New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Rangers respond to search and rescue incidents in the Adirondacks. Working with other state agencies, local emergency response organizations and volunteer search and rescue groups, Forest Rangers locate and extract lost, injured or distressed people from the Adirondack backcountry.
What follows is a report, prepared by DEC, of a recent mission carried out by Forest Rangers in the Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.
I learned that Emily wanted to do a big hike, something spectacular. It didn’t take me long to hit on the idea of climbing Algonquin Peak and Iroquois Peak and returning by way of Avalanche Lake.
We would go over the summit of the second-highest mountain in the state, follow a mile-long open ridge with breathtaking views, descend a steep but beautiful trail, and scramble along the shore of a lake whose sublimity never fails to astound. » Continue Reading.
This photo was taken just at sunrise from the summit of Wright Peak. I left the Adirondak Loj trailhead at just before 3 am so that I would arrive at the summit well before sunrise. While the sunrise its was beautiful, I found the blue early morning light on the face of Algonquin quite appealing.
If you enjoy skiing, you’ll want to see a Passion for Snow, an hour-long documentary produced by Lisa Densmore Ballard, a Saranac Lake native who frequently writes about hiking and paddling for the AdirondackExplorer.
The movie tells the story of Dartmouth College’s influence on skiing in North America, but it includes several Adirondack connections. » Continue Reading.
“We can’t go wrong with Wright” was Ron’s proposal for an early spring backcountry ski destination. At seven miles, round trip, a ski tour to the summit of Wright Peak is one of the shorter trips in the High Peaks. But shorter isn’t easier and, as we soon found out, things can go wrong.
Our plan would require a combination of skills: we would start by cross-country skiing on the rolling terrain of Algonquin Trail, a narrow hiking trail starting at the Adirondak Loj parking lot. When the pitch became too great, we would put climbing skins on our skis for awhile, then replace our skis with crampons for the final push to the summit. For the descent, we would ski down the newly-fallen powder on the Wright Peak Ski Trail using alpine techniques.
As we approached the top, the towering trees of the lower elevations were replaced by the dwarfs of the Krumholtz zone, where the stunted and deformed trees looked like a bonsai garden.
At tree line, we met a couple of Canadian skiers who warned us of the treacherous winds and ice-covered rocks above. Rather than hike over the top of the mountain, Ron suggested that we follow the contour around the peak, traversing between the Lilliputian trees until we intersected the ski trail on the other side. » Continue Reading.
We just finished our March/April issue of the Adirondack Explorer, so I took Tuesday off to go backcountry skiing and take advantage of the recent snowfalls (before a looming thaw sets in).
My neighbor Tim Peartree and I skied through two mountain passes. The first, Avalanche Pass, is one of the most popular ski trips in the Adirondacks. From Heart Lake, it’s about four miles to the top of the pass and an additional 0.6 miles to Avalanche Lake. » Continue Reading.
When I first set out to explore Lost Brook Tract one of my burning curiosities was to discover what views there might be. After all I knew the land was situated on the side of a high ridge surrounded by significant mountains; surely there had to be some great sights. Like everyone reading this I love my Adirondack views, so I could hardly wait to go hunting. » Continue Reading.
Long considered beautiful photographs of the Adirondack landscape, Seneca Ray Stoddard’s views also serve as documents of the plants that inhabited the region in the 19th century. Since he was rediscovered in the late 1970s, Stoddard’s work has been featured in numerous exhibits that explored the history of 19th century life in the Adirondacks. A survey of the 3,000 images in the Chapman Historical Museum archives, however, revealed hundreds of images that are purely natural landscapes. The subject matter is the Adirondack environment – not great hotels, steamers, camp scenes or other obvious evidence of human activity. » Continue Reading.
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.
The Adirondack Almanack is pleased to have the unique opportunity to present the first-hand experience of Ian Measeck of Glens Falls, who along with Jamie McNeill of Vergennes, Vermont was caught in an avalanche on Angel Slide, Wright Peak on February 27th. The potentially deadly avalanche occurred just a month after Phil Brown wrote A Short History of Adirondack Avalanches. Phil reported a week ago that Angel Slide was still unsafe.
You can see the Angel Slides from Marcy Dam: two adjoining bedrock scars—one wide, one thin—on the southeastern slopes of Wright Peak. They are a well-known destination for expert backcountry skiers.
The slides got their nickname following the death of Toma Vracarich. Ten years ago this month, Vracarich and three other skiers were caught in an avalanche on the wider slide. Vracarich died under the snow. He was twenty-seven. The other skiers were injured.
It remains the only avalanche fatality in the Adirondacks, but it put people on notice that the avalanche risk here is real. » Continue Reading.
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.
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