December 2017 - BACKCOUNTRY SKIING
Skiing in the Central Adirondacks
An Old Favorite, Something Different but Scenic and Somewhat New
By Rich Macha
In most winters you can bet that the Blue Mountain Lake and Indian Lake areas of the Adirondack Park have good snow depths and above average skiing conditions. The Blue Mountain Lake area usually has a few inches more snow than Indian Lake, benefiting a little more from lake-effect snows. Here are three ideas for five to ten-mile backcountry tours in that region.
Stephens and Cascade Ponds
Starting from a pull-out on NY Routes 28/30 a little west of the entrance to Lake Durant State Campground, ski south on the Northville-Placid Trail and soon cross the outlet of Lake Durant. The trail proceeds on campground roads passing the new restroom/showers facility – wouldn’t it be nice if it was open and heated in mid-winter? The NPT soon veers left and starts looking more trail-like as you pass a gate and the sign-in register, now entering the Blue Ridge Wilderness Area.
The trail slowly gains elevation then levels out for a time. Two miles from the start you can leave the NPT and bushwhack south-southwest for a quarter-mile to the north end of Stephens Pond – you may find some flagging along the route to help you stay on track. Assuming we continue on the blue-marked NPT, the trail goes generally uphill to the junction with the Cascade Pond Trail. Bearing right here, and leaving the NPT, it’s about a mile to the pond. Look for the lean-to on the left. This is a very nice spot for a break.
If you continue on the trail past the lean-to, you will soon arrive at the pond’s outlet. A narrow log bridge spans the brook above a small falls, and I find it easier and less scary to ski out onto the lake from the lean-to, and well away from the outlet if I desire to continue past the outlet. The ice is usually safe in winter, but less so near inlets and outlets, and by skiing to the south part of the lake you get a good view to the northeast of Blue Mountain with its rocky scars. A few winters back, I paused near the outlet and observed an otter feeding, repeatedly going down into a hole in the ice, and coming back up onto a rock next to the hole.
You can continue on the Cascade Pond Trail down to the west end of Lake Durant, then ski across the lake to loop back to the start, but that part of the trail has a couple of steeper sections that are best for advanced level ski tourers. So, from Cascade Lake, we ski back to the junction with the NPT and follow that south 0.6 miles, down to Stephens Pond. There could be some open streamlets at the bottom of some hills, so ski under control. Look for the lean-to on the left. The lake is not visible from the lean-to so I usually find a nice spot nearby at lakeside to take a break.
If you decide to ski out onto the lake look to the southwest for a view of Blue Ridge and beware of thin ice to the east side of the island in the south part of the pond. You now have the option to return via the NPT, with some uphill sections at first, but some nice downhills back to the campground. Or, from the north end of Stephens Pond, you can take the off-trail route north-northeast and regain your tracks on the NPT. Either way, you would have skied seven to nine miles with elevations in the 1,800-2,200 feet range – and enjoyed some nice scenery!
Indian Lake and John Mack Pond
Long crossings over lakes usually don’t appeal to me, but this one has some excellent views along the way. Some snowmobile traffic may be encountered, especially on weekends. Look for a plowed pull-out on the east side of NY Route 30, a short distance north of the boat launch entrance. Ski down through the woods and you are soon at the shoreline of Indian Lake’s southwest arm.
Head northeast past Poplar Point, then cross over to the east shore. Pass south of Long Island, then around another point, and turn southeast into John Mack Bay. On a clear day, from the east side of Long Island, there are great views north to the distant High Peaks. In John Mack Bay, look for campsite #27 in a cove on the northeast shore. The trail to John Mack Pond starts behind this campsite. You are now in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area and shouldn’t see any snowmobiles. The 1.6-mile ski to the pond is best for intermediate skiers as the trail gains 200 feet at first then drops 100 feet to the secluded pond. To the northeast, Kunjamuk Mountain rises steeply 1,200 feet above the pond.
On the ski back, the views of Snowy Mountain, rising over 2,200 feet above the lake, are awesome. The round-trip should be close to nine miles.
John and Clear Ponds
I’ve skied the trail to John Pond several times. It has always made for a good easy warm-up trip early in the season and does not need a lot of snow to make it skiable. Now there is a new 1.3 mile section of trail linking John Pond to the Clear Pond trail.
From Wilderness Lane in the town of Indian Lake, the yellow trail to John Pond in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area follows an old road, and is fairly easy skiing. A short side-trip leads to the graves of two children that died of diphtheria in the late 1800s; you also get a view of Bullhead Mountain. At the 2.2-mile mark, a red trail goes straight another 0.1 miles to John Pond and its lean-to. A ridge with rocky ledges rises almost 500 feet up from the pond’s west shore.
Go back to the junction, take a left and continue on the new yellow trail going over rolling terrain. After 1.1 miles the new trail parallels the southwest shore of Clear Pond, then reaches a red-marked spur to the right, which soon leads to a rocky area next to the pond’s outlet. You can continue looping on the yellow trail reaching Wilderness Lane in about a mile – this section drops 200 feet and is very rocky, needing well over a foot of snow to make for good skiing. It is then a brief ski along the edge of Wilderness Lane to your car, for a round-trip of about five miles. If there is less than a foot of snow, you could ski to Clear Pond and return via John Pond the way you came, and enjoy skiing in your tracks back to the car for a trip of over seven miles.
Let’s hope for a snowy winter!
Rich Macha (email@example.com) of Albany is an avid wilderness cross country skier and paddler. He has spent 20 years in the XC ski and paddlesports business and has led many ski trips for the Albany Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club.