I’ve been an advocate of more recreational trails throughout the park for a long time. I also feel that we’ll be cheated if we don’t try our damnedest to try to have a rail and trail, side by side where possible and intersecting when not.
In a March 16 letter to the Utica Observer Dispatch respected trail advocate Tony Goodwin noted that a rail with trail, “… is not physically possible” and that: “Periodically leaving the corridor is so far just talk. A year ago, Tupper Lake rail supporters formed a committee to look at a parallel trail from Tupper Lake to the campground at Rollins Pond. I know committee members made field inspections, but so far there’s no plan showing that a parallel trail could feasibly be built.”
I decided to take a deeper look. I talked with some folks from Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake who have explored the rail corridor in greater detail than I have. I took their information and combined it with my own experience and I made a map of a possible trail from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake. » Continue Reading.
James A. Goodwin, 101, passed away peacefully April 7 at Adirondack Medical Center of complications of pneumonia. Born March 8, 1910 in Hartford, CT, his parents were Howard Goodwin and Charlotte Alton Goodwin. His long association with the Adirondacks began when he spent his first three summers at his grandfather Charles Alton’s resort, Undercliff, on Lake Placid. After a few summers in Connecticut, the family returned to the Adirondacks and spent many summers in Keene Valley, starting at Interbrook Lodge on Johns Brook Lane when Jim was nine. By the age of 12, Jim was guiding parties to Mt. Marcy – a career that only ended on Saturday, March 26 when he was the guest of honor at the New York State Outdoor Guides Rendezvous luncheon. Jim attended Kingswood School in Hartford, CT, graduating in 1928. He then graduated from Williams College in 1932 and went on to receive an M.A. in English from Harvard in 1934. After Harvard, Jim returned to teach at Kingswood (later Kingswood-Oxford) School, teaching there until his retirement in 1975.
During the 1930′s, Jim made many trips west to climb in the Canadian Rockies, ascents by which he gained admission to the American Alpine Club. He also continued to climb in the Adirondacks, making the first winter ascent of Mt. Colden’s Trap Dike in 1935 and becoming Adirondack 46-R #24 in 1940.
In 1941, Jim married Jane Morgan Bacon, daughter of Herbert and Isabel Huntington Bacon. After Pearl Harbor, Jim enlisted in the 10th Mountain Division where by virtue of his membership in the American Alpine Club he served as a rock climbing instructor, first in Colorado and later at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia. Afterwards, he served as a medic during the division’s combat in Italy. Discharged in 1945, Jim returned to teaching at Kingswood School where he was instrumental in starting a ski team and an outing club.
Jim’s heart, however, was always in the Adirondacks where he spent most of his summers until moving to Keene Valley permanently in 2002 and living in the cabin he built in 1940. Starting in 2007, he was a resident of the Keene Valley Neighborhood House. During his summers in Keene Valley he both cut new trails and maintained existing ones while also guiding many aspiring 46-Rs on the peaks. The new trails he cut include Porter Mt. from Keene Valley (1924), Big Slide from the Brothers (1951), Hedgehog(1953), Ridge Trail to Giant (1955), and the Pyramid Gothics Trail(1966). His long association with the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society, as both director and trail maintainer, led to the new, 1998, trail to Rooster Comb being named in his honor.
Jim’s memberships included the Adirondack 46-Rs, Adirondack Mountain Club, American Alpine Club, and NYS Outdoor Guides Association. At the time of his retirement in 1975, Bill Dunham, then AMR President made him an honorary member of the AMR. In that same year he assumed the presidency of ATIS, an office he would hold for a total of eight years between 1975 and 1987. Jim also served as the AMR’s field representative in the extended negotiations that led to the 1978 land sale.
He is survived by sons James, Jr.(Tony) and wife Emily Apthorp Goodwin of Keene and Peter and wife Susan Rohm Goodwin of Wolfeboro, NH. Additional survivors are nephews James and Christopher O’Brien of Clifton Park and Troy as well as grandchildren Morgan, Robert, and Liza Goodwin of Keene and Hunt and John Goodwin of Wolfeboro, NH. He was predeceased by Jane, his wife of 50 years, as well as his sisters, Margaret (Peg) O’Brien and Charlotte Craig.
