Sunday, January 30, 2011

Trail Maintenance, XC Skiing - Featherstonhaugh State Forest

Today, a group from Holly's church was going to do some ski trail maintenance at Featherstonhaugh SF, and since I ski there a lot, I tagged along to help out. It was good to have a group this size, and especially an enthusiastic one. We made a real difference on one of the nice gentle downhills that had been clogged by overhanging branches, and also cleared out a rerouted section around a large fallen tree. A second group went a different way, cutting back brush and adding more trail markers to an especially confusing section, where I commonly get "misplaced" on the moonlight snowshoe outings I lead here.

When we were finished, I skied the rest of the loop back to the car, after an afternoon well spent.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

XC Skiing - Rockwood State Forest

This afternoon, we headed off to Rockwood State Forest, a few miles west of Johnstown on NY29, and about an hour from home. There are miles of ski trails there, and the snow is usually pretty good as a result of being on the edge of a lot of lake-effect activity. The conditions today could not have been better, with lots of soft powder and broken trails. Sometimes, they "groom" some trails here, but honestly, it's better when they just leave it alone. The trees were covered with snow, and the skiing was fabulous.

Holly did a shorter less hilly loop, still babying her injured knee somewhat, and I went off and did a longer more hilly loop. We'd be coming back on the same trail, and arranged a meeting place to get back together. But I caught her from behind before we got there.

This was really nice kick/glide skiing in previously broken tracks, and I'd been moving along at a pretty good clip, not to mention a couple of speedy downhills.

We continued on together to the top of another hill, a fairly gentle one, and prepared to head back down it and back to the car.

This place rarely disappoints, and today was no exception. There's something for everybody here, and the skiing today was as good as it gets.

Friday, January 28, 2011

XC Skiing - Wilton Wildlife Preserve, Camp Saratoga

This afternoon, Holly and I went for a short ski at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park's Camp Saratoga, on Scout Road in Wilton. This was more of a test of Holly's recently injured knee than a real ski outing, so we took it slow and easy. The trails were nicely groomed and in great shape, and it was nice to kick/glide in prepared tracks after so many trailbreaking sessions earlier this season. I did ski one other ungroomed and slightly hilly trail, and also added in a few speedy spurts of my own, after which we'd regroup and continue on. We were only out for a little less than an hour, but made the most of it, each in our own way.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snowshoeing - Christman Sanctuary

Today, I didn't feel like skiing for some reason. I reasoned that with no snow for almost a week, all of the nearby places would now be walked to death. So I grabbed the snowshoes, and headed to the Christman Sanctuary in nearby Duanesburg, another place I tend to visit a lot. There are trails on both sides of the stream and gorge, and today I walked them all.

The cascades in the stream were all frozen and snow-covered, though water was clearly gurgling underneath.

As I approached the main 30-foot falls, there was some nice bluish ice hanging from the wall of the gorge.

Then came the main attraction.

Large chunks of ice had fallen from the left-hand waterfall, and water could be seen gurgling underneath and forming new ice. The right-hand waterfall was solid and silent.

Under some conditions, I might have gone behind the ice, and have done that before. But with water running, and fallen ice all around me, I decided not to tempt fate.

The walk out was uneventful, up through the jagged rocks with cables added for security.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

XC Skiing - Clapper Hollow State Forest

Despite the frigid temperatures expected today, I went ahead with a ski trip I was leading for Schenectady ADK to Clapper Hollow State Forest, in southwestern Schoharie County, about an hour from home. With 8 signups, I couldn't be a wimp and cancel the trip, so away we went.

It was about 13F when we left Schenectady, but we were expecting to be in single digits all day down in the hills, with double-digit negative windchills. As it turned out, it was 9F at the trailhead, with brilliant sunshine and no wind, a beautiful morning, and much warmer less cold than we expected.

