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Monday, April 8, 2013

A plea to hikers: don’t post-hole

Mount Marcy on Saturday afternoon. Photo by Phil Brown.

Mount Marcy on Saturday afternoon. Photo by Phil Brown.

On Saturday I skied Mount Marcy and was surprised at how good the snow conditions were. I began at the start of South Meadow Road and had to take my skis off only once, on a fifty-yard stretch of the Marcy Dam Truck Trail.

To be sure, the trails were hard and sometimes icy on the approach to Marcy Dam and the first mile or so beyond, but above “50-Meter Bridge” (the second crossing of Phelps Brook), there was good snow: packed powder, with fluffier stuff outside the well-trodden track.

Wind slab on the summit. Photo by Phil Brown.

Wind slab on the summit. Photo by Phil Brown.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the gorgeous day, I saw no other skiers. I did, however, encounter a number of hikers who were coming down as I was ascending. Most of them were not wearing snowshoes, a violation of state regulations. Hikers in the High Peaks are supposed to wear snowshoes whenever there is at least eight inches of snow on the ground. The rationale is that winter hikers without snowshoes create “post-holes” that mar the trail.

Because the Marcy trail was so packed down, the hikers didn’t sink in the snow and so didn’t do much damage–at least at the lower elevations. When I reached the summit cone, I discovered that the strong winds of last week had blown snow across the trail. In places, the hikers had sunk a foot into this looser stuff. It didn’t ruin my day, but still …

Ron Konowitz and Katie Tyler skied Marcy on Sunday and sent me videos of post-holes they saw, including a big one on the Corkscrew, a steep, twisty section. Ron says he spent an hour filling in post-holes.

The objection to post-holes is not merely aesthetic: if a ski tip gets caught in one, the skier could be upended and injured.

Many people think they don’t need snowshoes once springlike weather arrives. Actually, when temperatures soar and the snow softens, hikers without snowshoes are more likely to post-hole. I recall descending the Corkscrew once on a warm, spring day and seeing a group of hikers at the bottom. When I yelled a heads-up, they all stepped aside–except for one guy who stayed in the middle of the trail. At the last moment, I did a hockey stop. Turns out he couldn’t move because he had sunk up to his thigh.

So if you’re planning to hike in the High Peaks, please remember that it is still winter at the high elevations. Bring your snowshoes–especially if gets warm enough that the snow starts to soften.

Note to skiers: lots of rocks were showing on the stretch between Marcy Dam and 50-Meter Bridge. It was still skiable, with caution, but it may not be if we get a lot of warm rain this week. Likewise, the many small bare patches on the truck trail are sure to get bigger. If you plan to ski Marcy next weekend, be prepared to do a lot of walking below 50-Meter Bridge.

 

 

Phil Brown

Phil Brown has been editing the Adirondack Explorer since 1999. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important. You can follow his adventures and his musings on the Adirondacks in the Explorer and on this blog.

5 Responses

  1. Todd Cedarholm says:

    Interesting regulation, must wear snowshoes if there is more than 8 inches of snow? I’m a 46r but I’ve lived in the Tetons in Wyoming since 1980. I’m also a long time backcountry skier and I understand the frustration with postholes, but aren’t there enough rules already? Most people out here only post hole once, but also 8 inches of snow isn’t enough to ski in either.

  2. Phil says:

    Todd, in the High Peaks skiers and hikers use the same narrow trails, so you can imagine the state of the trails if everybody were allowed to post-hole. As to 8 inches, I don’t know how they arrived at that figure. But probably any figure would be somewhat arbitrary.

  3. CJ says:

    I live in Montreal, but I go down to the Dacks frequently.

    I was there a couple of weeks ago and on my way down from a peak I encountered post-holes everywhere. They don’t just impact skiers – they make the trail really unstable on the descent – even when you are in snowshoes.

    I caught up with the culprits: A group of about 8 French Canadians. I informed them of the regulation. They had know idea, and even after I explained the reasons to them – they didn’t put their snowshoes back on. At least I was able to pass them…

    I don’t know how someone can go to an area and not check the regulations. I’m not a “nanny-state” supporter, but sometimes you needs regs (and enforce them) to make sure everyone has the chance to enjoy their time in the wilderness.

    It was a very annoying descent…

  4. Alan Senbaugh says:

    What’s the fine for not wearing snowshoes? Is this reg actually enforced? Seems like it would be a nightmare to do.

  5. CJ says:

    Alan – the fine for not wearing snowshoes is $50 to $250 (unless it’s been chenged recently). I have spoke to Rangers you have enforced it and given fines. Presumably it’s in high-traffic areas. One Ranger I spoke to typically just gives a warning, but if he’s certain that the person is aware of teh regulation but is tryong to skirt it – then he gives a fine.

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