There will be a memorial service on Saturday, April 23 at 3 PM at the Keene Valley Congregational Church with a reception to follow.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Kingswood-Oxford School, 170 Kingswood Road, West Hartford, CT 06119 or Keene Valley Neighborhood House, P.O. Box 46, Keene Valley, NY 12943.
Photo: Jim Goodwin, age 9, on top of Hopkins Mountain.
A remarkable book of Adirondack history has been published. Heaven Up-h’isted-ness! The History of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks is a collection of well-researched essays on the highest Adirondack peaks, written by 18 members of the storied Adirondack 46ers, along with a short history of the club.
Part meticulously footnoted history of the mountains, trails, and the club itself, and part trail guide, this new volume is a landmark in Adirondack history. Heaven Up-h’isted-ness! is a significant update of Russell Carson’s Peaks and Peoples of the Adirondacks, first published in 1927. The book is a bit of an homage to the popularity of Carson’s earlier work and the three subsequent 46er volumes that followed, as much as it is to the 46er legends who grace its pages. Tony Goodwin (#211), son of Jim Goodwin (#24), offers an Introduction that provides insight into why this book is so important. With a hat tip to Carson, who was instrumental in spreading the 46er gospel and “who research gave life to the peaks we all climb”, Goodwin points out that new research opportunities and the rich history since the 1920s “has allowed authors to provide the reader with the most comprehensive histories of the peaks ever written.” I agree.
In a series of in-depth profiles of each of the 46 High Peaks, each author draws on a range of sources from reports, journals, and diaries of the explorers, scientists, philosophers, writers, and other anecdotes describe the geology, history, flora, and fauna. The book is illustrated with a remarkable collection of over 150 photos and illustrations.
It’s not all high peaks. In a substantial first section Suzanne Lance surveys the history of the Adirondack 46ers beginning in 1918 with Bob and George Marshall and their guide Herb Clark, who was recognized with the first spot in 1939 when “the list” was created. When the first three began their 46, not only were there still trail-less peaks, many had yet to be named, and a few remained unclimbed altogether.
The strength of this section is in illuminating the contributions of folks like Ed Hudowalski (#6), Grace Hudowalski (#9), and the Troy minister Ernest Ryder (#7) in the growth and of the club, but also the recognition and response of the club to the impacts of the many Adirondack peak-baggers they helped inspire. The full roster of 46ers now includes more than 7,000.
By the 1970s, as visitors began to flood into the High Peaks, Glenn Fish (#536) and Edwin “Ketch” Ketchledge (#507) helped shepherd the club away from its strictly social approach toward a stewardship role. Summit ecology and alpine environments, wilderness conservation education, trail maintenance and management, and search and rescue have all benefited from the subsequent efforts of dedicated Adirondack 46ers.
Copies of Heaven Up-h’isted-ness! are available online.
Until you get your copy, you’ll have to settle with this short excerpt on the formation of the Forty-Sixers of Troy:
During the early 1930s Bob Marshall’s booklet, “The High Peaks of the Adirondacks,” and Russell Carson’s Peaks and People of the Adirondacks captured the attention of a small group of outdoor enthusiasts from Grace Methodist Church in Troy, in particular the church’s pastor, the Rev. Ernest Ryder (#7), and two parishioners, Grace Hudowalski (#9) and Edward Hudowalski (#6)…. Ed and the Rev. Ryder had not, originally, intended to climb all 46. According to Ed, their goal was 25 peaks, but when they hit 27 “by accident,” they decided to climb 30. After reaching 30 they decided to climb all of them. The two finished arm-in-arm on Dix in the pouring rain on September 13, 1936. They shared a prayer of praise and thanks for their accomplishment.
Less than six months after the Rev. Ryder and Ed finished their 46, the duo organized a club, comprised mainly of Ed Hudowalski’s Sunday School class, known as the Forty-Sixers of Troy. It was Ryder who coined the name “Forty-Sixer.” The term first appeared in print in an article in the Troy Record newspaper in 1937 announcing the formation of the hiking club: “Troy has its first mountain climbing club, all officers of which have climbed more than thirty of the major peaks in the Adirondacks. The club recently organized will be known as the Forty-sixers…
Here is our list of the Adirondack Almanack‘s ten most popular stories of 2010.
