Lake George

Lake George
Lake George - from Tongue Mtn Range - 11/11/2011

Saturday, February 28, 2015

XC Ski - E. Branch Sacandaga Trail - Siamese Ponds Wilderness - 2/28/15

In the last few years, the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area has become increasingly popular with cross country skiers.  This is due in part to the network of trails that includes the Botheration Loop and the Raymond Brook Ski Trail.  These trails were designed as ski trails and were well planned.  Skiers obviously appreciate the network as can be witnessed by the skier traffic in the area. 

Other trails have been around for years as old roads turned into trails.  The East Branch Sacandaga Trail in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness has been around for over a hundred years.  A jeep road is shown on the 1885 topo map of the area.  This trail now runs from the Old Farm Road near Thirteenth Lake and goes 11 miles to Route 8 just south of Eleventh Mountain.  It follows the East Branch Sacandaga River until the last mile and a half or so when it leaves the river to make its way to Route 8.    

Signs at the summer parking area 

Sign in kiosk and the intersection with the NW corner of the Botheration Loop

Last night I was contemplating where to ski today.  I wanted a fairly long ski but I didn't want to break trail in 2 feet of powder and I didn't want to be on a trail that was hard packed from a lot of skier traffic.  The East Branch Sacandaga Trail seemed like a good bet.  It doesn't get a lot of traffic, but there was a good chance it was broken out since its been a couple weeks since the last big snow.

I parked at the Old Farm winter trailhead with hopes of skiing 7 miles to the Sacandaga lean-to and then return.

Great ski conditions along the trail

As expected, the first 1.1 miles was hard packed snow until I got past the SW portion of the Botheration Loop, but even this snow wasn't bad for skiing.  As I got past the Puffer Pond Trail at 1.2 miles I found the E. Branch Sacandaga trail had been skied on recently by 2 skiers.  Perfect; the trail was broken yet still soft snow.

By going north to south I had more downhill on the way to the lean-to.  After a slow climb to the 2.4 mile mark, the trail drops almost 300 feet over the next mile.  I had good ski conditions, so this stretch did not present a problem, but  it can be fast if the snow is firm.   At the bottom of the downhill run, the trail comes alongside the river.         

East Branch Sacandaga River

At 4.5 miles the trail crosses the river on a bridge.  My dog Rev was a little timid about crossing the bridge, but she followed me after I went across.  Once across this bridge, the trail is quite level all the way to the lean-to.

The bridge crossing 4.5 miles south of Old Farm Road 
At 5.4 miles, there is a small bridge crossing over Cross Brook.  Rev took the lead this time.

At 7.1 miles we reached the Sacandaga lean-to.  It is located at a 90 degree bend in the river.  A large suspension bridge provides access to the other side for those wishing to continue on to Siamese Ponds.  I crossed the bridge just to take some pictures then came back.  Rev actually came out on the bridge with me. 

The large suspension bridge at the lean-to 

After a cold -15 degree start to the day, I could tell that it was beginning to warm up nicely.  I sat in the lean-to and had some food and drink.  Rev had some treats.

The lean-to is starting to show its age, but is in no structural danger at present.  I first saw the lean-to 31 years ago, so its doing OK.  It sits close to the river, so if and when it needs work, I'm sure it will be moved further inland, as it current practice.

Sacandaga Lean-to

On the way back, I took a detour to follow some ski tracks and orange ribbons (see loop below on the map).  The tracks followed what perhaps at one time was a path or an old tote road.  After going up and over a small bump, I followed the tracks down the other side.  At the bottom, the tracks turned south and the orange ribbons headed north.  I wanted to go north, so I broke trail for a half mile before connecting with the Puffer Pond Trail.  The woods were open, but the snow was deep, so breaking trail was slow.  Once on the Puffer Trail, I was quick in getting back to the car.  Rev and I didn't see a person all day, although 6 other cars were in the parking lot when I left.  It looks like all were on the Botheration Loop, or at Hour Pond.

Ski Stats:
Ski Distance:  16 miles
Ski Time:  6 hours
Total Vertical Gain:  ~1200'
Max Grade:  16.6 %
Avg Grade:  3.1 %

The elevation isn't quite symmetrical due to the bushwhack on the way back

The route on the Nat Geo map

Sunday, February 22, 2015

XC Ski - Tirrell Pond - Blue Mountain Wild Forest - 2/22/15

Many years ago, the Northville Placid Trail from Route 28 to Tirrell Pond was the very first xc ski trip I ever did in the Adirondacks.  I won't say when this was, but suffice to say, it was a long time ago.  I hadn't been back since until today, when my wife Leesa and I took the same trip.  Tirrell Pond has a bit of history to it, and there used to be quite a few buildings there.  None of them remain.  Only 2 lean-tos grace the shores of Tirrell Pond now.

