Lake Champlain is a big attraction in the Adirondacks through every season. The lake dictates weather, moods, activities and gear. This winter has been a wild one. Each week Lake Champlain has had a completely different character. I walk my dog to the boat launch in Westport most days so I have a chance to get up close and watch as the season progresses.
Natures mood swings
In January, temperatures were too warm to cool the water but far too cold for boating. Suddenly the cold temperatures arrived and made a spectacular cauldron of vapor as the warm water lost its heat into the cold air. Finally, the Northwest Bay froze over, and in just a few days the Lake was frozen all the way to Button Bay in Vermont. The Nordic skaters had been skating from Port Henry and Crown Point, anxiously waiting for the full lake to freeze before drifting snow could ruin the skating ice. And they got satisfaction.
For at least a week there was perfect glass where the Lake had frozen quickly, without being disturbed by wind. We all knew if we didn't get on it soon we'd miss it. I skated for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon but it took some imagination and caution to get across the big pressure ridge a few hundred feet off shore. We skated to the Barber's Point Lighthouse and the smooth ice continued much farther than we could see. The surface barely resisted our skate blades. My adrenaline stayed at medium-high most of the time I was on the ice. There were lots of seismic sounds that made me keep moving for fear of a thin plate or a weak crack.
The next day the smooth ice was gone. A warm spell with rain followed by a thin half-inch of snow then low temperatures --the recipe for a crust that takes a lot of work to skate on. But a huge wind came and scoured much of the crusty snow off, leaving a surface that felt like millions of tiny marbles below your feet. Not ideal for skating but quite alright for boots. Friends and I hiked a few miles north and scavenged the ice for intriguing wildlife and ice patterns.
Then the real snow came--around ten inches. The load seemed to press the ice down and the pressure ridge became obscured under a ridge of hard pack. The Lake became a mighty glacier. Perfect for skiing but windy and exposed, with dry sounds instead of the chiseling sounds of skates. The moonlight on the flat whiteness was like a mirage.
In comes spring
And then the temperature warmed again. Cracks widened and puddles spread to form wide pools of water. New day, new terrain, new gear. The fishermen are glad not to have shanties to move at every whim of the weather. They come and go with pods they pull behind them as they walk or ride four-wheelers.
The daytime temperature rose this week, bolstered by the longer, sun-filled days. The lake's surface will soon change yet again from the spring's corn snow-like ice covered with pools of water to its fully liquid form, just in time to welcome early season paddlers, and fishing boats.