Friday, February 28, 2020

Cross Country Skiing the Deer Pond Loop

Even though it has been a while since I posted new content on here, I have been keeping fairly active through the first part of winter.  I hiked a handful of times, mostly sticking to lower elevations that are now frozen, and were too wet or buggy in warmer weather.  To keep my fitness level up, I
continued running through most of the season as conditions allowed.

My first winter in the Adirondacks, I have been focusing a lot of my outdoor time on cross country skiing.  Majority of my outings on skis have been at the local groomed trails.  The snow pack was slow to develop and the groomed trails allow for skiing on a lot less snow.  Finally on February 6th a heavy snow fall dumped more than a foot of snow in the area, giving a much needed boost to the snow base on the trails.

In the Adirondacks, the state designates certain trails as ski trails.  Often they aren't much different than hiking trails.  The closest designated trail in the Tupper Lake area is the Deep Pond Loop.  The Deer Pond Loop travel 7.3 miles in the Saranac Lake Wild Forest, just east of Tupper Lake.  The loop travels through a variety of tree types as it makes its way over rolling hills and by the occasional bog. My only experience on the Deer Pond Loop came in summer.  The loop also allows mountain bikes in summer.  My first impression wasn't that great, at least for mountain biking.  The trail was rather wet.  With the wet terrain came abundant mosquitoes.  Portions of the loop had a good deal of blowdowns that made for a frustrating ride.

Cross country ski trail marker

I noticed the trailhead seemed somewhat busy in the winter, so I decided to give it try on skis.  This seemed to make sense since the loop is marked for cross country skiing.  The morning after the storm, the trailhead wasn't plowed  The alternative trailhead wasn't much better, but allowed for parking near the end of a quiet dead end.  The snow wasn't touched and the going was rough.  Unfortunately, the heavy snow weighed down the branches too much and the trail was obscured by heavily leaning trees.  Not wanting to wear all the snow or have it fall down my shirt, I decided to come back.  The following morning after the snow settled a little, I headed back to the now plowed main trailhead.

At least one set of tracks already broke the snow.  Both directions of the loop saw some traffic. I headed counterclockwise.  The heavy snow left the trees with a beautiful layer of white in their branches.  The existing tracks made for a good pace.  Just over a mile from the main trailhead the trail splits.  Turning left, continues on the main loop while straight leads to another trailhead in a short distance along the highway.  Unfortunately my track didn't continue on the main loop.  I would have to break snow.

Snow weighing down trees

The existing track made the travel easy to start

After a foot of snow

For those that never cross country skied, no two snow events ski the same way.  Deep, unconsolidated snow makes for rough skiing.  Rather than glide on the surface, the skis sink, essentially leading to walking with skis.  These were the conditions that I had in store.  Initially, on flatter terrain, the skiing wasn't too bad.  I would soon head into hillier terrain and the skiing was very slow and rough at best.  An icy base and crusty surface complicated even the shallow hills.

The end of the broken trail

Very slow going through a foot of new snow

I very slowly made my way to Deer Pond near the three mile point.  After eating a quick bite, I decided to push on.  Unfortunately I hit a string of snow laden branches that left me quite wet.  I didn't start skiing until nearly noon and I questioned if I had enough time or energy to potentially break as much as four miles of snow before dark.  I turned around and skied the three miles back to the trailhead.  With my tracks set on the way out, the return went much quicker and easier.

The route gets narrow

View of snowy trees in a clearing

Despite no visible trail the route is obvious

The view on the way out

I returned the following Saturday, determined to ski the rest of the loop.  I knew at least the first three miles were broken by my last effort.  I hoped that someone else took advantage of my tracks and maybe completed the task.  Once at the trailhead, it was clear a lot more skis added to the tracks in both directions.

My track from the previous week

Skiing through northern hardwood forest

I headed out just before noon on a perfect, blue sky day.  I made quick time to the first junction.  The leg toward Deer Pond that I broke out the following week didn't have much more, if any new traffic, beyond the first couple tenths of a mile.  Nonetheless, my old tracks made for much easier skiing.  I made to Deer Pond much quicker than the previous week.

Still a lot of snow on the trees after a week

Mosquito Pond

It didn't appear that anyone skied beyond Deer Pond.  My old track still was present, but it didn't look like anyone added to it.  Either way, my legs felt much fresher than last time I reached this point.  I traveled the tenth of a mile beyond Deer Pond, and I saw a lone track continue beyond my turnaround point the previous week.  I followed the track.  I found that snow consolidated greatly over the week and started to ski my own track.  I sank much less on the surface than I did following the existing track.

Narrow section of trail

No mistaking the route in the dense spruce

The loop travels roughly two miles between Deer Pond and the Old Wawbeek Road.  About halfway, the trail drops to Mosquito Pond.  Upon reaching the pond, I reached a well-trenched trail from snowshoes.  At this point the skiing went much faster on a hard surface.  At times, the skiing became a little sketchy in the snowshoe tracks.  The actual trail becomes much narrower in this section.  The trench made it difficult to maneuver my skis on some of the curves.  Nonetheless I made my way to the Old Wawbeek Road without incident.  The trail travels through dense spruce forest that made quite the winter scene with the snowy branches.

View into the tree canopy

Notice the snowshoe trench in place

Tunnel like trail under snowy tree branches

The last 2.5 miles of the loop heads back to the main trailhead.  The loop travels along the Old Wawbeek Road.  This was originally the route between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.  Although chunks of paved road still exist in the summer, the forest has reclaimed it for the most part.  A set of ski tracks continued the length of the old road, making for a fast final leg.

Old Wawbeek Road

I finished the 7.3 mile loop in about three hours.  With broken trail and decent snow, the skiing was fairly easy and enjoyable.  The previous week, I traveled only six mile but spent much more time and energy breaking trail.  I enjoyed the lack of bugs compared to summer and the lingering snow resting in the trees made the loop rather scenic.  In the summer, Deer Pond makes for a pleasant spot for a break.  In the winter, the pond isn't nearly as inviting.  Since I live only a few miles from the Deer Pond Loop, I'm sure I'll visit again.  I wouldn't call it a great destination, but it's nice to have it nearby.

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