Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hiking - A brief return to winter

Today, I joined a Schenectady ADK hike to three ponds (at least!) in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area, south of NY-28 between North River and Indian Lake.  There was a dusting of snow at home overnight, and at the trailhead, about an inch of new snow covered everything, including the roads.  We were going to head south to visit Prier Pond, Grassy Ponds, and Gardner Pond, once again exploring an area where the North Country National Scenic Trail will one day run.  There were no marked trails on today's route, so this was all navigation by map, compass, and GPS.

GPS track of the route we followed

Our first stop was Prier Pond, the largest one we would see today.  The trees were sugar-coated with the new snow and reflected in the still waters of the pond.

Prier Pond
Next, we fought our way through some thick spruce to reach one of the several Grassy Ponds shown on the map. Somewhere in this stretch, we watched a fisher run uphill away from us atop a log, and then we went and looked at its bounding footprints in the snow. 

One of the smaller Grassy Ponds
Many of the Grassy Ponds were indeed grassy, and nearly devoid of water, aside from a narrow channel running through them.  Continuing on to two of the middle of the Grassy Ponds, a light snow was now falling as we spied a lone Canada goose standing on a grassy hummock and wondering what the heck we were doing there.  There were also a couple of ducks on this pond.

This pond had open water

Reaching the last of the ponds we'd visit today, Gardner Pond, we found a nice lunch spot overlooking the pond with its three beaver lodges.

Gardner Pond

The sun was now attempting to come out after a cloudy snowy morning, and the dusting of snow was beginning to melt and disappear.  For the trip back to the car, we chose a more direct route that avoided the ponds we'd already seen and their ubiquitous rings of dense spruces.  We found open woods up a little higher and made good time back to the car.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Biking - Up the river and back again

I wasn't planning to bike today, but when I realized that a month ago I'd been biking on windy days in the 30s, skipping a sunny breezy day near 50 could only be based on many lame excuses.  So I layered up and got out for a ride.

There are several different riverside loops, and rivers, that we ride in this area.  Today, I chose the western one, from Schenectady Community College to Amsterdam and back along the Mohawk River.  With a WNW wind, the outbound leg on bike path and NY-5S would be challenging, but the ride back home on NY-5 after crossing north over the river would be a piece of cake.  It's a relatively flat loop of about 32 miles, but with the winds, I wasn't really interested in adding any hills to the mix anyway.  I just wanted to get out for a ride, and actually go somewhere instead of around in my usual circles.

Mohawk River loop
Along the way, I saw some of the damage from Tropical Storms Irene and Lee late last summer, especially around Locks 9 and 10, where massive rebuilding continues.  On the way home, I rode through Crane's Hollow, the scene of last summer's tornado just after Irene and Lee.  Trees were snapped off and down everywhere as cleanup continues there.  Let's hope the coming summer brings no repeats of last year's calamities.

On a positive note, Jumpin' Jacks in Scotia reopened for the new season yesterday, after being severely flooded by those same storms.  Couple of pictures from today's Schenectady Gazette:

August 29, 2011
I considered stopping in for lunch, but figured that Day 2 would be much like Day 1, and I'd never get served or get home.  One Jack Burger a season is enough anyway.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Walk - Albany Pine Bush Preserve

Today was another dreary, windy, and cool 40s day when I didn't feel like biking, so I got out for another local walk instead.  This time, I chose the Albany Pine Bush Preserve in nearby Guilderland.  There are several different sections to this preserve, but the one that I've been to the least is the one shown on the map below, and that's where I went, parking at the end of Willow Street, at the #8 on the map.

The "Great Dune" area of the Pine Bush
This area has changed a lot since the last time I was there, most likely several winters ago, on skis.  Much of the area atop the dunes has been cleared, and other trees are dying back, probably black locusts that have been intentionally girdled for habitat restoration.  The trails are smooth and well-marked for the most part, although a few places need some attention in that regard.  The only spring wildflowers I saw today were skunk cabbage in some low-lying areas.  After last week's warm weather, it now seems like spring is on hold, though we're simply now back to normal conditions for this early in the year.  Hoping it may get a little warmer again next week.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Disc golf - Schenectady Central Park

