Sunday, November 7, 2010

McKenzie and Moose

After reading Spencer Morrissey's "The Other 54", I was intrigued by the re-opened Shore Owners Association (SOA) trails west of Mirror Lake (Lake Placid, NY). My outdated (early 90's) ADK guidebook indicated these trails had fallen into disrepair and were difficult to follow. However, over a period of years, they were re-opened by a dedicated individual (Richard Hayes Phillips) and, based on other trip reports, are now a pleasure to hike. After several weeks of preemptions by rotten weather (and life's many priorities) the forecast for Sunday, November 7th was "Partly Sunny". Good enough! Next stop, McKenzie and Moose.

No Trespassing
The first obstacle I encountered is in the parking area at the end of Chipmunk Lane. A chain is suspended across the stairs, leading to the Lake Trail, and it bears a "No Trespassing" sign. I followed the "Camp Colburn" road and eventually found a means to get to the Lake Trail that, more or less, did not involve crossing someone's front lawn.

NOTE: Chipmunk Lane is closed to hikers; a re-route is available. As of 2013, park on Whiteface Inn Lane and walk the length of  Blodgett Way (first road west of Chipmunk Lane) to the private gate where a marked route goes left and uphill. It bypasses the lakeside houses and then descends to the Lake Trail.

Ritzy Cottages
The Lake Trail is very easy to follow and passes by several very impressive vacation homes complete with matching boathouses. There's no 'roughing it' here.

Don't wear antlers
I knew it was hunting season so I wore a bright yellow hat and my yellow pack (I don't own an orange safety vest). Shortly before the junction I met a hunter looking for deer. I must admit it was a new, and unsettling, experience to meet someone on a hiking trail armed with a rifle.

Snowshoes Not Required (yet)
The ground was frozen and snow-free along the lake and up to the trail junction for McKenzie and Moose. However, most of the Bartlett Pond trail to McKenzie, the Wadsworth trail over to Moose, and the Two Brooks trail down from Moose, are covered with a hard-packed base and a top-layer of dry, settled, crystalline snow. The depth of the top-layer varied from two to six inches.

High Stepping
The Wadsworth trail (between McKenzie and Moose) had the deepest snow cover and my boots sank four to six inches. Although hardly 'post-holing', it prevented me from striding. You're forced to lift your legs, even on level terrain. Although the added effort needed for each step seemed insignificant, by the end of the day I was far more tired than I expected to be. The Two Brooks trail, up to the link trail to Loch Bonnie, had a shallow top-layer and it was easy to maintain a stride.

I brought Trail Crampons but did not require them. The top-layer of snow provided sufficient traction and the trails were largely unbroken; I did not encounter any icy sections. 

There's blowdown on the Bartlett Pond trail and the link-trail between Loch Bonnie and Two Brooks. The confirs are plastered with crusty snow and many are leaning, or have toppled, under the weight. When lying across the trail, they make a substantial barrier. In addition, the trails are narrow so when you crawl over or under the blowdown, you'll release a shower of snow from overhanging trees.

Typical obstructions on the Bartlett Pond trail.
Happiness is a secluded pond
Bartlett Pond is a very pretty spot. It was frozen over and the surrounding trees looked sugar-frosted. It's supposed to contain a partially submerged canoe (I didn't see it). The pond is located on State land, is well below 3500', and the terrain is fairly flat, so camping should be possible. It'd make a nice secluded destination for someone who wishes to try winter-camping.

Where's the submerged canoe? (Bartlett Pond)
Who turned out the lights?
In the morning, the clouds were low and concealed the scenery; Lake Placid was not visible. McKenzie's eastern and western lookouts offered only a few brief and gloomy glimpses. However, the western lookout was interesting in its own right due to the wind-carved snow formations on the surrounding trees. Fortunately, the cloud cover broke later in the day and the views from Moose were excellent.

Wind-sculpted snow formations on Mckenzie's western lookout.
Pristine trails
Unlike well-worn trails in the High Peaks, the trails here are like uneroded herd paths; a few inches of snowfall makes them indistinguishable from the surrounding forest floor. The trails are well-marked with "SOA" markers however the snowfall has obscured the trailbed and footprints of previous hikers.

Eyes wide open
I lost track of the Wadsworth trail a few times and had to backtrack/circle to spot the next marker. At one point, I lost it so completely that I thought I'd have to forego hiking to Moose. It appeared to be a deadend and I spent a lot of time trying to pick up the trail. The trail markers had changed appearance, now simply yellow disks and not "SOA", and I concluded it was not haphazard and probably meant something. I backtracked and, sure enough, I had followed a spur trail to a lookout. The "View ->" sign was hidden under a snow-laden spruce and the main trail veered sharply to the left and down. As the snowpack increases, and the trail signs and markers become more obscured, budget extra time for routefinding.

Example of the Wadsworth trail.

View of McKenzie from Moose.
Based on Brendan Jackson's Trip Report (a.k.a. DSettahr), I altered my planned route. Instead of descending Moose via the Two Brooks trail, I descended to Loch Bonnie and then followed the link trail back to Two Brooks. The descent is very steep but, given the snow conditions, I was able to 'glissade' and cover the 1/2 mile very quickly.

Loch not so Bonnie lean-to
Depending on your frame of mind, Loch Bonnie's lean-to either has lots of character or is decrepit. It faces away from the pond, has a dirt floor, and an over-ventilated roof. It faces a marsh that you must cross if you plan to go to Moose or to use the link trail. Currently, the marsh is partially-frozen and crossing it presents a bit of fun. Some of its many mounds of snow-covered marsh grass are solid whereas others let you discover the depth of the marsh. You get to discover which one's which. Better hurry because the game loses all its challenge in the winter.

Loch Bonnie.

Tired and Grumpy
The link trail has some challenging blowdown near Loch Bonnie. Under one of the "limbo-bars", I found a water bottle and later learned it belonged to Brendan (it was returned to him). In addition, the trail ascends, albeit gently, to the junction with the Two Brooks trail. I found this combination to be a bit taxing after several hours of hiking. In contrast, the descent via the Two Brooks trail was a pleasure and it was relatively free of obstacles.

NOTE: According to Richard H. Phillips' web-site, as of  late 2011 (post Tropical Storm Irene), the link trail between Loch Bonnie and the Two Brooks trail is no longer maintained.

You're on the grid
Being so close to Lake Placid, there's cellular reception in the area.



See all photos here.