What a difference a week makes.
By all appearances, winter has finally packed it in. Though a return visit is always likely, most of the natural indicators point directly toward spring.
Earlier this week, as I awoke to a cacophony of bird song, I looked out the window to see a flock of wild turkeys strutting across the golf course adjacent to my yard.
In the early afternoon, I listened to the gentle bleats of woodcock in the backyard and later the familiar refrain of “who-who-who-woooo, who cooks for you-all” resounded from the back woods, where a barred owl called for a willing and able mate.
On the water, in the air or off in the woods, the annual migration of birds returning to the Adirondacks provides a steady slipstream of natural entertainment. Their antics upon arrival always provide opportunities that serve to extend the annual show.
The previous week, the local woods went eerily silent as word spread throughout the area that Jim Goodwin of Keene Valley had passed away at the age of 101. Goodwin was a woodsman, guide, educator, mountaineer and friend to many.
Traveling with John Case, he helped pioneer many of the original routes that rock climbers still travel today. However, over the course of a remarkable career, he left his mark on far more than the cliffs of the Adirondacks.
Jim now joins the ranks of such wildwood luminaries as his sister Peggy O’Brien, Clarence Petty and Nellie Staves. An iconic figure of outdoor life in the Park, he will be sorely missed.
High water, muddy trails
As the transition of seasons begins in earnest, it is important for travelers to take into consideration some of the omnipresent obstacles facing those seeking outdoor adventure.
With the extended hours of daylight come increased opportunities to get in trouble in changing conditions, whether from mud, snow, ice or high water.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has already issued its annual advisories urging hikers to postpone hikes on Adirondack trails above 3,000 feet through early June due to muddy springtime conditions. Hiking in such conditions can damage vegetation and the soft ground found at higher elevations. In addition to mud, there still remains a substantial snowpack in the upper elevations.
As the snow melts off, stream crossings will become difficult and hazardous, which is another good reason to avoid traveling the High Peaks. The arrival of heavy rains always serves to amplify the situation.
Trails at lower elevations will usually dry out soon after snowmelt, and these routes are on soils that are less easily eroded than the higher peaks.
Rock climbers should also be aware of the annual closure of numerous climbing routes, which is intended to protect a burgeoning population of peregrine falcons. The remarkable recovery of these magnificent birds has been greatly aided by cooperative climbers who not only avoid their nesting sites but regularly report the location of newly established nests to the DEC Endangered Species Unit.
Last week, I witnessed peregrines soaring near the cliffs of the Cascades, Chapel Pond and on several smaller peaks near Elizabethtown.
Anglers and paddlers should also heed warnings of spring-melt high water mixed with ice and other debris. The whitewater season is now off at full tilt, and scouting is essential, even on the rivers and streams that may appear tame. On many remote sections of rivers, the likelihood of encountering obstacles such as log jams or “strainers” is always an issue during the spring melt.
I expect most local rivers and streams will remain full with snowmelt and water temperatures will be on the low end of the spectrum. The best opportunities will be found at the base of rapids, waterfalls or dams, where water temperatures will be a bit above normal due to aeration.
These pockets of warmer waters often provoke insect hatches, which may prompt fish to feed.
As far as the lakes and ponds are concerned, we’re still a few weeks shy of seeing any open water.
‘The Gentle Art
I’ve long been a consummate collector of old books that feature stories about outdoor travel. So I was thrilled when I came across an original copy of “The Gentle Art of Tramping,” authored by Stephen Graham.
Graham, an Englishman who was renowned for his travels throughout Tsarist Russia and the Middle East, published the book in 1927. He was a travel writer before the term was coined, and journeyed to many remote regions with other nomads of the day.
Equal parts philosopher, adventurer and vagabond, Graham’s writings recount his travels with Russian peasants throughout the Crimean and Black Sea. Yet it is much more than a simple travelogue. It is not focused exclusively on the regions traveled so much as how to travel, camping skills, gear, cooking and equipment.
Graham emphasizes the process of the journey more than the end result. His descriptions of these travels, conducted almost entirely on foot, are as poignant today as they were when he authored the tome in the late 1920s.
Tramping was the equivalent of “roughing it” in Nessmuk’s day, and in similar fashion both authors shared an interest in lightweight travel to remote and wild areas.
Born in 1884, Graham lived through various periods of the vast technological advancements in modern society prior to his death in 1975. Here are some samples of his writings:
“As you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest, or sprawl wet-legged by a mountain stream, the great door, that does not look like a door, opens.”
“Man is not man sitting down: he is man on the move.”
“Town makes men contentious; the country smooths out their souls.”
Photo by Joe Hackett
As rivers and streams run high with snowmelt, the most productive angling opportunities can be found at the base of waterfalls or other turbulent waters.