lake Placid OTC hosts athletes mostly dependent on their sport, but also based on availability of rooms at other training centers.
The main purpose of the Olympic Training Centers is “to assist athletes in a variety of Olympic sports, and also provide assistance to a number of affiliated sports organizations and disabled sports organizations.” The Lake Placid OTC boasts state-of-the-art training equipment, but also residence halls to house the athletes and provide a comfortable stay away from home.
Despite its smaller size compared to the Colorado and California training centers, the Lake Placid Training Center hosts an impressive amount of services for the athletes. There is a fully-supplied weight room which includes spin bikes, weight lifting equipment, shock-absorbing flooring, and even a treadmill with a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour.
A large gymnasium in the back of the complex boasts high ceilings (to host volleyball tournaments), basketball courts, and a trampoline for aerial skiers to practice tricks. One of the most impressive rooms in the OTC is the Coaching and Sports Sciences lab, where athletes can work on their technique with the help of technology. One such piece of equipment is a giant treadmill used mainly by biathletes, which helps them analyze their technique and stride with the help of a television monitor.
Besides helping athletes to be their best in competition, the OTC also strives to make their stay as comfortable as possible. There is an on-site cafeteria, serving meals with optimal nutrient amounts as determined by the OTC nutritionist in Colorado. Near the front lobby, a small recreation area is available for the residents to relax when they are not training.
Athletes can also spend time in the athlete’s services rooms, which include a television, Xbox gaming system, and computers (sponsored by A T & T). One of the most interesting features in the OTC is the A T & T charging station. Located across from the weight room, athletes can plug in their cell phone or iPod while working out- definitely helpful.
Some of the best athletes in winter sports are staying and training at the Olympic Training Center; Erin Hamlin (World champion and Olympian in Luge), Haley Johnson (World competitor in Biathlon), Ryan St Onge (World champion and Olympian in freestyle skiing), Mark Grimmette (World and Olympic Competitor in Luge), and John Napier (World Competitor in Bobsled). Joining them are other athletes who come to Lake Placid to train in hopes of making an Olympic team.
What is it that makes Lake Placid’s Olympic Training Center so special? The Olympic history in Lake Placid is certainly inspiring. Lake Placid is the only US city to host two Olympics Games, and the small-town atmosphere contributes to the comfortable, hometown feel. Olympic Training Center intern Matt Bailey put it this way: “The Lake Placid OTC is smaller and homier… it’s central location to all the other sports venues is very convenient for the athletes, and we have a great staff here”.
The Lake George Mirror has finally found a spot on the web and has begun posting occasional selections from his archive. The paper, which holds the title of longest running resort newspaper in America, was founded in 1880 by Alfred Merrick (later Lake George’s oldest living resident). Originally the paper was published to serve the village of Lake George and had a temperance bent, a somewhat strange approach for a resort town.
Not long after founding the paper, Merrick gave it up for interest in a bowling alley, and it struggled until W.H. Tippetts came along. Tippets published the paper in order to promote Lake George as a summer resort. When he abandoned the Mirror in 1900 it was purchased by several local businessmen who turned it over to Edward Knight, editor of the Essex County News. The Knight family edited the paper into the 1960s. A short history on the paper’s new website offers a glimpse of what the paper was like under the leadership of the Knight family:
While it chronicled the changes on Lake George – the rise and fall of the great resort hotels, the destruction of the mansions along Lake Shore Drive, and the proliferation of motels and tourist cabins – the Mirror itself changed little. For the families who returned each summer, the Mirror was the newspaper of record. It announced the arrivals and departures of their neighbors, publicized their activities, and performed all the offices of a country paper: heralding births, celebrating weddings, saying a few final words over the deceased in the editorial and obituary columns. The Mirror did not, however, neglect the year round residents – the homefolks. It championed projects that would enhance daily life in the villages and towns, such as the road over Tongue Mountain, the Million Dollar Beach and the expansion of Shepard Park. As long-time editor Art Knight recalled in 1970, “Many of the improvements we have advocated over the years have become realities and we like to think that perhaps in some small way we have been responsible for their ultimate adoption.”
