All Stories in: ‘Northern’

March 05, 2015
Fish Creek Ski Tour

In a time of low snow, skiers find ideal conditions on frozen ponds in the Fish Creek area.

Skiers can glide through unbroken powder on Follensby Clear and nearby ponds. Photo by Nancie Battaglia

Skiers can glide through unbroken powder on Follensby Clear and nearby ponds.
Photo by Nancie Battaglia

By Phil Brown

The winter started out promising with a good snowfall in December, but later in the month rains washed away most of the snowpack. We received a bit of light, fluffy powder the week after Christmas, but not enough to make most trails skiable.

And so, not for the first time in recent winters, we opted for a ski tour across backcountry ponds.

When people think of pond skiing, they usually think of the Seven Carries in the St. Regis Canoe Area. Indeed, Carol MacKinnon Fox and I skied the Seven Carries route on January 2 and found the conditions ideal: a few inches of light snow on top of rock-solid ice, with no slush. We had such a good time that the next day we decided to try the ponds just to the south of the Canoe Area.

The St. Regis Canoe Area is justly celebrated for its many ponds, but if you look at a map, you’ll see that there is an even greater concentration of water south of Floodwood Road in the vicinity of Fish Creek. The ponds in this region and the Canoe Area belong to the same glacier-sculpted landscape. In fact, the Adirondack Council has recommended that the state close most of Floodwood Road and expand the Canoe Area to encompass an additional twenty-six ponds.

With so much frozen water, the skiing possibilities are endless. Carol and I did a 7.5-mile loop starting at Middle Pond. After Middle, we crossed Polliwog, Little Polliwog, Horseshoe, and Follensby Clear ponds, then skied for about two miles on a trail along Fish Creek to Floodwood Pond, and finally followed a carry trail from Floodwood back to Middle. In all, we visited six ponds and enjoyed a fair amount of woods skiing to boot.

Carol MacKinnon Fox crosses Horseshoe Lake. Photo by Phil Brown

Carol MacKinnon Fox
crosses Horseshoe Lake.
Photo by Phil Brown

Afterward, Carol said she loved the mix. “The special part of this trip was the variety of terrain and scenery: big ponds, little ponds, and snowy woods trails. The switch from gliding on the ponds to skiing on gently rolling trail means you never get bored,” she said.

Of course, you should not attempt this trip unless you are sure the ice is safe—at least three inches thick. Even when the ponds are generally safe, be aware that you may encounter thin ice or open water at inlets, outlets, and bottlenecks (that is, wherever there is current). On our trip, we found four spots that should be avoided (as shown on the accompanying map).

We chose to start at Middle Pond in part because it lies along Floodwood Road. After parking on the side of the road, we skied onto the pond via a primitive campsite. Gliding through the fluffy snow, we knew instantly that it was going to be a stellar day.

Heading due east, we reached the end of the pond in just ten minutes and got on the carry trail to Polliwog Pond. The beginning of the carry was marked by a small white sign, while the trail itself was marked by yellow disks with a drawing of a canoeist. The white signs and yellow disks are standard on carries throughout the Fish Creek region and the Canoe Area.

The carry to Polliwog soon joined a hiking trail marked by blue disks. When the two split again, Carol and I continued straight, following the yellow disks. Although the snow cover on the trail was thin, we kept our skis on until the very end, removing them only to walk down a somewhat steep slope crisscrossed with tree roots. With more snow, we would have enjoyed a fun schuss onto the frozen surface of the pond.

We found ourselves on the western bay of Polliwog, which is practically a pond in itself. The bay is connected to the main water body by a short channel. As we approached the channel, we could see open water. We stayed far to the left and skied over a small point that’s home to a primitive campsite. The ice on the other side of the point was solid.

Once on the main part of Polliwog, we skied around a peninsula on our right and headed southwest to the next carry trail. We weren’t sure of its exact location, but as we approached the shore we made out a white rectangle among the evergreen trees.

“It’s fun how on each pond you have to find the carry sign. It’s like a little treasure hunt,” Carol remarked.

