Thursday, February 26, 2009

XC Skiing - Hopkins Memorial Forest, Williamstown, MA

With no local snow, we headed to Massachusetts to the Hopkins Memorial Forest, owned and managed for recreation and research by Williams College. We had read on a friend's blog that he had skied there a couple of days earlier, and found 8" of fresh powder on a firm base. So off we went, and it was only a 45-minute drive.

We parked at the entrance and walked past the Rosenberg Center (RC) at the lower right, where we put on our skis and started up the Lower Loop Trail (LL). It makes a figure-8 with the Upper Loop Trail (UL), and that's what we did, for a total of 4.1 miles. The interesting thing about this place is that the entire first half of the trip is almost all uphill, climbing toward the Taconic Ridge to the west.

At the top of the Upper Loop, we turned around and came downhill all the way back to the start.

It was a beautiful spring-like day, sunny with temps around 40, and the recent snow was soft and mushy. That definitely kept our speed down on the return, which was probably a good thing. Some of those downhills would have been a little "interesting" on faster snow.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

XC Skiing - Featherstonehaugh State Forest

Next week I have another Schenectady ADK Full-Moon Snowshoe Outing on the calendar, so I needed to get out and take a look at the progress of the logging operation at Featherstonehaugh. The news is not good. The hashed area below is now impacted to some degree by downed trees, skid roads, and general mess. That lines up pretty well with the map of the two stands whose timber was sold, so that should be about the extent of the logged area.

I originally parked at the corner of Tidball and Lake, at the middle (P) on the map, to follow the unofficial "purple duct tape" trail into the ski trail. This quickly became less than desirable, so I went back to the car and drove up to the ski trail entrance at the SE corner of the forest. That entrance is now also fully involved in the logging operation as a secondary staging area. So, I next moved the car to the junction of Hardin Road, at the left center of the map, and skied in the loops on the other side of Lake Road to the road crossing. From there, I went both ways along the trail until I ran into more mess. With chainsaw and skidder noise in the near distance, I saw no point in continuing, so headed back out.

To make it "interesting", I decided to bushwhack through the trailless western part of the forest back to the car. I'd always wondered why no trails had been laid out in that area. Now I know. It's extremely thick and thorny, and was one hell of a nasty bushwhack, especially on skis. I finally popped out on Lake Road south of the car and skied north along it back to Hardin Road.

If we get a clear night next week, it looks like we'll be snowshoeing on the west side of the road. I'm officially finished with the torn up eastern half for this season.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

XC Skiing - Schenectady County Forest

This was a regularly scheduled Tuesday morning ECOS ski trip, and today they decided to go someplace local. The hills in the western part of Schenectady County got a few inches of new snow over the past few days, though most of it came down sideways in high winds. The County Forest and Featherstonehaugh State Forest are less than 30 minutes from town, so it seemed worth a try.

We first did a loop around the County Forest, which has very limited trails. The snow was OK, but the trails were bumpy with some downed trees and washouts. The advantage was that it was very close to home.

Then some of us went back to the cars and drove a short distance to Featherstonehaugh SF, and did another loop or two there. Altogether, we were out for almost 2 hours on a bright but windy and cold morning.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

XC Skiing - Rockwood State Forest

Today, I was scheduled to lead a cross-country ski outing to Rockwood SF for Schenectady ADK. Our snow situation here in Schenectady is pretty sad right now, the 2" of wet sloppy stuff we got last week melting almost before the next day was over. But by all reports, Rockwood, at 1200 feet and closer to the lake-effect belts, got 5-7" of new snow over the past few days. So we decided to give it a try. Five of us drove for an hour, pulled into the unplowed parking lot, and stepped out into 6" of fresh powder. Good decision!

I seem to be saying this a lot lately, but this was certainly some of the best skiing of the year. For experience/confidence reasons, we split into 2 groups and went via different routes, meeting up at a designated time. As it turned out, we all wound up doing almost the same route, but with different beginnings and endings, depending on the hills desired. All told, we skied for about two-and-a-half hours, and were amazed at the difference between Rockwood and home.