After a bit of a dreary morning, the afternoon cleared nicely, so I headed over to Central Park for my now weekly disc golf outing.  It was pretty breezy, so I wasn't expecting to score very well, and I lived up (down?) to those expectations.  It was a nice 2-3 mile walk in the park flinging discs hither and yon, and basically raising my average score a notch or two.  I can't blame the wind for much of it - the fact is that my "putting" was atrocious.  Anything within 10 meters (30ish feet) is considered a  "putt" in this game, but normally for me, anything longer than 10-12 feet that goes in can only rightfully be called a lucky shot.  Today, even the shorter ones were going astray, and that accounted for most of the unnecessary shots added to my scores.  Still not gonna buy a "putter" though - nope - that's just crazy talk...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Walk/Hike - John Boyd Thacher State Park

Today was warmer than yesterday by just a bit, but it was still pretty windy.  So instead of getting out the bike and cursing the wind, I chose to do some more local exploring on foot.  John Boyd Thacher State Park, atop the Helderberg Escarpment in nearby Altamont, has some relatively new trails at the northern end of the park that I haven't fully explored.  There are several viewpoints marked on the trail map, so I set out to visit them all.

J. B. Thacher Park North hiking trails.  My route is highlighted.
The first view was just north of the hang glider takeoff ramp, so I continued on to the more open view there.  This is marked as the easternmost star on the above map.  It was a very clear day, and views ranged far and wide.

Panorama from hang glider ramp.  High Point Cliff is at the left, and I'd be heading there next.
But buried in those distant views were some more interesting closeups using  some amount of camera zoom.

Albany skyline

Village of Altamont

Altamont Fairgrounds
The only wildflower I saw in bloom today, and they were all struggling to open, was hepatica, scattered here and there in small clumps.

Hepatica was the only flower in bloom today
Continuing along the escarpment northbound to High Point Cliff, the views there were similar, but with more craggy rocks and cliffs in the foreground.
View from High Point Cliff
In the distance, I could see the other two viewpoints I'd just visited.  The big grassy area is the hang glider ramp, and the rock to its right the other view.

The first two viewpoints, with the hang glider ramp at the left
Heading back to the car, I found that my map was out of date and didn't match the trail signs at some of the intersections.  I was navigating by the sun and the terrain at this point and got a bit turned around, but eventually made it back to the car.  I downloaded a newer map when I got home, and will use it next time I come here.  It's a nice place to get some high-elevation views less than an hour from home, and these northern trails will certainly be less crowded than the drive-in part of the park.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Walk - Christman Sanctuary

Today was sunny but brisk and windy, the kind of day when walking is better done in the shelter of the forest. I hadn't been to the Christman Sanctuary in quite a while, and it's one of my favorite places, so I headed out this afternoon for a quiet stroll.

I started clockwise on the blue loop, and then managed to find a safe crossing to the orange loop across the stream. Without that loop, this place offers only a very short walk. I thought I might see some spring wildflowers today, but there was not a single one in sight. That was OK, because this place is really known for its waterfalls and cascades, and I never get tired of seeing them.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Hiking - a two-for-one day

Yesterday, Holly and I and a couple of friends headed a short distance east to hike a couple of small "mountains" in Columbia County, near the Massachusetts line.

We first climbed Harvey Mountain, a short hike to its open summit and briefly into Massachusetts. We saw some of the only blooming wildflowers of the day all the way up on the summit, where we found this small patch of trailing arbutus.

After descending back to the car, we drove along back roads lined with yellow colt's foot to the parking area for Beebe Hill, only about 10 minutes away. This summit has a fire tower, no longer in use, but open to the public for its magnificent views. It's only an hour from home, and only a mile walk to the park-like summit, so it's a good quick getaway.

From the tower, we could see the Catskills through the haze off to the southwest.

And some 25 miles to the northwest, we could barely make out the Albany skyline.

The two hikes totalled less than 6 miles altogether, and gave us a pleasant spring day outside with some friends we don't see very often.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Biking - Up the hill to a great lunch

Another unbelievable March day, with the high expected to reach 80 and sunny skies! We'll probably be wishing for these later in the summer.

I got out for a ride today, stretching the miles a bit and also throwing in a more significant climb. Rector Road, west of Scotia, climbs out of the Mohawk Valley up into the Glenville hills. It's about a 2-mile climb, with a couple of over 12% pitches in the first half, and then easing off near the top. Reaching Ridge Road, the climb continues gradually, and then the high point is reached, with the rest of the ride being a rolling general downhill.

