Saturday, February 27, 2010

XC Skiing - Rockwood State Forest

I led a cross-country ski trip today for Schenectady ADK. Even given all the snow we've had lately closer to home, this one was already on the schedule for Rockwood State Forest, so that's where we went, knowing full well that there would be no shortage of snow there either.

Five of us left the parking area to find well over a foot of extremely heavy wet snow, and the only previous tracks those of snowshoers and bare-booters. Although the new snow was very pretty to look at, it didn't provide the best skiing conditions, since we basically had to stay in that trench. Downhill control was next to impossible via normal snowplow means, since we were in ruts and the heavy snow to the sides did not give way easily. After doing the usual long loop with a couple of good-sized "interesting" hills, we decided to avoid any more exciting downhills and do another easier loop. But we then found that loop to be still buried in 20" of unbroken heavy wet snow and thought better of it. It was tough conditions, and we'd all had enough, so we headed back home to the continuing rain in the valley.

Friday, February 26, 2010

XC Skiing - Mohawk River State Park

You'd think that with a 15" snowfall just two days ago that almost any local park would have great skiing. Enter yesterday's rain, and things are quite a mess. Holly and I went to the former Schenectady Museum Preserve this afternoon and were not pleased with what we found. The view from the car should have been a clue.

The rain had soaked through the snow, melting a lot of it, and creating a slushy mess underneath. Walkers had already covered most of the trails here, leaving slushy footprints in many spots. I arrived early and skied some of the trails in the open fields in the western part of the property, and many of these were actually impassable due to flooding.

We headed for some higher ground, but avoided any steep terrain, because the heavy wet snow and the walkers' trench would have made downhill control next to impossible, or at least less than fun. It would be hard to call much of what we did today "skiing", but it was an hour outside at least. For the time being, we're no better off than before the storm in terms of finding good snow this close to home.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

XC Skiing - Featherstonehaugh State Forest

We've been spending an awful lot of time at Featherstonehaugh recently, mostly because it's close, has a ski trail, and holds its snow pretty well. After yesterday's dump of about 15" in my yard (and driveway), today brought a mix of rain and snow and temps near 40F. It's turned into quite a mess down here in the valley.

But just a few short miles to the west, and 1000' higher in elevation, it's a completely different story today. Notice the locations of "Home" and "Featherstonehaugh SF" on the graphic below.

After confirming with a friend who lives near there that the hills were indeed getting snow, we set off for Featherstonehaugh, but nothing we'd heard prepared us for what we found there. As we started from the car, we soon found that the woods were covered with about 2' of new snow, and the going was extremely slow. There had been no rain here whatsoever, and it was still snowing heavily. Fortunately, the snowmobile trail had seen some use since yesterday's big dump, and the 4-5" of today's new snow covering it made for some very nice, and extremely picturesque, skiing.

After about an hour of unsuccessfully dodging snow bombs from the trees above, we were pretty wet. We'd covered the length of the snowmobile trail in both directions from the car, and skiing anywhere else would have been pretty exhausting, so we called it a day.

Monday, February 22, 2010

XC Skiing - Rockwood State Forest

More snow is expected (make that EAGERLY AWAITED) later this week, but today Holly and I made a return trip to Rockwood State Forest, where we knew there was already skiable snow. The main trails were hard-packed, but with temps in the upper 30s, even that snow was soft and almost mushy in spots. We explored some lesser-known (unmarked, unmaintained, and unmapped) trails and old roads along with the usual long loop we always cover, which resulted in some interesting climbs and downhills, often with small branches slapping at our faces. An hour and a half was enough today, what with the added climbs and the slower snow. There doesn't seem to be much of a local consensus about the expected storms over the next few days, but at this point, any new snow is welcome.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Moonlight Snowshoeing - Featherstonehaugh State Forest

Every month in the winter just before the full moon, I lead a moonlight snowshoeing trip for Schenectady ADK. There's an easy 1-hour loop in Featherstonehaugh State Forest which is very close to home, and this has proven to be a popular trip. Scheduling can be a crap shoot, with weather, snow conditions, and people's calendars all coming into play. Any night between first quarter and full moon usually provides enough moon brightness and altitude to let us do this trip without any artificial lights, a new thing for a lot of people.

