Chalis Pond provides a short jaunt before significant snowfall
By Tim Rowland
Driving down a snowless Keene Valley in January, I started wondering what was next. Construction of the Saranac Lake Slush Palace? Some gear manufacturer inventing a form of reverse microspikes in the form of little ball bearings that pop out of your skis when you hit a bare patch of dirt?
All this is to explain my hesitation in climbing up high so far this winter, with its bare ground/mud/snow/ice combo meal that had you changing footwear every 50 feet. Who do I look like, Arturo Brachetti?
And plenty of lower hikes are still purely bare-bootable, including one little number in the Hammond Pond Wild Forest near North Hudson called Chalis ( or Challis) Pond —a trail so short it’s expressed in only three little dashes in the HP Unit Management Plan map.
Frankly, this was less of an “Oh boy, can’t wait to do that one” hike than it was an “I’ve scratched every other Hammond Pond trail off the list” hike. As it turned out I was giving Chalis Pond short shrift.
Named for an early settler, the small round(ish) pond is simple to get to:Take Exit 29 off the Northway to North Hudson. From North Hudson head two miles to Caza Turn Road, then quickly turn right again onto Ensign Pond Road and go 2.6 miles to this teensy DEC sign and a one-car pull off on the right that’s wide enough so as you might lose a mirror to passing traffic, but not the whole door.
There’s a trail register, which seems a bit ostentatious for a 0.6 mile trail, but confirmed that it’s traveled infrequently.
From the get-go I was totally charmed. Part of this was the conditions — some sugary snow had fallen that morning, and when the wind came up snow crystals falling from the hemlock caught the sun like diamonds showering down on the forest floor.
The path climbs steadily from the start to almost the finish, but not so much that you would even call it moderate in steepness. (Total elevation gain is a civilized 225 feet.) It enters a green and white tunnel of young hemlock and snow before breaking out into a forest of tall evergreens.
As it ascends a narrow valley, you will notice that not all that long ago a strong wind howled down from the north, breaking and tossing trees around with impressive strength.
The trail leaves the blowdown behind as it climbs. The low winter sun hung below a low ridge leaving the floor dark as a cave, but illuminating the canopy with stabs of yellow brilliance, like when you would hide in the basement when you were a kid and your parents would come looking for you with flashlights.
At six-tenths of a mile you crest a low saddle of land and the pond appears, on this day a flawless white sheet of snow-dusted ice. This is every inch a locals’ trail, as evidenced by the hand-fashioned fire pits, cached rowboats (plural) a grill that, not to judge, but you probably wouldn’t want to put actual food on and sundry hunters’ paths heading off to nowhere in particular, all amid formal signage with stern government warnings against doing this or that, mostly focused on — since this is a reclaimed native trout pond — the prohibition of baitfish.
The marked trail ends here, but if you haven’t had your fill of hiking, take a right on a relatively obvious herd path and head toward the pond’s outlet, where a MacGyver-esque bridge will get you across. From there, the surprisingly well-maintained trail hugs the shoreline to the far side of the pond, where it crosses a small, easily hopped (poles would help for balance) incoming stream.
Shortly after, a small slab of open rock appears along the shore, the apparent destination of the herd-path and a fine place for a snack.
The forest floor is mostly open and clear, so there seemed no need to take the trail back — the woods invites off-trail wandering, at least until you return to the area of blowdown, at which point scurrying back to the footpath is a wise idea.
By the time all was said and done, I’d logged about two miles of hiking and spent nearly two hours doing it, poking around and stopping often to appreciate little wintertime vignettes — wind-whipped snownados on the pond, swaying hemlock boughs and stones capped with a layer-cake of moss and frost in a stream clear as glass.
As Adirondack winter hikes go, it wasn’t typical, but it wasn’t bad either.