No ‘kick and glide’ to be found when skiing 2 feet of fresh snow
By Tom French
As those of us from the North Country know, one day it’s pushing seventy, and the next it’s snowing. My relatives from other parts of the country are in disbelief every year.
This year, the change was so sudden and extreme that Whiteface opened early as a two-day, lake-effect event blanketed southern St. Lawrence County with over two feet of snow. So when Doug called to say he was willing to share one of his early season secrets, I had the skis waxed and ready within the hour.
The third Saturday of November broke with flurries and pale patches of blue poking through. By the time I met Doug and Susan at Sevey’s Corners, it was clear skies.
Sign up for the “Backcountry Journal” newsletter, sending trip ideas, recreation news, wildlife stories and more on Thursdays
Or click here to see all our weekly and daily newsletters
The original forecast for the lake effect pinned Higley Flow as the bullseye, but in the end, the band dumped south. Tyler Jankoski over at WPTZ said something about snow rippling in waves across the NC. He wasn’t kidding, and the further west we traveled, the more snow we saw.
We checked out the trailheads along Route 3 as we sped past. The six inches at Sevey’s increased to ten at Burnt Bridge. In Cranberry Lake, we watched over a foot slide off someone’s metal roof. By the time we arrived at the Dead Creek Trailhead in Wanakena, a third of a mile beyond the Cranberry 50 Trailhead on South Shore Road, we were looking at 18 inches of powder. Fears that warm ground would create sticky conditions evaporated as we clambered over the roadside slough to the railroad grade.
The Rich Lumber Company acquired the land surrounding Wanakena in 1901 and established the hamlet in 1902. At one point, 1,500 people received mail through the post office with a rail link to the west via Benson Mines and the Carthage and Adirondack Railroad. Records indicate up to 21,000 passengers utilized the rail line in some years.
In addition to the usual amenities of a logging town such as a depot, two hotels, boarding house, restaurant, general store, and ice house, the village also sported a steamboat landing and “clubhouse with library, reading room, and bowling alley.”
Several lumber mills dotted the area along with other operations for barrelheads, shoe lasts, and veneer face stock for furniture. A whip butt factory that produced butt ends for buggy whips from beech was “said to be” the largest of its kind in the world at the time. The Wanakena Footbridge, built to connect the commercial and residential sections of the town, is a treasure of the Adirondacks.
The Riches established about fifteen miles of rails in the area, including ten miles toward High Falls and two miles to the Dead Creek Flow Jackworks (a place where logs were floated to be loaded onto rail cars) – our skiing goal. We knew Janack’s Landing, beyond the end of the line, was too ambitious, especially once we saw the snow. Indeed, even reaching the jackworks was a fail – something I’ve gotten used to (see here and here).
But it was a beautiful day. Doug bound through the deep snow to the register whereas Susan and I struggled up behind him. Then the trail leveled into its railbed groove and we enjoyed the path blazed by Doug, who quickly admitted it was a workout. He measured the snow at over two feet with his pole.
“This is no kick and glide,” he observed.
We switched places at some point, and Doug immediately bellowed about how much easier it was to ski behind me. I worked up a sweat, peeled a layer, and still stopped often to rest and make conversation.
The topo shows the trail crossing an unnamed tributary at a quarter mile, and a wet spot appeared in our tracks, but nothing to suggest a flow. Then the trail parallels the small stream as views open across the narrow, marshy floodplain and the bed beelines in and out of the woods. Doug took the lead again at some point. About a mile in, the stream returned across our path at a beaver area with water flowing. Doug poked at the overhanging snow on both “banks,” and we thought better of risking wet skis or worse, boots.
It had been calm and picturesque with clumps of snow hanging from all the trees and blue sky behind. Susan pointed out the wind was picking up as bands of gray clouds gathered to the south. We’d only been an hour, but it was a workout, so we decided to turn around.
Phil Brown appears to have been more successful during his outing in 2016, though he clearly had less snow.
Heading back on the blazed trail, it felt like we were out of the woods in minutes. I got hit by a large snow bomb from a tree. Doug commented that he’d never skied through so much snow on the first day of the season.
I’d heard an eatery in Wanakena was open on weekends in the winter on the Ranger School Road. What a pleasant surprise to discover the Black Waters Café & Trading Post also had Ubu on tap! Doug and I had the Roast Beast and Bourbon Onions. Susan went for the CHICKagatchie – a pressed wrap that looked delicious too. Be sure to have the homemade chips. After a hard slog of a ski, the Ubu was the best I’d ever tasted.
The Rich Lumber Company tried to discourage drinking in most of the lumber camps, though an exception was made for the Italians because wine was such a staple of their “homeland diet.” I learned after our trek that the prohibition was lifted along the Dead Creek spur in 1906 when the train was waved down while passing the logging camp of Joe Rezio. His son, Daley, was born that morning, which was “sufficient cause for a drink for all in the train crew.” Rezio’s camp was about 1 mile from the flow on the east side of the track, right about where we turned around. Another example of how the past is always present.
As a nonprofit, we rely on the support of readers like you.
Join the community of people helping to power our independent,
Bill Ott says
If I died and went to “Heaven”” (or “Hell” for that matter), and did not end up in Wanakena, I would demand an immediate refund. I would demand to know why when I spent most of my life wishing to be in a Wanakena like place, I would be punished for not having the courage to do so. And then when I move the mouse the wrong way, some pop-up wonders why I have not donated, and I have. I think I liked it better when stamps were three or four cents. I have not even cursed, but I bet this gets deleted, too.
s smeby says
Perhaps snowshoes would have worked better in those conditions? And 2′ of snow today would have probably been closer to 4-6′ in Rich Lumber’s days, circa 1903-1913. Or even more – in the 1940s & 50s Jones & Laughlin sometimes sent rotary plows from their Benson Mines operation to Star Lake village to plow out worker’s homes (management’s anyways). My husband Bruce remembers snow over the telephone lines and skiing out a 2nd floor window!
Colin Matthew McNamara says
The pun in the title is brilliant
Tom French says
Hello Colin — We can thank editor Melissa Hart for that. My submitted title was pretty lame. Thanks for reading and commenting.