Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Locating Backcountry Campsite: Science or Art?

At the end of a long day of bushwhacking the backcountry, including crawling over blow downs, thrashing through thick hobblebush and balancing over crumbling beaver dams, it is time to locate a camping site for the night. Unfortunately, finding an acceptable camp site can be one of the most frustrating aspects of the backcountry experience especially when bushwhacking through remote and wild areas within the Adirondacks.

One mistake to avoid is bushwhacking late into the early evening hours and not giving yourself enough time to adequately locate a good site to set up your camp. There is simply nothing worse than searching wildly about for an adequate campsite at the end of an exhausting day of bushwhacking as the sun slowly sinks below the horizon. Be sure to stop early enough in the late afternoon to find a nice site and give you enough time to set up and enjoy the early evening hours. Typically I plan on stopping around 5 PM while bushwhacking to give myself the appropriate amount of time without having the feeling of being rushed.

The most frustrating part of locating a good campsite is finding a level enough area for a shelter so as to avoid sliding to one corner and tossing and turning over a back-breaking tree root. Avoid areas appearing completely level as puddles can form there and waking up in a pool of water during a late night thunderstorm can place a real damper on a good night’s rest. A shelter should be placed on crowned site in such a way as to move any possible rain water away from, instead of under your shelter.

When bushwhacking through remote areas abandon the notion of finding one of those perfectly level and open areas typically found along an established trail system. These spacious camp sites near trail systems were artificially constructed from many years of human use and are almost non-existent in the remote backcountry. Even if such sites once existed in these remote areas during the bygone logging days they have long ago been reclaimed by vegetation.

When setting up your campsite try to do as little site modification as possible. Any shelters should be placed in areas devoid of any vegetation, if such a place can be located in the Adirondacks. Any sticks, logs and/or rocks removed from the site prior to setting up the camp site should be placed nearby where they can be retrieved and replaced when leaving the site. The leave no trace ethic should apply to one’s campsite as much as any other aspect of your outdoor experience.

Most people prefer camping near water for the awesome views and the ease of transporting water to their camping site. Regardless of being far away from a trail system or not, the rule of being 150 feet from any source of water is still in effect. Since few journey into the backcountry with a measuring tape, a rough estimate of this distance is necessary. In my experience, distance estimates have a reciprocal relationship to the beauty of the waterfront view. Unfortunately being near water also means being surrounded by hordes of biting insects.

Safety is always a concern in the backcountry and choosing a campsite is no exception. One should always scan the tree canopy for snags that could become a widow maker while you sleep. Do not forget to scan the canopy for dead branches that could come crashing down on you and turn a night’s sleep into a permanent slumber. This is a greater concern in mature forests where giant trees tower over your campsite can hide a few large dead or dying limbs.

Choosing a campsite in the backcountry is more of an art form than a science. In the Adirondacks, the rough terrain, thick vegetation and often soggy soils makes locating an acceptable campsite a challenge. Give yourself an adequate amount of time to search for a comfortable site where you will get a much needed night’s rest. And if the site turns out to be less-than-stellar, just remember, you are only visiting and there is always a chance you will do better next time.

Photos: Camping sites in the Pepperbox Wilderness.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Phil Brown: Skiing Coney Mountain

Old Mountain Phelps cut the first trail up Mount Marcy in 1861. It began between the two Ausable Lakes, ascended Bartlett Ridge, went down into Panther Gorge, and then climbed a slide on the mountain’s southeast face.

Judging from a sketch in Forest and Crag, a history of trail building in the Northeast, Phelps took the shortest route possible from point A to point B. Many early trails in the Adirondacks followed the same pattern, making a beeline for the summit.

The thinking in those days was shorter is better. But trails that are straight and steep often turn into rivulets in spring and over time become badly eroded. Thus, the switchback was born.

A switchback trail zigs and zags up a slope, following the terrain’s natural features. By necessity, such trails are longer than straight trails, but they are easier on the knees and the landscape. In recent years, Adirondack trail builders have adopted the switchback model. The rerouted trail up Baxter Mountain in Keene is one example. Another is the new trail up Coney Mountain south of Tupper Lake.

Coney is a small peak with a panoramic view, a combination that makes it popular throughout the year. The old trail shot straight up the west side of the mountain from Route 30. The new trail, constructed by the Adirondack Mountain Club, starts on the west side but curls around to the north and finally approaches the top from the east. I guess that makes it more of a spiral than a switchback, but the goal is the same: keep the grade easy to minimize erosion. I first hiked the new trail in December for a story that appears in the January/February issue of the Adirondack Explorer. (The story is not available online.)

