Friday, February 23, 2024

Skiing to Tirrell Pond

Nestled between Blue and Tirrell Mountains, Tirrell Pond sits isolated in the Blue Mountain Wild Forest. When I hiked the Northville Placid Trail (NPT) in 2020, the pond stood out as one of my favorite spots along the entire 138-mile trail. I knew I wanted to revisit the pond at some point and hoped to make the trip in winter on skis. As my time living in the Adirondacks winds down the next couple months, I figured I’d better make the trip on skis soon, while the skiable snow still exists. 

Fresh ski tracks along the NPT

Not much snow fell in February. A few days near 50F didn’t do the snowpack any favors to the already shallow base. Finally, 5” of new snow fell last week to freshen the conditions. With another warm stretch this week, and no real snow forecasted, I hit the trail while the conditions were still decent on February 20th. Just two weeks earlier, I climbed nearby Blue Mountain, which overlooks Tirrell Pond. Looking down on the frozen pond further piqued my interest on making the trip. Even with the new snow, I wasn’t sure the conditions would be great since several rains this winter have left a pretty sparse snowpack for the second half of February. 

Tirrell Pond and Mountain from Blue Mountain

Two trails access Tirrell Pond, one from the Blue Mountain Trailhead and the other via the NPT. I wanted to use the NPT from the south. This trailhead sits just east of Blue Mountain Lake near Durant Lake on Routes 28 and 30.This was also the direction I hiked to Tirrell Pond on my NPT hike.

Trailhead sign

I began skiing a little after 9AM. I wasn’t sure how trafficked the trail gets in the winter, but snowshoe tracks and at least one set of skis packed the trail at the start. With the temperature only in the teens, the packed snowshoe track skied quite fast.

The first short stretch looked sketchy
with minimal snow

Snowshoe tracks from the previous days

After about 3/4 of a mile the snowshoe tracks stopped at a meadow and turned around. The ski tracks went maybe another 1/4 mile before ending. There was some visible remnant of an old trench, but I was breaking snow the rest of the way. The surface powder was only 4-5 inches deep on top of a pretty hard base.

An old trench from previous skiers
 buried under the recent snow

The trail generally travels through the forest. Since hardwood trees dominate the forest, I caught the occasional view of Blue Mountain through the trees. The trail also travels pretty close to O'Neil Flow. I diverted a few feet from the trail to catch a decent view over O'Neil Flow.

The view across O'Neil Flow

Although the snow coverage allowed for decent skiing, at times the relatively shallow base and warmer temperatures over the past few weeks, left some tricky spots. The trail crosses several tiny creeks. In a more typical winter, these would probably be frozen and covered in deep snow. Little snow over the creeks made for some tricky crossings. You could usually hear running water under the ice. Occasionally I had to find a spot just off trail to cross the creeks at a point of easier passage.

Breaking trail

Open water in a small creek

The trail rolls through the forest with modest elevation changes that never gets too steep. The only real technical sections were the transitions near the creeks. Thin cover and poor snow coverage over the rocks in the creeks required a little caution to cross. At one point I fell down a bank of a steeply cut creek. The snow on the edge gave out while I was finding a spot to cross, causing me to lose my footing. Luckily the water was frozen and I didn't get wet.

Passing a glacial erratic
 
After roughly three miles, I reached a small clearing. With deeper snow in the area, I could barely see the bridge over the Tirrell Pond Outlet. The NPT turned left. I left the NPT and headed over the bridge to the O'Neil Flow Lean-to. I stopped at the lean-to to put my jacket on. I could feel the wind blowing over the pond. I wanted to add a layer of protection before getting blasted by the wind on the pond. 

The outlet of Tirrell Pond

O'Neil Flow Lean-to

From the lean-to, I made my way through the dense trees along the shoreline and onto the pond. I planned on skiing to the Tirrell Pond Lean-to on the north end of the pond by skiing across the frozen pond. As expected, skiing across the pond exposed me to the full force of the wind and I was glad I put on my jacket. The pond was solidly frozen with just a thin coating of snow, allowing for smoother skiing than the trail. A few patches of the ice were completely wind-scoured and free of any snow.