We skied the first hour uphill to the leanto and took a short snack break in the warm sun. Then we continued on and skied some other trails atop the hill before returning downhill to the cars, having done the large figure-8 above entirely counterclockwise. We were out for about 3 hours and were never cold. Aside from the one retraced strip in the center, we were breaking trail for the whole 5 miles or so in nearly a foot of fresh powder, with some icy crust underneath. My only regret is that my camera battery was dead and I couldn't take any pictures. The snow-covered pines were gorgeous against the bright blue sky. Spectacular day, and much less severe cold than expected.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Snowshoeing - Moccasin Kill Sanctuary

The Moccasin Kill Sanctuary is yet another of the many natural areas that we're lucky to have so close to home. It's not a place I'd ever dream of skiing, because of the steep-sided ravines and the trails that traverse them. But it's a beautiful and scenic place for snowshoeing, and today there was no shortage of snow, crunchy though it was.

There was about 8-10" of snow underneath an icy crust from this week's freezing rain, with another inch or two of new snow on top. I started out following a trail that had been broken before the ice storm, and then headed off on the blue trail, which hadn't been broken in quite some time. It was also all uphill at the start, so it was a pretty good workout. Coming down, it was common to have the snowshoe break through the icy crust and slide forward, catching the toe underneath. No face plants, but I was close.

Then I picked up the orange loop, and followed it to a spur trail down a ridge with old acorn markers. These soon petered out and I gave up following it, though at one point in the past, I think there may have been an open view across the Mohawk River down there farther.

Following a narrow ridge top, I was back to the car in about an hour or so after an invigorating walk on a very pretty day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

XC Skiing - Featherstonhaugh State Forest

It was a messy storm yesterday and overnight. First came a few inches of new powder, followed by a brief period of sleet in the morning. In the afternoon came the freezing rain, creating a full half-inch of icy crust in my driveway and back yard. Then today we got another inch or two of powder on top of that crust. Skiing seemed improbable at best, so I resigned myself to getting out for a snowshoe walk this afternoon.

Featherstonhaugh SF has become my go-to place for a quick outing like this close to home, so was the most likely candidate for today. It's flat, uncrowded, and familiar, so seemed like the right idea. But just in case, I'd throw in the skis, in the unlikely event that would even be possible. If not, then I'd snowshoe instead.

As it turned out, as long as I skied in the previous ski or snowshoe tracks that had been well-packed before the icy crust came down, the skiing really wasn't bad. There was an inch or two of new snow on top of the crust, and not much soft snow underneath to break through into. Next to the trail was a different story, and a ski disappeared under the crust on several occasions, into the 8-10 inches of softer snow below.

The trees were all sugar-coated with new snow atop the icy glaze, and the branches were bending over deeply from the weight. It turned into a pretty good day to be out.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Moonlight Snowshoeing - Featherstonhaugh State Forest

Every month in the winter, as we get close to the full moon, I try to lead a moonlight snowshoeing outing for Schenectady ADK. Sometimes it seems like a minor miracle to pull this trip off, since it requires both sufficient snow and clear skies before it can happen. Snow depth is pretty well-known days in advance, but the weather can be very fickle, with unexpected clearing or cloudiness always a possibility, making scheduling the specific night a literal nightmare, both for me and for those who've signed up.

Tonight we got lucky. The moon was 96% full, there was snow on the ground, and we had a window of about an hour between darkness and the time clouds were due to move in. And move in they did, right on schedule. Five of us tramped around in the woods for that hour, first in bright moonlight, and ending with complete cloudiness, but plenty of light to easily follow a quiet snowmobile trail back to our starting point. It's a special time to be outside, and when nature cooperates and we can actually get out and make this trip happen, it's worth every bit of the uncertainty leading up to it.

XC Skiing - Hopkins Memorial Forest, MA

Today, Roy and I headed to Massachusetts to the Hopkins Memorial Forest, owned and managed for recreation and research by Williams College. Recent storms had dumped large amounts of snow on the Berkshires, and this seemed like a good place to take advantage of it. So off we went, and it was only a little over an hour drive.

We parked at the entrance, took a quick look around the Rosenberg Center (RC) at the lower right, then put on our skis and started up the Lower Loop Trail (LL). It makes a figure-8 with the Upper Loop Trail (UL). We skied up the northern, more gentle, side of each of the loops, and came down the southern sides, which had some pretty challenging hills, some with bridges at the bottom.

