Your Adirondack Outdoor To-Do List
by Galen Crane
The following article originally appeared in Adirondack Life‘s 2005 Annual Guide to the Great Outdoors. It has been updated where appropriate.
Let’s be frank: Life is short, its obligations legion. Before you know it, you might go weeks, months—or worse, years—without dipping a paddle, scorching some singletrack or covering three summits in a day. In the service of staving off such monumental inaction, we consulted some experts and compiled this Adirondack Outdoor To-Do List. If you only have one canoe trip in you before you leave this mortal coil, or one rock climb, hike or mountain-bike ride—or if you’re relatively new in these parts and want instant immersion in a quintessential North Country outing—we suggest one of the following.
Paddle from Old Forge to Paul Smiths
In 1990 Christine Jerome did exactly that, tracing the route writer George Washington Sears took 107 years earlier. She wrote about the experience in her book An Adirondack Passage, and she doesn’t hesitate when asked if she’d do it all over again. “I’ve always loved it,” Jerome says. If you don’t have the time or willpower to do it all in one sitting, maybe paddle pieces of the route in separate journeys—like section hikers who take years to finish the Appalachian Trail. If you can, wait till after Labor Day. “If the weather’s good, it’s transcendent,” she says, listing early-morning light on Pilgrim Mountain from Forked Lake and the sublime beauty of St. Regis Pond as two highlights of her three-week trip (she also canoed back to Old Forge). Any don’ts? “Don’t go anywhere near it in blackfly season,” she warns. This journey should not be taken lightly or attempted by those without a strong paddling background. Knowledge of the route is essential; long reaches on big water like Raquette and Long Lakes often call for serious seamanship.
Why? Because it’s there, naturally, and for the most part other climbers aren’t. “Few people go there,” says Don Mellor, the don of North Country rock-climbing and its chief scribe (he wrote the guidebook Climbing in the Adirondacks). Getting to the single biggest cliff in the state might be part of the reason: it’s six miles one way from the Heart Lake trailhead, near Lake Placid. “It’s very arduous to get in and then figure out how to get up it,” he explains. “It’s got all sorts of inconveniences; this is the antithesis of convenience.” Mellor calls the Diagonal route—a 700-foot, seven-pitch, 5.8 ascent pioneered in 1965—“moderate and safe and long; it’s got all sorts of adventure potential.” Besides the obvious recreational appeal of the place, Mellor points to its mythical quality and awesome scale. “It’s very interesting to read about it in books like [Russell Carson’s 1927] Peaks and People of the Adirondacks. When people were telling stories about the Adirondacks, they were talking about places like Indian Pass and Wallface. They were afraid to walk by the base of it.” Of course, if fear factors into your approach—not to mention if you’re a little green—you might want to consider hiring someone from Adirondack Mountain Guides, Adirondack Alpine Adventures or Adirondack Rock and River. All are based nearby in Keene.
Run the Hudson Gorge from the Indian River to Route 28 in North River
Jason Smith, an inveterate paddler from Saranac Lake and a staffer at Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters, says of this famous stretch of roiling river, “When you’re ready for white-water boating, that’s the trip. Class IV, beautiful.” Smith says he’s taken the rollicking ride through New York’s original river wild “about six or seven times.” But be warned: According to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Classic Northeastern Whitewater Guide, “At high levels, the onslaught of water seems to contain enough energy to create a local seismic event.” (The book’s author reports that Hudson’s gorge is one of the few runs where he’s seen pieces of aluminum canoes.) If you’re not ready for the likes of Gooley Steps, Soup Strainer, Gunsight In and other mean-sounding rinse cycles, then consider climbing aboard with one of several outfitters that run rafts through the gorge from spring through fall. Regular dam releases from Lake Abanakee, upriver of the Indian put-in, assure good levels. Some outfitters include North Creek Rafting Company, Square Eddy Expeditions and Whitewater Challengers.
Get Your Mountain Bike and Head to Inlet
Inlet, on the fourth of the Fulton Chain of Lakes, is at the heart of one of the most unheralded fat-tire networks in the East. Ted Christodaro—co-proprietor of Pedals & Petals, a bike and flower shop in the hamlet—recommends Fern Park, with its 18-plus miles of trails in a system of variable loops that’s an eighth of a mile from his store. “It’s not groomed; there’s singletrack and some hillier terrain—it’s too hilly for beginners, mostly for intermediates and experts,” he says. “You can spend the better part of the day exploring.” With a minimal amount of road riding, Fern also links to the extensive network of trails that can take ambitious riders southwest to Old Forge or into the Moose River Plains and all the way to Indian Lake, about 40 miles to the east.
Fish in the Cold, Away from the Road
In other words, get lost early or late in the season, says renowned angling guide Rachel Finn, who calls Wilmington home. She recommends the St. Regis Canoe Area in the weeks right after spring ice-out, “before the thermocline turns over, so fish are readily accessible. You get a crack at them before they go deep.” Late fall has a similar effect, when brook trout are spawning and water near the surface has cooled but hasn’t yet sunk. And the St. Regis offers a great opportunity, Finn says, to put a hike together with a fish trip and make it a real expedition, alone or with others. “You have everything on your back or in your canoe, and it’s great for families.” But don’t expect to be totally alone on a foray like this—there may not be the usual summer camping and paddling traffic, but “a lot of fishermen have the same idea.” Finn has made this spring pilgrimage numerous times, using baitfish imitations and streamer patterns to flush out brookies and landlocked salmon.