As I ascended, I kept thinking that this would be a great trail to ski. Not only are the gradients moderate, but the woods are fairly open—always a plus in case you need to pull off to stop or slow down. So I returned to Coney last weekend with my telemark skis. Thanks to the nylon skins affixed to the bottoms, I was able to ascend easily. The trail had been packed down by four snowshoers whom I encountered on their descent. They seemed surprised to see someone on skis. I stopped to chat. Often when I introduce myself on the trail, people recognize my name from the Explorer, but not in this case.

Soon after, I came to the end of the mile-long trail. Although clouds limited the view, the summit was serene and lovely. Snow clung to the bare branches of young trees. Deep powder blanketed most of the summit. Despite the clouds, I could see the southern end of Tupper Lake. Time for the descent. I made a few turns in the powder, then picked my way down a short, steep pitch to a saddle. Next came the best part: a long run down the new trail. Beforehand, I activated the video function on my camera, which was strapped to my chest. Click here to watch the video.

The skiing was a blast. Beware, however, that there is a rocky section of trail that traces the base of the mountain. If skiing, you need to stop before reaching it. If you do, you can shuffle through this stretch without much difficulty as the trail is more or less flat here. I arrived at the trailhead with a renewed appreciation for the principles of modern trail design. As a backcountry skier, I hope to see more switchbacks and spirals. But I also wish trail builders would always keep skiers in mind. Whenever possible, trails should accommodate both skiers and hikers.

Incidentally, when I returned to my car, I found a note from the snowshoers: “Nice article about Coney. We enjoyed it.”

Photo by Phil Brown: Coney Mountain’s summit.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gear Review: Golite Pinnacle Backpack

A backpack is one of the most important single pieces of gear in any backcountry explorer’s equipment arsenal. The backpack’s fit is crucial for an enjoyable trip into the backcountry. But for bushwhacking adventures the backpack has to be more than just comfortable but must also be tough and durable enough to handle the onslaught of the worst conditions the Adirondacks can dole out. A severe rip in the backcountry could leave one trying to carry all their equipment in their arms, which is no easy feat in the dense Adirondack backcountry.

The extreme conditions encountered while bushwhacking requires a backpack to have the following characteristics:

• Durable
• Comfortable fit
• Light weight
• Adequate access
• Slim

An excellent bushwhacking backpack that meets all of the above criteria is the Golite Pinnacle. Golite has manufactured the Pinnacle backpack since at least 2007. The Pinnacle is the largest of the three backpacks in Golite’s UltraLite line. UltaLite backpacks are known for their combination of durability, minimalism and comfort. The Pinnacle has been recently updated with a larger front pocket and an improved suspension.

The Pinnacle is a spacious backpack with a volume of 4392 cubic inches but compresses down to about 1500 cubic inches via the ComPACKtor™ system. The ComPACKtor™ system uses two fixed compression anchor clips to compress the pack for shorter trips thus increasing the versatility of this exceptional backpack.

The Pinnacle is made from Golite’s Dyneema® Gridstop weave combining 100% nylon yarn with Dyneema® fibers to create a strong yet light pack fabric. Dyneema fabric has a strength-to-weight ratio 15 times greater than higher tensile steel making the Pinnacle highly resistant to tearing.

For those concerned with their environmental footprint will be relieved to know the Pinnacle is manufactured with Tier 1 recycled fabrics. Golite has replaced virgin, petro-chemical based materials with 50% Tier 1 recycled nylon. Golite’s efforts using recycled materials won them the Green Award of the 2010 Backpacker Editors’ Choice Awards.

The Golite Pinnacle has many other wonderful features important to any backcountry adventurer. Some of these features include:

• Double-Wishbone™ hipbelt connection transfers weight to hips.
• Zippered stretch pockets on belt for easy access to small, often-used items.
• Mesh on back panel, hipbelt and shoulder harness keeps you drier by moving moisture away from your body.
• Removable closed cell foam back pad.
• ComPACKtor™ system reduces internal volume eliminating the necessity of carrying another smaller pack for day hikes.
• Two side stretch pockets for convenient access to water bottles.
• Side compression straps with quick-release buckles.
• Two ice axe loops.
• Cinch and roll-up closure system with compression strap.
• Internal hydration sleeve with right and left tube ports.
• Adjustable sternum strap with whistle.
• Large front pocket with watertight zipper to keep your stuff dry.

