All Stories in: ‘West Central’


March 10, 2016
Whetstone Gulf State Park

Skiers head to Tug Hill in search of snow and enjoy breathtaking views while touring around the rim of Whetstone Gorge.

By Phil Brown

A lookout from the South Rim Trail offers a spectacular view of Whetstone Gulf.
Photo by Carl Heilman II

This winter showed us, once again, that the snow in the Adirondacks is unreliable. A backcountry skier needs to have a backup plan. Mine is to go west. To Tug Hill.

Located a bit west of the Adirondack Park, Tug Hill is known for its huge snowfalls, thanks largely to storms blowing from the Great Lakes. In an average winter, Tug Hill receives more than two hundred inches of snow.

Unfortunately, Tug Hill lacks our mountains, so you won’t find the dramatic scenery you enjoy on a ski tour to Avalanche Lake, say, or the summit of Mount Marcy. But there is at least one ski trip that is a must-do if you’re in the region: the five-mile loop around the rim of Whetstone Gulf.

I thought of Whetstone Gulf as soon as my girlfriend Carol suggested in late January that we go to Tug Hill in search of decent snow. I had never been to Whetstone, but I had seen an alluring photo taken in winter by Carl Heilman II. Also, I knew that the gulf was written up in an old guidebook, 25 Ski Tours in the Adirondacks by Almy and Anne Coggeshall.

The Coggeshalls, though, described a different excursion: they skied through the chasm, following Whetstone Creek. “The ultimate in this trip is to be able to approach the falls at the upper end through a slit so narrow that you can touch both walls with your fingertips,” the Coggeshalls wrote.

Carol and I hoped to do that trip as well. Alas, we finished the rim trail too late in the day. The regulations at Whetstone Gulf State Park don’t allow you to use the trails after 3 p.m. Well, we have an excuse to return the next time we have a bad winter. If you think the rim loop is too challenging, you might do the Coggeshall trip instead.

The Tug Hill Plateau encompasses 1.3 million acres between Lake Ontario and the Adirondack Park, rising in elevation from 250 feet in the west to 2,100 feet in the east. It is sometimes referred to as the Lesser Wilderness, a little brother to the Adirondacks.

Tug Hill boasts a number of deep gorges, which are called gulfs in the local tongue. Whetstone is one of the most spectacular, with nearly vertical walls of dark shale rising 350 feet from the chasm floor. The entire gorge lies within the 2,100-acre state park.

Carol MacKinnon Fox crosses the bridge over Whetstone Creek.
Photo by Phil Brown

To get to the rim of the gulf you have to climb about a half-mile. Carol and I sidestepped and herringboned with our skis. If you have climbing skins for your skis, you might want to use them. Another option is to wear snowshoes for the ascent and then switch to skis.

Most of the rim trail is fairly easy and, if you’re experienced, can be done in skinny skis and boots. But whichever direction you travel, the descent at the finish will be steep. For this, most skiers probably would prefer beefier skis and boots for better control. I used a lightweight telemark setup—Madshus Epochs with plastic Garmont Excursion boots—and this seemed about right for me. If you use skinny skis, you probably will need to pick your way down the trail at the finish or cut into the woods. Or use snowshoes on the descent.

The state park is located off West Road between Boonville and Lowville. When Carol and I arrived in the late morning, there were a few cars in the parking lot. In winter, the park’s warming hut is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, but we didn’t use the facility.

For no reason in particular, we decided to ski the loop in a clockwise direction, starting on the South Rim Trail. As we headed toward the trail, we passed a few people on skinny gear who had been skiing the unplowed roads through the park’s campground.

At the outset, the South Rim Trail gains four hundred feet in elevation in about a half-mile. It was packed by snowshoers, but as Carol and I ascended, we noticed old ski tracks in the open forest of red pines. Evidently, skiers earn their turns here after a good snowfall.

