Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Biking - Back in the saddle again

After a long cold spell, today was much more springlike, and also less windy. After a little yard work, I got out the touring bike that took me across country last summer, and which I'd overhauled completely over the winter. It was time to take it out for a ride.

I decided on a very casual relaxed spin on the Mohawk Hudson Bike Trail, in Niskayuna and Colonie. I usually ride the Rotterdam section, but I wasn't sure if it was free of snow and ice yet. I parked at Lock 7, and rode east almost to the Northway, where I ran into a long patch of snow and ice and turned around. Back at Lock 7, the way west is always shaded, and was still quite a mess. So I called it a day just short of 12 miles, happy with the way the bike performed, quiet and smooth. I'm looking forward to the day when spring REALLY arrives, once we get past this next forecast storm on Friday, and I can get out for some longer rides.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hiking - Fifth Peak, Lake George

Today was another late winter hike, on the rugged Tongue Mountain Range that juts southward into Lake George. We chose a 5-mile round trip to Fifth Peak, which has a leanto and great views.

Spring is trying hard to arrive in the Adirondacks, but the past week hasn't been much help. The snow had started to melt, and then we dropped back into the 20s and 30s again, and the process stopped. The streams were running, and the lower-elevation trails were partially bare, but it was cool and windy and there was still plenty of crusty snow up high.

Some of the steeper sections were icy, but otherwise, the trail was just firm and hard-packed. We went with snowshoes from the start, not knowing quite what to expect, but micro-spikes would have been a better choice. We reached the summit in good time, and had a seat for lunch, enjoying the views.

View south down the "Tongue"

East toward Crane Mt. (l center) and Gore Ski Area (r)

A leanto with a view!

For the trip down, we stuck with snowshoes for the time being, instead of carrying them, until we reached the steeper icy sections. These were easily negotiated with micro-spikes, and then we reached the rapidly softening snow down below. Temperatures were rising into the 40s now under the strong March sun, and it felt a little more like spring. Warmer temperatures are ahead, and hopefully, more spring-like activities will follow.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

XC Skiing - Woodford State Park, VT

Spring? HA! Not in the higher elevations of southern Vermont! The snow is gone at home, but it's still too cold for any spring activities, so on a beautiful (brisk!) blue-sky day, Roy and I headed off to Woodford State Park, a popular skiing destination just east of, and hugely uphill from, Bennington. We didn't know if we'd be skiing or snowshoeing, so we brought both. We found over 2 feet of compacted base with an inch or two of new powder on top, so the snowshoes stayed in the car.

View near the park entrance

We started in the main park road, and then turned left and climbed uphill to the junction with the main hiking trail on the east side of Adams Reservoir. This would be more interesting skiing than the park road, so we took off through the woods. There was a lot of up and down on this trail, probably high-intermediate stuff given the somewhat slick conditions. Eventually, we reached the leantos near the end of the campground road and stopped for lunch.

Roy's GPS trace

Then, it was off to the George Aiken Wilderness, just out the south end of the park. There are no formal trails here, but enough skiers had preceded us that we just followed their tracks. We crossed several scenic beaver meadows, or possibly ponds, the snow gleaming in the bright sunshine.

We weren't quite in the Wilderness proper yet, but began following some other skiers on a very nice old road in the Green Mountain National Forest. After some steady but gentle climbing, we reached a point where we faced a steeper downhill, and decided to turn around and head back the way we'd come, possibly heading into the Wilderness and exploring some other ponds shown on the map.

At the point where we'd joined the westbound road, we turned right and headed south toward the Aiken. After thrashing through some spruce in a frozen swampy area, we began to climb again, in pretty tight quarters, still following ski tracks. Not relishing descending through this stuff, we called it a day and turned around and started back toward the park road.

Climbing up out of the campgrounds wasn't too bad, and the downhill run that followed was especially sweet. After about 6 miles and 4 hours, we reached the car after a satisfying day of exploring.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hiking - Deer Leap

OK, so I said I was done with winter. Unfortunately, winter is not done with me, with more snow coming tomorrow. No sense whining about it, so today, Holly and I got out for a short hike to Deer Leap, a spur trail off of the main Tongue Mountain Range trail above Lake George. It's about 1.75 miles each way, with some moderate up and down, to an overlook with views up and down the lake.

Though there was still 1.5 feet of snow, the trail was well-packed, and the temperature was in the upper 30s, so this was a pleasant stroll. Along the way, we saw lots of animal tracks that I'd never seen before. My best guess is that they were from a fisher, known to live in these mountains. If anyone can confirm or deny, I'd appreciate it. Each print was about 1.5-2" across, and the width of the track was 5-6". At one point the tracks disappeared into either a hollow log or tunnel under the snow.

