Posts Tagged ‘ice’

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Adirondack Ice Harness Racing

In the late nineteenth century, ice harness racing made its Adirondack debut, becoming a major winter sport which flourished well into the 1940s. Ice racing used to attract large crowds. Today, however, it seems that knowledge of it has quietly slipped from our historical grasp.

The Franklin Malone Gazette‘s “Horsemen’s’ Column” from January 29, 1897 captures the excitement surrounding these races in an article about Saranac Lake: “In spite of the cold weather last week the ice races were decidedly ‘hot’ in more senses than one. The bracing Adirondack air seemed to give the enthusiastic horsemen a tremendous appetite for – well, for refreshments of all kinds – and the many hotels of the town were thronged during the evening with hundreds of hungry and thirsty sports who seemed to enjoy themselves with a zest and vim seldom encountered at summer races.”

How did ice harness racing gain such popularity? In the late nineteenth century, most people owned one if not more horses which were muscular, accustomed to cold weather and used to hauling farm equipment, sleds and coaches. Thoroughbreds, on the other hand, bred primarily for racing and jumping, were expensive and of little value for the average Adirondacker who needed practical work horses for transportation and chores.

Frozen lakes offered perfect and easily accessible sites for racing. One need only plow the snow away to create a level track. No clearing of woods and rocks was needed.

A ten foot-wide track shaped like a kite was the most popular shape. This consisted of a large triangular kite-shaped loop, either a half- or full mile-long, on which the actual race was held. A smaller loop, attached where the kite track came to a point served for warming up and later slowing down the horses. The course looked something like a lopsided figure eight.

Judges sat on one side where the loops came together; the spectators stood or sat in grandstands on the other. From this vantage point, watchers could sit close to both the start and finish of the race.

Horses were sharp-shod, meaning they were outfitted with special studded shoes (already in use for ice harvesting) called calks. Horses pulled both sulkies and “Portland Cutters,” though eventually, when it was discovered that wheeled sulkies were slightly faster than sleds, the use of cutters declined.

Racing associations set rules and monitored the races. Purses ran from around 50 to 250 dollars per race, excellent money in the late nineteenth century. Was betting taking place as well? Indisputably. Clarence Petty, who attended the races as a child, recalled that a fair amount of gambling was part of the grownup scene.

For smaller events, most of the participants came from a distance of not much over twenty miles; for larger events, horses were shipped to the site by boxcar.

Encouraged by special reduced railroad rates, spectators flocked to these events from as far away as New York City. Crowd sizes were impressive, numbering anywhere from 400 to 4,000 spectators. To get a feel of the action, imagine standing on the ice, all bundled up, stamping your feet to keep warm, a frigid wind lashing your face as you listen to the drivers snap their whips and urge their horses on. Through icy eyelashes you try to focus on the action as the crowd’s roar reaches a fevered pitch. At the same time, no doubt, you may be looking forward to returning to the welcome warmth of both a hot stove and drink at the end of the day.

According to the New York Times, 14 December 1894, “[There] seems to be more dash and spirit to [harness racing on ice] than there is to the hauling of a bicycle sulky over a dirt track.”

Such was the excitement of this winter entertainment. Anybody for bringing it all back?

Caperton Tissot is the author of Adirondack Ice, a Cultural and Natural History, published by Snowy Owl Press.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

DEC: Be Safe On The Ice This Winter

With winter in full swing, officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) remind outdoor enthusiasts to practice safety on iced-over water bodies.

Hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, and skating on frozen lakes are among the many winter delights enjoyed by residents and visitors of the Adirondack Park.

