It is part of human nature to be curious about future events, and with the approach of winter, many people are currently wondering about the severity of the upcoming season. In an attempt to gain insight into the weather conditions for the next 5 to 6 months, some people turn to the scientific community. The Climate Prediction Center, the very long range forecasting division of the National Weather Service, regularly provides its “best guess” weather scenarios for the next 12 months based on oceanic and atmospheric anomalies that are believed to influence global weather patterns. The Farmer’s Almanac and The Old Farmer’s Almanac are two very popular and long established publications that provide similar general and specific weather forecasts for the coming seasons. While the exact methods employed to devise these forecasts are still considered to be a trade secret, both of these almanacs are believed to rely on solar cycles and other natural phenomena that are thought to influence weather patterns.
As a means of learning what the future holds, some people turn to nature for those subtle “signs” of upcoming weather. Unquestionably, the woolly bear caterpillar is the bug assumed to be the most reliable and accurate in predicting the winter. The woolly bear is a very fuzzy caterpillar roughly an inch in length, identified by a reddish-brown section between the two black ends of its cylindrical body.
This caterpillar emerges from an egg late in the summer at which time it begins to feed heavily on the foliage of a variety of plants. Around the time of the first frost, the woolly bear abandons its feeding routine and starts to search for a sheltered spot in which to pass the winter. A pile of dead leaves around an old stump, a crevice in a rock that becomes covered by snow following the first winter storm, or a nook within a stack of firewood in a shed or barn are likely places where this caterpillar to retreat to and curl up into a ball before slipping into a deep state of dormancy. The reduction of moisture within its body and the development of certain substances in its tissues that lower the freezing point of water allow this caterpillar to survive prolonged periods of frigid temperatures without perishing.
According to popular legend, the width of the middle, lighter colored strip is the key to determining the severity of the coming winter. Should this middle section exceed one-third its body length, winter will be on the mild side, and the longer it is, the milder the winter will be. Scientists have discovered, however, that the relative length of this center band expands as the caterpillar ages. It has also been reported that dry conditions also promotes the expansion of this center band.
Folklore enthusiasts insist that the woolly bear’s coat responds to subtle atmospheric conditions and these factors are instrumental in determining future weather patterns, just like the Climate Prediction Center focuses on la Niña conditions across the Pacific.
Another “sign” in nature said to be useful in forecasting winter weather is the height of a wasp nest above the ground. When wasps build their nest high in trees, it indicates that there is going to be substantial amount of snowfall. However, this correlation doesn’t seem to make sense, as wasps completely abandon their nest during mid autumn. Only the queen wasp survives the winter by burrowing underground; all the workers eventually perish when the temperatures begin to regularly drop below freezing in mid autumn. The location of a wasp nest is based solely on the site the queen believes will provide the greatest level of protection from the predators in that immediate area, not on how future snowfall will impact the vacant nest.
The thickness of the coats of various animals and the bushiness of a gray squirrel’s tail are other “signs” that people cite as they attempt to peer into the future. The density of fur on all animals is regulated by genetics, yet its appearance can be impacted by the weather. For example, a deer’s coat appears to puff out as the temperature drops because of the hair’s response to cooler conditions. It is similar to a person having a “bad hair day” when moisture levels increase and the hairs react by becoming crinkled, or more rigid.
In any event here are the Forecasts:
National Weather Service: Normal temperatures and normal precipitation
Old Farmer’s Almanac: Below normal temperatures, especially from mid Jan through April and below normal precipitation
Farmer’s Almanac: Near normal temperatures with stormy and snowy conditions
Woolly bear caterpillar: (At least the ones that I have encountered.) normal winter conditions
Wasp nest: heavy snowfall winter
My own personal analysis: A mild winter to start with minimal amounts of snowfall into mid Jan. Normal to slightly above normal temperatures for the rest of the winter with above normal amounts of snowfall. (There will be 3 days this winter when the temperature never gets above zero.)
Illustration: The probability of average, higher, or lower than normal temperatures for November, December, and January. Courtesy the The Climate Prediction Center.
Refrigerators can float. There are many things that can be learned from flooding, and that’s one tidbit that stuck with me from when my parents’ house took on about two feet of water more than a decade ago. When the water subsided enough to safely wade to their front door, I went there alone to assess the damage—but the door wouldn’t budge. Finally, it began to give an inch or two at a time. When I managed to squeeze in, I was more than a little surprised at what I found. » Continue Reading.
It is inevitable. Regardless of how nice the summer has been, a time comes in September when the first frost of the season coats every exposed surface with a layer of ice crystals and brings about the official end of the growing season.
While this event causes gardeners to panic about harvesting nearly ripened vegetables, and homeowners to cover up, or bring in their delicate flowering plants, it also brings about the demise of the many forms of life that are unable to tolerate freezing conditions. While there are numerous living entities in our region that can’t survive temperatures below 32 degrees, most are capable, after developing special adaptations that allow them to deal with the changes that are soon to come. » Continue Reading.
The Governor’s Office has announced a state government-wide mobilization of resources to prepare for the coming of Hurricane Irene which is currently expected to come ashore east of New York City on a track towards Hartford, Connecticut as at least a Category 1 or 2 hurricane. The storm is expected to begin impacting the Adirondack region early Sunday.
Widespread tree and powerline damage is likely and large scale power outages possible, especially from the Adirondacks eastward. The Adirondack Park and Catskill Preserve Campgrounds will be closed and evacuated by noon on Saturday. DEC has also issued a warning urging the public to not attempt to use hiking trails or backcountry camping areas throughout the Adirondacks from Sunday 8/28 through Monday 8/29.
Widespread heavy flooding rainfall and possibly damaging winds are expected, particularly on the eastern slopes of the Adirondacks, the Hudson River and Lake Champlain valleys and into Vermont.
The National Weather Service is forecasting widespread heavy rainfall Sunday into Sunday night ending by Monday morning. Amounts will likely range from less than an inch in the St. Lawrence Valley, 1-3 inches in the Adirondacks, and 2-5 inches in the Champlain Valley. Significantly more rain is expected to fall from the Green Mountains into eastern Vermont.
The biggest areas of flooding concern will be in the eastern Adirondacks and Vermont, especially Sunday night into Monday.
Sustained wind speeds of 30 to 45 miles per hour are expected, with gusts 35 to 50 MPH in the Adirondacks and 45 to 65 MPH across Vermont. The most dangerous winds are expected to occur in the Champlain Valley on Sunday evening and night, and in Vermont later Sunday night and early Monday morning.
Throughout the Adirondack region Hurricane Irene is expected to generate extremely high winds and heavy rainfalls which could result in local flooding, heavy erosion of trails, falling trees and limbs and, possibly, landslides on steep slopes. Already saturated soils could also increase the potential for blow-downs.