Arriving at the end of the trail at Deer Leap, we had a fine view out over Lake George. The windblown snow on the ice had made some very interesting patterns.

Across the lake, we could see the mountains on the lake's eastern shore, including Sugarloaf and Black Mountains.

The walk back to the car had almost as much climbing as the walk in to Deer Leap, but we just took our time and enjoyed the day.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hiking - Balsam Cap and Friday Mountains (Catskills)

Today was a tough end-of-winter hike in the Catskills. Several of the participants were working on completing their climbs of the Catskill 3500 peaks in winter, and one friend was finishing hers today, so I joined and went along.

The hike was a total of 5-6 miles, with no trails, up a steep ridge with a total elevation gain of about 2900 feet, most of it int he first two miles. The blue line was our intended route, and the red is our actual GPS trace.

There was no snow in the valley as we started out, but once we hit the top of the ridge and continued climbing, we donned snowshoes once they became necessary. Leaving the ridge below the summit of Friday, we skirted left to the headwall of the intervening valley, avoiding some major cliffs in the process. Then we turned right, and headed up toward the summit of Friday.

This was pretty steep and icy in spots, and after a short break on the summit and signing the register there, we all switched to crampons for the equally steep descent.

Finding a firm and crunchy snowshoe track headed toward Balsam Cap, we continued with crampons all the way to the summit. We passed through some pretty dense stands of balsam, but the path was clear and we stuck with it, arriving at this stupendous view from an open ledge.

Many of the other Catskill peaks

Ashokan Reservoir

Panorama from Cornell/Wittenberg (l) to Ashokan Reservoir (r)

Reaching the summit, we paused to eat lunch, sign the register, and celebrate Mary's accomplishment. We also switched back to snowshoes for the less steep descent back to the ridge we'd followed on the way up. As we were about to leave, two young men joined us on the summit. They'd driven up from NYC and gotten a very early start, bagging Peekamoose, Table, Lone, Rocky, Balsam Cap, and heading on to Friday, for a 6-peak day. Unbelievable!

The descent was steep in spots until we got back on the main ridge, where we eventually ran out of snow and removed the snowshoes. Then came the steepest descent of the day, off the ridge and back down to the cars, with wet leaves, loose rock, and occasional patches of snow to keep it interesting. After a total of a little over 7 hours, we finished the hike, all tired but none the worse for wear.

And with that, I'm hoping to move on to more spring-like activities. Winter may not be over, but it is in my mind. Time to get back on the bike.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Walk - Hemlock Hollow and Upper Indian Kill

Hemlock Hollow is a small (9 acres) Town of Glenville natural area that does not appear to be very well known. I noticed it mentioned in the Natural Areas of Schenectady County book published by ECOS. It only receives a very brief mention in the description of the Indian Kill Preserve, where it's noted that it adjoins the Indian Kill on its far western end. That intrigued me enough to dig further, because there are a couple of waterfalls in that far western end that we rarely if ever reach from the normal parking area on Hetcheltown Road. So Holly and I met at the Hetcheltown Road parking area, then drove up to Birch Lane, a little further north, and went looking for the trailhead.

There are a couple of green-and-white signs on Birch Lane, just before it bends right, that mark the beginnings of the two trails into the preserve. We made our way down a ravine and crossed a brook on a rough wooden bridge, and then continued across a power line into the Indian Kill Preserve. There was still a lot of snow here, much of it with 6" of water underneath. There was a semi-firm track from earlier foot traffic, but there were also occasional postholes. We carefully made our way toward the sound of the falls labeled "Second Falls" on the Indian Kill map, the more westerly of the two shown above, which I'd never visited before.

The Indian Kill was roaring with the spring snowmelt.

We tried to head downstream to the more easterly "Third Falls", but were stymied by high water in tributaries that we were unable to cross. We'd seen that one before anyway, so headed back up the ravine to the car. A short walk around the neighborhood finished off another warm and windy spring day.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Biking - First miles of the season

Today really felt like spring, with temps in the mid-50s and lots of sun. Holly and I got out for a short relaxed ride around some back roads in Burnt Hills, the first ride of the season for us both. The signs of spring were everywhere - high-running streams, disappearing snow piles, bright yellow willows ready to burst into bloom, and lots of people outside, whether walking dogs, cleaning up around the yard, or just enjoying the weather.

