Sentinel Range Plan Affects Skiers, Hikers & Climbers

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A skier on the Jackrabbit Trail. Photo by Phil Brown

The Jackrabbit Ski Trail is one of recreational treasures of the Lake Placid region. The main trail stretches about twenty-four miles from Saranac Lake to Rock and River Lodge in Keene. I ski short sections of it often during the winter, and once in a while I ski the whole trail in a day.

The end-to-end trip is always a great adventure, but there is one part of the Jackrabbit I don’t like: Mountain Lane. If you’re skiing from Saranac Lake to Keene, you reach Mountain Lane after passing through the Cascade Cross-Country Ski Center.

Mountain Lane climbs uphill from Route 73 and dead-ends at a trailhead for for the last section of the Jackrabbit Trail. The mile-long road used to be unplowed in winter, but in recent years the town has cleared it to provide access to houses along the road. This means skiers have to carry their skis or risk scraping the bottoms on grit.

And so I was glad to read the state Department of Environmental Conservation plans to build a trail in the woods so skiers can avoid the road.

DEC is proposing the new trail in the draft unit management plan (UMP) for the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area. DEC will hold a public meeting on the UMP at its office in Ray Brook on Thursday, December 7, starting at 6 p.m. The department will accept written comments on the plan until December 22. (See link below to download the draft UMP.)

Skiing

The Barkeater Trails Alliance (BETA), which maintains the Jackrabbit, has been advocating a new trail to avoid Mountain Lane for years.

“Skiing is rarely possible on this section,” said Josh Wilson, BETA’s executive director. “A trail bypass would improve skiing experience on this section of the Jackrabbit Trail and encourage more public use of the Jackrabbit between Cascade XC Ski Center and Rock & River on the Keene end.

Wilson said BETA will propose that DEC require skis or snowshoes on the Jackrabbit in the Sentinel Range Wilderness—a stretch known as Old Mountain Road. This could affect ice climbers, many of whom hoof it on the trail to reach ice-climbing routes on the north side of Pitchoff Mountain. Hikers who don’t wear snowshoes often create postholes that mar the trail for skiers.

In addition to building a new trail along Mountain Lane, DEC proposes to reroute a section of the Old Mountain Road trail that has been flooded by beavers.

DEC considered reopening old ski trails to South Notch and North Notch in the Sentinel Range. These trails were used in the 1932 Winter Olympics. DEC rejected the idea, in part because the department sees value in keeping the core of the Sentinel Range wild and trail-less. “This undeveloped area provides outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive and unconfined recreation,” the draft plan states.

DEC says it may also build new ski trails near Scott’s Cobble, a former ski hill outside Lake Placid. The trails may start at a new parking area on Route 73. BETA has cleared some of the old ski trails on the hill.

Hiking

The trail from Route 73 to Balanced Rock is one of the most popular day hikes in the Lake Placid region, but the trail is steep and eroded. What’s more, the main trailhead lies across the highway from the trailhead for Cascade Mountain, another popular hike. This exacerbates the parking problems on Route 73.

There is another Pitchoff trailhead farther down the road, but it is far from Balanced Rock and has problems of its own: hikers must cross the highway in an area where the line of sight is limited. Hikers sometimes do an end-to-end trip between the trailheads and walk back to their car along the highway, creating additional safety problems.

DEC proposes to kill three or four birds with one stone by closing both trailheads and opening a new one in safer location (in between the existing trailheads). Hikers would have the option of doing an out-and-back trip to Balanced Rock or doing a loop over the Pitchoff’s bald knobs. The hike to Balanced Rocks would be somewhat longer than it is now. The current hike is described in our guidebook 12 Short Hikes Near Lake Placid

The department also plans to create a trail from Bartlett Road in Keene to the East Branch of the Ausable River and reroute an eroded section of the trail to Copperas Pond.

Rock climbing

Two popular rock-climbing areas in the Sentinel Range Wilderness are the Barkeater Cliffs on the north side of Pitchoff and Notch Mountain in Wilmington Notch. Both are reached by informal herd paths. DEC proposed to adopt both trails and improve them as necessary.

“The trail to Barkeater Cliffs is currently in good condition and requires only minor upgrading at this time,” the draft UMP states. “The trail to Notch Mountain Slabs will require more extensive upgrades.”

The herd path to the Barkeater Cliffs starts on the Old Mountain Road section of the Jackrabbit. The herd path to Notch Mountain starts on the trail to Copperas Ponds.

The draft UMP also proposes a temporary moratorium on the placement (or replacement) of bolts and fixed anchors on climbing routes. A similar moratorium is in effect in the Dix Mountain and Giant Mountain Wilderness Areas. DEC plans to convene a focus group, which would include climbers and environmentalists, to develop a Park-wide policy on bolts and anchors.

DEC contends that bolts and fixed anchors violate Forest Preserve regulations. Climbers, however, say they are needed for safety and to help protect the environment. For example, if there is not a bolted anchor at the top of a route, climbers usually use a tree as an anchor when rappelling. In most cases, this necessitates tying a sling around the tree, threaded through metal rings. Often, climbers add slings for safety, so a tree might end up with two or three colored slings around it. Generally, bolts are neater and seen only by climbers.

“Fixed anchors are an integral part of climbing,” said Will Roth, an Adirondack guide. “They  serve many purposes, most importantly safety and cliff-top resource protection.”

Most climbing routes in the Adirondacks do not have bolts, but some routes would be unsafe to climb without them. In unbolted routes, the lead climber inserts cams or chocks into cracks and clips the rope to them to guard against a fall. As a second climber follows, he or she removes the devices. Bolts are used where it’s not feasible to use cams and chocks.

Bolts and fixed anchors are allowed in climbing areas in state parks. For example, all the routes at Thacher State Park near Albany are bolted. Thacher opened some of its cliffs to climbing just this past summer.

Click the link below to read the Sentinel Range plan.

sentinelump

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