At the 18-mile point, I stopped at the Charlton General Store for lunch. They have some pretty good sandwiches and wraps in a country store atmosphere, and the prices are good. Then I continued east on Charlton Road to the east side of Ballston Lake (the lake), turning south to return to Schenectady. The total mileage was about 38, with about 1300 feet of total climbing, so a bigger ride than I've been doing so far this year. At the end, I felt really good, with legs to spare, a good sign for the season ahead.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Disc golf, yard work, and an afternoon nap

This morning, I was hoping to watch a stage of the Volta a Catalunya that involved a long climb to a mountaintop finish, to be live online between 11 and noon. So I headed out for a couple of rounds of disc golf earlier in the day to get back in time to watch the finish.

The first round was average (67) and mediocre, but the the second round (62) felt much better. But though I broke my own record for daily 2-round total birdies (7), mainly they went toward covering up the other awful shots and at least keeping the scores respectable.

When I got home and tuned in to the bike race, I discovered that the stage had been shortened because of heavy snow approaching the top of the long climb. The day's racing was almost over with none of the drama that the 19km climb would have involved. Oh well. So I spent the next several hours on spring cleanup around the house and yard. Gotta do it sometime.

Falling asleep later while reading was very easy to do, with a pleasant breeze coming in the open windows on yet another amazing March afternoon.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hiking - A "Winter Peak" in the Catskills

What better way to spend a 70-degree mid-March day than bagging a Catskill 3500 peak in official winter? Holly wanted to do one just to say she did it, and to add to her 5 others, and today seemed like the perfect opportunity.

We (I?) settled on Rusk Mountain, a short (steep!) bushwhack on a south-facing slope that was almost guaranteed to be free of the minuscule snow we've received this winter. After leaving the parking area, we followed an old road for a little over a half-mile, and then set off through the woods with compass and GPS.

It was a gorgeous blue-sky day with a light breeze and temps in the 60s as we climbed.

We were a little surprised to see the first spring beauties already beginning to bloom. We don't often see these in the mountains until well into April and early May. There were also a couple of hepatica blooming on our route, though that picture didn't come out very well.

We found these bright red fungi near a fallen log. The color was stunning in contrast with the brownness of everything else in sight.

After some steep climbing and negotiating some small cliffs near the summit, we found the canister and had lunch. There are no views from this summit, so we dawdled a bit and then headed back down. Here's Holly with her 6th winter Catskill peak.

Heading down, we took a slightly different route to avoid the cliffs we'd found on the way up. That worked fairly well, but the going was still slow and steep all the way back to the old road we'd left earlier. All told, we'd only covered about 3.3 miles, but climbed about 1,600 feet, so we were glad to see the car.

We stopped at the Prattsville Diner for an early dinner on the way home. Even though we'd seen all the pictures of the Irene/Lee storm damage, seeing it up close had a much stronger impact. This area, and many others in the Schoharie Valley, will be struggling to recover for years to come.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Biking - First climbing of the season

With record-setting temperatures and sunny skies again today, I got out for a mid-day ride before the chance of showers later on. I went to my old friend, Grant Hill Road, in Guilderland, for a short climb to test my early season legs. The climb is only a little over a mile and a few hundred feet up, but it kicks up to 13% at one point and is my normal barometer for how good the legs are doing. I climb it many times every year, adding enough miles to make a 20-30 mile loop in the Voorheesville/Guilderland area..

The climb was no problem at all, and I made it up with a few gears to spare. I'm guessing that the 6-8 pounds I've dropped since last year were also a factor, with gravity always being the enemy on the uphills. All told, I got in 27 miles and felt pretty good. With more good weather coming this week, maybe it's time to throw in a slightly longer ride.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Walk - Schenectady County Forest

This afternoon, after a cool dreary morning, Holly and I got out for a walk at the Schenectady County Forest, up in the hills of Duanesburg. We threw microspikes in the car, wondering a little about the higher elevation, but that was where they stayed once we arrived at the trailhead. The trails were muddy, but not all that bad for this early in the spring.

We walked the long blue loop until we reached the new Town of Duanesburg Hiking Trail to the north of the forest. After hiking that loop, we returned via the rest of the blue loop for about a 90-minute walk. It looked and felt like spring out there, though there were no leaves on the trees or any signs of anything sprouting from the ground just yet. Sunny and 70F is a very welcome sort of day in mid-March, and it was nice to feel the warmth again.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Walk - H. G. Reist Sanctuary

After spending the morning and early afternoon nursing a sore back, watching bike racing, watching NCAA basketball, and baking bread, I really wanted to get out of the house later this afternoon. The day had turned nice, with sunny skies and temps around 60F. Not wanting to drive very far, I headed for the H. G. Reist Sanctuary in nearby Niskayuna, a property of the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club. The walking there is pretty flat and not very long, and I didn't want to overdo it after the morning's issues.

