I’m not an avid skier. But I have several friends who are ski and snowboard (and in some cases mountain bike) fanatics. Most grew up in skiing families and learned to ski as young children, at small family operated ski areas like Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake and Titus Mountain in Malone.
They’re people who love powder enough to climb a mountain for it, seeking out the backcountry where, as one friend likes to say, “The powder is plentiful. The lift lines are nonexistent. And I have the whole darn hill to myself.”
They hike marked, as well as unmarked trails, where nothing is groomed; often trekking up mountains in remote, inhospitable areas, for miles, intent on conquering a slope or slide that’s not part of any ski resort. And while I admire their courage and determination, unlike them, I thank God for the mountains. But thank goodness for ski lifts. » Continue Reading.
There has been a skier triggered avalanche and other avalanche activity observed in the High Peaks. No one was caught in the skier triggered avalanche. No other information was immediately available.
Last Thursday, January 17th, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued a warning of an increased risk of avalanches in the Adirondacks. The alert reminded backcountry downhill skiers, snowboarders, and others who traverse slides and other steep open terrain to be aware of the risk of avalanche. » Continue Reading.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced backcountry downhill skiers, snowboarders, and others who may traverse slides and other steep open terrain in the Adirondacks must be aware of the risk of avalanche this weekend. » Continue Reading.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is advising backcountry downhill skiers, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts that fluctuating temperatures of late have increased the risk of an avalanche in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks.
“Recent storms have resulted in a significant amount of new snow, and we expect an increase in temperatures and the number of recreational enthusiasts visiting the High Peaks to snowshoe, cross-country ski, and enjoy the pristine surroundings,” a statement to the press by DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “We are cautioning anyone planning to traverse backcountry slides and other avalanche-prone terrain in the High Peaks to be extremely careful and be prepared for avalanche conditions.” » Continue Reading.
“We can’t go wrong with Wright” was Ron’s proposal for an early spring backcountry ski destination. At seven miles, round trip, a ski tour to the summit of Wright Peak is one of the shorter trips in the High Peaks. But shorter isn’t easier and, as we soon found out, things can go wrong.
Our plan would require a combination of skills: we would start by cross-country skiing on the rolling terrain of Algonquin Trail, a narrow hiking trail starting at the Adirondak Loj parking lot. When the pitch became too great, we would put climbing skins on our skis for awhile, then replace our skis with crampons for the final push to the summit. For the descent, we would ski down the newly-fallen powder on the Wright Peak Ski Trail using alpine techniques.
As we approached the top, the towering trees of the lower elevations were replaced by the dwarfs of the Krumholtz zone, where the stunted and deformed trees looked like a bonsai garden.
At tree line, we met a couple of Canadian skiers who warned us of the treacherous winds and ice-covered rocks above. Rather than hike over the top of the mountain, Ron suggested that we follow the contour around the peak, traversing between the Lilliputian trees until we intersected the ski trail on the other side. » Continue Reading.
While out skiing yesterday afternoon I saw several signs that the snowpack is unstable and extreme caution should be used if you are tempted to head towards the slides after this recent snowfall.
I came across numerous small slides, such as the one in this photograph, on N and NW aspects at slopes as low as 25 degrees.
Whooping and shooting cracks were prevalent. I was skiing the trees but any turns made near a convex roll produced a small slide. If you venture into avalanche terrain make sure you have the knowledge to assess the risk, know proper travel techniques, and are carrying a beacon, probe, shovel, and the knowledge to use them.
A significant part of climate is precipitation, and fundamental to any discussion on the impact that global warming is having on a region’s climate would have to include possible changes to the rain and snowfall patterns. While unusually prolonged periods of precipitation can turn a backcountry camping trip into a nightmare, discourage golfers, boaters, and other outdoor enthusiasts, and frustrate anyone trying to put a new roof on his/her home, or a coat of stain on the deck, too much rainfall, especially concentrated over a short span of time, can wreak havoc with the environment. » Continue Reading.
Dozens of new landslides have been reported in the High Peaks following heavy rains and winds from the remnants of Hurricane Irene which reached the Eastern Adirondacks as a Tropical Storm on Sunday.