Emerging onto the pond

Skiing on the pond

Low mountains north of the pond,
the lighter spots on the snow are bare ice

Skiing the mile across the pond took me out of the cover of the forest and allowed me to take in the view of the surrounding mountains. Tirrell Mountain rises immediately from the eastern shoreline from the pond with a prominent band of cliffs, providing the most interesting view. Blue Mountain towers 1,800 feet over the northwest side of the pond. Numerous smaller mountains, especially on the northern side, dot the landscape. 

Tirrell Mountain

Blue Mountain on the left, Buck Mountain on the right

Blue Mountain

I reached the northern end of the pond and headed to the Tirrell Pond Lean-to. After about two hours of skiing, I was ready for a short break to have a snack and hydrate. I was also happy to be out of the wind on the pond. While the snow didn't seem that deep in the woods, a solid two feet of snow covered the top of the lean-to and the snow on the ground was flush with the floor. This was significantly more snow than area around O'Neil Flow Lean-to, just a mile to the south.

Tirrell Pond Lean-to

After my break at the lean-to, I returned to the pond. I skied back to the south end. Heading south, the wind was at my back and not nearly as rough. As I approached the outlet, I left the pond on the west shore. I almost immediately intercepted the NPT, which at this point, traveled only a few feet from the pond. Back in the shelter of the woods and out of the wind, I took off my jacket.

Heading back onto the pond with my tracks visible

Skiing south over the pond

A look back at my route

One last look at Tirrell Mountain before I left the pond

I retraced my tracks on NPT as I headed back to the trailhead. With the snow now broken, the skiing went more smoothly. The day had noticeably warmed up since the temperatures in the teens when I started the day. I noticed the previously dry creek crossings became a little wetter as the temps climbed into the 30s. A few times I got a little moisture on my skis. The snow became a little sticky. Fortunately, the sticky snow usually broke free from my skis after a few glides and I never had to put on any glide wax.

Retracing my route on my old tracks

A narrow bridge over an open creek

Threading the needle across a bare spot

Easy travel in my old tracks

The last couple miles seemed to go by quickly. I stepped off the trail a couple times to get a closer look at some of the trailside scenery. I took a closer look at 30-40' ice flow on a cliff band that I missed on the ski in. I also skied off the trail to get a look at the views over O'Neil Flow at a couple spots.

Crossing a creek with thin cover

Ice flow on a cliffside just off the trail

View across an arm of O'Neil Flow

I was a little worried that the skiing would be a little difficult where the snowshoe tracks packed the trail. The deep snowshoe trench didn't allow much room for turning. The snow softened quite a bit since the morning as the temperature crept above freezing and the last stretch skied nicely with no issues. I reached the trailhead a little after 1PM.

According to my NPT guide, from the trailhead to Tirrell Pond Lean-to runs about 4.2 miles (I've seen some sources list distance slightly higher). That puts the roundtrip distance around 8.4 miles. Most intermediate skiers should have no problem tackling the NPT to the lean-tos with decent snow cover. Even though the NPT travels through a backcountry area, the trail is well marked and navigation is pretty straightforward, even in the snow. The elevation bounces generally bounces around between 1,800' and 2,000' and never gets too steep. If you choose to cross Tirrell Pond, make sure the ice conditions are safe.

As expected, I enjoyed this trip. I really enjoyed the scenery around Tirrell Pond when I thru hiked the NPT. The area looked even more impressive under a blanket of snow. While I would not have minded a little better snow cover, the skiing was pretty good overall apart from a few iffy creek crossings. Given the lack of tracks beyond the first mile after a holiday weekend with new snow, I don't think the area sees much traffic. There's a good chance you'll have the trail to this beautiful place to yourself. If you're not a skier, Tirrell Pond makes a beautiful summer destination as well. I never swam in the pond, but have read it's a nice place to take a backcountry dip in the summer.

Every season I usually have a list of new places I want to ski. The trip into Tirrell Pond was on the top of the list for this season. I'm very happy I finally made this ski trip, especially since it's my last winter living in the Adirondacks. The days following my outing, the temps warmed up into the 40s with a less than promising forecast for winter sports for the foreseeable future. It may have been my last opportunity to ski this season in the backcountry before the snow conditions deteriorate, possibly for the rest of the season. 

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Sunday, January 28, 2024

Cross Country Skiing in Long Lake

Long Lake is a small village in the central Adirondacks that sits on its namesake lake. Several Wild Forests and Wilderness Areas surround Long Lake. Although not as mountainous as more traveled parts of the Adirondacks; low mountains, forests, and numerous bodies of water surround the area. The village also serves as a key resupply point and layover on the Northville Placid Trail. 

