January 25, 2017

North Country Trail: Route 46 to Stacy Basin

Today I continued my northerly-easterly exploration on the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT).  I started at the parking area on Route 46, skipping the section back toward Durhamville, which is mostly a road walk.  Perhaps I will return for that during hunting season.  I was surprised to find three other vehicles in the parking lot... other hikers?  Nope.  I could see a man talking on the phone in one car, and there were no footprints in the snow leading to the trail.  In fact, mine were the only tracks in the snow for almost the entire length of my hike to Stacy Basin and back, 3.9 miles each way.  The only two places where people had recently been on the trail were immediately adjacent to or across from homes, essentially just people out in their yards with their dogs.

The NCT in this area follows the old Erie Canal, which means the hiking is excruciatingly flat and not terribly interesting.  I have a few more Erie Canal sections remaining before getting to the outskirts of Rome, where the NCT becomes nothing but road walks for quite some distance.  Other off-road trail sections have been scouted, but are simply not developed yet.  Much of the trail to the east, through the Adirondacks, is still in the planning phase.

I intend to complete the Erie Canal sections, but not go further east through Rome.  I will redirect my explorations back southerly-westerly, where the NCT follows the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) through much hillier and more interesting terrain.  I look forward to getting back to the less developed and more forested NCT sections.  I do appreciate the historical significance of the Erie Canal, but too much of it is adjacent to roads for my tastes. Aside from the longer drives, the only drawback to the FLT sections can be access, due to seasonal roads and narrow roadside parking.  I don't have a four-wheel drive vehicle and it's hard to know where plowed parking is available.

Town of Verona park adjacent to trail


my turnaround point at Stacy Basin

mural on Town of Verona municipal building

January 18, 2017

North Country Trail: Lenox Basin to Durhamville

I started out today at the Lenox Basin trailhead where I parked two weeks ago, but instead of hiking west into Canastota, I proceeded east to Durhamville.  I turned back at Route 46 for a roundtrip out-and-back of 6.1 miles.  This section of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) follows the Old Erie Canal.  It is flat and gravel-surfaced and not terribly exciting.  However, after my trouble parking last week down at the Cheningo Day Use Area, I wanted a sure thing today.

Plus, it was raining and in the 30s.  I thought being able to move quickly would help stay warm.  Of course, I was way too hot after just half a mile.  I really struggle with thermo-regulation, especially when wearing rain gear.  It was huge a relief when the rain eased up, and I was able to remove the rain pants and a sweatshirt.  I always start winter hikes cold, on the theory that I will warm up fast, but I might have to start even colder.      

Despite these issues, I really enjoyed myself out there.  I love the misty look of soft rain, the peace of solitude, finding the hidden beauty in a landscape of drab. 

the water is full of sediment, runoff from all the rain
starting in the cold rain
looking back

the trail uses the Canal Street bridge to cross the New York State Thruway

bridge over Oneida Creek
high water
warmed up and shed some layers
this section of trail ends at Route 46 and the next few miles of the NCT are a roadwalk
snowmobile signs
re-tracing my footsteps
crossing the Thruway again
Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)
so nice when the trail diverges from the road

January 15, 2017

Cathedral Rock Fire Tower

I have been hiking in the Adirondacks my entire life, but almost always in the summer and fall, with some forays in late spring.  I hike and snowshoe locally in the winter, of course, in the flatlands, but seeing amazing pictures of the snowy splendor that is the mountains in winter... it makes me want to get up there and experience it for myself.  However, we don't really have the appropriate gear for those kind of conditions.  My biggest concern is for Frankie.  For the most part, he has very good quality gear.  I consider it a worthy investment for him to be comfortable outdoors, because then we can spend more time there.  However, I cannot find any traction devices small enough to fit him, and that has prevented us from attempting anything with any significant terrain during the winter.  

I follow several hiking groups on Facebook, and yesterday I saw someone post pictures of a hike up Cathedral Rock fire tower.  Knowing how little climbing is actually involved with that hike -- it is mostly flat, with only one steepish pitch near the top -- I asked whether spikes were required.  The friendly hiker responded that the trail was packed out and neither spikes nor snowshoes were required.  He had bare-booted it up and back with no trouble.  I mentioned the idea to Frankie, and he was interested.  It was particularly good timing because school is closed tomorrow for Martin Luther King Day, so he would have a extra rest day, if needed.  Plus, the weather forecast was lovely.  Game on!  

The trailhead is located on the campus of the Ranger School in Wanakena, which gave me the added security of knowing the parking lot would be plowed.  We got a leisurely start in the morning, but I wasn't concerned because the hike is so short and easy.  We arrived around noon.  I've read some grumbling about the trailhead being hard to find, and the trail being poorly marked, but none of that was my experience.  Park in the large plowed lot by the baseball field.  Aside from the entrance to the lot, there is only one other road leaving it.  Follow this a short distance, just a few hundred feet, and on the right is a sign announcing "Latham Trail to Fire Tower."  This sign is short, though, and is likely buried under snow sometimes, but the trail is also marked very clearly with numbered blazes; follow the 10 markers to the tower. 

The trail is essentially flat for the first 0.8 miles, passing through very nice woods.  It then climbs a few hundred feet through switchbacks up and over a large rocky outcrop, and the tower is soon visible through the trees.  There is a small picnic area offering splendid wide open views, than a short straightaway to the tower.  The total distance from trailhead to tower is only 1.1 miles.  We hung out in the cab for a long time, then met the only other hikers we saw all day near the picnic area as we headed back down.  There are a few patches of sheet ice in the section of trail through the rocky outcrop, but that just provides the added fun of butt-sliding.  Frankie did several of these small slides multiple times. 

This is the lower Adirondacks, not the High Peaks, so the mountains are smaller and the views less dramatic.  I was surprised not to be able to see more of Cranberry Lake.  Nevertheless, it was the perfect safe little Adirondack winter adventure for us.  It was definitely worth the long drive! 

the tower is now visible through the trees