Waterfront property owners and contractors should cover and stabilize any exposed soils to keep them from washing into lakes. Sediment and stormwater runoff is harmful to lake water quality. Spread mulch or straw over bare soils. Install silt fences on the down slope of any project area where soils might be loose.
Button down your waterfront. High winds and waves might wash equipment and furniture into the lake creating navigation hazards. Secure rafts and float toys, and be sure they are labeled in case they break loose.
Be extra cautious on lakes after the storm passes. Watch out for floating debris.
Due to anticipated hazardous weather from Hurricane Irene the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has issued a warning urging the public to not attempt to use hiking trails or backcountry camping areas throughout the Adirondacks from Sunday 8/28 through Monday 8/29.
Hurricane Irene is expected to generate extremely high winds and heavy rainfalls which could result in flooding, heavy erosion of trails, falling trees and limbs and, possibly, landslides on steep slopes. Already saturated soils could also increase the potential for blow-downs. DEC is currently considering whether or not to close its local campgrounds.
Biting insects are the price of admission for playing in the backcountry of the Adirondacks. But this year these pests seem to be more plentiful and ferocious than in years past. This is particularly true for the blood-sucking scourge known worldwide as the pesky mosquito.
Last month I experienced the large number and ferocity of mosquitoes first hand during an eight-day trek within the remote interior of the Five Ponds Wilderness in the northwestern Adirondacks. Saying mosquitoes were plentiful would be a vast understatement given the near-Biblical proportions of the blood-suckers encountered there. » Continue Reading.
A tornado in the northeastern states, as happened recently in Massachusetts, is a comparatively rare event, but it’s by no means anything new. Many similar storms in the past have wreaked devastation in New York and New England, but few have had the incredible impact of the tornado that struck northern Franklin County on June 30, 1856.
The storm system caused chaos across the North Country, and in lower Quebec and northern Vermont as well, but the villages of Burke and Chateaugay bore the brunt of the damage when a tornado touched down, causing destruction of historic proportions. In the 1850s, northern Franklin County was mostly a vast, wooded wilderness. The arrival of the railroad had led to accelerated growth and the development of several population centers, including Burke and Chateaugay, just five miles apart in the county’s northeast corner.
Farming and lumbering were the chief occupations, and until sections of forest were cleared, most of the farms were located near the villages and along the Old Military Turnpike (modern-day Route 11). About the only way a storm’s effect could be truly devastating was for it to strike the population centers—and that’s exactly what happened.
Not that it would have made much difference, but this storm also had an extra element of surprise—it struck shortly before mid-morning. The great majority of tornadoes strike in the late afternoon after the sun has had plenty of time to heat things up.
Farmer Lucas Wyman of Constable watched as two dark, threatening cloud systems moved towards each other, one from the southwest and one from the northwest. He described their meeting as a thunderous collision, after which the storm began devouring everything in its path. Taking a northeastern track, it flattened trees and fences as it sped ominously towards Burke.
Arriving at the village, it tore the roofs off several buildings, sending their contents high in the air to parts unknown. As the storm raged, only pieces of some homes were left standing, and all barns, less sturdily built by nature, were leveled.
At the hamlet of Thayer’s Corners, the store of Daniel Mitchell was completely destroyed. Thirty-six-year-old Jeremiah Thomas, father of two young children, had recently sold his farm and gone to work for Mitchell. Thomas became the storm’s only fatality.
The storm’s route from Burke to Chateaugay suffered near-universal destruction, with reports indicating that “… one hundred and eighty-five buildings, either unroofed, blown down, or moved from the foundations can be counted as you ride along the road.”
At Chateaugay, the twister still had more than enough energy to lay nearly the entire community to waste. One reporter stated it plainly: “The village of Chateaugay is a complete desolation. Not a building escaped injury, and a great number—we do not know how many—are completely destroyed. The scene is one which baffles description. Stores, churches, dwellings, barns, sheds, outbuildings, all present a sad spectacle —they are awfully shattered and broken to pieces.”
Perhaps as important were other losses—gardens and fruit trees destroyed; farm crops flattened; cows, pigs, horses, sheep, and chickens killed. With all fencing destroyed, any animals that did survive were left wandering the countryside.
Though only one person died, many suffered serious injuries. Dozens were struck by flying roof shingles and shards of glass. One survivor was said to have lost his scalp to airborne debris.
The power of the storm yielded the usual stories of extreme occurrences. Entire sections of forest were flattened. A stone schoolhouse, one of the more solid buildings, was demolished. A lumber yard was completely devoid of lumber, all of which had been lifted high in the air and strewn across nearby fields.
A railroad handcar, weighing about a ton, was destroyed when it was carried aloft and dropped into the nearby woods. The tornado’s power was such that rubble from Mitchell’s Store at Thayer’s Corners was later found ten miles east in the town of Clinton.
In the days following the catastrophe, a traveler from Springfield, Massachusetts (coincidentally the site of recent tornadic destruction in 2011) rode the train across northern New York. After encountering the Chateaugay area, his report on the damage was published in the Springfield Daily Journal, including the following excerpts.
“The railroad track for some thirty or forty miles lies directly in the path of the tornado, and I never saw such a scene of destruction before. … it is in fact quite impossible to picture the scene on paper as it really appears. The villages of Chateaugay and Burke have sustained such serious damage that long years will come and go before its traces can be effaced.
“… Acres of forest trees are upturned, broken, twisted, and shattered; fences are torn to pieces, and the fencing timber scattered miles away from whence it was taken; piles of lumber, with which that section abounds, are nowhere to be found; barns are entirely blown to pieces; dwelling houses blown down, unroofed, and shattered. The eye rests on nothing else but such sights as these for miles and miles.”
The storm system caused considerable damage elsewhere, but the extent of destruction along the eight-mile path through the towns of Burke and Chateaugay was of near-biblical proportions. In the final tally, 364 buildings were damaged or destroyed.
Few North Country disasters can compare in scope and intensity with the tornado of 1856. For decades into the future it was used as a reference point for comparing other tragic events.
Photo Top: Tornado headlines, 1856.
Photo Middle: St. Lawrence County opportunistic ad after a tornado, 1914.
Photo Bottom: Hammond Insurance ad for routine needs, 1935.
Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
This winter’s deep snow pack combined with heavy rains last week and this week continue to leave lakes and ponds brimming, and rivers and streams swollen with cold and fast water. All major rivers are at or above flood stage and flooding continues to occur and is expected to continue through Friday. Except for the Tug Hill Plateau, Flood Warnings continue to be in effect across the region. Roads and trails around the region have been reported closed, several roads and bridges have collapsed, and major flooding has forced evacuations along the Hudson, Schroon, Ausable, Bouquet, Saranac, Moose, Black and Raquette Rivers, and along Lake Champlain and many other water bodies around the Adirondacks.