Eventually, the trail flattened out, skirted the head of a ravine, and turned north toward the rim. We soon came to a sign warning us to watch out for falling rocks. Since there was nothing above us but trees, we thought falling branches posed a greater threat. Throughout the day, we encountered the same warning over and over again—probably more than a dozen times. The signs became something of a joke.

Frequent signs along the rim trail warn of falling rocks and other dangers.
Photo by Carol MacKinnon Fox

Soon we reached the rim and had our first vertiginous view of the snowy gorge. A sign informed us that a spur trail led to an observation tower. Although there were no tracks, we followed the spur trail a short distance. We didn’t see the tower and decided to turn back when the trail started to descend steeply. We didn’t want to lose our hard-won elevation.

Returning to the main trail, we found ourselves skiing along the very edge of the gorge, looking straight down at Whetstone Creek or at the vertical walls on the opposite side of the gulf. We also enjoyed nice views of the snowy plain to the east.

As we continued along the rim, the trail seemed less traveled. It was mostly flat, with an occasional short climb or dip. Carol and I delighted in little descents through a few inches of powder.

Although we passed several splendid lookouts, the vistas were somewhat obstructed by trees and branches. I kept wondering where Carl Heilman took his photo. About two miles from the trailhead, we came to the place. An opening in the trees revealed a spectacular view of the steep walls of the narrowing gorge, half covered with snow. The precipice beneath us was nearly vertical.

While Carol and I took photos, a bunch of snowshoers from the Adirondack Mountain Club showed up—the first people we had seen on the trail. They were doing the loop in the opposite direction. They warned us that we would run into snowmobilers on a short stretch of trail on the other side of the gorge.

Tug Hill is snowmobile country. The region has a large network of wide trails and unplowed dirt roads that allows the snow machines to travel long distances at high speeds. We had been hearing the muffled drone of snowmobiles throughout our trip and wondered where they were and where they were going.

A half-mile from the lookout we had our answer: we crossed the creek on a bridge on Corrigan Hill Road, a dirt thoroughfare that in winter becomes snowmobile trail CH4. As soon as we crossed the creek, we left the road, re-entered the woods, and shortly came upon a large gathering of snowmobilers—I’m guessing fifty or so—who had illegally driven from the road to the rim. Snow in the pine forest and along the rim had been packed down by the machines, and for a short distance our trail was virtually obliterated.

We were thankful to leave the snowmobiles behind. Continuing along the rim, we enjoyed great views of the gorge. If anything, they were more open than the views from the south side. A while later, we encountered two snowshoers coming our way who warned us about a tricky stream crossing ahead. After a short descent, we reached the stream. I kept my skis on and shuffled sideways across a precarious snow bridge, whereas sensible Carol chose to remove her skis and step across the water.

Soon we started the long descent to the parking lot. Not knowing the trail, I didn’t want to bomb it. Besides, it had been packed by snowshoers and was quite fast. I went down partway and waited for Carol. And waited …

Carol was taking a long time. I started back up the trail until I could see her. When she reached me she said her ski pole broke when it snagged a branch. It was unfixable, so I gave her one of mine.

Whetstone Gulf State Park
Map by Nancy Bernstein

Funny, I don’t use my ski poles all that much, but I felt insecure with only one. I skied down the trail in small bits, pulling over wherever I could. As I neared the bottom of the hill, I headed off piste, letting the powder in the woods slow me up, and then angled back to the trail. After crossing a footbridge, I was back at the parking lot.

I have skied the rim trail only once, and in only one direction, but my feeling is that the south trail would be an easier and safer descent than the north trail. My impression is that the south trail offers more opportunities to ski back and forth through the woods, which are quite open. Given my limited experience, take my advice with a chunk of road salt.

At any rate, the downhills can be managed with caution. If it gets scary, you can always snowplow, sidestep or head into the woods.

“It’s a great ski route because there is variety in the terrain and the views are continuous,” Carol messaged me a few days after our trip. “I liked the woodsy sections just as much as the more spectacular gulf lookouts. The hills were challenging, so I’m glad I wore my big skis.”

