The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) have reopened access to several High Peaks wilderness areas and facilities. The Eastern Zone of the High Peaks Wilderness and the Giant Mountain Wilderness have reopened, although the Dix Mountain Wilderness and several area trails remain closed. ADK has reopened the Adirondak Loj and Wilderness Campground at Heart Lake and the Johns Brook Lodge in the Johns Brook Valley.
Roads to those facilities were among several that were washed out when the remnants of Tropical Storm Irene slammed into the eastern slopes of the Adirondacks causing widespread damage and destruction, especially along the Ausable and Bouquet Rivers, into the Keene Valley, and the High Peaks. State Route 73 is now open between Lake Placid and Keene Valley, and may be accessed by taking Route 9N from Elizabethtown. Route 73 remains closed between the Hamlet of Keene Valley and the Route 9 intersection, but is expected to open by next weekend. » Continue Reading.
Before Tropical Storm Irene hit, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) closed campgrounds in the Adirondacks and urged people to stay out of the wilderness. In so doing, the department no doubt disappointed hikers and campers as well as the businesses that cater to them, but a spokesman contends that it was the right call. “Based on the damage we’re seeing, we’re confident we saved lives by doing that,” David Winchell said.
Winchell also defended the closure of the eastern High Peaks, Dix Mountain Wilderness, and Giant Mountain Wilderness—perhaps the most popular hiking regions in Adirondack Park. He said the trails are unsafe for hiking. Many trails have been deeply eroded, and some have been partially buried by landslides. Raging floodwaters washed away bridges, boardwalks, and ladders. There also is a lot of blowdown.
The good news is that the damage appears to have been concentrated in the three Wilderness Areas. “There’s still plenty of opportunities for hiking.” Winchell said.
Just about any place in the central or western Adirondacks probably is safe, Winchell said, but he cautioned that hikers should be prepared to encounter some blowdown and wet sections of trail. He said hikers may experience more difficulties in the eastern Adirondacks, such as in the Lake George Wild Forest and Pharaoh Lake Wilderness, but those regions remain open.
Even Forest Preserve tracts near the closed Wilderness Areas seem to have weathered the storm well, Winchell said. As a matter of fact, I hiked seven miles to Duck Hole in the western High Peaks yesterday and encountered only occasional blowdown, easily skirted or stepped over. I went there to take photos of Duck Hole, which is now largely muck, thanks to a breach in its dam. If you want to see the desolation of Duck Hole, you can start, as I did, at the Upper Works trailhead in Newcomb.
But given the closure of the three Wilderness Areas, many people may be wondering where they can hike near Lake Placid or Keene regions. Here are ten suggestions:
Haystack Mountain: 3.3-mile hike, with 1,240 feet of ascent. Start on Route 86 between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.
Scarface Mountain: 3.2 miles, 1,480 feet of ascent. Start on Ray Brook Road in Ray Brook.
McKenzie Mountain: 3.6 miles, 1,940 feet of ascent. Start on Whiteface Inn Road in Lake Placid.
Whiteface Landing/Whiteface Mountain: 3.0 miles to landing, 7.4 to Whiteface summit, with 3,232 feet of ascent. Start on Route 86 east of Lake Placid.
Copperas Pond: 0.5 miles. Start on Route 86 east of Lake Placid.
Hurricane Mountain: 2.6 miles, 2,000 feet of ascent. Start on Route 9N between Keene and Elizabethtown. (The road to Crow Clearing, the start of another Hurricane trail, is washed out.)
Pitchoff Mountain: 1.6 miles to Balanced Rock or 5.2 miles for one-way traverse of Pitchoff summits, with 1,400 feet of ascent to main summit. Both trailheads on Route 73 between Keene and Lake Placid.
Baker Mountain: 0.9 miles, 900 feet of ascent. Start next to Moody Pond in village of Saranac Lake.
McKenzie Pond: 2.0 miles. Start on McKenzie Pond Road between Saranac Lake and Ray Brook.
Ampersand Mountain: 2.7 miles, 1,775 feet of ascent. Start on Route 3 west of Saranac Lake.
Photo: A closed trailhead in Keene. Courtesy Phil Brown.