The manufacturer’s suggested retail price of the Pinnacle is $175. The Pinnacle can be purchased currently online at Second Ascent and Mountain Plus Outdoor Gear for $140 with free shipping.

After some extensive research of the backpacks on the market at the time, I purchased a Pinnacle backpack in 2008. Since then Golite has made some changes to the backpack’s design improving its versatility (e.g. larger front pocket and small pockets on hip belt) and stability but unfortunately increasing its weight by 7 ounces.

I have found the Pinnacle to be an outstanding backpack ideal for bushwhacking with its slim design, lightweight and durability. Although highly durable the Pinnacle is not indestructible. Over the past few years I have found several small holes in the front pocket but other than these the pack remains in terrific shape.

The limited suspension and non-padded hipbelt restricts the maximum comfortable capacity of this pack to 40 lbs according to its manufacturer. The longest trip I have ever used this pack was for an eight-day adventure where my pack weighed around 45 lbs. Although this was over its maximum capacity I found the pack retained its comfortable fit even during fairly rugged bushwhacking.

The size of the back pocket limits the amount of equipment readily available as the Pinnacle has no lid with an additional pocket as do many conventional backpacks. Golite appears to have dealt with this issue in subsequent models by increasing the size of this pocket and adding smaller pockets along the hipbelt.

The Pinnacle has been my exclusive backpack since I purchased it. It has hiked the Northville-Placid trail, the John Muir trail in the Sierra-Nevada’s and on numerous bushwhacking adventures. During all these adventures the Pinnacle has proved to be a versatile and durable backpack.

For anyone looking for a lightweight, durable and comfortable backpack should take a serious look at Golite’s Pinnacle.

Photos: Pinnacle backpack courtesy of Golite.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Adirondack Family Activities by Diane Chase: Long Lake’s Buttermilk Falls

By Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities™
We are never in that big of a hurry that we can’t take a moment and spend some time on a trail or path. Sometimes the biggest hurdle for family time is to realize that the small moments are just as important. Every outing doesn’t have to be a huge event.

Sometimes the small walks lead to the most beautiful locations. We are beyond the need to plot our destinations based on bathroom breaks, snack or nap times. I hope we never outgrow the need to stretch our legs.

One quick family-friendly outing is Buttermilk Falls in Long Lake, N.Y.

This walk is about 100 yards off of North Point Road. Park the car and it is a short meander in following the wide pathway. In winter, after the first few steps the path turns into a labyrinth of freshly made footprints. The main path leads to the falls. Even in winter the water is being churned over the rocks and looking very much the color for which it is named, “buttermilk.”

This can be a very popular place in summer or winter. It is a lucky day when you have the place to yourself. Boot prints in the freshly fallen snow mark a variety of paths from the base of the falls to the wider river above. Please be careful. The edge of the riverbed is under snow and may look like land but can actually be the water running underneath, making it dangerous for all.

We gingerly step toward the edge, but backtrack quickly when we see the river spouting through a small hole at our feet. We follow the footprints that lead to the head of the falls. Picnic tables are cleared off so we sit for a bit and enjoy the granola bars I pull from my pocket. The Raquette River flows before us and we hear the rush of the falls below.

Though one of the smallest falls, Buttermilk Falls is a beautiful area with pathways fanning out to surround the area. It is a relaxing place where children and adults can sit for a few moments or spend hours just exploring the area. We finish our time with a snowball fight, using the massive roots of fallen trees as cover.

From Long Lake take Route 30/28 south for three miles. Turn right onto North Point Rd (there is a sign for Buttermilk Falls.) Follow North Point Road for two miles, the entrance and parking to the falls will be on your right.

photo of Buttermilk Falls and content © Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities ™. Diane is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities Guidebook Series including the recent released Adirondack Family Time: Tri-Lakes and High Peaks Your Guide to Over 300 Activities for Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Keene, Jay and Wilmington areas (with GPS coordinates) This is the first book of a four-book series of Adirondack Family Activities. The next three editions will cover Plattsburgh to Ticonderoga, Long Lake to Old Forge and Newcomb to Lake George. 


Friday, December 24, 2010

Backpacker Magazine Features Cranberry Lake 50

The Cranberry Lake 50 (CL50), the fifty-mile hiking route that circles Cranberry Lake, has been featured as one of the best multi-day hikes in the Northeast in the January 2011 issue of Backpacker Magazine. Here is an excerpt from the article:

“For lakeside shoreline, traipse trough the Adirondacks’ Five Ponds Wilderness on a 50-mile loop around 7,000-acre Cranberry Lake. [Times Union outdoors blogger] Gillian Scott suggests starting in Wanakena and traveling counterclockwise for an easier first day, when your pack is heaviest. Along the loop you’ll see beaver ponds, sandy beaches, evergreen islands, and winding Oswegatchie River oxbows – but not a lot of people. “We went in July and didn’t see anyone,” Scott says.

