Posted on July 30th, 2010 14 comments Add a comment >>
The common loon is an icon of the North Woods, a symbol of wilderness, and sometimes the object of harassment.
On June 12, two teenage boys frightened a loon off its nest on Sixth Lake, in Inlet, and struck the nest with a canoe paddle, breaking an egg, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. DEC ticketed the boys’ guardian for destroying the nest of a protected bird—on the theory that the guardian must answer for the boys’ actions. The maximum penalty is a $250 fine and fifteen days in jail.
The good news is that the remaining egg in the nest hatched.
On July 21, a teenage boy ski was seen harassing two adult loons and three juvenile birds by buzzing them with a jet-ski on Raquette Pond, part of Tupper Lake, according to DEC. “Loons, and especially young loons, have limited capacity to repeatedly dive below the surface to avoid such boating harassment, and it is unknown if any loons were injured or killed,” the agency said in a news release. The boy was charged with illegally taking protected wildlife and several violations of state Navigation Law. The fines could add up to as much as $900.
In a third incident, DEC received a complaint on July 12 that boaters were harassing nesting loons on Raquette Lake. Although two eggs from the nest eventually hatched, DEC is investigating the incident.
In other loon news, DEC yesterday rescued an adult bird that was sitting in a roadway in Arietta in Hamilton County (loons need to take flight from water). Environmental Conservation Officer Peter Buswell and Lt. Harold Barber bundled the loon in a raincoat and transported it to North Country Wild Care in Warrensburg for rehabilitation.
Although its population has increased in recent decades, the common loon remains a species of special concern in New York State. Wildlife Conservation Society recently completed its annual loon census in the Adirondacks. The data are still being analyzed.
Click here to read DEC’s news release on the loon incidents.
Posted on July 29th, 2010 5 comments Add a comment >>
Although you can’t learn rock climbing from a book, you’ll find a lot of rock-climbing manuals at EMS in Lake Placid, the Mountaineer in Keene Valley, and other outdoors stores. These books are no substitute for experience, but they do reinforce lessons you’re likely to hear from professional guides and veteran climbers.
I own several such books. One of my favorites was written by Lake Placid’s own Don Mellor: A Trailside Guide: Rock Climbing, published by W.W. Norton & Co.
Recently, I finished a classic of the genre, Basic Rockcraft by Royal Robbins, from way back in 1971.
Royal Robbins ranks among the giants in the annals of climbing. He made his reputation pioneering big-wall climbs in Yosemite and elsewhere. In 1957, to name just one feat, he and two others made the first ascent of the northwest face of Half Dome. It took them five days. Following the onset of arthritis in the late seventies, Robbins retired from serious climbing and took up adventure kayaking. He also founded an apparel company.
Much of the advice about climbing technique in Basic Rockcraft remains as sound as ever. However, I was struck by how much the equipment has changed.
Shoes. In the photos in the book, Robbins and other climbers wear what appear to be hiking boots and socks. For all I know, these may actually be the rock-climbing shoes of the day, for he discusses the advantages of specialized rock shoes and notes that some of them have cleats. In any case, the boots in the photos are a far cry from the sticky-sole slippers favored by climbers today.
Harnesses. Robbins did not enjoy the comfort and security of a manufactured harness. Instead, he wrapped webbing (flat rope) around his waist and tied loops for his thighs, creating a proto-harness known as a “Swami belt.” He also used webbing to create seat slings for rappels.
Belay devices. Modern climbers feed the climbing rope through metal belay devices when belaying or rappelling. These devices generate friction to stop a fall or control a descent. Lacking such devices, the climbers in Robbins’s day generated friction by wrapping the rope around their bodies and sometimes feeding it through stacked carabiners as well.
Helmets. In his discussion on equipment, Robbins nowhere mentions helmets, and the climbers in the photos do not wear them.
Chalk. Nor does he mention chalk, which is ubiquitous today. Climbers use chalk to keep their palms and fingers dry.
Pitons. A piton hammer and pitons were still part of the essential equipment. Robbins lists five types of pitons and describes how to place and remove them. At the same time, more benign forms of protective anchors were coming into use, namely, artificial chockstones, or nuts, that could be wedged into cracks. Robbins advocated using nuts over pitons whenever possible. They don’t deface the cliff, he said, and offer the climber greater satisfaction: “the silent communion between man and rock, the feeling that one is with the rock, the greater sensitivity to its minute variations and configurations, the knowledge that one is not violating the rock, smashing it with pitons.” His defense of “clean climbing” helped changed the sport. There are now a wide variety of nuts and camming devices on the market.