With cloudiness and snow forecast for every other night in the coming week, tonight looked like the only night with any remote hope of clear skies. So our group of 4 headed up to Featherstonehaugh and gave it a shot. When we arrived, the skies had completely clouded over, though with only thin clouds. As our eyes adjusted to the dark, the visibility became better as we left the snowmobile trail and headed off into the forest. We (meaning I) lost the official trail at one point and got sidetracked on the unofficial "Purple Duct Tape Trail" by mistake. After backtracking to the real trail with the help of a flashlight, we continued on our intended route under rapidly clearing skies. For the last third of the trip, the moon shone brilliantly, though only a glimmer of how it would look when full later in the week. The stars were bright and it was a beautiful night to be out.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Snowshoeing - Featherstonehaugh State Forest

With another moonlight snowshoeing trip coming up this week, clear skies permitting, it was time to check out the snow situation at Featherstonehaugh State Forest. Holly and I went out for a short walk this afternoon and found plenty of snow, with several recent inches atop a solid base. It's looking like a pretty cloudy week overall, and this may not happen, but tomorrow (Sunday) night has at least some promise.

Friday, February 19, 2010

XC Skiing - Vermont Getaway No. 2

Following last week's annual trip to the Landgrove Inn, near Londonderry, VT, we had the pleasure this week of returning to much the same area. Our friend Jan had invited several friends up for a few days to her house in Andover, for some cross-country skiing and other fun in the snow. Holly and I arrived around mid-day on Wednesday, had a quick lunch, and then all set off to find some skiing on the new-fallen snow from the day before.

We headed to the Catamount Trail to ski a section north of Little Michigan Road in Landgrove. We parked at the end of the plowed section of the Danby-Mt. Tabor Road (FR 10) and started up the Utley Brook Trail, with Catamount blazes.

All went well until we reached the first downhill of any size. The snow was thin under the pines, and icy underneath, and not all were comfortable continuing. As the Catamount's own trail guide notes for this section (we hadn't read this in advance, of course):

"Since the Utley Brook Trail can be moderately difficult, especially if the snow conditions are poor, you may want to choose the option of skiing north on FR 10 (instead of taking the Utley Brook Trail)"

So that's exactly what we did. We backtracked to the road and skied up FR 10 instead, which was well-packed by snowmobiles and had very gentle grades. This was a much better idea. We skied northbound for about an hour, and then turned around and headed back to the cars. After a delicious dinner back at Jan's house, and watching the Olympics as late as we could stay awake, we all hit the sack.

On Thursday morning, we had breakfast and all lounged around a bit, and then headed out for some more skiing. This time we headed for the Mad Tom Notch Road in nearby Peru. This road is also unplowed in winter beyond a certain point, and involves a climb up to the ridge between Styles Peak and Peru Peak, just north of the Bromley Ski Area. The Appalachian Trail/Long Trail follows this ridge, and that crossing of this road was our destination. The road climbs about 400 feet in a little over a mile and provides a gentle downhill run from the ridge back to the car.

It took us about an hour to climb to the ridge and the crossing of the AT/LT.

(L to R: Joe, Sandi, Holly, Jan, Judy, Dick)

From there, it took us only 10-15 minutes to glide back down to the cars, and we all agreed that the climb had been worth it.

Holly and I were staying one more night with Jan, but the rest of the group headed back to Albany from here, having arrived a day earlier than we had. After lunch back at the house, we snowshoed some of Jan's 60 acres. and then got out some toboggans and saucers to try out the hill behind the house. We finally got a pretty good track going and had some nice rides, along with several dumps in the snow. It was good childish fun.

Later, we took Jan out for dinner at the Landgrove Inn and gave her the grand tour of our favorite place to stay (except Jan's house!). Back at the house, we tried to watch the Olympics all the way through, but didn't quite make it to the end, and called it a day.

Breakfast, cleanup, and packing went quickly in the morning, and we were all home in time for lunch after an easy drive. Thanks, Jan, for great hospitality and a great time!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

XC Skiing - Charleston State Forest

With snow promised later today, we joined the regular Tuesday morning ECOS ski trip this morning. Several people had pre-skied Charleston SF yesterday, and found several inches of new powder from a recent lake-effect snow event. With its higher elevation, Charleston has also held on to at least some of its base, so the skiing was pretty good. Snow was falling the entire time we were skiing, which has been a rare sight this winter. We skied for about 2 hours before heading back to the cars and starting a slow, slippery drive home.

