Take me to the river
By Phil Brown
The Peavine Swamp Ski Trail is a long ways from the High Peaks. When I visited the trail one Sunday in mid-January, in the midst of a snowy winter, I had it all to myself. Judging by the scarcity of names in the trailhead register, solitude is the norm here.
That’s too bad, for a couple of reasons.
The first is that the state built this trail in the 1990s, at the urging of the Cranberry Lake Chamber of Commerce, in hopes that cross-country skiing would give an economic boost to the northwestern corner of the Adirondack Park. If it hasn’t worked, that’s a pity.
The second is that it’s damn hard breaking trail.
At the outset, I found myself pushing through maybe six inches of heavy snow on this warm day. The trail is fairly flat at the start, and I made such slow progress that I began wondering whether I had the energy to ski the four miles to the end—a lean-to on the banks of a sluggish stretch of the Oswegatchie River just before it flows into Cranberry Lake.
Actually, I had begun with more ambitious plans. One of the nice things about this trail is that three loops branch off the main route: the Balanced Rock, Christmas Tree Pond and Esker loops. By taking these side trips, it’s possible to ski about 13 miles while covering very little of the same ground twice. That’s exactly what I intended to do, but the more I broke trail, the more I relished the thought of returning in my own tracks.
The main route reaches the first leg of the Balanced Rock Loop in less than a mile. It looked as if it hadn’t been skied all winter. I got to the second leg 15 minutes later. To my surprise and delight, a pair of recent ski tracks came out of the loop and continued down the main trail. This was puzzling, because the skier had not started at the trailhead. It was as though he or she had been dropped into the middle of the woods to plow a path for me.
My spirits picked up and so did my speed. The ski trail traverses rolling terrain, with several stream crossings and just enough ups and downs to make it interesting. In his book Classic Adirondack Ski Tours, Tony Goodwin rates the trail as intermediate in difficulty.
These woods were heavily logged in the early 1900s, initially for the conifers, later for the hardwoods and pulpwood. Neverthe-less, a number of red spruce and hemlock escaped the ax. Peter O’Shea, author of a hiking guidebook, notes that at 1.6 miles the trail passes two spruce that measure 25 inches in diameter. I’m sorry to say I missed these giants, but I did notice old-growth hemlocks about halfway to the lean-to.
One thing that’s impossible to miss is deer tracks. You’ll see them all over. You might also come across spots where the deer scraped through the snow to reach moss or ferns. This isn’t surprising, since Peavine Creek is just one of many winter deer yards in this region of the Park.
I followed the ski tracks all the way to the river. There, our mystery skier had turned around without inspecting the lean-to. It’s a well-kept place. Even has two brooms. I ate lunch while sitting against the back wall, looking through the pines at the frozen Oswegatchie, enjoying the absolute silence. In summer, motorboats can pull up to a nearby dock and in winter snowmobiles occasionally rumble past on the ice toward Wanakena. But on this day, the spot seemed as wild as it gets.
The Peavine Swamp trail can be a wonderful ski. My one beef is that the loop junctions are poorly marked or not marked at all. If you did want to ski the side trails, you might get confused. Following my tracks, I had no complaints on the way back. The going was easy, except when a ski veered off course into the heavy stuff. That’ll stop you in a hurry. As I neared the starting point, I came upon a man starting down the trail with his young daughter. Lucky me, I thought, I’m getting out before the crowds.
From the bridge over the Oswegatchie in Cranberry Lake, drive 1.9 miles west on Route 3 to a large parking lot on the left.