Rick Hapanowicz, Jim Houghtailing and six others did the CL50 as a straight through overnight speed hike in May of this year. You can read about their trip online.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

West River Trail: A Great Four Season Hike

Last week my friend Barbara visited from Toronto, a city not known for its proximity to mountains. She had never been to the Adirondacks, and I wanted to find a hike that would both introduce her to the beauty and ruggedness of the High Peaks without the ice-covered vertical terrain that would be sure to stop our cramponless feet in their tracks.

So I took her to my favorite easy hike — the West River Trail.

It’s amazing that such an easy and (relatively) flat trail can pack so much of a punch. In less than five miles, hikers on this route parallel a deep, whitewater ravine, pass two of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Adirondacks and walk beneath several cliffs gleaming with ice flows (at least during the winter).

Needless to say, Barbara was impressed.

The only trouble with this hike is the half-mile walk from the parking lot near Route 73 in Keene Valley (also the departure point for Noonmark Mountain) to the trailhead at the Ausable Club. The trail begins right at the gate (hang a right instead of staying on the dirt road to Lower Ausable Lake, although you can cut off some of the hiking by taking the dirt road if you would prefer an easier route).

The route follows the East Branch of the Ausable River. It’s a dramatic trip in any season, but especially in winter, with the river half-frozen but still running over icy cascades. After about an hour walk, you make a steep climb and reach Beaver Meadow Falls. In warmer weather it’s a fairyland stepladder of frothy white, but in winter it’s a gleaming blue chandelier. It’s also a good place to stop for a bite to eat.

From here, the going gets flatter as the Ausable River meanders through a wide meadow. Eventually, you reach the outlet of Lower Ausable Lake, where a side-trail takes you to the even more impressive Rainbow Falls, its running water hidden behind a thick crust of ice.

Once at the lake, you can return to your car on the easy (but boring) dirt road. We elected to climb to Indian Head Cliff for a view of the frozen, fjord-like lake. This proved the steepest and hardest part of the route, as we had to find our way around a few tricky, ice-covered sections of trail (ski poles helped tremendously).

Eventually we made it to the top, and had just enough time to enjoy the rugged, ice-covered view in front of us before it we had to start the trip back to the car.

Besides the ice, that’s the other problem with hiking in early December — sunset comes way too soon.

Alan Wechsler, who lives in New York’s Capital Region, has been writing about and photographing the Adirondacks for two decades.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

DEC: Be Prepared For Winter Conditions

Visitors to the backcountry of the Adirondacks should be prepared for snow, ice and cold, and use proper equipment, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) advised today. Winter is an opportune time to take advantage of all that the Adirondack Park has to offer, however, the season can also present troublesome – even perilous – conditions to the unprepared.

Snow cover in the Adirondacks is now several feet deep at higher elevations. Visitors to the Eastern High Peaks are required to use snowshoes or cross-country skis for safety. It is strongly recommended that visitors to other parts of the Adirondacks do the same.

Snowshoes or skis prevent sudden falls or “post-holing,” avoids injuries and eases travel on snow. Ice crampons should be carried for use on icy mountaintops and other exposed areas. In addition, backcountry visitors should follow these safety guidelines:

* Dress properly with layers of wool and fleece (NOT COTTON!) clothing: a wool or fleece hat, gloves or mittens, wind/rain resistant outer wear, and winter boots.

* Carry a day pack complete with: An ice axe, plenty of food and water, extra clothing, a map and compass, a first-aid kit, a flashlight/headlamp, sun glasses, sun-block protection, ensolite pads, a stove and extra fuel, and bivy sack or space blankets.

* Drink plenty of water — dehydration can lead to hypothermia.

* Eat plenty of food to maintain energy levels and warmth.

* Check weather before entering the woods — if the weather is poor, postpone the trip. The mountains will always be there.

* Be aware of weather conditions at all times — if weather worsens, head out of the woods.

* Contact the DEC at (518) 897-1200 to determine trail conditions in the area you plan to visit.

Visitors should also be aware that waters have begun freezing over, but are not safe to access. Ice that holds snow may not hold the weight of a person.