Although the most popular winter recreation around Long Lake seems to be focused on snowmobiling and ice fishing, I wanted to explore the cross country skiing in the area. After a week of snow and cold temperatures, I decided to check out a couple skiing opportunities before more rain fell later in the week. I hit the trail on Monday January 22nd.

Fresh tracks 

Three-Brook Ski Loop via the NPT

My first skiing destination was the Three-Brook Ski Loop. The loop is a designated back country ski trail on the east side of Long Lake. I began skiing from the Northville Placid Trail (NPT) trailhead on Route 28N about 1.5 east of town. Although the parking lot was plowed, I was surprised that nobody signed the register in 2 1/2 weeks.

Trailhead

The trip began skiing on the NPT for the first 1.9 miles. The conditions started out pretty rough for the first 1/4 mile or so. Several people postholed in the snow, leaving the trail pocked with ruts. The trail was also quite narrow. Fortunately, the people that left the postholes turned around fairly quickly. Beyond the human postholes, the trail was pretty pocked by deer tracks, which didn't help the skiing on the narrow trail. Apart from the deer traffic, only a faint set of old ski tracks were periodically visible on the trail beyond the first 1/4 mile. The old ski tracks were quite old and long filled in, and at times not visible at all. Within the first half-mile, the trail passed over several bog bridges. The snow wasn't quite deep enough to fully cover the bog bridges and crossing them was a little tricky since they were partially hidden.

Deer scratch

Even though NPT markers show the way, a few ski trail discs mark the way as well on the NPT. In the first mile, a couple of ski bypasses diverted from the NPT to avoid rough hills that would be difficult to negotiate on skis. While the ski bypasses avoided steeps, a lot of vegetation poked through on these bypasses. I'm assuming the ski bypasses see minimal maintenance and are prone to overgrowth. The snow wasn't quite deep enough to hide all the obstacles. 

Ski bypass sign

The trail widens as it turns onto an old skidder trail and eventually a wider old logging road. The skiing became a little easier on the wider trail. Progress was fairly slow as I broke over a foot of untouched snow. I was pleasantly surprised that the morning turned out sunny despite a forecast for clouds. I'm glad I brought my sunglasses.

Old ski tracks are visible here

Skiing an old logging road

Just under two miles from the trailhead, I reached the junction for the Three-Brook Ski Loop. The Three-Brook Ski Loop is a backcountry loop formed with the NPT and marked as a ski trail. As the name implies, the trail crosses over three brooks along the loop. The loop can be skied in either direction, but I chose to ski it counterclockwise, leaving the NPT at the first junction for the loop. 

First junction for the Three-Brook Loop

Large burl in a tree 

My fresh tracks

The first of the three brooks

My tracks crossing the bridge
over the first brook

Generally the ski loop trail runs wider than a typical hiking trail, but not as wide as a logging road. The loop travels through a mix of deciduous and coniferous forests. The loop has a few short hills, but generally covers pretty easy terrain. Given the deep, untracked snow, I never gained too much speed. A couple of blowdowns blocked the trail, but generally it was in pretty good shape. I found the trail to be enjoyable in the untouched snow. The loop rejoins the NPT at its south end.

Untracked snow ahead

Heading into a narrow section of the loop

Back on the NPT, the skiing went a little faster. The NPT generally heads downhill as it makes its way back to the start of the loop. I was still breaking snow, but the slight downhill sped up my progress. After a mile or so I was back at the start of the loop. 

The upper junction of the NPT and the loop

Untouched snow along the NPT

Deer tracks on the NPT

The last 1.9 miles retraced my tracks on the NPT back to the trailhead. The skiing went more quickly and efficiently following my earlier tracks and no longer breaking snow. The last half-mile or so was trickier as I negotiated the narrow ski bypasses and rougher sections with postholes.