Nothing can ruin a good pond hockey game like a crack in the ice. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Adirondack Stats: Ice Harvesting

Amount of ice per year consumed by New Yorkers in 1850: 300,000 tons

Amount of ice consumed per person in American cities in 1880: 2/3 of a ton

Months during which ice was typically harvested: January, February, and sometimes March

Minimum favorable thickness of ice at harvest time: 10-12 inches

Approximate number of men employed harvesting ice from Lake Champlain in 1890: 5,000

Approximate amount of “natural ice” harvested each year in the 1920s by the Meagher Ice Company of Saranac Lake: 10,000 tons

Tons of ice harvested in 1932 by the Lake George Ice Company for use by the Delaware and Hudson Railroad: 20,000 tons

Decade in which the Adirondack ice industry came to an end: 1930s

Approximate number of ice blocks harvested by Jim Dillon (owner of Raquette Lake Supply Co.) and about two dozen volunteers in 2009: 1,000

Year in which New Bremen began harvesting ice again: 1964 (their ice house was built in 1971)

Cost of an 18-inch square block of New Bremen ice: $4.00

Sources: Tissot’s Adirondack Ice


Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Almanack Welcomes Caperton Tissot

Please join me in welcoming Saranac Lake resident Caperton Tissot as the newest contributor to the Adirondack Almanack. Caperton’s work has appeared in Adirondack Life, Adirondack Explorer, and includes a shared weekly “Friends and Neighbors” column in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

She has published two books on her own Snowy Owl Press, History between the Lines, Women’s Lives and Saranac Lake Customs (2007), and Adirondack Ice, a Cultural and Natural History (2010). Caperton will be writing regularly about Adirondack ice through the winter.

During the last three years Caperton has held a number of oral history workshops, and is currently touring the region with an Adirondack ice slide show and book signings. She also coordinates a winter lecture series at the Saranac Lake Free Library. “It is,” she says, “a wonderful way to meet new folks and learn about Adirondack art, history and culture.”

When not traveling or writing, she and her husband are active skiers, snowshoers, hikers, paddlers and bikers.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Commentary: Climate Change in the Champlain Basin

Over the past several hundred thousand years, global atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have remained relatively stable, averaging 280 parts per million (ppm) and varying between 180 and 300 ppm through several ice ages. But over the past 60 years, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmospheric has risen steadicly, at an accelerating rate from decade to decade, to the current level of 392 ppm.

Why should we care? There is a strong causal link (shown by ice core and other scientific studies) between atmospheric concentrations of “greenhouse gases” such as carbon dioxide and global surface temperatures. Moreover, scientists who study the earth’s history have discovered periods in the Earth’s history, tens and hundreds of millions of years ago, when high concentrations of greenhouse gases apparently led to global warming and mass extinctions of the earth’s biota as much of the planet became uninhabitable. In the current period of rapidly rising atmospheric CO2, we are already seeing dramatic evidence of ecosystem change. Among many recent examples of climate-caused ecosystem change, two widely publicized ones include coral reefs bleaching and dying as the oceans warm and become more acidic, and dramatic losses of summer ice cover on the Arctic Ocean as the poles warm.

Why should we care? Well, if you live in the Arctic, or if you live on a low-lying island in the ocean, or if you live in an area suffering from climate-caused drought, or if you live an an area where the forests are dead all around you (e.g., southern British Columbia and many areas in the Rocky Mountains), or if you fish for salmon in Alaskan rivers, you care. But for those of us living in temperate regions it is often hard to perceive, and thus to care about, the relatively slow incremental changes that are occurring due to rising levels of atmospheric CO2 and a changing climate. Scientists have only recently started to focus on impacts of climate change on a regional or local level in the temperate parts of the world.

A new study by Dr. Curt Stager and Mary Thill sheds light on climate impacts that have already occurred in the Lake Champlain Basin and what impacts are to be expected in the near future. Funded by The Nature Conservancy, the research was an effort to find out how climate change might affect the aquatic habitat in one relatively small region. Their research showed that average temperatures have risen 2°F in just the past 30 years and that winter ice cover is significantly less extensive than in the past. For example, in the 19th century the lake failed to freeze over only three times, while between 1970 and 2007 it failed to freeze over 18 times.

