Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hiking/Snowshoeing - Taconic Crest Trail

Today, I led a Schenectady ADK hike to a section of the Taconic Crest Trail. Several of us are pursuing a patch from the Taconic Hiking Club for completion of all trail sections in calendar winter.

The hike today began at Petersburg Pass, high on the Taconic Ridge, and proceeded north along the ridge to the Prosser Hollow Access Trail. There, we would descend off the ridge to a pre-positioned car. The hike was approximately 6.75 miles, with cumulative elevation gain of 1378', and cumulative loss of 2479'. Downhill all the way. Yeah, right.

Getting started from the Petersburg Pass trailhead proved challenging, with temps hovering around +10F and a biting wind. It was hard enough just gearing up. The delay proved fortuitous in the end, since an Albany ADK trip over the same route got started just ahead of us and left us a nicely broken trail for the first mile or so. After we caught up with them, we all did our part.

Along the way, there are several very nice views to the west from open meadows along the ridge, but with the wind, we didn't tarry long there. Today, the real scenery was in the woods anyway. The trees were coated with several inches of new snow. In places, they were so bent over and plastered sideways with windblown snow that neither the trail markers nor the trail were visible. Route finding became a bit of a challenge at times for the person in the lead.

The snow was deep, and somewhere within its depth was hidden an icy crust. We rotated turns up front breaking trail, and never knew from one step to the next whether we'd break through the crust or not. It made for a much tougher trip than the mileage would indicate.

About mid-way in our hike along the ridge, we stopped at the famous Snow Hole, a deep fissure in the rocks that often contains snow even in the middle of summer. It's fun to crawl down in there on a hot day, but today would have been a little treacherous.

We stopped for lunch at a relatively wind-free spot along the ridge, and then descended to the junction with the Prosser Hollow Trail, where we left the Albany group as they continued north along the ridge. The trip down to the car went quickly, even though we were now breaking our own trail all the way. Then we all piled in, drove back to Petersburg Pass to retrieve the other car, and headed home after a tiring but satisfying day.

Friday, January 30, 2009

XC Skiing - Rockwood State Forest

After the recent snow/sleet/ice mess, today we headed north looking for snow that didn't get that crap. And did we ever find snow! Rockwood State Forest, west of Johnstown, got 10-12" of fresh snow, with no ice whatsoever.

The parking lot had not been recently plowed, so we parked at a large plowed pullout at the junction of NY29 and NY10A, just east of the official parking area. We climbed the large snowbank across the road, put on our skis, and headed into the forest, going between the two large stone pillars. And then we spent the next 90 minutes breaking trail in all that virgin powder. We were the first ones who had skied there, and we saw no other tracks. We tried a normally very challenging downhill, and wound up poling down parts of it through the deep snow.

After completing a 90-minute loop that was much shorter and more work than usual, we decided to go back around and reap the benefits of our labors in the new tracks. We also threw in a different downhill that shortened the original loop somewhat, and then followed our tracks back to the car.

The sky was darkening at this point, and we got caught in a pretty good snow shower on the way out, which only added to the ambience. It's great that this place is only an hour from home!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

XC Skiing - Indian Meadows Park

Another promised snowstorm goes bust !~#%!* After a forecast of 10-14", we got about 5", then some sleet and ice, and then maybe another inch. It didn't do much to improve the nearby skiing.

With other stuff on the day's calendar, Holly and I set out to Indian Meadows, which, it turns out, must have been groomed just after the ice but before the final snow. It was hard-packed and a little crunchy underneath, but the rolled trails were actually pretty good, all things considered, with about an inch of nice snow on top. We took one short excursion through the woods, and since the ice hadn't penetrated under the pines, that was OK too. Off-trail was a different story, however. There's a crust under the top layer of powder, and we kept breaking through. Best to stay on the trails. We got in about 45 minutes worth of skiing, but still need to hope for some real snow.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hiking/Snowshoeing - Hadley Mountain

Hadley Mountain (2675') is a small mountain in northern Saratoga County, NY. The 1.8-mile trail to its summit and firetower climbs 1525' from the trailhead, making for a short stiff climb. The first mile is especially relentless, climbing over 1000' of that total with few breaks.

