With the most popular Wilderness Areas in the Adirondacks closed, many people are wondering where they can hike this Labor Day weekend.
Forest rangers have yet to reconnoiter all of the backcountry, but it’s believed that the central and western Adirondacks largely escaped the wrath of Irene.
Yesterday the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced that the eastern High Peaks Wilderness, the Dix Mountain Wilderness, and the Giant Mountain Wilderness would all be closed during the holiday weekend. The three areas probably encompass more than 175,000 acres. The western High Peaks—which constitutes more than half of the High Peaks Wilderness—remains open.
DEC said Irene’s heavy rains severely eroded trails, washed out bridges, and felled trees throughout the Wilderness Areas, creating hazardous conditions.
As the Explorer reported yesterday, the bridge over Marcy Dam—on the most popular trail to Mount Marcy—was washed out. The dam remains intact, but the water in the impoundment has dropped, revealing mud in the middle of the pond.
DEC forester Kris Alberga flew over the High Peaks region and discovered that the dam at scenic Duck Hole was breached, draining that pond. Duck Hole is the source of the Cold River. It is (or had been) one of the favorite campsites of hikers on the Northville-Placid Trail.
Alberga also reported new slides on numerous High Peaks, including on Wright, Colden, Basin, Haystack, the Wolf Jaws, Giant, and the Dixes. I was able to take a photo of the new slide on Wright Peak yesterday before DEC closed the region. As viewed from Marcy Dam, the slide is to the right of the existing Angel Slides, a popular destination for backcountry skiers. The new slide appears to be longer than the existing slides.
Rob Davies, DEC’s director of Lands and Forests, said the eastern part of the Adirondacks received the brunt of the storm. “The western part of the Park fared very well in the storm,” he said. “That may be an excellent place to look for people who want to get out and recreate this weekend.”
For example, DEC spokesman David Winchell said the Moose River Plains seems to have weathered the storm well. He expects that the adjacent West Canada Lake Wilderness did also.
Presumably, tracts farther west also remain accessible. On Sunday night, my son and I drove through much of the western Adirondacks, from Woodgate to Saranac Lake—via Route 28, Route 30, and Route 3—and saw very little storm damage other than a few downed trees. Power was out only in Blue Mountain Lake and Long Lake.
However, DEC officials caution that they have not yet been able to reconnoiter the backcountry and so hikers should understand that they may encounter storm damage. “We are still in the assessment mode,” Davies said.
The eastern High Peaks region encompasses many popular mountains, including Mount Marcy (the state’s highest summit), Algonquin Peak, and the peaks of the Great Range. Undoubtedly, shutting down the eastern High Peaks on Labor Day weekend will deal an economic blow to Lake Placid and Keene.
Lake Placid and Keene probably will feel the economic effects of Irene far beyond this weekend. Route 73, the main route into the hamlets from the south, was washed out in several places and is impassable. It’s anybody’s guess when it will be reopened. I’m told that Route 86, the eastern approach to Lake Placid, has been reopened.
Moreover, a bridge washed out on the Adirondak Loj Road, stranding twenty-five guests at the Loj, which is run by the Adirondack Mountain Club. Located outside Lake Placid, the Loj is the most popular trailhead for the High Peaks Wildneress. The road to the Garden in Keene Valley, another popular trailhead, also is washed out.
With those trailheads closed, the Upper Works trailhead in Newcomb likely will see more use. Newcomb Supervisor George Canon said the road to Upper Works remains open. Hikers could use the trailhead this weekend to access the western High Peaks.
DEC divides the High Peaks Wilderness into two management zones. The eastern High Peaks, which sees far more traffic, has more restrictions on hikers and backpackers. The western High Peaks is more remote. Its natural assets include seven of the forty-six High Peaks, Duck Hole, and the Cold River. A long stretch of the Northville-Placid Trail passes through the western High Peaks.
The High Peaks Unit Management Plan defines the boundary between the two zones as “the height of land immediately west of the Indian Pass Trail.” This means more than half of the 193,000-acre Wilderness Area is in the western zone. The Dix Mountain Wilderness encompasses 45,000 acres and the Giant Mountain Wilderness 23,000 acres.