We're expecting 3-6" of snow here before this ends overnight, and tomorrow, we're going back to Vermont at the invitation of a friend. Several of us will be staying at her house in Andover for a few days and skiing both groomed and ungroomed trails in the area. Southern Vermont will likely be the bulls-eye for heavy snowfall from this storm, so backcountry trails should be well-covered, unlike last week when we were there.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Walk, Geocaching - Clifton Park

Today was an ugly day - dreary, very windy, and flurries. We didn't have a lot of time this afternoon, so headed to Veterans Memorial Park in Clifton Park to look for a couple of geocaches. The first was way too easy - I actually saw the container from the trail. We concealed it a little better when we left it. The second was a different story. Comments like "clever hide" and "interesting container" were bad enough, but it wasn't until I got home that I noticed some others from previous winters regarding this one's possible unavailability if there were more than a couple of inches of snow. So we'll use that as our excuse for not finding the second one and try it another time. Lots of trails here we never knew existed, and a nice nearby place for a short walk.

Friday, February 12, 2010

XC Skiing - Vermont Getaway #1

As we do every winter, Holly and I traipsed off to Vermont for a few days of skiing, good food, and relaxation (yeah, we're retired, but still...) We stayed at the Landgrove Inn, an old Vermont inn in the middle of nowhere that's become our favorite. As we were leaving our home turf, snow was falling pretty heavily, and we had high hopes for a big dump of snow that's eluded us for most of this winter. As it turned out, this one went south as have all the others, and my yard is still brown and bare.

After checking in at the Landgrove on Wednesday, we headed to Wild Wings Ski Touring Center for an afternoon of groomed skiing. This place is a throwback to the early days of ski touring. There's a small barn with a wood stove, outhouses, and a warming room, and no other facilities. Only classic skiing is allowed - no skating! And the trails are wonderful. There was about an inch or two of new powder atop a very firm and deep base, and it hadn't been groomed to death, so the skiing was great. We spent about 2 hours going up and down the blues and blacks before we called it a day and went back to the Inn for dinner, reading, and an early lights-out.

Thursday dawned very blustery, with windows rattling and the wind howling, though a warm sun tempered things a bit. We decided to postpone skiing until the afternoon, and go to the Vermont Country Store in Weston after breakfast. It bills itself as a "purveyor of the practical and hard-to-find", and it's a very interesting place to easily kill an hour browsing. After lunch, we headed to Viking Nordic Center near Londonderry. We've been coming here for many years, and have our favorite trails, including many blacks. Unfortunately, Wednesday's storm had little impact here (only an inch or so), and the base was less than we'd seen at Wild Wings. Many trails were closed for lack of snow, so we did our best to fill up another 2 hours here on those that were still open. It was a long uphill slog back to the center at the end of the day, and we'd both had enough. Another good dinner at the Swiss Inn and more reading took us to bedtime.

Today after breakfast we skied the Landgrove's own trail system. It's not as extensive as the others, but it was very convenient for a quick hour of skiing before heading home. It was windy in the open fields and there were some icy spots where the new snow had blown off, but overall wasn't bad. These trails connect directly to the Catamount Trail, but it looked a little dicey for the conditions, so we passed it by.

I numbered this post "#1" because next week we'll be going back to Vermont. A friend has invited several of us to her Vermont house for a few days mid-week, and we'll be doing some more skiing. No snow on the horizon, but we'll continue to hope...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

XC Skiing - Rockwood State Forest

Today was a regularly scheduled ECOS Tuesday cross-country ski trip to a local area determined to have skiable snow. Since Holly and I had just had a good experience (twice!) at Rockwood the week before, it was decided that this would be the place.

About a dozen of us converged on the parking lot around 9:30 and stood around in the 20-degree cold waiting to get started. Once on the trails, we found the conditions to be much "firmer" than last week, with much of the powder having been skied off over the weekend. It appears there may have also been a feeble attempt at grooming, which, in this case, might have been better left undone. Trails were hard and fast, and now need a few inches of new snow to be deemed any better than "good". There are conflicting reports related to the northern extent of a coastal storm tomorrow, so we'll just have to wait and see.

