August 2018 - HIKING & BACKPACKING
Banner image: Mt. Van Hoevenberg, High Peaks section. Erik Schlimmer
Trans Adirondack Route - 240 Miles of Backcountry Bliss
By Erik Schlimmer
The Adirondack Park is big. Or as a millennial might put it, “The Adirondack Park is, like, totally literally big.” No matter your understanding of grammar, “big” certainly defines a park that exceeds the combined acreage of Acadia, Bryce Canyon, Congaree, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion national parks. With such a big park comes big adventures, and the biggest of them all is the Trans Adirondack Route.
Established in 2013, this primitive pathway stretches 239 miles from the northern Blue Line in downtown Ellenburg to the southern Blue Line near the hamlet of Lassellsville by connecting approximately 185 miles of trails, 50 miles of roads, and five miles of trackless woods. The route is further broken into seven sections – Far North, Northern Mountains, High Peaks, Cold River Country, Lake Country, Big Wilderness and Foothills – each about 35 miles in length. Other numbers make the route just as inviting.
During a thru-hike, backpackers will explore three settlements, five wilderness areas, five ecological life zones, eight wild forests, 50 bodies of water, and hundreds of streams. At the end of each day, they’ll pick from among 50 shelters and scores of campsites for the night, or they can stay at any of the four campgrounds on or near the route. A thru-hike demands no fees, no permits, and backpackers can camp nearly anywhere they would like as long as their campsite is on state land and is at least 150 feet from trails, roads and water sources. The only unique regulation is that bear-resistant food canisters must be used when camping in the Eastern Zone of High Peaks Wilderness Area. This section of the route is approximately ten miles long. To avoid carrying a canister, simply pass through this zone in one day.
Regarding food resupply, packages can be mailed general delivery to any of the nine post offices on or near the route, or hikers can stop at any of the four grocery stores on or near the route. A great plan for southbound thru-hikers is to hike 130 miles from the northern Blue Line to Long Lake’s Northern Borne grocery store, and then tackle the remaining 110 miles to the southern Blue Line. Thru-hikes are best attempted during May, August, September and October. June and July seem too buggy (two failed thru-hikes took place during these two months), November through March too cold (no one has completed a winter traverse), and April too unpredictable (chalk up one failed thru-hike to deep spring snow and two others to torrential rain).
Overall, only 13 people have successfully thru-hiked the route, though at least 20 have tried. By comparison, the Vermont’s Long Trail sees about 150 thru-hikers a year, and the Appalachian Trail about 800. When Trans Adirondack Route thru-hikers number two, three and four – a trio fresh off an Appalachian Trail thru-hike – were asked what they liked best about the route, they gave a two-word answer, which says a lot about their Adirondack experience: “It’s wild.”
Yet “wild” isn’t always synonymous with “difficult.” Though prospective thru-hikers aren’t guaranteed a successful traverse of the Adirondack Park, the route does climb less than 25,000 vertical feet end-to-end, which isn’t much by Northeast standards. After all, the Long Trail is only 30 miles longer but climbs nearly triple the amount of vertical feet. Hopping from pond to lake to river to stream, the Trans Adirondack Route is content crossing just three summits: Catamount Mountain, Whiteface Mountain, and Mount Van Hoevenberg.
It may all sound good, yet the Trans Adirondack Route isn’t for everyone. If you are a backpacker who is described by others as timid and inexperienced, and lacks rock-solid environmental ethics and off-trail travel skills, then this route is not for you. On the other hand, if you are a backpacker who is described by others as independent, experienced, and Leave No Trace savvy, and who possesses strong off-trail travel skills, then the Trans Adirondack Route and you should get along quite well. It’s never a matter of if you’re tough enough – it’s a matter of if you and the Trans Adirondack Route are a good fit. But such is the spirit of this long-distance path and the Adirondack Mountains themselves – to be rugged, wild and pure. To be backcountry bliss when it’s all a good fit.
Trans Adirondack Route Commandments – 1) Thou shalt not rely on technological gizmos, 2) Thou shalt not carry a heavy pack, 3) Thou shalt not become lost, 4) Thou shalt not disrespect the woods, 5) Thou shalt not follow incompetent leaders, 6) Thou shalt not exceed one’s abilities, 7) Thou shalt follow Leave No Trace principles, 8) Thou shalt be nice, 9) Thou shalt stay dry, and 10) Thou shalt have fun.
Trans Adirondack Route Sampler Highlights – 1) Whiteface Mountain – fifth highest peak in New York, 2) Cold River – remote and scenic camping, 3) Cedar Lakes – lakeside lean-tos, 4) Avalanche Lake – highest body of water on the route, and 5) Catamount Mtn. – outstanding view.
Don’t leave home without it – 1) Lightweight shelter during summer, 2) Guidebook and map set, 3) Compass and the skill to use it, 4) Calorie-dense, durable foodstuffs, 5) Lightweight pack, 6) Lightweight sleeping bag, 7) Camera, 8) Rain gear, 9) Synthetic layers, and 10) Headlamp.
Erik Schlimmer is founding member of Friends of the Trans Adirondack Route and the author of a handful of Adirondack books, including Blue Line to Blue Line: Official Guide to the Trans Adirondack Route. More on the route: transadk.com.