Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Snowshoeing - Featherstonhaugh State Forest

It's almost that time again, the week of my monthly moonlight snowshoe outing for Schenectady ADK. We've had a little snow since last month, especially up in the hills where Featherstonhaugh State Forest is located. There was even a new inch or so in my yard this morning. So I thought I'd better check out Featherstonhaugh in case I actually got any sign-ups in the next few days.

When I got to the trailhead, I was almost wishing I'd brought my skis instead. There was about an inch of new snow on a very firm 4" base, and though that's a little thin, it definitely would have been skiable, if somewhat lumpy. I snowshoed the main ski trail loop, and decided that as long as we don't get a cataclysmic warmup or rain event in the next few days, this trip would be on for the first clear night. Looks like some clearing over the weekend.

Unfortunately, either or both of those events are quite possible. I'm now at home, the temperature is 52F, my paltry overnight snowfall is gone, and tomorrow is expected to be a little warmer with a chance of some rain. The base I saw today won't be going anywhere, and this trip could still go, but I'll need to check things again on Friday or so.

Monday, January 30, 2012

XC Skiing - Lapland Lake XC Ski Center

With all of the nearby places to cross-country ski for free, I've never been a big fan of the artificiality of the commercial areas. I am also the absolute epitome of "The Cheapskate Next Door", and don't pay for XC skiing unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Today was the day. We have no snow locally, the promised snowfall overnight that would have freshened up some nearby free areas never materialized, and Lapland Lake, near Northville, NY, got an inch or two over the past few days. They accomplish some amazing grooming with minimal snow. So Holly and I bit the bullet and headed off to Lapland for some desperation skiing.

Lapland often likes to use the word "Finn-tastic" to describe their conditions, but it wasn't really warranted today. Mostly, the new snow had been packed and rolled, and skiing outside the tracks was really not bad. But the tracks were old and a little crusty around the edges and needed to be recut. In fairness, there probably still isn't enough snow even here to do that, and the skiing was still arguably the best around in this low-snow winter. We did a couple of loops before lunch, and then a couple more after lunch before calling it a day.

At 1.5 hours away, and $20 a pop, I'm not going to do this often. But today it was the right choice.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hiking - Chase and Mud Lakes

Yesterday, I joined a Schenectady ADK trip to Chase and Mud Lakes, off the end of Pinnacle Road in the Shaker Mountain Wild Forest. The original plan was to continue bushwhacking to the base of some cliffs on Pinnacle Mountain, but tough snow conditions convinced us that the two lakes would be enough for one day.

Twelve of us started in on the trail to Chase Lake and its leanto, 2.7 miles away. There were about 8-10" of snow on the ground, and the trail had been packed sometime previously, before subsequent bouts of rain and ice. The trail was pretty firm, but off-trail, there was a healthy amount of crust, which we found ourselves breaking through later as we began the bushwhack.

There was a significant amount of running water, and many smaller streams we needed to detour to get across. The trickiest was the outlet of Mud Lake, which the Chase Lake Trail crossed on the way to the leanto. We continued upstream of the normal crossing and finally found this log that got us to the other side as we watched the churning water below.

The leanto was moved sometime in the past, and now occupies a nice location overlooking Chase Lake.

We stopped here for a pretty long lunch in the balmy almost 40-degree temperatures.

After lunch, we began the uphill bushwhack to Mud Lake, a tiny puddle hardly worth of the "lake" moniker. "Mud" would probably be accurate in a warmer season.

After the decision to skip the additional bushwhack to the cliffs, we decided to cross the Mud Lake outlet here, rather than dealing with that dicey log crossing again further downstream. We tiptoed across the questionable ice, if that's possible on snowshoes, and safely got to the other side. Then we bushwhacked down the west side of the outlet until we rejoined the Chase Lake Trail we'd come in on before it crossed the outlet. From there, it was a fast trip out to the cars on a packed trail.