Despite the spring-like conditions, it was still mid-March in the woods. Though the frogs were croaking furiously in the wetter areas, there wasn't a whole lot yet to see that indicated spring was here. The only exceptions were a few skunk cabbage poking up out of the muck.

The next several days may convince me that winter is really over, but I haven't quite been lulled into that complacency just yet. It would be great if that were indeed true, but I'll be more prepared to believe it in a few more weeks.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Hiking - Pilot Knob Ridge Preserve

Yesterday was supposed to be mostly sunny in the afternoon, with highs in the 50s, so Holly and I planned to get out for a hike. We chose the Pilot Knob Ridge Preserve on the east side of Lake George, where there are nice views of the lake and a waterfall a mile back in the woods. A large house was once built here, adversely impacting the views for everyone below, but was subsequently torn down, leaving only a gazebo sitting in the clearing on the ridge. See the link above for the full story.

Arriving at the trailhead, a light rain was falling, completely contradicting every forecast we'd heard. After eating lunch in the car, the rain stopped, so we set off up the steep climb to the gazebo, 0.6 miles and 650 feet above. There's a very nice view of the lake from here for that small amount of effort, murky though it was on this day.

After a brief stop at the gazebo, we followed another trail up and down along an old road to the waterfall, a little over a mile each way. There were occasional sprinkles along the way, but nothing requiring raingear.

In terms of scale, that's another person in the center of the picture, part way up the falls.

Although the upper falls was the main attraction here, another cascade and a steep-walled gorge below the falls captured my attention.

Circling around and crossing the stream at the top of the falls, we headed back to the gazebo, where the skies were now intermittently clearing to the north. Instead of returning down via the short steep route, we followed the old driveway down several switchbacks and reconnected with the main trail a short distance from the car.

Once home, we were surprised to find that the distance we'd covered was 4.5 miles rather than the 3 we'd expected, and the elevation had been considerably more than we remembered from an earlier trip 7-8 years ago.

As we drove home, the skies darkened and the predicted afternoon thunderstorms began to roll in. It hadn't been a perfect day, but we were glad we'd squeezed in this hike instead of giving up on the weather earlier in the day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Biking - Three rides in one

On a windy day, there are 1001 excuses for not riding a bicycle. Today, I ignored all of them. Holly wanted to get out for her first miles of the season, but knowing that would be a short ride in Burnt Hills, I parked the car at SCCC and biked up to her house to add on a few more miles for myself.

The ride northbound was made more difficult by a strong westerly/northerly headwind/crosswind. It seemed to be swirling a bit, as always. Instead of my usual 14-15 mph pace, I managed only 12.5 for this 10.7-mile leg.

Once there, we did an easy 9 miles, fighting the wind for about half of it, before returning to her house and our starting point.

The ride back to SCCC was much easier, with the winds at my back for much of the way. I wound up with 31+ miles total at a fairly leisurely pace, though it was somewhat of a struggle at times, especially on the initial ride to Burnt Hills. The trick is not to worry about the MPH, take what you get, drop to a lower gear, and just do it. I must be getting older. Or maybe it's just wiser. Yeah, that's it.

Hickory-smoked BBQ ribs for dinner, with my own secret sauce. Oh so good - devoured like a Neanderthal.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Disc golf and biking - A taste of spring

This afternoon, I planned to get out for the first bike ride on the road this season. I'd finished the annual winter overhaul, and the bike was ready to go. But the morning was pretty cool, so I went to Central Park for a couple of rounds of disc golf before lunch. It was a great outing, and many previous records were shattered:

  • Best 18 - 58 (par 57, previous best 61)
  • Best 36 in a day - 58-60 (previous best 61-64)
  • Best front nine - 27 (par 28, previous best 29)
  • Best back nine - 29 (par 29, previous best 31)
  • Most birdies in a round - 4
  • Most birdies in a day - 6

My "putting" has really improved, and it also helps to now be able to throw 200+ feet from the tee. That sets up a lot of pars and the occasional birdie opportunity.

After lunch, I went back to the original plan and got in an easy 30-mile bike ride. I did my "lazy loop", with less than 600 feet of climbing, for this first outing. It's a good route for first thing in the season, and when I want to get out for a relaxed easy ride.

