Exploring a frozen paradise
Cross-country skiers take advantage of fresh powder to visit East Mill Flow and Round Pond.
By Phil Brown
It was a nearly perfect day for a ski tour. The sun was out, and fresh powder covered the trail and coated the branches of evergreens along the way. Kim Martineau was especially happy to be here.
“This is one of my favorite trails. It’s just beautiful,” she remarked as we headed into the woods next to the Schroon River. “And you never see people.”
Kim and her husband, Ethan Rouen, joined me in early January for an eight-mile round trip from the Sharp Bridge State Campground to Round Pond in the Hammond Pond Wild Forest. Although she and Ethan had hiked the trail in other seasons, neither of them had skied it, and both were curious to see if it would be as satisfying in winter.
Round Pond is one of the few ski trips in the eastern Adirondacks to make it into Tony Goodwin’s guidebook Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks. Goodwin rates it as intermediate in difficulty. The return trip includes a long descent that requires the ability to control speed. There are smaller ups and downs as well.
When we met at the state campground (which has been closed for a few years), the first question was where to park. Since the parking area was not plowed, we shoveled spaces for our cars along the road shoulder. This may not be practical if the snowbank is large (or if you don’t have a shovel).
The next question was: will the trail have enough snow? We had several inches of fresh powder but not much of a base underneath. As it turned out, the cover would be adequate except for a few scratchy spots. The trail is less rocky than most since, as Goodwin notes, it largely follows old woods roads.
From the campground entrance, we skied past a wooden pavilion and along the Schroon to the trail register. We then entered a corridor of evergreens—one of the day’s motifs. For most of the way to Round Pond, we would be gliding beneath hemlocks, white pines, and balsam firs, their green boughs weighed down with snow.
Soon after leaving the register, we came to the first of several sturdy wooden bridges crossing small tributaries to the Schroon. After the fourth bridge, less than a mile from the register, the trail veered left, away from the river, and began a long climb—gaining three hundred feet in elevation over three-quarters of a mile. The descent on the return would be something to look forward to.
After cresting the height of land, we came to a small, curving drop. Ethan went first and disappeared around the bend. He shouted something, but neither Kim nor I could make it out. Kim went next. I followed and soon discovered what the shouting was about: a large tree had fallen across the trail. About ten yards beyond was a bigger mess of blowdown. Ethan went to the right to avoid it, while I tried squeezing through some branches. I made it, but the zipper on my pack’s hip pocket snagged a branch and got torn off. Except for in this one spot, blowdown was not much of a problem.
At 2.75 miles, after a few more dips, we came to a bridge at the foot of East Mill Flow, a large wetland flooded by beavers. When the ice is safe, skiers have the option of leaving the trail and heading up the flow— which, in my view, is the trip’s scenic highlight. Ethan felt some trepidation about venturing onto the ice. When he was a tot, he fell through the ice on a pond in Pennsylvania. His father pulled him out immediately, but the memory of this terror remains. Going up the flow, Ethan stuck close to the frozen clumps of leatherleaf bushes at the edge of the wetland, while Kim and I skied on the channel meandering through its middle, taking in views of the surrounding hills.
For some reason, we had it in our heads that we could pick up the trail by skiing to the very end of the flow. This turned out not to be the case, but we had a lovely diversion—skiing over snowy hummocks,navigating a maze of iced-over streamlets, and passing several beaver dams and lodges. When we reached the woods at the far end, we realized our mistake. Sheltered from the wind, we stopped for lunch: Kim’s delicious veggie sandwiches, followed by chocolate cookies from the Dogwood Bakery in Wadhams.
Afterward we backtracked to where Round Pond’s outlet enters the flow. We spied another footbridge where the trail crosses the stream and headed for it. From the foot of the flow, you can find the bridge by skiing about 0.7 miles through the wetland and sticking close to the main channel. The bridge will be on your right. Be warned that the channel may not be fully frozen as you approach the bridge, even if the rest of the flow seems solid. That was true on the day of our excursion. Kim broke through in one spot. Since the water was shallow, she was not in danger, but we had to stop to scrape slushy ice off her skis.
From the bridge, we followed the trail a quarter-mile over a small ridge until we saw Round Pond on the left. We bushwhacked twenty or so yards to the pond. The pond is pleasant enough, but it was a bit of an anticlimax after East Mill Flow. Because it was late in the afternoon, we didn’t tarry but set off at once for the start of the outlet, where we encountered open water. We took to the woods again and, after a short distance, emerged at another frozen wetland. Beavers were active here too, as evidenced by the many skeletal trees that were killed by flooding but still standing. An empty osprey nest made of sticks sat precariously on top of one. As we skied across the frozen landscape, we stayed parallel to the outlet, which brought us back to the trail. We then followed our tracks back to the flow.
Our main objective now was to get to the big downhill before dark, and with Ethan setting the pace we succeeded. I had been looking forward to this descent all afternoon. Ethan and Kim snowplowed most of the way down. Unlike them, I had edges on my skis, so I thought I could be a bit bolder. I pointed my skis downhill and went. Toward the bottom, I wiped out when I tried to make a quick turn around a log. No injuries aside from a bruised ego.
We reached the cars at dusk and drove to the Ausable Inn in Keene Valley for burgers and beers. I asked my companions what they liked most about the trip.
“Just being hugged by the trees as we skied through them,” Ethan replied. “And the flow was unbelievably beautiful.”
“Our favorite ski is usually Avalanche Pass,” Kim added. “It was cool to be in another snowy landscape with open vistas.”
I guess we can agree that Tony Goodwin knows how to pick ’em.
DIRECTIONS: From Exit 30 of the Northway (I-87), drive south on NY 9 for 2.9 miles to the Sharp Bridge State Campground on the left.