The cover on the carry to Little Polliwog was too thin for skiing, but it’s only a two-minute walk between the two ponds. On the way we passed through a magnificent stand of hemlocks.

Hemlocks and pines often grow along the carries. Photo by Nancie Battaglia

Hemlocks and pines often grow along the carries.
Photo by Nancie Battaglia

A mere sixteen acres, Little Polliwog is the smallest of the six ponds we visited. The next carry begins halfway down the pond, but you might want to ski to the bog at the far end of Little Polliwog before continuing your journey.

The carry to Horseshoe Pond also was unskiable but short. At its end, the current from the Little Polliwog outlet had kept the shoreline ice dangerously thin. To avoid this hazard, we crossed the outlet (a short step onto a beaver dam) and walked to firm ice on the edge of a tiny tussock swamp.

On Horseshoe, we skied to a narrow peninsula that divides the pond. We explored the peninsula’s hemlock forest on our skis before getting back on the pond and heading to the northeast shore to pick up the trail to Follensby Clear Pond. Once again, we had to remove our skis, but the carry was brief.

At 491 acres, Follensby Clear was by far the largest of the ponds on our itinerary, and it offered the best views of nearby mountains. Carol proclaimed it her favorite. “It’s so vast; I love this one,” she said. “The islands and the peaks—there’s a lot of variety.”

Yet skiing Follensby Clear requires caution in at least two spots.

Upon reaching the pond, we saw a nearby island (with a lean-to) to our right. We wanted to ski between the island and the mainland, but we found thin ice in the channel and so instead skied through shrubs on the edge of the small island. It might be simpler to ski around the island, but since we didn’t go that way, I cannot vouch for the firmness of the ice.

Just beyond the island Follensby Clear squeezes through a bottleneck where we found more thin ice. One way to avoid this is to ski over a point on the left side of the bottleneck and stay far away from the constriction.

After the bottleneck, it was clear sailing. We skied past two islands to the southwest shore and the next carry. On the way we crossed animal tracks meandering across the pond.

“Bobcat!” I informed Carol.

“Look how he’s winding,” she said. “He must have been drunk.”

“Do you think these are from New Year’s Eve?” I asked.

The carry from Follensby Clear leads to Fish Creek. We skied it as far as a hiking trail that intersects the carry just before the creek. We took off our skis and walked downhill a short distance to see the creek. It remained unfrozen, a black ribbon in a still, snowy landscape.

Returning to the junction, we ate a snack and then started skiing north on the hiking trail, which was marked by red disks, for the two-mile trek to Floodwood Pond. Thanks to an absence of rocks and the gentle terrain, the trail was skiable despite the thin cover (thinner under evergreens than in the hardwoods). With Carol leading the way, we skied through a beautiful forest, enjoying views of Fish Creek through the trees. At Little Square Pond, the trail took a sharp right and climbed over a ridge, all the while still paralleling the creek.

Just before Floodwood Pond, we passed a junction with a trail that crosses the creek. We continued straight ahead and soon came to a campsite at a bend in the trail. Steps led us down to the pond. With dusk approaching, we skied to Floodwood’s northeast corner and the start of the carry to Middle Pond. This was one of the longer carries on the trip. It has a steep start and a steep ending, but we were able to ski the rest of it. A short distance from Floodwood, the carry joined the red trail. We turned left here. When the trails split again, we bore right and soon found ourselves back on Middle Pond.

As we drove home to Saranac Lake, we agreed that the ponds are worth revisiting.

It’s a great trip,” Carol said. “I wouldn’t mind coming back when there’s a bit more snow.”

Just a little bit of snow. We were that close to heaven.

The exclamation points indicate the four places where the author encountered thin ice. Map by Nancy Bernstein

The exclamation points indicate the four places where the author encountered thin ice.
Map by Nancy Bernstein

DIRECTIONS: From Saranac Lake, drive north on NY 86 to the blinking light at Donnelly’s Corners. Turn left onto NY 186 and go straight for 5.5 miles (NY 186 turns into NY 30 near Lake Clear) to Floodwood Road. Turn right and go 2.8 miles to the Middle Pond campsite on the left.

