Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Walk - Niskayuna Bike Path

With temps approaching 50 today, but with high winds and maybe even a thunderstorm expected later (this is January??), I got out for a quick-paced 4.5-mile walk this morning on the snow-free bike path in Niskayuna.  Lots of others had the same idea, with or without dogs, some running, others walking.  Most of our local snow is now gone, and with heavy rains expected overnight, it's hard to know what we'll find even farther from home.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

More snowshoeing and skiing before January Thaw II

After a very cold week last week, the weekend weather was a little more seasonable.  The local XC skiing was getting pretty sketchy, so Holly and I got out snowshoeing both days instead, first at the Hennig Preserve and then a shorter outing on Sunday at Featherstonhaugh State Forest.  Both places had 6-8" of snow remaining, but it was a little thin in many places for skiing, so snowshoeing was a good alternative.

Yesterday, much of the area got another inch or two of heavy wet snow, topped by some sleet and freezing rain, further limiting local skiing options.  Holly thought that the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park trails in Wilton might be skiable today, since they're groomed semi-regularly and might even have some firm base left.  They're also mostly on smooth-surfaced woods roads, so they don't need a lot of cover.  So we decided to give a it a try.

There wasn't a lot of cover in many places, but the skiing in  general was surprisingly good, all things considered.  We did a few miles worth of loops, and headed home just as a light rain began to fall.  The rains and temps in the 50s tomorrow should pretty much finish off our local snow, so we'll be starting over yet again.  Crazy winter...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Snowshoeing - Homestead County Forest

Today, I joined a Schenectady ADK trip to Homestead County Forest, in Providence, Saratoga County.  It was going to be a very cold day, and several people had already cancelled because of that.  But 4 of us braved the sunny single-digit temperatures and enjoyed some nice snowy scenes not far from home.  I didn't take any pictures, though I had hoped to, because the camera was in a pocket a couple of layers inside to keep the batteries warm, and my fingers never really warmed up all the way beginning soon after we got started.  It was better to keep moving on a day like this, and that's mostly what we did.  We visited a partially frozen waterfall on Cadman Creek, and not far downstream, the ruins of an old sawmill and dam.  Three of us took shelter in the leader's Bothy Bag for lunch, and it was quite a bit warmer in there, even though we were standing up and not fully covered.  We hadn't wanted to remove and re-don the snowshoes to sit down, so this worked quite well instead.  All told, we were only out for about 3 hours, but it was definitely enough as stronger winds moved in later in the trip.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Snowshoeing - Featherstonhaugh State Forest

Several times each winter, snow and weather permitting, I lead a moonlight snowshoeing outing for Schenectady ADK.  Featherstonhaugh, unlike other local preserves, doesn't close at dusk, and at a relatively high local elevation, is a perfect place for these outings.  Since this month's trip is scheduled for sometime in the next several days if we get a clear night, and since there is very little snow remaining down here in the valley in Schenectady, I thought I would take a short scouting trip to see if this trip would even be possible.  I was surprised by what I found.

Aside from the 1" or so of new snow coating everything, there was a surprising amount of old base remaining, firm but not concrete-like underneath.  All of the wet spots of the past few weeks have frozen solid in this week's cold weather, and the ski trails are very well-covered.  I wouldn't want to ski on them right now, but snowshoeing was great, and would be even better under a bright nearly-full moon!  Fingers are crossed...

Saturday, January 19, 2013

XC Skiing - Rockwood State Forest

After the paltry snowfall of a few days ago, grass is showing through again here in Schenectady, but Holly and I still had hopes of finding some skiable snow nearby.  Rockwood State Forest, less than an hour away west of Johnstown, has surprised us in the past, and from the latest snow depth map, it looked like it was worth a look, with potentially 6-8" on the ground:

But what kind of snow would this be?  Was it old crusty junk from the storm we had Christmas week, before the big thaw?  Each dot on that map is a snow monitoring station, so I checked the snow density graph for the nearest one, in Ephratah:

It looked like there was about 3" left of that earlier base, but a fresh 2" on top of it!  This could be excellent!  Almost all of the trails at Rockwood are on old roads, so it doesn't need deep cover to be skiable.  So off we went to Rockwood, also taking along snowshoes just in case the skiing was terrible.

It wasn't terrible.  It was less than "excellent", and probably not even "good", but the computer model for the graph above was pretty close to right on.  We found about 6" of old base, and 1" on top of it.  The trails were lumpy and crunchy underneath from a whole lot of bare-booted walkers over the past several weeks, but with the fresh snow, it was certainly at least "fair" skiing.