No one can precisely predict future climates, but a host of climate models do a demonstrably and increasingly good job of doing so. An on-line tool is available, Climate Wizard, which allows anyone to easily access leading climate change information from 16 leading climate models and visualize the impacts anywhere on the planet. Report authors Stager and Thill applied Climate Wizard to the Champlain basin to develop a deeper understanding of how climate change might impact the basin and what resource managers could do. The good news is that many of their recommendations are things that we are already doing or should be doing: reduce pollution inputs, monitor environmental conditions and vulnerable species, be flexible and adaptive and prepared for varying lake levels, and prevent alien species invasions. As the authors state, dealing proactively with potential climate change impacts in the basin will be less costly and more effective than trying to respond after the fact.

The same thought process applies at the global level where I began this commentary. Climate change is real. It is going to get much warmer within the next 50-100 years. There is strong scientific consensus (e.g., Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports) that the primary cause of the dramatically rising atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases are human emissions. But this is good news, in a sense, as it means that unlike past episodes of climate change linked to volcanic eruptions and meteor impacts, we can control our future – if we take steps soon to reduce greenhouse gases before large areas of the planet become uninhabitable.

The steps we should be taking – reducing our dependence on foreign oil, eliminating the burning of coal until its combustion is clean and non-polluting, using renewable energy sources, eating locally grown food, driving hybrid and electric cars, and reducing our heating and electric bills – are things that we should do regardless, even if all the climate scientists are all wrong (inconceivable to me). These steps amount to taking out relatively cheap insurance to ensure that our grandchildren inherit a healthy planet – just in case the scientists are correct.

Curt Stager and Mary Thill’s full report is available here.

Graph: Lake Champlain ice dates, courtesy Curt Stager.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ice Climbing: Reflections on the Season’s End

A few days after we had climbed the Chiller Pillar, a one-pitch ice route near Whiteface Mountain, my ice-climbing partner Steve Goldstein of Latham called me up.

“If I had seen this article in Rock and Ice, I might not have led that route,” he told me.

“What article?”

“A climber was critically injured in Colorado. He was climbing an ice pillar and it collapsed under him.”

“Oh. Would that have kept you from climbing the route?”

“I dunno,” he said. “Maybe.”

It’s easy to ponder the transitory nature of ice when you’re climbing it. Rock-climbing routes rarely change. You can climb a face once, come back ten years later and the holds will still be the same. In fact, a critical hold breaking off a popular route often makes news in climbing circles.

Ice routes change not only year to year but week to week. In fact, ice can change even as you’re on it, turning softer and wetter from the sun. And it’s quite common for large pieces of ice to fall off as you ascend, hacking and skewering your way up the face.

Ice climbing is surely more dangerous than rock, and never more than when the temperature goes up. In February, 2002 a climber was killed at Pok-O-Moonshine while climbing the Adirondack classic testpiece Positive Thinking. The route detached from the wall when the climber about a hundred feet off the ground.

The first pitch is thin to begin with. It’s more of a veneer of ice, pasted to a featureless rock slab for a hundred feet. It also faces east. “A few hours of strong sunshine causes the ice to detach from the smooth, crackles rock,” reports Don Mellor in the book Blue Lines, the region’s ice-climbing guidebook. Even in the best weather, he adds, “the first pitch is often a frightening, crackless shell.”

As the weather warms, ice routes disappear. At this point, there’s only a few routes left – thick, protected from sunshine and at higher elevations, according to Rock and River’s climbing site. We climbed at Pitchoff Mountain’s North Face last Saturday, in fact, and Central Pillar was in fine condition, albeit soaking wet.

Warm-weather ice climbing has its advantages. Pick placements are easy to make in the soft ice, and you don’t risk frostbite while belaying. On the down side, you get sponge-wet gloves from dripping routes. And routes tend to disappear quickly.

Yet with an end to the season well in sight, it’s hard to say no to one more trip.

Which brings me back to Steve and the article he saw in Rock and Ice, a popular climbing magazine. The article told of a severe injury on The Fang, a freestanding pillar of ice near Vail, Co. A climber, who had spent 15 years preparing to ascend this Rocky Mountain jewel, fell a hundred feet when the six-foot-wide ice formation collapsed beneath him.

It was a dangerous route, but very different from Chiller Pillar. Still, it was just as well Steve hadn’t read the story yet. And we approached our route with caution.

