Posts Tagged ‘Algonquin Peak’

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Problem With The Wright Peak Ski Trail

The Wright Peak Ski Trail is a testament to the lure of down-mountain skiing in the backcountry despite the existence of lift-service resorts.

Cut in the late 1930s, the trail switchbacks down the northeast side of Wright, providing a thrilling and challenging descent through a beautiful forest. After World War II, the trail fell into disuse and became overgrown, but in the late 1980s, Tony Goodwin and other backcountry skiers received permission from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to reopen it.

The trail is now featured in David Goodman’s guidebook Backcountry Skiing Adventures: Vermont and New York, published by the Appalachian Mountain Club.

The problem is that the ski route ends after a mile and joins the popular Algonquin Peak hiking trail. This means skiers must descend a few miles on trails often crowded with snowshoers. It seems like an accident waiting to happen. The snowshoers probably don’t like this any more than the skiers do.

What most snowshoers don’t realize is that this section of the Algonquin trail was once part of the ski trail. In those days, hikers went up Algonquin by a separate trail located a little to the north. In the early 1970s, however, DEC closed this trail and moved hikers to the ski trail. Since then, the old ski trail has been maintained with hiking in mind: water bars have been dug, rock steps have been created, brush has been laid down to narrow the passage—all of which makes the trail less suitable for skiing. What’s more, hikers have eroded the trail and exposed boulders that create dangerous obstacles.

Goodwin has come up with what seems like a sensible solution: reopen the old hiking trail for skiing. Under his proposal, the old hiking route would be clipped to its original width. Eroded sections would be filled with logs and brush. The trail would be smooth when covered with snow but remain gnarly enough to discourage hiking in other seasons. As it is, some hikers continue to use the old trail, causing erosion.

“We want to improve it for skiing but make it less desirable for hiking,” Goodwin told the Adirondack Explorer last year. “That would be a win-win situation.”

Goodwin said the volunteers would do all the work to reopen and maintain the trail, so it wouldn’t cost DEC a penny.

Yet DEC has scotched the proposal—not because it’s a bad idea, necessarily, but because it would require an amendment to the High Peaks Wilderness unit management plan. DEC doesn’t want to revisit the High Peaks plan until it finishes the UMPs for other Forest Preserve units.

Given DEC’s chronic shortage of staff, however, it will be years, perhaps more than a decade, before the other plans are done. DEC was supposed to complete all the unit management plans in the 1970s, but more than thirty years later, we’re still waiting on a dozen or so. In addition, DEC is writing recreational plans for vast tracts protected by conservation easements.

In short, we all could be dead or in retirement homes before DEC gets around to evaluating Goodwin’s proposal—if it ever does.

The same goes for proposals for trails in other parts of the Forest Preserve. The Adirondack Ski Touring Council has talked for years of extending the Jackrabbit Ski Trail from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake. DEC won’t rule on this until it completes the management plan for the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest. When will that be? No one knows.

One purpose of the management plans is to ensure that trails are not approved willy-nilly, without due forethought to their impact on the Forest Preserve. But the system is broken. Because DEC lacks the staff to write these plans, proposals wither on the vine or languish for decades. Surely, there must be a way for DEC to evaluate worthy ideas more quickly without neglecting its duty to protect the Preserve.

Perhaps there are sound reasons for rejecting Goodwin’s proposal for the Wright Peak Ski Trail, but it deserves a hearing.

Photo of skiers on Wright Peak by Susan Bibeau/Adirondack Explorer.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Top Mountains of Initial Ascent for Adirondack Forty Sixers

As many know, Adirondack Forty-Sixers, or just Forty-Sixers, are people who have climbed the 46 mountains of New York State traditionally considered to be at least 4,000’ in elevation. Membership numbers took nearly a half century to grow from the club’s first recorded member on June 10, 1925 to 1,000 in 1974. Since then, numbers have increased dramatically to 6,385, according to the Forty-Sixer website’s last roster update. Perhaps you too have contemplated exploring the peaks but don’t know where to begin. A good guidebook and some research help, but footprints from the past may also serve as a guide.

Numbers based on the membership roster yielded the four most popular peaks for first ascent:

1. 1,370 or 21.5% people began with Marcy.
2. 1,097 or 17.2% began with Cascade.
3. 593 or 9.2% began with Algonquin.
4. 588 also about 9.2% began with Giant.

