It is April 14th, almost a month after the official beginning of Spring and well after the weather forecasting groundhog, Puxatawney Phil, wrongly predicted an early spring! In the Mohawk valley we see signs of awakening; crocus, snowdrops and daffodils starting to bloom, robins and cardinals singing their treetop tunes trying to attract a mate and nightcrawlers "hooking up" on moist, cool nights making them easy pickings for intrepid young fishermen! However, we hiked the Vista Trail from the Sis and Bub Lakes trailhead just before Inlet back to Rondaxe Road by Rondaxe Mountain (the mountain formerly known as "Bald") and I can assure you that those residents will likely have another month of winter before all the ice is out on the lakes and all the snow has melted from the high ridges.
The Vista Trail starts out hard - it is all uphill from the trailhead - and even on good days when the trail isn't covered with snow, ice and wet rocks leaves one breathless with muscles straining to keep up with the demands put on them. And it stays hard, traversing the ridge line which is sometimes only a few yards wide, traveling up and down over mountains, through streams and around granite outcroppings. Throughout the whole time we were able to appreciate the scenery on both sides of the ridge. To the east is the Fulton Chain of Lakes with Fourth Lake in view all the time and the mountains in the West Canada Lake Wilderness. To the west lie the smaller lakes of Sis, Bub, Rondaxe, Cary and many spring-fed ponds and streams.
We were graced with sun on and off through the day (mostly off)but it was interspersed with snow showers and the trees were all frosted from the previous night's frozen precipitation. At times we broke through the snow and sank to our knees or thighs and in other places the leaf detritus created a slippery covering on the trail and ledges. When we came out on a snowmobile trail that follows the path of the old Raquette Railway, we thought we were almost home free, but at least .6 miles of wet drainage and more ups and downs were between us and Rondaxe Road and the parking lot. But we made it and enjoyed a fine celebration at Harper's in Old Forge!
I had the pleasure of helping out at the Dunham Public Library Book Sale fundraiser in January. While straightening the tables and shelves I couldn't help but notice some titles that interested me and so came away with two bagsful of books that will eventually find their way back to the library for next year's sale. One, however, may stay with me. It is titled quite simply, John Muir. John Muir was an Irish immigrant who had insatiable curiosity about the world around him. His interest in the natural world led him to California where he was spellbound by the Sequoias, Yosemite Valley and all the mountains and valleys of the western United States. Through his efforts Yosemite National Park was established on October 1, 1890. His legacy has given us natural space and wilderness areas throughout America to enjoy by hiking, biking, nature watching and camping. Here are a few of his words:
Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the log-cock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains. .....John Muir
It is February and the green is replaced by the repose of white drifts of snow blanketing the hills, but the upness of the mountains is still there calling to us and beckoning that we come.
Usually we end up either left or right- brained with the accompanying talents (and lack thereof) that are associated with being so. But now and then people are born with both sides super-active and they have the best of both worlds. This is the case with my nephew-in-law, Kevin Willette. He is a computer programmer-guru by day and by all other times an incredible musician/composer/singer. Here are a couple of tunes the band he is currently affiliated with play. While listening to "Ounce for the Bounce" I visualized a babbling brook bouncing over rocks as it cascades down a mountainside. On "Trike Trek" the idea of kayaking through class 2+ whitewater came to mind! If you are the type that likes to pair music with your outdoor activity try a little of One with Everything - you won't be disappointed!
Way back I mentioned that my daughter, Heather, and I went to Scotland in late August of 2012. One of the most intriguing customs in Scotland is the idea of "public rights of way" hiking. Public rights of way are open to everyone. They can be roads, paths or tracks, and can run through towns, countryside or private property.
trail near Inverness
In Scotland, a right of way:
There are fences, but stiles work well to take one over them and as long as the "walker" is respectful and a good steward to the property - think "Leave no Trace" - no one thinks a thing of cutting through a field or estate to get from one place to another.
stile on Isle of Skye
Of course, there are plenty of marked trails on public property as well. Still it was nice not to see "Private Property-No Trespassing" everywhere we went! There was even a fishing hole that having been used for years(maybe centuries) and despite being on a very beautiful estate had access given and a bench to sit on as well. I don't think it will ever catch on in America, but it is an intriguing way of looking at the activity.
