Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Evening Walk - Woodcock and Peepers

Holly and some of her friends from church were doing an evening walk tonight along the Niskayuna Bike Path to watch for woodcock in their spring mating displays and listen to spring peepers. It was a cool, clear, moonlit evening, and it seemed like a good idea, so I tagged along.

We started hearing the woodcock's odd buzzing sounds almost immediately, but they were on the ground at that point, and we couldn't see them in the underbrush. They weren't yet flying, so we headed down to the marshy area near the bike path to listen to the peepers first instead. They were very loud, and sounded just like the second sound byte on that page linked above. It was getting darker, so we headed back up the hill to try and see the woodcocks do their thing. We heard numerous twittering sounds of the birds in flight, but couldn't pick them out as they rose against the darkening sky. As we neared the cars, stars were increasingly appearing, and we picked out some of the more well-known constellations, as well as Saturn. Some of us even caught a glimpse of a meteor or two.

I'm starting to believe that spring may really be here.

Biking - Clifton Park to Saratoga

The same group of friends who rode last week was getting together for an unofficial ride today, another nice sunny day in the 50s. Since the rest of the week looks like rain, it seemed like a good opportunity. We started in Clifton Park and followed back roads to Saratoga Spa State Park, about 20 miles to the north. After a sunny lunch break at the warming hut there, we turned around and came back to Clifton Park via a slightly different route. These are very relaxed rides on roads that are nearly devoid of hills, so it was just another pleasant outing, adding 40 miles to my odometer for the year.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Biking - Burnt Hills

First a maintenance update: I trued the rear wheel as best I could, but it's still not perfect. The freehub still doesn't rotate as freely as it should, and I now suspect a bent dust cup that's dragging. It's better than it was, so I think I'll just let it go. The rear brakes are kinda spongy, probably a cable issue, but nothing changed after I tried to improve it. They're usable and safe, so no big deal there either. Will attack these later if necessary - need to start riding.

Holly's hosting the first Schenectady Wintersports Club bike ride of the season in early May, and we wanted to reconnoiter one of the routes. There's always been a nasty dog at the corner of Lasher and Sweetman Roads, and we needed to see if it was still going to be an issue this year, meaning a change to the route.

We rode from Holly's house, across Jenkins Road to Hop City Road, and then north to Randall Road, which changes to Lasher at the town line. When we got to the corner in question, there was indeed a dog, but a very calm and curious one, not the beasty mongrel from years past. It just meandered around in the road as we passed by and gave us no trouble. Good news! We returned down Sweetman to Jenkins and back to Holly's house for a relaxed 11.68 miles. Gotta kick this miserable cold and start getting in some real miles now that nice weather appears to be here to stay. (?)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Biking - Clifton Park, Jonesville, Malta

Some friends from the Taconic Hiking Club were doing a leisurely bike ride today, so I decided to join them. These rides are usually in the 25-40 mile range, with a lunch stop somewhere in the middle, usually at a Stewart's Shop, which are pretty ubiquitous around here.

I finished the winter maintenance on the Trek 520 yesterday, and today would be the test ride - fingers crossed for no major issues! It was a sunny day, and temps were in the 30s when we started, reaching the mid 50s by early afternoon. The route was fairly flat overall, and we just had a meandering chatty ride. The only minor issues with the bike were a slight rear wheel wobble (needs truing), and a slack chain when backpedaling in higher gear ratios. Not sure about that one, but will lube the derailleur and maybe loosen the torque on the cassette lockring. All told, the bike performed very well, and it was a good ride, with little traffic and good conversation. We covered 28.48 miles in about 4 hours, including a relaxed lunch break.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Geocaching - Niskayuna Bike Path

It's a cool but sunny day, and both Holly and I had other things to do, so we got out for a short walk on the bike path this afternoon. I dug out a geocache from the pile of ones we had tried once and failed and saved for another time, and this time we went right to it. The difference from the first attempt involved using true vs. magnetic bearings (which was not specified, and a little unusual), and avoiding some other incorrect assumptions we had made on the first try. It was pretty muddy in the woods off the path, so after finding it, we just headed back to the car after about an hour outside. Now finishing up some winter bike maintenance to get out on a ride tomorrow.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hiking, Snowshoeing - Wright Peak

At 4587 feet, Wright Peak is the 16th highest of the Adirondack High Peaks. I had last visited Wright in 1991, so when my youngest brother Bob and his friends Peter and Matt suggested a winter ascent, I was more than ready to get up there again.

The total climb is about 7 round-trip miles and 2400 feet from the Adirondack Loj trailhead. When my friend Phil and I turned off NY73 onto the Loj road, we knew it was going to be a good day. The sun was just reaching the tops of the peaks and there was not a cloud in the sky. That's Algonquin covered in white, with Wright just below it and to the left.