Regular Alamanack contributor and Adirondack Explorer editor Phil Brown snapped a photo of a new slide on Wright Peak, near Angel Slide. Formally two adjoining scars, Angel Slide is a well-known destination for expert backcountry skiers named in honor of Toma Vracarich who was killed in an avalanche there in 2000. The slide now includes a third route, longer than the rest.
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation District (DEC) Forester Kris Alberga flew over the High Peaks on Monday afternoon, August 28, 2011, and reported additional new slides on the Basin, Haystack, Upper and Lower Wolf Jaw, in the Dix Range and on Giant Mountain. “I lost track after a while,” he said in a widely circulated e-mail. DEC later reported that Skylight, Basin, Armstrong, Macomb, and Cascade also have new or expanded slides.
Mount Colden appears to have been heavily affected by new slides to the North and at the Trap Dyke. “The Trap Dike on Colden is dramatically different,” Drew Haas of Jay reported in an e-mail to the Almanack after an overflight Wednesday afternoon, “it has truly been gutted.” There was a massive avalanche at the Colden Trap Dyke this past winter.
Haas is a frequent backcountry slide skier and author of The Adirondack Slide Guide. He confirmed that there are dozens of new slides varying in width and length, some several miles long. “[There are] some very long new slides on The Wolfjaws and Saddleback in the Johns Brook drainage,” Haas noted. He said he didn’t see the Seward or Santanoni Ranges, but his pilot told him there was “nothing significant over that way.”
Published in 2006, the Adirondack Slide Guide includes aerial photos of more than 70 Adirondack landslide areas. When I asked Haas if he now had plans to update the guide he said: “No current plans but this could be a tipping point with all this new terrain – we’ll see.”
Photos: Above, Saddleback Mountain slides in 2006 and today; Middle, the new slide on Wright Peak from Marcy Dam (Phil Brown photo); Below, Lower Wolfjaw, Upper Wolfjaw, Armstrong, Gothics and Saddleback in a photo taken today. Photos courtesy Drew Haas.
A number of notable avalanches have occurred over the last month in the Adirondacks. Whiteface Mountain Ski Center officials have told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that two avalanches have occurred this season on the Slides area of the mountain. Officials said both events were triggered by one or more skiers. The most recent (Tuesday morning) is believed to have been caused by someone who entered the Slides area from Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway. The Slides are not accessible by chairlifts, but can be accessed by a traverse from the top of the summit chairlift. The previous Whiteface avalanche occurred at the Slides on February 26th. About five avalanches are reported to have occurred at Whiteface over the past ten years. Forest Ranger Jim Giglinto, who patrols the High Peaks, told the paper that there was an Avalanche in the Trap Dyke during the mid-February thaw. He said there have likely been other avalanches that have not been reported. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued an Avalanche Warning at the beginning of February.
On February 27th of last year two backcountry skiers were caught in an avalanche on Angel Slide, Wright Peak. The potentially deadly avalanche occurred just a month after Phil Brown wrote A Short History of Adirondack Avalanches. Ian Measeck of Glens Falls told his story to Adirondack Almanack readers here. A skier died in an avalanche on the same slide in 2000.
While avalanche danger increases during and immediately after major snowfalls, as well as during thaws, avalanches can occur in any situation where snow, slope and weather conditions combine to create the proper conditions. DEC warns to take the following precautions when traveling in avalanche prone terrain (between 25 and 50 degree slope with little vegetation): know avalanche rescue techniques; practice safe route finding; carry safety equipment (transceiver, probe, shovel); never travel alone; know the terrain, weather and snow conditions; and inform someone where you plan to go and when you expect to return.
Information on avalanche danger and safety precautions is available on the DEC website. A brochure titled “Avalanche Preparedness in the Adirondacks” is also available for download [pdf].
This announcement is for general use – local conditions may vary and are subject to sometimes drastic changes.
Listen for the weekly Adirondack Outdoor Recreation Report Friday mornings on WNBZ (AM 920 & 1240, FM 105 & 102.1) and the stations of North Country Public Radio.