January 03, 2014
High Rock in the Five Ponds Wilderness

A skier enjoys a powder day on the trail to High Rock in mid-December. Photo by Susan Bibeau

A skier enjoys a powder day on the trail to High Rock in mid-December.
Photo by Susan Bibeau

After December snowfalls, our editor goes on his first ski trip of the season to High Rock in the Five Ponds Wilderness.

By Phil Brown

AFTER SEVERAL LONG days in the office, I went to bed dreaming of my first backcountry ski trip of the season, a jaunt to High Rock in the Five Ponds Wilderness. Conditions would be perfect. Over the last few days, we had received eight inches of fluffy powder.

Then I woke up. Outside, it was twenty-four below zero, according to my Weather Channel app. Like any sensible person, I immediately broadcast this fact to Facebook. A few people suggested I postpone my trip.

“I have skied at 20 below, but I was 14 and foolish. Stay home, for god’s sake,” posted a former colleague.

But most of my Facebook friends were surprisingly indifferent to the possibility of my freezing to death.

“Burrrrrr & Enjoy!” wrote one.

The frozen Oswegatchie River as seen from High Rock. Photo by Phil Brown

The frozen Oswegatchie River as seen from High Rock.
Photo by Phil Brown

Staying home was not an option as I had two blank pages in the Explorer to fill. Fortunately, the car started. On the way to Wanakena, I stopped for gas at Larkin’s in Tupper Lake. The fellow at the next pump grinned as if relieved to know that if he collapsed from hypothermia I’d drag him into the store.

By the time I reached Wanakena, it was about 10:30 a.m. Rick Kovacs, the owner of the Wanakena General Store, told me the temperature had risen to two above. Cold, but tolerable.

No visit to Wanakena is complete without a visit to Rick’s store. It’s the last outpost before you enter the 118,000-acre Five Ponds Wilderness. Besides groceries and souvenirs, Rick sells all the essentials for backcountry adventure, including topo maps, compasses, waterproof matches, pocketknives, and freeze-dried meals.

The store is the hub of the community, but with just forty full-time residents, business can get awfully slow in winter.

“I’m committed to stay open for the people who support the store year-round,” said Rick, who also owns Packbasket Adventures Lodge. “There are some seniors who can’t get out and drive down icy roads for a quart of milk.”

After fortifying myself with a cup of hot chocolate, I headed out. The trail follows an old railroad grade. For the 3.7 miles to High Rock, a small bluff overlooking the Oswegatchie River, it’s basically flat. This might seem boring, but in early winter, when there isn’t much base, flat trails like this are what you want.

Even in midwinter, the ski to High Rock has much to offer: corridors of snow-laden evergreens, tranquil beaver meadows, and of course the view from High Rock of that frozen serpent, the Owsegatchie. Chances are you’ll enjoy all this in solitude. At least, there likely won’t be crowds.

For the more ambitious skier, High Rock is just the first stop on the High Falls Loop, a sixteen-mile circuit with several views of the Oswegatchie, culminating in a short detour to High Falls, a fifteen-foot cascade. The second half of the loop takes you over Sand Hill Junction and past Dead Creek Flow on Cranberry Lake.This excursion should be undertaken only by strong skiers who are prepared to break trail.

The trail to High Rock begins beside a mill pond where several sawmills operated circa 1900—the heyday of Wanakena’s logging era. The train would come out of the woods and leave logs at the pond, and the mills would turn them into buggy-whip handles, shoe lasts, and lathing strips, among other things.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Map by Nancy Bernstein

As I skied past the pond, I had a happy thought: I’m not cold. As I skied deeper into the wild, I became so warm that I took off my inner mittens. No doubt the outside temperature had continued to rise, but my physical exertion accounted for most of the heat I felt. It was still fairly cold, I knew, because after taking a few photos, I noticed the battery in my camera was almost dead. I removed the battery and stuffed it my chest pocket, where it warmed up and got its mojo back.

