Sunday, January 31, 2010

Walk - Old Erie Canal Towpath

Today was balmy after a couple of days of bitter cold, sunny and mid-20s. With no skiing anywhere nearby, Holly and I just went for a walk on the old towpath, between the Lock 7 dam and Vischer Ferry. There were blocks of ice on the towpath just below the power plant from last weeks flooding, but after that it was mostly clear with a few icy spots, and not bad walking.

Looking back upstream at the dam there was plenty of ice on the rocks below it and hanging over the top.

We walked for about an hour as the sun began to set, and called it a day.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Walk - Featherstonehaugh State Forest

With leading a moonlight snowshoe trip on my schedule for this week, and a big thaw this past Monday, I thought it would be a good idea to head back to Featherstonehaugh to see if there was still any snow, and whether it was OK for either snowshoeing or even for walking. I had my doubts, but in case anybody actually calls to sign up, I needed to know what to expect. What I got was a snowmobile trail that was like concrete and walkable but slick; 10-12" of off-trail snow that was very crusty; and a ski trail that was glare ice. On top of that, the only night that's looking halfway clear at the moment is Friday, with temps in the low teens and windy. This trip isn't going to happen this week - maybe I'll try again in late February for the next full moon.

I spent much of the rest of the day, and indeed much of the past week off and on, in the basement doing my annual winter bike maintenance, cleaning, and overhaul. I'm replacing lots of parts this year in preparation for a coast-to-coast trip later this summer. I always do all of my own maintenance, and this year it's new cables, cassette, chain, handlebar tape, and brake pads, in addition to truing the wheels, putting new grease in the hubs and a complete top-to-bottom cleaning. With no snow on the horizon, this is a good time to spend getting this stuff done.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Walk - Mohawk River Bike Path

After yesterday's one-day January thaw, my yard is bare of snow, and the rivers are running high. We got about 2" of rain, and with temps in the high 40s, there was a lot of snowmelt as well. Today, I went for a short walk on the bike path in Rotterdam, despite the "Road Closed" signs blocking the path. There had been a serious ice jam on the Mohawk River earlier, and the river had approached flood stage before the jam broke up (nice video here - not mine, and another here, from the Daily Gazette) and the water dropped and started moving again. The bike path was now a safe place to walk, so I ignored the signs.

The river was high, and large chunks of ice lined the shore about 10-15' above the current river level, where the water had been before.

There was a lot of ice piled up at Lock 8, which is where I turned around and headed back to the car.

As long as I was out and about, I decided to continue the river tour by heading into Scotia. At the Western Gateway bridge, there are actually two separate channels, and this secondary one was still clogged with ice.

Finally, I headed to Schenectady's Stockade, on the opposite side of the river. This area is always among the hardest hit when the Mohawk floods, and it looked like this episode had been a close call. The river was still close to full in Riverside Park, and had been much higher, leaving big chunks of ice on the walking path and nearly up to the foundations of the buildings nearby. There are more great pictures from the Stockade at this link.

We're expecting colder conditions over the next few days, but the chances for any significant snow are pretty slim. So we're left with ice and mud for now, and the choices for outdoor fun are pretty limited. Hoping that an expected coastal storm overnight on Friday gives us a better shot of winter than currently forecast - fingers crossed...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

XC Skiing - Featherstonehaugh State Forest

I had mostly planned a day on the sofa recuperating from yesterday (napping!) and watching football. But Holly had just bought new skis, and we're expecting heavy rains overnight, ruining all local skiing for the foreseeable future. So we got out for a low-key 2-3 mile loop in Featherstonehaugh State Forest, the nearest skiable snow to home, to try the new skis. We met up with a group from her church that included some friends I hadn't seen in quite a while, and the pace was mostly slow and sociable. I did get out front for some of it and managed to actually ski a little, and it felt good. Temps were in the upper 30s and the snow was soft and friendly, in marked contrast to yesterday's outing. I also skied with no pack, and that was also refreshing. Tonight and tomorrow, we're expecting a region-wide heavy rain (2-3"), with flash flooding and the whole thing, so skiing will be done until we get more snow, even at higher elevations within a reasonable drive. Back to the bike on the trainer...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

XC Skiing - Botheration Pond Loop

Today, I joined a Schenectady ADK backcountry ski trip on a relatively new ski trail to Botheration Pond. The 8-mile loop is just west of Gore Mountain and near Garnet Hill XC Center, NW of North Creek, NY.