The first mile or two of the heavily trodden trunk trail toward both Marcy Dam and Algonquin alternated between glare ice and bare ground, making snowshoes impossible. Phil and I had traction gear, but the others had to bare-boot it as best they could. The lesson was learned, and micro-spikes are now on their to-buy lists. Eventually, the snow depth increased, but with temps in the teens to low 20s, it was still very firm and snowshoes weren't necessary. One described it as being almost a "paved trail", and it was very easy walking, aside from the steepness.

Just before the junction with the side trail to Wright, there was a 20-foot-high rock covered with smooth flow ice, and at that point, everyone changed footgear. I went with full-boot crampons, and the others all added snowshoes with crampons underfoot. We bushwhacked around the obstacle and continued on to the Wright trail junction.

Up to this point, the climbing had been steep and relentless, and then the Wright side trail climbs 600 feet in less than a half mile. About halfway up, we reached treeline, and there was nothing but open rock the rest of the way. The footgear came off, and we began the steep climb up the summit rocks. As we followed the rock cairns marking the way, Algonquin seemed so close we could reach out and touch it, and we could see climbers ascending and descending its snow-covered slopes.

Soon we reached the summit, and were treated to a 360-degree view. Temps were around 30F with only a light wind, much more pleasant than we expected, and we took a leisurely lunch break while enjoying the views. Click here to embiggen the panorama below and see the labelled peaks in the distance.

Just below the summit, there is a plaque honoring the airmen killed when their B-47 crashed into Wright's summit in 1962. We found the plaque and some remnants of the aircraft that are still scattered all over the north side of the mountain.

Soon we started feeling chilled and reluctantly headed down. The descent, as always, went much more quickly, though we still had to be careful on the steep trail. We met numerous parties on their way in as we headed out, and it seemed a little late in the day for many of them to be getting started. Ah, youth - they were probably moving faster than we were. We got back to the parking area around 7 hours after we started, and that seemed plenty fast enough. Any time I can be home for dinner after climbing a High Peak is a pretty good day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hiking, Snowshoeing - Good Luck Mountain

The string of beautiful spring-like weather continues, so today, we headed for Good Luck Mountain, in southern Hamilton County. This short climb has some wonderful open cliffs on top that provide great views for the effort. Once again, it was sunny and in the low 50s, and a very nice day to be out.

We left NY10 and started walking along a marked snowmobile trail until we reached this trail junction with a register. We were in the Ferris Lake Wild Forest management unit of the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

We continued to follow the snowmobile trail, which was well-packed and easy to walk on with snowshoes, despite the 2-3 feet of snow still in the woods. Near the point where we were to leave the trail, we reached Good Luck Lake. We've paddled here at least once every summer, and it's also good swimming, but we'd never visited in winter before.

Now we left the snowmobile trail and began a steady, and sometimes steep, climb below the icy cliff face.

As we stood below the cliffs, we could see the lake below.

Turning upward again, the cliffs, and our destination, towered above us. We would skirt the cliffs to the left, and climb steeply around them to the summit. This section was made more "interesting" by the numerous post-holes left by some idiot(s) who had decided that snowshoes were not necessary. We took some satisfaction in knowing that their ascent and descent must have been a bit miserable.

The view from the cliffs is mostly to the west. Spectacle Lake is the most prominent feature in the distance.

After a pleasant lunch break atop the cliffs, we headed back down the steep section to the valley, and back to the car along the snowmobile trail. An ice cream stop in Johnstown made the day complete.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hiking, Snowshoeing - Taconic Crest Trail

Today was a twice-rescheduled Schenectady ADK hike on another section of the Taconic Crest Trail, in pursuit of the winter patch offered by the Taconic Hiking Club. The section we did today was about 7 miles long, with 1859' of cumulative elevation gain, and over 2500' of cumulative elevation loss. We started atop the ridge at Petersburg Pass, and headed south to descend via the Southeast Hollow Access Trail, where we had pre-positioned a car. Along the way, we would cross 2 major summits and numerous other "bumps" along the ridge. There was still close to a foot of snow on the northern slopes, while other areas had no snow at all. It was a beautiful sunny day in the 50s.

Our first stop was Mount Raimer, former site of the Taconic Trails Ski Area, long since closed. Details about that area and many others are available at the New England Lost Ski Areas Project web site. Remnants of the old ski lift and trails are still visible, and there's a nice view toward the northern Taconics.

Descending one of the old ski trails, we headed for Berlin Pass.

Just before reaching the pass, there's a nice view of Berlin Mountain across the pass. That would be our lunch stop.

The summit of Berlin Mountain once had a fire tower, and is now a wide open meadow with near-360-degree views. At 2798', it's the highest point on the trail and also in Rensselaer County, NY. To the east is the massive ridge of Mount Greylock (3491'), the highest point in the state of Massachusetts.