The Pillar had a strange look to it – more like white frosting than blue water ice. And there was a horizontal crack only a few feet from the top, which meant the climb had settled at some point, detaching from the final few feet.

Yet is was a cool day, with no sunshine to cause undue melting. The route was thick, and tapered from the bottom to the top. The wall around it looked dry, and the ice itself held the test-screws we placed at the base.

“You can top-rope it,” I told Steve. That meant we could scramble up an easier way and set up a rope on the top, which would hold him in case the ice collapsed.

“I should be OK,” he said, and began to tie into the rope to prepare to lead.

Safe ice climbing is about knowing the conditions, and making judgment calls. At the end of the day, though, there’s a bit of faith involved. You believe you are strong enough to climb to the top, and you believe the ice is strong enough to hold you up.

In this case, both climber and ice rose to the occasion. But I stood far back from the route as I belayed him. Just in case.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Alan Wechsler: The Beauty of Lake Ice

A few weeks ago, while trudging across Chapel Pond on our way to climb some obscure ice route, I stopped to gaze at the black, slick surface of the lake.

The wind had swept the lake clear of snow, except where it had collected in a few wispy areas. It was what drivers call “black ice,” but it was far from black.

It was dazzling, this frozen surface. A week earlier, hit by the late January thaw, it had been covered with brown runoff. But on this day it was more than a foot thick. A galaxy of bubbles were trapped in its various, transparent layers. Cracks ran across its surface, the thin ones bisecting the ice like ghosts, the thicker spaces filled with snow.

Ice formation is complex. According to one Web site: “ice has a hexagonal crystal structure with a longer ‘c’ axis and three identical ‘a’ axes (called ‘a1’, ‘a2’ and ‘a3’). The simple ice form is a hexagonal prism with the vertical direction being the ‘c’ axis direction.”

Uh, right. And we thought it was just a matter of water getting cold enough.

On Chapel Pond, the three of us paused over this surface, taking in the temporary beauty of winter. Bare ice like this in the Adirondacks is often rare, soon to be covered by snow. And it attracts visitors. Drive across Cascade Lakes at the right time and you might see locals skating across the long, narrow surface as late-afternoon snow whips across the pass.

On Lake Champlain when it finally freezes, some die-hard Vermonters skate out on Nordic Skates, a Scandinavian invention (of course). These are extra-large skates that attach to cross-country ski boots that allow for huge strides and marathon expeditions. This has its own dangers—big lakes have pressure ridges, areas of open water and the possibility of thin ice due to unseen currents. Practitioners of this sport wear garden rake-like claws on a rope around their neck, so that if the unthinkable occurs they can haul themselves out of the water before hypothermia sets in. Brrr.

Adventurers on motorized equipment are attracted to big water ice too. Ice on lakes like George and Champlain is strong enough to support snowmobiles, motorcycles with spiked wheels and even pick-up trucks. But they should be wary—occasionally, such drivers never return.

Whatever beauty the ice offers, it is gone now. The storms of last week have covered all but the windiest areas with blankets of snow. That means the ice will last longer this spring, thanks to a nice layer of insulation.

Snow adds its own interesting problems to travel over ice. Some say the weight of snow can push lake ice down, squeezing the water up through the cracks to saturate the lower layers of the snow. That means an unpleasant surprise for x-c skiers or snowshoers trudging through such glop.

So perhaps it’s too late this year, but if you happen to be traveling over bare lake ice, take a moment to stop and look. There’s magic between you and the water.


Sunday, February 28, 2010

Don Morris: Notes On Winter Paddling

Winter paddling in the Adirondacks? Sure! Sometimes. While not a preferred activity for everyone, it can be done. I’ve paddled in every month of the year and have managed to have fun (most of the time).

Flatwater paddling is generally limited to short sections of rivers below dams, where the released water produces fairly consistent current. Whitewater paddling is generally possible only after extended thaws. In my experience, this is pretty hit or miss from year to year depending on how thick the ice build-up is, how warm it actually gets, and how long the thaw lasts. The topography of the river counts too. Deep, narrow ravines and gorges get little sunshine. Twisty rivers and rivers with very large boulders or small islands often trap ice.