Somewhat on the spur of the moment, I climbed Hadley today on a well-packed trail, taking about 1:15 to the summit. Along the way, there are wonderful views to the south toward Great Sacandaga Lake from some rock ledges.

Just below the summit is the former fire observer's cabin, its sheltered front porch a common refuge on windier days.

Today, there was very little wind and a brilliant blue sky. Views to the north toward the High Peaks were outstanding.

On the summit, I met Nancy and Linda, two fellow Adirondack 46ers, who guided me to a second northern summit, lower but more isolated. Hadley is an incredibly popular trail in the summer months, and even on weekends in the winter. Having a second place to get away from those crowds will be very welcome. I've climbed this peak 10 previous times, but never knew this other spot existed!

Back on the true summit, I did my part for the Summit Cheeseburger Project. I had discovered this website quite by accident, but decided to help out whenever I could. On the drive up, I remembered this, and stopped in Corinth at a Stewart's Shop and picked up a cheeseburger. On the summit, with temps in the 20s, it was barely lukewarm, but it served the purpose. Hadley is only the third of 3,397 New York summits to be logged as completed.

The trip back to the car took less than 45 minutes. It's amazing how much easier a rocky rooty trail can be in the winter when it's smoothly packed snow.

Monday, January 26, 2009

XC Skiing - Lapland Lake XC Ski Center

As noted earlier, local snow has been getting kinda crunchy for the past few days, so when a friend suggested a trip to Lapland Lake (read: "grooming") today, it seemed like the right idea. Lapland was reporting powder and packed powder, which is certainly better than what we have here. So, Holly, Bernie, and I headed off to Upper Benson, a bit northwest of Northville, NY.

We skied the usual "experts only" trails, taking about an hour and a half for the loop, and conditions really were very good. Then, we went into the snack bar/restaurant for lunch (chili and grilled cheese - mmm!) After lunch, we skied an easy trail down to Woods Lake, stopped to see the resident reindeer, then took a shortcut onto another black trail to get in one more nice downhill run before heading home. All told, we were out for about 2.5 hours, and got a pretty good workout. We also ran into several other local people we knew, all there for the same reason we were.

Big snow possible on Wednesday, so we're keeping our fingers crossed on that one.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

XC Skiing, Snowshoeing - Schenectady County Forest

Headed up to the Schenectady County Forest this afternoon, not knowing quite what to expect after Friday's mini-thaw. We took both skis and snowshoes just to be sure. Starting from the parking lot on skis, it quickly became clear that the trail would be well-traveled and hard-packed, but for how far was an unknown. We decided to use snowshoes instead, and walked the longest loop for about an hour. The northern half was much less traveled, except by yet another inconsiderate boob who had post-holed the whole way in bare boots. We met one skier who also mentioned this issue. As we got around to the southern part of the loop, it was well-packed by snowshoes, and wouldn't have been very good skiing anyway. We need some more local snow and cold temperatures to get things back to an enjoyable state for skiing.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Snowshoeing - Indian Kill Preserve

The temperature is dropping through the day, and the winds are howling, but we decided to get out for a short walk before the bottom really drops out tonight. The Indian Kill Preserve is a Schenectady county area in Glenville. A stream runs through steep-walled ravines that are fun to glissade down when the snow is deep and soft. Today it was crusty and hard, so we just wandered around for an hour or so on and off the trails.

Friday, January 23, 2009

XC Skiing - Featherstonehaugh State Forest

With temperatures expected to reach a balmy 38F, it was a day that begged for a ski outing. I hung around home for the morning, and then after lunch I headed up in the hills to Featherstonehaugh, less than a half-hour away. I hadn't skied the main loop yet this year, and was curious to see how bad the ice storm damage really was, after hearing some pretty negative reports.

I followed the informal "Purple Duct Tape" trail in from the parking area on Tidball Road, and intersected the main ski loop, which I then skied counterclockwise. Aside from some idiot having post-holed all over the trail in bare boots, it was actually in pretty good shape.

