Posted on January 21st, 2013 Add a comment >>
Oseetah Marsh just outside Saranac Lake is the destination of one of my regular lunch-hour ski trips. It’s short, easy, and scenic, with views of the McKenzie Range, the Sawtooth Range, and nearby Scarface Mountain.
Today I did the trip for the first time this winter. Why did I wait so long? To get to the marsh, I follow a snowmobile trail through a beautiful pine forest. Until this afternoon, every time I reached the edge of the marsh I found a small pool of black water, bordered by very thin ice.
I tried to ski the marsh as recently as late last week. Given the cold weather since then, I decided to try again today, and I’m glad I did. The ice was solid, with no slush. I did a short loop, taking in the views, and then returned to the office.
Nevertheless, we could use the frigid weather this week (it’s supposed to get to 20 below on Tuesday night) to solidify the ice on lakes, ponds, and stream crossings. The ice has been unusually thin this winter. In fact, the state issued a news release a week and a half ago warning people.
On a ski trip on Saturday, I found running water and wet spots in a few places on the Jackrabbit Trail. Let’s hope these get frozen as well.
In what has become an annual rite, I skied the 24-mile Jackrabbit from Saranac Lake to Keene to attend Mountainfest. I met Mike Lynch, the outdoors reporter for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, at Rock and River Lodge. We went to the spaghetti dinner hosted by the Keene Fire Department and then watched a slide show by Freddie Wilkinson, a professional rock and ice climber. I’ll link to Mike’s story about the Mountainfest when it appears online.
Since many people ski the Jackrabbit, I thought I’d share my observations of the conditions, section by section. The bottom line is that the snow cover was often thin, but the whole trail was skiable, if marginal in places.
North Country Community College to McKenzie Pond Road: The one wet spot, before the wooden bridge, is easily avoided and may be frozen by now.
McKenzie Pond Road to Whiteface Club: Extreme caution is advised on the hills on either side of McKenzie Pass (especially on the west side). I encountered small rivulets, exposed rocks, and patches of open ground. The cover improves the higher you go.
Whiteface Club to Lake Placid Club: No problems on the Whiteface Club’s golf course or on the Brewster Peninsula Trails. When I got to Howard Johnson’s in Lake Placid, I deviated from the Jackrabbit. Instead of following the trail through residential neighborhoods on the outskirts of the village, I walked to Mirror Lake, skied across the lake, and picked up the Jackrabbit again at the Lake Placid Club and Resort. I find this more enjoyable and more scenic. Incidentally, a dogsled operator told me the ice was eight inches thick. People were playing hockey and skiing on the lake as well as riding dogsleds.
Lake Placid Club to Cascade Cross-Country Ski Center: Due to wind, the coverage on the golf course was variable, but this posed no problems. The trails at Cascade were in fine shape.
Cascade to Rock and River in Keene: The long climb up the plowed Old Mountain Road is no fun, especially after a long day. I found enough snow on the side of the road or on the banks so I didn’t have to take off my skis. Ice climbers had post-holed the first half-mile or so of trail to reach the cliffs on Pitchoff Mountain. I was more worried about the long downhill on the other side of the pass. For the most part, it proved to be in decent shape except for one exposed patch that I rode over.
A FEW CAVEATS: Often the larger problem on my trek was not a shortage of snow, but the nature of the snow. The trail was rough and frozen, usually with a hard crust on the sides of the ski track. If we get a snowfall on top of this solid base, conditions will improve greatly. Also, on my ski to Oseetah Marsh, I discovered that Sunday’s high winds left the trail littered with pine needles, twigs, and small branches. Presumably, similar debris will be found on the Jackrabbit and other trails. It’s also possible that trees were blown over.
Posted on December 7th, 2012 5 comments Add a comment >>
Last Friday I went on my first ski of the season, a long loop around Heron Marsh and over an esker at the Adirondack Visitor Interpretive Center in Paul Smiths. Although Paul Smiths is only a dozen miles from our office in Saranac Lake, it usually receives noticeably more snow. And so it was on this day: there must have been at least six inches, enough to kick and glide over the VIC’s smooth trails. I snapped the photo above near the outlet of Heron Marsh.
A week later, thanks to rain and a few warm days, cross-country skiers are out of luck. I walked to Marcy Dam this morning and found only a dusting of snow long the trail and in the woods.
And the Adirondack Ski Touring Council reports that the forecast is not promising: “only a mix of precipitation is predicted for the weekend followed by temperatures near 40 and rain on Monday. After that it does cool off a bit, but still no season-starting storm in sight.”
I’m starting to fear that this could be a repeat of last winter, when many backcountry trails lacked sufficient snow until well into winter. The one bit of good news is that the trail to Marcy Dam was frozen, for the most part. That means if snow does come, more of it will stick around.
