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.
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 23rd, 2011 7 comments Add a comment >>
The Adirondack Council and Ausable River Association contend that highway crews intent on rechanneling streams after Tropical Storm Irene are destroying trout habitat and creating conditions that could worsen flooding in the future.
Several mountain streams jumped their banks during Irene, flooding and damaging buildings and roadways. Since then, bulldozers have been used to divert the streams back into their original channels.
But Carol Treadwell, executive director of the Ausable River Association, said the bulldozers are also straightening the streams, removing boulders, lining the shores with rock, and smoothing streambeds.
Treadwell said the altered streams are poor habitat for trout, which often hang out behind boulders, in riffles, and in deep pools near river bends. She added that trees will not grow back on rock-lined shores, thus depriving the fish of shade.
Moreover, Treadwell said creating straight channels will allow water to flow faster, worsening the chance of flooding downsteam in future storms.
Treadwell said the state Department of Environmental Conservation should require the crews to recreate natural conditions in the streams, with clusters of boulders, meanders, and varying depth.
After Irene hit, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an emergency order allowing crews to rebuild roads without acquiring the usual permits.
“A lot of environmental damage is taking place in the name of public safety,” Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council, said in a news release. “The governor should make it clear that there are some things road crews can do to rebuild without permits, but bulldozing trout streams is not one of them.”
DEC spokesman Michael Bopp said the department is working with municipalities, county officials, and the Army Corp of Engineers “to assist with the proper restoration of streams and rivers.”
Bopp added that the department also has inspected the sections of streams that environmentalists have complained about. “DEC is currently reviewing the information gathered during the inspections,” he said in an e-mail.
Some officials are urging that the East Branch of the Ausable—the river hardest hit by Irene—be dredged to minimize flooding the future. Again, the Ausable River Association contends this would only destroy trout habitat and worsen future flooding.
“It’s not a solution to flooding,” Treadwell said. “They’d need to create a channel twenty feet deep and two hundred feet wide to carry all the water that came down with Irene. Obviously we can’t build a channel that wide and that deep. And would we really want to see a channel like that in our valley?”
Treadwell also said the river would need to be periodically dredged to maintain the channel. She and Sheehan said it would make more economic sense to help residents move out of the floodplain.
Posted on September 19th, 2011 4 comments Add a comment >>
By now, many hikers have heard that Tropical Storm Irene triggered numerous slides in the eastern High Peaks, most notably in the Great Range and the MacIntyre Range and on Mount Colden.
The western High Peaks did not receive as much rain, and so they survived the storm relatively unchanged. This morning, however, I flew over the western High Peaks region with Jim Knowles, a volunteer pilot with LightHawk, which provides flights for nonprofit organizations (the Explorer is a nonprofit), and noticed what appeared to be a fresh scar on the south side of Seward Mountain.
We were flying over the Cold River valley at the time, some five miles away, so we couldn’t tell for sure if it was a new slide. Does anybody know?
I don’t imagine that many people would want to climb this remote piece of rock, but if it is new, I’m certain somebody will.
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 9 comments Add a comment >>
By coincidence, the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer contains a debate on whether the Duck Hole dam should be repaired. Some might argue that since the dam has been breached by the floods of Hurricane Irene, the question has been settled, but that’s not the case.
Tom Wemett, who wrote in favor of fixing the dam, is now mounting a campaign to have it rebuilt. “Pretty much anybody who paddles or hikes to Duck Hole experiences the same thing: it’s just a magical place,” Wemett told me after Irene.
Bill Ingersoll, the author of the Discover the Adirondacks guidebooks, opposed Wemett in the Explorer debate and hasn’t changed his mind.
You can read both sides by clicking the link below.
Incidentally, Adirondack guide Joe Hackett reports that Duck Hole still has enough water to paddle. Click here to read my Adirondack Almanack post based on my interview with Joe.