The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional Forest Ranger incident reports which form a stern reminder that wilderness conditions can change suddenly and accidents happen. Be aware of the latest weather conditions and carry adequate gear and supplies.
SPECIAL NOTICES FOR THIS WEEKEND ** indicates new or revised items.
** AVALANCHE CONDITIONS Snows have accumulated to sufficient depths on Adirondack Mountain slopes to create conditions conducive to avalanches and DEC has issued an Avalanche Warning. Avoid traveling on open areas with slopes between 25 & 50 degrees and no vegetation. Never travel alone, carry proper safety equipment; and inform someone where you will be traveling.
** WINTER CONDITIONS AT ALL ELEVATIONS Winter conditions exist throughout the area. Expect to encounter 20-30 inches of snow on the ground, more in higher elevations. These conditions will require snowshoes or skis at all elevations and crampons on exposed areas such as summits. The Lake Colden Interior Caretaker reports 11 inches of new snow over the past 48 hours with just over 3 feet on the ground at the cabin. The amount of new snow and total snow may be greater in as winds swept snow away in open areas. Be prepared to break trail, even through the weekend – especially on lesser used trails.
** Snowmobiles All the regions snowmobile trails are open snowmobiles are operating on designated snowmobile trails. Skiers and snowshoers using designated snowmobile trails should keep to the sides of the trail to allow safe passage. Not all lakes are safe for snowmobiles. Three men lost their sleds into the waters of Lake George after driving onto slushy ice in early January.
Thin Ice Safety Always check the thickness of ice before crossing. Ice that holds snow may not hold the weight of a person. Be cautious of ice near inlets, outlets and over any moving water. Remember, ice that holds snow may not hold the weight of a person. Each year a number of people fall through thin ice. One has already died and several more have gone through the ice – including three men on Lake George in early January. Use extreme caution with ice.
Carry Extra Winter Gear Snowshoes or skis can prevent injuries and eases travel in heavy snow. Ice crampons should be carried for use on icy trails and mountaintops and other exposed areas. Wear layers of wool and fleece (NOT COTTON!), a winter hat, gloves or mittens, wind/rain resistant outer wear, and winter boots. Carry a day pack complete with ice axe, plenty of food and water, extra clothing, map and compass, first-aid kit, flashlight/headlamp, sun glasses, sun-block protection, ensolite pads, a stove and extra fuel, and bivy sack or space blankets.
Know The Latest Weather Check the weather before entering the woods and be aware of weather conditions at all times — if weather worsens, head out of the woods.
Fire Danger: LOW
** Central Adirondacks Lower Elevation Weather Friday: Mostly sunny, high near 22. Breezy, wind chill as low as -19. Friday Night: Increasing clouds, low around 4. Wind chill as low as -3. Saturday: Snow likely, cloudy, with a high near 29. Saturday Night: Snow likely, cloudy, with a low around 15. Sunday: Chance of snow showers, cloudy, with a high near 29.
The National Weather Service provides a weather forecast for elevations above 3000 feet and spot forecasts for the summits of a handful of the highest peaks in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties. [LINK]
** Snow Cover There is a 20 to 30 inches of snow at lower elevations across most of the Adirondack Park. The Lake Colden Interior Caretaker reports 11 inches of new snow over the past 48 hours with just over 3 feet on the ground at the cabin. The amount of new snow and total snow may be greater in as winds swept snow away in open areas. Be prepared to break trail, even through the weekend – especially on lesser used trails. These conditions will require snowshoes or skis at all elevations and crampons on exposed areas such as summits. The latest snow cover map from the National Weather Service provides an estimate of snow cover around the region.
** Downhill Ski Report All mountains will be open this weekend and the skiing should be outstanding on a two to three foot base. Gore Mountain, near North Creek, has has opened its Pipeline Traverse and newly installed Hudson Chair connecting the main mountain to the Historic North Creek Ski Bowl.