And as you can see from the photo below, Marcy Dam Pond is freezing over.
Posted on December 16th, 2009 Add a comment >>
We got enough snow last week to do a little backcountry skiing. One day I skied to McKenzie Pond; on another, I skied part way up Debar Mountain. The flats were fine, but on both trails, my skis scraped rocks on the hills. Expect the cover to remain thin for a while, at least in the Lake Placid region, as no big storms are in the forecast.
Of course, whenever you’re planning on cross-country skiing in the Adirondacks and coming from outside the Park, you’d probably like to know how much snow we have.
Well, if you’re going to ski in the High Peaks or anywhere in the Lake Placid region, you’re in luck. Tony Goodwin, the author of Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks, regularly updates the cross-country-ski conditions for the Lake Placid area here.
But what about other parts of the Park? It’s 5.8 million acres, and snow conditions vary thoughout it. Generally, the western part of the Park receives more snow over a season, owing to lake-effect storms. Retired Forest Ranger Gary Lee told me they got sixteen inches of snow in Inlet last week. Spencer Morrissey, the author of The Other 54, said they got a similar amount in Wanakena.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations updates daily an online map showing the snow depths throughout the Northeast. Today’s map (shown above) indicates that the snow is 15 to 20 inches deep in parts of the central Adirondacks.
You can find more snow reports from NOAA here. If you click on any of the weather stations, you’ll find line graphs showing snow depth, snow melt, snow density, and so forth. Three of the weather stations are in the Adirondacks: Saranac Lake, Speculator, and Chesterfield.
When I looked at these graphs, it seemed to me that they overestimated snow depth. For example, the Speculator site indicates that the snow is about 26 inches deep–more than the maximum amount shown in the Northeast map. I e-mailed NOAA for an explanation. I’ll let you know what I find out.
Other good sources of information are cross-country-ski resorts, which often post their snow conditions online. Mary Thill listed the Adirondack resorts in a recent post on Adirondack Almanack.
Posted on December 11th, 2009 Add a comment >>
We finally have enough snow to ski on some of the early-season trails, such as the road to Camp Santanoni in Newcomb, the Marcy Dam Truck Trail in the High Peaks Wilderness, the Fish Pond Truck Trail in the St. Regis Canoe Area, and the Hayes Brook Truck Trail in the Debar Mountain Wild Forest.
Yesterday afternoon, I took a short ski on a new trail outside Lake Placid—a 2.5-mile round trip/loop through Henry’s Woods, a preserve owned by the Uihlein Foundation. The trail is graded and most of it is covered with crushed stone, so it’s skiable with about six inches of snow.
Conditions were great (fluffy powder), and the woods were beautiful. From the parking lot, you ski (slightly uphill) to a junction at 0.3 miles, the start of the 1.9-mile loop that climbs and descends a ridge. Ski the loop clockwise; otherwise, you’ll face a steep downhill with some sharp turns. Even going clockwise, you’ll encounter a sharp left just as you begin the descent, so be prepared. After that turn, it gets a lot easier.
We’ll run a more detailed story in the next issue of the Adirondack Explorer.
Meantime, if you want to get to Henry’s Woods, turn onto Bear Cub Road from Old Military Road, which runs between Route 73 and Route 86 south of the village of Lake Placid.
To check on cross-country-ski conditions in the area, visit Tony Goodwin’s online report. Incidentally, Tony designed the Henry’s Woods trail.
Posted on November 24th, 2009 Add a comment >>
Cross-country skiers who live in or near Saranac Lake don’t have to travel far in pursuit of their pastime: Dewey Mountain, a small peak on the outskirts of the village, has ten kilometers of trails.
Dewey’s lower trails are groomed by a snowmobile pulling a roller, but the trails on the upper part of the mountain are left natural, providing a taste of the backcountry experience. Dewey also has separate snowshoe trails.
Locals ski at Dewey whenever they have a little time to kill—before work, after work, even after dinner (some trails are open at night). I like to ski Dewey during my lunch hour. It takes me thirty minutes or so to get up to the summit, which offers a view through the trees of the surrounding lakes and peaks. The ride back down takes only ten minutes or so.
Dewey also draws tourists looking for a less-expensive alternative to the state-run trails at Mount Van Hoevenberg. A day pass at Dewey costs just $5. Last winter, a day pass at Van Ho cost $18.
“We get a lot of people from outside the area,” said Steve Doxzon, owner of Adirondack Lakes and Trails, which runs Dewey for the town Harrietstown. Last season, Dewey saw more than two thousand skier-days.