Back at the cars, our party of 12 was joined by a party of 13 from the new ADK Foothills Chapter, who had also gone to Chase Lake this day. It was odd to see that much traffic at the end of this dead-end road seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Walk - Schenectady County Forest

This afternoon, Holly and I got out for a walk in the Schenectady County Forest. At 1,400 feet of elevation, we found more snow here than back down in the valley, probably 2-3" of hard crusty stuff still in the woods. The trails were hard-packed and icy, and we were glad we brought our MICROspikes, especially in the parking lot which was glare ice. It was windy and cold, and there were time constraints, so we didn't get to walk the new Town of Duanesburg loop this time. But it was good to get out and at least see some nearby snow, even if was fairly useless for anything but a crunchy walk.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Walk - Mohawk River Bike Path series, cont'd...

Partly sunny and mid-40s. Green grass. It would be a nice early spring day if it weren't January 24th. Rather than bike on the trainer today, I decided to do something outside instead. First, I tried disc golf. After almost falling down following a mediocre fling from the icy first tee, I was wishing I'd brought my micro-spikes along. The park was very icy, and I gave up after a par on the first hole.

So, it was back to the plowed portion of the bike path, this time between Lock 7 and Lions Park in Niskayuna. I got in about a 4.5-mile walk at a fast pace, and called it my exercise for the day. Many others were also out enjoying the unusual weather, and it's nice that this section is kept clear for winter walking, running, and even biking.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

XC Skiing - Schenectady Municipal Golf Course

Having cancelled a Schenectady ADK ski trip I was slated to lead today because of poor local snow conditions, Holly and I resorted to that most desperate of measures in cross-country skiing - skiing on a golf course. I'd been to Schenectady Muni a week or so ago, but then the rain and ice came and wrecked whatever good snow there had been. But we got a couple of new fresh inches of dry snow overnight, and though it wouldn't improve the skiing in wooded areas that were very thinly covered and rough underfoot, a golf course just might work. And it did! Several other skiers were also out, and the skiing was really not bad. Even if thin, the fairways are so smooth that very little snow is needed, plus some of the old base still remained underneath. We got in a couple of miles at a leisurely pace and then called it a pretty good day.

Hiking - Dippikill Mountain

Earlier this week, I got a phone call from my friend Phil from Long Island. He'd be coming up to stay for a few days at his cabin in Thurman, north of Warrensburg, and wanted to get together and do something outside. Not realizing how close he lived to it, I picked Dippikill Mountain, based on an article I'd read on the Albany Times-Union Outdoors blog (thanks Herb and Gillian!). It turned out to be a real gem when we hiked it yesterday.

Dippikill Mountain is on the campus of Camp Dippikill, a property owned by the University at Albany Alumni Association. Students and alumni can take advantage of the cabins and campsites here, and the hiking trails are open to the public. The mountain is only about a 4-mile walk if done as a loop, which is what we planned to do, returning via the pond below.

After meeting at Phil's cabin, we suited up and drove to Camp Dippikill, only about 10 minutes away. We stopped first at the camp office to register and pick up a map. Our route began just up the road from the office, and climbed gently up the ridge toward the summit. Although there were only about 6" of snow, we opted for snowshoes and the extra traction they'd provide on the crunchy snow.

On the way up the ridge, there were great views of Crane Mountain behind us and the Adirondack High Peaks to the north.

Continuing on toward the summit, we first lunched behind a rock face out of the wind. Beyond the true summit, we followed a side trail marked "To Overlook", where there was a wide-open view of the Hudson River below.

We were puzzled by the taller mountain at the distant left center of this view, but some map sleuthing after I got home revealed it to be Buck Mountain, on the east side of Lake George.

Dropping down to the pond, we followed the West Shore Trail past leantos and campsites along the shore, crossing a bridge at the far end where we looked back up at the mountain.

From there it was a short walk back to the car. We returned to the cabin and continued chatting over nachos and beer until it was time for me to head home. It was a great day out, crisp and clear with great views, and nice to catch up with a friend I don't often see.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A brisk walk on a brisk afternoon

It was a sunny day, but still no local skiable snow, so I got out for a walk instead. I've been doing these hour-long 4-mile walks on the bike path lately, and as long as the way is clear of snow and ice, it's pretty good exercise.

