Tuesday, February 26, 2013

XC Skiing - Return to the amazing Rockwood State Forest

After I made a scouting trip to Rockwood State Forest yesterday, the decision was made for the ECOS weekly XC ski outing to return there today.  It was slightly warmer yesterday morning when I was there, so the snow today was a little crunchier and faster than yesterday.  Despite that, we managed to avoid most of the really steep hills and spent a couple of hours on flatter terrain, and occasionally testing our downhill skills on some easier slopes. 

We had to do some out-and-back skiing on some trails to keep it safe for everybody, but skiing is skiing, and it's been a scarce commodity this winter. 

Rockwood continues to surprise and delight us.  With almost no snow in Johnstown just a few miles away, the additional elevation here seems to make all the difference.  And from what we saw today, it will be here for quite a while longer.

Monday, February 25, 2013

XC Skiing - Rockwood State Forest

Tomorrow is the ECOS weekly XC ski outing, and I've agreed to lead it.  So, with the only known nearby skiable snow at Rockwood State Forest, I headed back today to make sure that the weekend weather and walkers hadn't trashed the skiing.

Started skiing at 9:30am, temp 34 after a low in the mid-20s, so much like tomorrow will be.  There's plenty of snow, a little crunchy but not icy, and much better than when ECOS was last there on snowshoes a couple of weeks ago.  The ski tracks were mostly intact everywhere I went.  Definitely skiable, though the conditions are nowhere near as good as Holly and I found there last week.

I stayed off the big hills, which I think would be a little too exciting with this snow, but there's enough terrain there that we'll be able to do loops and out-and-backs without hitting anything too threatening.  It may be the only "nearby" skiing choice at this point.

So, tomorrow, we'll go back and do it again, before the bottom really falls out on Tuesday night and Wednesday, with all kinds of mixed precipitation falling from the sky.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Hiking - Pinnacle, near Bleecker, NY

On Saturday, I joined a Schenectady ADK outing to climb a mountain named simply "Pinnacle", in the southern Adirondacks.  There's no trail to its wooded summit, so after a short piece of old road, this would be a bushwhack most of the way.

Our route
Nine of us left the parking area at the end of Pinnacle Road, and climbed the old road in about 8-10" of fresh snow.  Leaving the road, we climbed steeply, avoiding several cliffs, up to a ridge, and followed it to the summit, where we had a brief lunch/snack break.

The descent down the NW side was a little trickier, since the cliffs we'd had to pick our way through on the ascent were now below us and invisible until we arrived at the edge.  After exploring a bit, we found a steep chute that allowed a safe butt-first descent.  Following a valley, we came upon some spectacular and colorful ice formations on cliffs above us to the right (see green dot on map above).  This was a good place for another snack break.

Continuing our descent through now over a foot of new snow, we reached a frozen beaver pond, and followed the edge of it, and then its outlet, back to the old road we started in on.  This was tough going at times, with deep snow and buried ditches that ensnared a couple of us, our snowshoes breaking through the thin ice below.

Once we reached the old road again, it was a straightforward march on tired legs back to the cars.  Pie a la mode and hot coffee at the nearby home of one of the hikers topped off a great day.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

XC skiing and moonlight snowshoeing - Enjoying winter while it lasts

With some lake-effect snow blowing off Lake Ontario with high winds the past few days, one of our favorite places to ski apparently picked up some significant snow.  So today we headed off to Rockwood State Forest yet again, and arrived to find 6-8" of soft new fluffy snow atop the older 8-10" firm base.  That made for some pretty fantastic skiing conditions.  Only a few other people had already been out, followed by a dog walker or two co-opting those nice ski tracks. But the snow was so nice, we didn't care.  The big downhills were manageable and enjoyable for the first time this year.  Too bad there may be some sloppy weather coming in again over the weekend.