Except on rare occasions, the Mirror had little interest in political controversy. It was, however, a fierce advocate for the protection of Lake George. During World War II, for instance, Art Knight editorialized: “There is one battle in which there can be no armistice …the battle of Lake George. The enemy are those thoughtless and selfish people who, with only their immediate profit in view, will take advantage of any laxity in our guards in order to save themselves a dollar.” Art Knight recognized that the lake’s shores would continue to be developed. But he also recognized that care would have to be taken if the development was to enhance and not detract from the lake’s beauty. “If we fail, then our detractions from the natural beauties… will earn for all of us the antipathy of future generations.”
Robert Hall took over the Lake George Mirror in the late 1950s. Hall had been a Washington and European correspondent for the Communist newspaper the Daily Worker and its Sunday edition editor. During a time when the FBI was conducting illegal operations against suspected leftist (including burglaries, opening mail, and illegal wiretaps) Hall grew tired of radical politics and moved his family to the Adirondacks where he eventually purchased the Warrensburg News, the Corinthian, the Indian Lake Bulletin and the Hamilton Country News. He established Adirondack Life magazine as a supplement to his his weekly papers in 1962.
In 1968, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller appointed Hall to the Temporary Commission to Study the Future of the Adirondacks, whose recommendations led to the establishment of the APA. Hall later sold the Mirror, and his other weeklies, to Denton Publications and took a job as editor of the New York State’s Conservationist magazine.
The Mirror went from owner to owner until Tony Hall, Robert Hall’s son who was raised in Warrensburg, bought the paper with his wife Lisa in 1998. Of course regular readers of the Adirondack Almanack will also recognize Tony’s name on our list of contributors.
Wow, it’s been such a crazy busy week that I nearly forgot to find out what gigs are happening where. Anyway, I hope everyone has been having a great holiday season and for those celebrating Christmas, I hope your day is very merry, full of friends, good food, family and ,of course, great music!
On Wednesday I did get to hear and dance to a great show put on by The Pine Ridge Rounders. They played the Waterhole’s First Annual Santa’s Ball and it was a successful first in my book. The bluegrass was hot and even though more costumes would have been appreciated, those that did participate made the Christmas Sweater Contest funny and gives us a new reason to get excited (did we need more?) over those familial yarn creations. Overheard comment from a Virginian: “They’re good but where’s the fiddle? “ First Night In Saranac Lake is my personal “must-see” this week. With an almost overwhelming amount of acts to check out, it’d be wise to start planning now. Two tips: get your buttons soon, they sold out last year and make sure you get to your event early as the venues fill up fast.
Two weeks before Ron Stafford died on June 24, 2005, the North Country’s longtime state Senator was honored by the Adirondack Council on its 30th anniversary.
I thought of Stafford when Adirondack Almanack editor John Warren decided to solicit nominations for a list of influential Adirondack leaders.
While some might argue that Stafford’s importance lies in the number of prison jobs he created in the North Country, or in the millions in state funds he brought back to the district, I would argue that he deserves to be remembered as an Adirondack conservationist.
Though conventional wisdom might say otherwise, the Adirondack Council’s award to Stafford was richly deserved. » Continue Reading.
In Saranac Lake in December 1887, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote to a friend about the difficulties of reading a thermometer at below-zero, describing “the mercury, which curls up into the bulb like a hibernating bear.” The Scotsman spent that winter in the care of Dr. E. L. Trudeau, convalescing from a lung ailment. He complained endlessly of the weather. He called it “tragic,” “glum,” “exceedingly sharp,” “grey and harsh,” “doleful,” “bleak” and “blackguardly.” Yet, he conceded, “The climate has done me good.”
He wrote most of The Master of Ballantrae here (if you have not read it, spare yourself and rent the Errol Flynn version instead; it omits the Adirondack parts but ends more happily and speedily). And he composed several thoughtful essays, among them “A Christmas Sermon,” published in Scribner’s magazine in December 1888. The “sermon” asks moralists and the judgmental to focus less on their neighbors’ conduct and more on their own: “If your morals make you dreary, depend upon it they are wrong. I do not say ‘give them up,’ for they may be all you have; but conceal them like a vice, lest they should spoil the lives of better and simpler people.”
A man’s main task is, “To be honest, to be kind—to earn a little and to spend a little less, to make upon the whole a family happier for his presence,” he wrote.
“But Christmas is not only the mile-mark of another year, moving us to thoughts of self-examination: it is a season, from all its associations, whether domestic or religious, suggesting thoughts of joy.”