The Return of the Black Flies (Ellen Rathbone) It’s fitting that this year’s most read story was written by Ellen Rathbone, one of the Almanack‘s most popular contributors in 2010. With the state’s economic problems resulting in the closure of the Newcomb Visitor Interpretative Center, Ellen lost her job and we lost her regular contributions on natural history and the environment. In this gem from March, Ellen reminds us that the black flies are much more than a nuisance. The Cougar Question: Have You Seen One? (Phil Brown) There is perhaps no wildlife question in the Adirondacks that raises so much ire as the question of whether or not there are mountain lions (a.k.a. cougars, pumas, panthers, catamounts) in the Adirondacks. When Phil Brown asked the age old question in August, he stirred the pot one more time. Other big mountain lion stories this year included a hoax, Phil’s own encounter stories, and even a story from 2005 which still tops the charts.
Dannemora Notes: The Clinton Prison (John Warren) Some of the most popular posts of all time here at the Almanack are about the history of the Adirondack region. In fact, the history category is the currently the 13th most clicked-on page of all time. The single biggest story each month remains a piece I wrote in January 2008 about Gaslight Village. This year is continuing proof that Adirondack history is a big draw, as my short post about Dannemora Prison drew an astonishing number of readers.
Famous Jerks of the Adirondacks (Mary Thill) When I thought I was clever by coming up with the 10 Most Influential People in Adirondack History, Mary Thill put me to shame by listing the all-time top Adirondack jerks. Mary has been on hiatus from the Almanack for most of this year while she works on other projects, but her wit, wisdom, and insight into all things Adirondack remains.
Siamese Ponds: The New Botheration Pond Trail (Alan Wechsler) Alan Wechsler’s regular forays into the outdoors are something even the most active Adirondackers envy. Not a week goes by when he’s not biking, hiking, skiing, climbing, or thinking and writing about getting outside. When he wrote about the new eight-mile Botheration Pond Loop, a route that circles around the Balm of Gilead Mountain and several lesser hills in the 114,000-acre Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area, Alan grabbed the interest of readers.
A Short History of the Moose River Plains (John Warren) It’s been a big year for the Moose River Plains. road closures, new trails and bridges, and some reclassification brought Adirondackers out in big numbers to learn more about the plains, and to chime in on how it should be managed.
The Death of Climber Dennis Murphy (Phil Brown) The death of Dennis Murphy at Upper Washbowl Cliff in Keene Valley was tragic. Dennis worked at Eastern Mountain Sports in Lake Placid and was a regular at local climbing hot-spots. This post by Phil Brown, written just a week after they had a lengthy talk about climbing gear and soloing Chapel Pond Slab, struck a nerve with readers. Two other stories of danger and disaster this year also ranked high: Ian Measeck’s first hand account of surviving an avalanche while skiing Wright Peak, and the High Peaks disappearance of Wesley Wamsganz.
Commentary: The Cast of ‘Opposing Smart Development (John Warren) Commentaries are always popular at the Almanack, and my own short piece on those who have traditionally opposed smart development in the Adirondacks raised not just a few hackles, but also the readership numbers.
You can also check out the top stories of 2009, 2007, 2006.
I got back from a long holiday weekend Sunday night to find a few inches of snow in my driveway in Saranac Lake. It won’t be long before the cross-country-ski season begins in earnest.
So far, I have been out only once—on the Whiteface highway, the traditional first ski of the season in the Adirondacks. The highway needs only a few inches of snow to be skiable.
A few years ago, the Adirondack Explorer published an article by Tony Goodwin—the author of Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks — on other places to ski that don’t require a lot of snow. He came up with ten early – season suggestions in addition to the Whiteface road. Click here to read Tony’s story. You’ll find some other old favorites, such as the road to Camp Santanoni, as well as lesser-known destinations, such as Bum Pond in the Whitney Wilderness.
If you have other ideas for early-season ski trips, let us know.
And if you’re planning ahead for trips later in the season, bookmark this site. I’ll be adding links to more ski trips as they become available.
Photo by Phil Brown: A skier on Whiteface Memorial Highway.
