Silver Lake trail preserves winter magic
By Tim Rowland
Bogs might not be as boggy in winter, but that needn’t make them any less beautiful, especially after an unanticipated pop-up snowstorm last week clad the evergreens in robes of sparkling white.
If it is true that the Eskimos have 100 different words to describe the snow, they may need 101 after a rain/wet/snow/powder created an almost culinary-like circumstance similar to the breading of a chicken tender. By the time the snow started sticking to the wetted limbs, the temperature had dropped and the snow lightened, meaning that it stuck tenaciously to limbs without being so heavy as to cause them to bend or break.
Evergreens, of course, particularly lend themselves to blankets of snow, so when conditions are just right, you can be fully excused from shouting to your Uber driver, “To the bog, and step on it!”
The nearest such attraction to us is The Nature Conservancy’s Silver Lake Bog near Hawkeye, a community on the northeastern tip of Silver Lake in the Town of Black Brook. The easiest way to access the bog is by taking Silver Lake Road out of Au Sable Forks for 12 miles to Hawkeye, juking left on Union Falls Road and driving 1.5 miles to Old Hawkeye Road. Turn left (there’s a sign for the bog) and in a couple tenths of a mile the trailhead is on the right.
Sign up for the “Backcountry Journal” newsletter, sending trip ideas, info and more on Thursdays
Normally, at lower elevations, it’s a race to get to the forest before the boughs shed their snow, but due to the above referenced atmospheric conditions, such was not the case, meaning that Beth and I went unpunished for our late-morning Saturday start.
Stepping into the 98-acre preserve was like stepping into another world. The first half mile of the trail is over a magical winding boardwalk through an evergreen tunnel of cedar and spruce, frosted in white. Such is the enchantment that if a gnome were to pop out of the understory it wouldn’t come as a complete surprise.
In warmer months, the Silver Lake Bog is a spongy, sodden world of mosses, carnivorous plants and familiar bog shrubs such as sheep laurel and Labrador tea. Like other bogs, it was formed when retreating glaciers left an impervious bathtub in the rock that filled up not with soil, streams or groundwater, but with rain and plant matter. Having little in the way of nutrients, these bogs attracted a Delta House worth of vegetative misfits that have figured out creative ways to survive such as, for example, eating bugs.
In winter, the peat is hidden under the snow, but the thickets of tamarack, black spruce and white cedar are in their glory, providing good scenery for the hikers and habitat for myriad woodland creatures whose presence is given away by their footprints in the soft snow.
We saw one other couple on the boardwalk, and judging by footprints the trail has been lightly used of late; it only takes a few hundred feet for an overriding sense of silence to settle in, lasting for the duration of the hike. The occasional lonely chirp of a songbird and the crunch of our boots was all we were afforded in the way of a soundtrack.
It bears mentioning that these bogs, here and around the world, play an outsized role in carbon sequestration. The Conservancy says that one-third of all land-based global carbon is stored in northern peatlands.
It also bears mentioning that a lot of people whose names will never appear in the headlines contributed money, materials and sweat of their brow to make this project possible, an example of how people working at the most hyper-local levels can have an outsized effect on the planet. Many of these contributors are recognized on a sign leading into the bog. We felt it worth our time to stop, read the sign and whisper our thanks.
After the boardwalk, the trail breaks out into a mostly young, hardwood forest, studded with grandaddy hemlocks here and there, as well as a few larger maple and yellow birch. Here too, an inch of snow was adhered to every little twig, giving the woods the appearance of having been spray-foamed. Jackson Pollock only wishes he could have imagined the lattice of dark branches fringes in white that gave the forest an abstract, angular monochromatic tapestry, broken only here and there by bronze beech leaves that, long after their summer prime, hang on through the winter like washed up rock stars playing at a county fair.
The trail wanders on the level for most of its course, climbing gently at the end as it approaches the hike’s second act — a broad and frozen panorama of Silver Lake from bluffs 200 feet above the shoreline. There’s a brief descent to the primary overlook that is steep and can be a bit tricky (less so, now that the Conservancy and Adirondack Mountain Club have installed wooden steps) but there’s a decent view of the lake through the trees if conditions are too icy for your tastes. Spikes on this day weren’t essential, but they increased the confidence level considerably. When you’re on a cliff 200 feet above an icy lake, you don’t want there to be any misunderstandings.
- Distance: 3 miles round trip
- Elevation: 1,684 feet
- Elevation gain: 253 feet