We stayed off the bigger steeper hills on the southwest corner, both because of time constraints and concerns that they might be a bit too "adventurous" under these conditions.  But we got in a couple of loops with some smaller hills before we called it a day, skiing back downhill to the car along NY-29 in the untouched snow.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A return to winter

After several balmy days above freezing, and a complete loss of any snow that was left from our only previous storm, we got a fresh 3-4" overnight, turning everything white again.  Over the past several days, I've gotten out by taking a fast 5-mile walk on the snow-free bike path, and then returning there the next day for 11-12 miles of biking.  This was starting to look a little too much like last winter.

This latest storm seemed to come from nowhere.  I heard nothing about any expected snow until a day or two before, and then suddenly, here it is.  It's a heavy wet snow that's clinging to everything as it falls, including, fortunately, the large spruce above my almost-clear driveway.

Holly and I got out this afternoon for a short walk in the Indian Kill Preserve, in Glenville.  There wasn't really enough snow for snowshoes, but the footing was a little sketchy on the steeper slopes, so some sort of traction would have been useful.  We just took our time and enjoyed the beautiful winter scenery.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Biking - Mohawk River Bike Path

Last year, when December rolled around, I discovered that I had biking miles in 2012 in every month except January.  I decided then that 2013 would be different.  With XC skiing rapidly becoming impossible during this January thaw, it seemed like a good day to get that little item checked off.  Last winter, the Mohawk River Bike Path was plowed and snow-free for about a 6-7 mile stretch in Niskayuna and Colonie, allowing an out-and-back 12-14 mile ride.  So, I headed to Lions Park in Niskayuna for a short ride and some January miles.

It turned out to be a shorter ride than planned.  Niskayuna had cleared the path from Lock 7 Road to Lions Park, but hadn't continued to the Colonie Town Line, about a quarter-mile further.

Since I had no idea whether Colonie had cleared any of the path, I headed west to Lock 7 Road and back, and settled for a very short ride of under 4 miles.  I could have gone back and forth a few times to bump up the total, but there were large numbers of walkers also out today on the path, and it just would have been more trouble than it was worth.

I don't know what the rest of the winter (or the year) will bring, but I now at least have January under my belt, and will hope for 11 more months of the same.

Snowshoeing - Thomas Mountain

The Cat and Thomas Mountain Preserve, near Bolton Landing, has been getting a lot of good press over the past couple of years, but we still hadn't had a chance to check it out.  So yesterday, with XC skiing looking more and more marginal as the thaw continues, Holly and I set off for the relatively short hike to Thomas Mountain.  We decided to do this hike as a loop, ascending via the blue-marked Two Brothers Trail, and descending by the old road marked with orange markers.

It was a foggy murky day in the woods, and we didn't know if we'd get any views today or not.

As we reached the side trail to the viewpoint on the blue trail, there were hints of milky blue sky and sun above us, but that viewpoint was still solidly socked in.  So we continued on to the cabin near the summit of Thomas.

There are reportedly very nice views from here, as shown on the Preserve's web page:

but our fog looked more like this:

This was definitely the most civilized summit I have ever hiked to, Whiteface aside.  The cabin was open to hikers, and even had a couple of comfortable chairs facing the large window and today's non-view.  It made a great lunch stop.

The walk back down the road was much faster than the trail we'd taken up, and soon we were back at the car.  This one definitely deserves a return visit on a clearer day, and maybe even a trip down the ridge to Cat Mountain as well.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

XC Skiing - Saratoga Spa State Park

Every winter, the Environmental Clearinghouse (ECOS) holds Tuesday morning ski trips to various places in the local area.  Most of these locations are decided on the fly a few days before, based on snow conditions and some pre-scouting by volunteers.  But the first trip every year begins at the warming hut at Saratoga Spa State Park, and adjourns there afterwards for hot drinks, snacks and socializing.  Today was the day for that trip, and the kickoff of the season.

The day dawned very cold and clear, and we were a little concerned that the previously thawed snow might be a little icy on the park's golf course, where tracks are set around a total of a 4-mile course.  The 40+ attendees split into three groups (fast, moderate, and not-so-fast), and headed off in several different directions from the warming hut.  Holly joined the moderate group, and I joined the fast group, doing the entire 4+ miles, at a pretty good clip.

Our route in orange
The tracks were hard and fast, even icy in spots, but there was just enough grip to get a good kick/glide going, and once your speed was up, it stayed up.  Golf course skiing is not my favorite, but being able to fly along like this is a real treat sometimes.  Our group covered the route in under two hours, including regrouping time, and then we all got back together at the warming for the apres-ski snacks and a roaring fire.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

XC Skiing - Clapper Hollow State Forest

Today, I led a ski trip for Schenectady ADK to Clapper Hollow State Forest, in southwestern Schoharie County.  It seems like a faraway place, but with I-88, it only takes an hour to get there, and at over 2,100 feet in elevation, the snow can be superb.