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.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued a warning Wednesday afternoon that unsafe conditions will remain in much of the backcountry of the Adirondacks through Labor Day Weekend and beyond following the devastating impacts of the remnants of Hurricane Irene. The most seriously affected areas include of some most popular areas in the Eastern Adirondacks. Several trail areas are closed or inaccessible due to Hurricane Irene storm damage include flooding, bridge wash outs, trail wash outs and blow down of trees and other debris.
Citing the extent of the damage and ensuring public safety, DEC has closed the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness, Giant Mountain Wilderness and Dix Mountain Wilderness through Labor Day Weekend and beyond. Areas in the Western Adirondacks are reported in fairly good condition though some flooding and blowdown can be expected. Most DEC campgrounds in the Adirondacks are expected to be open for Labor Day Weekend with many available sites.
According to long-time Adirondack guide and outdoors writer Joe Hackett this is the first time since the Great Ice Storm of ’98 that the DEC has closed large areas of Forest Preserve lands due to a natural disaster. In 1995 some areas of of DEC Regions 5 and 6 were closed after a major blowdown in 1995, Hackett said. Some sixty years ago The Big Blowdown of 1950 caused a complete shutdown of the roads and trails across large swaths of the park, a historic suspension of the State Constitution, a temporary glut in the spruce market, and a political impact that continues to this day.
Many eastern High Peaks mountain areas have been impacted by landslides. Mt. Colden, Trap Dike, Wright Peak, Skylight, Basin, Armstrong, Upper and Lower Wolf Jaws, Dix, Macomb, Giant and Cascade Mountains and many existing slides widened and/or lengthened. The threat of additional slides exists on these and other mountains remains in effect. Adirondack Almanack will have a report on the new slides this evening.
Although a full assessment of the recreational infrastructure in all areas of the Adirondacks has not been completed, DEC has confirmed the following:
* The footbridge over Marcy Dam has washed away and the flush boards have been damaged;
* Marcy Dam Truck Trail has 4 major washouts;
* The first bridge on the western end of the Klondike Notch Trail washed downstream to South Meadows Trail;
* Washouts on the Van Hoevenberg (Mt. Marcy) trail are 1 to 3 ft deep;
* Along the Avalanche Pass Trail from Marcy Dam, Marcy Brook jumped its banks and caused widespread damage to the trail;
* One side of the Duck Hole Dam has washed away and the pond has dewatered;
* Calamity Trail from Lake Colden is impassible south of McMartin Lean-to.
Lesser amounts of damage can be found on Adirondack Forest Preserve lands south and north of these areas. However, hikers and campers should expect to encounter flooding, bridge wash outs, trail wash outs and blow down when entering the backcountry. Plan accordingly and be prepared to turn back when conditions warrant. Updated information on trail closures and trail conditions in the Eastern Adirondacks can be found at the DEC website and at Adirondack Almanack‘s weekly Conditions Report which will be updated Thursday afternoon:
Over the next several weeks DEC is expecting to evaluate the conditions of all trails in the closed areas, prioritize work to rehabilitate trails and determine what trails may be reopened for public use.
Many DEC Campgrounds in the Adirondacks and the Catskills experienced significant damage from the storm including flooded areas, road destruction, and loss of electric and water service. Despite progress in restoring services, a number of campgrounds may be closed or have limited availability of campsites over Labor Day Weekend.
The following temporary Adirondack campground closures are in effect: Little Sand Point, Poplar Point, Point Comfort, Lake Durant, Ausable Point, Paradox Lake, and Putnam Pond. All other campgrounds are open and operating. A complete, updated list of closed campgrounds can be found on the DEC website.
The public should be aware that many state and local roads may be inaccessible to travel and access to campground areas could be limited. Those planning to visit the Adirondacks this weekend should call ahead or check for road closure information at the Department of Transportation’s webpage.
Listen for the weekly Adirondack Outdoor Recreation Report Friday mornings on WNBZ (AM 920 & 1240, FM 105 & 102.1), WSLP (93.3) and the stations of North Country Public Radio.
Last weekend, the Mountaineer sponsored an annual footrace that passes through the Giant Mountain Wilderness Area in Keene. It’s a popular event that benefits local charities.
This year, as in the past, I received an e-mail at the Adirondack Explorer from Jim Close contending that the race is illegal.
Close argues that competitive races violate the letter and spirit of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, which defines Wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man” and which offers “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.”
“It is no more appropriate to hold competitive running events in the wilderness than it is to play baseball in the Sistine Chapel,” Close wrote the Explorer.
