December 2016 - CROSS COUNTRY SKIING
By Rich Macha
With some good snow before Thanksgiving, the 2016-17 ski season has started out somewhat better than last season and I’m hoping this winter brings us more snow and less rain than we experienced a year ago. Although I have some favorite routes in the New York Forest Preserve that I continue to revisit on skis, I do like to explore new places, and see what they have to offer both from a skiing standpoint as well as from a scenic perspective.
With the state’s completion of the purchase of the former Finch, Pruyn & Company lands we do have some interesting new routes and destinations to investigate. This year’s purchases have yet to be classified by the Adirondack Park Agency and public comments and suggestions are being accepted through December 30 of this year (see below). Most of the lands will end up classified as either Wilderness or Wild Forest – the former allows no motorized or mechanized travel, while the latter classification could allow for snowmobile use in winter if the Department of Environmental Conservation decides that is appropriate. DEC will put together a Unit Management Plan, then seek comments from the public before finalizing the plan. Since that might not happen for another year or two, DEC usually will have an Interim Access Plan, which will determine how we can access these lands. The two tracts that will be of most interest to skiers are the Boreas Ponds and MacIntyre West.
BOREAS PONDS – This fall, the APA has been conducting hearings and has been accepting comments as to how this large area will be classified – some folks are looking for easier access to the scenic ponds while others desire more wilderness with more difficult access. For winter users, the classification/UMP process will determine if snowmobiles will be allowed on Gulf Brook Road, the 6.8-mile dirt/gravel road that leads to the dam at the ponds’ outlet, where the view of the High Peaks is absolutely stunning. I have hiked to and canoed the ponds twice but have yet to visit them in winter.
For this winter, skiers and snowshoers will have to park off Blue Ridge Road at the beginning of Gulf Brook Road, so the round-trip mileage will be in the 14-mile range – good for novice skiers who are in good shape. The trip will be more about the destination than the journey – for the first 5.8 miles there is not much scenic variety – you might notice a leased camp or two along the way. The terrain is similar to the road into Camp Santanoni with some gentle changes in elevation and, like Camp Santanoni, the road should be skiable with as little as five inches of snow. Net elevation gain to the ponds is about 300 feet, but with some ups and downs cumulative elevation gain will be closer to 700 feet.
At the 5.8-mile mark the road crosses over a dam that creates LaBier Flow, an impoundment of the Boreas River – there are some nice mountain views here. You then climb away from the dam then bear right at a junction and pass a hunting camp that purportedly is the oldest standing building in the town of North Hudson. Bearing right at another junction you soon arrive at the Boreas Ponds dam. While the view from the dam is quite good, the view from the ponds is better; so if the ice looks safe (the ice near the dam is likely to be thin) I would ski out onto First Pond for superlative views that range from the North River Mountains to the west, Boreas Mountain to the east, and Allen, Marcy, Gothics, Dix and other High Peaks in between.
Note that the leased camps in this tract will be removed in 2018 and, until that time, camp lessees will be allowed to use snowmobiles to access their camps; however, the general public will not be allowed in on snowmobiles.
MACINTYRE WEST – The MacIntyre West Tract is located in the town of Newcomb and abuts the High Peaks Wilderness Area. The APA is proposing a Wilderness classification for this tract, adding it to the High Peaks Wilderness Area. Last winter the Tahawus area south of the High Peaks had some of the best snow cover in the Adirondacks and I was able to ski the MacIntyre West tract twice on over a foot of snow. Like the Boreas Ponds area, there are a number of leased camps in here that will be removed in 2018, so some light snowmobile use may be noted.
Start from a large parking area at the Bradley Pond trailhead that hikers use to begin a climb up the Santanoni Range – this is on the west side of County Route 25 (Upper Works Road). A gated dirt road, the Upper Road, goes west then southwest for over four miles into the heart of the tract. Hikers heading for the Santanoni Range make a right off the road at the 1.8-mile mark; skiers can keep going straight on the road (no trail markers last winter), going over a bridge, and passing by another gate. Last winter I found a map in a box on the right that really helped in exploring the area – the trail names I use here are taken from this map.