** Cross Country Ski Report All cross country ski areas will be open this weekend with an 12 to 16 inch base. The Jackrabbit Trail is skiable its entire length, with about 18 to 24 inches of base, and should be broken out by the coming weekend [conditions].
** Backcountry Ski Report Snow cover is suitable for skiing on all trails with about three feet at Lake COlden and 4 to 5 feet over 4,000 feet. Snows have accumulated to sufficient depths on Adirondack Mountain slopes to create conditions conducive to avalanches and DEC has issued an Avalanche Warning. Avoid traveling on open areas with slopes between 25 & 50 degrees and no vegetation. Never travel alone, carry proper safety equipment; and inform someone where you will be traveling. The Avalanche Pass Slide is closed to skiing and snowshoeing during the winter months. Snowshoes or skis now required for all High Peaks travel.
** Ice Climbing Report Most climbing areas are sporting at least some ice in good shape, but breaking trails to get to climbs could take some time and lower angled climbs like Chouinards, the Slab, Multiplication Gully and others are dangerous right now due to the threat of Avalanche. No climbing yet reported on the north face of Gothics. Additional Adirondack ice climbing conditions are supplied by Adirondack Rock and River Guide Service.
Municipal Ice Skating Rinks Are Open Most municipal outdoor skating rinks are now open. Call ahead for specific opening days and times.
** Ice Fishing Report
Ice fishing is officially open, but ice conditions vary widely by location. Anglers have been observed on most fish-able lakes in the region. Recent heavy snow will make for difficult movement and keep ice in only recently frozen areas thin. Slush, already a problem on some lakes, may become a more serious problem with the latest heavy snows. Lake George is frozen from end to end, but thin at its widest points and in the central and northern parts of the lake so anglers are mostly keeping to the shorelines and bays. Many smaller local lakes have 8 inches or more of ice. Tip-ups may be operated on waters through April 30, 2010. General ice fishing regulations can be found in the in the 2010-11 Fishing Regulations Guide.
** Snowmobile Trails Report All of the region’s snowmobile trails are in good condition with about a 6 to 10 inch base. Conditions throughout the region vary depending on elevation, nearness to large lakes, and latitude. Avoid riding on lakes or ponds, and excessive speed. So far this year one sledder has died in Franklin County, one in Jefferson County, and two in Lewis County. Three snowmobiles went through the ice on Lake George in early January. Ride safely. More Adirondack snowmobiling resources can be found here.
** All Rivers Running At Or Below Normal Waters in the region are running at or below normal levels for this time of year. Low water is reported for the Beaver and Hudson Rivers. Ice has formed on all waters. Use care and consult the latest streamgage data.
Hunting Seasons Some small game hunting is underway. Hikers should be aware that they may meet hunters bearing firearms or archery equipment while hiking on trails. Recognize that these are fellow outdoor recreationists with the legal right to hunt on Forest Preserve lands. Hunting accidents involving non-hunters are extremely rare. Hikers may want to wear bright colors as an extra precaution.
Furbearer Trapping Seasons Some furbearer trapping seasons remain open. This would be a good time to keep pets leased and on the trails. A reminder that body gripping traps set on land can no longer use bait or lure.
ADIRONDACK LOCAL BACKCOUNTRY CONDITIONS
NORTHVILLE PLACID TRAIL
The Northville Placid Trail (NPT) is the Adirondack Park’s only designated long distance hiking trail. The 133 mile NPT was laid out by the Adirondack Mountain Club in 1922 and 1923, and is now maintained by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Up to date NPT trail condition information can be found online.
Upper Benson to Whitehouse: Just north of the Mud Lake lean-to there has been significant blow-down in several areas across the trail that happened sometime in early December that requires several bushwhacks to get around.
West Canada Lakes to Wakely Dam: The bridge over Mud Creek, northeast of Mud Lake, has been washed out. Wading the creek is the only option. The water in Mud Creek will vary from ankle deep to knee deep.
Personal Flotation Devices Required: Users of small boats are reminded that state law requires all occupants of boats less than 21 feet in length are required to wear personal flotation devices (aka PFDs and life jackets) between November 1 and May 1.