This video is very neat - it was filmed mainly in Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks. We went to both about 6 years ago and must get back there again! Outstanding in every way! The only thing missing from the video are any wolf shots - perhaps because they are the chief predators of elk? The address is: http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v+BUOQ_yPW_0s
The video was produced by Scott McKinley for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
White Fields - James Stephens
In the winter time we go,
Walking in the fields of snow;
Where there is no grass at all:
Where the top of every wall,
Every fence and every tree,
Is as white as white can be,
Pointing out the way we came,
Everyone one of them the same----
All across the fields there be
Prints in silvery filigree;
And our mothers always know,
By our footprints in the snow,
Where the children go.
It is blustery and cold out tonight and the only thing on my mind is staying safe and warm. Warm means hot chocolate - and I don't mean the instant kind! Of all the hot beverages, hot chocolate satisfies best.
My favorite recipe is 2% milk and Nestle Quik. I think it tastes better than Hershey's Syrup and also stays in suspension better, keeping a more consistent taste through to the end. If you really want a treat, and have no where to go, try a bit of Peppermint Schnapps in the cocoa - et voila! Thin Mints! So whether you are just staying in and staying warm or just coming in from playing in the cold have a hot chocolate and warm up from the inside out.
PS - any other favorite cocoa concoctions? Share if you will.
My two nephews-in-law have a slogan that evolved from an almost 1/2 marathon run home from drinking (maybe too many) margueritas on a recent Eve- On, On! This past Saturday, 11 Tramp & Trail members picked up the banner and went On, On! to Baldwin Springs on a 11mile snowshoe and hike. The activity took place on the Oregon Trail off Route 8 northeast of Wells, NY. The group had 3 choices: a 6.2 mile hike to North Bend where Stewart Creek winds around a peninsula, an 8.5 mile hike to the next bridge or a 10+ mile hike to Baldwin Springs and the junction with the Arrow and Bartman trails. At each point the cry was On, On!
Still smiling - On, On!
The last time we did the hike it was fall and we had a lot of rain that year so climbing the first hill was like walking in a stream and the rest of the trail was slogging through mud and rock hopping. We had to navigate a seldom used foot trail that skirts the vlie around North Bend due to not being able to "walk on water" and never got farther than North Bend due to standing water of undetermined depth and remnants of a foot bridge about 20 feet from shore. However, this time all conditions were favorable.
We used snowshoes for the first 3 miles but the trail was so hardpacked from snowmobile use and the recent melt we had that it was soon determined that crampons were all that were needed. Most of us left our snowshoes at the first bridge but a few of us decided to strap them on - just in case; they proved to be excess weight that was never again needed. Due to very cold nights the trail continued hard-packed until we reached the vlie. Here, the combination of melting and refreezing created some dicey conditions which required careful planning and even more careful steps. We spread out so as not to have too much weight on the ice in one place and tried to stay on the snowmobile trail where the snow was packed down. The above freezing temps earlier in the week, combined with the rain that fell, decreased the snow cover by about 1 foot therefore some of the areas were very soft and had little between us and the water waiting to suck us in. Quite a few hikers got wet feet, but noone broke through the deep areas so we proceeded on. The trail was rife with tracks and we had fun trying to guess what animals made them - was this a mouse or squirrel? this one a coyote or fox? the only ones we were sure of were the rabbit tracks and there were many!
who lives here?
crossing the vlie
At North Bend we enjoyed the scenery of frozen stream and marsh against the dark green pines. The trail was relatively easy up to now, but the next miles consisted of many small hills with stands of beautiful pine in between. The third bridge was a marvel of engineering and offered another vista of a pond on one side and a stream on the other. On the map (Lake George/Great Sacandaga-National Geographic) it appears the stream flows into East Stony Creek. It was nearing 12 noon at this point so the group was again asked if they wanted to continue on and if they wanted to eat or wait to the end. The cry was On, On! and we would eat at the end. When we scouted the hike the previous weekend this was as far as we went so the next miles were virgin territory for us all and we really didn't know how long it would take. We decided to stop at 12:30 for lunch - no matter where we were - and turn around at 1:00pm.
This part of the trail, about .75 miles, took us up and down more hills, through some magnificent stands of towering pines as straight as telephone poles and we wondered about their age. In another 100 years they may be the "new" Pine Orchard. Wintergreen peeked through the softer snow at the side of the trail illustrating how it got its name. Chickadees sang in the pines and the sun even tried to come out. When we reached what used to be the final bridge over East Stony Creek we thought we might not reach our destination as there was no bridge, only ice and water. After exploring the ice with ski poles, one of our more fearless members decided to give it a try and discovered the water was very shallow there due to a sand bar under the ice. We all made it across, but the clock was ticking and we only had 10 minutes left to either reach our destination or call off the search. We noticed that the trail seemed to be wider and there was evidence of 4-wheel drive traffic. Within another 500 feet we saw a "junction ahead" sign and knew we were close. Suddenly the trail opened up to a large clearing and the trail marker said we were at Baldwin Springs. We even saw the spring down over the hill and felt a real sense of accomplishment! The day was completed with a stop at Logan's in Speculator where we solved the problems of the world. On, On!!