It's only March 17, and it's too early to be completely optimistic about it, knowing what can still happen when we least expect it. But for today, at least, it was nice to get back on the road again.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

XC Skiing - Great Camp Santanoni

It was a sunny crystal-clear blue-sky day, with temps in the mid-40s. What better time to get out for some not-quite-spring skiing? Holly and I skied the 10-mile round trip to Great Camp Santanoni, near Newcomb, NY, just south of the Adirondack High Peaks. The snow was crunchy at first, but softened up nicely as the day went on. The warm temperatures had me skiing in my shirtsleeves, with those even rolled up. It's a beautiful place, and it's nice to see it being restored.

The old Camp Santanoni Farm, 1 mile in.

The Great Camp as we approached.

One of the many sections of continuous porch, where we had lunch.

Log-trimmed stairway inside.

Fireplace in the Great Room.

Santanoni Peak across Newcomb Lake.

The side of the Great Room that faces the lake.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hiking - Taconic Crest Trail

Complicated hike because of one person who probably shouldn't have been there.

The plan was to hike up Southeast Hollow to the TCT, and follow the TCT to the Robinson Hollow access trail. Six of us left a car at Robinson Hollow and drove to Southeast Hollow and started the hike. It immediately became apparent that an elderly gentleman would be having difficulty keeping up, and possibly going the entire distance. Fortunately, though illegally, the entire TCT had a firm snowmobile track, so the going was pretty easy, aside from the elevation ups and downs. As we approached the Mattison Hollow access trail, he announced that he would need to descend prematurely back to the valley. Based on some remarks he'd made earlier, this may have been his intention from the start, though he never actually said so. If true, then this was inconsiderate at best.

This posed a significant logistical problem for the rest of us, since we'd left no cars parked at Mattison Hollow. It was decided to split the group, with two accompanying this man 2.6 miles down Mattison Hollow, and three of us, the faster ones, continuing on 4.5 up-and-down miles to Robinson Hollow to fetch the car.

Just after we separated, we came to a point on the TCT where the snowmobile track ended, unable to make a steep climb. This meant that three of us would be breaking trail the rest of the distance to the car, while the descending group had fewer downhill miles to cover, where they would wait for us to arrive with the car. This no longer seemed like a good plan, so we stopped to consider our options.

Fortunately, one of our fast group was a local hiker from the Berlin area, and had a cell phone. She was able to contact her sister, who was willing to meet the descending group and assist in retrieving the Robinson Hollow car. Since I now had the keys for that car, we would turn back and also descend Mattison Hollow, and would presumably overtake the other group before the bottom.

In the end, that's how it all worked out. We rejoined the other group, finishing together at the bottom of Mattison Hollow, where the sister was waiting with her car. The driver was ferried to the car in Robinson Hollow, which then returned for the rest of us, and the story was over. It would have had a much different ending if not for the local bailout, and we talked about that a lot on the way home.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

XC Skiing - Return to the Pine Bush Preserve

We're due for a couple of days of serious rain, so today I got out for one more day of skiing before the local snow washes away. A couple of days ago, Holly and I went to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, and were the first ones out on the trails. That skiing was great, so I decided to give it another try, while Holly went snowshoeing elsewhere with some friends.

The Pine Bush gets a lot of snowshoe and walker traffic, and I expected the trails near the Discovery Center to be pretty beaten down. So my goal was to get to the trails across NY-155 to the southwest, which might still be untouched. There's a trail under the bridge that carries NY-155 over the Thruway that allows access to that area. I started out on the blue trail, but decided against skiing down the stairs from the top of the large dune, and did a longer route instead, out the red and white trails to the bottom of that steep hill. But because this route was longer, by the time I got to the white trail under the bridge, I decided against going there, still having a ways to get back to the car. And it had also been walked anyway, so there would be no virgin snow anymore.

So I returned to the car via the red and yellow loops. Though all of the trails had been walked, they were not hard-packed, and the snow was still soft enough for some decent skiing. I was only out for about an hour, but I'd covered a lot of ground at a pretty good clip, and had had enough. After yesterday's deep-snow slog, it was nice to actually kick and glide and get moving again.

This is a very interesting area for skiing, with lots of rolling terrain among the dunes. But it's best to get here just after a snowfall, or better yet, just after somebody else breaks trail.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

XC Skiing - Charleston State Forest

It was another sunny blue-sky day after the recent storm, and there's rain coming in later tomorrow. So it was pretty much a must to get in some more skiing today. Holly and I went to Charleston State Forest, in nearby Montgomery County, which got a significant dump of snow in this week's storm. We parked at the large pull-off on NY-30A, signed the register, and headed down the road.

Although the snow-laden trees were beautiful against the blue sky, there was 24-30" of unbroken, unskied snow on the ground ahead of us.