** Avalanche Conditions: Snows have accumulated to sufficient depths on Adirondack mountain slopes to create conditions conducive to avalanches. Avoid traveling on open areas with slopes between 25 & 50 degrees and no vegetation. Never travel alone, carry proper safety equipment; and inform someone where you will be traveling. DEC has issued an Avalanche Warning.
Snowshoes Required: Snowshoes are required in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness.
Avalanche Pass Slide: The slide is closed to skiing and snowshoeing.
** Western High Peaks Wilderness: Trails in the Western High Peaks Wilderness are cluttered with blowdown from a storm that occurred December 1st. DEC has cleared blow downin most areas accessed from the Corey’s Road, although not along the Northville-Placid Trail.
Ampersand Mountain Trail: There is heavy blowdown on the Ampersand Mountain Trail as far as the old caretakers cabin – approximately 1.7 miles in. Finding the trail may be difficult after fresh snows. Skiing will be frustrating as there are so many trees down. Past the cabin site the trail is good but snowshoes are needed. There is aprox 3 feet of snow near the summit.
Elk Lake Conservation Easement Lands: The Clear Pond Gate on the Elk Lake Road is closed and will remain closed until the end of the spring mud season. This adds 2 miles of hiking, plan trips accordingly.
Bushnell Falls: The high water bridge at Bushnell Falls has been removed, the low water crossing may not be accessible during high water.
Opalescent River Bridges Washed Out: The Opalescent River Bridge on the East River / Hanging Spears Falls trail has been washed out. The crossing will be impassable during high water.
Caulkins Brook Truck Trail/Horse Trail: Much of the blowdown on the Caulkins Brook Truck Trail/Horse Trail between the Calkins Brook lean-tos and Shattuck Clearing has been removed. The trail is open for hikers but remains impassable to horses and wagons. DEC crews continue to work to open the trail.
CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN ADIRONDACKS
Chimney Mountain / Eagle Cave: Eagle Cave near Chimney Mountain will be closed to the public from Nov 1 till March 31. The cave is a bat hibernacula with white nose syndrome present. It is being closed to recreational spelunking to avoid disturbance of hibernating bats. DEC is closing all bat hibernacula caves on state lands and easments to protect the bat population.
Pigeon Lake Wilderness: DEC Forest Rangers and trail crew have been working to clear blowdown from trails. The following trails are cleared and ready for skiing and/or snowshoeing: Shallow Lake Trail (well-marked with some minor blow down), West Mountain Trail (well-marked, some blowdown remains on section east of the summit), and Sucker Brook Trail
Hudson River Recreation Area: Gates on the Buttermilk Road Extension in the Hudson River Special Management Area (aka the Hudson River Recreation Area), in the Town of Warrensburg remain shut and the roads closed to motor vehicle traffic.
Hudson Gorge Primitive Area: Ice has formed on all waters. Paddlers, hunters and other users of small boats are reminded that state law requires all occupants of boats less than 21 feet in length are required to wear personal flotation devices (aka PFDs and life jackets) between November 1 and May 1.
Santa Clara Tract Easement Lands (former Champion Lands): All lands are open to all legal and allowable public recreation activities beginning January 1. The gate to the Pinnacle Trail remains closed until after the spring mud season.
Santa Clara Tract Easement Lands: Due to logging operations the Madawaska Road and Conversation Corners Road will be closed to snowmobiles and the Snowmobile Corridor C8 has been rerouted.
Whitney Wilderness / Lake Lila: The gate to the Lake Lila Road is closed. Public motorized access to the road is prohibited until the gate is reopened after the spring mud season. Cross-country skiers, snowshoers and other non-motorized access is allowed on the road. Trespassing on lands adjacent to the road is prohibited.
Sable Highlands Conservation Easement Lands: Numerous cross country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities exist on the Public Use Areas and Linear Recreation Corridors open to the public. Skiers and snowshoers are asked not to use the groomed snowmobile routes. Signs on the trails and maps of the snowmobile routes instruct snowmobilers on which routes are open this winter. Portions of these routes may be plowed from time to time so riders should be cautious and aware of motor vehicles that may be on the road. These route changes are a result of the cooperation of Chateaugay Woodlands, the landowner of the easement lands, and their willingness to maintain the snowmobile network. The cooperation of snowmobilers will ensure future cooperative reroutes when the need arises.