Obviously, you have to dress warmly. For flatwater, basic paddling clothes, layers of fleece, neoprene booties, and gloves (or poagies) are usually sufficient as long as you don’t flip. [Poagies are hand covers that go over your paddle shaft or grip and are attached via velcro—some are insulated.] Whitewater paddlers need very warm clothing. A drysuit is preferred (though a wet suit can work too) and you’ll definitely want a helmet liner and poagies.

I limit my winter paddling to rivers I know well and that are well within my skill level. I prefer shorter trips and ones that don’t require me to get out of my boat very often because it’s easier to stay warm. Before paddling in winter, you should check out your take-out spot and make sure you can get out of the river. This seems obvious, but you never know. If you can, also view the river at mid-points as it’s not unheard of to have an open river at the beginning and end of a trip, only to have it iced up at the mid-point.

Often, your only way to get into a river in winter is to get in your boat and slide down an ice shelf or snow bank and plop into the water. (You want a strong boat for this.) The problem is that when you’re ready to get out of the river, you can’t slide uphill. Once on the river proceed cautiously and be ready to exit the river. A clear river can quickly turn into a congested one. Sharp bends are often a problem—stay to the outside of the turn so you can get a better view of what’s around the corner. If you’re concerned about a bigger rapid or a possible obstruction, get out earlier than you normally might because you may not be able to get out further downstream. Prepare to deal with ice chunks coming down the river–some are small and some can be huge. They can nudge your boat or smash it—again, you want a plastic boat. Try not to flip. Even with a good roll, flipping in winter water gives you a major “ice-cream” headache that can be very disorienting. Start your car as soon as you get off the river so you can warm up and change into dry clothes as quickly as possible. Zippers, straps, etc. are likely to seize very quickly and spray skirts become stiff. A friend and I once had to drive about 15 minutes before we could take off any of our paddling gear.

You can actually have fun as long as you pick times/locations very carefully, paddle within your experience level, only paddle rivers that you know very well, and take extra precautions.

Photo: WinterCampers.com’s Mark, Chris, Sparky and Matt on a back-country “paddle”. Courtesy WinterCampers.com


Monday, February 22, 2010

Road Salt Study Raises Concerns, Offers Suggestions

A new study on roadway de-icing in the Adirondacks describes an antiquated, ineffective, expensive, and environmentally damaging system in need of revision. Commissioned by the non-partisan political action committee AdkAction.org, the science was compiled by Daniel L. Kelting, Executive Director of the Adirondack Watershed Institute (AWI) at Paul Smith’s College, and Corey L. Laxson, Research Associate. The findings are available online [pdf] and are being distributed to the New York State Department of Transportation and local governments responsible for salting Adirondack roadways. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chilly Adirondack Mornings and Frosted Window Panes

Last week we had several clear nights, where the stars spangled the heavens and a swelling crescent moon sailed across the skies. Each successive night was colder than the last, dropping from a mild 24 degrees Fahrenheit to a chilly -9 by the weekend. The air was still, and the world silent, except for the late night choruses of our resident coyotes. When dawn creeped over the mountain tops and crested the trees, my porch windows revealed an artistry that only Mother Nature could provide: fern frost.

I suspect that many of us simply grumble at the sight of frost on our windows, muttering under our breath while we scrape it off the windshield of the car so we can get to work without taking out other vehicles along the way. Despite the nuisance frost can cause (and the statement it makes about the insulation of your house), I think that most of us, at least once in our lives, have paused to take in the remarkable beauty of the graceful feathers that sweep across the glass. How delicate they are, how graceful, how fragile.

So I thought I’d take a cruise through the internet to figure out just how these icy delights are formed. After all, there must be some sort of magic behind these feathery shapes. It turns out to be a pretty simple matter, and the windows at my house make a perfect canvas.