It was cool and breezy with temps only in the mid-20s, but the sun made for a nice afternoon to be outside. I headed for the Rotterdam section of the Mohawk River Bike Path, but found it still covered by patches of snow and ice. That would never do for the fast pace that I wanted. Then I remembered that Colonie and Niskayuna to the east sometimes plowed their sections of the bike path, so drove over that way instead. I wound up walking from the Niskayuna Train Station in Lions Park to the bridge over Shakers Creek, just short of Forts Ferry Road, and a 2-mile walk each way. I didn't see another soul the whole time, and enjoyed the solitude and river scenery. It wasn't as good as XC skiing, but at this point, beggars can't be choosers when it comes to local outdoor exercise in the absence of snow.

Monday, January 16, 2012

XC Skiing - Rockwood State Forest

With any snow on the ground about to be destroyed tomorrow for skiing purposes, Holly and I got out for a short ski this afternoon while it was still possible. I'd heard reports from Fulton County of 8-10" of snow in the last storm, so Rockwood State Forest, west of Johnstown, seemed like a logical choice. Most of the trails here are on smooth old roads, so it doesn't need a lot of snow to be skiable. What we found was about 8" total - 5" of old granular snow, then a quarter-inch of icy crust, and all topped off by 2-3" of soft powder. Without the underlying crust, it could have been somewhat better skiing than it was. But the trails were pretty beat up - lots of footprints and dog piles, and just generally overused and in need of refreshing with some new snow. Unfortunately, that doesn't look at all likely for the rest of this week, and tomorrow's ice/sleet/snow/rain event will make this place unusable for a while. We were glad we got it in while we did.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hiking - Falls on Johnson Pond Brook

Yesterday, I joined a Schenectady ADK trip to explore the location for another section of the North Country National Scenic Trail through the Adirondacks. Leaders Walt and Norm have been scouting several areas of the Adirondacks where this trail is slated to pass, and today was another one of these bushwhack trips. We started at the end of the plowed section of Johnson Pond Road, north of Paradox Lake, with our destination being a series of waterfalls on the outlet of Johnson Pond. Temps were in the mid-teens, with much colder temperatures expected later in the day.

The first half-mile down Johnson Pond Road was very scenic, with 6-8" of snow hanging from the trees. Though snowshoes were probably not strictly necessary for this trip, they made for smoother walking once we left the road and got into the rougher terrain.

The other kids also enjoyed the winter scenery, some of the first we've had all year.

We wound our way around blowdown and along a property line before turning south and downhill through a valley that would eventually join the Johnson Pond outlet. When we reached the falls, they were hardly recognizable under the snow and ice. Water was flowing underneath, but these would be much more scenic in the spring or summer when the cascades are visible. We stopped here for lunch before turning around and retracing our steps back to the car.

The trip back to the car was much easier, as we had our earlier tracks to follow. There was an option to climb Peaked Hill from the gentler north side on our way out, but nobody seemed especially interested in that extension of the day. So we were back to the car and home early in time for dinner after a nice day out in the winter woods.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

XC skiing - first of the season!

It seems ridiculous that I should have to use that title in the middle of January. But so it goes.

A long overdue snowfall blanketed the green grass overnight, and though it was only about 4", there are places nearby where that makes skiing possible, especially when there is pent-up demand. I'm fortunate to live within 5 minutes of Schenectady Municipal Golf Course, a rolling layout very popular with golfers in summer and XC skiers in winter. We often ski there at night, either by moonlight or by the glow of the city-lit clouds above. With their short-trimmed grass, golf courses are the ideal place to get out skiing with minimal snow.

The snow was heavy and wet, a fact that made for much better skiing with only that shallow depth. It compacted firmly, and prevented breaking through all the way to the grass below. Several other skiers were out on the course, and I mostly skied in their tracks, but occasionally made my own. I did about a 2-mile loop, with a few rolling hills. That was enough for the first use of these muscles this season, especially after having already done my now-daily 7-8 miles on the bike trainer earlier in the morning.

It looks like another mixed bag of winter stuff tomorrow, so it's hard to know what will be left to ski on after that. With the non-winter we've had so far, it's good to grab this sort of opportunity when it presents itself, especially when it's so close to home.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Walk - Indian Kill Preserve

This afternoon, Holly and I squeezed in a walk in the Indian Kill Preserve in Glenville. It was one more nice day before tomorrow and Friday's winter precipitation sampler. A few other people (and dogs) were out enjoying the afternoon, and the ground was sufficiently frozen that there was miraculously no mud. With a whole potpourri of stuff falling from the sky over the next couple of days, things will probably get messy once again. It would be really nice if it could all fall as snow...

