Posted on September 23rd, 2011 1 comment - Add a comment >>
Just in time for the weekend, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has reopened a number of trails that will give hikers easier access to several High Peaks. All had been closed since August 29, the day after Tropical Storm Irene passed though the region.
The newly opened routes include the Ore Bed Brook Trail, which was partly buried by a landslide during the storm. The trail leads to the col between Saddleback and Gothics in the Great Range, providing the shortest route to Saddleback. It also allows hikers to travel in a loop starting at Johns Brook Lodge and going over Upper Wolf Jaw, Armstrong, and Gothics.
Most trails in the Adirondack Mountain Reserve also have reopened, including the shortest route to Sawteeth, another High Peak. Hikers also will be able, once again, to access Gothics, Armstrong, and both of the Wolf Jaws from the reserve.
DEC also reopened the trail over the Colvin Range as far as the summit of Blake Peak, enabling hikers to go to both Blake and Mount Colvin, two High Peaks that had been inaccessible after the storm.
With the latest announcement, all of the usual routes to the forty-six High Peaks are now open. Other popular destinations that are accessible again include Indian Head, Fish Hawk Cliffs, and the Ausable River trails in the Adirondack Mountain Reserve. (The first crossing from the East River Trail to the West River Trail is still closed.)
However, several trails remain closed:
- All trails originating in the vicinity of Upper Ausable Lake in the reserve. These include alternate routes to Haystack, Sawteeth, and the Colvin Range. The carry trail between Lower and Upper Ausable Lakes also is closed.
- The Southside Trail from the Garden in Keene Valley to the ranger’s outpost near Johns Brook Lodge.
- The trail from Elk Lake to Panther Gorge.
- The Deer Brook Trail from Route 73 to Snow Mountain.
- The Cold Brook Trail between Lake Colden and the Indian Pass Trail.
DEC spokesman David Winchell said the department’s crews, with help from many volunteers, have checked and cleared about 185 miles of trails since Irene. He warns that hikers may still encounter blowdown, erosion, and flooding on trails that have been reopened.
Click the link below to read DEC’s latest news release.
Posted on September 18th, 2011 6 comments Add a comment >>
Hikers going to Avalanche Lake might be tempted to explore the new slide in Avalanche Pass. It starts right off the trail, ascends for a full mile, and offers wide vistas that take in a dozen or so High Peaks.
However, it is considerably more dangerous than your average slide and should not be undertaken unless you have plenty of experience on slides or in rock climbing.
I first visited the slide a week ago and saw how steep it is. I returned on Saturday with rock-climbing shoes and ascended the whole thing, then bushwhacked to the beautiful summit of Little Colden.
Even with rock-climbing shoes, I lost my nerve on a steep (and wet) section near the top. I had to down-climb and find an easier route up.
The difficulty of the slide lies not in its elevation gain. It gains 1,160 feet over its length—less than the new slide on Wright Peak (which I call the Angle Slide). Rather, the difficulty lies in its double fall line: the slide is sharply tilted to the left as you climb.
A small stream runs between the slide and steeper terrain (small cliffs) on the left. The easiest, safest way to ascend the slide would be to stay next to the stream, but I suspect many climbers will want to get out on the clean white rock in the middle of the slab. Those who do should expect to encounter steep rock when climbing away from the stream.
I measured the slope angle in numerous spots. It usually was in the vicinity of 35 degrees, but it frequently topped 40 degrees and on occasion approached 50 degrees. I employed a variety of rock-climbing techniques, such as laybacking, stemming, toe jamming, and of course smearing.
Toward the top, the slide loses its leftward tilt, but the forward slope remains quite steep. About 0.7 miles up, I found myself on a wet 45-degree slab in the middle of the slide. It appeared that the slope would soon steepen, and I started to worry about falling. I carefully down-climbed, traversed to the edge of the slide, and continued my ascent. At the very top, I picked up an old and parallel slide for a short distance.
Overall, I’d say the difficulty is comparable to the Eagle Slide on Giant, which is considered a fourth-class climb. At least the way I climbed the new slide. Because I wore rock-climbing shoes, I did not seek the path of least resistance. Indeed, I welcomed rather than avoided the technical moves and steep friction climbing demanded by the route I chose. If you take on this slide, I recommend you wear rock shoes as well—not only for security, but also for the fun. A helmet also would be a good idea.