Stevenson was a charismatic figure and a thinker who wrote more than pirate adventures. His letters, especially the (apparently) carelessly written ones, still make good reading. His Adirondack letters are online at Google Books, and “A Christmas Sermon” is online at gutenberg.org.
Tradition can be difficult to refute. And as often as we may disagree with our families, we tend to cling to those things that “grandpa always said,” like calling those wild canids coydogs, and referring to deer antlers as horns. One of the very common misnomers around the Adirondacks is the snowshoe rabbit. I hate to say it, but there’s no such beast; what we have is a snowshoe hare.
Now some folks may think this is splitting hairs (no pun intended), but rabbits and hares, despite looking the same, are different animals. And it’s not merely a case of one having longer (or shorter) ears than the other, or one changing color and the other not. Nope, the differences are extensive, and they include biology, physiology and behavior. Before you get all flustered, you can rest assured that there are cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridans) in the Adirondacks, but not throughout the whole Park. The cottontail can be found in the southern, eastern and northern lowland parts of the Park. It is not a cold-hardy animal. In fact, like the opossum, it only arrived relatively recently in the Adirondack region, believed to have moved northward as agriculture opened up wilderness areas.
On the other hand, the snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) has been around forever and can be found throughout the Park, at all elevations, wherever conifers are present (in wetlands, lowlands, or on mountains). It is an animal designed for the cold, from its large furry feet feet to its varying fur. But the differences are more than skin deep.
For ease of discussion, here’s a list of differences:
• Rabbits have large back feet. The snowshoe hare has enormous back feet (on significantly longer back legs). • Rabbits live in borrows or dens underground, complete with fur-lined nests. Hares build small depressions on top of the ground for their nests; otherwise, they shelter in dense stands of conifers. • Cottontails are always brown-ish (unless you have an albino). Snowshoe hares change color: white in winter (with black tips on their ears), and brown in summer. • Baby rabbits are called bunnies, and they are born naked, blind, and totally helpless (altricial). Baby hares are called leverets and are born fully-furred and with their eyes open; shortly after birth they are ready to explore their surroundings (precocial). • Bunnies stay in their cozy nests for almost two months before dispersing. Leverets hide in separate locations during the day, only coming together when the mother returns to nurse them; in about four weeks they head out on their own. • When startled, rabbits tend to freeze, hoping danger will pass them by. When a snowshoe hare is startled, it may briefly sit still, but in a short time it takes off, dashing quickly for safety. • Rabbits sometimes gather in loose aggregations. Like deer, male rabbits will often fight to determine who is dominant; the winner is the one who usually mates with all the females in the area. Hares, however, are mostly solitary. There is little or no fighting among hares; the males and females just pair up for mating.
Is the world going to grind to a halt if you call a snowshoe hare a rabbit? Probably not, but isn’t it nicer to call a spade a spade? It clarifies things and shows the world that you actually know what you are talking about. Credibility – it’s what it’s all about.
If anyone wants to understand my friend Jim Close’s point of view on how long something should last, all they have to see is the inside of his car.
When he sold his old Honda and bought a Prism, he pulled the greasy leather cover off the old steering wheel to reuse. It took hours to de-thread the old cover, and hours more to fasten it, using the same thread, to the steering wheel of his new car. But the thread broke partway through, so he had to use other things to attach it.
“You know,” I told him. “A new cover only costs about $10.”
“Why should I get a new one? This one works fine.”
“But look at it. You’ve got thread, black electrical tape and what’s that white stuff?”
“Dental floss.” I shook my head. “If I was a girl going out with you, and I saw that steering wheel, there wouldn’t be a second date.”
“That’s not the worst of it,” Jim said.
“Why? What’s worse?”
“It’s used dental floss.”
The reason I bring this up is I was afraid Jim wouldn’t be skiing in the Adirondacks this year. His 30-year-old wooden L.L. Bean skis were just about too worn to be used, and a binding had broken last year. Jim lives in Saratoga County, and we usually go out on three or four backcountry ski adventures in the Adirondacks each winter – Siamese Ponds, Pharaoh Lake, the High Peaks, Hoffman Notch, the Jackrabbit Trail.
I kept encouraging him to buy new gear, but he wouldn’t have it. Usually the only time he buys new equipment is when he’s forced to.