Here we go again – a January thaw. I really enjoy winter weather with its deep white snow out in the woods, unsullied by cars and civilization’s inevitable dirt. But I actually missed this time last year when the weather warms up, the skies brighten, and the snow all but melts away. The squirrels come out of their nests, my feeders are filled with birds who begin to sing and chatter rather than just eating to survive and I begin to wonder if spring will come early this year.
So for a few days, the cross country skis rest in the garage and the snowshoes hang patiently on the wall and I take a day or so to enjoy a respite from the one part of winter I do not like – driving on ice and snow. I walk, or slog, in the woods near my home and get a chance to see how all my woodland friends are fairing, and look fruitlessly for signs of spring growth in the sheltered areas – always the optimist – or foolish dreamer! However, the thaw is just a teaser and hopefully we will return to a second round of snow.
picture by Don Fellows, Oriskany, NY
Love envelops hearts
like snowflakes falling through pines
green boughs held by white.
Winter has finally arrived! With the snowfall we received in the past week the ground is covered with a white fluffy blanket, the trees are iced and the air is brisk. With slippery roads and higher heating bills it is easy for this to be the season of discontent, but I find there are many reasons to like this season.
1. The holidays are over which means no more agonizing over what would be the "perfect" gift, where to have dinner(s) and what to serve! Less stress, less mess!
2. The snow crunches on a really cold day and I'm reminded of childhood and crunching through the snow on bitter cold mornings with my Radio Flyer sled to the top of the driveway for a fast and exhilarating ride to the bottom of the hill.
3. The air is crisp and clear and on a moonless night one can fully appreciate the Milky Way and its sister galaxies.
4. The water in my water bottles gets ice cold when we are hiking and is absolutely refreshing to drink at the rest stops. ( This is probably my #1 like of the season.)
5. Since there is no garden to tend, no flowers to plant and no lawn to mow there is time to do projects that were pushed off because it was just too nice to stay inside.
6. The winter vistas of snow laden trees reflecting in still, cold lakes are post card perfect.
7. Likewise the multiple shades of brown against the white snow. Have you really ever appreciated how many shades there are? Try it some time - just sit for a few minutes, let your gaze fall upon a field backdropped by a forest and you will be amazed at the number of different tones you will find!
8. Time to get together with friends and family to play cards or other table games.
9. Every day is now getting longer. We gain about 2 minutes a day now, about 1 hour a month, and before you know it, I'll be writing about what I like best about Summer!
10. What do you like about winter? Please share with us.
Happy Holidays and A Wonderful Winter to you all.
In early December, a group of club members met together on a sloppy, slushy, snow/rain mix afternoon for our semi-annual trail maintenance On the Carpenter Road trails. This marks the end of our second five-year agreement period with the NYDEC in performing trail maintenance services on one of our favorite winter skiing locations. The Carpenter Road cross country ski trail system is located in the Tug Hill Plateau, an area with heavier snowfall than any other part of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. The trails provide approximately 8 miles of meandering pathways for skiing in the winter and for hiking and mountain biking the rest of the year. If you haven't visited these trails head out this way. The DEC web site can provide more information on this great trail system - http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7877.html
The Tramp & Trail Club of Utica will be hiking on the Rayhill Memorial Trail on December 30 at 1:00pm. Get a headstart on the New Year's resolution to exercise more regularly (you know the one you always make!) and come out to join us for some fun in the snow! Meet us in the parking lot on Middle Settlement Road (by BOCES). The hike is easy and the company is grand. See you there!!
Snow-covered Porter Mt
Once upon a ridge was I
like a child on Christmas day
Amazed, transfixed, transformed
by what wondering eyes did see.
No words upon my lips sufficed
my camera, futile, in my hand
For only those who, like me, hiked
the mountain could begin to understand.
The long trail ever upward wound
below, the lakes unveiled to see
the distant mountains beckoned me
my spirit laughed...oh joie-de-vivre!