Whether you use skinny skis or fat skis, or even opt for snowshoes, Whetstone Gulf is sure to leave a deep impression.

DIRECTIONS
If coming from the south, take NY 12 to Boonville. From downtown, follow NY 12D north to NY 26. Continue straight on NY 26 for 7.9 miles. Turn left onto West Road. The park entrance will soon appear on the left. If coming from the north, take NY 26 south from Lowville for 6.4 miles. The turn for West Road will be on the right.


January 01, 2016
Glasby Pond

With snow scarce in much of the Adirondacks, two skiers head to the Cranberry Lake region for a day of backcountry adventure.

By Phil Brown

Carol Fox plows through fresh powder on Glasby Pond in the Five Ponds Wilderness. Photo by Phil Brown

Carol Fox plows through fresh powder on Glasby Pond in the Five Ponds Wilderness.
Photo by Phil Brown

As usual, we were chasing snow. In the High Peaks, we didn’t have enough base to ski the backcountry, but we were hoping that a recent lake-effect storm had dumped powder in the western Adirondacks. So we called Rick Kovacs at the Wanakena General Store, and he told us the good news: the region had a foot or more of snow, much of it fresh.

Carol Fox and I decided to ski Cat Mountain, a 2,261-foot summit with a spectacular vista of the Five Ponds Wilderness. I had never skied Cat, but I thought it would be a good test for our Madshus Annums, a wide but lightweight ski designed for backcountry adventure. Both Carol and I had bought Annums a few weeks earlier.

When we got to Wanakena, we stopped at the store (which, alas, has since gone out of business) to buy sandwiches and hot chocolate. Our initial plan was to ski the Dead Creek Truck Trail 4.5 miles to Sand Hill Junction, take the Cowhill Junction Trail 0.9 miles to a spur trail for Cat Mountain, and then follow the spur 0.6 miles to the summit—a twelve-mile round trip. Rick suggested that we could save a little time by leaving the truck trail early and cross frozen Dead Creek Flow to Janack’s Landing. The short cut would save us only three-tenths of a mile, but we welcomed the opportunity to check out the views from the flow, one of several tentacles of Cranberry Lake.

Carol signs in before heading off on a ski trip to Glasby Pond. Photo by Phil Brown

Carol signs in before heading off on a ski trip to Glasby Pond.
Photo by Phil Brown

After signing the register, we headed up a corridor of evergreens coated in white and were immediately struck by the beauty and quiet of the Five Ponds Wilderness. “It’s so pretty. It’s like a magical forest of snow,” Carol remarked.

In a few minutes, we came to the first of several beaver ponds and meadows on the way to Dead Creek Flow. These snow-covered clearings, adorned with leatherleaf shrubs and ghostly trees, offered welcome changes in the scenery. Beavers have long been active along this trail. I told Carol how years earlier—the last century, in fact—I had been hiking in the dark without a headlamp and waded shin-deep into water that had flooded the trail, prompting a beaver to slap its tail in alarm.

The truck trail is almost perfectly flat. We certainly didn’t need our wide-bodied Annums for this part of the trip. But kicking and gliding through several inches of light powder, we would have been happy with barrel staves strapped to our feet.

After a mile and a half, we could see a bay of Dead Creek Flow on our left. Following Rick’s advice, however, we kept going five or ten minutes until we reached a path for a primitive campsite. This provided easy access to the ice. Needless to say, you shouldn’t venture onto Dead Creek Flow unless it is frozen solid (the ice should be at least three inches thick).

The sky was overcast as we skied a half-mile or so through light powder on the ice. Looking down the flow toward the main body of Cranberry Lake, we felt enveloped by a cocoon of white. We headed southeast toward an obvious opening in the shoreline: Janack’s Landing, named after John Janack, one of the first firewatchers on Cat Mountain (when Cat had a fire tower). In the early 1900s, Janack lived in a cabin at the landing with his wife and children.