Temps were in the high single digits when we arrived at the parking area near Old Farm Clearing. That was OK, since once leaving the old road from the parking area, the next 2 miles of this loop are steadily uphill, and we warmed up quickly. This portion of the trail had been heavily snowshoed, and was extremely firm and crunchy, especially in the cold temperatures. We were all hoping the downhill end of the loop wasn't going to be like this!

Reaching the height of land, we found ourselves at William Blake Pond. We skied across its surface to the far (eastern) end, and picked up the trail again in the woods.

Frozen fog/mist from overnight was clinging to everything, awaiting the morning sun.

A little further to the east, we skied across another frozen marshy area, again paralleling the much rougher trail in the woods, and rejoining it beyond the marsh.

After several interesting (read: FAST AND BUMPY) downhills, and many of us picking ourselves up out of the snow, we reached Botheration Pond, our destination. It was a gorgeous lunch spot.

Now that we were about 400-500 feet above our starting point, we were all hoping that the snow had softened in the early afternoon sun and temps near 30. The downhills were likely to be challenging enough without also being hard-packed and fast as we had seen earlier. As it turned out, that did indeed prove to be the case on both counts - softened snow AND challenging downhill runs. Some of us struggled to stay on our feet and not pick up too much speed. It was exhilarating, to say the least!

Finally, we arrived at the second of two brand new bridges that were just recently installed, making this loop possible. This one had a fairly steep ramp up to its deck, requiring strong arms to pull ourselves up. It was very ornate, as hiking trail bridges go, and part of the group posed for a picture going across it.

After a long gentle downhill through a pine forest, we reached the old road back to Old Farm Clearing that we had started in on. From here it was a relaxing, gently rolling 1.3 miles back to the cars after about 4.5 hours in the woods on a beautiful day.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Snowshoeing - Featherstonehaugh State Forest

Featherstonehaugh State Forest is the nearest "high elevation" area to home, only about 20 minutes away, and 1400' above sea level. I'm leading a full-moon snowshoeing outing there sometime next week, and needed to know the status of the trails following some heavy logging last winter. I took my snowshoes today and went for a short walk to check it out.

I wish I had taken my skis instead! There was about a foot of total snow, with a somewhat fresher inch or two of powder on top of an icy base. There were ski tracks on the main ski loop, and it didn't look bad! The logging of last year left things looking a little sloppy here and there, but the trail itself was basically OK and usable for a nighttime outing. Snow conditions will change drastically over the weekend, with sleet, freezing rain, and then some heavier rain expected. I'll need to revisit that next week, but at least the trails don't seem to be obstructed or trashed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

XC Skiing - Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center

Despite temperatures hovering near 40 at home, and bare spots everywhere, there's still lots of good local skiing around. What's changed is our definition of "local". We live in a valley location, but are fortunate to be surrounded by areas of higher elevation a reasonable distance from home, in many different directions. Going to one of these areas, 1200-1500' higher than home, we've been finding some pretty good snow still hanging on.

We skied today at Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center, high on the Rensselaer Plateau, leass than an hour to our east. A commercial XC area in that area had reported 4-7 inches of new snow over the past several days, so we decided to give Dyken Pond a try, on a mild sunny day. We weren't exactly prepared for what we found.