Adirondack trail information can be found on the DEC website and the Adirondack Almanack provides weekly local conditions reports as well each Thursday afternoon.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A New Website For The Northville Placid Trail

The Northville-Placid Trail Subcommittee of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Trails Committee has announced the creation of a new website devoted to the Northville-Placid Trail (NPT).

The NPT, which stretches 133 miles through some of the wildest and most remote parts of the Adirondack Park, was the first project undertaken by the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) after it was formed in 1922. ADK publishes “Adirondack Trails: Northville-Placid Trail,” the definitive guide to the trail, which includes a detailed topographical map of the NPT. The website was developed by Tom Wemett, chair of the Northville-Placid Trail Subcommittee and a self-described “NPT fanatic.” » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Adirondack Family Activities:Diane Chase: Lake George’s Prospect Mountain

By Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities™
Driving to and past Lake George on Route I-87 I’ve often wondered where the footbridge crossing over the Northway leads. There are always signs or flags hanging over or people waving as we pass underneath. After being able to spend a day in Lake George, we discover the footbridge is one start to Prospect Mountain.

We’ve been told the 1.5-mile trail is steep and can be difficult. We are only wearing sneakers but decide it is worth the attempt if to only cross the footbridge. I am terrified. My children skip across as if huge trucks were not speeding beneath their feet. They gesture to the drivers to beep their horns. They finally look back, realize I am not following and come back to retrieve me.
The path is relatively steep and follows the old Incline Railway that had been used for guests to reach the once thriving Prospect Mountain Inn. The Inn was destroyed by fire, twice. Now all that remains are pictures, a partial fireplace and the cable gears.

The hiking trail follows the railway lines. No remnants remain as any usable metals were removed and repurposed during World War I. The trench that remains is rocky and wet. The slightest rain can cause a washout so we end up skirting the gully for higher ground. We cross the toll road twice before reaching the summit.

Hiking in the fall can be tricky. Fallen leaves can hide ice making for a slippery path. Be cautious. Everyone should be familiar with his/her own comfort level. I had read reports that this trail is not suitable for children of all ages. My seven and ten-year-old had no difficulties. Their only complaint was a desperate need to grill hot dogs at the summit.

For those not wishing to walk, from May – October the Prospect Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway is open for an $8 per car fee. There are three designated stops along the 5.5-mile drive to pull over and enjoy the view. Once on top picnic tables, grills and bathrooms (in season) are available.

For us, we climb to the summit arriving on a platform that used to house part of the Prospect Mountain Inn. My family does not wait for me to start exploring the various levels and sights.

A beautiful view of Lake George is to the east with Vermont visible in the distance. The Adirondack High Peaks are off toward the northwest. Some visitors say you can see New Hampshire on a clear day.

To get to Prospect Mountain from Route 9, turn west onto Montcalm Street and continue to the end. One entrance to the trail starts here. This short path has information regarding the funicular railway and other fun facts. Walk this brief path to Smith Street, turn south and walk on the street for about 200’ to a metal staircase that marks the highway overpass. There is some parking on Smith Street near the staircase. The trailhead register is on the west side of I-87.
Happy Thanksgiving!

photo and content © Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities ™. Diane is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities Guidebook Series including the recent released Adirondack Family Time: Tri-Lakes and High Peaks Your Guide to Over 300 Activities for Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Keene, Jay and Wilmington areas (with GPS coordinates) This is the first book of a four-book series of Adirondack Family Activities. The next three editions will cover Plattsburgh to Ticonderoga, Long Lake to Old Forge and Newcomb to Lake George. 


Monday, November 8, 2010

Adirondack Economics: How Hikers Help Wanakena

I recently unearthed strong evidence that hikers, like other visitors to the Park, spend money.

As noted in an earlier post, some local politicians deride hikers, paddlers, and similar riff-raff as “granola-eaters” who seldom part with a dime while inside the Adirondack Park.

Try telling that to Rick Kovacs, who took over the Wanakena General Store this year. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Illegal Tree Cutting on Cat Mountain

When out in the backcountry I tend to bushwhack through areas that receive little human traffic so I rarely encounter examples of illegal tree cuttings. But this past summer I went on an eight-day trip hiking and bushwhacking through the heart of the Five Ponds Wilderness from Stillwater Reservoir to Cranberry Lake where I discovered tree cutting on the top of Cat Mountain on my final night.