At the top of the slide, I bushwhacked through nasty stuff to the ridge, where the woods opened up a bit, providing occasional views of Mount Marcy, Gothics, and Giant. I followed the ridge south to Little Colden’s summit, with its magnificent vista. The photo below, taken from Little Colden, shows the new slide on Mount Colden that begins at the Trap Dike. The entire bushwhack was 0.35 miles.
The drainage of the slide I climbed lies between Avalanche Pass Slide created by Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and Otis Gully. I’m not sure if the drainage has a name. Perhaps it was skied by someone sometime and given a nickname, but it does not appear in The Adirondack Slide Guide by Drew Haas. Given that the slide and nearby terrain resemble an open book, with a crease in the middle, I thought Crease Monkey would be an apt name to distinguish it from the first Avalanche Pass slide.
Posted on September 16th, 2011 9 comments Add a comment >>
The Lake Road in the Adirondack Mountain Reserve has reopened to the public to give hikers access to trails to the summits of Nippletop and Dial Mountain, two of the High Peaks, in the Dix Mountain Wilderness.
However, trails to the Colvin Range and most other AMR trails, including those leading to the Great Range, remain closed, according to David Winchell, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“We’re pretty well set with what’s going to be open this weekend,” Winchell said. “We won’t have any more trails open until next week.”
As a result of the latest decision, hikers will be able to follow a loop that, after leaving the Lake Road, goes over the summits of Bear Den (3,423 feet), Dial (4,020 feet), and Nippletop (4,620 feet). Leaving Nippletop, hikers can return to the Lake Road via Elk Plass. The entire hike, including the walk from the public parking lot, is 13.1 miles.
Earlier, DEC had opened the trails to Noonmark and Round mountains, which also start on AMR property.
Trails to Indian Head and Fish Hawk Cliffs, both located in the AMR, and along the East Branch of the Ausable River, which flows through the property, remain closed.
Hikers also use the AMR to access trails that lead to a number of peaks in the Great Range, including Sawteeth, Gothics, and the Wolf Jaws. Winchell said these trails will stay closed until DEC has had a chance to assess and clear them. Meantime, the Great Range can be reached via trails originating in the Johns Brook Valley.
The only two High Peaks that remain inaccessible by trail (or well-trod herd path) are Mount Colvin (4,047 feet) and Blake Peak (3,960). The summits of both are located along the closed trail that traverses the Colvin Range in the Dix Mountain Wilderness. The trail also goes over the summit of a lesser peak known as Pinnacle.
The day after Irene, DEC closed the eastern High Peaks Wilderness, the Giant Mountain Wilderness, and the Dix Mountain Wilderness. All three areas are now open again, with the exception of trails that have not been checked and/or cleared.
Here’s a summary of what’s open and closed:
High Peaks Wilderness. In addition to trails originating in the AMR, still closed are the Deer Brook Trail from Route 73, Southside Trail from the Garden, the Orebed Brook Trail, the Cold Brook Pass Trail, and the trail from Elk Lake to Panther Gorge.
Giant Mountain Wildneress. All trails are open. Also, DEC recently reopened the parking lot at the Roaring Brook Trail.
Dix Mountain Wilderness. All trails are open except the route over the Colvin Range and its spurs.
Posted on September 15th, 2011 6 comments Add a comment >>
The state will either reconstruct the bridge at Marcy Dam or build a new one nearby, but the project likely won’t be done before winter, according to Tom Martin, regional forester for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Martin said DEC plans to have an engineer look at the dam to determine if it makes sense to replace the original bridge. The alternative would be to build a bridge across Marcy Brook upstream or downstream of the dam.
“We do intend to look at all the options, but we’ll have some kind of crossing,” Martin told the Explorer after briefing the Adirondack Park Agency on Tropical Storm Irene’s impact on the backcountry.
For hikers, one of the biggest impacts of Irene has been the loss of the wide bridge at Marcy Dam. The bridge is located about two miles up the Van Hoevenberg Trail, the most popular route to Mount Marcy, the state’s highest summit.