Doxzon said Dewey needs eight to ten inches of snow for the lower trails to open and a foot to eighteen inches for the ungroomed trails.
There’s no snow here yet, but Adirondack Lakes and Trails has been busy getting Dewey ready for winter, improving drainage, removing large rocks, and, last weekend, replacing a rotten bridge. Steve Langdon, an experienced trail builder, oversaw the bridge construction. Several other volunteers showed up to do the grunt work. The community spirit is part of what Dewey is all about.
Posted on October 21st, 2009 Add a comment >>
On Sunday, my daughter Martha and I encountered snow and ice on the trail from Crow Clearing in Keene to Hurricane Mountain, which at 3,694 is not even a High Peak. This trail ascends the north side of the mountain, so it doesn’t get much sun. Hikers who came up the trail from Route 9N to the south told us they did not find snow until just below the summit.
At this time of year, though, it can snow at the higher elevations at any time. And the temperatures are often below freezing at night. So be prepared.
Having said that, Martha and I ascended the mountain in running shoes (we jogged part of the trail). We managed to get to the top, but I’d bring grippers next time. On the way down, we had to slide on our butts in a few places.
Incidentally, the three-mile trail from Crow Clearing would be a fun ski/snowshoe trip. The first mile to the Gulf Brook lean-to is flat. Beyond the lean-to, the trail ascends gradually for another mile or so, and the woods are fairly open if you prefer to ski off the trail. You could ski up the trail as far as you felt comfortable, then snowshoe the rest of the way. In winter, the dirt road is not plowed all the way to Crow Clearing, so you’ll have an extra mile of skiing–all told, two to three miles each way.
Directions: From NY 73 in the hamlet of Keene, drive east on Hurricane Road for 2.3 miles to O’Toole Lane. Bear left and take O’Toole for 1.2 miles to its end at Crow Clearing. In winter, most of O’Toole Lane is not plowed.
Posted on October 13th, 2009 5 comments Add a comment >>
We awoke in Saranac Lake this morning to find an inch of snow on the ground. We’ve seen flurries a few times in the past two weeks, but this was the first accumulation at lower elevations. It won’t be long now before people are skiing the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway. The highway has had enough snow to ski before this, but it was plowed by the Olympic Regional Development Authority. Starting today, that won’t be an issue. ORDA keeps the toll road open for tourists only through Columbus Day, which was yesterday.
For many Adirondack skiers, winter starts with a trip up the Whiteface highway. The road is skiable with just an inch or two of snow, and you have to love the destination: the top of the fifth-highest mountain in the state. The 5.3-mile road ends just short of the summit, but you can hike the remaining quarter-mile to the tippy-top. It can be brutally cold at the higher elevations, especially if the wind is whipping, so bring appropriate clothing.
The descent of the highway is long but gentle. If conditions are right, a novice skier can handle it. If the road is icy or has a lot of bare spots, intermediate skills are required.
The highway is best skied on a sunny day so you can enjoy the views of Lake Placid and the High Peaks. If you don’t have the time or energy to go to the end of the road, you can turn around at the first hairpin turn, reached after 3.5 miles. The view from the turn is well worth the journey.
Posted on October 2nd, 2009 Add a comment >>
The next time you’re in Lake Placid and looking to kill an hour or two, check out the new 2.5-mile trail at Henry’s Woods on the outskirts of town.
Locals have been using the trail for a while now, but village and town officials celebrated its official opening just this week.
I went there after work the other day and was impressed. This is not a wilderness trail: it’s five feet wide and most of its surface is covered with crushed stone. But it’s ideal for a short hike or jog at the start or end of your day. Come winter, it will be great for cross-country skiing.
The trail was designed by Tony Goodwin, executive director of both the Adirondack Ski Touring Council and the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society. It was constructed by Steve Langdon and Jeremy Burns.
Henry’s Woods is a 200-acre preserve off Bear Cub Lane owned by the Uihlein Foundation. The preserve is named after the philanthropist Henry Uihlein.
The trail passes an unfinished kiosk at the start and reaches a junction at 0.3 miles–the start of a 2-mile loop. I went clockwise, climbing steadily through a hardwood forest for about 0.4 miles. The trail continues on the level at the higher elevation for about 0.5 miles before beginning a series of descents and returning to the junction. The downhills will be exciting on skis.
There are plans to construct two other trails. These would provide views of Lake Placid and the High Peaks.
Directions: From NY 73 , turn onto Old Military Road near the ski jumps south of Lake Placid village. Drive 0.8 miles and turn left onto Bear Cub Lane. The entrance for Henry’s Woods will appear on the right in a tenth of a mile. If coming from Saranac Lake, turn onto Old Military Road from NY 86. You will reach Bear Cub Lane on the right after 3 miles.