Best of all, I feel like I've earned the BBQ chicken that's planned for dinner.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

XC Skiing - Rockwood State Forest

After yesterday's scouting trip to Rockwood State Forest, I decided to go ahead with today's Schenectady ADK ski trip that I was leading. When we arrived there, around 12:45 pm, we were delighted to find 2-3" of new powder atop the 10-12" of existing base. Though it had been cold overnight, the new snow had prevented the wet base from freezing solid, and kept it relatively soft. For only being an hour from Schenectady, this was some pretty amazing skiing, especially considering that just down the hill in Johnstown, there was almost no snow at all. We skied for about 2½ hours, enjoyed many hair-raising downhills, and all survived. This was a better ski outing than we could have possibly hoped for, as we now await the predicted mega-thaw over the next several days.

Friday, March 9, 2012

XC Skiing - Rockwood State Forest

Tomorrow, I'm scheduled to lead a ski trip to Rockwood State Forest, just west of Johnstown, and only an hour away. I had serious doubts about the snow conditions, and with 2 people already signed up, it seemed like a good idea to mount a reconaissance mission. So I headed up there this afternoon, with low expectations, fully expecting to have to cancel yet another ski trip this winter.

The trip is ON, believe it or not. I skied for about an hour today on 10-12" of heavy, wet, soft snow. Tomorrow won't be the best skiing I've ever seen, but it may be the last of the year, at least this close to home. Another 2-4" of new fresh snow possible there overnight, along with a possible freeze-up, so we won't know how the skiing is until we get there tomorrow. It's worth taking a chance
anyway, being so close to home.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hiking - Vroman's Nose, Middleburgh, NY

Today was going to be a sunny day near 60F, and Holly and I just had to get out and do something to enjoy it. We settled on Vroman's Nose, a 1,240-foot prominence with steep cliffs near Middleburgh, in the Schoharie Valley. We'd been here many times before, but it's a nice short hike with a view and close to home.

Today, for the first time, we did the hike as a loop, picking up the yellow trail to the left at the base of the climb from the parking area. This trail eventually joined the Long Path, which passes over the summit. The trail was icy, and we were glad to be wearing microspikes for the climb and descent, though the summit was bare. As we broke out onto the cliffs near the top, we got our first views of the Schoharie Valley far below. This area took a severe beating from flooding during Tropical Storms Irene and Lee at the end of August, 2011. The entire flat valley was under water when the Schoharie Creek overflowed its banks during extended heavy rains. Many homes in the town of Schoharie and Middleburgh, as well as others, were destroyed. It was a more tranquil scene today.

Schoharie Valley and Creek, looking south

Middleburgh and Schoharie Creek, looking north

After lunch, we continued to the spot long known as the "Dance Floor", and tried a few awkward steps wearing microspikes on the smooth rock.

The "Dance Floor"

This smooth surface has been defaced for many years by names being carved into it. Here's one of the older entries we found, from 1868.

Far below, along NY-30, we spied an octagon house, one of only a few we've seen anywhere.

On the trip down, we met several other parties coming up, and were glad we'd had the summit to ourselves. It was a short 3-hour outing door-to-door, driving included, but we got our first real taste of spring on a beautiful afternoon.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Walk - Mohawk River Bike Path

With temps in the 30s, bright sunny skies, and no wind, there was no way I was going to spend any time today on the bike trainer in the basement. Instead, I headed to the bike path in Niskayuna, where the path gets plowed clear after every snowstorm. I walked from Lock 7 Road to the Colonie town line, about a 4½-mile round trip, at a very brisk pace. There were surprisingly few other people out there today - maybe they're all just waiting for the springlike temperatures of the next two days. But they missed a very nice one today.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Moonlight snowshoeing - Featherstonhaugh State Forest

This evening, I led a moonlight snowshoeing trip for Schenectady ADK, the first that's been possible this winter. I try to do this every winter month just before the full moon, but this is the first time we've had enough snow this season. Featherstonhaugh State Forest, a short drive away but at an elevation 1,000 feet higher, still has a good bit of snow from last week's storm. Five of us headed out into the winter woods, with only the moon (and an occasional camera flash) to light our way. The snow was still relatively soft off the side of the ski trail, but the ski tracks themselves were hard and icy, and not the least bit tempting to ski in.

The moon tonight was 93% full, and really lit up the whiteness we were walking through. It was a chilly night, with temps only around 20F, but at least the winds had died down from earlier in the day.

As we neared the end of our walk, some unexpected clouds began to roll in, changing the stark moonlight shadows to a more milky glow.

It was nice to finally get out on this trip, even if only once this crazy snowless winter, and a good time was had by all.