Until a new bridge is built, DEC is rerouting hikers to a ford downstream of the dam. It requires hikers to hop across boulders to an island and then hop across more boulders to opposite shore, where they can pick up the Marcy Dam Truck Trail.
When I hiked to Avalanche Pass last weekend, I passed a few parties who had missed the reroute. If you’re going to Marcy Dam, look for the sign shown at the right. It’s on the left side of the trail 1.8 miles from the register at Adirondak Loj.
Martin told the APA board that the crossing should be used only if water is low. “There is no high-water crossing that we consider safe,” he said.
During times of high water, he added, hikers can park at South Meadow Road and go up the truck trail.
Likewise, this winter skiers may want to approach the High Peaks and Avalanche Lake via the truck trail. Because South Meadow Road is not plowed in winter, this will add about a mile to the trip each way. If conditions are safe, skiers may also be able to cross the pond created by Marcy Dam. Most of the water in the pond has drained since the storm, which also washed away the dam’s flashboards.
One drawback to the truck trail is that hikers and skiers cannot start at Adirondak Loj, which is owned by the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK). However, ADK is talking to DEC about reopening a link from the Loj to the truck trail: a section of the Mr. Van Ski Trail that fell into disuse years ago because its bridge over Marcy Brook is out.
If the Mr. Van bridge were replaced, it would provide a safer way to cross the brook than the rock-hop below Marcy Dam, according to Neil Woodworth, ADK’s executive director. Since the Mr. Van crossing is on ADK property, he noted, the bridge could be built without a lot of red tape, meaning it could be done by winter.
Nevertheless, Woodworth sees the Mr. Van option as a temporary solution: by this route skiers and hikers will have to travel 3.5 miles to get to Marcy Dam–1.2 miles longer than if they were to go via the Van Hoevenberg Trail.
DEC closed the eastern High Peaks, Giant Mountain Wilderness, and Dix Mountain Wilderness the day after Irene. It has since reopened all three areas, but some trails remain closed.
Martin told the Explorer reports from other parts of the Park indicate that trails are in good shape. “At this point I don’t anticipate any additional closures,” he said. “I anticipate between now and Columbus Day weekend, everything will be open and in as good shape as before or better.”
He noted that crews inspecting the trails are often carrying chainsaws and nippers and clearing the trails as they go. As of yesterday, DEC had cleared about 130 miles of trails.
Posted on September 15th, 2011 2 comments Add a comment >>
The state Department of Environmental Conservation and its volunteers have cleared about 130 miles of trails since Irene blew through the High Peaks region two and a half weeks ago.
DEC spokesman David Winchell said crews are still working on trails in the High Peaks Wilderness and Dix Mountain Wilderness that remain closed. The Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Forty-Sixers, and Student Conservation Association have all provided volunteer.
“DEC has more than thirty staff working on five crews clearing blowdown, rerouting trails, repairing and rebuilding bridges, and other work to rehabilitate the trails,” Winchell said.
In the above map, trails that have been cleared are shown in green. Trails that are open but have not been cleared are in black. Those that remain closed are in red. Sections of the closed trails also have been cleared, but this is not indicated on the map.
Trails that have not been cleared are considered passable, but hikers may encounter blowdown or erosion. Many footbridges and puncheons were washed away or disturbed by Irene.
In the High Peaks Wilderness, the routes still closed are the Cold Brook Pass Trail, the Southside Trail along Johns Brook, the Orebed Brook Trail to the col between Gothics and Saddleback Mountain, the trail from Elk Lake to Panther Gorge, and the Great Range trails originating on the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (the Ausable Club).
The Wolf Jaws Trail was disturbed a landslide. So were the Southside and Orebed Brook trails. The photo below shows the debris deposited on the Orebed trail.
In the Dix Mountain Wilderness, the trails to the summits of Dial, Nippletop, Colvin, and Blake—all High Peaks—remain closed. All originate in the Adirondack Mountain Reserve. Most other trails in the reserve are also still closed. The exceptions are the trails to Noonmark and Round mountains.
In the Giant Mountain Wilderness, all trails are open, but the parking lot for the Roaring Brook Trail will remain closed until the state can remove highway equipment used to repair Route 73.