Here's the group, in the waning sunlight:

Standing are Holly, Barbara, and Mary. Randolph and I reached the meeting point early, so he decided it was time for his afternoon nap.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Snowpack Monitoring - Albany Pine Bush

Today was the day of my biweekly volunteer snowpack monitoring in the Albany Pine Bush. After the big meltdown of last week, today's depth varied from 1" to about 9", depending on location. I didn't bother with snowshoes, since mostly the snow was in the 2-3" range, most of that being last night's sloppy wet mess, with lots of grass showing through. The weather today was comfortable, about 35F with a light wind. I finished the whole thing in about 45 minutes.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Geocaching - Local Parks

Not enough snow here to do anything with, so today we went looking for a couple of geocaches. First, there were two in a town park in Guilderland. We found the first one easily, but the second one was in a rockpile that still had two much plowed snow piled on top of it, so we saved that one for another time. Then we drove to a town park in Rotterdam. This one was a tricky multi-cache, and I think we really found part one, though at the time we thought something was missing and prevented us from continuing. We'll need to revisit that one as well.

It was a brillliant sunny afternoon, and at least we got out for a walk. Looks like another sloppy mess coming in for later in the week, so still no local snow fun for a while.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hiking, Snowshoeing - Balsam Lake Mountain

At 3723', Balsam Lake Mountain is the 17th highest of New York's Catskill Mountains. Since the trail starts at 2600' and follows the old fire observer's road to the summit, it's a fairly gradual 1100' gain over three miles.

I tagged along on a Schenectady ADK outing today to Balsam Lake, and it was even easier than we expected. The trail was well-packed, temperatures were in the lower 20s, and skies were a brilliant blue. It took us a little over 2 hours to reach the summit and its fire tower.

The summit clearing is surrounded by trees, and there is no view without climbing the tower steps. The cabin on top is locked, but the views from the highest landing were excellent today, with numerous other Catskill peaks visible in many directions. It was also extremely windy up there, so I didn't tarry long. The best views were directly into the sun, so any pictures would have dubious success, but the twin balsam covered peaks of Doubletop (3860') can be seen in this shot.

After eating a quick lunch, we headed down and back to the cars, taking only a little over an hour, and started on the long-ish drive home.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

XC Skiing - Woodford State Park, VT

After this past week, we have ugly grey snow that you can walk on top of, and lots of grass showing through. We had planned a snowshoe outing today, somewhere farther north on better snow, but then I heard the news. The higher elevations of the Green Mountains in southern Vermont got 8-10" of new snow as we were getting rain in the valley. And since Woodford State Park is only a little over an hour away, we changed plans and went skiing instead. And it was the right decision!

The new snow amounts were a little less than expected, maybe 6", but this was on top of a very deep and firm base. The backcountry trail around the reservoir had been skied by someone who started out counter-clockwise, but turned around and returned the same way. Breaking trail beyond that point was no problem at all.

The woods were beautiful, and the skiing was some of the best we've had anywhere this year. We especially enjoyed some of the snowy tunnels through the pines along the western side of the reservoir.

Reaching the campground on the eastern side of the reservoir, we skied out on the campground road. No motor vehicles are allowed in the park in winter, so the roads are unplowed and very nice to ski on. We met several other groups coming in as we headed out, on a splendid sunny Vermont afternoon.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

XC Skiing, Snowshoeing - Rockwood State Forest

No new snow lately, and some warm temperatures and rain instead, so we decided to brave the "40% chance of light rain" forecast and head back to Rockwood in hopes of some decent skiing. We didn't have high hopes, and even took snowshoes along just in case, but were somewhat pleasantly surprised. The trails in the western half of the forest had been "groomed", in a manner of speaking, presumably by Fulton County, who used to do this pretty regularly. Their grooming involves dragging a sled behind a snowmobile and breaking up the surface, but not setting any tracks. At least it leaves the forest roads about 8' wide and fairly skiable, despite the recent crustiness.