Skiing through hemlocks

My route covered about 5.2 miles. Although the distance isn't too long, my pace was relatively slow as I broke over a foot of untouched snow for more than half the trip. I stopped for a quite a few pictures as well and it took about 2 1/2 hours to ski the route. Given a fairly snowy past week, I was surprised nobody skied it recently. I think the loop was a solid intermediate route. The trails never get too steep, but the earlier stretch of the NPT is fairly tight and could cause issues for a beginner not used to narrow trails. I found the loop and enjoyable ski. I always appreciate the forest, especially hardwoods, under a cover of untouched snow

Big Brook Loop

I wrapped up the Three-Brook Ski Loop just after noon. I wanted to ski a little more and decided to check out a route called the Big Brook Loop. The Big Brook Loop begins just a few miles north of Long Lake at the Lake Eaton Campground. The 4.2 mile loop travels in the forest on the north side of Lake Eaton. Despite its name, the trail doesn't actually get that close to Big Brook, which lies just to the north of the loop.

Unlike the Three-Brook Loop, the Big Brook Loop utilizes snowmobile trails for its entirety. Snowmobile trails can be hit or miss for skiing. Snowmobiles can chew up trails, and if too busy, the noise can take away from the experience. Since it was an early afternoon on a Monday, I was hoping the snowmobile traffic would be at a minimum.

I parked at the end campground access road right at Route 30. The trail begins on the opposite side of the road. The first .8 my followed a connector snowmobile trail that wasn't too wide. The connector trail didn't look to traveled. It moved over fairly easy, rolling terrain in a nice mix of forest.

Start of the Big Brook Loop

Following snowmobile tracks 


The first stretch was narrow for a
snowmobile trail

Small trees in the hardwood forest

Trail through the hardwood forest

I reached a junction at .8 miles for a more heavily trafficked trail, State Snowmobile Route C7B. (Snowmobile maps use these letter/number names for the trails) The snow was a little chewed up from heavy weekend use. This trail was wider than the connector, more like a dirt road. This trail eventually parallels Route 30 for a short distance. Dense trees hide the road for the most part and I only heard a couple large trucks over the sound of my skis gliding through the snow. The stretch that runs adjacent to the road was actually pretty with large, stately white pines lining the trail. After a mile C7B, I crossed Route 30 onto trail S86.

On the main snowmobile trail (C7B)

A pretty corridor through large pines

The S86 trail was much less chewed up and skied quite nicely through a predominately hardwoods forest. I soon reached a junction with a trail register.  The main S86 route continued to right. I turned left on a trail that appeared to have only one snowmobile track and a set of snowshoe tracks. This trail heads to the north end of Lake Eaton and the campground.

On the lesser traveled snowmobile trail (S86)

The trail leading to the campground had a pretty thin base of snow. I was surprised to see several sections of open water spanning the trail. All of the sections of open water were easy to bypass or step over. I soon reached the northern end of Lake Eaton.

I was surprised to find open water on the trail
after a cold week

The trail doesn't lead directly to the shore of Lake Eaton, though it's visible a short distance through the trees. I traveled a 100 feet or so to the edge of the lake to get a better look. There's a good view over the lake of the nearby mountains. Owl's Head dominates the view.

Looking east over Lake Eaton

Owl’s Head over Lake Eaton

After checking out the lake, I rejoined the trail and quickly reached the campground. The last 1/4 mile or so travels through the campground. After passing the first stretch of campsites, I reached the beach and boat ramp area of the campground. There is an excellent view of Owl's Head from the beach. From the beach, I finished up my loop skiing on the snow covered driveway into the campground.

Zoomed in view of Owl’s Head from
beach at the campground

The Big Brook Loop runs just over 4 miles. Even though it utilizes snowmobile trails for its entirety, I didn't cross paths with a single snowmobile on a Monday afternoon. The only other people I saw were a couple of ice fisherman on Lake Eaton. Since the trail was packed down by snowmobile traffic, the 4 miles went by quickly. I didn't even take an hour to ski the loop. 

I thought the Big Brook Loop was a nice little trip. I definitely wouldn't recommend skiing it on the weekend when a lot of snowmobiles are in the area, but midweek, it was a pleasant ski through the forest. Although snowmobiles can make the trails a little rough, I think the loop would be a safe bet for a novice skier.

Maps

While Long Lake isn’t usually brought up in conversations about Adirondack cross country skiing, there are certainly some good options. While these two trips are quite different from each other, I had fun on both loops. My two outings covered a total of 9-10 miles of enjoyable skiing. While I have skied more impressive trails in other parts of the Adirondacks, I certainly won’t complain about having these two outings to myself on a nice January day. 

Fresh tracks in a mixed forest

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