The bridge on the road to the Garden parking lot in Keene Valley is restricted to vehicles weighing less than six thousand pounds. The Garden is a popular starting point for hikes in the High Peaks Wilderness. The weekend shuttle bus will pick up hikers at Marcy Field and drop them at the corner of Market and Adirondack streets in Keene Valley. From there they will have to walk 1.2 miles to the Garden.
Note: I enlarged the green dots on the map to make them more visible. I also enlarged the black dots in the eastern High Peaks. I did not enlarge the black dots for trails in the western High Peaks, because those trails were never closed.
Note2: I deleted paragraph about the Wolf Jaws Trail. There was some confusion about whether it is open or not. I am now assured that it is open.
Posted on September 12th, 2011 5 comments Add a comment >>
With the reopening of Route 73 and the Dix Mountain Wilderness, this seems like an appropriate time for an update on what’s open and what’s still closed.
High Peaks Wilderness. All trails are open except the Southside Trail, Orebed Brook Trail, Cold Brook Pass Trail, Deer Brook Trail, and the trail from Elk Lake to Panther Gorge. Also, the Great Range trails cannot be accessed via the Ausable Club’s Lake Road, which is closed.
The Southside and Orebed Brook trails were partly buried by landslides. “I can’t say for sure they’ll be open by the end of the week, but we do have people working on them,” said David Winchell, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Conservation. The little-used Cold Brook Pass Trail, which was hit by heavy blowdown, is a lesser priority.
Dix Mountain Wilderness. All trails are open except those accessed via the Ausable Club’s Lake Road. The closed trails include routes to four High Peaks: Dial, Nippletop, Blake, and Colvin. “DEC staff will be working this week to clear blowdown from the loop trail to Bear Den Mountain, Dial Mountain, and Nippletop and assess the trails from Adirondack Mountain Reserve that access the [Great] Range trail,” Winchell said. The trails to Round and Noonmark mountains, which also begin on AMR (Ausable Club) land, are open. The Hunters Pass Trail that starts at Elk Lake also is open.
Giant Mountain Wilderness. Last week, DEC opened all trails that begin on Route 9 and Route 9N. Now that Route 73 has been reopened, hikers may again use the popular Roaring Brook Trail and Range Trail to climb Giant and access other trails in the Wildeness Area. However, Winchell said the Roaring Brook parking lot will remain closed for a short while until the state removes highway equipment used to fix the road. Meantime, hikers can park across the road in Ausable Club’s public lot.
The Garden. The road to the Garden, a popular trailhead for the High Peaks Wilderness, is open to all vehicles weighing less than six thousand pounds. Because of the weight restriction, the town shuttle bus will drop hikers off in town, at the corner of Market and Adirondack streets. Keene Supervisor Bill Ferebee said the bridge will be closed for about a month for repairs later in the fall. He hopes to postpone the work until after Columbus Day.
Adirondak Loj Road. The road to Adirondak Loj, the most popular trailhead for the High Peaks, reopened last week. The bridge over the West Branch of the Ausable is restricted to one lane. Traffic is controlled by stop signs on either end of the bridge.
Rock-climbing routes. The Route 73 corridor is home to some the Adirondack Park’s most popular rock-climbing routes, including Chapel Pond Slab and the Beer Walls. All cliffs are now open again.
Click the link below to read DEC’s news release (PDF) on the reopening of the Dix Mountain Wilderness.
Click here to see a map of trails that have been cleard by DEC.
DEC updates on trail conditions can be found by clicking here.
Posted on September 12th, 2011 2 comments Add a comment >>
In 1999, Hurricane Floyd created two slides on Wright Peak that have proved popular with hikers and skiers. Irene has created a third—and much longer—slide next to those two, providing easy access to the others as well a new skiing/hiking route.
Josh Wilson and I climbed the slide from top to bottom on Sunday. It’s almost exactly a mile long. Finding the slide was quick and easy. From the Memorial Lean-to (named in honor of Ed Hudowalski, an early Forty-Sixer) near Marcy Dam, we bushwhacked a quarter-mile, heading south of west, and came out on the base of the slide.
The first part of the slide is mostly clean rubble—white rocks of varying sizes. In the early going, we did maneuver around downed trees occasionally, but overall the hiking was easy and enjoyable.