Sable Highlands Conservation Easement Lands: A parking area has been built on Goldsmith Road for snowmobile tow vehicles and trailers. The southern terminus of Linear Recreation Corridor 8 (Liberty Road) lies several hundred feet to the east of the parking area and connects to the C8A Snowmobile Corridor Trail (Wolf Pond Road) via Linear Recreation Corridor 7 (Wolf Pond Mountain Road). Construction of the parking area was a cooperative effort of the landowner, the Town of Franklin, and DEC. The Town of Franklin donated time, personnel and equipment from their highway department and will be plowing the parking area.
Sable Highlands / Old Liberty Road / Wolf Pond Mountain Road Snowmobile Trail: Due to planned logging operations by the landowner on lands north of Loon Lake, the western portion of the snowmobile trail (Old Liberty Road/Wolf Pond Mountain Road) that connected with the C7 Snowmobile Corridor Trail (the utility corridor) just north of Loon Lake near Drew Pond and lead to the C8A Snowmobile Corridor Trail (Wolf Pond Road) has been closed this winter. The eastern portion of that snowmobile trail (Wolf Pond Mountain Road) now connects to Goldsmith Road near the parking area. Snowmobiles planning to travel between Franklin County and Clinton County using the C8A Snowmobile Corridor Trail must access C8A at the junction with C7 or use Goldsmith Road and the trail from the Goldsmith Road to C8A (Wolf Pond Road).
Sable Highlands / Mullins Road: The Mullins Road has been opened to snowmobiles to connect County Route 26 (Loon Lake Road) to C7. The road is located approximately halfway between the intersections of Route 26 with C8 (Debar Game Farm Road) and Route 26 with C7. (12/23)
Norton Peak Cave / Chateuagay Woodlands Conservation Easement Lands: Norton Peak Cave will be closed to the public from Nov 1 till March 31. The cave is a bat hibernacula with white nose syndrome present. It is being closed to recreational spelunking to avoid disturbance of hibernating bats. DEC is closing all bat hibernacula caves on state lands and easments to protect the bat population.
GENERAL ADIRONDACK NOTICES
Accidents Happen, Be Prepared Wilderness conditions can change suddenly and accidents happen. Hikers and campers should check up-to-date forecasts before entering the backcountry as conditions at higher elevations will likely be more severe. All users should bring flashlight, first aid kit, map and compass, extra food, plenty of water and clothing. Be prepared to spend an unplanned night in the woods and always inform others of your itinerary.
Personal Flotation Devices Required Paddlers, hunters and other users of small boats are reminded that state law requires all occupants of boats less than 21 feet in length are required to wear personal flotation devices (aka PFDs and life jackets) between November 1 and May 1.
Cave And Mine Closings White nose syndrome, the fungal disease that’s wiping out bat populations across the northeast has spread to at least 32 cave and mine bat hibernation sites across the New York state according to a recent survey. Populations of some bat species are declining in these caves and mines by 90 percent. White nose was first discovered in upstate New York in the winter of 2006-2007 and is now confirmed in at least 11 states. DEC has closed all bat hibernacula caves on state lands and easements to protect the bat population including Norton Peak Cave in Chateuagay Woodlands Easement Lands and also Eagle Cave near Chimney Mountain. Please respect cave and mine closures.
Practice ‘Leave No Trace’ Principles All backcountry users should learn and practice the Leave No Trace philosophy: Plan ahead and be prepared, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and be considerate of others. More information is available online.
——————– Warnings and announcements drawn from DEC, NWS, NOAA, USGS, and other sources. Detailed Adirondack Park camping, hiking, and outdoor recreation and trail conditions can be found at DEC’s webpages. A DEC map of the Adirondack Park can also be found online [pdf].