There was indeed about 4" of new dry powder, atop a firm 8-10" base, and the trees were all covered with the new snowfall. I had brought my "rock skis", concerned about the possibility of thin cover, but that was not a problem at all. Rocks and roots were well-covered. Temperatures only got to about 30, so the snow never got sloppy. We were setting first tracks in the shallow powder on much of the terrain we covered today.

The trails at Dyken Pond were not laid out with skiing in mind. They're essentially hiking trails, and are sometimes narrow, twisting, and rough. But with the new snow atop the firm base, the skiing was excellent, if at times challenging. Several short downhill pitches, including zig-zags between trees and rocks, required quick footwork to avoid straddling a tree. It was backcountry skiing at its best.

We're expecting sleet and rain over the weekend, even at higher elevations, so next week may find us at a groomed XC ski center, for lack of other choices.

Monday, January 18, 2010

XC Skiing - Schenectady County Forest

After a day of rest, football, and catch-up, we got a surprising amount of new snow overnight, especially at higher elevations just west of here. At 1,400 feet, the Schenectady County Forest is high enough that it still had about 6-8" of firm base, and got about another 5" last night. Holly and I headed off on the short 20-minute drive this afternoon to get in a quick ski before the walkers ruined the trails there. The snow was heavy and wet, as I had found earlier when clearing my driveway. With the temperature around 40 degrees, this was a lot like spring skiing. We skied for about 45 minutes, breaking trail all the way, dodging snow bombs from the pines above, and smooshing thousands of snow fleas that speckled the surface of the snow. That means I'll soon have the stench of death in my basement whenever I walk past where the skis are hanging.

It was good to get out on a nice day, but we really need some better snow than this, along with some colder temperatures.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

XC Skiing - Partridge Run WMA (again!)

This will sound like a broken record after yesterday's posting. Today I led a ski trip for Schenectady ADK, back to Partridge Run, which I had scouted for this trip just yesterday. It was hard for some to believe that with bare grass in the valley there could be any local skiing possible. A group of 8 believers headed up to Partridge Run, elevation 1800-2000'. and found excellent skiing. We skied the same 4.7-mile loop I skied yesterday, and today it seemed even better. The snow was a little cooler and less soggy, almost powdery in spots. And with 8 people laying down tracks, the trail just got better and better. I've now skied on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday this week, after also hiking last Saturday. Gotta love retired life!

Friday, January 15, 2010

XC Skiing - Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area

Having pre-skied Cole Hill State Forest yesterday and not liking the conditions there for a Saturday ski trip I'm leading, I went to Partridge Run today to see if things were any better there. It's slightly to the west of Cole Hill (see map below), but more importantly, it's about 500 feet higher in elevation, and also has designated ski trails. Computer snow models showed substantially more snow depth there, but I needed to see the reality for myself.

As I reached the parking area on High Point Road, there was indeed noticeably more snow here. The access trail from this lot had been bare-booted and was a little rough, but once I hit the main ski loop, things improved immeasurably. Snowshoers had courteously packed their trail to one side of the ski tracks, and the ski tracks were pretty good. There was one short stretch where bare ground and running water appeared in patches, but they were easily bypassed. The snow was moist and slow, so the downhills were very controllable. All of last year's ice storm damage had been cleared from the trails, and it was in pretty good shape.

I skied the 4.7-mile loop shown below counterclockwise in about an hour and a half. There's one stretch on an unplowed road that may include snowmobile traffic on the weekend, but it's wide and there's room for everyone. It's also a sweet downhill run. We'll be going to Partridge Run tomorrow instead of Cole Hill, but the bottom line is that we desperately need more snow. Even places like this will begin to wear thin very soon.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

XC Skiing - Cole Hill State Forest

Since I'm leading a Schenectady ADK ski trip to Cole Hill S.F. on Saturday, I wanted to pre-ski it and make sure conditions were OK for an outing there. This forest is located in western Albany County, in the so-called "hill towns", just south of Berne, about 45 minutes from home.