The lean-to at Janack’s Landing is a good rest stop. Photo by Phil Brown

The lean-to at Janack’s Landing is a good rest stop.
Photo by Phil Brown

Once on shore, we stopped for lunch at a lean-to and then took a short spur trail through a swamp back to the Dead Creek trail, where there was a kiosk with a map and register. (By skiing across the flow, we had avoided a large bend in the trail.) We had come about two and a half miles but had yet to gain any elevation. Shortly after leaving the kiosk, however, we began a gradual climb to Sand Hill Junction, ascending 150 feet in roughly a halfmile. We turned left and continued to climb intermittently for 0.4 miles to Glasby Pond. Its outlet, Glasby Creek, was pouring through a beaver dam.

We arrived at the pond at 3 p.m., just as the afternoon sun was coming out and casting long shadows across the frozen surface. Looking east across the pond we could see our destination, Cat Mountain, about a mile away. Alas, it seemed too late in the day to continue our journey. Carol said she wouldn’t mind turning around after exploring the pond.

The water body is named after Nick Glasby, one of the early hunters and trappers in the Cranberry Lake area. The two Nick’s Ponds in the region also are named for Glasby. Bob Marshall, the celebrated hiker and wilderness advocate, spent a summer visiting ninety-four ponds in the region and regarded one of the Nicks Ponds as the loveliest of them all. He had a lower opinion of Glasby Pond, putting it sixty-second on his list. If only he had seen it on a bluebird winter day like this, with Cat Mountain looming above.

“What a pretty spot—the pond, the bubbling Glasby Creek,” Carol said.

“Yeah, the Great Glasby,” I replied.

“There’s your headline.”

The ice can be thin near the beaver dam, so the safest way to access the pond is to cross the little outlet and approach the shore far from the dam. You may have to remove your skis to cross the stream on rocks. Carol and I skied to the north end of the pond to check out a marsh and another beaver dam, marveling at the scenery and the stillness. “The light is beautiful; we’re so lucky,” Carol said.

As much as we disliked leaving the pond, we were looking forward to the descent back to Janack’s Landing. In all, the elevation loss was only 260 feet, but we enjoyed schussing in our new skis through the fresh powder. The downhills were not especially difficult, but they might test a raw novice. If conditions are favorable, I’d rate them as “advanced beginner.”

It took us a half-hour to cover the mile and a half to Janack’s. By then the sun had dropped to the horizon, suffusing the eastern shoreline of Dead Creek Flow in a pink glow. Back on the truck trail, we kept a steady pace and got out of the woods a little after 5 p.m.—nearly five hours after we had set out. We capped off the day with hamburgers and beers at the Pine Cone Restaurant, the local eatery.

“That was an amazing trip, and we didn’t see a soul,” Carol said. “Wanakena is such a cute little town. I can’t wait to come back.”

Next time we’ll start a few hours earlier and make sure we get to the summit of Cat. The mountain will still be there when we return.

Glasby Pond Map by Nancy Bernstein

Glasby Pond
Map by Nancy Bernstein

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. 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. The parking area for the Dead Creek Trail is on the right a halfmile beyond the bridge.


March 29, 2014
Cranberry Lake Wild Forest

Retired Forest Ranger Bob Barstow skis this trail almost every day in winter with his furry companion, Maggie Mae. Photo by Phil Brown

Retired Forest Ranger Bob Barstow skis
this trail almost every day in winter with his
furry companion, Maggie Mae.
Photo by Phil Brown

Low snow, high hopes

When most of the Adirondacks had nary a flake, the Cranberry Lake Wild Forest held out the promise of fresh tracks.

By Phil Brown

 

Early January, and we had hardly any snow in Saranac Lake. Meanwhile, Tug Hill west of the Adirondacks got clobbered yet again with a lake-effect storm. Upon hearing that the tail end of the storm dumped about six inches of fluffy powder inside the Blue Line near Cranberry Lake, I hopped in my car and drove west.

