The Adirondack Park has its share of guidebooks—for hiking, paddling, birding, fishing, cross-country skiing, you name it. Just when you think the field has been exhausted along comes another.
The latest addition to the genre is one I never would have foreseen: a guidebook to the culverts under the Northway.
The author, Tom DuBois, is a veteran bushwhacker who likes to scout out remote cliffs for rock climbing. Life Under the Fast Lane grew out of his efforts to find crags in the Dix Mountain Wilderness, Hoffman Notch Wilderness, and other state lands on the west side of the Northway (I-87).
The book gives detailed directions to eleven “walking culverts” between Exit 28 and Exit 31 that can be used to reach public lands that otherwise would be inaccessible. As the name suggests, all of these culverts are large enough to walk through (and sometimes drive through). You may need to ford a river or bushwhack to get to a culvert, and once on the other side, you’ll need to bushwhack if you plan to hike any distance.
I have used two of the Northway culverts on approaches to trailless peaks in the Dix Mountain Wilderness, including Camel’s Hump, Wyman Mountain, and Nippletop Mountain (not the High Peak). These and other peaks in the region offer solitude and great views not found elsewhere. I’ve also used the culvert that leads to an old trail up Makomis Mountain near Exit 30 (the very top is on private land and off limits to the public).
Several of the culverts may be familiar to fans of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s High Peaks guidebook. The fourteenth edition included directions to four culverts leading to the Dix Mountain Wilderness. The revamped fifteenth edition, High Peaks Trails, retains directions to three of the four. These four culverts are probably of most interest to hikers as they give access to the aforementioned trailless peaks.
DuBois devotes more space than the ADK book to describing the routes to culverts and what might be found on the other side. The real value of Life Under the Fast Lane, though, is that it opens the mind to new bushwhacking possibilities. Judging from DuBois’s descriptions, you won’t always find knockout views, but you are almost guaranteed to find solitude. And for some people, that’s more important.
I was surprised that some of the lesser-known culverts get any use at all. As it turns out, rock climbers use two of them to reach cliffs known as the Northway Express Wall and North Hudson Dome, and hikers in pursuit of the Adirondacks’ hundred highest peaks use a third to get to Blue Ridge Mountain in the Hoffman Notch Wilderness. Visitors to the Lincoln Pond State Campground can pass through a culvert to reach a rocky knob so popular that it had a register book on the summit.
Apparently, riders of all-terrain vehicles also use culverts. DuBois mentions seeing ATV trails near a few of them. Although ATV use generally is forbidden on the forever-wild Forest Preserve, landowners sometimes have deeded rights to cross the Preserve on ATVs. DuBois doesn’t indicate whether the ATV use in question was legal or not. In his introduction, he says the walking culverts were built to facilitate passage by wildlife and/or people and in some cases to preserve access to private camps.
Life Under the Fast Lane is a slender book, just fifty pages, but it contains numerous color photos of the culverts, parking areas, and approaches as well as topographical maps. The book contains just about everything you need to know about Northway culverts, but its design is unattractive—a fault shared with many self-published publications.
The book can be purchased for $9.99 at the Mountaineer in Keene Valley or on the store’s website.