At a recent public hearing in Keene, more than a dozen people spoke in favor of keeping the fire tower on Hurricane Mountain. Several others spoke in favor of keeping the lean-to along Gulf Brook. And one person spoke in favor of improving trails for backcountry skiing.
That would be Ron Konowitz.
Konowitz, a Keene schoolteacher, has long been one of the region’s most passionate and adventurous backcountry skiers. He is the only person to have skied all forty-six of the High Peaks. In a typical year, he skis more than 150 days. Whenever I ski with Ron, he fills my ear with complaints about how backcountry skiers are getting a raw deal in the Adirondacks. I heard them again one afternoon last weekend when we skied the first five miles of the Mount Marcy trail from Adirondak Loj.
Since I’m a backcountry skier, you might say I’m biased, but I think he has a point.
One problem is that the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan—the document that guides management of the Forest Preserve—fails to recognize Ron’s sport. This is not surprising, because few people pursued this sport back in the early 1970s, when the plan was written.
I’m referring to down-mountain backcountry skiing—climbing and descending a peak, slide path, or steep glade.
The State Land Master Plan does recognize ski touring, or cross-country skiing, but this isn’t the same thing. The plan requires that cross-country trails must have “the same dimensions and character” as foot trails. Generally, skiers are sharing hiking trails, but in any case, a ski or foot trail is supposed to be only six feet wide. That’s okay if you’re skiing over gently rolling terrain, but for safety’s sake you need more room to make turns and control your speed when descending steep slopes. That’s just common sense.
Down-mountain skiing in the backcountry has grown greatly in popularity over the past twenty years, thanks to improvements in backcountry equipment: wider, shaped skis, plastic boots, and beefier bindings. At the same time, snowshoeing also has grown in popularity. So we now have more skiers and more winter hikers sharing the same narrow trails.
One solution would be to widen, only where necessary, those trails commonly used by down-mountain skiers. This is not a new idea: a 1952 state brochure titled “Lake Placid Trails” notes that “in 1936 the original Van Hoevenberg Trail was conditioned for skiing.” This was in the era before lift-service resorts lured skiers out of the woods. Over the decades, the trail has been allowed to grow back in to its current dimensions.
As Ron and I ascended the Van Hoevenberg Trail along Phelps Brook the other day, he pointed out the older trees off to the sides that once marked the boundaries of the trail. Clearly, the older trail was several feet wider.
What’s more, Ron said this section of trail was once reserved for skiing. Since the 1970s, it has been used by hikers as well and has been eroded as a result of heavy foot traffic in summer. A similar thing happened to the old Wright Peak Ski Trail. Hikers once used a different trail, but when that trail became eroded, DEC closed it and moved hikers to the lower section of the ski trail. Since then, this part of the ski trail has become eroded and grown in. Skiers now dodge rocks, trees, and snowshoers on the descent.
In an earlier post, I noted that Tony Goodwin of the Adirondack Ski Touring Council has proposed an easy fix for the Wright situation: reopening the old hiking trail as a ski trail, deploying volunteer labor. It shouldn’t cost the state a dime, but DEC isn’t interested. Nor does DEC seem inclined to widen trails to accommodate down-mountain skiers.
In contrast, DEC spent a great deal of time and money on writing new guidelines for snowmobile trails in response to complaints from the snowmobiling community. The guidelines were approved by the Adirondack Park Agency last year.
Like ski trails, snowmobile trails are required by the State Land Master Plan to retain the character of a foot trail. Yet DEC’s new guidelines allow snowmobile trails to be up to twelve feet wide in places.
Proponents say the snowmobile guidelines are needed for safety. They note that snowmobiling has changed: today’s snow sleds are bigger and faster than those of yesteryear.
Well, backcountry skiing has changed, too. We need to talk about that.
Photo by Phil Brown: Ron Konowitz at Indian Falls. Video taken along Phelps Brook.
Every year I skin up and ski down this mountain, at 5,344 feet the highest in the state. Sometimes twice. The 14-mile route is considered by many to be one of the finest backcountry tours on the East Coast.
All these trips, and I still can’t help feeling on the way down that I’m about to die. Mind you, my ski gear has improved significantly from the first time nearly 20 years ago, when I used cross-country skis and boots so floppy that when I sat down and held my legs out in front of me the skis ticked back and forth like a metronome.