Like the time he brought what he thought was a 20-degree sleeping bag for a late-winter backpacking trip in the Smokey Mountains. The borrowed bag, which he had never tried out before the trip, turned out to be only a nylon cover. He shivered for two nights before finding a store.
Or the time he went backpacking on the Appalachian Trail with boots (a gift from a girlfriend) that he knew were a half-size too small. He suffered in those devices of torture for several days before reaching a supply store and surrendering his credit card.
But those skis have clearly seen their last snowplow. Even Jim admitted it. And he had a new idea.
“I can bring them back to L.L. Bean and exchange them,” he said.
It was true. L.L. Bean, like many outdoor stores, provided a lifetime warranty for all its products. Just bring it back at any time and say you’re not satisfied, and they’ll give you an even exchange or your money back.
“So what are you going to tell them?” I asked. “That after 30 years, you weren’t satisfied?”
“Well … yeah.”
“After skiing on them hundreds of times, applying pine tar and layers of wax with a blowtorch, bashing them against rocks, replacing the bindings several times, they weren’t good enough?
It’s not that I was amazed at his audacity. I just couldn’t believe he’d want to get rid of something he’d spent so much time on. And I said as much.
“What am I supposed to do with them?” he asked. “Put them over my fireplace?”
“Something like that.”
“I’ll think about it.”
A few days ago I got a call from Jim. Turns out he had decided not to return the skis after all.
“Oh,” I said. “You decided to buy new ones? Or used ones?”
“No,” he said. “A guy I ride the bus with to work says he owns about 30 pairs. He said he’d give me one.”
So it looks like we’ll be skiing together in the Adirondacks after all. Assuming his boots hold up – they’re not in very good shape either.
In response to last week’s post on leg-hold traps, the wife of the trapper who inadvertently snared a bald eagle earlier this month sent the following comment today, run here in full:
“I’ve made coonskin hats our of hides we tanned ourselves. So now for the rebuttal from the trapper (my husband) who caught the eagle (and in fact played a big part in the rescue). Ranger Eakin cut a pole and with the help of Deputy Wilt lifted the trap drag off the branch so that the eagle could fall to the ground where my husband and I were waiting with the net that we threw over the bird to keep him from flying off again. The bird was so cooperative as to flip over onto his belly on the blanket Eakin provided so that we keep him off the snow, and cover him with the blanket we provided. Having caught his own finger in the same trap we know that it doesn’t break bones or do any damage in and of itself.
“It didn’t even really hurt so the traps are as gentle as is possible. In over 30 yrs. of trapping the only animal he’s ever seen chew off it’s leg was a muskrat that the trap failed to drown. And having caught many rats missing legs – they recover and live just fine without it. He’s never had anything other than a squirrel or rabbit that was caught in the trap become a meal for a predator – and that’s natural. Nobody should be commenting on the trap set because nobody ever looked at it. The carcass was buried, although the coyote that was also caught the same time exposed part of it.
“There are two types of traps, leg grippers and body grippers (conibers). Instead of complaining that leg grippers should be outlawed (leaving only body grippers available for use) you should realize that an animal caught in a body gripper is dead when the trapper arrives – a much worse situation for the dog, cat, eagle who sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. Caught a dog and a cat this year in different leg grippers. They were released without injury to grateful and understanding owners. Dog was off leash, owner accepted responsibility. Cat belonged to a former trapper. Most domestics don’t run off and fight the trap (which causes some pain) rather they lay there and wait for assistance. Ever stepped on your dog’s toe? Probably more painful than the snap of the trap jaws.
“Oh, and the eagle was released two days after being rescued. And the rehabilitator told the ECO on scene that this was the first eagle in a trap she’d seen in 15 yrs as a rehabilitator. So let’s direct that righteous indignation toward all those abused and neglected domestic animals in our communities rather than making such a big deal out of a once in a lifetime mishap that had a happy outcome – no permanent injury and a happy reunion with his mate, who happened to have been waiting nearby while he was in the tree. And an awesome memory to have had my hand a mere few inches from his majestic head.
“A truly magnificent bird with no fear, nor anger toward the humans I’m sure he knew were trying to help. Just an amazing calm and patience in those all-seeing eyes that commanded respect. And to think I’ve heard mention that our national bird was almost the turkey?”