The NYS Department of Environmetnal Conservation has issued the following announcement about continued flooding and the environmental risks associated with flooding. Gasoline and Oil Spills
DEC is warning homeowners and building owners with flooded basements to check for sheens or odors from gasoline, oil or substances that may have leaked from fuel oil storage tanks, furnaces or motorized equipment before pumping out water. If a sheen or odor is present, contact the DEC Spills Hotline immediately at 1-800-457-7362.
If pumping is already occurring when sheens or odors are discovered, cease pumping immediately. A mixture of gasoline or oil and water can impact the surface water, ground water and soils when pumped and released into the environment. It is best to collect and remove spilled gasoline and oil while it is still contained in a basement. DEC Spills staff will work with home and building owners to determine the most effective means to address the spill.
Repairing Flood Damaged Streambanks and Lake Shorelines
Property owners who have streams or shorelines which have been eroded or otherwise damaged by flooding should check with the DEC Environmental Permits Office before undertaking repair work to determine if a permit or emergency authorization is required. Depending on the situation, work immediately necessary for the protection of life, health, general welfare, property or natural resources may be authorized under emergency authorization procedures. Projects for the purpose of shoreline restoration and erosion protection are subject to a permit application process.
DEC provides a number of documents on its website to assist in developing a shoreline stabilization project:
Sample General Project Plans for a Protection of Waters Permit
Both the Lower Locks, located between First Pond and Oseetah Lake and the Upper Locks, located between Lower Saranac Lake and Middle Saranac Lake, are closed to public usage until further notice. High waters and large amount of debris are still preventing the operation of the locks.
Boat Launch Sites
Most boat launches in the region are flooded, making it risky to launch and retrieve boats. Boaters not familiar with the location of the various structures on around the boat launch (ramps, walkways, docks, posts, etc.) that are now underwater risk damaging trailers and boats when launching or retrieving boats.
Paddlers and boaters should continue to stay off of rivers and streams. Water levels are high and water temperatures are low, rivers and streams are running swiftly. Cold waters increase the risk of hypothermia and drowning if you should fall into the water.
Waters may contain logs, limbs and other debris. High waters also conceal navigation hazards such as boulders, rock shelves, docks and other structures that normally are easily seen and avoided.
The previous warning to keep out of the backcountry has been rescinded. However, hikers and campers should be aware of the conditions they can expect to encounter in the backcountry. Streams are still high and extra caution should be used at stream crossings without foot bridges.
Trails are muddy and wet. Hikers should be prepared for these conditions by wearing waterproof footwear and gaiters, and remember to walk through – not around – mud and water on trails. Trails and campsites adjacent to waters may be flooded.
Blowdown may be found on trails, it is expected that large trees may have been blown over due to winds and saturated soils. The danger of landslides on mountain slopes still exists, particularly if the forecasted rain occurs.
Snow is present in elevations above 2900 feet, and snowshoes are required in elevations above 3200 feet.
It is always difficult to predict when the ice will go out on a given body of water in the Adirondacks, however, it is easy to say when that waterway will be occupied by a loon, as this symbol of the northern wilderness always seems to arrive within hours of the ice disappearing.
The urge to return to its breeding territory is especially strong in male loons. Because of a recent population increase in this species, there can be intense competition for the remote sections of the large lakes and back country ponds that are highly attractive to this bird with the haunting voice. » Continue Reading.
For many, springtime (mud-season) looms as the longest and most trying of seasons. Skating, skiing, ice fishing and other winter sports are no longer possible; hiking trips await drier footing, paddling is on hold until the ice goes out. Adirondackers, often in some desperation, look for diversions to help them survive this interminable time of year.
With the arrival of March, temperatures start to swing wildly from 5º to 65º. Water drips, brooks babble and lake ice slowly dwindles away; not sinking as some would believe, but rather becoming porous and water filled until finally it melts completely and disappears. This happens bit by bit in different parts of lakes and over a period of many days. Ever resourceful, residents take advantage of this phenomenon to provide entertainment in the form of ice-out contests. » Continue Reading.
April and May are traditionally considered the messiest part of mud season in the Adirondacks. This designation ignores the fact that any month in the Adirondacks without snow cover could be classified as such. Mud season offers significant challenges to any backcountry adventurer regardless of whether they stay on hiking trails or venture off-tail into areas less traveled.
Although April is considered the beginning of mud season, the actual season can shift significantly from year to year depending on the winter’s snow pack, and the average temperature and amount of liquid precipitation during the early spring. Elevation effects the arrival of mud season with it occurring earlier at low elevations and much later on mountaintops. But regardless of when it starts the results are eventually the same: wet and muddy trails, boots and legs. There are many challenges for the backcountry explorer during this messy time of the year. These challenges require additional planning, preparation and in some cases caution. But there are a few benefits to being in the backcountry this time of the year as well. In addition, there are some important environmental impacts of hiking in mud season that need identification and management so as to ameliorate their negative impacts.
One challenge of hiking during mud season is the weather. The months of April and May often display the most variable weather both from day-to-day and year-to-year. This variability requires being prepared for almost any type of conditions imaginable from deep snow to driving rainfall. This often requires carrying a vast array of equipment for both the winter and summer seasons.
Depending on the situation crampons and/or snowshoes (see a review of perfect lightweight snowshoes here) may be necessary and an effective pair of gaiters is a must (see a review of a great pair of gaiters here). A good sturdy pair of hiking boots, preferably with a waterproof layer, will help keep your feet dry even in the muddiest of conditions especially in combination with gaiters.
I have some first-hand experience with the variability of the weather during spring conditions. Once while backpacking within the Five Ponds Wilderness during early-May I sloshed through a substantial snowfall. I was clearly unprepared for such weather conditions since I brought only my summer equipment for the most part.
Crossing streams in the early spring can be very challenging regardless of whether hiking on or off trails. In early spring, ice jams can cause extensive flooding while later in the spring streams can become swollen with runoff from the melting snow pack and the saturated soils. Look out for floating logs and flooded boardwalks as both can be frequent hazards on trails through wetlands during this time of the year.
There are some negative environmental impacts to hiking during mud season. The chief environmental damage from hiking in mud season is erosion. Although erosion can occur anywhere it is more extensive within the mountainous and heavy trafficked areas within the High Peaks. Soils tend to be more susceptible to erosion in the spring due to the alternating warmer temperatures during the day and colder temperatures in the evening.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation often issues a voluntary trail closure for areas above 3000 feet in the Eastern High Peaks. These closures are issued to protect trails from erosion as well as to protect fragile alpine vegetation during this time of the year. The effectiveness of these closures on trail use in this area is questionable.
When encountering muddy trails one should avoid walking around sloppy portions of a trail to avoid the muck. Typically, avoiding walking through ankle deep (or deeper!) mud just seems like common sense but it is best walk right through the mud to avoid trail creep and damaging nascent vegetation growing along the trail’s border. These fragile early-season shoots can be easily damaged by the aggressive tread of a hiker’s boot.