I aimed to do a ski tour I had never done: a fourteenmile round trip to Burntbridge Pond in the Cranberry Lake Wild Forest.

It turned out to be an ideal choice. Despite the fresh snow, there wasn’t much base and thus many hiking trails remained sketchy for skiing. But the route to Burntbridge Pond does not require a lot of snow: it’s flat and smooth, following the bed of a defunct logging railroad and old woods roads.

Flat and smooth is not exciting, but given the lousy start to winter, I was thrilled to be kicking and gliding through a beautiful snowy wood.

The trail to Burntbridge Pond is a snowmobile route, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. I’m told it doesn’t get much snowmobile use (I didn’t see any sled tracks on my trip). Nor does it get much use by skiers, and so the occasional snowmobile packing the trail means you won’t have to slog for miles through deep snow to reach your destination. If you want to avoid snowmobiles, do the trip during the week—preferably right after a snowfall. That’s what I did, and I had the woods almost to myself.

The Burntbridge Pond trailhead is on Route 3 east of Cranberry Lake. When I arrived in the parking lot, there was one other vehicle. Only four parties had signed the register since Christmas.

Hitting the trail, I skied uphill a short distance through a corridor of evergreens. The trail then leveled off and entered a deciduous forest. I was following the tracks of a solitary skier and a dog. About a mile from the trailhead, I spied a German shepherd up ahead, standing in its tracks and staring at me. Soon a skier appeared from around the bend.

It was Bob Barstow, a retired forest ranger, and his faithful companion Maggie Mae on their way back to the trailhead. Bob lives in Cranberry Lake and skis this section of the trail almost every day in winter. “I got a dog that needs a lot of exercise,” he remarked. After a heavy snowfall, he rides his snowmobile to groom the trail.

Bob said the first few miles of trail are on a railroad bed once owned by the Emporium Lumber Company. The line connected to the Grasse River Railroad, which took logs to mills in Cranberry Lake and Conifer. Emporium last logged these woods in the 1920s or 1930s, according to Bob. Although not old growth, he added, the forest contains impressive specimens of sugar maple, cherry, and ash.

At 1.4 miles, I reached a junction with a trail that leads to Bear Mountain Swamp and eventually up Bear Mountain, which was visible through the trees. The 2,142-foot summit of Bear, which overlooks Cranberry Lake, would be a good destination for a ski/snowshoe trip. From the Burntbridge trailhead, it’s 5.3 miles to the summit. If you start from Lone Pine Road, near the state campground, it’s only a 1.7-mile hike to the summit.

On this day, I didn’t think the cover would be sufficient for skiing the Bear Mountain trail, so I continued to Burntbridge Pond. At 2.8 miles, I crossed pretty Brandy Brook on a sturdy wooden bridge. The brook was mostly frozen, though gaps in the ice revealed its black waters.

Brandy Brook Flow Photo by Phil Brown

Brandy Brook Flow
Photo by Phil Brown

In a quarter-mile, I came to another trail junction. You need to turn left for Burntbridge Pond, but I suggest first continuing straight ahead a short way to a wetland. You can then ski across the wetland to Brandy Brook Flow, a long arm of Cranberry Lake. The view down the flow, bordered by snow-covered conifers, was the scenic highlight of my trip. If you don’t want to ski all the way to the pond, the flow is an alternative destination. It would be a six-mile round trip.

Returning to the junction, I started skiing east on an old logging road, now breaking trail. This part of the route does gain some elevation—250 feet over a mile and a half—but the ascent is so gradual that it’s hardly noticeable. The climb offers views over the Brandy Brook valley toward hills on the northern horizon.

At 5.4 miles, I came to a third junction, where I went straight. After ten minutes or so, I turned right onto another trail, which paralleled the boundary of privately
owned timberlands. Though protected by conservation easements, the private land apparently had been logged fairly recently. The contrast between the Forest Preserve and the easement land, with its scrawny trees, was striking.