Since the state Department of Environmental Conservation issues permits each year for the Great Adirondack Trail Run, it obviously disagrees with Close (who, incidentally, works at DEC). The department also has issued a permit for the Wakely Dam Ultra in July, a 32.6-mile race through the West Canada Lake Wilderness.
Close may be something of a gadfly, but he is not alone in his criticism. Earlier this year, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve called on DEC to prohibit such events in Wilderness Areas as well as in Primitive and Canoe Areas. And several years ago, the historian Philip Terrie published a piece in the Adirondack Explorer contending that races violate management guidelines for Wilderness Areas.
“The spirit, the ethos, of the State Land Master Plan makes it clear from the outset that the state seeks to protect a certain kind of experience, one that involves serenity, getting away from the life of city and suburb, and a personal engagement with nature,” Terrie wrote. “All of these are fundamentally disrupted when an erratic procession of runners comes barreling down the trail.”
Apart from the interpretation of the State Land Master Plan, there are two basic concerns: (1) Do these competitions damage the environment? (2) Do they detract from the wilderness experience of hikers and other recreationists?
In a letter to DEC, Adirondack Wild asserts that “organized events which concentrate human use on the Forest Preserve demonstrably do a lot of damage to natural resources.”
However, DEC says there is no evidence that the Great Adirondack Trail Run or the Wakely Dam Ultra inflicts lasting damage on the Forest Preserve.
As to the second question, it’s true that some hikers might be annoyed by passing runners. The fact is, though, that DEC has received no complaints from hikers in the years it has permitted the trail runs. It’s possible that hikers were annoyed but didn’t lodge a complaint. Still, the lack of an outcry suggests that the annoyance to hikers is more hypothetical than actual. And it must must be weighed against the real benefits that races bring to the community and to the competitors.
Judging by the evidence, then, it appears that trail races do no harm and bother no one (in the field, at least). If the evidence turns out to be wrong, DEC should reconsider its position. Otherwise, the argument against these races relies on the interpretation of the State Land Master Plan, which is not explicit on the matter.
Some people might object to trail races—or even solo trail running—on aesthetic grounds. How can a person appreciate nature while dashing through the forest? This question was asked in 2002 when Ted “Cave Dog” Keizer, in a highly publicized effort, set a speed record (later broken) for climbing all the High Peaks. Last week, Sheryl Wheeler set a record by completing the 122-mile Northville-Placid Trail in 35 hours 15 minutes. After we posted a link about her feat on the Explorer’s Facebook page, one person commented, “Wow way to enjoy nature.”
As someone who occasionally runs on trails (though not for 122 miles), I can address this point. First, running through the forest is a way to enjoy nature. It’s just different from hiking, say, or birding. Second, if I am at all typical, most trail runners are also hikers, paddlers, cross-country skiers, etc. Running is just one way they enjoy nature, not the only way. The suggestion that trail runners don’t appreciate nature is a canard. Third, if someone wants to run on a trail, as opposed to walk, skip, or ride a bike, so what?
Those of you who do enjoy trail running may be interested in a new online venture called Xoona (ZOO-na), begun by Peter Fish and Allan Rego, two outdoors enthusiasts from Lake Placid. The Xoona website contains a number of routes for trail running (as well as other outdoor pursuits). Participants run the routes at their convenience— alone or with friends — and post their times. It’s a way of competing without the hassle or expense of organized races. And without the legal questions.
You can learn more about Xoona in an article by Susan Bibeau in the July/August issue of the Adirondack Explorer. Click here to read it online.
Photo by Susan Bibeau: a trail runner on a Xoona course.
Many people say it’s the Eagle Slide in the west cirque of Giant Mountain. If you look at the cirque from the Ausable Club, the slide resembles an eagle with its wings outstretched.
The guidebook Adirondack Rock gives the Eagle five stars, its highest rating for the overall climbing experience. It offers 1,300 feet of open rock, with ever-expanding views of the High Peaks. In the Yosemite Decimal System, the Eagle is a fourth-class climb. Wikipedia defines a fourth-class climb as follows: “Simple climbing, with exposure. A rope is often used. Natural protection can be easily found. Falls may well be fatal.”
So an ascent of the Eagle should not be undertaken lightly. I’ve climbed it in hiking boots and in rock-climbing shoes. I recommend the latter.