Monday, January 9, 2012

Disc golf on another nice afternoon

It looks like we may be in for some sloppy weather later in the week, so this afternoon I got in my weekly disc golf outing in Schenectady's Central Park. It's amazing to be doing this in January, but with no snow, sunny skies, and temps near 40, there's no reason to not continue on. Looking back, the first time I tried this activity was actually January 5th of a year ago, in another stretch of poor skiing conditions and minimal snow. But today, I did much better than last year's first-time 81, with a 66 and a 72. Average those two together and you get..... my current long-term average. The sun was bright, there was no wind, and it was just a nice day to be out doing something.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hiking - Huckleberry Point in the Catskills

January 7, no local snow, and sunny with temps in the 50s - unbelievable. Holly and I took advantage by heading to the Catskills for a snowless hike with a view. Huckleberry Point is a steep prominence on the eastern edge of the Catskill plateau. It overlooks the Hudson Valley and Platte Clove, also known as the Devil's Kitchen, a rugged valley a thousand feet below. The hike is about 2.4 miles each way, up and over an intermediate bump, and then down to the point. The return trip climbs back up and over the same bump before descending back to the car.

There was no snow on the ground here, although we did have to take care on occasional icy patches, despite the mild temperatures. We were the first to reach the point today, and had it to ourselves to enjoy lunch and the great views. The Hudson River was visible far below to the east.

Across Platte Clove far below, Overlook Mountain with its fire tower was visible in the distance, with Platte Clove Mountain in the near foreground.

Further to the west, the peaks of the Devil's Path were nearby, with Indian Head and Twin being especially prominent.

As we were just underway on our return to the car, we met a group of four, and then a group of two, followed by a group of seven, and then a final group of four, all on their way to the point. We were glad we'd arrived there when we did, with lots of other people out enjoying another unseasonably mild and snowless winter day.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Another fast walk, another 400 calories...

Friends and family sometimes find it laughable that I'm worried about my weight, and it's true that I've managed to keep it off for many years. But lately, it's been creeping upward, to levels I haven't seen before, and I need to do something about it. Something that doesn't involve giving up beer...

After yesterday's fast-paced walk on the bike path, I went out today for an encore, on a different section. It was a beautiful sunny mid-40s day, and lots of other people had the same idea. But mostly, I was passing them, arms a-swinging. I can't run anymore, but this is turning out to be a good and gentler substitute when I don't feel like dragging the bike out of its winter home in the basement, and we have no local snow for XC skiing. 4-5 miles at 4 mph only takes a little over an hour, doesn't destroy my knees like running seems to do, and makes me feel like I've done something more than a casual stroll. And combined with a morning ride on the bike on the trainer, it's more regular exercise than I've been getting for the past few months.

Enough - time for another Bud Select 55...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A brisk walk on the bike path - and a SKIER?!?!?

After several recent outings where I wasn't moving very fast, either because of the terrain or the added activity of geocaching or letterboxing, I wanted to get out today and really stretch my legs at a stiff pace. I wanted to go someplace flat, with smooth footing, and just let 'er rip. The Mohawk River Bike Path in Rotterdam fit the bill nicely, so I parked at Kiwanis Park and set off for the dead end across NY-5S at Scrafford Lane. This would give me a 4.4-mile round trip, just about right.

Shortly after I left Kiwanis Park, I noticed a person standing on the ice of the old canal, between the bike path and the highway. When I got closer, I stopped. This person was putting on XC skis on the relatively new ice, with less than an inch of snow covering it! Intrigued, I stopped to watch. Then we recognized each other - it was Donnie from the Schenectady Wintersports Club, who lives almost across the road. In a recent news article in the Schenectady Gazette, he had noted that he got out skiing 76 days in 2010. And he's apparently off to a good start this year, despite the dearth of local snow. After a brief chat, we went our separate ways, he skiing down the canal, and me walking away shaking my head and smiling.