The trail ended at a lean-to (in immaculate condition) near a bog on the north shore of Burntbridge Pond. Before stopping for lunch, I skied across the pond toward what looked like a beaver lodge (it turned out to be a dome-shaped boulder). From the ice, I saw a couple of small peaks to the southwest. Otherwise, there were no hills to be seen—a testament to the gentleness of the terrain in this part of the Adirondacks.

The view of Burntbridge Pond from the lean-to. Photo by Phil Brown

The view of Burntbridge Pond from the lean-to.
Photo by Phil Brown

Like many ponds, Burntbridge is ringed by evergreens. At fifty-four acres, it is one of the larger ponds in the Cranberry Lake Wild Forest and, I would guess, one of the more attractive. As I skied back to the car, I wondered what Bob Marshall—the celebrated wilderness advocate— would think of Burntbridge Pond. As a forestry student, Marshall spent a summer at Cranberry Lake and in his spare time took long hikes to ponds throughout the region. He ended up visiting ninety-four and ranked them all according to their beauty. It so happens that I included Marshall’s accounts of his hikes in Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, a collection of his writings that I edited. I resolved to look up Burntbridge Pond when I got home.

Skiing in my tracks on the way back to the car, I made good time. I even was able to coast a little on a few downhills. I reached the trailhead at dusk, having been in the woods more than six hours. On the drive home, I stopped for a burger at the Thirsty Moose in Childwold— a haunt of snowmobilers. My waitress said it’s possible to snowmobile to Burntbridge Pond right from the restaurant, taking trails across the easement land, but she had never ridden to it from the Cranberry Lake trailhead.

When I got home, I took the Marshall book off the shelf and opened it to the chapter on his Cranberry Lake hikes. Wouldn’t you know it: Burntbridge apparently was the only major pond that Marshall didn’t visit that summer of 1922. He had planned to but was deterred by a heavy downpour.

However, he did offer this etymology of the pond’s name: “The old Lake George road crossed the outlet of this pond on a high bridge, which was burnt, supposedly by some Indians, early in the last century.”

Cranberry Lake Wild Forest Map by Nancy Bernstein

Cranberry Lake Wild Forest
Map by Nancy Bernstein

DIRECTIONS: From Tupper Lake, drive west on NY 3. Look for the trailhead on the left five miles past Seveys Corners (the junction with NY 56). It’s also one mile after crossing the Grass River. If coming from the west, look for the trailhead on the right a few miles past Cranberry Lake.

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November 14, 2013
Cascade Lake Ski Loop

Tim O'Keefe glides across Cascade Lake on a perfect winter day. Photo by Phil Brown

Tim O’Keefe glides across Cascade Lake on a perfect winter day.
Photo by Phil Brown

Pigeon Lake Wilderness offers skiers a quiet refuge in snowmobiling country.

By Phil Brown

LAST WINTER, a former colleague got in touch to see if I wanted to go skiing in the Inlet area. Not one to turn down a chance to ski or catch up with a friend, I suggested we do the loop around Cascade Lake in the Pigeon Lake Wilderness.

We agreed to meet for lunch at the Hard Times Café in Eagle Bay, a few miles west of downtown Inlet. When I arrived, just before noon, the restaurant was packed with snowmobilers. I felt a little out of place in my cross-country-ski boots. Tim, who lives south of Utica, walked in about ten minutes later. He couldn’t find a space in the lot, which was largely occupied by snow machines, so he had to park across the road.

Love ’em or hate ’em, there is no denying the importance of snowmobiles to the winter economy of Inlet and Old Forge. You see them everywhere: driving along trails and roads, filling up at gas stations, and parked outside restaurants, bars, stores, and motels.

For those who prefer quieter recreation, there are oases. One of them is the Pigeon Lake Wilderness, a fifty-thousand-acre tract of Forest Preserve where all motorized use is forbidden.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

Map by Nancy Bernstein

The six-mile loop around Cascade Lake is one of the more popular ski trips in the region, so it’s usually tracked out. And it’s one any skier can handle. In Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks, Tony Goodwin rates it as suitable for novices.