Holly and I are off to Vermont tomorrow for a couple of days of (hopefully) good skiing there. More on that after we return.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

XC Skiing - Rockwood State Forest

We missed the monster east coast storm yesterday and today, the latest of several this season. With no snow near home, we set off again for Rockwood State Forest, less than an hour away, west of Johnstown, NY, and around 1100-1200 feet in elevation. There was plenty of snow here earlier in the week, and another inch or two had fallen since then. Now we had several inches of new snow on a very firm base, and the skiing was as good as it gets.

For a change, today we explored the trails north of NY29, a place we'd never skied before, and which few Rockwood skiers ever visit.

We started at the main parking area, walked across NY29, and headed northeast on the North Loop Road, hoping to do an E/W figure-8 loop ending at Rockwood Lake. But it seems that the northernmost sections of the "8" were not actually there, as shown on the map. The northeasterly-most end was overgrown, rough, and with thin cover. We took the two southern sections (nice hills!) of the "8" as far as the lake, but couldn't find that end of the supposed northern return loop at all, so we headed back the way we had started. Exploring the other spur trail that goes south from those sections to NY29, it also seemed overgrown and rough. On the way out, we also explored the southeasterly spur (B Road) toward NY10A. I continued on through, and Holly turned around and went straight back to the car, picking me up at the other end. Although this section is obviously not maintained, it was skiable, and even had one ski trail marker along the way.

Our hopes are high for some measurable snow Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, but the jury is still out. Meanwhile, this is some pretty good skiing reasonably close to home.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hiking, Snowshoeing - Taconic Crest Trail

Today, I joined a Taconic Hiking Club outing on the Taconic Crest Trail, along the border between New York and Massachusetts. With 14 people on the trip, and needing to leave cars at either end of the hike, I won't go into the logistical details. Suffice it to say that it got complicated to the point of being laughable, but everything worked out.

After getting the transportation figured out and dropping cars as needed, we all started north from the trailhead on Madden Road, near Hancock, MA. After some steep climbing, we soon reached the open summit of Rounds Mountain. It was very windy and exposed here, and with temps only around 20F, we didn't tarry long. It was an extremely clear day, and the views were great to the south, west and north.

Back in the woods, there was about 3-4" of fresh powder on top of 8-10" of very firm base, so the walking on snowshoes was pretty easy, and the trail was well-marked. We split into many different and varying groups over the course of the day, but all managed to be in the same place for lunch.

Continuing along the Taconic Ridge, and climbing and descending several more minor summits, we arrived at the junction with the Robinson Hollow Access Trail, just recently reopened. From there it was all down hill to the pre-spotted cars after about a 6.3-mile hike.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

XC Skiing - Rockwood State Forest

Today was a day of surprises. We were originally planning to drive to Tug Hill to ski on the BREIA trails there, since Tug Hill always has deep snow. Just before it was time to start the 2-hour drive, I re-read the note at the top of that last link, and realized it applied to exactly the trails we were planning to ski on. Wish they'd bothered to call them the "Egypt Road Trails", as they do everywhere else! So those trails would not be open until after 2:00pm - not gonna work. The other BREIA sections weren't as desirable for other reasons, so we needed to go somewhere else.

So we set our sights instead on Piseco, and the "Foxy Brown Loop", a 6-mile ungroomed trail near the Piseco Airport. It was about the same driving time, and about the same current snow conditions, so seemed an acceptable alternative. On the way, we had to pass by Rockwood State Forest, another place we ski often, about half the driving time away, but to which we hadn't yet been this low-snow year. Conditions looked better than we expected, so we decided to give it a try.

Many of the trails here had been "groomed" (rolled) and/or snowmobiled in the past, so were hard-packed and firm. But there was about an inch of fresh unskied powder on top, and it made for some pretty good skiing. There was over a foot of very firm snow in the woods, and a couple of ungroomed trails I skied had plenty of powder on top for control, although they were definitely faster than usual.

We hadn't expected to be skiing here today, or even anytime soon, after the recent thaw and rains. But there's no warm weather in the forecast, and there may even be an inch or two of snow off and on, so this could provide some good skiing "close" to home in the weeks to come.