This put a slight damper on an evening highlighted by watching multiple Independence Day fireworks displays and culminating with sleeping under the stars on the cliffs. The cut trees were located around the single large campsite just off the cliffs to the north. This site is obviously very popular with campers given the fire ring and the large, flat, open area perfect for pitching tents.
» Continue Reading.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Adirondack Family Activities: Hunting Season Safety

By Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities™

When I first moved to the Adirondacks I never took in consideration hunting season as having an effect on my outdoor activities. Yes, I realize that was naïve of me but I have no experience with hunting and had only hiked in the summer. During those warm months gun safety is not on a non-hunter’s radar. Since I can’t be the only person in this predicament, here are some simple rules to keep in mind.

There is room enough in a six-million-acre park for hunters and hikers. My children are well aware of what they need to do to be safe. We unpack our blaze orange vests and hats and stick to the trail. It is this time of year that I encourage them to talk loudly and stick together.

1) Don’t be afraid; be cautious.

2) Be informed of what is “in season.” There are a variety of hunting seasons from muzzleloading and bowhunting to rifle season. For the Northern Zone, Big Game (deer and bear) “regular” hunting season starts the last Saturday in October and runs through the first Sunday in December.

3) All state land is open to hunters.

4) As much as fluorescent clothing is an 80s fashion faux pas, it should be a hiker’s Vitamin C – as in “very good for your health.”

5) Keep in mind that hunters are not hunting you but wear bright colors as a precaution.

6) Keep to the trail. Assume hunters are aware of where the trails are.

7) If you are still worried, choose a safe place to hike like the Adirondack Mountain Club Reserve (AMC) or the Adirondack Visitors’ Center in Newcomb where no hunting is allowed.

8) If you hike with an animal remember to dress the dog in highly visible gear. An orange bandana and vest usually does the trick.

9) There are a lot of areas that are not laden with game so choose those places to go hiking and keep away from really popular spots. If a parking lot or road side is lined with cars with gun racks, take that as being popular.

10) Talk in a loud voice if you feel that you are in a dangerous spot. If you have children this shouldn’t be an issue, at least not with mine. They are rarely silent so any “game” would either cling to them for safety or is long gone.

Most importantly enjoy yourself and know that with a little bit of knowledge there is room for all to enjoy a hike in the woods.

Photo by Holly Garner-Jackson and used with the permission of Woodwind Gallery in Machias, ME


content © Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities ™. Diane is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities Guidebook Series including the recent released Adirondack Family Time: Tri-Lakes and High Peaks Your Guide to Over 300 Activities for Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Keene, Jay and Wilmington areas (with GPS coordinates) This is the first book of a four-book series of Adirondack Family Activities. The next three editions will cover Plattsburgh to Ticonderoga, Long Lake to Old Forge and Newcomb to Lake George. 


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pepperbox Wilderness: A Bushwhacker’s Paradise

Those looking for an area with outstanding bushwhacking potential in the Adirondacks would be well rewarded by checking out the Pepperbox Wilderness Area, located in the northwestern Adirondack Park just northwest of Stillwater Reservoir.

At only 22,560 acres, the Pepperbox is one of the smallest of the Adirondack’s designated Wilderness Areas. It is bordered roughly by the West Branch of the Oswegatchie River to the north, the Herkimer County border on the west, the Beaver River to the south and Raven Lake Road to the east. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up with in its remoteness, containing mostly forested rolling hills and extensive wetland complexes. The few state trails here are all located in the northern portion. The Pepperbox is named after one of its many scattered unproductive water bodies, which total about 270 acres. The remoteness, lack of marked trails and limited use makes the Pepperbox a bushwhacker’s paradise.

The Pepperbox’s western half is characterized by extensive beaver meadows and small beaver ponds while its eastern half contains larger water bodies such as Sunshine Pond and the Moshier Ponds. The central part contains extensive unbroken forest with Moshier Creek roughly bisecting the wilderness down the middle. The northern portion, with its two miles of trails and in-holding access roads, is a more recent addition to the wilderness area and can be considered its “civilized” part. The bushwhacking opportunities here are less due to these trails and roads and therefore this part of the Pepperbox is given less mention in this article.

There are several points of access into the Pepperbox Wilderness. From the north there are several trails which enter the Pepperbox and allow access to the few water bodies located there. Such small lakes as Jakes Pond, Spring Pond, Tied Lake or Greigg Lake are all accessed via foot trail or dirt road mostly from Bear Pond Road. Trailhead parking is available for access from the east out of Stillwater Reservoir, in the west from Sand Pond Road near the county boundary (Lewis/Herkimer) and from the south via Moshier Falls Road. With a canoe one could access the southern border via the Moshier Reservoir along the Beaver River.