Today, I use telemark skis and plastic boots. I wear safety goggles. But I still can’t shake the feeling that around every curve is sure to be a fatal collision with a blue spruce tree or an overweight snowshoer.
Fear is my undoing, because it’s not my terrible skiing that turns a ski down Mt. Marcy to a fall down Mt. Marcy. It’s the speed, which makes me want to stop, which then causes me to fall. The only good side of this is that there’s not a chairlift in sight, so at least no one’s watching.
Marcy, being New York’s highest mountain, has always attracted visitors. And the extra bonus is that the trail was made for skiing. Unfortunately, it was made for skiers who clearly don’t mind shooting pell-mell down a tobaggan-run of a trail so curvy you never know what’s 20 feet ahead until you’ve risked becoming intimately acquainted with it.
I’ve always been envious of those who can ski down this trail with grace and poise. A few years ago, I was doing my usual ass-over-teakettle descent when I passed Tony Goodwin, the local trail guru. He was calmly and methodically descending the mountain on his old leather boots and cross-country skis, carving out a perfect snowplow in the spring powder as I blundered by. How did he do it?
I’ve had some good descents, generally dependent on snow conditions. Powder slows you down a lot, and makes turning easier, as does wet spring snow. During my most recent descent, with Adirondack Explorer Editor Phil Brown, the snow was powdery but also quite fast. Phil fell once. I lost track of the times that I threw my hurling body to the ground. But I made it down unpunctured by errant tree branch and uncontusioned by face plants.
The record for descent from peak to trailhead, as I understand it, is about 43 minutes. That’s by local skimeister Pat Munn of the famed Ski to Die Club, who was accompanied by his dog Otis. The time includes the few minutes he used to chat with friends at Marcy Dam. Doubtless he stayed upright the entire time. My descent time was more like two hours, though Phil and I did stop to take pictures (and a video, which you can see here).
Why do I keep coming back? Mt. Marcy is the consummate backcountry ski experience: a long skin up, a treeless summit (sometimes with a bowl filled with powder just below the top) and 3,000 feet of vertical drop that is — well, no matter what your skill level — never boring.
You push your way up, with each step the view growing more and more impressive. And then, on a perfect day, the top is bathed in sunshine; the summit cone standing out like a tower amid the stunted forest below treeline; the High Peak’s most rugged peaks are your closest neighbors.
At the top, you fuel up on food and water, rip off your skins and prepare for the long descent. In Phil’s case, he brought a ski helmet. I just wore my fear. And some safety glasses.
Still, for all my sloppy schussing, I’ll keep coming back. The effort, the view (or the white-out, as was the case this year), and that exhausted feeling of satisfaction at the end makes it all worth it.
And the knowledge that with every trip I’m learning. Some day, I know, I’ll ski it clean.
* * * Interested in skiing Marcy? Park at Adirondack Loj near Lake Placid (fee), and plan for five to seven hours for the round-trip. Backcountry ski gear is available for rent at The Mountaineer in Keene Valley and EMS in Lake Placid. The Visitor’s Center at the Loj parking lot also rents ski gear, but most skiers may find the equipment more suited to lower-angle trails than the steep slopes on Marcy. Remember not to go too fast!
Jim Goodwin turned a hundred today. It’s an occasion that all who love the Adirondacks should celebrate, for perhaps no one loves these mountains more than he does.
Goodwin first saw Keene Valley when he was nine years old and was smitten at once. At eleven, he began guiding hikers for fifty cents a day. At twelve, he led his first client up Mount Marcy, the state’s highest summit.
Have you ever admired the scenery from Pyramid Peak? Thank Jim Goodwin. He cut the trail from Lower Ausable Lake to Pyramid and Gothics in 1966. Many hikers contend that Pyramid has the most spectacular vista in the High Peaks. Goodwin finished the Pyramid route nearly forty years after cutting his first trail, at fourteen, over Little Porter to Porter Mountain. Several years ago, Jim’s son, Tony, relocated the beginning of the trail and dedicated it to the elder Goodwin. Jim also cut the popular Ridge Trail, the most scenic route up Giant Mountain.