Leaving Berlin Mountain, the trail crosses to the Massachusetts side of the ridge, and remains there until the descent into Southeast Hollow, back on the New York side. The trail passes through a dense pine forest and crosses several more "bumps" before reaching that descent.

The descent drops almost 900' in under 2 miles, following a stream down the Hollow. It had been a long day, and we were all happy to see the car.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Biking - Burnt Hills

Yesterday was my first ride of the season, and today Holly wanted to get out for hers. So I loaded up the old bike and drove to Burnt Hills for a short relaxed ride on the good roads there. After yesterday's 15mph outing, today's 10mph was pretty casual, but I pushed a big gear on the minor hills to squeeze a little more out of it. We did a little over 9 miles, and remarked on how many people had come out of their houses to enjoy the beautiful weather. We saw runners, bikers, dog walkers, yard workers, and others just standing around chatting with neighbors. It really feels like spring has sprung. Stay tuned as I'm proven wrong... :-}

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Biking - Season Opener!

We're in for a string of nice weather, with mostly sunny skies and temps in the 50s. With skiing on the wane, it's time to get out on the bike. I did a bunch of yard cleanup in the morning and early afternoon, saving the warmer late afternoon for a ride.

My good bike, a 2005 Trek 520, is currently in pieces in the basement:

With the good winter we've had, I've been too busy having fun to put in the bike maintenance time that I usually do in the winter, so now is the time. Of course, that only makes me want to get out and ride even more. So, today, I got out the old 1973 Gitane French 10-speed and took it out for a ride.

I've maintained it well over the years (decades!), and it's still a sweet ride. Before I retired a year or so ago, this was my commuter, and it's still like an old friend.

I did a 13.35-mile loop from my front door, going out Kings Road to Old State Road, and returning via Lydius Street to Hamburg and home. Temps were in the mid 40s, but it was very comfortable for riding, with only a light wind. There's no excuse for not doing more of this now that the nice weather is (temporarily?) here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Vermont Getaway - XC Skiing/ Snowshoeing

Every year, we try to get away for a few days to southern Vermont for some XC skiing. For many years now we've been staying at the Landgrove Inn, an old Vermont inn in the literal middle of nowhere. It has lots of charm, the meals are wonderful, and there are ski trails practically out the front door.

We drove to Vermont yesterday, and first stopped at the Viking Nordic Center in Londonderry. We've been skiing there on these getaways for about 15 years now, and it's one of our favorite places to ski. Unfortunately, this year, we caught the tail end of the snow season, and had just missed some heavy rain and high winds by a day or two. The snow was like concrete, and there was lots of debris still being removed from the trails. It didn't sound good, so we skipped it this year. Instead, we stopped for lunch at the Garden Cafe's health food deli in town and had a hearty lunch of soup and sandwiches.

We decided to ski on the Inn's trails (free to guests) and see just how bad things really were. The snow was hard and fast, and the chilly wind was howling across the open fields. Fortunately some limited grooming had been done earlier in the day, and all trails were skiable, if barely. After about an hour or so of this, having skied the entire network, we drove to Hapgood Pond Recreation Area in nearby Peru and snowshoed around the pond there. The snow was much better for snowshoeing than for the skiing we did earlier. After a delicious dinner at the Inn, we read for awhile until our eyes were closing, and then it was early to sleep.

Today, we headed over to Wild Wings XC Center, also near Peru. This place reminds me a lot of ski touring centers back in the 1970s when I started, and, in fact, has been family-owned and operated ever since that time, over 30 years ago. It's definitely a no-frills non-glitzy kind of place, and only classic skiing is allowed. No getting run over by lycra-clad skaters here! The grooming was very good, given the type of snow they had to work with, and we skied all of the easier greens and a couple of the blues. The snow was faster than usual, so that was as tough as we wanted to try. It was a good workout before heading home.

No trip to that area would be complete without a trip to the Vermont Country Store in Weston. As much as I hate to shop, we always stop here and browse for an hour or so. Their merchandise includes lots of hard-to-find items, and it's actually fun to look around. After a quick lunch at the Bryant House Restaurant on the premises, we headed home to recuperate from all the exercise of the past two days.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Walk - Mohawk River Bike Path.

Just a casual stroll, actually. Today's rain ended earlier than expected, and the afternoon became partly sunny and over 50F, so I needed to get out and do something. I always get overly optimistic and impatient this time of year about getting back on the bike, so I decided to check out the condition of the bike path. It's not quite ready for prime time yet, with lots of icy patches and miscellaneous twiggy winter debris.

