On the Right Track in Lake Placid

Our plan for the weekend is simple: Hit as many snowshoe trails as we can. We’re lucky that a few days before a huge storm dumped two feet of snow over the entire Adirondack Park in New York. Having enough depth to cover the rocky trails this late in the season won’t be a problem.

We start by checking into our weekend headquarters at the Ledge Rock Motel. This pretty building sits directly across from massive Whiteface Mountain and offers a spectacular view of the slopes. Located between Wilmington and Lake Placid, we are set up nicely to be able to tour the triangular area connecting these two towns with Keene Valley to the southeast. This is the heart of the High Peaks Wilderness Area.

After settling in, we head directly to Keene Valley and our favorite outdoor shop, The Mountaineer, for some help picking out a short snowshoe option to shake our legs out. Mountaineer staffers Drew Haas and Jan Wellford are trail runners and backcountry skiers, and they know trails that interest us better than any guide book. True to form, Drew suggests an option just a hop away, from the Garden parking area to John Brooks Lodge. It’s a popular hiking route out of Keene Valley, so the new snow should be packed down enough to allow us to run in our running snowshoes.

As typical in the mountains, the trail starts heading up immediately. As we start climbing up to higher ground, the depth of snow increases, and we start to see layers of mountains rising in the distance. This is a new trail for us, and we are eager to explore. We spend a lot of time running the trails in this area, but it’s so big that there are still countless areas where we’ve never visited. It’s a nice mix of familiarity and unexplored opportunities.

My calves protest from the lack of my normal warm-up, but eventually the trail starts to level off. It’s a warm day so the snow is soft and a lot of watery spots make it a bit mushy. We are amazed at how deep the occasional “post-hole” footprint pokes into the snow from someone wearing boots who had stepped off the trail. It is getting dark, so we flip on our headlamps and decide to turn-in a bit early, saving the rest of the trail for a fresh start the next day. Heading downhill we open up our strides and fly down the soft trail back to the car in a serious negative split.

In the morning, after a huge diner breakfast (with extra hash browns for me, as usual), the cooler morning air makes the snow firmer and easier to negotiate. We have loaded up backpacks with supplies in case we can venture far into the mountains. As we’re at the mercy of finding at least partially groomed trails in this depth of snow, we agree it would be better to be prepared for the possibility than having to turn around before it’s necessary.

Beyond where we reached the night before, the trail gets increasingly beautiful. We are venturing farther into the mountains and the views are paying us for our efforts. The trail is a carved tunnel through the snow; we’re in another tunnel, which surrounds us with stately green pines.

Arriving at John Brooks Lodge, we chat briefly with two volunteers who had snowshoed with heavy packs earlier that day. It’s tempting to step inside for hot chocolate, but we decide to keep going and see if more of the interior trails are accessible. Unfortunately we find out almost immediately that they aren’t, so we turn and reluctantly start heading back.

After a few hours of putting our feet up, we decide to explore the Flume Trail System, which is located practically beside the Ledge Rock Motel. These are relatively new mountain bike and hiking trails that the city of Wilmington has developed. They total about 10 miles of trail adjacent to Whiteface Mountain. It feels like a park setting, with some trails meandering along the pretty Ausable River.  It’s a very handy location for everyday use by local residents.

It’s late in the day and above freezing, so the trails are mushy and hard to travel on when we arrive. We climb as far as we can into the trail system, but end up keeping our tour relatively short before heading to Lake Placid for a refueling dinner.

We have taken numerous family camping trips to the Adirondacks, but we always feel an urge to come back. In addition to being a playground for outdoor enthusiasts of every stripe, there are countless attractions like live shows and interesting venues from the Olympic Winter Games (held here in 1932 and 1980). Dining and shopping options are varied and plentiful. This night we stop at Lisa G’s for what always tastes like home cooking – perfect after a long day out in the cold.

On Sunday we have just a half-day before heading home, so we decide to check out one of our favorite mountain running trailheads: The Adirondack Loj, just outside of Lake Placid. After discussing the snow conditions and our trail options with the park staff, we decide to stay completely clear of any Nordic ski tracks and head up Mt. Jo. This pretty little mountain – near the Loj – overlooks Heart Lake. From its summit it affords fantastic views of the surrounding peaks, including Algonquin Peak and Mount Marcy (the latter, at 5,344 feet is the highest point in New York State).

Mt. Jo is normally very busy, but on this late winter day we have it entirely to ourselves. The trail isn’t long, but it is steep and rocky. We are surprised that it is easier to climb in winter as the snow evens out the trail surface – plus our crampons are helpful with traction. Underneath an inch of fresh, undisturbed snow, the trail is well-packed. When we arrive at the summit we breathe in the mountain air and feel a sense of peace. We are reminded again that our lives are deeply enriched by our snowshoes that allow us to stay on our cherished trails even through the long winter.

Tourism Information

For more information on Olympic venues – Mt. Van Hoevenberg bobsled and luge track, Ski Jumping Complex, Speed Skating Oval, Whiteface Mountain – and the many shopping and dining options in the area, visit the Lake Placid Tourism website: www.lakeplacid.com.

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Sara Montgomery

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