Continuing on, I noticed that the idiot had come in from Lake Road, near where the ski trail crosses a small bridge. Beyond that point, only ski tracks remained.

Beyond the bridge, the trail climbed gently though open hardwoods. There were a few trees down in this section, but many had been there for years, and the trail simply detoured around them. There was also a very small missing bridge, but the dip it formerly spanned was easily crossed without it.

It was a pretty day to be out, and warm too. I had my jacket and hat off for most of the trip. I covered the 2-mile loop in about 50 minutes at a fairly good clip, and got a good workout.

Tomorrow, it's back in the deep freeze for several more days. Hopefully, the thawed snow won't freeze into an icy crust and ruin skiing for the near future.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Snowshoeing, Snowpack Monitoring - Pine Bush

Today was the day of my volunteer snowpack monitoring in the Albany Pine Bush. My day comes up every two weeks, and I spend an hour snowshoeing around to about 60 of these snow stakes and logging the snow depth. The weather was much warmer than the past few days, and it was a pleasant walk.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hiking/Snowshoeing - Five-Mile Mountain

Five-Mile Mountain (2258') is the highest summit in the Tongue Mountain Range, adjacent to Lake George. Today, a Schenectady ADK chapter trip was scheduled to climb it from the north, so I signed up to go. It was about a 7-mile round trip hike.

Arriving at the trailhead, the temperature was about +7F, and the snow was 18-24" deep. Fortunately for us, the trail had been broken for most of our route. First we began the steady climb up Brown Mountain, from which there were nice views across Lake George to Black Mountain (shown here) and other summits.

Continuing on, we arrived at a leanto at 2.6 miles from the car, between Brown and Five-Mile Mountains.

It was too early for lunch, so we continued on to Five-Mile, less than a mile away, passing this ice formation along the way.

The woods were beautiful, with fresh snow covering everything.

Arriving at Five-Mile Mountain, we did a short scramble off the trail to find the open views from the rocks near the summit. This view is looking SW toward Lake George's Northwest Bay.

It was windy here, and only 10-15F, so we retreated back to the leanto for lunch. The trip out from there was pretty quick, since it was downhill most of the way on a packed trail, and we made it home well in time for dinner.

Monday, January 19, 2009

XC Skiing - Crane, Alder, and Goose Ponds

3 ponds, 5 miles, 3 hours. And what a glorious day to be out! There was a new snowfall covering everything, like a sugar coating.

Access to these ponds is from the end of the plowed portion of Crane Pond Road, north of Schroon Lake. This road has a long history of conflict between wilderness advocates and local residents. The problem is that the land beyond the end of the winter plowing is classified as state wilderness, with no motor vehicle access allowed. But it wasn't always this way, and back in the early 1990s, locals resented the fact that their motorized access to the pond and boat launch within had been taken away. The entire story is available here, for as long as that link remains active. The road is no longer officially maintained or plowed beyond the wilderness boundary, and makes a very nice ski route to the ponds 1.9 miles further in.

We first skied to Crane Pond, following the old road all the way. There was a snowshoe trench up the middle that made for very easy skiing. Shortly after we started, we passed this scene as we crossed the outlet of Alder Pond on the road:

After taking in the views at Crane Pond and talking with some snowshoers relaxing there, we crossed its outlet on a small bridge that had a nice view back over the pond.

Our hope was to ski along the south shore of Alder Pond until we reached the Goose Pond trail. But the water levels proved to be too high, and there was open water visible, so we opted to backtrack to the start of the Goose Pond trail along the road instead.

On the way back, we stopped for a nice view of Pharoah Mountain (2533') across Alder Pond.

The trail to Goose Pond is a hiking trail, as opposed to the road we had been on so far. It had been snowshoed, so was easy to follow, but some of the ups, downs, twists, and turns would prove interesting. It was only 0.6 miles from the closed road to the pond, but it was a very different experience. After removing our skis for one narrow bridge, and struggling up some tricky short pitches, we finally made it to the pond, which also has a nice view of Pharoah Mountain in the distance.