But there is a somewhat tricky descent near the beginning. After signing in at the trail register, we climbed a small ridge. From the top, the trail curves right, then left as it descends to an old woods road. I made it to the bottom without much difficulty, but my Karhu Pinnacles are made for backcountry. Tim was on skinnier skis designed for groomed trails. I figured they’d be hard to control in the deep snow. I stopped and waited. After a minute, Tim reappeared.

“What happened to your pants?” I asked. “They used to be black.”

“I did a face plant back there,” he confessed.

Phil Brown, left, and Tim pose near the start of the journey. Explorer photo

Phil Brown, left, and Tim pose near the start of the journey.
Explorer photo

Consulting the GPS tracker on his smart phone, Tim said he had been going 8.4 miles an hour. Fortunately, a foot or two of snow makes a good cushion. We continued on our way and would not encounter a comparable hill the rest of the day.

I had skied the loop by myself earlier in the winter. How different the trail looked then. I did it after a snowfall that bent the young trees on either side so they formed an archway and occasionally blocked my passage. Since my first visit, the snow had melted or fallen off, and the trees had snapped back to attention.

Tim and I could not have chosen a better day: blue sky, no wind, temperatures in the low twenties. And a young couple whom we met on their way out had broken trail all the way around the lake.

A little over a mile from the trailhead, we came to a signed junction. I’ve done the loop in both directions, but we opted for counterclockwise. This saves the best part—skiing across the frozen lake—for the second half of the trip.

Another highlight of the trip is the waterfall that gives Cascade Lake its name. Since Tim had not been here before, he was eager to see this curiosity. In his online research, he learned that it’s forty feet high.

“It’s the Niagara Falls of the Adirondacks,” I told him.

But we had a ways to go before laying eyes on the giant cataract. From the junction, we ascended a gentle grade through a hardwood forest. Once on the higher ground, we could look down on the lake, visible through the trees. After a while, we descended, ever so gradually, to a sprucefir flat and then reached a clearing three miles from the trailhead.

From the clearing, we could see the waterfall to the right, maybe a hundred feet off the trail. When we got there, Tim didn’t say much.

“Not that exciting, is it?” I said.

“It kind of looks like a blob of ice,” Tim replied.

Nevertheless, we posed for the obligatory photos and then returned to the trail by skiing a short distance down the frozen stream (don’t try this unless you’re sure the ice is solid). Once back in the woods, we followed the trail to a meadow that looked as if it had been slathered in white frosting. In another four-tenths of a mile, we pulled beside the lake and decided to ski on the ice.

If the ice is thick enough, you might want to do the same. Skiing up the mile-long lake, we could see for the first time the low mountains that hem in the narrow waterway. As a rock climber, I was intrigued by an amphitheater of cliffs on the north side and made a mental note to check them out some summer. More scenic than the hills, though, was the lake itself: a vast desert of white juxtaposed against the bright-blue sky. The snow was unbroken except for the tracks of deer and
bobcat.

As we approached the outlet, we skied to the right shore and got back on the trail. Soon after, we crossed the stream on a bridge, the black waters burbling amid the snow. A short, easy climb brought us back to the signed junction. From here, we followed our own tracks up the old woods road and then climbed to the top of the ridge.

We glided back down to the trail register. Taking out his phone, Tim discovered he set a new speed record on the descent: more than ten miles an hour. That seemed like a cause for celebration. We headed out to Matt’s Draft House in Inlet for beers and pizza, reminisced about old times, and, in parting, promised to get together this winter for another ski tour.

DIRECTIONS: From NY 28 in Eagle Bay, turn north onto Big Moose Road and drive 1.3 miles to a large parking area on the right.

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March 01, 2010
BREIA trails

Trails and an extended ski season-to any and all.

By Tom Woodman

breia-donna-and-jack

Donna and Jack Zito of Clinton snowshoe over a bridge on the Canal Trial.