Once upon a ridge was I
like a child on Christmas day
turning 'round and 'round in awe
at valleys, rivers, peaks and sky.
Now some people would not consider a misty, drizzly day in the 30's as perfect, but to the nearly 20 Tramp & Trail members who chose to hike into Little Woodhull Lake it couldn't have been a nicer day! It began with a fly over of thousands of geese coming across the sky in wave after wave as we watched from the parking lot in Mapledale. It was a full 15 minutes before the "V" shaped formations stopped coming directly overhead and even then we could still see more bands on the horizon. No one had never seen such a huge migration.
Little Woodhull Lake trailhead begins off North Lake Road which many area residents know as the one that takes you to the Buffalo Head Restaurant. Just before reaching the lake there is a small parking lot on the right and the trail is on the left-the register is up the hill aways. Although it starts with an incline, the trail levels out and really doesn't have a lot of major ups or downs, just some minor slopes. It is fairly wide in most areas, as Adirondack trails go, but there are spots after it breaks off to Sand Lake Falls trail that become pretty overgrown. There was a lot of blowdown and debris from the high winds we've had this fall, but we moved aside most of it as we went. The larger trunks fell to the cuts of a folding saw and the rest were simply picked up by one or more hikers and tossed to the side of the trail. Trail maintenance is something T&T is used to doing and on this trail it will make for a better skiing experience later this winter.
The trail leads one through forest, swamp, mud and along a lovely brook to its terminus in Little Woodhull Lake. There is a semi-trail - not sure if it was an animal or a human herd path- that leads to an obvious camping spot. The shoreline is very wet and spongy and shows signs of beaver activity. We were able to spot two lodges and both appeared to be homes of active beavers. Perhaps a family group has taken over the lake and is willing to tolerate each other. We all decided we would like to try to hike to Sand Lake Falls some day next summer -maybe even make it an overnight. It was a good day - no one was injured or lost and the Buffalo Head was open for some post-hike refreshments when we returned.
The Christmas season is another wonderful opportunity to go for a hike, especially for families looking for something fun to do either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, or for folks looking to wear off some of those scrumptious baked goodies we all indulge in during this season!
Many years ago, I took my toddler daughter out for nighttime walks through the snowy fields where we lived. I bundled her up well and packed her, tucked in with woolen blankets, into an old carriage bed tied atop a Flexible Flyer sled and over the fields we went. The moon and starlight made all the snow glisten like myriad diamonds. The night time silence was soothing after busy holiday season activities. If you get the right night, the moon light on the snow can make it appear almost like day light outside.
As the kids grew older, night time walks became a treasured activity. Thoughts got shared that might not have been spoken in all the busyness of our days. Memories were stored up as we saw things the sleeping world was missing. A cup of hot chocolate when we arrived back home warmed us up and made a perfect ending to the evening. Bundle up well and go for a night time hike and you will find a new activity to treasure during this season.
If you have never heard of the Pine Orchard you are not the only one! This well-kept secret is hidden in the hills to the northeast of Wells, but is well worth the trouble to find. The scenic route involves heading south out of Speculator on Rt 30 and turning onto Rt 8 at the intersection about 7 miles south of Speculator. Cross the bridge over the Sacandaga River and take an immediate right onto Griffin Road to Windfall Road. Follow Windfall Road to Dorr Road - you will see a small sign for "Pine Orchard" and follow that to just before its end. Park in the lot on your right. To reach the trailhead, you must cross private property in front of a camp and follow an old road about 1000 feet to the trail register. It is suggested you check in with the landowner to get permission, but he was not home so we figured we would stop on the way out. The trail register is at the intersection with a snowmobile trail and the trail goes to Pine Orchard and then Georgia Brook to the north or Willis Lake to the south.