The return trip from the pond to the road was mostly downhill, and there was enough soft snow to make the twists and turns negotiable. Then came the bridge, which has a very nice view back up the Alder Pond outlet.

This outlet was running pretty good, and the bridge was narrow, with several uneven mounds of packed snow in the middle. It was a little tricky, but we made it this time with skis on. That's Holly on her knees crawling over one of the mounds, after discovering that those are NOT handrails along the sides.

The rest of the way back to the car was mostly gentle downhills along the road, and we were glad to see the parking lot. Hot chocolate was followed by the long drive home.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

XC Skiing - Sanders Preserve

We got a few inches of new snow overnight, just enough to give the current snowpack a nice white refresher. It also made for some very good local skiing, this time at the Sanders Preserve in Glenville. We tried a trail we'd never been on before on the north side of the road, and it gave us some interesting gentle downhills, some with lots of quick step turns. Then we crossed back over the road and skied down the main trail on the south side, returning via a loop that would have been much better on snowshoes. We were out for a little over an hour, and I got home in time to see most of the NFC Championship game.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hiking/Snowshoeing - Taconic Crest Trail

Today, I led a Schenectady ADK trip to the northern end of the Taconic Crest Trail, along the NY/VT border. With the temperature at 0 degrees F, six of us started the 1.1-mile, 880' climb up Prosser Hollow to intersect the TCT on the ridge. It was pretty cold starting out, but soon people were shedding layers as we warmed up. When we reached the ridge, there was a slight breeze, and the layers went back on. We enjoyed a couple of nice views as we headed north, and eventually came to the steep downhill leading back to the pre-positioned car on NY346 at the Vermont line. This was such a short hike (3.2 miles) and it was so cold that we never stopped for lunch or anything else, aside from the occasional breather or clothing adjustment. We reached the car only 2.5 hours after we started, and retired to a nearby Stewart's Shop for some warmth.

Friday, January 16, 2009

XC Skiing - Indian Meadows Park

The past few days have been brutally cold, below zero at night and barely double digits in the daytime. Today looked a little better, sunny and low teens, so we decided to get out for a short ski. With a more ambitious outing on tap for tomorrow, I didn't want to overdo, so we headed to Indian Meadows for a short flat ski around the perimeter.

Starting last week, this place has been getting "groomed". By that that they apparently mean "rolled". The trail around the outside of the park is now hard-packed and walkable, and is getting a lot of use in that mode. It could be really good for skate-skiing, but not so great for classic, with no tracks set. At any rate, we also went off on some ungroomed woods trails and spent about 35-40 minutes total, which was enough with a biting wind.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

XC Skiing - Saratoga Spa State Park

This was a regularly scheduled Tuesday morning ski trip with the Environmental Clearinghouse of Schenectady (ECOS). Temps in the mid 20s, and excellent dry snow. Spent about 2 hours skiing around mostly on the golf course, with a few wooded trails. Golf course skiing is certainly not my favorite, but I went with the fastest of the three groups and got a pretty good workout in the groomed and tracked snow. Good food and socializing afterwards in the warming hut. Click here for the park's main page.

Monday, January 12, 2009

XC Skiing - Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area

Partridge Run is a patchwork of state and private land in western Albany County. At an elevation of 1800-2000 feet, it tends to get more snow and hold it longer than here in the city, at about 300 feet. It's only about 45 minutes from home, and for some reason, it's been several years since we've been there. There's a very nice 7-8 mile ski loop with some challenging hills, and with the new snow, we thought it would be a good nearby place to try. Nothing is groomed here, and it's more like backcountry skiing close to home.

Unfortunately, a couple of problems have complicated matters this year. First, the ground never froze before we started getting snow cover. That leads to situations like the picture below, where there's lots of open water and washouts in the trail.

There wasn't an excessive amount of this issue, but it was annoying nonetheless. A worse problem was the damage left by December 2008's massive ice storm. Below are a couple examples of the literally dozens of trees and limbs we needed to detour around, over, or sometimes through.

