Posted on January 29th, 2013 Add a comment >>
It’s not often that little Baker Mountain (elevation, 2,452 feet) in Saranac Lake rises above the clouds, but it did this morning. I took this picture a little after 9 a.m. A rolling ocean of clouds filled the valleys. In the distance are the High Peaks, with Mount Marcy and Algonquin Peak especially prominent. To the right of the tree in the foreground is the scar on Scarface Mountain. We got a wonderful dump of powder yesterday. Unfortunately, they’re predicting freezing drizzle today and rain tomorrow. However, there is snow in the forecast later in the week. Keep your fingers crossed.
Posted on May 25th, 2012 8 comments Add a comment >>
An article on Backpacker Magazine’s website lists “America’s 10 Most Dangerous Hikes.” The one closest to the Adirondacks is Mount Washington in New Hampshire.
The mountain is infamous for its fickle and sometimes extreme weather.
“Known as the most dangerous small mountain in the world,” Backpacker says, “6,288-foot Mt. Washington boasts some scary stats: The highest wind velocity ever recorded at any surface weather station (231 mph) was logged here on April 12, 1934. And 137 fatalities have occurred since 1849. No surprise: Most are due to hypothermia—and not only in winter. ‘They call them the White Mountains for a reason,’ says Lieutenant Todd Bogardus, SAR team leader for New Hampshire’s Fish & Game Department. ‘We see snow right on through the year.’”
Other hikes that made the list include the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon, the Barr Trail on Pikes Peak in Colorado, the Mist Trail on Half Dome in California, and the Muir Snowfield on Mount Rainer in Washington. Click here for the complete list.
So if you were to choose the most dangerous hike in the Adirondack Park what would it be?
Topping my list would be the Trap Dike and the adjacent slides on Mount Colden. A hiker was killed in the dike last year, and several others have been injured on this route over the years. Another candidate would be the Eagle Slide on Giant Mountain. A fall in the wrong place could be disastrous.
Both of these are off-trail excursions. Any thoughts on the most dangerous trail in the Adirondacks?
Posted on April 25th, 2012 5 comments Add a comment >>
This summer W.W. Norton plans to publish Classic Hikes of North America: 25 Breathtaking Treks in the United States and Canada. Judging by the publicity materials, it should be a magnificent-looking book, with detailed maps and more than two hundred color photos.
Adirondack hikers may be disappointed to learn that no hikes in the Park made the cut. In fact, only four of the twenty-five hikes are east of the Mississippi.
The hike closest to the Adirondacks is the Presidential Range Traverse in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The other eastern hikes are the Art Loeb Trail in North Carolina, the Sentiers International des Appalaches in Quebec, and the Long Range Traverse in Newfoundland.
The 224-page hardcover book was written by Peter Potterfield, the author of Classic Hikes of the World. It will sell for $39.95. Click here for more details.
With so many great hikes to choose from in the United States and Canada, perhaps Potterfield can be forgiven for ignoring our part of the world. But if you were to choose one hike from the Adirondacks, what would it be?
Posted on February 22nd, 2012 39 comments Add a comment >>
He had a watch but was afraid to look at it. Instead he tried to gauge time by the slow movement of the stars across the sky. Alas, he forgot that he set his watch alarm for 4 a.m.
“When it went off, I was disappointed,” he said. “I knew I had to wait some more.”
By then, Steve Mastaitis had been curled up inside a snow hole near the summit of Mount Marcy for more than nine hours, shivering uncontrollably, suffering from frostbite, fearing the worst. The temperature fell to near zero during the night, with a wind-chill factor of twenty below.
“I knew there were people out looking for me. I just didn’t think they’d ever find me in time,” Mastaitis, a 58-year-old lawyer from Saratoga Springs, said in an interview at Adirondack Medical Center on Tuesday.
Hard to believe that a day hike in relatively mild conditions could turn into the night from hell.
Mastaitis had climbed fifteen High Peaks, but until Monday, he had never attempted Marcy, the state’s highest mountain. He did the trip at the urging of two of his sons, Evan, 30, and Benjamin, 34. Joining them was Ben’s friend, Matt. The four left Adirondak Loj at 7:30 a.m. and reached Marcy’s summit cone about five hours later.
When they emerged above tree line, they were exposed to fierce winds. When Matt stopped to put on his snowshoes, Steve waited for him while his two sons continued upward. Steve and Matt soon resumed their ascent and met Ben and Evan as those two were coming down.
Because of the wind, Steve and Matt did not linger at the summit. After snapping a few photos, they started down. At some point, Matt stopped for some reason, and Steve continued hiking. He could see his sons two hundred or three hundred yards below.
“All of a sudden I was looking at the trail and there was no trail,” he said. “It was all snow.”