A quarter-mile up the slide we passed through a small canyon with twenty-foot-high walls. “This’ll be wild to ski in the winter,” Josh said. “Shoot the chute!”
That is, if it doesn’t fill with ice.
After a little under a half-mile, the slide split. The left fork looked cleaner, so we went up that and soon encountered a massive wall of trees. It appeared impassable, so we cut over to the right fork. After threading through downed trees and tromping through mud, we made our way to steep bedrock.
We recommend that you take the right fork when you reach the split. You’ll encounter some trees at first, but after working through them, you’ll find clean bedrock on the right side of the fork.
After a short distance, the forks join, creating a wide slab of steep bedrock. The right half of the slab is fairly clean, but the left side has a lot of mud and fallen trees. Over the next 0.3 miles, to the top of the slide, we gained 650 feet in elevation. To give you an idea of the steepness, a hiker climbing such a slope for a full mile would gain 2,165 feet. In contrast, a hiker climbing Cascade Mountain from Route 73 gains 1,940 feet over 2.4 miles.
The new slide is separated from the other two slides by a narrow strip of woods. Come winter, skiers will be able to visit all three in a single outing, and when they’re ready to leave they can descend via the new slide almost to Marcy Dam. In the past, skiers returned to the dam through the woods.
The older slides are called the Angel Slides, in memory of Toma Vracarich, a backcountry skier killed in an avalanche in 2000. It occurred to me that a good name for the new slide would be the Angle Slide, given the sharp turn that the slide takes.
But Josh and I do not have naming rights. On the way up, we noticed footprints, so we were not the first up the slide. We also found a cup and a water bottle high on the slab. It’s hard to believe that wilderness hikers, perhaps the first ascenders, would leave litter on a brand-new slide.
Irene created many new slides in the High Peaks. Aficinados love slides because they provide wild and rugged routes up our mountains. Let’s keep them free of litter.
Posted on September 12th, 2011 5 comments Add a comment >>
Route 73 south of Keene Valley and the Dix Mountain Areas were reopened today ahead of schedule.
“Route 73 is a vital highway connecting residents and businesses in the North Country and today’s reopening is an important step in our recovery from Hurricane Irene,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said.
Cuomo initially pledged that one lane of the road would be reopened September 15 and both lanes by September 25. Instead, both lanes were reopened today.
Cuomo’s office said workers logged about 2,700 hours and used about 150,000 tons of stone to fix the road. Click here to read the governor’s news release.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Environmental Conservation reopened the Dix Mountain Wilderness, including the trailheads along Route 73. However, the main trailhead at the Adirondack Mountain Reserve remains closed. Judging by the following quote, we assume this refers to the Lake Road.
“DEC staff will be working this week to clear blowdown from the loop trail to Bear Den Mountain, Dial Mountain and Nippletop and assess the trails from Adirondack Mountain Reserve that access the Range trail,” DEC spokesman David Winchell said in an e-mail.
DEC closed the eastern High Peaks, Giant Wilderness, and Dix Wilderness in the wake of Irene. It reopened the eastern High Peaks and many trails in the Giant Wilderness last week.
Click the link below to read DEC’s news release on the latest development (PDF file).
Posted on September 12th, 2011 9 comments Add a comment >>
Yesterday I hiked with Josh Wilson to Avalanche Pass to check out the condition of the trail in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene. The short story is that the trail sustained quite a bit more damage than the Van Hoevenberg Trail, which I hiked on Saturday.
After we reached Avalanche Lake, I took the above photo of the Trap Dike on Mount Colden. Comparing it with the photo on the right, taken in 2009, you’ll see that the dike—at least as much of it as we can see—has been stripped of vegetation. Note the chocolate color of lake.
While comparing the photos, bear in mind than an avalanche ripped through the dike a few winters ago, and some trees were taken out then.
Because Irene created a slide near the summit of Colden that washed into the dike, I wondered I the upper part of the dike would be clogged with debris. Apparently that’s not the case, judging by this account from a Canadian hiker who climbed the dike this weekend. Click here to read my article on climbing the Trap Dike in 2009.