Is the Eagle better than the Trap Dike, another fourth-class route that rates five stars? That’s a tough question that’s best evaded: although the Trap Dike climb finishes on a slide on the northwest side of Mount Colden, the dike itself is not a slide. So it’s in a different category.
Most of the popular slides in the Adirondacks are third-class climbs. Wikipedia defines third class as: “Scrambling with increased exposure. A rope can be carried but is usually not required. Falls are not always fatal.”
I suspect one reason the Eagle Slide has a five-star rating is precisely that it’s more dangerous and therefore more exciting. If you’re new to slide climbing, you’d be smart to start off on something easier. Some of my favorites are the slides on Dix, Nippletop, and Whiteface (bearing in mind that a fall in the wrong spot on any slide can have consequences). If there are any slide aficianados reading this, what are your suggestions?
By the way, I can attest to the perils of the Eagle. A few months ago, I slipped on a steep section and started sliding down the rock. Fortunately, a ledge prevented me from tumbling to the bottom (I landed standing up). The rock scraped the skin off most of my fingertips, but I was able to continue climbing.
I wrote an article about this trip for the November/December issue of the Adirondack Explorer. Accompanying me were the photographer Carl Heilman II and Eli Bickford, a twelve-year-old kid with a passion for slide climbing.
Carl took some spectacular photos. We used one of them for our cover. He also shot two short videos: one of me climbing, the other of Eli expounding on the allure of slide climbing.
You can find the story and videos on our website by clicking here.
Photo: Carl Heilman on the approach to the Eagle Slide, by Phil Brown.
Well, the title of this post could lead to controversy — I’m sure every hiker has their favorite route, depending on location, level of fitness and how much climbing (or none at all) they wish to do in a day.
Last weekend I did the infamous Bald Peak-Rocky Peak Ridge-Giant Mountain traverse, a hike of nearly 12 miles that takes those with strong knees and thighs on a grand tour of some of the most exposed peaks in the park. And that’s got my vote. To do this route, you need strength, a relatively early start, and two cars (or one car and a bicycle, if you think you’d feel like pedaling another 8 miles after an all-day hike).
The route begins on Route 9, about four miles north of the “dysfunction junction” intersection with Route 73, at an easy-to-miss DEC parking lot on the left as you head north. From here, you hike four miles to the top of Bald Peak, climb down to a col and steeply ascend to the Rocky Peak ridge. Once you’ve traversed the ridge, you have to descend again for the final climb to Giant, for a total of 5,300 feet of vertical in 8 miles.
I did this hike last Saturday with my friend Jim Close. We parked one car at the base of Giant, then drove to the Bald Peak trailhead eight road-miles away. According to the sign-in sheet, more than 20 people had already signed up to do this traverse. Apparently our 9:30 a.m. departure was tardy by hiking standards.
Bald Peak is just a little over 3,000 feet high, but its exposed ledges and wide-open summit gives it a view that seems like a much larger mountain, especially given that the entire High Peaks range extends west and south from its back door. Be sure to take the side-trail to Blueberry Cobbles on the way up, which affords even more cliffy views.
We reached the summit by noon, and took a short break. So far, we had run into only a few people. The temperature was perfect, mid-70s and little humidity, with the August sun diffused behind a thin cloud layer. This was beginning to look like a stellar day.
It’s a long descent, and even longer climb from Bald to the top of the ridge, which starts out just over 4,000 feet and never gets much lower.
Once on Rocky Peak, we began the ridge proper. From here to the other side, a hiker is afforded almost constant views above treeline. Thanks to a fire on this ridge that got rid of all the trees many years ago, the exposure feels more like a peak in the Rocky Mountains than anything you’d find in New York.
After passing a shallow pond called Lake Mary Louise (you can fill your water bottles here, but bring purification pills or a filter). the ridge continues to the top, where a tall cairn marks the summit. From here, it’s a steady descent to another col and the steepest climb yet to the shoulder of Giant.
At this point, I temporarily left Jim. There was a short slide on Giant, visible from Rocky Peak Ridge, that seemed like it was right off the trail. Still feeling still energetic, I was keen to check it out. A very slight herd path led the way, but I quickly lost it and found myself battling the usual thick summit flora. Eventually, I did reach the slide, but halfway up.
Still, the slide itself was clean and fun to climb, as was battling back to the trail. I met Jim on the summit of Giant, at 4,627 feet. The peak was crowded when we arrived, but soon cleared out, giving us a quiet rest on top of one of the most popular mountains in the park.