There is a parking pulloff on Route 28/30 and a trailhead sign marking the start of the trail.  It was 20 degrees when we started out and temps were predicted to rise to 30 degrees, the warmest day in a month.  It was also supposed to be cloudy all day, but we were blessed with a lot of sunshine.

Tirrell has 2 "L's, but the distances were good 

No one had been on the trail since last nights 2" of snow, and that was all that was covering a nice base; perfect for xc skiing.  The snow was nice and powdery until the strong sun caused the snow to stick a little to our skis.  We stopped about 2 miles in to scrape the bottoms and add a little glide wax. We were fine after that.  

Conditions couldn't be better

Rev led the way
We were surprised that we didn't see another person all day.  With the perfect conditions that existed, we expected to see people out and about.  The recent snowshoe tracks that we followed early on, turned around after about 2.5 miles.  After that, we had to work a little had to ski through about 6" of snow on top of the old base.  

When we reached the pond, I saw an outhouse on our left, but I missed the sign on our right indicating the direction of the O'Neil lean-to (it is located in a different area then when I was last here).

We started skiing north along the west side of the pond and we skied out onto the frozen surface when we got the chance.  The wind was blowing south along the pond so we re-entered the woods to head towards the Tirrell lean-to at the NW corner of the pond. 

Tirrell Mountain from Tirrell Pond

At the lean-to, we stopped for some food and hot chocolate.  For the return trip, we went out on the pond to ski south the length of the pond with the wind at our backs.  The sun was still out and it was a joy to be out on the frozen pond.

Tirrell lean-to ... and Rev struggling to walk in the unconsolidated snow

Tirrell lean-to

Looking south along the pond 

Rev out on the pond waiting for us

Leesa enjoyed the unexpected sunshine and warmer weather 

Once we got to the south end, I went to take a look at the O' Neil lean-to while Leesa got a head start on the trail back.

Looking north towards Tirrell Pond from the outlet

the O'Neil lean-to

An artist has been at work...

We had been poking along during the day, but it was time to "make tracks" and head back to the car. There were two nice long glides that aided our progress.  In any case, it was 4 PM when we got back, but we both thoroughly enjoyed the day.  There probably won't be too many more in this winter season.

Heading out...

The old sign almost blends in with the tree

O'Neil Flow

Ski Stats:
Ski Distance:  9.5 miles
Ski Time:  5 hours
Total Vertical Gain:  ~700'

The route and corresponding elevation profile

The route on the Nat Geo map

Saturday, February 21, 2015

XC Ski - Essex Chain of Lakes - Fifth Lake to Eighth Lake Loop - 2/21/15

The Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area is the latest addition to the State Forest Preserve and has been a welcome addition to the Adirondack Park, especially for paddlers.  The series of lakes have easy access with short carries between them.  Designated campsites have been established and an interim use plan has been established until the Unit Management Plan is drafted and adopted. 

Snowmobilers, skiers and hikers also have options for various loops around the lakes.   Today we took the opportunity to go to the east end of the Goodnow Road and XC ski the Chain Lakes Road to an old logging road and we looped around Fifth Lake through Eighth Lake (see map below).  

Trailhead sign.  A small parking lot is 0.1 miles north

Snowmobiles had been on the Chain Lakes Road, but at 1.25 miles when we turned right on a logging road, the snowmobile tracks were covered in 4-6 inches of snow.  At 2.6 miles we turned right again on another logging road to go around the north side of Sixth Lake and Fifth Lake en route to a counter clockwise loop around the lakes.  These logging roads are not marked, so if you choose to explore this area, make sure you bring a good map perhaps a GPS unit.

Sixth Lake Mountain
The sky was overcast, and we were skiing in advance of an afternoon snow storm that was predicted by mid-afternoon.  After an hour and a half and 3.7 miles, we reached Sixth Lake.  The logging road does not go the the waters edge, but you can easily make your way a couple hundred yards to the water.

Sixth Lake
At 4.6 miles, we could see the larger Fifth Lake.  We chose not to ski across the frozen lakes but rather stay on the logging roads.     

Easy skiing on old logging roads with very little grade change

At the west end of Fifth Lake we turned south to start our loop, rather than continue west towards Third Lake.  Soon we came to a small culvert that connects Fifth Lake to Fourth Lake.

Polaris Mountain in the distance from the west end of Fifth Lake

After crossing the culvert we continued to break the old snowmobile trail on the logging road which was now heading in a SE direction.  At our next junction we were reunited with a fresh snowmobile track.  We never did see any snowmobiles during the day, but it was nice to ski on a fresh track. 