The weather was clearing by late afternoon when we arrived home, and by 6pm skies were  crystal clear.  Moonlight snowshoeing would go as planned!  By the time we all met at 7:00, some clouds had moved in and it was flurrying, but we were all dressed up, so decided to take our chances.  At the trailhead, all was clear again, for about 5 minutes.  But even the milky moon provided a good deal of light, so off we went.  We visited the beaver dam and the tree I'd found yesterday, and occasionally had a moment or two of bright unimpeded moonlight.  But then it socked in almost completely, and robbed us of the experience we'd hoped for.  So much for the "mostly clear" forecast.  Still, it was the first time we'd been able to do this trip in almost 2 years of no snow, so we enjoyed it despite the semi-darkness.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Snowshoeing - Featherstonhaugh State Forest

With my monthly moonlight snowshoe outing coming up this week, I needed to visit Featherstonhaugh State Forest to see what the snow conditions were like, and whether this trip would be going at all.  Surprisingly, there was still a fair amount of snow at this 1200' elevation less than 30 minutes from home.  I even saw some fresh ski tracks in the 1/2" of fresh snow that had fallen overnight.  The base was crunchy underneath, and the trails were hard-packed and much better suited to snowshoes.  I wandered to do some exploring off-trail several times into the somewhat softer deeper, but still crunchy, snow.  Near the new beaver pond, I found this specimen:

A LOT of work went into getting to that point, but those guys seem really determined, as this wasn't the only one I saw.  Not sure what they plan to do with them once they're down, but it's fun to see this going on anyway.

So, the bottom line is that if tomorrow night stays clear in the early evening, we'll be returning here by moonlight for a very different experience.  Last winter's trips like this never happened due to lack of snow, and this winter hasn't been much better.  Fingers are crossed that we'll finally get one in.

Friday, February 15, 2013

XC Skiing - Lapland Lake XC Ski Center

Desperate times call for desperate measures.  With all of the free areas to XC ski in the local area, we rarely pay to go skiing in the somewhat artificial environment of a commercial XC ski center.  But with both the winter we had last year and again this year, local skiable snow has been a little hard to come by.  So today, Holly and I headed off to Lapland Lake, a ski center north of Northville, just over an hour from home. 

The nice thing about these places, and especially Lapland Lake, is that the trails are impeccably groomed, allowing for lots of kicking and gliding and some really nice downhill runs.  And a delicious lunch here at the Tuulen Tupa Grill is another advantage over a cold sandwich out somewhere in the woods.  Still I prefer making my own way in a more natural setting.  Except when there's nowhere nearby to do that.  Like today.  So we sucked it up, paid the trail fee, and got in a couple of good hours of skiing and a nice lunch. 

We desperately need some snow, or it might as well be spring.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

More XC Skiing and back to biking - Time to catch up here

After the great skiing last weekend, Monday's mixed precipitation "event" left conditions quite a bit less desirable.  Nevertheless, the Tuesday morning ECOS XC ski outing went on as usual.  We spent two hours skiing around Featherstonhaugh State Forest, near Mariaville, in conditions that were fair to good, but we were thankful the terrain was mostly flat.  The minor downhills were much slicker and trickier than usual, but it was a good outing.

I'm scheduled to lead a ski trip on Saturday, at Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center, in Rensselaer County.  This place tends to get a LOT of snow, but still I wondered what that snow would be like after the recent foul weather.  So today I drove up there, with the skis in the car, to check it out ahead of time.  The skis stayed in the car.  There was, indeed, a ton of snow, but the surface was pretty crunchy.  That's not a good thing here where the ski trails are actually narrow hiking trails, and very few of them are exactly flat or straight.  Unless we get some significant fresh snow before the weekend to improve things, I will be cancelling this trip.

When I got home, since I was dressed for outdoors anyway, I dragged out the bike and pedalled a leisurely 8+ miles on the snow-free bike path in Niskayuna and Colonie.  Last year, I biked in 11 of 12 months, and this year, I'm hoping to hit them all.  January and February are now covered.  I'd rather be skiing, but it just seems not to be for the near future.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

XC Skiing - Return to the Pine Bush

Great skiing only 15 minutes from my house.  This is what winter is supposed to be like!  After a great outing on the Great Dune trails yesterday with Holly, I returned there alone today to ski some of the other loops we'd missed.

Yesterday, we had skied the red and blue loops shown above.  Today I skied the outer yellow loop, and took a side trip to another connected loop near the Woodlake complex at the end of Madison Avenue Extension.

The trails were a little more beat up than yesterday, but the snow was still very nice.  The yellow loop had seen less walker traffic than some of the other trails.