There are about 4-5 miles of ski trails here, and though there was adequate snow cover, every one of the ski trails had been pretty seriously compacted by snowshoe use. This made the trails faster than they might have otherwise been, and made negotiating some of the downhills a bit challenging, because of the snowshoe trench. There wasn't really enough snow (8-12") to go far off into the powder without knowing what was underneath.

Having said all that, we spent about 2 hours skiing almost all of the trails, skipping one known very steep section. It wasn't bad skiing, and parts of it were even pretty good. But with a couple of thaw/freeze cycles expected over the next day or two, the compacted trails may be a bit crunchy and treacherous by Saturday. We'll be checking out another alternative on Friday, and may move this trip elsewhere until there's better snow here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

XC Skiing - Grafton Lakes State Park

Today's ECOS Tuesday morning ski trip went to Grafton Lakes State Park, in nearby Rensselaer County. Grafton is at about 1500', and while we got only a few inches of snow at home a week or so ago, Grafton reported 15" there. I wouldn't call this outing great skiing, but it's getting so beggars can't be choosers around here. The snow itself was nice, but the trails still had some rocks showing through, and even many of the ski trails had been snowmobiled on. We spent about 2 hours going around Shaver Pond at a very leisurely pace, on a relatively flat trail. I had skied here once many years ago, also on thin cover, and hadn't been back since. While there are many other trails that we didn't ski, I think we need more snow before I'll go back here again.

Monday, January 11, 2010

XC Skiing - Camp Saratoga

Old Boy Scout Camp Saratoga is part of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park, near Exit 16 of the Adirondack Northway, and only a short drive from home. It's groomed regularly, and can be a nice place to ski if the conditions are right. We tried skiing here a few weeks ago, but found very icy conditions. Since then, several inches of new snow have fallen atop the icy crap, and the area was regroomed just a few days ago. We found excellent conditions there today as we got out for a short afternoon ski.

There's something about skiing in good tracks that's entirely different from the usual backcountry-type skiing we like to do. The almost effortless full-extension kick/glide motion, up and down rolling hills, around turns, trying to keep a smooth rhythm - that's what's missing from trailbreaking and slogging through deep snow. Both kinds of skiing have their appeal, and today was a very nice outing for its own reasons. I'll always continue to wear wool instead of lycra, but this kind of skiing can also be a lot of fun.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hiking - Taconic Crest Trail

Today, I led a snowshoe hike on the Taconic Crest Trail for the Schenectady Chapter of ADK. We were expecting a day that was cold (which we got - low teens), high winds and extreme windchills (which weren't as bad as advertised), and 16-20 inches of unbroken snow (there was only 10-15"). We covered 5.34 miles beginning on the Tower Mountain Road access, and ending at Potter Mountain Road to the north. We started out cold, but the nearly 600-foot climb to the ridge warmed us up in a hurry.

Along the way, skies cleared as we approached the Berry Pond Recreation Area atop the ridge in Massachusetts.

It was windy and exposed here, so we didn't linger long. We were now above a well-defined new snow level visible on the trees below and around the pond.

Leaving Berry Pond, we were passed by several dozen snowshoe racers participating in a 5-mile race on a portion of the TCT. Some were much slower (and older and larger) than others. At the point where their route diverged from ours, we ate a quick standup lunch and continued on.

The sky was growing clearer by the minute, and the contrast of white snow-encrusted trees against the deep blue sky was striking at times.

As we turned northeast along the final ridge, the winds began to increase, and we were glad to be finishing early before they got any worse. We reached the pre-spotted car after about 4.5 hours on the trail, and stopped at a Stewart's shop on the way home for refreshments after a beautiful day outside.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Walk - Indian Meadows Park

A light (nuisance) snow is falling today. Since I feel a cold coming on, and am also leading a fairly strenuous snowshoe hike tomorrow, and am still a little sore from Wednesday's ski outing, it's basically a rest day. But since neither Holly nor I can ever really sit still, we went for a short walk in Indian Meadows Park, in Glenville. The trails are well-packed, and would actually be skiable with only a few inches of new snow, which unfortunately I don't think we're going to get in the foreseeable future.