Because of all the negative issues of navigating through mud season I typically avoid any backcountry hiking in the month of April in the Adirondacks. Usually my own backcountry adventures start around mid-May although this is highly dependent on the prevalent weather conditions during mid to late spring.
Although there are many challenges and some negative environmental factors of hiking during mud season there are a couple of advantages to the adventurous backcountry enthusiast.
One advantage of exploring the backcountry during April is the lack of a certain plentiful Adirondack pest. Typically April is the last totally biting bug free month in the Adirondacks until the following autumn. At some point in late May the bane of the Adirondacks, the black fly will reemerge from the stream and rivers, and attack anything warm-blooded with a pulse. Soon other biting flies will join in on the fun and most will be present until the end of summer.
Another benefit of hiking in the early spring is the lack of foliage. Although many may see this as a disadvantage due to the lack of shade, the absence of the scent of fresh foliage and the comforting rustle of the wind through the leaves there is a real benefit to be enjoyed. Without leaves blocking one’s views some outstanding vistas once obscured now becomes visible. This is especially true on rolling hills where the trees often grow thickest.
Hiking through the backcountry during mud season offers the ambitious explorer some real challenges and a few advantages over some other seasons in the Adirondacks. It is important to be prepared for any and all weather conditions but the season offers some pleasant bug-free hiking with some seldom seen awesome views. But the more fastidious explorer should sit this season out and wait for the warm winds of summer to dry up the trails.
Photos: Muddy trail on Mt. Colden, muddy and wet Adirondack trail, flooded trail near Cranberry Lake by Dan Crane.
The persistent northerly wind that has kept spring at bay this year has also impacted the migration schedule of numerous birds. However, the urge to return to the breeding grounds is extremely strong, and there are always hardy individuals that travel northwards during those brief periods when the headwind dies and the air becomes calm.
Among these impatient migrants are pairs of Canada Geese that have overwintered in the windswept corn fields of southern New York, and across the Pennsylvania and New Jersey countryside where they have found an adequate source of food. Historically absent from most waterways in the Park prior to the mid 1800’s, the Canada goose has become an abundant species of waterfowl in many sections of the Adirondacks populated by humans. When accompanied by its brood of young, a pair of adults avoids the heavily forested shorelines that characterize most bodies of water throughout this section of northern New York. It is large, open fields, especially those in which the grass is periodically mowed that attract this hefty herbivore. Golf course fairways near a pond or river, large athletic fields adjacent to a marsh or stream, and community parks and sprawling lawns that border a lake are all ideal settings for the Canada goose.
The abundance of grasses, leafy weeds, grains and select soil bugs that serve as food to these honking giants attracts them to such open places. Additionally, this long necked bird is better able to scan the immediate surroundings which provide it with the opportunity to detect a predator when one is still a long distance away. Even though many of shorelines in the Adirondacks are still covered with snow, and ice continues to exist well out from the water’s edge, pairs of Canada geese may be seen is spots of open water as they begin to return to the region. Upon their arrival, the pair seeks out a secluded location in which to make a nest. A remote section of a marsh along a stream that has caused the ice to disappear for the season is frequently selected. An open, sun-baked patch of low shrubs and collapsed sedges near the edge of a river is another type of setting that might be chosen for a nest, as is the roof of an abandoned muskrat house that sits back from the shore in a snow free spot.
While these sites lack the grasses and other herbaceous plants that typify a well maintain lawn, such marshy communities still contain an assortment of non-woody vegetation useful to this grazer. Because the growing season has not yet started, the older adults that take up residence in such locations for the month long period of building a nest, laying eggs, and incubating them depend on their experience at locating various seeds and other wetland edibles to keep them sufficiently nourished.
Once their eggs hatch, the parents begin the process of relocating the family to a setting in which grasses are starting to grow.
As southerly winds eventually usher in more spring-like weather, flocks of Canada geese can be heard and seen flying overhead in their characteristic “V” shaped formation. These are the birds that are headed much further north than the upper portion of New York State. The Canada geese that have established breeding populations in many sections of the Park over the past several decades have mostly returned from their wintering areas despite the icy conditions that remain along our waterways. While a few pairs may occasionally be seen on scattered patches of open water that currently exist on some of our lakes and ponds, many pairs of Canada geese have already retreated into the semi-open thickets in marshes and other wetlands that they have selected to serve as their home for the next month or so.
The creation of open spaces along lake shores and river edges that are carpeted with lush, green lawns has been an alteration of the Adirondack environment much to the liking of property owners and community residents alike. For the Canada geese it is also a most welcome change to the shoreline, as it provides this large species of waterfowl with the opportunity to raise the young birds that will begin appearing by early to mid May.
This announcement is for general use – local conditions may vary and are subject to sometimes drastic changes.
Listen for the weekly Adirondack Outdoor Recreation Report Friday mornings on WNBZ (AM 920 & 1240, FM 105 & 102.1) and the stations of North Country Public Radio.
The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional Forest Ranger incident reports which form a stern reminder that wilderness conditions can change suddenly and accidents happen. Be aware of the latest weather conditions and carry adequate gear and supplies.
SPECIAL NOTICES FOR THIS WEEKEND ** indicates new or revised items.
** WINTER STORM WARNING NOTE: This Storm Veered East and Much Less Snow is Expected Be prepared to break trails this weekend. A winter storm warning has been issued for the entire Adirondack region from late Thursday into Friday evening. The highest amounts of heavy wet snow are expected in the Southeast, in Northern Warren and Southeastern Essex County, including the Keene Valley approach to the High Peaks. Smaller amounts are expected in the Northern and Western Adirondacks, Southeastern St. Lawrence County, and the Northern Adirondacks and into Eastern Essex County along Lake Champlain; more in the High Peaks and at higher elevations. The latest details are online.
** WINTER CONDITIONS AT ALL ELEVATIONS Even before Friday’s storm arrives winter conditions still exist throughout the area with 6 inches to two feet of snow on the ground across the region, and more in higher elevations. The Lake Colden Interior Caretaker reported just over 3 feet on the ground at the cabin. Ice may be found on summits and other open areas. These conditions still require snowshoes or skis at all elevations and crampons on exposed areas. Snow cover is good most trails and will improve after Fridays storm. Higher elevations waters are still iced in and covered with snow. Lower elevation waters may be open, or deceptively covered with snow. Use extreme caution with the thickness of ice.
** BEAR CANISTERS NOW REQUIRED IN HIGH PEAKS The use of bear-resistant canisters is required for overnight users in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness, and recommended throughout the Adirondacks, between April 1 and November 30. All food, toiletries and garbage must be stored in bear-resistant canisters.
