Winter Waterfall Walk at AuSable Chasm
Early March on a 40-some degree day makes you itch to get outside and capture some of winter's last enchantments before they fade to memories. Ausable Chasm's Winter Waterfall Walk had been on my to-do list for quite a while. Here we were into March and I'd yet to get there, but sheer luck handed me a greater opportunity; an opening on the afternoon's 2 hour guided tour with the Chasm's Recreation Manager and Tour Guide, Chuck Fries.
I arrived early enough to do some of the less rigorous exploration, the self-guided tour portion; namely the waterfall walk. From a very close, yet secure vantage point, I could view the enormous, 100'+, ice formations, hear, and even feel, the thunder of the massive Ausable River water spilling over Rainbow Falls. I felt I should bow, maybe even genuflect, in respect to not only the beauty, but the power, of this incredible Adirondack treasure. I learned later during the tour, that this is not the original location of Rainbow Falls. Over thousands of years of geological and physical influences, Rainbow Falls has been traveling upstream! I hoped it did not plan any more moves. I found it a perfect setting right where it was.
At the main trail entrance, I made certain to turn RIGHT at the turnstile, to do another short, self-guided tour to see Elephant's Head directly across the Chasm. Just a couple of hundred feet from the turnstile is the perfect viewing platform for this famous rock sculpture. The artist: Mother Nature The medium: sandstone Chasm walls. Staff at the Main Lodge told me many neglect, or miss, this short side-trip. What a pity to miss our "Adirondack Elephant".
Once at the trailhead Gatehouse I joined the small tour group. Groups are limited in size to six and you do need to call ahead to make reservations (518-834-7454) so as not to be disappointed. I joined a family visiting the area from Boston. It was their first Ausable Chasm adventure and my first winter trek, so we were all very excited, not really knowing what to anticipate.
Chuck had gone ahead to the Gatehouse, allowing us time for our self-guided treks. He had a campfire waiting for us outside; a very welcoming touch. We settled in around the fire on picnic tables and benches and listened carefully while he gave us an overview of where we were headed, what to expect and explained some basic safety rules. The conditions called for fitting us with ice cleats; simple stretch- over- the- shoe gadgets with some serious metal traction power on the bottom. A quick glance at our feet and he told each of us which size to put on. In just a couple of minutes we were all cleated up and off on the trail. A few crunchy steps with the cleats on and I experienced a "mountain goat-like" confidence, ready to tackle any slick spots.
Ours was the two hour tour. We ventured deep, down, into the chasm; to what is known as the Inner Sanctum, a very special, almost sacred, place indeed; particularly this time of year. Descending snow and ice covered trail surfaces, we surefootedly stepped out on to pinnacle points where rare views of icicle covered rock walls greeted us. Meandering along the water's edge, the tile-like Chasm walls towered above us dripping icicle frosting here and there.
With Chuck's knowledge of geology, and familiarity with every crevice of the entire chasm, we were afforded an exclusive experience far beyond our expectations. All eyes were wide as we attempted to take in the phenomenal sights of major ice and rock formations and witness the impact of natural forces extended over time that Chuck clearly pointed out. Ears were alert as we heard the magical Chasm music created by rushing water, melting and falling ice, and giant river boulders rocking against the Chasm walls attempting to hold their place in the swift water.
I lost complete track of time and distance, mesmerized by the natural winter-wonderland experience. I've visited the Chasm in the spring and summer months, but gained a whole new perspective and appreciation during this winter season. While we passed the rock ledge where summer tubers and rafters access the water and saw some of the suspended cables for the new tyrolean traverse tour, we envisioned a different seasonal world. A world where summer clad guests wore water shoes, not cleats. Though imagination seemed appealing, it did not compete with this day. Chatting back at the Gatehouse I discovered everyone on the tour was experiencing a similar reaction to my own. Our energy was spent, our senses had been flooded, and we were all aware that we had just been granted a very special afternoon; a privileged experience, one that would carry with us for some time and have us returning again and again.....
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