This afternoon, I'm transitioning my pack from summer to serious winter, which means adding several pounds of stuff, in preparation for tomorrow's outing. It will be a cold windy day up on the Taconic Ridge, and we're expecting to be breaking trail in 15-20" of unbroken snow, so we'll need to be well-prepared.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

XC Skiing - Clapper Hollow State Forest

Today, Holly and I got together with some friends and went skiing in Clapper Hollow State Forest, in southwestern Schoharie County, about an hour from home.

The forest is above 2000', and got a lot of lake effect snow in the past week or so. It's also on my list to scout out for the new edition of "Ski Tips" being published by ECOS, as our committee begins the winter ski trail map verification process. None of us had ever skied here before, and were pleasantly surprised by the snow, the terrain, and especially by the well-marked trails that matched our existing map very well. There are about 8 miles of trails here, and we probably skied 5-6 miles of them today, breaking trail in 1 foot of new powder for most of it.

We stopped for lunch on the leeward side of a leanto by a frozen pond, but quickly chilled in the 10-degree temperatures, so continued on. Eventually, we got to retrace our tracks downhill back to the cars after about 3 hours of skiing, and all agreed that this was definitely a place deserving of a return visit.

On the way home, on NY10 south of Summit, our front left tire went flat. We pulled over into not the best place, but were at least off the road. Not really relishing the thought of changing that tire myself in the cold conditions, we decided to have Holly call AAA and see how long they would be to get to us. Hearing "30 minutes", we decided to wait it out. The rest of the group squeezed into the other car and headed for home, and we eventually saw a tow truck appear after 45-60 minutes. The driver was very pleasant, and made a quick change getting us on our way again, albeit at 50 mph max on a donut spare. We ultimately got home about 90 minutes later than we would have otherwise, so not a bad day all things considered.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

XC Skiing - Saratoga Spa State Park

Beginning today, and every Tuesday in ski season, the Environmental Clearinghouse (ECOS) has a ski trip to a relatively nearby area that has good snow. The first trip of the season is traditionally to Saratoga Spa State Park. We ski for a couple of hours on the golf course and other parts of the park, and then retire to the warming hut for a potluck of snacks and hot drinks.

Much of the state, as well as nearby Vermont, got hammered by a lot of snow over the weekend, but locally we only got a few inches. The trails in the park had a light coating over a very firm base, and the skiing was surprisingly good. I went in full retro gear today, with wool knickers and knicker socks, ragg wool hat and mittens, and my old waxable wooden skis. It's been many years now since I've skied on wax, and I'd forgotten what a sweet sensation it is when the wax is right. We've had so many sloppy winters lately that it just hasn't been worth the guessing game that waxing requires under less than ideal conditions. Today was perfect, with temps around 20 and dry snow, and the skiing was smooth as silk. Golf courses aren't my favorite places to ski, but it was good to finally get out for some reasonably good skiing.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Walking, Geocaching - Sanders Preserve

We got another inch of new snow overnight, so at least everything looks like winter, even if we can't do much with it yet. We went for a walk this afternoon in the Sanders Preserve, in Glenville. There were 4 geocaches there that we haven't done that made a nice loop, so we tried those as well. The trails were covered with an inch or two of new snow, so the walking was much improved over the earlier crunchiness we found everywhere we went, but there was still clearly not enough snow for skiing. There were lots of washouts, bare spots, and exposed rocks and roots, so walking is still the best outdoor activity around here.

We found the first 2 geocaches easily, but it appeared the third might be buried in snow and we chose not to go blindly digging for it. The 4th turned out to be a longer walk than we wanted today, so we left it for another time.

More nuisance snow expected over the weekend, but that's about all.