SNOWSHOES OR SKIS The use of snowshoe or skis is required in the Eastern High Peaks where ever snow depths exceed 8 inches, as is currently the case, and is recommended elsewhere in the Adirondacks. Using snowshoes or skis prevents “post-holing”, avoids injuries, and eases travel through snow.
** EXPECT BLOWDOWN Recent storms and strong winds have caused blowdown – trees, limbs, and branches may be found on and over trails, especially lesser used trails which have not yet been cleared. This will be especially true aft heavy wet snow expected Friday.
** AVALANCHE CONDITIONS The potential for avalanches on slides and other areas prone to avalanche still exists and several have occurred. The danger of avalanches is highest shortly after a significant snowfall, and avalanches can occur anytime there is a deep snow cover made up of multiple layers of snow. The risk of avalanche depends on a number of factors and can not only change from day to day, but also change over the period of the day as temperatures, humidity and solar warming all influence the character of the snowpack. Avoid traveling on open areas with slopes between 25 & 50 degrees and no vegetation. Never travel alone, carry proper safety equipment; and inform someone where you will be traveling.
** Snowmobiles Although most of the region’s snowmobile trails have closed, there will still be some snowmobiles operating on designated snowmobile trails. Skiers and snowshoers using designated snowmobile trails should keep to the sides of the trail to allow safe passage. See the weekly snowmobile trails report below for more information about the condition of local snowmobile trails.
Thin Ice Safety Ice may consist of alternating layers of hard ice and frozen slush which is not as strong as clear hard ice. Snows may be covering thin ice – ice that holds snow may not hold the weight of a person. Always check the thickness of ice before crossing and at several points along the way. Be cautious of ice near inlets, outlets and over any moving water. Each year a number of people fall through thin ice. One has already died and many more have gone through the ice. Use extreme caution with ice at this time of year.
Carry Extra Winter Gear Snowshoes or skis can prevent injuries and eases travel in heavy snow. Ice crampons should be carried for use on icy trails and mountaintops and other exposed areas. Wear layers of wool and fleece (NOT COTTON!), a winter hat, gloves or mittens, wind/rain resistant outer wear, and winter boots. Carry a day pack complete with ice axe, plenty of food and water, extra clothing, map and compass, first-aid kit, flashlight/headlamp, sun glasses, sun-block protection, ensolite pads, a stove and extra fuel, and bivy sack or space blankets.
Know The Latest Weather Check the weather before entering the woods and be aware of weather conditions at all times — if weather worsens, head out of the woods.
Fire Danger: LOW NOTE: We’re entering the state’s historically high fire risk period from mid-March until mid-May.
** Central Adirondacks Lower Elevation Weather Friday: Snow. High near 32. Friday Night: Snow. Low around 25. Saturday: Snow showers likely; cloudy, high near 34. Saturday Night: Slight chance of snow showers; mostly cloudy, low around 18. Sunday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 34.
The National Weather Service provides a weather forecast for elevations above 3000 feet and spot forecasts for the summits of a handful of the highest peaks in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties. [LINK]
** Snow Cover A winter storm warning had been issued for the entire Adirondack region from late Thursday into Friday evening, but that storm has turned east. The highest amounts of heavy wet snow are expected in the Southeast, in Northern Warren and Southeastern Essex County, including the Keene Valley approach to the High Peaks. Smaller amounts are expected in the Northern and Western Adirondacks, Southeastern St. Lawrence County, across the Northern Adirondacks, and into Eastern Essex County along Lake Champlain; more in the High Peaks and at higher elevations. Conditions still require snowshoes or skis at higher elevations and crampons on exposed areas such as summits. The latest snow cover map from the National Weather Service provides an estimate of snow cover around the region.
** Downhill Ski Report Conditions vary depending on elevation from spring conditions, loose granular, frozen granular and machine groomed, to packed powder. Mountains relying only on natural snow have begun to scale back their operations and some have closed for the season, including Big Tupper, Mt. Pisgah in Saranac Lake, and Oak Mountain in Speculator. West, Hickory, Macaulay and Titus are expected to be open this weekend and there is still plenty of snow at Gore and Whiteface, with more expected Friday.
** Cross Country Ski Report Most of the region’s cross-country ski areas are still open. With 10-15 inches of hard, crusty snow on the ground. The Jackrabbit Trail is skiable its entire length, with about a 10 to 20 inch base. The entire trail has good cover, but the hills are hard and fast. Complete and up-to-date cross-country conditions are available [here].
** Backcountry Ski Report Snow cover is suitable for skiing on all trails with just over 3 feet at Lake Colden and more at higher elevations. Use old hiking trail to reach Marcy Dam from ADK Loj. Truck trail has open brook crossing 1/4 mile past the register, but it can be crossed via a narrow snow bridge or a detour upstream to a beaver dam. The bridge is out on the trail to Marcy, see below for details. Snows have accumulated to sufficient depths on Adirondack Mountain slopes to create conditions conducive to avalanches and DEC has issued an Avalanche Warning. The Avalanche Pass Slide is closed to skiing and snowshoeing during the winter months.
** Ice Climbing Report Anything facing south or east is mostly gone or dangerous. Climbers are reporting Chapel Pond, Cascade Pass, the back side of Pitchoff, Underwood Canyon, the North Face of Gothics and the Trap Dyke as climbable areas. Multiplication Gully is reported in great shape, probably the best of the season. Poke-O-Moonshine is pretty much done, as is Roaring Brook Falls, Pharaoh Mountain, and the Palisades on Lake Champlain. Mineville Pillar and Chillar Pillar are likely top-ropeable but the conditions there will be day-to-day. In the Southern Adirondacks there is still some good ice on Dutton Mountain, but the ice on Crane is gone aside from some hidden spots on the back side. Additional Adirondack ice climbing conditions are supplied by Adirondack Rock and River Guide Service.
** Rock Climbing Closures Effective Monday, April 4, all rock climbing routes on Upper and Lower Washbowl Cliffs in the Giant Mountain Wilderness and on Moss Cliff in the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness are closed to allow for peregrine falcon nesting. See Adirondack Rock Climbing Route Closures for more information.
** Ice Fishing Report Ice fishing is officially open, but recent heavy snows and warm weather have left very slushy conditions last week which have frozen over to crusty ice. While higher elevation waters (above 2500 feet) are still iced in and covered with snow, lower elevation waters are beginning to open up. Portions of lower elevation waters are opening during the day and refreezing at night. Be cautious around inlets, outlets, shoreline seeps and over moving water. Tip-ups may be operated on waters through April 30, 2010. General ice fishing regulations can be found in the in the 2010-11 Fishing Regulations Guide.