Fourth Lake and the outlet of the culvert

Leesa, after passing between 4th and 5th Lake 

Now that we were on a fresh track, we made good time closing the loop and getting back to the Chain Lakes Road.  Snow flakes were just beginning to fly.  We had good timing finishing our ski and getting back home before the roads got bad.

I didn't realize it until we got home and I looked at the DEC website, but there is a 4.2 mile Upper Hudson ski trail (lolipop route) that starts right near where we parked.   Next time we are in the area, we'll stop in to check it out.

Ski Stats:
Ski Distance:  10.5 miles
Ski Time:  4.5 miles
Total Vertical Gain:  ~650'

The route (click image to enlarge)

The route on the Nat Geo map (property owner shading is outdated)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Hoffman Notch Traverse - Hoffman Notch Wilderness - 2/16/15

The Hoffman Notch transverse seems to intrigue many people.  Everyone says to me "I've always wanted to do that trail".  If you look at a trail map, it sticks out like a sore thumb; a long straight line traversing the whole Hoffman Notch Wilderness from north to south.  There are not many other trails in the area, so it stands out even more on the map.  

Then people look at the logistics.  The trail is 7.4 miles long so a coordinated car spot is needed, unless you do a key swap or a down and back hike.  Then there are the amenities on the trail... Big Marsh; that's it.  No lean-to, no fancy lake, no fantastic summit view, just a marsh and a notch.

But maybe there is something there.  Solitude perhaps.  Yes, most definitely.  Even in summer, there is a good chance you will not see another hiker.  In winter, the odds grow greater.

So...our little group of 4 (Bill, Justin, Leesa and I) plus dog Rev set out in approximately -20 wind chill to do this traverse in winter.  We met at the former Frontier Town at 10:30 (hoping for a little added warmth to the day).  After dropping 2 days at the northern end of the trail on Blue Ridge Road, we got ourselves and the other 2 cars down to Loch Muller and the southern terminus of the trail.

After quickly organizing ourselves, we hit the trail and got into the woods and out of the wind.  Rev took her accustomed position in the lead and we were off.

Under 4-6" of snow was an old snowshoe track (probably mine from several weeks prior).  The going was easy and we swung into a rhythm.  At 1.2 miles we came to the junction with the Big Pond trail. This is where my old tracks turned off.  Still, there was another set of old tracks we followed north towards Big Marsh and Hoffman Notch.  I was hopeful (but doubtful) that the old tracks would continue all the way through the notch.  My doubts were soon realized when suddenly we were walking in 2 feet of unconsolidated snow.  The base formed by those old snow covered tracks had vanished.

No problem, we had 3 guys willing to take turns breaking trail.  The snow while deep, was fluffy and not heavy; that simplified our work.

We stopped at Big Marsh and all pulled out our cameras and took the same pictures, but we all quickly put our cameras away.  The wind was now hitting us from across the marsh.  We had to resume our movement to stay warm.   


Texas Ridge visible to the east 

Big Marsh, looking like a snowy tundra

Progress slowed as we broke trail in the deeper snow.  We were moving a little over a mile an hour.   It didn't really matter, we would still be out by dark unless something went wrong.  We also had plenty of headlamps and winter gear in our packs.

At 4.6 miles we reached the southern (high) end of the notch and began our descent into the notch. Shortly after we entered the notch we were once again greeted with snowshoes tracks underfoot; we no longer had to break trail!  Needless to say, our speed picked up on the packed trail that was headed downhill.

This looked like a hot tub!  It probably wouldn't have felt that way though.

Down in the notch, the sun was no longer able to shine on us and it felt a little colder.  We kept moving, crossing several nice foot bridges that have been constructed in recent years.

Near the end of the hike we caught up with a couple who had created the packed snowshoe track for us.  I thanked them as we passed.

I had expected this hike to take us about 4 hours.  It ended up being 45 minutes longer than that, mostly due to the trail breaking we had to do in the mid-section of the hike.  Reunited with 2 of our cars, we drove back around to the south to pick up the other two, then we stopped at our camp for some hot chocolate before Bill and Justin had to hit the road for the drive home.  Thanks guys for the nice hike today.  It was the first time I had done this traverse in winter. 

Our finish trailhead

Hike Stats:
Hike Distance:  7.4 miles (plus .2 from the snowplow turnaround to the summer trailhead)
Hike Time:  4 hours, 45 minutes
Total Vertical Gain:  ~ 560'  

The long straight route

We started at the left (S) and hiked north so the downhill was at the end 

The rouite on the Nat Geo map