The Inn, an impressive three-and-a-half story clapboard building, stood tall drenched in morning sunlight. Freshly fallen snow covered everything leaving the air clean, and without any hiking at all I was already captivated by views of Noonmark Mountain’s snowy peak.
The trail to Lower Ausable Lake is about 300 yards from the main hotel building, past a snowy golf course and two tennis courts.
While approaching the trailhead, excited about what the day would bring, I lost my balance, threw my arms in cartoonish circles and promptly fell square on my back. I let out a humph and laid there for a minute, deciding whether or not I had punctured a lung before getting up and brushing myself off. I hadn’t been on cross-country skis in a few years, and I was glad to have the fall out of my system.
The head of the trail is framed by a rustic wooden gate, and while I passed through a gun-shot rang off in the distance as if to signal my start. After jotting my name down in the guest book, I was off.
The land surrounding the trail system is privately owned by the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR), and hiking has been made possible by a public easement paid for by New York state. Passing through to use the hiking trails is entirely free, but there are rules: no dogs, no leaving the trail, and in the summer, no swimming, fishing or biking. If you’re looking to hike, snowshoe or cross-country ski, however, it’s hard to beat this area.
The trail was quiet and pleasant as I set off. A canopy of pines topped with snow broke the sunlight, casting shadows down across the ground. Birds chirped softy and I felt guilty for being the loudest presence in the woods as I clattered on trying to get my ski-legs back.
The ascent up the trail was slow and steady, demanding frequent water and snack breaks, with the potential to break spirits at times. Still, a slow pace helped stay in touch with the surrounding beauty, and after a while I fell into a comfortable groove, losing myself to daydreaming.
While climbing towards the lake I passed by half a dozen offshoots of the trail heading to places such as, Fish Hawk Cliffs, Wolf Jaws, Rainbow Falls, and Nippletop. I imagined returning in the spring when the snow begins to thaw for further exploration.
Although the four-mile hike up was pleasant and rewarding, the real treat is to be done with the climb. To sit down and gnaw on a piece of jerky, gazing out at the stillness of a frozen lake nestled high in the mountains. I sat for sometime staring up at icy snow-blown peaks, taking pictures, relaxing. A faint buzz of snowmobiles echoed in the distance, as I gather myself for the long coast back down the trail.
The descent — taking about a third of the time as the trip up — was thrilling. Alpine skiing has always been one of my favorite activities, but plowing down a hill on cross-country skis is an entirely different beast. I tried different methods of slowing down — the good old snow-plow, using my poles as a break, etc—but eventually decided just to bomb it.
I’d be lying if I said it didn’t result in another fall.
Photos/Eric Voorhis/Lake Placid News