** Snowmobile Trails Report Most of the local clubs have closed there trails or are planning to this week after one of its longest seasons in recent memory. Now is the time to show restraint to keep from tearing up trails that are fragile. There is still some riding to be had in the central Adirondacks but at least some trails are closed in all trail systems throughout the region. Washouts, water holes, fallen snow bridges, and open stream crossings can be expected around the region but some areas. Many clubs have already closed their trails, particularly in Warren and Washington counties, in the Town of Webb (which closes midnight Friday). Contact a local club for specific details in their area. In the Western Lake George Wild Forest the gates on the following snowmobile trails have been closed: Gay Pond Road, Prospect Mountain, Lily Pond Road, Palmer Pond Road, and Jabe Pond Road, Dacy Clearing and Shelving Rock. Avoid riding on lakes or ponds, and excessive speed. Ride safely. More Adirondack snowmobiling resources can be found here.
** Rivers Running, Below, At Or Above Normal Waters in the region are running below, at, or above normal levels for this time of year. The Raqautte, Indian, and Sacandaga running above normal.The Oswegathcie and Black rivers are running below normal. Use care and consult the latest streamgage data.
** Hunting Seasons Most hunting seasons are now closed with the exception of late snow goose. March 27th is the final day for hunting Coyote and March 28th, the final day to hunt crows. Hikers should be aware that they may meet hunters bearing firearms while hiking on trails. Recognize that these are fellow outdoor recreationists with the legal right to hunt on Forest Preserve lands. Hunting accidents involving non-hunters are extremely rare.
** Furbearer Trapping Seasons All furbearer trapping seasons are closed with the exception of beaver (closed April 7th), mink, and muskrat (close April 15th). Body gripping traps set on land can no longer use bait or lure.
** Trout Season Opens April 1st Trout (brook, rainbow, brown and hybrids, and splake) and landlocked Salmon season is just around the corner. The season opens statewide April 1, but the season is expected to get off to a slow start with so much snow and ice on the banks of local streams, once all that snow and ice melts streams will likely be too high. Lake Trout and Landlocked Salmon season also opens. For catch and size limits view the freshwater fishing regulations online.
** Bear and Deer Harvest Report Hunters killed just over 230,000 deer and more than 1,060 bears in the 2010 hunting season, according to DEC. The deer take locally was up about 3% from 2009, bear numbers were down about 35% from 2009. While overall population size plays a large role in harvest totals, annual variations in take are also strongly influenced by environmental factors that affect bear activity and hunting pressure such as natural food availability and snow fall according to DEC wildlife biologists.
ADIRONDACK LOCAL BACKCOUNTRY CONDITIONS
NORTHVILLE PLACID TRAIL
The Northville Placid Trail (NPT) is the Adirondack Park’s only designated long distance hiking trail. The 133 mile NPT was laid out by the Adirondack Mountain Club in 1922 and 1923, and is now maintained by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Up to date NPT trail condition information can be found online.
Upper Benson to Whitehouse: Just north of the Mud Lake lean-to there has been significant blow-down in several areas across the trail that happened sometime in early December that requires several bushwhacks to get around.
West Canada Lakes to Wakely Dam: The bridge over Mud Creek, northeast of Mud Lake, has been washed out. Wading the creek is the only option. The water in Mud Creek will vary from ankle deep to knee deep.
Personal Flotation Devices Required: Users of small boats are reminded that state law requires all occupants of boats less than 21 feet in length are required to wear personal flotation devices (aka PFDs and life jackets) between November 1 and May 1.
** Bear Resistant Canister Now Required: The use of bear-resistant canisters is required for overnight users in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness, and recommended throughout the Adirondacks, between April 1 and November 30. All food, toiletries and garbage must be stored in bear-resistant canisters.
** Giant Mountain Wilderness: Effective Monday, April 4, all rock climbing routes on Upper and Lower Washbowl Cliffs are closed to allow for peregrine falcon nesting. See Adirondack Rock Climbing Route Closures for more information.
** McKenzie Mountain Wilderness: Effective Monday, April 4, all rock climbing routes on Moss Cliff are closed to allow for peregrine falcon nesting. See Adirondack Rock Climbing Route Closures for more information.
Snowshoes or Skis: The use of snowshoe or skis is required in the Eastern High Peaks and is recommended elsewhere in the Adirondacks. Using snowshoes or skis prevents “post-holing”, avoids injuries, and eases travel through snow.
Avalanche Conditions: Everywhere snows have accumulated to sufficient depths to create conditions conducive to avalanches. Avoid traveling on open areas with slopes between 25 & 50 degrees and no vegetation. Never travel alone, carry proper safety equipment; and inform someone where you will be traveling. DEC has issued an Avalanche Warning.
Opalescent River Flooding: Due to ice from previous flooding incidents of the Opalescent River, the Day Glow South camping area below the Lake Colden Dam, including the Opalescent and McMartin lean-tos, remains unusable. Campers are advised to use other campsites at this time
Marcy Brook Bridge: The Marcy Brook Bridge, below the junction of the Avalanche Pass and Lake Arnold trails, was damaged by ice during the recent thaw. The bridge is still usable but one of the railings is bent making the path over the bridge narrow. Skiers may have some problems crossing.
Johns Brook Valley: Lean2Rescue, in cooperation with DEC, will be undertaking several lean-to projects in the Johns Brook Valley over the course of the next several months. DEC will post notifications at the Garden trailhead prior to work being started. Beginning the weekend of March 18-20 the Deer Brook will be moved and the Bear Brook lean-to will be removed.
Avalanche Pass Slide: The slide is closed to skiing and snowshoeing.
Western High Peaks Wilderness: The unpaved section of Corey’s Road, the main entrance to the Western High Peaks Wilderness, is closed for mud season.
Western High Peaks Wilderness: Trails in the Western High Peaks Wilderness are cluttered with blowdown from a storm that occurred December 1st. DEC has cleared blow down in most areas accessed from the Corey’s Road, although not along the Northville-Placid Trail.
Ampersand Mountain Trail: There is heavy blowdown on the Ampersand Mountain Trail as far as the old caretakers cabin – approximately 1.7 miles in. Finding the trail may be difficult after fresh snows. Skiing will be frustrating as there are so many trees down. Past the cabin site the trail is good but snowshoes are needed. There is aprox 3 feet of snow near the summit.
Elk Lake Conservation Easement Lands: The Clear Pond Gate on the Elk Lake Road is closed and will remain closed until the end of the spring mud season. This adds 2 miles of hiking, plan trips accordingly.
Bushnell Falls: The high water bridge at Bushnell Falls has been removed, the low water crossing may not be accessible during high water.
Opalescent River Bridges Washed Out: The Opalescent River Bridge on the East River / Hanging Spears Falls trail has been washed out. The crossing will be impassable during high water.
Caulkins Brook Truck Trail/Horse Trail: Much of the blowdown on the Caulkins Brook Truck Trail/Horse Trail between the Calkins Brook lean-tos and Shattuck Clearing has been removed. The trail is open for hikers but remains impassable to horses and wagons. DEC crews continue to work to open the trail.
CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN ADIRONDACKS
Great Sacandaga Lake: A section of North Shore Road in Hadley, which runs along the Great Sacandaga Lake, fell into the lake Friday night just south of the Conklingville dam. The Batchellerville Bridge in Edinburg has alternating one-way traffic.
Perkins Clearing / Speculator Tree Farm Conservation Easement Lands: The waters of the Miami River have subsided and the C4/C8 snowmobile trail is open between intersections HM114 and HM6.
Moose River Plains Wild Forest: The Moose River Plains Snowmobile Trail is completely open again, snowmobilers may travel between the Cedar River Headquarters and the Limekiln Lake gate. The water levels on Cellar Brook have dropeed and the Town of Indian Lake has re-graded and groomed the trail so snowmobiles can once again cross safely.
Pigeon Lake Wilderness: DEC Forest Rangers and trail crew have been working to clear blowdown from trails. The following trails are cleared and ready for skiing and/or snowshoeing: Shallow Lake Trail (well-marked with some minor blow down), West Mountain Trail (well-marked, some blowdown remains on section east of the summit), and Sucker Brook Trail
** Snowmobiles: The majority of the snowmobile clubs in Warren County have stopped grooming and gates on both private and public trails are in the process of being closed. If you are planning to ride in the southeastern portion of the Adirondack Park please check with the local snowmobile club regarding trail closures or contact the DEC Warrensburg Office at 518-623-1265.
** Lake George Wild Forest (Western): Gates on the following snowmobile trails have been closed: Gay Pond Road, Prospect Mountain, Lily Pond Road, Palmer Pond Road, Jabe Pond Road.
** Eastern Lake George Wild Forest: The gates on the Dacy Clearing and Shelving Rock snowmobile trails are closed.
Eastern Lake George Wild Forest: The Town of Fort Ann has closed the Shelving Rock Road for mud season.
Hudson River Recreation Area: Gates on the Buttermilk Road Extension in the Hudson River Special Management Area (aka the Hudson River Recreation Area), in the Town of Warrensburg remain shut and the roads closed to motor vehicle traffic.
Hudson Gorge Primitive Area: Ice has formed on all waters. Paddlers, hunters and other users of small boats are reminded that state law requires all occupants of boats less than 21 feet in length are required to wear personal flotation devices (aka PFDs and life jackets) between November 1 and May 1.
Santa Clara Tract Easement Lands (former Champion Lands): All lands are open to all legal and allowable public recreation activities beginning January 1. The gate to the Pinnacle Trail remains closed until after the spring mud season.
Santa Clara Tract Easement Lands: Due to logging operations the Madawaska Road and Conversation Corners Road will be closed to snowmobiles and the Snowmobile Corridor C8 has been rerouted.
Whitney Wilderness / Lake Lila: The gate to the Lake Lila Road is closed. Public motorized access to the road is prohibited until the gate is reopened after the spring mud season. Cross-country skiers, snowshoers and other non-motorized access is allowed on the road. Trespassing on lands adjacent to the road is prohibited.
** Taylor Pond Wild Forest: Effective Monday, April 4, all of the rock climbing routes on the Main Face of Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain are closed, except for the routes between “Opposition” and “Womb with a View”, to allow for peregrine falcon nesting. See Adirondack Rock Climbing Route Closures for more information.
Sable Highlands Conservation Easement Lands: Numerous cross country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities exist on the Public Use Areas and Linear Recreation Corridors open to the public. Skiers and snowshoers are asked not to use the groomed snowmobile routes. Signs on the trails and maps of the snowmobile routes instruct snowmobilers on which routes are open this winter. Portions of these routes may be plowed from time to time so riders should be cautious and aware of motor vehicles that may be on the road. These route changes are a result of the cooperation of Chateaugay Woodlands, the landowner of the easement lands, and their willingness to maintain the snowmobile network. The cooperation of snowmobilers will ensure future cooperative reroutes when the need arises.
Sable Highlands Conservation Easement Lands: A parking area has been built on Goldsmith Road for snowmobile tow vehicles and trailers. The southern terminus of Linear Recreation Corridor 8 (Liberty Road) lies several hundred feet to the east of the parking area and connects to the C8A Snowmobile Corridor Trail (Wolf Pond Road) via Linear Recreation Corridor 7 (Wolf Pond Mountain Road). Construction of the parking area was a cooperative effort of the landowner, the Town of Franklin, and DEC. The Town of Franklin donated time, personnel and equipment from their highway department and will be plowing the parking area.
Sable Highlands / Old Liberty Road / Wolf Pond Mountain Road Snowmobile Trail: Due to planned logging operations by the landowner on lands north of Loon Lake, the western portion of the snowmobile trail (Old Liberty Road/Wolf Pond Mountain Road) that connected with the C7 Snowmobile Corridor Trail (the utility corridor) just north of Loon Lake near Drew Pond and lead to the C8A Snowmobile Corridor Trail (Wolf Pond Road) has been closed this winter. The eastern portion of that snowmobile trail (Wolf Pond Mountain Road) now connects to Goldsmith Road near the parking area. Snowmobiles planning to travel between Franklin County and Clinton County using the C8A Snowmobile Corridor Trail must access C8A at the junction with C7 or use Goldsmith Road and the trail from the Goldsmith Road to C8A (Wolf Pond Road).
Sable Highlands / Mullins Road: The Mullins Road has been opened to snowmobiles to connect County Route 26 (Loon Lake Road) to C7. The road is located approximately halfway between the intersections of Route 26 with C8 (Debar Game Farm Road) and Route 26 with C7.
Norton Peak Cave / Chateuagay Woodlands Conservation Easement Lands: Norton Peak Cave will be closed to the public from Nov 1 till March 31. The cave is a bat hibernacula with white nose syndrome present. It is being closed to recreational spelunking to avoid disturbance of hibernating bats. DEC is closing all bat hibernacula caves on state lands and easments to protect the bat population.
GENERAL ADIRONDACK NOTICES
Accidents Happen, Be Prepared Wilderness conditions can change suddenly and accidents happen. Hikers and campers should check up-to-date forecasts before entering the backcountry as conditions at higher elevations will likely be more severe. All users should bring flashlight, first aid kit, map and compass, extra food, plenty of water and clothing. Be prepared to spend an unplanned night in the woods and always inform others of your itinerary.
Personal Flotation Devices Required Paddlers, hunters and other users of small boats are reminded that state law requires all occupants of boats less than 21 feet in length are required to wear personal flotation devices (aka PFDs and life jackets) between November 1 and May 1.