The trail looked beautiful on this day. I found myself skiing between columns of spruce and balsam, their green boughs drooping under the weight of snow. Occasionally, I came upon a pleasant change of scenery—the snowy tussocks, clumps of yellowed grass, and weathered stumps of a beaver meadow. Not dramatic, but wild and serene. It was delightful to be back on skis.

I was happy, too, that someone had skied here the day before. Even an old railroad grade can pose a challenge if you’re breaking trail. After a few miles, though, the tracks ended, and I was plowing through powder. With the snow piling up to my shins as I “glided” forward, I congratulated myself for having put on gaiters before leaving the house.

Shortly, I found the way blocked by part of a large spruce that had snapped off and landed on the trail, taking as casualties several smaller trees. I thought I saw a way around to the left, but I soon got entangled in a thicket and had to fight through, breaking branches and loosening small avalanches, to return to the trail. I would have inflicted less damage on the environment and myself if I had gone right.

Eventually, I came to what might be called an uphill, a slight incline where the trail cuts across a slope of hardwoods. At the top, a spur trail on the right leads in a tenth of a mile to High Rock. (Look for a sign at the junction.)

High Rock, like High Falls, is not very high. Nonetheless, it offers a fine view of the Oswegatchie meandering through marsh and alder swamp. I have admired this vista in summer, when the alluvial plain is alive with green and the cries of red-winged blackbirds. How different in winter. How still. How white.

High Rock is a popular destination for paddlers, both for its view and for its campsite, which lies beneath large pines. Looking at the winter landscape, I wondered what it would be like to ski up the frozen river and if the ice ever gets thick enough to allow it. If it were safe, I imagine it would be magical trip.

Skiing back to Wanakena in my tracks should not have taken more than an hour, but I stopped to explore one of the larger beaver meadows I had passed earlier. It was easily accessible from the trail. Threading among humps of snow-covered grasses and bushes, I came to a frozen stream and skied along it to an old beaver lodge, all but hidden under the snow.

What an enchanting place. There were scores of gray, withered stumps and a number of tall snags, the remains of long-dead trees. It reminded me of a tree graveyard. Just as in a human graveyard, most of the monuments were small, perhaps a few feet tall, but some rose high into the sky like obelisks. When they lived, these must have been the panjandrums of the arboreal world.

I had wanted to get away from it all. Although I hadn’t traveled all that far from civilization, the beaver meadow seemed a million miles from the world of Facebook and smart phones. Since it was getting late, I couldn’t tarry. I arrived back at the car at dusk, reinvigorated and glad for winter. Also, hungry. In Wanakena, that demands a visit to the Pine Cone Grill. What better way to ease back into civilization than with a beer and one of the Pine Cone’s famous burgers?

DIRECTIONS: From the bridge over the Oswegatchie River just west of Cranberry Lake, drive 6.8 miles west on NY 3 to County 61, the turn for the Wanakena Ranger School. Turn left onto 61, then bear right at 0.8 miles, where the main road bends left. In another 0.4 miles, bear right again onto South Shore Road and cross the Oswegatchie. (A left turn at the junction would take you to the Wanakena General Store.) Less than a tenth of mile beyond the bridge is a short road on the right that leads to the trailhead. However, drive past the road and park in the plowed lot on the other side of the tennis courts. Ski or walk back to the trailhead.

My location
Get Directions

March 01, 2012
Raquette Falls cross country ski

Jecinda Hughes crests a small hill on the way to Raquette Falls. Photo by Josh Wilson.

Jecinda Hughes crests a small hill on the way to Raquette Falls. Photo by Josh Wilson.

Little snow, lots of fun

By Phil Brown

By early January, we were desperate. We had enough snow to ski the Whiteface Mountain toll road, local golf courses, and a few easy trails, but that was it. As the ski-less days dragged on, we wondered if winters like this would become the norm in our warming world. Continue Reading…

March 01, 2012
Seven Carries, 7th heaven


Skiers on St. Regis Pond head toward the Green Pond carry.

Skiers on St. Regis Pond head toward the Green Pond carry.

