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State closes storm-scarred wilderness areas

Washouts and new slides mark High Peaks; Marcy, Duck Hole dams are draining

August 30, 2011
By CHRIS KNIGHT and MIKE LYNCH - Staff Writers , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

LAKE PLACID - Tropical Storm Irene left many scars as it slashed through the Adirondack backcountry. It washed out bridges, dams and trails, and carved new slides on the High Peaks.

The deluge of rain the storm brought Sunday also left several hikers stranded and cut off public access to two of the most popular trailheads in the High Peaks.

After surveying the damage to the backcountry Monday, state Department of Environmental Conservation officials announced on the agency's website that all trails in the eastern High Peaks, Dix Mountain and Giant Mountain wilderness areas have been closed indefinitely, "due to extensive damage to trails and interior infrastructure."

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As of late Monday, DEC forest rangers were able to account for the last group of hikers that were in the backcountry Sunday when Irene hit. The family - Marty Hiliard, 50, his wife Sara Meixell, 56, and their daughter Lexi Hiliard, 26 - had hiked Allen Mountain from Upper Works near Newcomb on Saturday. DEC spokesman David Winchell said Meixell became ill and the group decided to camp out Saturday night.

"Sunday morning, when they went to leave, the waters were too high, so they had to camp another night," he said. "They were walking out Monday and were met by a forest ranger who escorted them the rest of the way out."

Another group of hikers - three men - were stuck Sunday night at Rocky Falls, about 2 miles from Adirondak Loj, trapped by a torrent of water in Indian Pass Brook. Forest Ranger James Giglinto said the group was able to get across the brook Monday morning and get back to the Loj.

Article Photos

Tropical Storm Irene carved a new slide on Wright Peak, seen here Monday from Marcy Dam. The new slide is the farthest to the right; the other two were carved by Tropical Storm Floyd in 1999.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

Access to the Loj, the busiest trailhead to the High Peaks, was lost when the raging flood waters wrecked a bridge on Adirondack Loj Road, just past the intersection with South Meadow Road. Part of the bridge collapsed, sheets of pavement were ripped to pieces, and the bridge's guiderails were hanging in the air.

The Loj is run by the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK). ADK Director Neil Woodworth said Monday there are about 25 guests stranded because the bridge is impassable.

"We'll get them out as quickly as we can; meanwhile, we'll take good care of them," Woodworth said. "We have plenty of food and staff."

Forest rangers and local officials are working with ADK officials to determine how to evacuate the stranded guests and about 10 ADK staff members.

An Enterprise reporter hiked to Marcy Dam Monday, before DEC closed the backcountry, to survey the damage. Because the bridge is out on the Loj Road, the reporter used the South Meadow Road truck trail.

Just a few feet from the trail register, what's left of a log bridge that crossed Klondike Brook, about a half-mile upstream, was sitting in the woods. Sections of the truck trail have been gouged out by erosion, exposing large metal culverts.

Marcy Dam is still intact, but the bridge that crossed it was ripped out by the flooding Marcy Brook, which carried the lumber downstream. DEC officials said several gates that controlled the water level in the pond at Marcy Dam were lost, meaning the pond is slowly being drained. Large sections of mud are now exposed in the pond.

Farther into the backcountry, things are worse.

"Marcy Brook between Marcy Dam and Avalanche Camps jumped its banks, carved a new channel and wiped out much of the trail," Winchell said, quoting an email from DEC Supervising Forester Kris Alberga. "The Van Hoevenberg trail above Marcy Dam is eroded 1 to 3 feet deep in many places. The handrails on the suspension bridge on the Calamity Pond trail are gone, and the trail is not passable."

Giglinto said the suspension bridge over the Opalescent River near Lake Colden and a high-water bridge over Phelps Brook, just above Marcy Dam, were damaged by the storm. Trails and bridges in the John's Brook valley were also affected. Many of those trails begin at the Garden trailhead in Keene Valley, access to which was lost by road washouts.

Alberga and other DEC officials conducted a helicopter survey of the High Peaks on Monday and discovered that the dam at another popular camping area, Duck Hole, was breached during the storm. Like the pond at Marcy Dam, Duck Hole is also slowly being drained, Winchell said.

Also visible from the air were numerous landslides created by the storm's torrential downpour. A huge new slide scars the northeast face of Wright Peak next to the Angel Slides, which were created when Tropical Storm Floyd battered the High Peaks in 1999. They were the site of a fatal avalanche the following winter.

A long, narrow slide, the top of which is shaped like the number 7, also opened up in the Cascade Brook drainage on Cascade Mountain, improving the view of the mountain's namesake waterfall.

DEC officials and forest rangers say they also spotted new slides on Mount Colden, Basin Mountain, Haystack Mountain and Upper and Lower Wolfjaw mountains.

Winchell said the trails in the Eastern High Peaks, Dix and Giant wilderness areas will remain closed at least through Labor Day weekend. He said it's too soon to say when the damage could be repaired trails could be reopened.

"We haven't got that far yet," Winchell said. "We're still in the assessment stage of trying to figure out what damage is out there."

DEC officials said there are plenty of other areas in the Adirondacks where people can hike and camp. All but 19 of the 45 DEC campgrounds in the Adirondacks are open or were scheduled to reopen this morning. Winchell said most, if not all, of them should be open by Labor Day weekend.

 
 

 

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