All of the equipment innovations since the publication of Basic Rockcraft have served to make climbing easier and safer. In Robbins’s era, a difficult climb would be rated 5.9 or perhaps 5.10 in the Yosemite Decimal System. Nowadays, the best climbers have managed to do routes rated as high as 5.15, which once would have been considered impossible. But could they do them in hiking boots?
Did you ever climb with the old equipment? If so, we’d love to hear about it. How much have equipment improvements changed the sport and made climbing easier?
Posted on July 27th, 2010 12 comments Add a comment >>
Crown Point photographer Seth Lang was driving on Lake Shore Road between Wesport and Essex yesterday when he spotted a large timber rattlesnake in the road. Timber rattlers are a threatened species in New York State. This specimen was all black.
“It was stretched across the lane as I swerved around it,” Seth e-mailed me. “I realized it was a snake. I threw it in reverse, and it coiled up and stayed coiled up while I photographed it. Very large, bigger around than my arm, and I’d guess five to six feet long. It did kinda keep puffing up like it wanted to strike, but no rattle noise.”
Lake Shore Road borders Split Rock Mountain, which is thought to be the northernmost habitat of the timber rattler. In the Adirondacks, the snakes also can be found on Tongue Mountain and other spots around Lake George. Timber rattlers range as far south as Florida and as far west as Texas.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation notes that timber rattlers usually are three to four and a half feet long, so the one Seth encountered was larger than average—unless his eyes deceived him.
Bill Brown, an expert on timber rattlers, says the snakes rarely grow larger than four feet. “Anybody that sees a four-foot timber rattler thinks he saw a five-foot snake,” he said.
Brown said the Split Rock population is unusual in that all the specimens are black. Except for a tiny population in New Hampshire, other populations in the North are made up of black snakes and yellow snakes (with crossbands). In the South, there may be more color variations.
A biologist who has studied timber rattlers for more than three decades, Brown attributes the uniformity of the Split Rock population to the “founder effect.” It is supposed that all the founders of the population were black, and no yellow snakes contributed to the gene pool.
Essex County, where Split Rock Mountain is located, once offered a bounty on the venomous snakes—which led to a steep decline in their numbers. How is the population faring these days?
“As far as I know, it’s doing well,” Brown said. “It’s like all of the populations in New York State. They’re holding their own or coming back a little bit.”
Timber rattlers feed mostly on small mammals, but they also eat birds, amphibians, and other snakes. They use venom to immobilize prey. “In New York there have been no records of human deaths attributable to rattlesnakes in the wild during the last several decades,” DEC says. “Contrary to popular opinion, a rattlesnake will not pursue or attack a person unless threatened or provoked.”
Posted on July 20th, 2010 Add a comment >>
You’re invited to help celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail this weekend. Although the party will take place in Rangley, Maine, you can take part in the celebration right here in the Adirondacks.
The NFCT is asking canoeists and kayakers to paddle any portion of the water trail on Saturday, July 24, and report their mileage (and upload photos, if possible) by 5 p.m.
The 740-mile trail begins in Old Forge and ends in Fort Kent, Maine. The Adirondack leg includes the Fulton Chain of Lakes, Raquette Lake and part of the Raquette River, the Saranac Lakes, and the Saranac River. Click here for an overview of the route.
Click here for more information on and to register for Paddle 740 Miles in One Day.
Click here to read a feature story about the NFCT in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.
Posted on July 20th, 2010 7 comments Add a comment >>
Lindsay Facteau recently sent us this photo of a wildflower that she and her boyfriend found along the road in Duane in the northern Adirondacks. “I thought this flower was a trumpet flower, but looking at other flowers, I guess I was wrong,” she said in an e-mail. “Can you tell me the name of the flower?”
Sorry, Lindsay, I can’t. But I am hopeful that one of our readers can.
Posted on July 13th, 2010 5 comments Add a comment >>
Rock climbers risk their lives in pursuit of their passion. So they’re a tough bunch. Just listen to this snippet of dialogue between Jecinda Hughes and Josh Wilson.
“You’re getting to the midway point of your rope, honey,” Jecinda yells to Josh.
“Thanks, babe,” Josh replies. “That’s OK—I’ve got only about ten feet to go.”
Jecinda is belaying her boyfriend as he ascends the chimney on the Old Route at Hurricane Crag between Keene and Elizabethtown.
Most climbers come to the crag for Quadrophenia, one of the Adirondacks’ most popular moderate routes (rated 5.7 on the Yosemite scale), or one of the stellar harder routes, such as Forever Wild or My Generation (both rated 5.10). But our aim is to follow in the footsteps and hand holds of Fritz Wiessner, one of the greatest climbers and mountaineers of his day.