The northeastern portion of the wilderness area is characterized by a plentiful number of larger water bodies. This area is best accessed from a parking area at the end of Necessary Dam Road via the hamlet of Stillwater Reservoir. A trail register is located here for recording your planned trip, which is an excellent idea when bushwhacking through a trackless wilderness like the Pepperbox. Although the road continues over the Beaver River as a well-maintained dirt road, it is gated at the bridge and available for driving by the owners of an in-holding on Raven Lake only. The road, now referred to as Raven Lake Road, is a convenient jumping off point for bushwhacking adventures into the Pepperbox from the east. Raven Lake Road acts as a border separating the Pepperbox from the southern portion of the extensive Five Ponds Wilderness (the southern Five Ponds offers outstanding bushwhacking opportunities in its own right).

A perfect way to access the Pepperbox off of Raven Lake Road is an old hunting trail situated between the first main stream crossing and where the road turns east. Although this trail is unmarked it is easily followed along its southern end. It passes just south of a large beaver vly and then turns north following along the eastern side of the same stream crossed back on the road. The trail passes to the east of the beaver pond feeding the stream before taking a sharp turn to the northwest. At this sharp turn it is very easy to lose the trail as many dummy trails at this point can testify. While navigating over a bog along the south shore of a beaver pond south of Sunshine Pond watch for chicken wire nailed between two logs on the bog mat to avoid wet feet and guide you to the trail again on the opposite side. After several attempts I have yet to be able to follow the trail after reaching the western shore of this beaver pond. Despite the lack of a trail beyond this point a bushwhacker is well situated to explore the many water bodies in this portion of the Pepperbox. Sunshine, Deer, Moshier, Duck and Pepperbox Ponds and the surrounding area will provide days of exploring for the intrepid bushwhacker. Click here, here, here and here for my trip report in this area back in May 2010.

A parking area at the end of Sand Pond Road allows access to the northwestern portion of the Pepperbox. This area appears to get little use, evidenced by the lack of a register here. A short old logging road from the parking area provides access to a brushed-out state property boundary that can be followed east over a hill and through a fern-dominated wet area to the border of the Pepperbox’s western boundary.

This part of the Pepperbox is dominated by a single unnamed pond and the Cowboy Beaver Meadow. The Cowboy Beaver Meadow is a series of old beaver vlys along the Alder Creek with little evidence of human activity. There are numerous places to cross the Alder Creek if one wishes to explore the steep rise on the opposite side. Between the pond and Cowboy Beaver Meadow is a hill with some steep cliffs to the east which should provide impressive views into the Cowboy Beaver Meadow below during the autumn and winter months when the tree foliage is absent. Keep an eye on the Bushwhacking Fool this winter for a trip report on my adventure through this area on Labor Day 2009.

The southwestern portion of the Pepperbox contains the extensive Threemile Beaver Meadow, numerous unnamed beaver ponds and a series of unusual glacial ridges. A parking lot and trailhead register are available here along Moshier Falls Road. Although the sign in the parking lot implies the trail to the Pepperbox leaves the parking lot, the true trail is across the street where it crosses bridges on both the Sunday Creek and the Beaver River.

The trail continues across the Beaver River and through a power line right-of-way before reaching the Pepperbox’s southern border where a sign warns that there are no marked trails beyond. As if mocking this official sign there is a well-used trail marked with gray paint slashes winding north into the unbroken forest. This trail remains easy to follow all the way to a large beaver vly east of the largest pond in the Threemile Beaver Meadow. North of this vly the trail loses its gray slashes and becomes less distinct though rumor has it one can follow it all the way to Bear Pond. I have tried this myself in the past with only limited success though I did manage to reach Bear Pond by bushwhacking a significant amount of the way.

Along the trail before reaching the large beaver vly there are several side trails to the west which gives access to the extensive Threemile Beaver Meadow. The Threemile Beaver Meadow is a beautiful and extensive series of beaver ponds and meadows well worth exploring.

A good bushwhacker can find many old herd paths in the Threemile Beaver Meadow area and there are even a few hunters’ camps scattered about, some recently used and others vacant for many years. This area appears to be heavily used during hunting season, and for good reason, as I have never seen a higher density of deer in the Adirondacks. Click here for a trip teaser about my recent bushwhack through the Threemile Beaver Meadow in September 2010.