Incidentally, Tony followed in his father’s footsteps as a trail builder and as editor of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s High Peaks guidebook.
Jim also made his mark as a rock climber. He pioneered early cliff routes in the Adirondacks with the legendary John Case, who went on to become president of the American Alpine Club, and wrote parts of the first Adirondack rock-climbing guidebook. Goodwin took part in several first ascents.
He also was a backcountry skier and ice climber.
Goodwin, who taught at a private school in Connecticut, wrote about his adventures in the Adirondacks and other mountains in And Gladly Guide: Reflections on a Life in the Mountains. Neal Burdick’s review of the memoir appeared in the March/April 2004 issue of the Adirondack Explorernewsmagazine. Click on the PDF files below to read the article.
Jim now lives in a retirement home in Keene Valley. And he still gets outside.
“He likes to take walks and say hello to the people he meets,” Tony Goodwin says.
Photo: Jim Goodwin, age 9, on top of Hopkins Mountain.
My first backpacking trip was on an abandoned trail.
It was around 1981 or so, and my uncle Evan Bergen of Grafton was keen to take his girlfriend and me on a two-day trip in late November to Cliff Mountain, one of the trail-less high peaks. And he wanted to do it on a trail that had been closed – a route that was originally called the East River Trail.
At the time, I hadn’t realized that my first attempt at backpacking would involve a wet snowstorm, a low of zero degrees, crossing bridge-less rivers on boulders glazed in ice or a snow-covered fallen log, bushwhacking skills and no actual view. Hey, what did I know of backpacking? Included in my external-frame backpack were a full box of raisins and a pair of binoculars – I had not yet realized how heavy a backpack gets after a half-day of walking. It was an Experience. Traveling along part of that route several weeks ago – as reported here – got me thinking about that old trail. Why was it closed? Did anybody miss it?
So I called Tony Goodwin, executive director of the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society, to see what he knew about it.
Turns out the trail was once the primary southern route into the High Peaks. It followed an old road, made of logs, built to accommodate winter logging sleds. The road was built around the 1920s, about the time that the state acquired much of the land from the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (which once owned 40,000 acres and some of the state’s highest peaks).
When hiking became popular, this was the main hiking trail in. Later, the ghost town of Upper Works became the main southern route in via the Calamity Brook Trail, and the longer East River Trail fell into disuse. Goodwin says the trail was closed around 1980, not long before I hiked it.
“There were long stretches of sidehill bridging and corduroy,” he said. “And those were finally collapsing. The DEC didn’t feel there was any reason to restore those bridges or cut lengthy reroutes around them.”
I can certainly speak to the corduroy. On the second day of our hike to Cliff – we made it far as the height of land before the short day forced us to turn around – I was constantly slipping on the trail. Not because I was becoming hypothermic, as my uncle suspected, but because my rubber “Micky Mouse” Army surplus boots kept slipping over the snow-covered logs of the old roadbed.
My 1962 copy of the ADK’s Guide to Adirondack Trails: High Peak Region, describes this trail in the dry prose of the day. The trail at the time departed from Sanford Lake, closer to the Tahawus Mine, and not at the present-day parking lot near the old blast furnace. “The footing is quite treacherous, especially in wet weather, due to slanting, slippery corduroys,” the book even warns (a warning that, apparently, my uncle chose to ignore).
Reading about it today, I’m amazed to see that what took us a day and a half of walking was only eight miles (but there was those slippery rocks and logs, and Lynn did fall into a stream at one point, and then there were those damn raisins, which I didn’t even eat, and those binoculars, which I didn’t even use …).
It also got me wondering about other lost trails. Goodwin spoke of a few in the High Peaks, including some ski trails around Whiteface built for the 1932 Olympics, and a now-defunct route to Dix near the current trail from Route 73. There’s also the trail from Mt. Van Hoevenberg to South Meadow, now closed due to blowdown and a bridge that was washed away, but Goodwin says efforts may soon be underway to reopen it.
Elsewhere in the park there are other ghosts of trails. A 1930s-era map from the North Creek area shows dozens of miles of ski trails used by those who took the Ski Train up from Schenectady, now either part of Gore Mountain Ski Area or lost to roads or overgrowth (several routes still exist that follow the historic routes — one even goes by a 1930s shed for a rescue toboggan).