The new DEC Trails Supporter Patch is now available for $5 at all outlets where sporting licenses are sold, on-line and via telephone at 1-866-933-2257. Patch proceeds will help maintain and enhance non-motorized trails throughout New York State.
Avalanches occur often in the Adirondacks and they can have deadly consequences. Be aware of the danger of avalanches and take necessary precautions when snows have accumulated to sufficient depths on slopes to create conditions conducive to avalanches.
In February of 2010 two backcountry skiers were caught in an avalanche on Angel Slide, Wright Peak. The potentially deadly avalanche occurred just a month after Phil Brown wrote A Short History of Adirondack Avalanches. One of the skiers, Ian Measeck of Glens Falls, told his story to Adirondack Almanack readers here. A skier died in an avalanche on the same slide in 2000. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Almanack is pleased to have the unique opportunity to present the first-hand experience of Ian Measeck of Glens Falls, who along with Jamie McNeill of Vergennes, Vermont was caught in an avalanche on Angel Slide, Wright Peak on February 27th. The potentially deadly avalanche occurred just a month after Phil Brown wrote A Short History of Adirondack Avalanches. Phil reported a week ago that Angel Slide was still unsafe. What follows is Measeck’s story in his own words:
The day had turned sunny with the slightest hint of spring. I pulled in to my driveway and saw my wife and two year old daughter standing in the picture window at the front of the house. My daughter, Charlotte, had nothing but her diaper on and judging by the look on her face it was Christmas morning. I was so happy; I couldn’t get inside fast enough. Earlier in the day, I had almost died in an avalanche. Those were not words that I considered myself likely to write or even think. On Saturday February 27th, Jamie Mc Neill and I planned to ski the Angel Slide on Wright peak. I had been there before on several occasions and it seemed a reasonable choice this day in order to make as many turns as possible. There had been a significant snowfall earlier in the week but it was wet and heavy. Realizing the potential risk for avalanche, we brought transceivers, shovels, and probes. The day started overcast with scattered flurries but contained a slight promise of sun.
We both felt good so the ski in was brisk and proved a nice warm up for the day. We followed a broken ski track towards the base of the slide. When we were about level with the base of the slide, the ski track continued up and left. Here we turned right to access the slide. At the base I dug a test pit on a slope that I thought was fairly representative of the slide’s average slope. I saw no weak layer or unconsolidated snow that would lead me to believe there was high avy danger, so we headed up and right towards the right “skinny” side, with the intention of digging another pit part-way at a group of trees. We never got the chance. [Since the incident I’ve learned that there were several problems with my test pit. A sobering thought that sometimes we know just enough to get into trouble but not enough to keep out of it.]
A quarter of the way up the slide we heard an unsettling “whoomp” Recognizing its significance, we both said “I’m not too sure about this” nearly in unison. Since we were 30 -40 feet apart and halfway across the slide, the plan was to continue to the trees to dig another pit and reassess. Moments after we uttered the words a wisp of snow caught my eye as if the wind were beginning to blow it around. I glanced up in time to see a cloudy wall of snow speeding down the slide. I turned to try to ski down and left out of the avalanche path but I still had skins on so I was, in effect, immobilized.
I don’t remember any pain when the avalanche struck me. The sensation is best described as almost instant acceleration in a river of wet cement. I was suddenly surrounded by this flowing snow bank. I have no idea how fast it was moving and I don’t remember much aside from the dark, the fear, and the thought that I had to try to stay on top of it somehow. I don’t think I tumbled, and maybe my skis helped to stabilize me. [Although, I’ve been told after that it’s better for the bindings to release because the skis can actually pull you under.] I was strangely cognizant of my surroundings and as I realized I couldn’t stop myself or get out, I tried to keep the area in front of my face clear. I remember the thought crossing my mind that I was most likely going to die, but it was brief and fleeting. Almost like an irrelevant thought that my mind didn’t have time for or was unwilling to process.