Steve veered to the right into an open gully, thinking it would lead to the trail. He fell into a spruce trap and sunk up to his chest in snow. As he struggled to free himself, one of his snowshoes and one of his boots came off. After fifteen minutes, he extricated himself and put his boot and snowshoe back on.
Afraid of falling into another spruce trap, he started sliding down the gully on his butt. Instead of taking him to the trail, though, it led him to the edge of Panther Gorge, a wild and rugged canyon between Marcy and Mount Haystack.
“Luckily, I stopped myself just before I would have gone over the edge,” he said.
Steve knew he was in trouble. He tried calling 911 and his sons, but he couldn’t get a signal on his cell phone. He then tried his wife, Jane, who was at work in her job as chief financial officer for Saratoga Bridges. She picked up.
“How did he get through to me? That’s the miracle,” Jane said on Tuesday.
Steve told his wife to call 911 and send help. He said this might be his last call, because he didn’t know how long the batteries in his phone would last. Minutes later, she texted Steve and, at the urging of authorities, asked him to call 911 again so they could determine his GPS coordinates. On his second try, Steve got through to 911.
It was not quite 2 p.m. when Steve made that last call. He had reason to hope he would be found that night. Because of the wind, however, forest rangers could not land a helicopter on Marcy. Instead they landed at Lake Colden and hiked up the mountain. They searched until midnight without success, eventually retreating in the face of the severe weather. They evidently came within a hundred yards of Steve’s snow hole, but because of the wind, their shouts went unheard.
Steve had started digging the shelter about 5 p.m. He punched through a layer of crust and scooped out the underlying snow with his hands, creating a hole three or four feet deep in the gully’s slope. He tried to start a fire with pieces of bark and dead branches, but he gave up after the wind kept blowing out his matches.
He entered the hole for the night about 6:30 p.m. Scrunched up in his frigid prison, he had a view of the clear sky. The stars moved imperceptibly. He thought about his family, thought about death, and tried like hell not to fall asleep. “I was afraid if I went to sleep I wouldn’t wake up,” he said.
Despite his best efforts, he occasionally nodded off, only to wake with a start, yelling for help. No one answered.
Throughout the night he flexed his fingers, kicked his feet, and thrashed his body to keep the blood flowing. Eventually, he had to pry his fingers open to keep the joints from freezing. At some point he lost all feeling in his feet.
When dawn finally came, he realized that one of his boots had come off during the night. It was still tied. Since he couldn’t unlace the boot with his frozen fingers, he used a broken ski pole as a shoehorn to wedge his foot inside. He managed to get his snowshoes on, too. He clambered out of the snow hole and started trudging away from the gorge, sometimes crawling.
He estimates that it took him an hour to travel a few hundred yards. “As I got to a rock ledge, I heard voices and yelled for help,” he said.
They were forest rangers who had resumed the search earlier in the morning. It was 8:30 a.m. An hour later, Steve was lifted into a helicopter and whisked away to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake. When he first arrived, his toes were purple and his fingers were ashen gray. His digits also were swollen. By Tuesday afternoon, some of the natural color had returned and the swelling had started to subside.
Jane had been waiting all night for a phone call. Upon hearing her husband had been found alive, she said, “I broke down, because I didn’t know what I was going to hear.”
Things might have turned out differently if Steve had not been wearing several layers of clothing: long underwear (tops and bottoms), knee-high socks, fleece pants, fleece sleeveless vest, windbreaker, shell jacket (with hood), mittens, two hats, and a face mask. On his feet he wore low-cut boots, which he now concedes wasn’t a good choice for winter.
He believes his training as a triathlon competitor (both he and his wife have done the Lake Placid Ironman) helped him get through the ordeal. “I’ve been through pain before,” he remarked. “It gives you a mental toughness.”
Yet he said the biggest credit goes to the forest rangers. He came to tears at the thought that they risked their lives searching for him in the night on Marcy’s summit. “I owe my life to them,” he said.
And what is the lesson from all this?
“If you’re with a group, stay with the group,” he said. “None of this would have happened if we stayed together. And just be prepared.”
Posted on November 3rd, 2011 Add a comment >>
The state has reopened two more trails in the High Peaks region, but it has no plans to reopen before next year other trails closed by Irene.
Hikers can once again take the Deer Brook Trail from Route 73 to Snow Mountain, though the low-water route through the Deer Brook flume remains impassable (it was eroded during the storm).
Also reopened is the second crossover trail between the East River Trail and West River Trail in the Adirondack Mountain Reserve. The first crossover trail is still closed, owing to a missing bridge.
Three trail on the Forest Preserve remain closed:
- The Southside Trail to the ranger’s cabin in the Johns Brook valley.
- The Cold Brook Trail between Lake Colden and Indian Pass.
- The Colvin Range Trail from Blake Peak to the Elk Lake-Mount Marcy Trail.
