Solitude at Lost Pond (and 3 other local gems)
By Phil Brown
I had been to Lost Pond on the Nun-da-ga-o Ridge on summer hikes several times, but I never visited it in winter until two years ago on skis. What a lovely place mantled in snow!
On the same day, I also skied from the top of nearby Hurricane Mountain, but that’s a more difficult trip—one best left to experts and people like me who always manage to get in over their heads. The Lost Pond trip is doable by skiers with solid intermediate skills. Telemark gear is recommended.
Snowshoers have more options. They can do an easy trip to Lost Pond, a full circuit of Nun-da-ga-o Ridge, a short climb up Big Crow Mountain (which isn’t so big) or a more strenuous climb to the 3,694-foot summit of Hurricane.
Tony Goodwin, author of Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks, said skiers go to Lost Pond only occasionally. One reason the trip isn’t done more often is that it takes just a few hours. Of course, this isn’t a drawback if you have just a few hours to spare. If you have more time, you can extend the trip by skiing part way up Hurricane. The terrain on the lower part of the mountain is gentle, and if you like making turns off trail, the woods are quite open.
The adventure begins near Crow Clearing high above the hamlet of Keene. This is the summer parking lot for hikes to Hurricane, Big Crow and Nun-da-ga-o Ridge. In winter, the plow stops about a half-mile short of the parking lot, which means you’ll have some extra ascent—and, of course, descent on the way back.
The Nun-da-ga-o Ridge Trail makes a 6.2-mile loop with spectacular views of the High Peaks. It can be done in winter on snowshoes, but given the steep ups and downs, it’s not practical to do the whole circuit on skis. To get to Lost Pond, you’ll follow the trail only about two miles, traveling in a counterclockwise direction. The round trip from the plow turnaround is about five miles.
From Crow Clearing, take the route that begins next to the trail register. This also is the start of a trail to the 3,694-foot summit of Hurricane, one of the region’s more popular peaks. Don’t be surprised if snowshoers have broken trail on their way to the mountain.
A novice could handle the first mile or so to the Gulf Brook lean-to. The trail, which follows an old logging road, is wide, smooth and mostly level, with small dips. At the lean-to, bear left for Lost Pond. The way right crosses the brook and heads up Hurricane. Snowshoers climbing the mountain should consider skiing as far as the lean-to, then switching to snowshoes.
On the day of my trip, snowshoe tracks on the Lost Pond trail continued for a short distance beyond the lean-to; after that, I was sliding through unbroken powder. For all I knew, I could have been the first person to go to the pond all winter.
Lost Pond lies at 2,870 feet—higher than the summit of Big Crow. All told, you ascend more than 500 feet from the clearing. The climb begins a quarter-mile or so past the lean-to. The grade is pretty steep, but the trail is wide enough for snowplowing and for making turns to control your speed coming down. However, I was using telemark skis and plastic boots. I would have been less confident with traditional touring gear.
The trail levels before reaching the pond on the right. At the first chance, I left the marked route to ski across the ice, in the direction of 3,380-foot Weston Mountain, one of the high points of Nun-da-ga-o Ridge. Pushing through the powder, I was struck by the silence and the sense of utter solitude. In the middle of the frozen expanse, I turned to gaze up at Hurricane, its abandoned fire tower silhouetted against the blue sky. I was surrounded by mountains.
At the boggy end of the pond, I meandered among dark-brown leatherleaf plants and spotted some animal tracks. Snowshoe hare? I wasn’t certain. After reaching the shore, I pushed through the snowy bushes to the trail, where there is a lean-to dedicated both to Walter Biesemeyer, who founded the Mountain House down the road, and his grandson, David Bailey. A plaque says of Biesemeyer: “The peace of heart and mind he found in this wilderness will be forever shared by those who lift up their eyes unto the hills.”