The wind had come up, and small ground blizzards were blowing down the canal toward me as I crossed NY-5S. Reaching the dead end at the railroad tracks at Scrafford Lane, I turned around and started back, now with a nice tailwind. I met one jogger on this stretch, but otherwise saw nobody else the rest to the way back to the car. Passing the area where I'd met Donnie earlier, I marveled at his ski tracks on the thin snow and ice of the canal. He'd apparently even tried a very short stretch on the bike path itself, with pavement showing through! That's dedication, or is it desperation?

I finished the walk in a little over an hour, at an average pace of 4 mph, and felt satisfied that I'd done what I'd set out to do. Now if we'd just get some more snow...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Walk - Featherstonhaugh State Forest

This week was supposed to be one of my monthly moonlight snowshoe outings at Featherstonhaugh State Forest, near Mariaville. Needless to say, snowshoes will not be necessary. But hearing reports of up to an inch of snow at higher elevations, I decided to see what had fallen at Featherstonhaugh, and whether a bare-boot outing in the moonlight would be an alternative.

Though we received only a dusting at best in the valley, there was indeed close to an inch of snow in the forest, just about enough to whiten the ground. And with a temperature of 13F and a howling north wind, it certainly looked and felt like winter.

The ground had mostly frozen, so there was no mud or swampiness to worry about. But the footing was rough and the walking difficult. Any standing water, of which this place has plenty, had a thin skin of ice on top, but not quite enough to support my weight. It was pretty slow going, and I won't be leading a nighttime trip here this week under these conditions.

The section of XC ski trail that I walked was in pretty good shape in terms of being passable, with little or no blowdown on the trail. Markers were plentiful, and skiing should be OK, at least on this section, once we get more snow.

A major bridge near Lake Road was moved off its alignment by recent flooding, and no longer connects well with the trail on its western end. If not fixed by ski season (doubtful), some brush may need to be trimmed at its current terminus to allow skiers to cross and continue.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Disc golf and another local walk, before the cold arrives

With no snow on the ground, temps in the 30s, and no disc golf lately through these crazy holidays, I was itching to get out again. So I braved the cold gusty winds and headed to Central Park to play a couple of rounds. Now, it should be obvious that strong winds have quite an impact on one's ability to control a flying disc, and that was indeed the case today. I threw a couple of 76s, well worse than average, and I can at least partially blame the winds. Many shots sailed away in odd directions despite my best efforts, and I visited parts of the course where I'd never been before. But I wasn't the only fool out there. A five-some was starting on #1 as I was starting my final nine at #10. If you build it, they will come. And they do.

This afternoon, Holly and I got out for another local walk in the Lisha Kill Preserve, in Niskayuna. It was much sloppier going than it had been a few weeks ago when I was there, but many other people were also out enjoying the muddy trails. We covered all three loops at a leisurely pace, and then went our separate ways to take care of other things.

Tomorrow, a cold front will drop temperatures significantly, into the single digits overnight on Tuesday. That should improve the mud situation, but a thick coating of the white stuff is also badly needed.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Walk - A new year in the Moccasin Kill Sanctuary

January 1. New Year's Day. 50 degrees and sunny. A day not to be wasted indoors watching football. Well, maybe later...

After a green Christmas, we now have a green New Year. And this scene was especially green as I walked in the Moccasin Kill Sanctuary, west of Schenectady.

There's a long-standing mystery between me and the Moccasin Kill. I have a vague long-ago recollection of an open view back toward Schenectady from the end of one of the long ridges between the deeply carved ravines. Today, I set out to find it. And it turns out that I'm either misremembering, or the trees have grown up and it's no longer there. I went where it should have been, but found nothing. So I continued on and walked the rest of the trails.

As I was returning from the blue loop along one of the upper ravines, I noticed something I hadn't seen before - a couple of very nice step waterfalls, visible (with care!) from just off the trail. They were partially frozen, and the water was flowing behind and through the ice. Because of this, they were very white and hard to miss, especially with no leaves on the trees.

Tomorrow night the cold arrives again in earnest, but unfortunately, the prospects for any snow are still pretty dismal. In the meantime, these frequent local walks will have to suffice.