“These probably will remain closed throughout the winter,” said David Winchell, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. “We’ll look at them again in the spring.”
Winchell said the public can still use the closed trails on the Forest Preserve, but they will not be patrolled or maintained.
Posted on October 28th, 2011 2 comments Add a comment >>
Five trails that had been closed since August 29, the day after Tropical Storm Irene, have been reopened, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced this morning.
Four of the trails start in the vicinity of the Ausable Lakes in the privately owned Adirondack Mountain Reserve:
- The Carry Trail between Lower and Upper Ausable Lake (trail #54 in the Adirondack Mountain Club’s High Peaks guidebook).
- Trail from the Carry Trail to the Colvin Range Trail (#55 in the book).
- Trail from Warden’s Camp at the foot of Upper Ausable to Sawteeth Mountain (#57)
- Trail from Warden’s Camp to Haystack Mountain (#58).
The fifth is the Haystack Brook Trail (#59). It leads from trail #58 to the State Range Trail in the col between Haystack and Basin Mountain.
DEC says the Carry Trail and the trail to Sawteeth have been cleared of blowdown. The other trails are passable but may have blowdown.
Two short trails in the Adirondack Mountain Reserve remain closed. They are the first two crossover routes between the East River Trail and West River Trail. Three other crossover routes are open.
Four other trails also remain closed: the Deer Brook Trail from Route 73 to Snow Mountain; the Southside Trail from the Garden to the Johns Brook ranger cabin; the Cold Brook Trail between Indian Pass and Lake Colden; and the Colvin Range Trail from Blake Peak to Pinnacle and beyond.
Hurricane Road to Crows Clearing remains closed, but the trails starting at the clearing are open. These trails lead to Hurricane Mountain, Big Crow Mountain, and Nun-da-ga-o Ridge.
Click the link below for DEC’s High Peaks bulletin for this weekend. It includes a list of trails that impacted by Irene.
Posted on October 19th, 2011 1 comment - Add a comment >>
The new issue of the Explorer (November/December) will include a two-page spread on climbing five new slides created by Tropical Storm Irene in the High Peaks.
I’ve blogged about my climbs of four of them (see links below), but I have yet to write about my climb of the long slide on Saddleback Mountain. I climbed it two weekends ago with Ron Konowitz. It’s steep enough in places that I would recommend rock-climbing shoes or approach shoes.
You can easily reach the Saddleback slide via the Ore Bed Brook Trail in Johns Brook Valley. Starting from the suspension bridge near the ranger’s cabin, hike 1.7 miles to a house-size boulder on the right side of the trail (it’s 0.25 miles past a lean-to). From the boulder, you can see the slide on the right, a short bushwhack away.
If you leave the trail here, you’ll be walking up a scoured section of Ore Bed Brook, a mix of slab, boulders, mud, and pools. In a half-mile, you’ll reach the wide slabs of the slide proper. Your other option is to stay on the trail past the giant boulder: in another 0.8 miles, the trail passes the edge of the slide.
From the second access point, it’s just about a mile to the top of the slide. From the boulder, it’s 1.9 miles.
The ascent is gradual at first, but it steepens considerably as you get higher. Toward the top, you need to climb over or around a rock wall. We went left, which was fine, but we encountered a muddy section just past the wall.
While ascending, be sure to turn around occasionally to take in the spectacular view of the north face of Gothics.
The climb ends with a dike, one to two feet wide, that runs down the middle of the slide. The pitch here is very steep, but the dike is stepped. At the end you’ll need to make a tricky move to gain the woods.
From the top of the slide, you have a 10-minute bushwhack to Saddleback’s summit. We angled left and did not have too much trouble.
Saddleback’s summit offers marvelous views of the High Peaks. Between the slide and the summit, you’ll be sated with scenery. If you return by the Ore Bed Brook Trail, you’ll cross another slide created by Irene. In the aerial photo, this two-pronged slide is to the left of the Saddleback slide.
Following are links to my blogs on other slides created or expanded by Irene:
Posted on October 7th, 2011 Add a comment >>
The state has reopened the trail from Elk Lake to Panther Gorge but warns that hikers still may encounter blowdown.
The 10.2-mile route leads from the private Elk Lake to Four Corners, a trail junction that lies amid Mount Haystack, Mount Skylight, and Mount Marcy. The trail had been closed since August 29, the day after Tropical Storm Irene roared through the High Peaks.
Several trails remain closed. The following list of closed trails is a news release issued by the state Department of Environmental Conservation:
- Adirondack Mountain Reserve Trails:
- The first (northernmost) two cross over trails between the East River Trail and the West River Trail. NOTE: The other three cross over trails and bridges are open and must be used to travel between the East River and West River Trails.