Cascade is the most conservative choice for those unsure about their performance over an extended distance. It’s still a challenge with a five-mile round trip covering 2,000’ elevation gain. Porter Mtn. sits alongside and can be added to the day for a minimum of effort. Giant is a rugged and unrelenting round trip of a bit over five miles from Chapel Pond. Elevation gain is over 3,000’ vertical. A side venture to Rocky Peak Ridge can add another high peak to the day, but costs a good bit more in effort. Algonquin jumps to an eight-mile roundtrip over about 2,400’ in ascent. A side spur ascent up Wright or trek over Boundary to Iroquois can make the Algonquin trip either a double or triple header high peak day with multiple choices for descent. Marcy weighs in at about fifteen miles in total with over 3,100’ vertical. Various other destinations can be added if you’re particularly fit and up for the challenge.

All four choices boast open summits with stunning 360 degree views. Marcy is 5,344’ in elevation and overlooks a large percentage of the high peaks being the highest and nearly centered in the grouping. Cascade climbs to 4,098’ with views of Whiteface to the north and most of the peaks from the McIntyre Range over to Big Slide. Algonquin is the second Highest Peak at 5,114’ and is placed a bit to the west. It offers views of numerous mountains including the remote Wallface, Marshall and Iroquois as well as a breathtaking view of Mt. Colden’s incredible slide array down to Avalanche Lake. Giant is aptly named at 4,627’ and delivers views spanning from Lake Champlain and beyond as well as the Dix Range to the east. Each peak is equally rewarding.

So, in deciding how to begin, it’s nice to reflect upon past statistics as well as current sources. Once you’ve wet your feet on Adirondack trails, perhaps you’ll have a taste for more explorations and even more difficult challenges. Stay “tuned” for more on the High Peaks, including one of several ways to accumulate over 10,000 vertical feet in a day hike.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Adirondack Conference to Focus on Alpine Zones

Researchers, summit stewards and others interested in protecting northeast alpine zones will gather in the Adirondacks May 29 and 30 to explore the impact of climate change on these fragile ecosystems. The Northeastern Alpine Stewardship Gathering is held every two years to allow researchers, planners, managers, stewards and others to share information and improve the understanding of the alpine areas of the Northeast. The 2009 conference, the first to be held in the Adirondacks, will feature presentations by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben and award-winning photographer Carl Heilman.

Alpine zones are areas above the treeline that are home to rare and endangered species more commonly found in arctic regions. In the Adirondacks, alpine zones cover about 170 acres atop more than a dozen High Peaks, including Marcy, Algonquin and Wright. Because these summits experience heavy recreational use, New York’s alpine habitat is one of the most imperiled ecosystems in the state. Alpine vegetation is also highly susceptible to climate change and acts as a biological monitor of changing climate conditions.

The conference, which will be held at the Crowne Plaza Resort in Lake Placid, kicks off Thursday evening with a reception and Carl Heilman’s multimedia presentation. Friday will feature a full day of sessions on such subjects as “The Effects of a Changing Climate on the Alpine Zone” and “Visitor Use and Management of Alpine Areas.”

On Saturday, conference attendees will have an opportunity to participate in a variety of field trips, such as guided hikes to a High Peak summit, a morning bird walk or a visit to the Wild Center.

The $40 conference fee includes Thursday mixer, Friday lunch, Friday dinner and Saturday bag lunch.

The 2009 Gathering is hosted by the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Steward Program, a partnership of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The Gathering is sponsored by the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Adirondack Forty-Sixers and the Waterman Alpine Stewardship Fund. Conference partners include the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, the Adirondack Park Agency Visitor’s Interpretive Center, the Crowne Plaza Resort, New York Natural Heritage Program, DEC, Paul Smith’s College and the Wild Center.

Rooms are available at the Crowne Plaza. For reservations, call (800) 874-1980 or (518) 523-2556. Camping and lodging are available at the Adirondak Loj, six miles south of the village of Lake Placid. For reservations, call (518) 523-3441. Additional lodging options may be found at www.lakeplacid.com.

For more information, call Julia Goren at (518) 523-3480 Ext. 18 or visit ADK’s Web site at www.adk.org.



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