It was a cold day, sunny with temps around 10, but with no wind. The snow had been hard-packed by snowshoers, and was crunchy and fast. Keeping our speed down on the downhills on the return was a necessity, and it was sometimes hard to snowplow in the "trench", which was also somewhat bumpy. We covered the 4.5 miles in about 1:45, the first hour being totally up, and the rest being totally down. It wasn't exactly the snow conditions I expected, but was a challenging and scenic outing nonetheless.

Friday, January 14, 2011

XC Skiing - Featherstonhaugh State Forest

I thought I might be going somewhere for a longer ski outing today, but had trouble getting moving this morning. So I waited until after lunch and headed to Featherstonhaugh State Forest, a mere 20 minutes away near Mariaville. The day turned unexpectedly sunny, making for a very nice, though brisk, afternoon.

Parts of the ski trails had been broken out, and others had not. They have now. I skied the entire network, and was pleased to find it in mostly good shape, despite the logging operations of the past few years. A few sections could use some trimming, and there are enough naturally occurring large logs down across the trail that a chainsaw trip would be a big help. But it's definitely skiable all the way, and the snow was delightfully deep and soft.

This is a great place close by to get out for something resembling backcountry skiing. Though the hills are few and modest, the trail twists and turns, dips and rises, requiring quick footwork once it's been skied in and speeds up a bit. Today was more of a slow, scenic slog, but about the amount of skiing that I seemed to be looking for, this being the 4th day in a row.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

XC Skiing - Woodlawn Preserve, Schenectady

A group at Holly's church was considering a service project doing some minor trail clearing in this preserve, located near the Woodlawn section of Schenectady. Today, we went skiing there to scout it out, both for that purpose and for future skiing opportunities. It's a somewhat forgotten and forlorn part of the expanse of Pine Bush that extends from Albany to Schenectady, and contains sand dunes and a lake that was created for stormwater runoff control many years ago. The city is now trying to resurrect the area as a nature preserve, but motorized recreational access continues to be a problem.

We skied in from the end of Gifford Road and started out CCW around the lake, detouring up into the wooded area where the sand dunes are. The entire area had been heavily used by snowmobiles, though we didn't see any today. Some of the hills up in the dunes would have been pretty amazing to ski, snowmobiled or not, but not everyone in the group was interested in trying that. So we headed back down to the lake and finished the loop back to the cars.

All things considered, I think I probably will not be back here to ski again, unless the motorized access issues are resolved and enforced, which seems unlikely. The terrain could be a lot of fun if not already all torn up by snowmobiles.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

XC Skiing - Mohawk River State Park

(formerly and familiarly known as the Schenectady Museum Preserve)

Well, we didn't get the 25-30" of snow that some areas south and east got from this nor'easter, but we did get a very nice 8-10" on top of the 4-6" that was already on the ground. So, this afternoon, while the snow was still falling, Holly and I got out and skied some of our favorite hills in this Park/Preserve. The snowshoers and dog walkers had already been out, but we caught it before any serious damage was done. This place gets to be not so good for skiing after a few days of that other traffic.

Mostly, we were skiing in a snowshoe trench, but that's not the worst that could happen, since the trail was broken and the snow was still very soft and nice. There were a couple of places where I wound up breaking trail myself in all that new powder, but even that wasn't bad. And I got first tracks down the big hill on the power lines, which was a sheer delight. The narrow twisting hills in the woods were very forgiving in the deep snow, and it was a very nice outing, the best we've had in this preserve in quite some time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

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.

The trails in the park had a light coating over a very firm base, and the skiing was surprisingly good.

We even took on a speedy downhill that took us to the Island Spouter in the valley below.

Some of us also did a side trip to the spring and waterfall upstream and below the bridge to SPAC, a place I'd previously only seen from above.