Photos and text by Nancie Battaglia

Doing the Seven Carries is a great adventure no matter what the season. Last winter we chose a day blue with sunshine to ski the ponds and intervening woodlands. It’s a ski trip that comes especially recommended when snow is sparse.

Our group of five schussers and two doggers leave a car at Paul Smith’s College on Lower St. Regis Lake and then pile into a second car to shuttle to Little Clear Pond, our starting point. Continue Reading…

January 01, 2012
Mount Arab

Mount Arab Fire Tower

The author, Evan Williams (right), and his father find shelter inside the restored fire tower. Photos by Evan Williams.

An Oasis on Mount Arab

By Evan Williams

On a brisk winter day, my dad and I set out for a snowshoe excursion up Mount Arab, a small peak with a restored fire tower west of Tupper Lake and a panoramic view of the northern Adirondacks. Because the climb to the 2,545-foot summit is only a mile, with an elevation gain of 760 feet, this is a good trip for children or novice snowshoers. Continue Reading…

November 01, 2011
Nordic Ski Centers

Jasper Wiech and Evelyn Eller are dressed for fun at Dewey Mountain.

Jasper Wiech and Evelyn Eller are dressed for fun at Dewey Mountain. Photo by Jecinda Hughes.

Hey, kids, skiing is cool!

By Mary Thill

On one of those winter afternoons when night falls as the clock says it’s still day, a line of small children moves up a white trail, marching wide-legged like ants on a branch. Then they bunch up and one by one point downhill and glide or tumble toward the bottom. Older kids pole and sail by, pumping to catch air off bumps. Continue Reading…

November 01, 2011
Bum Pond Ski

The author tkaes in the view at the Charley Pond outlet.

The author takes in the view at the Charley Pond outlet. Photo by Martha Brown.

Ski bum, you ski bum

By Phil Brown

Bum Pond doesn’t sound like the most attractive place, and in truth there are better destinations in the Adirondack Park for cross-country skiing—lots of them. But Bum Pond is prettier than its name suggests, and in early winter, you may not have many other options.

And if you’re skiing with your daughter, there’s no better place on earth. Continue Reading…

March 01, 2011
Secret trails in the Bog River Region

Our editor delights in the serenity and scenery found on unofficial ski trails near the Bog River.

By Phil Brown

Last summer I canoed across Round Lake and took a walk along the path that parallels the outlet. After a while, I saw a homemade sign that read “Round Lake Ski Trail.” Since I’m a backcountry skier, I made a vow to return.

Fast-forward to late January. At the time, we had at least eighteen inches of snow in the woods. Not a lot for midwinter, but enough to entice me to try the Round Lake Ski Trail. Continue Reading…

January 01, 2011
Coney Mountain snowshoe

Snowshoers leave the summit of Coney Mountain. Photo by Nancie Battaglia

A New Trail to an Old Favorite

By Phil Brown

Is it possible to hike to the top of a mountain without climbing? I started to ask myself that question while trying out the new trail on Coney Mountain south of Tupper Lake.

With its wide-open views, Coney has been a popular destination for years, but until this past summer, it lacked a state-sanctioned trail. Hikers and snowshoers followed a herd path that went more or less straight up the mountain. Continue Reading…

January 01, 2011
Hays Brook Ski Adventure


Phil Brown and skiing companion on the Hays Brook Truck Trail. Photo by Susan Bibeau

Snowy woods beckon skiers

By Phil Brown

We were all happy to be on our first backcountry ski trip of the season, but none of us was as excited as Ella. She often bolted ahead of us, eager to see what snowy adventure lay around the bend, and she kept her high spirits throughout our ten-mile tour despite numerous face plants.

“I think Ella has white-nose syndrome,” I remarked after one of her plunges into the fresh powder.

“She does, but she’s not concerned about it,” Sue said.

“She’s kind of batty,” I added.

I don’t think we hurt Ella’s feelings. She knows only a few words of English: sit, wait, lie down. Since “joy” is not part of her vocabulary, she could only act it out. Continue Reading…