Further to the south, a route to the top of tiny Cathead Mountain near Northville was lost due to a dispute over private land access.
Do readers know of other abandoned trails? Should the state bring some of them back?
One of my favorite winter trips is what one might call “extreme cross-country skiing.” That is, skiing on routes that aren’t generally considered by the cross-country community. Routes you won’t find in Tony Goodwin’s Classic Adirondack Ski Tours.
Some of these routes are long and committing. Others require the use of snowshoes or skins (unless you’re a member of the Ski-To-Die Club, a group of locals who took extreme skiing to a new height by taking wooden cross-country skis in the 1970s down mountain descents that would give most people on modern alpine gear pause). » Continue Reading.
The other day I skied the Jackrabbit Trail from end to end, a twenty-four-mile journey starting in Saranac Lake and ending at the Rock and River lodge in Keene. When I got to Rock and River, I told owner Ed Palen of my heroic feat. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “I do that every year.”
OK, I’m a far cry from Herman “Jackrabbit” Johannsen, the legendary skier for whom the trail is named. But for me, it was an epic day. And it got me thinking about other epic adventures in the Adirondacks.
What’s an epic adventure? First off, it must be long, arduous, and exciting. The best give you a quintessential Adirondack experience—one that can’t be topped.
The Jackrabbit qualifies as there’s no other ski trail like it in the Adirondacks. It traverses wild landscapes while connecting human communities. Tony Goodwin and the Adirondack Ski Touring Council deserve our thanks for creating and maintaining it.
Following are a half-dozen other Adirondack epic adventures that can be done in a day. If you have other suggestions or comments, please let us know.
Mount Marcy Ski. If you’re a backcountry skier, it’s hard to beat schussing down the state’s highest mountain. Of course, you have to climb seven and a half miles before the descent begins.
Eagle Slide. A number of High Peaks are scarred by bedrock slide paths. Many climbers regard the Eagle on Giant Mountain as the best. It’s wide and steep. I’ve done it in hiking boots and rock-climbing shoes. I felt much more comfortable in rock shoes.
Trap Dike. The deep gash in the side of Mount Colden, first climbed in 1850, is a classic mountaineering route. It’s steep enough in spots that some people bring ropes. After exiting the dike, you climb a broad slide to the summit.
Wallface. The largest cliff in the Adirondacks. To get there, you must hike several miles to Indian Pass in the High Peaks Wilderness. You don’t have to be an expert climber to scale the cliff—if you have a good guide. The Diagonal is the most popular route to start on.
Hudson Gorge. Several outfitters offer rafting trips through this wild, scenic canyon, but if you have the whitewater skills to canoe or kayak, go for it!
Great Range. Backpacker magazine describes a trek over the entire Great Range as “possibly the hardest classic day hike in the East.” Starting in Keene Valley, you summit seven High Peaks, ending on Marcy. Total ascent: 9,000 feet. Distance: 25 miles. You’ll need lots of daylight, water, and stamina.
The Wright Peak Ski Trail is a testament to the lure of down-mountain skiing in the backcountry despite the existence of lift-service resorts.
Cut in the late 1930s, the trail switchbacks down the northeast side of Wright, providing a thrilling and challenging descent through a beautiful forest. After World War II, the trail fell into disuse and became overgrown, but in the late 1980s, Tony Goodwin and other backcountry skiers received permission from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to reopen it. The trail is now featured in David Goodman’s guidebook Backcountry Skiing Adventures: Vermont and New York, published by the Appalachian Mountain Club.
The problem is that the ski route ends after a mile and joins the popular Algonquin Peak hiking trail. This means skiers must descend a few miles on trails often crowded with snowshoers. It seems like an accident waiting to happen. The snowshoers probably don’t like this any more than the skiers do.
What most snowshoers don’t realize is that this section of the Algonquin trail was once part of the ski trail. In those days, hikers went up Algonquin by a separate trail located a little to the north. In the early 1970s, however, DEC closed this trail and moved hikers to the ski trail. Since then, the old ski trail has been maintained with hiking in mind: water bars have been dug, rock steps have been created, brush has been laid down to narrow the passage—all of which makes the trail less suitable for skiing. What’s more, hikers have eroded the trail and exposed boulders that create dangerous obstacles.