When I got to Lock 8, after about a mile, the remnants of the 5-mile-long ice jam of a few days ago were everywhere to be seen. The Mohawk River was still running fast and high, but a good 7-8 feet lower today than at its earlier crest, leaving ice blocks stranded high and dry. Some of these were as big as cars, like the one in the lower right picture below. For scale, the slab in the foreground in that shot is about a foot thick, as were most of the others.

So, no biking out there for a while yet, but spring will be here soon. Of course, now is also probably about the time for an aggravating late winter storm.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hiking, Snowshoeing - Jockeybush Lake

Any snow within a reasonable drive at this point is deep but not especially skiable, so we decided on a snowshoe outing instead. Jockeybush Lake is off NY10 north of Pine Lake, NY, in the Town of Arietta.

It's about a 1.1-mile uphill walk to the lake, following its very nice outlet stream all the way from the car.

Today, that stream was really running with snowmelt, given all the warm temperatures and rain we've had lately. We were unable to cross the stream every time the trail did, so we bushwhacked all the way to the lake along the north bank. The snow was over a foot deep, with an unpredictable crust near the top and soft mushy snow underneath, so it was fairly hard work breaking trail. Along the way, we came upon this waterfall (which the camera messed up the coloring of, so it's in B&W), and had to find a route around it.

We reached the lake in a little over an hour, and just relaxed and enjoyed the above-freezing temperatures. It really feels like spring has (almost) arrived, but I'm sure we're not finished with winter yet.

The walk back to the car was much easier, as we retraced our steps on the now-broken trail. Big rain tonight and tomorrow, and then it's off to Vermont for a couple of days of skiing. With any luck, there will still be some OK snow further north and east.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Geocaching - Guilderland/Rotterdam

Several weeks ago, we went looking for some local geocaches, mostly without success. Today was another partly sunny day in the 50s, so we decided to try again, this time with a list of 3. At the first stop, there were muggles about, so we moved on to the second. We found this one immediately, signed in, and moved on to the third. This one is still problematic, as it was on our last attempt. There is a large pile of rocks with WAAAAY too many possible nooks and crannies, even after narrowing down the location. After chatting with some friendly dog-walking muggles, we gave up and just went for a walk in the park instead. On the way home, we stopped at #1 again, and nobody was in the area. We made a beeline to the "part 1" we had found weeks ago, looked at it more closely, and found the clue to head for part 2, which we then found. So it was 2 out of 3 this time, and we've about given up hope on that other one.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Hiking/Snowshoeing - Taconic Crest Trail

Today, I led another 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.

Today's section was about 5.5 miles from Tower Mountain Road north to Potter Mountain Road, off NY/MA43 near Hancock, MA. Today's hike was entirely in Massachusetts, though other sections of the trail meander back and forth across the state line as they follow the ridge top.

The snow on the ridge was 8-12" deep, and soft, mushy, and wet. It was like breaking trail in mashed potatoes, and provided a fairly strenuous outing. On the positive side, temps were near 50F with a light wind and lots of sun, so it was a beautiful spring-like day to be out. We found a nice dry picnic table overlooking Berry Pond in the Pittsfield State Forest, and stopped there for lunch before continuing north. There is a lot of up and down on this ridge, and the ups were especially tough given the snow conditions and the unbroken trail. It took us about 5 hours to cover the 5.5 miles, and we'd all had enough when we reached the pre-positioned car on Potter Mountain Road.

Unfortunately, I had packed my camera with dead batteries, so no pics for this outing. Stupid.

Friday, March 6, 2009

XC Skiing - Prospect Mountain, VT

While I was out of town last weekend, we had a big meltdown locally, and the next few days are expected to be in the 50s. No local skiing whatsoever at this point. So we headed off to Bennington, VT, only about an hour away, to Prospect Mountain, a former downhill ski area long since converted to a cross-country center. The higher elevations of southern Vermont have seen several major snow dumps late this season, and Prospect still has 2-3 feet on the ground. The $18 trail fee is a little steep, but right now, it's the only game not exactly in town, but at least relatively near home.

The lodge at Prospect has some very good lunch offerings, especially their chili, so we stopped there for a hearty lunch before heading out. The trails were nicely groomed and tracks set, with enough loose snow to allow good control. The snow was soft and mushy, with temps in the mid-40s, so controlling speed was hardly an issue anyway. We spent a little under 2 hours skiing some of our favorite trails before heading home to blackened snow piles and brown grass.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Snowpack Monitoring - Albany Pine Bush Preserve

Today was the day of my biweekly volunteer snowpack monitoring in the Albany Pine Bush. I spent about 45 minutes walking around to about 60 snow stakes and logging the snow depth. Today's depth varied from 0" to about 8", depending on location, the deeper snow being on north-facing slopes or in shade. Snowshoes were superfluous this time out. The weather today was springlike, about 35F with a light wind. There won't be too many more of these, unless we get some more significant snowfall. Most of the stakes had less than an inch of snow left, if any at all.