Today was perfect for skiing, 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 kicking and gliding.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

XC Skiing - Indian Meadows Park

With me still recovering from a sore back, and Holly getting over a cold, we went for an easy ski today at Indian Meadows Park in Glenville. It's not a very exciting place to ski, but it has the advantage of being convenient, and also having fairly smooth surfaces that allow skiing with only minimal snow. Some of the trails are rolled and groomed by a volunteer, so even with no base, it wasn't bad skiing. This was true as long as we stayed out of the pine woods, where it was very thin and rough. Hoping for more snow from a possible nor'easter Tuesday into Wednesday.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Snowshoeing - Featherstonhaugh State Forest

Having messed up my back a couple of days ago (a little too much zeal on the disc golf course), I cancelled out of a pretty serious winter hike today. But by noon, I was feeling a little improved, and wanted to get out and enjoy the new fallen snow.

Since I'm scheduled to lead a moonlight snowshoe walk later this week as the moon approaches full, and since this was our first measurable snowfall in weeks, it seemed like a good idea to check out Featherstonhaugh State Forest and see if this trip can actually come off. This forest has been logged for the past two years, and the trails have been disturbed quite a bit by that activity, so I needed to be sure.

I parked at "A" on the map below, and walked A-B-E-C-D-E-B-A, basically a clockwise loop.

From "A" to "B" is a marked ski trail that provides access to the main ski loop within the forest. Unfortunately, this section had not been cleaned up after the logging (as it was supposed to have been), and will not be skiable without about 2 feet of snow. It wasn't much fun on snowshoes either.

From "B" to "E" to "C" is part of the main ski loop, and it was in surprisingly good shape, though the snow was still a little thin for skiing, and barely enough for snowshoeing. Interestingly, when I got to "B", I did not see any markers for the other side of the ski loop, heading west from there.

The snowmobile trail, from "C" to "D", was in great shape, presumably because of annual maintenance done by the local snowmobile club. From "D" to "E" is the main skid road that the logging operation created and used, and it's also in pretty good shape.

If we don't lose any snow between now and the right night for the moon walk, I think a D-E-C-D loop would be OK on snowshoes. More snow would even be better, and we may get some on Tuesday night and Wednesday. See the listing at the link above if you'd like to sign up.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Disc Golf - Schenectady Central Park

This past summer, a new disc (Frisbee) golf course was installed in Schenectady's Central Park. Being a sometimes golfer in the warmer seasons, and having once (long ago) created a 9-hole Frisbee golf course of my own in my parents' large rolling backyard, sans fancy baskets, I was looking forward to giving this a try. I didn't own a proper disc, so asked for, and got, not one but two for Christmas. Both are actual "Frisbees®, so from here on, that's the word I'll use. One is a standard size Frisbee, the sort that we're all familiar with. The other is a special "mid-range" golf Frisbee, that came with a book about disc golf, and a DVD showing throwing techniques. It's smaller, and heavy for its size, so that's the one I used today. More serious "golfers" carry a bag of different sized specialized discs as golfers do, including a "driver" and a "putter", but that truly seems like overkill for me.

I immediately discovered that I have only one type of throw, and it always goes from right to left. Always. Sometimes that's good, and sometimes it isn't, depending on the direction it actually needs to go. It was also a little breezy today, which didn't help any. I was only planning to try a few holes, but it moved along so fast that I played the entire 18 holes in a little over an hour. Nobody else was on the course, aside from a few pedestrians and dog walkers. If I'd played more slowly, I might have done better than the 81 I recorded, par being only 57, but I highly doubt it. It was a fun way to spend an hour, and I'll be doing more of this as long as there's no snow for real winter fun.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Walk - Schenectady County Forest

Another warm day, and skiing has pretty much gone kaput, so Holly and I got out for a short walk in the Schenectady County Forest, 1,000 feet up in the hills of western Schenectady County. Usually, this area tends to get more snow than down in the city, but last week's nor'easter dumped most of its load much further to the east, and wasn't really elevation-dependent. We took snowshoes, but left them in the car, since there wasn't enough snow left here for either skis or snowshoes. The footing was a bit rough, with frost heaves and lots of running water, but it was still nice to get out on such a warm day, before the rains arrive later.