Another four miles of steep but fun descent brought us back to our waiting car, a stash of cold beer and a swim in nearby Chapel Pond. The total hike took us a little more than eight hours, including stops of various lengths at all the good view points.
It was nearly 20 years since I had last hiked this route. The next time won’t take so long.
Many Adirondack hikers go on to explore the many slides of the High Peaks after hiking trails for many years. Slides create a direct approach to the top, combining bushwhacking, easy rock climbing and a sense of adventure.
Then there’s Kevin “MudRat” MacKenzie of Lake Placid, who has taken slide-climbing to a new extreme.
Call it slide-bagging. And recently he got four of them in one day.
About a week ago MacKenzie, 40, an assistant registrar at St. Lawrence University, climbed Giant Mountain — the popular High Peak off Route 73 in Keene Valley. He climbed it, descended it, climbed it and descended it, by himself, going up and down four adjacent slides on the prominent west face.
“I was going to do everything on the west face,” he reported later. “So I put together four of them.”
Every slide was different, he said. Every slide had its own character.
Starting his hike around 7 a.m., he hiked the Roaring Brook Trail to a bushwhack that follows drainages to the base of the Bottle Slide, one of a number of bare areas created from landslides years ago.
He describes the slide as one of his favorites, with waves of anorthosite, plenty of cracks and ledges to climb and a pitch of around 39 degrees (he figures this out at home using topographic software.
From there, he descended the Diagonal Slide, which is steeper and covered with algae, making for a nerve-racking descent. “You can’t see what you’re stepping onto,” he said.
At the bottom of the mountain’s headwall, he traversed to the Question Mark Slide, an obscure route that’s steep, overgrown and covered with wet moss. That took two hours, including a lot of bushwhacking through the trees to avoid the perilous, 45-degree wet bits.
Finally reaching the summit at 1 p.m., he was exhausted and decided to pass on hiking Giant’s most well-known slide, the majestic Eagle Slide (the wide and obvious bare section visible from Keene Valley). Instead, he walked down the 600-foot-high Tulip Slide and decided to call it a day.
MacKenzie says he’s done about 30 slides so far, and hopes to one day climb all 100 major slides in the peaks. His next area: Dix, with its dozens of slides, which he plans to attack in a weekend camping trip in the near future.
Readers: What are your favorite slide routes and why?
Owl’s Head, located between Lake Placid and Keene, is a perfect hike for the entire family. It takes approximately 45 minutes round trip for an average hiker though we always plan for a bit more than an hour each way. The ascent is 460 ft., and very easy for even the smallest climber. The summit is semi-wooded, and has spectacular views of Cascade, Pitchoff and Giant Mountains.
For most families it is unfair to put a time limit on a hike due to frequent pit stops, wildlife sightings and herding of imaginary friends. Not that I wish to besmirch the herding of imaginary friends but sometimes it is enough just to get the children focused without having to gathering troops of people only visible to those under the age eight. Though it may sound tedious to some, we want to be able to take our time and instill the joy of the outdoors to our children.
This time of year scrubby blueberry bushes are in flower and line the path to the summit. Mark the calendar for a return trip midsummer when wild blueberry bushes will be in peak and ready for picking. Feel free to factor berry eating into the time factor as well unless a previous hiker has picked the trail clean.
The trail is a series of ledges, rock faces and switchbacks. To the west is Pitchoff Mountain and to the southwest, Porter and Cascade. To the east look for Hurricane Mountain’s fire tower as well as other smaller mountains and Giant Mountain to the southeast.
Local rock climbing companies use Owl’s Head for training so an added treat is to catch climbers repelling down the craggy ledges. Snacks or lunch and plenty of water are imperative. This time of year, don’t forget the bug repellent.
From the intersection of Route 9 and 73 in Keene bear north on Route 73, about 3.5 miles, turning onto Owl’s Head Lane. Continue 0.2 miles until you come to a Y. The trailhead is directly in front. Park to the left, off to the side. There isn’t a parking area. Please be considerate. The Owl’s Head trailhead and surrounding land is mostly private property.
The Adirondack Almanack's contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The Almanack is the online news journal of Adirondack Explorer. Both are nonprofits supported by contributors, readers, and advertisers, and devoted to exploring, protecting, and unifying the Adirondack Park.
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