This made for very slow going. In a little over an hour, we had only covered about 2 miles, and with a time constraint due to another commitment, we had to turn around and head back the way we came. We never got to climb the uphill that led to the best downhill, but based on what we saw, it's doubtful that the downhill would have been a clear run anyway. This place needs some serious trail maintenance, and I won't be skiing there again until maybe next winter.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

XC Skiing - Mohawk River State Park

Formerly known as the "Schenectady Museum Preserve", this area in Niskayuna used to be wonderful for skiing in winter in the days before the snowshoe craze took hold. Now it's almost impossible to find a trail here that hasn't been snowshoed or walked immediately after a new snow.

We got about 6" in last night's "storm", and decided to go somewhere local for a short outing. Even though many snowshoers were out, the trails here were still pretty good with the fresh snow. We did some of our favorite downhills that we hadn't tried in several years of bad snow conditions, and skied for about an hour altogether.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Moonlight Snowshoeing - Featherstonehaugh State Forest

Tomorrow night's full moon is billed as the brightest to come in 2009, with the moon at perigee and also full. It's expected to appear 14% bigger and 30% brighter than average, and should be the 3rd brightest in 25 years. But tomorrow night, it will be snowing heavily and tonight was clear, so...

Seven of us tramped around Featherstonehaugh State Forest by moonlight, and bright it was. We only had to use lights a couple of times when the direction of the trail became unclear. Nobody had skied the ski trail since the last snowfall, and my snowshoe tracks from yesterday were all but obliterated as well. The only clue to the location of the trail, aside from the occasional trail marker, was a shallow depression where the ski tracks had been. We strayed a couple of times, but managed to get back on track for a little over an hour's walk. Trees glistened with ice in the moonlight, and the whole scene was somewhat surreal. This was one of the better moonlight trips I've had there. Unfortunately, past attempts to capture it in a photo have failed miserably, so no pictures here.

Afterwards, we were invited to the nearby house of one of the couples for hot chocolate and conversation. It was a good evening.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Snowpack Monitoring and Snowshoeing

Today was my first day out as a volunteer snowpack monitor in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. I got a little refresher training before I started, then set off on snowshoes to the 60+ snow stakes and recorded the depth of the snow at each one. I meant to take a picture of one to include here, but forgot - will try again in 2 weeks when I go again. Surprisingly, there was an average of only about 4-5" of snow, with a thick icy crust on top. Snowshoes were helpful but not completely necessary. This process took about an hour total, after which I turned in my log and headed off to the day's next outing.

On the way home, I detoured back to Featherstonehaugh State Forest, to scope it out one more time before tomorrow's moonlight snowshoe outing. I wanted to assess the snow conditions after the big meltdown and freezing rain of the past few days, and also see the progress of the current logging operation. A large logging truck was loading as I arrived, and left while I was walking around. I bushwhacked west, hit the skid road somewhat west of the logging truck area, and followed it to the ski trail. The footing wasn't the best on the road, with scattered downed limbs, but it was walkable. Off the road, there was 8-10" of snow, a thick crust, and another 1-2" on top. I kept breaking through the crust, but it wasn't bad. The trees were coated with ice and snow, and this should be beautiful with a full moon tomorrow! Headed back to the car via the snowmobile trail, which was easy walking, and got caught in a heavy snow squall along the way. Looks like several inches of new snow up there for tomorrow evening.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

XC Skiing - Lapland Lake XC Center

We don't normally ski at commercial cross-country centers, because there are usually enough free places nearby that we don't need either the drive or the expense. But when the local snow is icy and basically sucks, there's nothing like the groomed trails at a center, even at a price.

Lapland Lake is northwest of Northville, in the southern Adirondacks. It gets much more snow than we do in the local area, and it's also well-known for the best groomed trails anywhere nearby, if 90 minutes by car can be considered nearby. For the $18/head price tag, you really do get your money's worth.

We headed out on one of our favorite trails, the one that includes three double-black-diamond loops.