First, you need a window. Not a fancy, schmancy energy efficient window (no worries about that at my house). A single pane of glass, poorly insulated, is just the ticket. Then you need a very cold night, the kind of night where there are no clouds, no wind, and the temperature plummets. The final ingredient is a moderately moist indoor environment. Install your cheap glass window so that one side is outside in the cold, and the other side is inside where it is moist. Turn off the lights and go to bed.

While you are sleeping, the magic begins. When cold air and warmer moist air clash (the surface of your window), moisture condenses out of the air, forming tiny droplets (like dew) on the adjacent surface, in this case the window glass. Chilling continues and these droplets freeze. More moisture condenses on top of these ice crystals, and then it freezes as well. This cycle repeats throughout the night, the fingers of ice growing as each layer is laid down. Small imperfections in the glass, scratches, or even dust (not in my house, cough, cough), can all influence the shapes made as the ice/frost forms.

The next morning you rise from your toasty warm bed and schlep out to the kitchen. As you contemplate breakfast and the need to walk the dog, you glance at the thermometer and shudder. Then you remember your experiment and you rush to your strategically-located window of cheap glass. Since the night remained cloudless, and you rose as with the sun, the firey orb is now sending its golden fingers to gild the crystalline edges of the feathery ferns etched across the window’s surface.

Is there any better way to start a day than to witness the ephemeral art the frost faeries left as a token of their goodwill?


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

13th Annual Adirondack International Mountainfest

The 13th Annual Adirondack International Mountainfest is scheduled for January 16-18, 2008 in Keene Valley. Local guides Chuck Boyd, Emilie Drinkwater, Jeremy Haas, Carl Heilman, Matt Horner, Don Mellor, Jim Pitarresi and Jesse Williams will be returning to offer clinics on snowshoeing, mountaineering, avalanche awareness and ice climbing (pre-register soon). Guest athletes include Conrad Anker (a key member of the search team which located the remains of George Mallory on Mount Everest), LP Ménard (who with fellow Quebecer Max Turgeon climbed a new route up Denali’s 8,000 foot South Face in just 58 hours in 2006), Janet Bergman (who has climbed in Peru, Argentina, Canada, China, Nepal, South Africa and around the US) and longtime climber and guide Jim Shimberg (who has guided throughout North America and the world, including trips to Iceland, Peru, Bulgaria, The Czech Republic, China, Scotland, Thailand and Canada. Jim has climbed in Alaska since 1987, with 7 expeditions to Denali, Mt Hunter, Mt Huntington, and more).

According to the folks at the Mountaineer, who hosts the event:

Telluride Mountainfilm, one of the premier film festivals in the country, opens the Mountainfest on Friday night with a custom compilation of the best films from Mountainfilm’s 9-year history on tour, with a focus on ice climbing and mountaineering videos. This will be preceded by a short slide show by Olaf Sööt and Don Mellor about Alpine Americas, their new book of fantastic photographs and essays about “an odyssey along the crest of two continents.” Both authors will be available to sign books offered for sale before and after the Mountainfilm on Tour presentation. Friday evening’s festivities begin at 8pm at Keene Central School and entry is $12 at the door.

Jennifer Lowe-Anker and Conrad Anker will hold a special presentation about the life of the late Alex Lowe on Saturday evening at Keene Central School. Jenni’s new book Forget Me Not tells a complex and candid story of how three people’s lives became intertwined to a degree that none could have foreseen; Jenni and Conrad will tell the story through a slideshow and readings. Forget Me Not will be available for purchase before and after the presentation, and Jenni and Conrad will be signing books afterward. The evening’s presentation will be preceded by raffles and tomfoolery as well as a short award-winning film by Sam Lowe on the Antarctic. The show begins at 7:30pm at Keene Central School and entry is $10 at the door.

On Sunday evening Janet Bergman will present a slideshow of her often-humorous efforts to satiate the climbing obsession. Janet is a New Hampshire climber and world-class Mountain Hardwear athlete who has climbed in Argentina, India, Nepal, Peru and throughout New England. This show begins at 7:30pm and will be held at the KVFD fire hall on Market Street, just down the street from Keene Central School in Keene Valley. Entry is $10 at the door.

For more information visit the Mountainfest 2009 web page.