Another group had skied here earlier in the week, and I had gathered some intelligence from them about trails that would be pre-broken for us.  As it turned out, one of those people joined us today for a return trip.  Our goal was a lean-to on a small pond, where we'd have lunch, check the time, and decide what to do next.  Overall, we were only looking for 2-3 hours of skiing total for this early in everybody's season.

We left the cars, and skied trails 4-1-5-1-6, approaching the leanto from the north at about the 3.2-mile mark, where we stopped for a nice lunch break.  Then came the real fun.  One nice thing about this place is that the start of the day is a long uphill climb to a relatively flat hilltop, and then the run back to the cars is a long sweet mostly gentle downhill. 

We retraced our tracks, but opted to skip #4 on the way out, to stay within the comfort zones of some present, and exited by the longer gentler #1 instead.

The trails here are all numbered and easy to follow, provided you have a map like the one above, available in the ECOS publication Ski and Snowshoe Tips, available at several local bookstores in the Capital District.  It's also very easy to get turned around, especially without such a map.

The snow was great, and we had a good group, so this was a very enjoyable day.  More playing in this ephemeral snow will surely follow in the days to come.

Friday, January 4, 2013

XC Skiing - Schenectady County Forest

Between a tiring ski outing yesterday, and leading a Schenectady Chapter ADK ski trip tomorrow, Holly and I got out for a short leisurely ski around the Schenectady County Forest, near Mariaville this afternoon.  There are several loop possibilities here, and we chose the longest one, which takes somewhat less than an hour.  The snow was still excellent, and the trails had been well-skied, making for a pleasant circuit through the snowy woods.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

XC Skiing - Huyck Preserve, Rensselaerville, NY

Two skiers.  Under three miles.  Over two hours.  Beautiful new trail.  Over a foot of unbroken powder.  Exhausted.

Our route in green, starting at the upper left corner
Friend Roy and I arrived at the Huyck Preserve Visitor Center a little after 12:30 today, hoping to ski several of the loops north of Lake Myosotis.  But we really wanted to get to the brand new northernmost loop, which we'd heard was the best of the bunch.  The Building and Grounds Supervisor, Adam, suggested that we follow him in his truck up a couple of local roads to the far end of that loop, and he would plow out a parking space for us.  Thanks, Adam!  As it turned out, it was the only way we ever could have reached that loop this afternoon.

We parked at the corner of Peasley and Wood Roads where Adam had plowed us out a space.  Heading downhill from there along unplowed Wood Road, we reached the trailhead shortly after crossing a stream, and set off CCW around the loop.  Climbing steadily at first through a pristine 12+ inches of new snow, it soon became apparent that my waxless skis  were getting no grip whatsoever when climbing through this fluffy stuff.  That left it to Roy to break trail whenever we were going uphill.

When we reached the top, I headed down first, at least giving Roy a nice ride in my tracks.  Reaching the stream at the bottom, we followed it as it meandered through a shallow rocky gorge.  This was the prettiest part of the loop.

Reaching a bridge, we entertained thoughts about skiing over to Loop #2 and seeing if the trail there had been broken.  But starting up the 0.1-mile uphill connector, we quickly changed our minds and turned back across the bridge.  Now we had a choice.  Should we return in our tracks the way we'd come, and actually enjoy some skiing?  Or should we continue on around the loop so we'd get to see the whole thing?  Being gluttons for punishment, we chose the latter.  I tried to help out with the trailbreaking where the terrain and my slippery skis allowed it, but Roy was definitely doing the bulk of the work.

After a short steep climb and a gradual downhill to another stream, we turned to the west and followed the trail along the stream and back out to the road.  From there, it was a short uphill back to the car.

This trail is really a very nice loop, and would have been even more spectacular if the trail had already been broken.  And now it is.  So, fellow skiers, head out to the corner of Peasley and Wood Roads in Rensselaerville, and give this trail a try.  You'll definitely like it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

XC Skiing - Featherstonhaugh State Forest

Yesterday, I got out for a couple hours of skiing at nearby Featherstonhaugh State Forest, near Mariaville.

I parked on Hardin Road, and skied up the west side of the figure-8 trail system on that side of the road, then crossed the road and skied the other longer loop CCW.  The figure-8 loops had been broken after the first larger storm, but the newer 6" was pristine until I broke it out.  The crossover from those loops to the main loop had not been skied yet at all, and I was slogging along breaking trail in well over a foot of new snow.

I decided that if the main loop had not been broken, I would turn around and go back the way I'd come, since I was getting tired already.  Fortunately, other skiers had broken out the main loop, and despite numerous wet areas to avoid, I actually did some kicking and gliding here.  Beavers had flooded the trail in a couple of places, so some minor bushwhacking was in order there as well.

On the return across the road, I broke out the east side of the southern figure-8 loop, but climbed back up the ridge on the final loop to enjoy one last downhill before the car in my tracks from earlier.

It was a tiring outing, and I'm taking today off.