As quick as it began, everything stopped and my face was out of the snow. I was buried lying on my back. I couldn’t move my legs or arms…but I was alive! I could see the sun, the sky, and I could breathe! I was alive! Everything in me wanted out of that hole, but I was alive! Panic and fear had coursed instantly and fully through my body. It was then I remembered Jamie, and screamed his name. I heard no reply, only the mountain silence. I became frantic. I could move my left hand and after much struggle, managed to free it. My pack was holding me down and I had a difficult time loosening the straps.
What seemed like an eternity passed but was probably only a few minutes? I had snow packed in everywhere but I didn’t hurt. I screamed for Jamie again. At that moment my sole focus was on him. I switched my transceiver to receive and spastically tore at my pack to get the shovel and probe. No signal on the beacon so I started back up the slide. He started above me so I could only hope he had stopped above me. I screamed again and heard nothing, but I began to get a signal. As I scrambled up the slide I heard a call. I stopped, yelled, and listened. Jamie returned my call –he was ok- but stuck. The wave of relief was indescribable. Just over a small rise he had been stopped by a rotten stump. He was alive, and uninjured. Alive! I didn’t spend time thinking about what if he’d been buried. That thought passed as quickly as the death thought had earlier. We were alive.
I had slid more than the length of a football field, and I hadn’t hit anything. I stopped with my face above the snow. Jamie had stopped with his legs wrapped around a tree stump, yet no broken bones. All we had to show for this experience was a couple of nasty bruises and scrapes, a broken pole and one less ski. It was unbelievable considering what could have happened. And people say God doesn’t exist.
The following day, I spent the most of my waking hours playing with my daughter. The furthest away from the house I got was the corn field across the road. I couldn’t shake the flashbacks of getting swept away in the slide and the panic that ensued. That evening, I received my first phone call from a reporter. I was offended at first. I saw it as audacious to tell thousands of people about my intimate brush with death. I began to soften and the logical part of my brain took over to convince the crazy part that Adirondack avalanches are rare. Even more of a rarity are survivors that walk away to talk about it. People could learn from my experience and mistakes, and if that kept someone else alive then I was more than willing to let my ego take a hit.
Work was nice to return to, if only to occupy my mind with a sense of normalcy. I continued to have flashbacks of getting swept away followed by a wave of panic. The incident, as I now like to call it, only lasted a few moments but living with the memories and constant retellings has, perhaps, been the more difficult part. Everyone wants to talk about it, and I can understand that so I try to be patient. The trouble is I relive it slightly every time I tell the story. But more, it’s the shame. I feel ashamed that I got into a situation that I wasn’t smart enough, or I didn’t know better, to avoid. I almost died because I was wrong; because I was stupid.
Two weeks have passed now and I’ve stopped having flashbacks. The questions, comments, and jokes have subsided at work. Life seems to be back to normal, but I still remember. For most, the almost complete lack of physical injury diminishes the severity of my experience. Only I really know how close I came to death. I have noticed small changes in my psyche. I’m certainly content moving slower and certain things don’t really seem as important as they used to. But most importantly, my family is without a doubt the most beautiful thing in the world, and I am a blessed man to be here to see that.
Photo of Angel Slides on Wright Peak from Wikipedia.
This coming weekend (March 6th and 7th) The Mountaineer in Keene Valley will be hosting the 8th Annual Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival. Although most of the clinics have been filled, there are still two openings in the Karhu Traverse (Tahawus to Adirondack Loj).
On Saturday there will free demos and mini clinics at Otis Mountain in Elizabethtown from 10am-3pm. Reps from Black Diamond, Dynafit, G3, Garmont and Scarpa will be there to outfit you with the latest in backcountry ski equipment to test out. Local legend Ron Konowitz will offer free telemark turn clinics at 11am and 1pm, with a skinning clinic at noon. There will also be an avalanche transceiver clinic sponsored by Mammut at 2pm (Mammut’s beacon park will be available all day for those who want to practice beacon searches on their own).
On Saturday evening at 7:30 Backcountry Magazine will be hosting a backcountry ski movie night at The Mountaineer. “The Freeheel Life” is a telemark ski movie by John Madsen, and “Fine Line,” an avalanche film by Rocky Mountain Sherpas. The fee is $10 at the door, and the running time is about 2 hours.
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