Goodwin has come up with what seems like a sensible solution: reopen the old hiking trail for skiing. Under his proposal, the old hiking route would be clipped to its original width. Eroded sections would be filled with logs and brush. The trail would be smooth when covered with snow but remain gnarly enough to discourage hiking in other seasons. As it is, some hikers continue to use the old trail, causing erosion.
“We want to improve it for skiing but make it less desirable for hiking,” Goodwin told the Adirondack Explorer last year. “That would be a win-win situation.”
Goodwin said the volunteers would do all the work to reopen and maintain the trail, so it wouldn’t cost DEC a penny.
Yet DEC has scotched the proposal—not because it’s a bad idea, necessarily, but because it would require an amendment to the High Peaks Wilderness unit management plan. DEC doesn’t want to revisit the High Peaks plan until it finishes the UMPs for other Forest Preserve units.
Given DEC’s chronic shortage of staff, however, it will be years, perhaps more than a decade, before the other plans are done. DEC was supposed to complete all the unit management plans in the 1970s, but more than thirty years later, we’re still waiting on a dozen or so. In addition, DEC is writing recreational plans for vast tracts protected by conservation easements.
In short, we all could be dead or in retirement homes before DEC gets around to evaluating Goodwin’s proposal—if it ever does.
The same goes for proposals for trails in other parts of the Forest Preserve. The Adirondack Ski Touring Council has talked for years of extending the Jackrabbit Ski Trail from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake. DEC won’t rule on this until it completes the management plan for the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest. When will that be? No one knows.
One purpose of the management plans is to ensure that trails are not approved willy-nilly, without due forethought to their impact on the Forest Preserve. But the system is broken. Because DEC lacks the staff to write these plans, proposals wither on the vine or languish for decades. Surely, there must be a way for DEC to evaluate worthy ideas more quickly without neglecting its duty to protect the Preserve.
Perhaps there are sound reasons for rejecting Goodwin’s proposal for the Wright Peak Ski Trail, but it deserves a hearing.
Photo of skiers on Wright Peak by Susan Bibeau/Adirondack Explorer.
For advanced skiers who are looking forward to hitting the High Peaks this winter, the Adirondack Ski Touring Council has some good news: There are now fewer opportunities to get skewered by branches or whapped in the face by evergreen boughs when skiing down Mount Marcy.
Tony Goodwin, executive director of the council, joined two other local skiers last September to prune trees along the 7.5 mile trail from Adirondack Loj to the summit of the state’s highest peak. This was their second pruning trip in a year. Long a popular ski route as well as a hiking trail, it’s the only official ski trail to the top of a High Peak.
The route was first built with skiers in mind but has been allowed to grow inward over the years. Recently, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has allowed skiers to go in and clear the trail to the width allowed for skiing – six feet in most places, eight around turns.
The work, which included the use of expandable poles up to 20 feet long – the snow is often five to ten feet deep by March, meaning the dangerous branches are far overhead in summer – drew some curious stares by warm-weather passers-by. “People actually ski this trail?” was a frequent question, Goodwin said.
A week after their work on Marcy, a larger group headed to the Wright Mountain Ski Trail (which stops below the summit), which was also cleared of dangerous branches.
“We’re definitely making a noticeable improvement,” Goodwin said.
Backcountry skiing in the High Peaks has grown into a very popular sport in the past decade, with the advancement of high-tech alpine and telemark gear, a ski festival in March and the release of a photographic guide to skiing slides.
But many serious skiers complain the DEC has refused to consider making the mountains more backcountry ski-friendly, such as creating separate trails for skiers and hikers, allowing the widening of unofficial routes or permitting the pruning of small saplings in areas that would make nice glade skiing.
“They’ve definitely made it clear we can’t go too far beyond the six-foot width for trails,” Goodwin said.
In other ski news, the Town of North Elba has created a small parking lot on McKenzie Pond Road near Saranac Lake for users of the popular Jackrabbit Trail. The parking lot coincides with a new section of trail that takes advantage of an easement purchased by the council to ensure continued access from that point.
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