The most notable damage to the Avalanche Pass trail occurred along Marcy Brook, which undercut the trail in two sections, and in the pass itself, where a slide buried the trail in mud.
Hikers familiar with the trail know that it came close to Marcy Brook a short way from Marcy Dam. During Irene, the brook eroded the bank along the trail. To replace these sections, the state Department of Environmental Conservation cut reroutes of 130 yards and 30 yards. Piles of boulders in the streambed attest to power of raging water.
After reaching the height of land in Avalanche Pass, and passing the slide created by Hurricane Floyd in 1999, hikers beginning the descent to Avalanche Lake will notice a new slide on the left. Unlike, the Floyd slide, this slide did not push a wall of trees onto the trail. It did, however, deposit a thick layer of soft mud for fifty yards or so. This part of the trail will remain sloppy until the mud gets packed down and/or dries out.
Hikers also will find that a few planks on the Hitch-Up Matilda bridges along Avalanche Lake are missing. Thus, sections of the bridges are one plank wide instead of two. One short section has lost both planks, but since it’s at the end of the bridge, hikers can lower themselves to the shore and continue on the trail.
We saw little other evidence of damage on the trail. DEC cut through a few trees and put down some new planking in the pass.
On our hike out, Josh and I explored the new slide in the pass. Most of the slide is clean white anorthosite, the durable rock that makes up most of the High Peaks. As you can see from the photo, it has a double fall line. It could prove to be a difficult ski in winter—if DEC allows snowshoers and skiers on the slide. The Floyd slide is closed in winter to avoid the risk of avalanche.
Incidentally, we ran into Bill Ingersoll, the guidebook author, at Marcy Dam, who spent the weekend in the High Peaks. Starting at Adirondak Loj, he hiked through the pass to Lake Colden and camped near Feldspar Brook. The next day he climbed over Marcy and returned via the Van Hoevenberg Trail. He reported minimal damage on most trails. The worst damage he saw was on the Avalanche Pass trail.
Posted on September 10th, 2011 10 comments Add a comment >>
I hiked the Van Hoevenberg Trail to Mount Marcy today (Saturday) and found it fine shape, despite a few changes wrought by Hurricane Irene.
It was just two days after the state Department of Environmental Conservation reopened the eastern High Peaks, and many hikers were out enjoying the sunshine.
Starting at Adirondak Loj, the Van Hoevenberg Trail is the shortest and most popular route to the state’s highest summit. It ascends 3,166 feet over 7.4 miles.
As we reported earlier, the floods caused by Irene washed away at the bridge at Marcy Dam, located 2.3 miles from the Loj. Consequently, hikers must rock-hop across Marcy Brook below the dam.
About 1.8 miles from the Loj, DEC has put up a board with an arrow indicating a short path to the brook. You cross on boulders to an island, then rock-hop again to the opposite shore. The boulders are numerous and big, so as rock hops go, this isn’t too bad, but DEC warns that the brook might be impassable in high water.
Once on the opposite shore, you turn right onto a narrow footpath that soon leads to the Marcy Dam Truck Trail. Marcy Dam is less than a quarter-mile up the truck trail.
The pond at Marcy Dam has lost quite a bit more water since I visited the day after Irene. The shores and the middle of the pond are now mudflats.
Just beyond Marcy Dam, DEC has rerouted the trail for about a quarter-mile to avoid a stretch of the old trail that was eroded during Irene. The old trail is now a rock-filled gully. The rerouted trail ends near the high-water bridge over Phelps Brook. Although the bridge still stands, DEC has closed it.
Over the next five miles to the summit, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. Above Indian Falls, there were a few trees across the trail that were easily stepped over and a few that appeared to have been recently cut through. That was it.
From Indian Falls you can get a good view of a long narrow slide on Algonquin Peak that was created by Irene’s torrential rains. At Marcy Dam you can see the new slide on Wright Peak.
When I got to Marcy’s summit, the only person there was Seth Jones, the summit steward. Before I left, several other parties arrived, and on the descent to the Loj, I encountered several more on their way up. It was fairly busy, given all the uncertainty about trail conditions in the aftermath of the storm.
I talked with others who had hiked to Table Top Mountain, Wright Peak, and Avalanche Lake, and all told me the same thing: the trails were not bad at all.