Bear left at an intersection as the road climbs moderately, gaining 600 feet in about three miles; ignore any right turns. At about the four-mile mark, a left turn leads past some camps and the route then becomes more trail-like than road-like. Lake Andrew is reached 0.7 miles from the junction and makes for a good lunch or rest spot; Mount Andrew rises up to the northeast. From the lake, the Sucker Brook Trail continues in a south-southwest direction, and connects with other trails. Skiing back to the Upper Road junction there is a great view of the slides on Santanoni Peak. It’s a fast, mostly downhill run back to the trailhead that reminds me somewhat of the ski down the Lake Road on the return from Lower Ausable Lake in St. Huberts.
Instead of turning left at the Upper Road’s four-mile junction you can go straight for a bit then turn right; you will soon come to a dead-end clearing with a view of the twin slides on Santanoni Peak. Further, on the Upper Road you will see a fork left – this is the Bowl Trail that climbs fairly steeply then drops and connects to more trails in the south end of the tract.
Instead of turning left on the Bowl Trail you can continue bearing right to the Doodle Bug Trail, which crosses the “Troll Bridge” and soon drops to the southwest – truly adventurous skiers can find a route to Newcomb Lake, just make sure you are prepared for a long day if you try it! For now, at least, don’t expect any signs or markers to ease the route-finding – the Lake, Bowl and Doodle Bug trails are a step or two more challenging than the Upper Road, and require solid intermediate backcountry ski touring skills – even in the best of snow conditions.
MACINTYRE EAST – The MacIntyre East Tract is on the east side of County Route 25. A dirt/gravel road, the Opalescent Road, heads east then northeast through the tract. Unfortunately, the road passes through some private land at the 1.75-mile mark, and that is as far as the general public can currently travel. However, if you would like to get a good look at the Opalescent River there is a flat easy-to-ski trail that follows the river for about a mile.
Access the dirt Opalescent Road at a large sign for the Opalescent Hunting Club. The road immediately passes over a gated bridge that crosses over the Hudson River. Ski 0.3 miles along the road then look for an unmarked trail on the left. This trail soon reaches the shore of the scenic Opalescent River and can be followed upstream to a railroad bridge – from the bridge there are nice views of river and mountains in both directions. The trail does continue but is hillier and soon arrives at private land back on the dirt road.
OK SLIP FALLS – OK Slip Falls has already become a popular hiking destination. In winter, any new snowfall should soon be broken out by snowshoers and skiers. The trailhead is on the north side of NY Route 28 halfway between North Creek and Indian Lake.
The route to the falls starts out on the trail to Ross, Whortleberry and Big Bad Luck ponds and follows that trail for a half-mile. A right turn on a new blue-marked trail leads you through pleasant woods and the occasional meadow – the undulating terrain is best for intermediate skiers. After two miles the trail reaches a dirt road – take a left on this road then soon a right along a wide trail for over half-a-mile. As you approach the top of the falls the trail gets fairly steep – consider taking your skis off and walking the rest of the way.
In winter, the top of the falls will be an impressive combination of ice and rushing water. You will not be able to see a lot of the falls’ 250-foot drop to the Hudson River. The full drop can be seen from Kettle Mountain on the other side of the Hudson River – a very rewarding trail-less ski trip in itself.
Just a reminder here that whenever you are heading out into the wilds for more than an hour that you should bring with you some extra clothing and food as well as a headlamp. Other items to have along are a whistle, map, compass, hand-warmers, a first-aid kit, a multi-tool with knife and screwdrivers, fire-making items and a scraper. Let’s hope for a snowy winter!
The APA will accept written comment on the 2016-17 Classification Package through December 30, 2016. Please address all written comments on this matter to: Kathleen Regan, Deputy Director of Planning, Adirondack Park Agency, PO Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977. Or by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rich Macha (email@example.com) is an avid wilderness cross country skier and paddler. He has spent 20 years in the XC ski and paddlesport business and has led many ski trips for the Albany Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club.