The lean-to is about as far as you can go on skis. Beyond, the trail narrows and steepens as it ascends Weston Mountain. I took off my skis and sat down for a snack, resting against the log wall, listening to the chickadees. Pleasant as the setting was, I didn’t tarry, for I was eager for the descent. On the return, I took the trail rather than cross the pond again, passing between evergreens laden with snow. It was a beautiful stretch of skiing. In a few minutes, I stood at the brink of the downhill run. There is a steep, sharp turn near the top, which I approached cautiously. Thereafter, I controlled my speed by snowplowing, making little turns and stopping a few times. Nevertheless, I was going at a fast clip when I neared a sharp right-hand turn. I decided to go for it.
A sawn log protruded halfway across the trail on the right side, at waist height, and my forearm slammed into it as I passed. I wiped out. Things could have ended worse. As it was, I suffered only an ugly bruise. Like most backcountry skiers, I understand the risk of striking trees, logs and rocks in my chosen avocation. Still, I couldn’t help thinking that if a few more feet had been lopped off that log, I wouldn’t have got hurt. Of course, the log posed no problem to hikers, and that’s probably all that mattered in the mind of the person who cleared the trail. But why don’t they maintain the trails for skiers as well?
Anyway, I enjoyed a pleasant cruise back to the Gulf Brook lean-to, then a relaxing kick-and-glide session to Crow Clearing and finally another short cruise down the unplowed road to my car.
If you want to get lost for a few hours this winter, you’ll know where to go.
Directions: From NY 73 in the hamlet of Keene, drive east on
3 other local gems
If you’re a skier who likes to go by the book, you may want to check out these trips in the Keene Valley region. All are from Tony Goodwin’s Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks.
Lower Ausable Lake
A delightful trip for novices (and anyone else, for that matter) is the ski up the un-plowed road from the Ausable Club to Lower Ausable Lake. Although the road is private, it is open to the public. It ascends about 700 feet over 3.5 miles to the foot of the slender lake. The views from the lake are breathtaking, as the High Peaks of Sawteeth and Colvin rise straight from the shore. The return is an easy cruise. This is a trip to keep in mind when there isn’t enough snow to ski on woods trails. The one bummer is that you have to walk about a half-mile from the parking lot to the start of the unplowed road.
Directions: From NY 73, turn onto the southern leg of Ausable Road and then immediately turn left into the parking lot. Ausable Road is 5.9 miles north of the intersection of NY 73 and NY 9 or
3 miles south of the High Peaks sign in Keene Valley. Walk up the Ausable Road to the Lake Road.
This long-distance ski trail starts at the end of Alstead Hill Road in Keene and terminates 24 miles later in the village of Saranac Lake. One of the better day trips is to start at the Keene end and ski 2.7 miles to the cliffs on the back of Pitchoff Mountain, a popular ice-climbing destination. On the way, you skirt a couple of scenic beaver meadows. You climb a total of 750 feet to a height of land. From there, you have a short but swift descent to the cliffs (if you have two cars, you can continue to Route 73). On the return, you’ll have a nice cruise back to the parking lot at Adirondack Rock and River. This is a popular trip, so the trail is almost always broken in. Intermediate skills required.
Directions: From NY 73 in Keene, turn onto Alstead Hill Road and follow it 3 miles to the end.
Owl Head Lookout
This is a tougher trail, one that doesn’t see nearly as much traffic. Goodwin rates it as a ski for experts, but strong intermediates can handle it if they use common sense and caution. The trail climbs 1,220 feet over 2.7 miles. The payoff is Owl Head’s spectacular vista, which takes in the Green Mountains, the Champlain Valley, Rocky Peak Ridge, Giant Mountain and Whiteface Mountain. You’ll want to leave your skis at the junction of the main trail and the short spur to the lookout. On the descent, you may want to leave the trail in a few steep sections to ski through the fairly open woods. This is also a good snowshoe trip.
Directions: Drive 5.5 miles east on NY 9N from NY 73 in Keene and turn right at the trailhead sign into the parking lot. If coming from the east, the lot is 4.5 miles from NY 9 Elizabethtown.