The trail begins with a gentle downhill for about 1/3 of the full distance. In late fall the tree line is very open as many of the trees are hardwood and we lucked out, for despite a forecast that was less than promising the weather turned out to be perfect for hiking - mid-40's and sunny! To the right of the trail, hidden by the underbrush, is Taylor Vly. This vly was formed from past beaver activity and partial flooding along Mill Creek and can be very pretty when the leaves are at full color. I've found obvious raccoon paths complete with piles of empty freshwater clam shells by the water, deer prints and still hope to see a moose here as it would be perfect habitat. It is possible to get down to the vly by following these game trails through the underbrush, but beware, because whenever you leave the trail and bushwhack, you put yourself at more danger of getting a tick on you. This happened to my husband and he had to go to the doctor's to have the head taken out, get a tetanus shot and antibiotics. (See "Ticks are No Joke!" blog, March 2012)
There is a very nice bridge over Mill Creek and a couple of rock-hops over the next watery spots and then some uphill hiking to the Orchard. The pines here somehow escaped the logging done in the 18' and early 1900's and so are thought to be about 200 years old! Unfortunately, there are not many left as insects, disease, age and New York weather and winds have collaborated to bring these giants down. The few that have survived are truly wondrous and it took 5 of us with arms outspread to encircle them! The multiuse trail continues to Georgia Brook and on to Cod Pond, North Bend and beyond. We plan on skiing some of that trail in January (see TrampnTrail.org for the full schedule of hike/ski/snowshoes). We continued on as far as a beaver pond that proved how bad the drought was this year. There was little water around the lodge and sedge was growing from many hummocks that had previously been covered by water.
After lunch we turned around and hiked back, this time up the hill (Which seems to defy the laws of physics in that what goes down, must come up!). The property owners were enjoying a cocktail and the view when we came back out and we spent a few minutes thanking them and asking about the accessibility of the area in the winter. They assured us that the road is plowed to the parking lot. The full hike was a little over 5 miles; a beautiful walk in the woods on a crisp fall day.
Knowing that yesterday was going to be the last day with fall-like weather, my husband and I decided to make the most of it and try out the trails in the Deerfield Wilderness Park. I went there for a Rugby tournament a month ago, but the weather cut short my intentions to hike. The park is located way up Walker Road and the easiest way to access it is off Rt. 8 North. Take Davis Road over to Walker Road, a right on Walker and the park entrance is just after the municipal building. The park itself boasts 3 playing fields, a playground area, large pavilion w/electric and bathrooms-though they were not open when we were there. A map of the trails is located on a post just after you turn into the driveway.
We followed the sign that said "Wilderness Trails" and found the trailhead in the back, lower-left corner of the field to the right of the sign. It is marked with square, yellow blocks of wood. Immediately after entering the woods you feel as if you are far from civilization. The trees are fairly young growth therefore close together; and the majority are hardwood allowing the sun to work its way through their bare branches. We noticed immediately that the yellow trail markers are not very closely spaced, but the trail is wide and it was easy to see where a path had been cut. (In fact, re-marking the trail and clearing downed branches would be an excellent boy/girl scout project!) The path rolls up and down over small and large hills, by creeks and through fields and open areas at the top of the ridge. The lower portion has benches to encourage meditation and renewal by a babbling brook. We saw some very old trees at the top of the ridge. One was now only a hollowed out stump, but a person -maybe two- would fit inside! I'm sure it saw both American Indian encampments and European settlers in the surrounding landscape in its lifetime.
We found the portion of the trail with snowmobile access to be quite easy to follow as it was very wide and had maps at each intersection. That trail had some good hills for those who want more of a workout. The other trail was a little easier and had large sections on a cinder path that went around the main playground. There were many deer tracks and canine tracks - dog or coyote we couldn't tell -and we wondered if we might encounter that second wild boar that was seen in Utica a couple weeks ago. The abundance of old apple trees would provide perfect forage. Chickadees could be heard following us along the way and a flicker was seen scooting off into the woods ahead of us.
We guesstimated that there are at least 2 miles of trails and with the variety of terrain the Wilderness Park can give you a good workout if you set a brisk pace and do the whole system. Thanks to Deerfield for setting aside such a wonderful area!
Gothics from below summit of Saddleback
"The pleasure of risk is in the control needed to ride it with assurance so that what appears dangerous to the outsider is, to the participant, simply a matter of intelligence, skill, intuition, coordination... in a word, experience. Climbing in particular, is a paradoxically intellectual pastime, but with this difference: you have to think with your body. Every move has to be worked out in terms of playing chess with your body. If I make a mistake the consequences are immediate, obvious, embarrassing, and possibly painful. For a brief period I am directly responsible for my actions. In that beautiful, silent, world of mountains, it seems to me worth a little risk."
-- A. Alvarez
Lu Blanchard is semi-retired and spends free time with family, reading, dancing, singing and enjoying outdoor activities.
Dianna Morris lives in Marcy and fell in love with the woods as a young girl. She is currently attempting to climb all the 46 ADK High Peaks - only 28 more to go.
Harold Pier taught chemistry at Utica College for 40 years and was an avid biker, hiker and skiier after retiring in 2000. He contributed to this blog from its inception in March 2012 until his death in October 2012.