Cave And Mine Closings White nose syndrome, the fungal disease that’s wiping out bat populations across the northeast has spread to at least 32 cave and mine bat hibernation sites across the New York state according to a recent survey. Populations of some bat species are declining in these caves and mines by 90 percent. White nose was first discovered in upstate New York in the winter of 2006-2007 and is now confirmed in at least 11 states. DEC has closed all bat hibernacula caves on state lands and easements to protect the bat population including Norton Peak Cave in Chateuagay Woodlands Easement Lands and also Eagle Cave near Chimney Mountain. Please respect cave and mine closures.
Practice ‘Leave No Trace’ Principles All backcountry users should learn and practice the Leave No Trace philosophy: Plan ahead and be prepared, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and be considerate of others. More information is available online.
——————– Warnings and announcements drawn from DEC, NWS, NOAA, USGS, and other sources. Detailed Adirondack Park camping, hiking, and outdoor recreation and trail conditions can be found at DEC’s webpages. A DEC map of the Adirondack Park can also be found online [pdf].
The new DEC Trails Supporter Patch is now available for $5 at all outlets where sporting licenses are sold, on-line and via telephone at 1-866-933-2257. Patch proceeds will help maintain and enhance non-motorized trails throughout New York State.
The deep snow pack that formed this winter and its persistence in remaining has created hardships for many forms of wildlife, yet a few creatures have benefited from this substantial crystalline covering, especially the mice.
Life for a small, ground dwelling rodent in winter is a challenge that many individuals fail to survive. Not only must a mouse find enough to eat in order to maintain an internal temperature near 100 degrees, but it must also avoid the many predators that target this round-eared critter. After most other small creatures, like the chipmunk, wood frog, jumping mice, salamanders and snakes have entered their dormant stage in autumn, only a few ground dwelling forms of prey remain active for our carnivores to hunt. This substantially increases the pressure on these familiar small rodents. In their attempt to avoid being seen by a fox, coyote, bobcat, fisher, hawk, owl or other meat eater, those mice that have not taken up residence indoors tend to confine their travels as much as possible to places under the snow’s surface. Limiting their foraging activities as much as possible to the crevices and hollows under fallen logs, around large rocks and stumps, and beneath other objects on the forest floor helps to conceal these critters from the view of the larger animals that are always on the prowl for prey.
While the keen senses of hearing and smell of most predators, especially the fox and coyote enable these highly perceptive animals to detect the movements of a mouse under the snow, their ability to capture one depends on the depth of the snow, as well as surface conditions. Rapidly and accurately digging through more than a foot of powder becomes a major challenge for any quadruped. The noise generated in flinging aside the snow instantly alerts the quarry to an attack, and causes this potential meal to quickly retreat from that spot. Unless a predator attacks with lightning speed, it will never be successful in apprehending a roving mouse beneath the snow pack.
A crust on the surface presents an even more formidable barrier to snagging a mouse as it moves in the shallow spaces that exist between the forest floor and the snow that covers the ground. A dense crust which forms after a late winter thaw is especially beneficial, as it can act like a coat of armor over the domain of a mouse.
Hawks and owls are particularly adversely impacted by the presence of a substantial layer of snow throughout the winter. These hunters rely entirely on snatching creatures that are traveling on top of the snow, or are moving just below the surface. While their razor sharp talons are effective weapons in quickly killing prey, they are useless in digging through the snow to search for an animal that has recently burrowed down into the powder to escape an attack.
Aside from offering protection from its numerous natural enemies, snow also provides mice with protection against bitter cold temperatures. Snow is an excellent insulator, and a layer of fluffy powder effectively traps the heat contained within the soil, making a far more favorable microclimate beneath this seasonal blanket than the air above.
It is difficult to say when the snow will eventually disappear for the season. For outdoor enthusiasts that enjoy bare ground and for the region’s numerous predators, it can’t come soon enough. But for the mice, a snow pack that lingers well into April is ideal, for this is when the intensity of the sun’s rays begins to thaw the soil and awakens most dormant critters. As these creatures begin to repopulate the forest floor, in an often still lethargic state, the appetite of the predator community begins to become satisfied, and hunting pressure eases on the mice.
So far, this has been a near perfect snow season for our mouse community, and undoubtedly, there are now plenty of mice to begin their extensive breeding season. With their normally high rate of reproduction, it can be expected that there will be an over abundance of these small, ubiquitous rodents by the time mid autumn arrives, and countless individuals will be looking for a warm home in which to spend next winter.
Sunshine, melting snow, mild temperatures—it sure felt like spring this past weekend. But not everywhere.
On Saturday, I climbed the Trap Dike and the slide on the northwest face of Mount Colden. The snow throughout the ascent was hard, like Styrofoam, ideal for ascending with crampons. When my foot did break through the crust one time, I sank up to my thigh. The trip served as a reminder that winter lingers in the high elevations long after spring arrives in the valleys. If you’re willing to carry your equipment two or three miles over muddy trails at the start, you sometimes can ski Mount Marcy into May.
Spring skiing is great fun if you catch the right conditions. Ideally, the nights are cold enough that the snowpack remains hard, but the temperatures climb enough during the day to soften the surface. If snow remains too firm, you’ll have a hair-raising descent. If it softens too much, you’ll be sinking into mashed potatoes.
A friend of mine snowboarded Algonquin Peak and Wright Peak on the day I climbed the Trap Dike. In photos posted on Facebook, his friends are seen crossing an open brook with skis over their shoulders. This kind of thing is typical of the approaches in spring.
A few years ago, I did the Algonquin/Wright trip with four others and wrote about it for the Adirondack Explorer in a story headlined “Winter’s last redoubt.” If you’re interested in reading a detailed account of spring adventure, click here to see the story and Susan Bibeau’s photos.
Spring skiing leads to odd juxtapositions. I once skied Marcy and played golf on the same day. Other times, I drove to Albany after a ski trip and saw flowers in bloom, with temperatures in the seventies. If you tell people you went skiing on a day like that, they look at you funny.
Indeed, many people do not realize how long winter hangs on in the High Peaks. On a warm day in April, I once encountered a hiker on the plateau below Marcy’s summit, sinking to his knees with each step. I asked him why he wasn’t wearing snowshoes, as required by law. He informed me that “the season is over”—referring, I suppose, to the skiing/snowshoeing season.
I’m skiing and you’re sinking up to your knees in snow, but the season is over?
Another day, I started out from the Adirondak Loj in a T-shirt. The temperatures must have been in the sixties, and it got warmer as the day progressed. Nevertheless, when I got to Marcy’s summit cone, the wind-chill made it feel well below freezing. I put on my winter layers. Meanwhile, a hiker was struggling up the slope in shorts, looking miserable but determined to get to the top.
So if you’re planning to climb a High Peak in April or early May, don’t be misled by the mild weather at the trailhead. Winter can be nasty, even in spring.
Photo by Susan Bibeau: skiers ascending Algonquin Peak in spring.
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