One of the most photographed vistas in the Adirondack Park is the view of the High Peaks from Route 73 near Lake Placid. Please, enjoy the view; it’s the closest you’ll get to these mountains for a while.
In the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has wisely closed the eastern section of the High Peaks Wilderness Area, the Giant Mountain Wilderness and the Dix Mountain Wilderness indefinitely. There is untold devastation in the backcountry here, untold because we still don’t know the extent of damage to the woods, waters, trails and infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the DEC is faced with a daunting task — keeping people out of these wilderness areas during one of the busiest hiking weekends of the year, Labor Day weekend. Try telling hardcore backpackers, who have been planning their weekend trips for months, to stay out of the woods. It’s nearly impossible.
But everyone who reads these words can help. Either postpone your High Peaks hike if you have one, or help suggest alternative hiking/camping destinations for tourists determined to hike the tallest mountain in the state — Mount Marcy — or others nearby.
Luckily, most of the major trailheads are unreachable right now. We just hope hikers heed the “Road Closed” and “Trails Closed” signs.
The biggest trailhead in the Adirondack Park, and the main access point for the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness, is the Adirondak Loj, operated by the Adirondack Mountain Club. It is currently isolated; the bridge crossing the West Branch of the AuSable River on Adirondack Loj Road is gone.
Another popular access point to Mount Marcy and the High Peaks is The Garden trailhead near Keene Valley. It is unreachable. The Johns Brook bridge on the road to The Garden is gone. It’s a 3.5-mile hike to ADK’s Johns Brook Lodge, which is now cut off from the world.
While the Upper Works trailhead — the southern terminus of the Eastern High Peaks and a popular way to the Flowed Lands and Indian Pass — near Newcomb is reachable, the DEC has also closed this access point to hikers and backpackers.
“The Flowed Lands is now the Flooded Lands,” said DEC spokesman David Winchell.
While reports were still spilling in Tuesday, it appears the backcountry damage could be unprecedented. Foot bridges, trails, railings and dams were either seriously damaged by the flash flood waters or are gone altogether. Blowdown trees litter the forest, making the trails that remain unpassable.
•The dam at the Duck Hole is gone, as is the water in the pond. It now appears to be only a few feet deep.
•The bridge over Marcy Dam is gone, and the dam is leaking significantly.
•The dam at Elk Lake in North Hudson was also partially breached, and the access road across the dam is gone.
•There are numerous washouts on the Marcy Dam Truck Trail and Marcy Brook between Marcy Dam and Avalanche Camps jumped its banks, carving a new channel and wiping out much of the trail.
•The Van Hoevenberg Trail above Marcy Dam is eroded 1-3 feet deep in many places. The handrails on the suspension bridge on the Calamity Pond trail are gone and the trail is not passable.
•The first bridge on the Klondike Trail is also gone, and trails along the shore line at Lake Colden are under water.
•And there are many new slides on peaks such as Wright, Colden-north, Trap Dike, Basin, Haystack, Wolfjaws, Dixes and Giant. Cascade Mountain also has a tremendous swath cut down its face.
We urge people to stay out of these backcountry areas until the DEC deems them safe. Alternative hikes can be found on the DEC website (dec.ny.gov).
A trip to these backcountry destinations at this time will put lives, and the lives of rescuers, in danger. Emergency personnel are busy enough dealing with public safety along the main roads damaged by Irene; they don’t need to be dragging someone out of the woods when it is completely avoidable and unnecessary.