To the north and west of the Threemile Beaver Meadow are a series of beaver ponds scattered about giving a bushwhacker numerous opportunities for exploration. For those interested in glacial landforms there is a series of steep and narrow ridges to the west of the beaver meadow. These ridges tend to end abruptly so one should use caution to avoid getting stuck out on one. The remnants of an old fire tower exists on one the highest ridges. The site of this fire tower, now merely the foundation and a few scattered boards, makes an additional interesting destination while trekking through this area.

The combination of hunting trails and unbroken wilderness makes the Pepperbox an excellent area for the beginning and experienced bushwhacker. So if you are looking for an interesting area to explore via bushwhacking then you cannot go wrong with the Pepperbox Wilderness Area in the northwestern Adirondacks.

Photos: Alder Creek along Cowboy Beaver Meadow, Sunshine Pond and Threemile Beaver Meadow by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking experiences at Bushwhacking Fool.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gear: The Perfect Bushwhacking Gaiters

A bushwhacker’s essential equipment list should include such items as a compass, a sturdy pair of hiking boots, a streamlined backpack and lightweight rain gear. One important and largely over-looked bushwhacking accessory absent from the list is the lowly gaiter.

Gaiters are protective clothing worn over the shoe and lower leg to prevent debris, mud, water, snow, etc. from entering the boot. Typically the amount of the lower leg covered depends on the season and activity (i.e. higher in wintry conditions). Bushwhacking gaiters tend to cover only the ankle during the warmer months primarily to keep debris and water from entering the boot.

It is critical for a good pair of bushwhacking gaiters to do more than keep debris out of your boots in the Adirondack though. Gaiters need to be waterproof not only for those rainy Adirondack days (which are more common than most would like) but for those early mornings where heavy dew has saturated the herbaceous vegetation in every beaver vly as well. While waterproof they still need to be permeable enough to keep the feet cool and dry. Durability is crucial for any piece of bushwhacking equipment and gaiters are no different. A rugged and durable gaiter will give the bushwhacker years of usefulness.

Integral Designs manufactures a pair of short gaiters absolutely perfect for the Adirondack bushwhacker. The eVent Shortie Gaiters are ultra lightweight, weighing at about only 2.5 ounces. They are made out of very breathable trilaminate eVent fabric so they will not overheat your feet. The breathable eVent fabric is an important feature since the gaiters lack both Velcro® and zippers, which makes them an effort to put on and/or take off as they require the removal of one’s boots. The lack of easy removal does increase their rain reducing potential however (read a description of my rain reducing method here). The insteps are reinforced with black supplex nylon to reduce wear and tear. The gaiters have a hook at the front for attaching to boot lacing plus shock cords which fit under the instep and around the leg to keep them securely in place. They come in two sizes (small/medium and large/x-large) and two colors (dark green and yellow).

I purchased a pair of Shortie Gaiters over two years ago and have been thoroughly pleased with them since. They keep my feet dry (combined with my Gore-Tex® lined hiking boots and rain pants) on both mornings with heavy dew and during intense rain fall. I have bushwhacked with the gaiters on in 80+ degree Fahrenheit heat and my feet never felt overheated or sweaty. The gaiters are extremely rugged as mine still have no rips despite my many backcountry adventures. They even survived a day of hiking along a scree slope in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains. Although very rugged, the gaiters are not indestructible as I severed an instep shock cord on my last bushwhacking adventure this past September. Mine are dark green gaiters as I found the bright yellow color too loud and offensive for this bushwhacker who would rather blend in with his surroundings than advertise a stylish choice of color.

The Integral Designs Shortie gaiters are ideal bushwhacking gaiters that will keep your feet dry and cool regardless of the conditions while preventing the inevitable debris from getting inside your hiking boots. Anyone planning on buying some bushwhacking gaiters for the Adirondacks cannot go wrong with these exceptional gaiters from Integral Designs.

Photo: eVent Shortie Gaiters by Integral Designs.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking experiences at http://www.bushwhackingfool.com/.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Alan Wechsler: Jay Mountain Wilderness

Jay Mountain is surrounded by ominous signs.

To the east is Death Mountain. South of that is Slip Mountain. North of that is Bluff Mountain. So slip off bluff and find death.

Furthermore, without any official trail, and off any main road, these peaks are far off the radar. But after a visit last weekend — free of slips or deaths — I am proud to report that the Jay Mountain Wilderness is not only a lot more user-friendly than one might assume from its blank space on the map, but also that it’s well worth the visit.

To reach the trailhead — yes, there is one, though it’s unmarked — we drove through Keene Valley, passing hundreds of cars. Hikers were here by the flockload, it seemed, eager to take advantage of a sunny Saturday during fall color peak. » Continue Reading.



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