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Basic tips on winter trails and travels

December 27, 2008
Joe Hacket, Enterprise Outdoors Columnist

The past week delivered true midwinter snow conditions to the Adirondacks. To date, the area's snowpack measures 18 to 24 inches, with further deposits expected.

The snowpack is almost double this depth in the upper elevations, raising the concern for avalanches, especially on the slides. Snow depth at the stake at Lake Colden measures 30 to 36 inches.

Predictions for the coming week include a slight warming trend that will likely serve to condense the snowpack and firm up a solid base. This will be a welcome change for those who have struggled to break a trail in the deep powder.

Trail conditions remain excellent across the region, with the

Jackrabbit Trail featuring end-to-end skiing and all of the area's cross-country ski centers in full operation.

The deep snows have made for tough travel on untracked trails. In such conditions, backcountry skiers welcome the sight of snowshoers preceding them onto the trails.

Likewise, snowmobilers have been enjoying the deep powder conditions, while groomers have been busy getting area snowmobile trails in top shape. Railroad and powerline corridors are in great shape.

Travelers should be aware that the heavy snows will also insulate the lakes and hamper the development of safe ice. Although ice fishermen can be found on numerous ponds and lakes, caution is still key.

Anglers would be wise to carry a set of ice picks and avoid inlets and outlets. Due to the heavy snow, those walking on lake ice should use rubber boots.

It is still too early in the season to attempt to travel lakes by vehicle, as slushy conditions persist. Most area lakes and ponds are covered with about six to eight inches of good, black ice. Anyone attempting to cross a frozen surface is advised to avoid areas of current such as channels, inlets or outlets.

Skiers and snowshoers should be ready to scrape, as slush will combine with powder and freeze to their equipment, making for slow travel and some heavy lifting.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a reminder that snowshoes or skis are mandatory equipment if traveling trails in the High Peaks, to prevent hikers from 'post-holing' and ruining the established ski tracks.

As the snow cover serves to highlight animal tracks and trails, the woods are now ideal for nature hikes and track identification. It is always interesting to interpret the tracks for children and help them to learn about the woodland creature's habits, habitats and behavior.

For those interested, the state Adirondack Park Agency's Visitors Interpretive Center in Paul Smiths offers guided naturalist tours on their ski and snowshoe trails throughout the season.

Currently for visitors and locals alike, the list of outdoor activity options includes nordic, telemark and alpine skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice fishing and snowmobiling, as well as sledding, tobogganing or tubing on local golf courses.

Ice skating will continue to be available in the arena and at the Sheffield Olympic Speedskating Oval.

Get current trail

conditions on the Web

Anyone considering traveling upon the extensive trail systems of the Adirondack region will usually take several items into consideration. One of the most important items to be addressed is the current and expected weather forecasts for the area in which they intend to travel.

Beyond a knowledge of the expected weather, the next most vital item would have to be trail conditions. Although the Adirondack Mountain Club offers a trail condition 'hot line' at the Adirondac Loj, it often does not address trail conditions in other regions of the Adirondacks or state. Additionally, the hot line often does not offer truly current information, such as you would get from a friend who just climbed that peak.

Now such information is readily available online at a Website that is dedicated to hiking, skiing, climbing and snowshoeing the peaks of the Northeast. The address is

The site features a synopsis of current trail conditions in a narrative form that is completed by the traveler.

Current entries include information on new sections of blow-down, poorly marked trails, high water, muddy sections, ice conditions and snow depth.

Cross-country ski

trail conditions

As of Monday, Dec. 22, the APA Visitor Centers in Paul Smiths and Newcomb report their entire trail systems are packed, tracked and in good shape.

Most of the other trails in the region are likewise in good shape, including the Hayes Brook Horse Trails, the Fish Pond Fire Truck Trail and the system of log roads near the Lake Clear Girl Scout Camp.

Until a firm base is set up and established, skiers would be wise to seek out trails that feature more wide open and grassy or leaf-covered terrain.

Truck trails such as the Ausable Lakes Road in St. Huberts, Wawbeek/Deer Pond Loop, Raquette Falls, Fish Creek/Rollins Pond, Camp Santanoni or Marcy Dam are not as rocky or root covered as most hiking trails. Additionally, since they are old roads, these trails often do not have a heavy canopy of trees to limit the snow that falls.

No one was stirring,

not even a mouse

As most home and camp owners in the Adirondacks know all too well, the fall and winter of 2007-8 was an extraordinary year for mice. Despite the best efforts, it often proved impossible to rodent-proof a residence or camp.

Ed Kanze, a local naturalist and guide, even wrote a chapter about infestations of mice in his recent book, Over the Mountain and Home Again. The chapter was entitled Rodents of Mass Destruction.

Like many local residents, last season's crop of mice inundated our residence. A multitude of traps did little to diminish their numbers. Now, thanks to a study by Charlotte Demers at SUNY ESF Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb, we know why.

Demers describes a number of conditions that occurred during 2007 which combined to form 'a perfect storm' for the mouse explosion.

A population boom of white-footed and deer mice was the result of an extremely successful tree and seed production that resulted in the largest beechnut crop in 20 years.

With short gestation periods and large reproduction rates, small mammal populations exploded. Deer mice can have six litters a year.

Combined with these reproductive advantages, food was abundant and predator numbers were low. Add to the equation such favorable weather conditions as a short winter, a dry spring and a wet early summer and you have the makings of a mouse boom.

Such conditions resulted in an extraordinary survival rate for mice. In the summer of 2007, scientists at the Adirondack Ecological Center recorded the largest small mammal catch in the last 16 years, catching 120 mice at three sites for an average of 17 mice/acre.

Fortunately, by last summer, the biological cycle ceased to favor the mice. Poor seed production in the fall of 2007 combined with a long, wet winter and an abundance of predators caused a crash in the population of small mammals. Vole, shrew and mice numbers were way down. Traps set for the study caught only eight mice, for an average of about one mouse per acre.

In addition, the most abundant small mammal trapped was the woodland jumping mouse, which competes with the deer mouse and the white-footed mouse for food. Fortunately, it is not a common house invader.

Now that you know the whole story, may your Holidays remain mouse free.



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