Aboisterous hubbub greets us as we climb from the car at the trailhead. Whoops, hollers, and laughs carry through the trees from unseen adventurers and give us an early flavor of the place.

Mention winter recreation in the southwestern Adirondacks, and many people’s first thought will be snowmobiles. But these aren’t the sounds of snow-sledders. Here in the foothills near Boonville, the BREIA cross-country ski center has set its own path. And that path—actually fifty kilometers of paths—is increasingly popular not only as a regional draw but as a destination for visitors from many states. Continue Reading…


January 01, 2010
3 favorite winter treks

With snowshoes, you can go just about anywhere in the Adirondack Park. But with more than two thousand miles of trails, where do you start? Below are suggestions from three gung-ho Adirondack snowshoers.

Fifth Peak

By Carl Heilman

fifth-peak

Fifth Peak overlooks the Narrows on Lake George. Photo by Carl Heilman II

Tongue Mountain overlooking Lake George offers many scenic vistas, and one of the best is from Fifth Peak, whose lean-to is an excellent snowshoe destination.

It’s an excursion of moderate difficulty. The round trip totals 5.2 miles, with an elevation change of roughly 1,300 feet. Continue Reading…


January 01, 2009
4 snowshoe delights

Guidebook author shares four favorite snowshoe trips

Hour Pond. Photo by Bill Ingersoll.

By Bill Ingersoll

Having lived in the western foothills of the Adirondacks since I was born, snow has been a major part of my life. As a kid I’d spend hours steering my plastic sled down the hill behind the house or building forts in snowbanks. Both of my feet became frostbitten at age 11 when I got too carried away with a day’s worth of snowball fights and other games.

Nowadays, I view snow as something that transforms familiar landscapes into new territories, bestowing new personalities to the wild places I know well. There is no experience quite like walking through a conifer forest the day after a fresh snowfall, with all of the balsam firs and spruces looking like conical statues under their heavy burdens. Or viewing the surrounding mountains from a forested trail when all of the leaves are off the trees. Or walking across a frozen pond to explore shoreline coves. Continue Reading…


March 01, 2008
Tirrell Pond ski

Skiing the Blue Mountain circuit

By Phil Brown

What goes up must come down, but as we discovered on a delightful ski tour around Blue Mountain this winter, what comes down doesn’t have to go up.

And that’s good news for all you skiers who prefer gliding to herringboning. Of course, if you prefer slogging uphill, you are free to do the Blue Mountain Roundabout in reverse.

The eight-mile trip starts on Route 28N/30, just up the road from the Adirondack Museum, and ends on Route 28/30 east of the hamlet of Blue Mountain Lake. Because the end is more than 400 feet lower than the start, skiers will encounter more downs than ups along the way. Continue Reading…


November 01, 2006
Snowshow heaven

A snowshoer stops to admire the still beauty of winter.

A snowshoer stops to admire the still beauty of winter. Photos by Bill Ingersoll.

Guidebook author shares 5 favorite trips

By Bill Ingersoll

Snowshoes are an integral part of the winter landscape in the Adirondacks, almost certainly dating back to when the first humans began to explore these snowy mountains on foot. Rogers’ Rangers fought several battles on them near Lake George during the French and Indian War, and one of our largest lakes and longest rivers is named for them (“Raquette” being the French word for snowshoe). However, for many generations snowshoeing was not considered a pastime enjoyable for its own sake; snowshoes were merely utilitarian devices that people used while doing other things, such as hunting and trapping. Continue Reading…


January 01, 2006
Moss Lake grows on you

Skiers keep coming back to woodsy trails

By Judy Wolf

Moss Lake map

Map by Nancy Bernstein.

Last winter, my friends and I stumbled across one of the many wonderful secrets hidden in the western Adirondacks. The Moss Lake circuit, especially when combined with the Bubb Lake Trail, offers several options for beginning cross-country skiers and snowshoers, families with young children, and more experienced outdoor adventurers looking for a scenic trail that will let them stretch their legs. Continue Reading…