These were tough conditions for a party of only two, and we soon realized that we wouldn't be completing either the Upper Loop or the Lower Loop accessible from this location. Once we reached the end of the road, where the two loops diverge, there was no longer any question of that. The snow was deep and heavy, and trail breaking was somewhat exhausting.

Recognizing that the trip back out would be much easier, and being gluttons for punishment, we threw in a side trip, also unbroken, to a couple of small ponds on the near end of the Lower Loop (see map). From there back to the car was a much easier trip, though mostly uphill.

Reaching the car, I thought I must have dropped my hat somewhere, probably at the ponds. So we geared up and started back in, back down a now very nice gentle downhill. Partway there, I realized the hat wasn't missing at all (duh!), and we turned around and headed back out. This unnecessary trip turned out to be the best skiing of the day, following our earlier tracks.

Tomorrow could be one more day of decent snow, and then the rains come once again.

Monday, March 7, 2011

XC Skiing - Albany Pine Bush Preserve

After a very nasty rain/sleet/ice/snow storm yesterday and this morning, the afternoon cleared and it turned into a nice day. The resulting mixture on the ground was heavy and dense, but at least this time the snow was on top, and not the icy crust. Shoveling the driveway was a slow process, but I got it done and had the afternoon free. So Holly and I headed off to the Pine Bush to try out the skiing. We parked at the Discovery Center, and skied the loop shown here.

The Pine Bush is sandy, and drains well, so there were no wet areas whatsoever under the snow until we were almost finished. The 2-3 inches of new snow atop a very firm base made for excellent skiing, and the sun shining through the icy trees provided spectacular scenery.

This loop provided a lot of interesting rolling terrain, and also mostly stayed in the woods, a good thing with a strong wind blowing.

By the time we finished, we noticed a little mushiness under the snow here and there, and tomorrow may be a whole different story on these trails. But today, we were the first ones out, and the skiing was wonderful.

Biking on the trainer + shoveling + skiing = good night's sleep tonight.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Walk - Lisha Kill Natural Area

This morning was warm and windy, with rain coming in later, and lots of rain tomorrow. So I decided to get in a walk while I could. The Lisha Kill Natural Area is normally closed from late February through early May, to protect the steep trails from erosion in mud season, but it was still open today, with plenty of snow cover. The trails were hard-packed and icy in spots, which I had assumed would be the case, and had left the snowshoes at home. I wore microspikes instead, and it turned out to be a good choice.

I walked all three loops shown on the map at the link above, the most scenic of which meandered along the Lisha Kill itself. There was open water here and there, and it was starting to look like spring.

Near the spot shown above, I saw what I think was a mink running along the ice near shore towards me, but it must have disappeared into a streamside den.

There were several other people out, some walking their dogs, some on snowshoes, others not, all trying to get in a walk before the deluges to come.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Snowshoeing - Sanders Preserve

Today was another pretty nice day, but turning colder and windy in the afternoon, with some snow squalls. Several of the group that Holly bicycles with in the summer have been getting out for regular snowshoe outings on Wednesday afternoons in the winter, so today I decided to tag along. We walked the trails on the south side of Sanders Road today, downhill to "Point A" at a dead end, and then back up to an easterly loop from "Point B" to "Point C" and back to the cars.

The snow in the open woods was still soft and skiable, but would have been tougher under the pines in the shade, so snowshoes were the right footwear. A very cold night tonight will freeze everything up solid for tomorrow, and there's no significant snowfall in sight.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

XC Skiing - Wilton Wildlife Preserve, Old Gick Farm

Another beautiful sunny day, and Holly and I wanted to try to get out for either some skiing or some snowshoeing, depending on the snow conditions. After some rain yesterday, cold temperatures overnight, and temps only around freezing this afternoon, we weren't sure what kind of crusty mess we'd find. To improve our chances, we picked a place that we knew to be wide open and sunny, which would help in softening the snow. Not being fans of golf course skiing, the perfect place seemed like the Old Gick Farm parcel of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve. A lot of habitat restoration has been done here in recent years, leaving open fields with lots of sun and mostly soft snow.

We skied in a snowshoe track around two loops that totaled only about 1.5 miles, but we'd gotten a late start, and were happy just to find skiable snow. With temps around freezing, there was a definite difference between sunny areas and those in the shade or in the woods. A hill or two proved interesting, as we attempted to make turns while descending in the curving trench.

It was a short outing, but a nice day to be out. It's March 1 now, and snow conditions will continue to deteriorate until we get one of those unexpected (and probably unwelcome!) March mega-blizzards.