- Warden’s Camp to Sawteeth Trail
- Carry Trail
- Warden’s Camp to Haystack Trail
- Haystack Brook Trail
- The Deer Brook Trail from Route 73 to Rooster Comb
- The Southside Trail from the Garden Trailhead to John’s Brook Outpost
- The Cold Brook Trail between Lake Colden and Indian Pass.
- Adirondack Mountain Reserve Trails:
Posted on September 30th, 2011 5 comments Add a comment >>
A month after Tropical Storm Irene blew through the region, several hiking trails in the High Peaks remain closed. David Winchell, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said no new trails would reopen this weekend.
The following are still closed:
Southside Trail from the Garden in Keene Valley to the ranger outpost on Johns Brook.
The Deer Brook Trail from Route 73 to Snow Mountain.
Cold Brook Trail between Lake Colden and Indian Pass.
The trail from Elk Lake to Panther Gorge.
The trail over the Colvin Range from Blake Peak to Pinnacle and beyond.
Most trails in the Adirondack Mountain Reserve are open. Still closed are the carry trail between Upper Ausable Lake and Lower Ausable Lake and all trails originating near the upper lake. Also closed are the first two crossover trails between the East River Trail and the West River Trail.
Winchell said DEC has cleared blowdown from most of the trails that have been reopened, but hikers may encounter erosion and flooding.
Posted on September 26th, 2011 4 comments Add a comment >>
People driving between Keene and Lake Placid can see dramatic evidence of Tropical Storm Irene: a slide scar in the drainage between the two Cascade Lakes.
The large waterfall in this drainage has always been visible—it accounts for the lakes’ name—but it is now much more conspicuous. The rains of Irene stripped the sides of the brook of trees and soil, leaving a wide swath of bedrock.
Because the slide is easily accessible, it’s sure to attract more than its share of hikers and skiers.
Indeed, when I climbed it Sunday afternoon I met Kevin MacKenzie, a passionate slide climber, at the base. At the top of the slide, I ran into Jan Wellford, a sales associate at the Mountaineer, who with his wife was scouting out ski possibilities. And while bushwhacking between the end of the slide and the summit of Cascade Mountain, I encountered Carl Heilman Jr., the son of the celebrated photographer.
I expect the slide won’t be this busy once the novelty wears off, but for adventurous hikers, it will always provide an alternative route to the summit of Cascade—much wilder than the crowded hiking trail. You can follow rock for a mile and a half to the 3,400-foot contour. From there it’s an easy 0.4-mile bushwhack to the 4,098-foot summit.
After parking in the picnic area between the two lakes, I followed a short path to the debris pile at the base of the slide, where Kevin (a k a Mudrat) was taking photos. He took the shots above and at right of me climbing the first waterfall.
Located near the base, the waterfall is by far the most difficult obstacle that slide climbers will face. Many people, perhaps most, will want to ascend via the woods to the left. Since I was wearing “approach shoes,” with sticky soles, I felt safe climbing the rock beside the falls. There were plenty of blocky footholds and handholds, but the rock was wet from the spray. I wouldn’t recommend climbing the falls unless you have climbing experience and appropriate footgear. I’d say the difficulty rating is at least Class 4 in the Yosemite Decimal System.
I encountered a number of smaller cascades and flumes above the first. In between I enjoyed walking on low-angle slabs with ever-expanding views of Pitchoff Mountain, located across the highway, the McKenzie Range, and other peaks.
More than a mile up, I came to a field of mud and rock. This was easily traversed, bringing me to a steep headwall. The headwall is not new: it’s a cliff band that extends horizontally beyond the margins of the slide, forming a T.
Kevin had told me how to find the summit from here, and his advice proved spot on. I went left at the T. This led me to a short, older slide. I went up the right edge of this slide and then bushwhacked through an open birch glade. Eventually, I ran into thicker woods, but soon after I popped out on the open rock below the summit.
When you reach the T, the easiest thing to do is follow the base of the cliff band to the old slide. If you have sticky-soled shoes you can try climbing rock: it’s slabby, with a 55-degree pitch. I was trying to find a way up it when Jan arrived on the scene. He made it up without difficulty, but I was more hesitant. Eventually, I found a miniature dike that angled to the top.
At the top of the old slide, Jan and his wife went exploring the glades, while I made a beeline for the summit (I had preset my compass at 126 degrees but hardly used it). Just as I was transitioning from birch glades to balsam thicket, I heard a loud rustling in the woods: it was either a bear or a human. It turned out to be a bear of man, Carl Heilman Jr. Like his father, he is strong and fit and in love with the mountains. After a short chat, we parted ways. In a few minutes, I was at the summit, taking in its magnificent panorama.
From my car, I had come about two miles and ascended 2,040 feet. Unlike Carl Jr., I descended via the hiking trail. The distance from the summit to the highway was 2.2 miles. From the trailhead, it was a three-quarter-mile walk along the road back to my starting point—making a five-mile loop.