A fairly new sign at the trail register indicates that some trails are groomed and others offer backcountry skiing. We stayed on the groomed trails today, skiing for about an hour on the outermost loop. The downhills on that loop are normally somewhat challenging, but today they were downright fast. There was just enough loose snow to provide some feeling of control, but it was loose granular and very slick.

When we got back to the car, we decided to snowshoe for a bit on the north side of NY29, just across from the parking area. The map shows marked ski trails in that area as well, though we'd never explored them before. They don't offer any loop opportunites, and leave the skier stranded somewhere down the road on either NY29 or NY10A where they emerge. After about another half hour of snowshoeing, we'd had enough for one day and headed home.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

XC Skiing - Stony Pond Trail

The trailhead to Stony Pond is northwest of Minerva, NY, on NY28N. It's about a 2-mile ski into the pond and its leanto, and another mile to Little Sherman and Big Sherman Ponds from there.

The snow was deep and powdery, but the trail was well-packed, and it took us just under an hour to ski the generally uphill but rolling route to the pond. All brook crossings were both frozen and buried, so it was never a problem getting across them.

At the leanto, we met "Bernie's Yurt People", a group of 10 who had come in from the other direction and had skied/snowshoed across the pond to the leanto. They were staying in rented yurts at the southern end of the trail, about 4 miles beyond the leanto and beyond the other two ponds. We started off across the pond in that direction, hoping to get to Little Sherman Pond.

At the south end of Stony Pond, there was a steep section up from Stony and down to Little Sherman, so we stopped at that point and had lunch before heading back across the pond to the leanto.

On our way out, there were many interesting downhill runs. We met two other groups, one on skis headed in, and another on snowshoes headed back out. In that second group were our friends John and Mike, a father/son team who had often helped us in the past with our annual trail maintenance. It was a popular trail today, and a small world!

All told, we skied about 5 miles on one of the warmer days we've seen of late.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Snowpack Monitoring, Snowshoeing - Albany 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 snow stakes and logging the snow depth. Today's depth varied from 8" to about 17", depending on location. The weather today was pretty cold, only about 15F with a biting wind, made worse by the fact that the whole route is in wide-open fields. There was also a pretty good icy crust on the snow that I kept breaking through. I finished the whole thing in about 45 minutes - it was just too cold to dawdle around.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

XC Skiing - Wilton Wildlife Preserve - Camp Saratoga

This was a regularly scheduled Tuesday morning ski trip with the Environmental Clearinghouse of Schenectady (ECOS). Camp Saratoga is a part of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park. In the winter, this parcel has groomed cross-country ski trails that are very nice and relatively close to home. Snowshoers and skiers are allowed, but bare-booting is prohibited, so the trails remain in pretty good condition.

We weren't sure that conditions would be very good today, after a high near 40F yesterday followed by a cold night. The trail conditions web page hadn't been updated, and it showed the last grooming to have been on Saturday, January 31, before the mini-thaw. But apparently, the trails were regroomed yesterday, and conditions today were actually pretty good. The tracks were fast but not icy, and there was enough loose snow elsewhere to allow good control.

I went with the fast group again, and wound up being a little faster so was out in front getting a pretty good workout, for about an hour and a half.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

XC Skiing - Featherstonehaugh State Forest

It's almost time for another moonlight snowshoe trip in the coming week, and I needed to check on snow conditions and the progress of the logging operation. So, Holly and I went up to Featherstonehaugh this afternoon and did a leisurely ski around the main 2-mile loop. The snow had the same half-inch crust as at my house from the recent storm, but previous skiers had broken the trail, including the crust, and the snow underneath was actually pretty good. The logging operation is spreading out and impacting more small pieces of the trail, but overall, it's not (yet) a bad place for a nearby ski outing.