Wiessner pioneered nearly twenty climbing routes in the Adirondacks in the 1930s and 1940s. He established the Old Route on Hurricane Crag with George Austin. They were the first climbers to visit the crag.
The route is rated 5.3, considered an easy climb by today’s standards. The highlight is a 110-foot ascent through a chimney at the start of the first pitch. The guidebook Adirondack Rock describes this pitch as “incredible—perhaps the largest, highest, deepest, most continuous chimney of its kind in the Adirondacks. Here Wiessner once again picked the plum feature.”
Josh leads our climb, placing protective gear every ten feet or so to prevent a fatal fall.
“This is cool,” he shouts down from about seventy feet. “You guys are going to love it.”
And a little later: “Woo! Wild!”
After reaching the end of the pitch, Josh belays first me, then Jecinda. Although the chimney rises almost straight up, it contains numerous ledges and holds for your feet and hands. The ascent is not especially difficult. Nevertheless, I emerge from the thing with a bloody knee.
It takes about an hour and a half for the three of us to complete the first pitch. From the belay ledge, we enjoy marvelous views of the Giant Mountain Wilderness to the south.
The second pitch, an easy scramble over slab and up a rock groove, is an anticlimax. Because Jecinda has go to work at Lisa G’s in Lake Placid, we climb only a portion of the third and final pitch before rappelling down to the base of the cliff.
Someday we’ll return to complete our homage to Old Fritz.
Click here to read about another Wiessner route in the Adirondacks.
DIRECTIONS: From Keene, drive east on NY 9N for 4.8 miles and look for a herd path on the north side of the highway. The hike to the cliff takes about twenty minutes. The state has plans to mark the approach trail and build a parking area.
Posted on July 6th, 2010 Add a comment >>
We were shocked to hear of Dennis Aprill’s death over the weekend. Dennis was the outdoors writer for the Plattsburgh Press-Republican and taught journalism at Plattsburgh State College.
The newspaper reported that he died Saturday from pancreatic cancer.
Dennis, who was sixty-three, had just published the third edition of his guidebook Good Fishing in the Adirondacks. In fact, we received it just last week.
Good Fishing, published by Countryman Press, contains eighteen chapters written by some the region’s most experienced anglers. Dennis wrote one of the chapters himself (on backcountry fishing) and edited the rest.
He also wrote two hiking guidebooks, Paths Less Traveled and Short Treks in the Adirondacks and Beyond.
But he was probably best known as the “Outdoor Perspective” columnist for the Press-Republican. He had written for the newspaper once a week since 1990—in all, more than a thousand pieces.
“He was especially proud that in all that time he’d never missed a week, whether to illness, vacation or life’s emergencies,” said Bob Grady, the paper’s editor. “For me, he’ll be hard to replace as a contributor to the paper, but impossible to replace as a friend.”
Dennis also wrote for other publications, including the Adirondack Explorer.
North Country Public Radio has posted two interviews with Aprill that originally aired in 2005 and 2006.
Posted on July 2nd, 2010 3 comments Add a comment >>
Ed Ketchledge, the man responsible for saving the alpine vegetation in the High Peaks, died on Wednesday at eighty-five. Ketchledge taught or touched the lives of many of the scientists working in the Adirondacks. He also authored the book Forests and Trees of the Adirondack High Peaks Region, which many hikers use to identify trees along the trail.
Posted on July 1st, 2010 1 comment - Add a comment >>
In the July/August issue of the Explorer, I describe a short hike to the Stillwater Mountain fire tower.
Once the tower is rehabilitated, this will be a nice outing for the general public, but the state Department of Environmental Conservation warns that the tower should not be climbed in the meantime.
DEC spokesman Stephen Litwhiler said the department is unsure of the soundness of the wooden steps leading to the tower’s cab.
The tower’s first two sections of stairs are missing, but on the day of our hike, Sue Bibeau and I used a ladder to reach the stairs that remain in place. Litwhiler now tells me that the ladder should not have been there and will be removed.
You can still hike to the summit, but there isn’t a view from the ground.
Litwhiler said a volunteer group is fixing up the tower, but the project probably will take a few years. After the rehabilitation, DEC plans to create a new trail across the Forest Preserve to the old jeep road leading to the tower. The trail’s route has been surveyed and marked by pink tape. The jeep road and the mountain are on lands owned by Lyme Timber, but the public is allowed to walk along the jeep road to the summit.
The tower provides views of Stillwater Reservoir and vast tracts of wild land, but you’ll have to wait awhile to enjoy them.