On the outer yellow loop
Tomorrow, unfortunately, it looks like this all goes to hell, with all kinds of winter mixed precipitation falling from the sky.  If we don't lose this paltry snow altogether, it will certainly be a lot different from the perfect stuff of the last two days.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

XC Skiing - Albany Pine Bush Preserve

Well, "Winter Storm Nemo" didn't do us any favors around here, dropping a measly 6" of new snow over the existing bare ground.  That's not enough to cover the rocks and roots in most local preserves, but the Pine Bush, with its miles of old smooth sand roads, might just be a good place to try.  So Holly and I headed over to the end of Willow Street in Guilderland to check it out.

There were plenty of other skiers and snowshoers out today enjoying the new snow, and the skiing was about as good as it gets around here.  We skied a big clockwise loop using the red and blue trails, roughly 3 miles, with some interesting ups and downs, especially on the blue trail.  The only place where the snow seemed a little thin was just west of the stream crossing on the red trail, an uphill for us, and definitely a better idea that way, with a few rocks and stumps showing through.

Monday looks like a sleet/freezing rain/rain day, with temps in the low 40s, so best to get out and enjoy this snow now.  I may even be going back tomorrow.

Friday, February 8, 2013

XC Skiing - Annual Vermont getaway

For about 20 years now, Holly and I have been spending a few days every winter in the Londonderry/Weston area of southern Vermont.  For most of those years, we've been returning to the Landgrove Inn, an old Vermont inn with lots of charm, and hidden away in the small community of Landgrove.  There are no paved roads in Landgrove, and it's about as rural as it gets.  It's a quiet place to spend a few days away and get in some XC skiing and snowshoeing, even if, like this year, we have no snow at home.

Upon arrival, our first outing was to the Wild Wings XC Center, in nearby Peru.  This is an old-time cross-country center, classic skiing only (no skating), and is located in something of a snow bowl that gets and holds more snow than the surrounding area.  Skiing was a little crunchy underneath, but with enough fresh snow to make the conditions at least fair to good over most parts of the trails we skied.

After a great dinner back at the Landgrove, some quiet reading by the fire filled out the rest of the evening.

The next morning, temps were pretty cold, so we made a trip to the Vermont Country Store, in nearby Weston.  I'm not much of a shopper, but it's easy to spend an hour wandering the aisles here looking at all of the unique hard-to-find items for sale.

In the afternoon, we decided to ski up Forest Road 21 to Mad Tom Notch.  Here, the road intersects the Appalachian and Long Trails on the ridge between Bromley Mountain and Stiles Peak.

It's a gradual uphill climb, but the downhill run back to the car is especially sweet.  The road was firmly packed by snowmobiles with just enough fresh snow on top to let us feel safe and in control.  This trip was over so quickly that we stopped at the Hapgood Pond Recreation Area on the way back to Landgrove to add on a little snowshoeing.  Dinner at the Swiss Inn and more reading finished off another great day.  

Today, we got an early start toward home, with Winter Storm Nemo (stupid idea, Weather Channel!) heading our way.  Looks like we may have some local skiing for a while, at least until possible rain messes it up again after the weekend...

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Snowshoeing - ECOS weekly XC ski outing

Every winter, ECOS holds a weekly Tuesday morning XC ski outing at a local nature preserve or state forest.  This year, responsibility for finding skiable snow nearby is rotating among several different leaders, and this week was my turn.  Not looking good.

Over the weekend, I drove quite a few miles visiting 6-8 possible areas, but only one looked at all promising on paper.  So, on Sunday, friends (and co-leader) Roy, Sue, and I headed to Rockwood State Forest, west of Johnstown, uncertain of what we'd find.  Online snow maps implied 4-6" of old snow and an inch or two of new snow on top, and that's basically what we found.  We skied for about 90 minutes, testing a few of the smaller hills, but found conditions pretty slick and fast.  Knowing the makeup of the group we'd be leading, we recommended a snowshoe trip here on Tuesday instead of skiing.  And today was the day.

The day dawned sunny and seasonable, with temps around 20F and no wind, a perfect day to be out.  A total of 12-13 of us wandered the forest for about 2 hours, testing some of the bigger hills on snowshoes, and being glad we weren't on skis.

There's now some talk of a snowstorm later this week, and with this being the only nearby location with any snow base left, we'll be watching this storm closely and hoping for a return visit here when the snow is better.  4-6" of additional snow would make some very nice skiing here, so fingers are crossed.