These aren't normally as serious as they're rated, especially compared to others we've been on at other ski centers. But today, the powdery surface also included just enough crunchy stuff to make the downhills really fast, and even challenging in spots. We had no mishaps, so I guess we must be "experts". Naahhh...

I always ski faster at this kind of place, mostly just because I can. With well-groomed tracks, I can really get the motion going and get a good workout. Then every once in a while, I stop and wait... :-) The end result is that I get pretty tired after a couple hours of this intensity level.

We had an excellent lunch in the snack bar, then went out and hit one more black trail before heading home. It was a good day. Tonight and tomorrow, we get more local ice, but maybe some real snow over the weekend. It's been a frustrating winter so far.

Monday, January 5, 2009

XC Skiing, Trail Maintenance - Featherstonehaugh State Forest

I had an afternoon open and it was sunny and warm, so I headed back to Featherstonehaugh for a short ski. Conditions were crunchy and fast after last night's light freezing rain episode, and I avoided the few hills there are because the existing icy ski trenches would have been treacherous.

My main purpose for this trip was to take a second look at a fallen tree or trees that we saw when we skied on Saturday. It was right across the trail in the middle of one of those few downhills, robbing us of the delight of schussing down it. Today I packed a small saw and hoped that it was the smaller branches of the tree's crown that were across the trail. Alas, that turned out not to be the case, and there wasn't much I could do with the two 10" trunks that blocked the way. Instead, I moved off to the side with the crown and cleared a path through it that allows an albeit tricky descent of at least part of the hill. I went down it a couple of times, and it was better than the existing workarounds. With the fast conditions, it was actually a little challenging, more so than on a day with better snow.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

XC Skiing, Snowshoeing - Featherstonehaugh State Forest

In the coming week, I'll be leading one of my moonlight snowshoe trips in Featherstonehaugh SF for Schenectady ADK. There's going to be some logging in the forest this winter, so I needed to scout it out and see if this trip can still be run. On the map below, ski trails are in yellow and the snowmobile trail is in pink.

First, we drove up Tidball Road to the site of the skidder landing for the cut timber (the eastern "B" on the map). A NYSDEC Forest Ranger was just getting ready to head into the woods and check out the operation, so we chatted for a few minutes. She told me the logging had started about a week ago, and some large logs could already be seen piled next to the road at the skidder landing site. We decided to first go across Lake Road to the other section of the forest and ski those trails, then come back and snowshoe around the portion to be logged and determine the feasibility of next week's trip. That area includes everything to the east of a line from the upper "P" south to the boundary line, and includes most of the main ski loop.

The trails across Lake Road were covered with about 10-12" of unbroken powder, and it was a tough slog breaking trail all the way around those loops. Even the mild downhills were slow. After about 45 minutes, we decided to head back to the logging area and explore it on snowshoes.

We bushwhacked in from the parking area ("P" at the right of the map) to the main ski trail, following an unofficial trail of purple duct tape on trees. Many other people were out either skiing or snowshoeing in this section, and the main ski trails were well-broken. We only came across one trace of logging, and that was because we had stumbled on the main skid road, near where it met the ski trail. We headed north alongside the ski trail from there, then bushwhacked back east to the snowmobile trail and the car at a point where the trail turns west and crosses a wet area. We saw no other evidence of logging in this whole section, aside from the fact that many trees were marked with paint to be cut.

Looks like next week's trip is a go. If logging has progressed, we can always go across Lake Road to the other trails if necessary. Now all we need is a clear night...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Changes for the New Year

As the new year begins, I'm going to make some changes here. At the moment, "some" only means "one", but we'll see what happens.

The biggest change will be in the area of biking trip reports. I'm discontinuing updates to my separate Bike Blog, and will post everything here from now on. No more "details here" links to get to the other blog. I never liked that idea in the first place, but it was better than double posting. As time allows, maybe I'll move those other reports over here and retire the other one completely, but that's a low priority.

As Blogger improves, I'll add any other features that seem worthwhile, so stay tuned.