It’s a chasm. It’s right there in the name, "Ausable Chasm." I’ve seen chasms before in other parts of the country, and I’ve toured chasms. They’re usually pretty cool but more or less the same. I’ve driven by this particular one on a number of occasions and have always been impressed with the view of Rainbow Falls from the bridge. But, until last week, I now shamefully admit I had never actually stopped at Ausable Chasm. I will now also eat a big helping of my words on the sameness of all chasms.
What to do
The week between Christmas and the New Year is always a weird one at work. Half the staff is on vacation and the other half is at the office wondering why they didn’t put in for vacation. I was looking for an adventure out of the office, and my co-worker Kim was looking for an adventure out of the house for her son Oliver, who was home on vacation all week. And so, as often happens in our line of work, this led to a team effort to find something worth writing about that we could call ‘work’ (yeah, our jobs are pretty cool). Ausable Chasm’s winter trek sounded like a good bet so we called ahead and made reservations for a guided tour before we headed off. Note: The chasm is also open in the winter for self-guided exploration, no reservations required!
900 acres of Adirondack awesomeness
Ausable Chasm is a big draw in the summer months, with at least a dozen different trips, treks, challenge courses, and trails to choose from. In the winter months, most of those activities close down and a new star takes center stage: the snow and ice that fill the chasm.
We arrived to meet our guide Judd in the cozy Welcome Center, where we got a rundown on our trip for the day and geared up. Our route would take us down the Inner Sanctum trail and then back across the Rim Walk, covering the full 2 miles of the chasm (close to 5 miles round-trip). During the winter months micro-spikes or snowshoes are required (you can bring your own and skip the nominal rental fee if you prefer). Spikes in hand, we headed out into the gorge.
Our first stop, the Rainbow Falls overlook, was kind of hard to see this day - it's pictured below, located on the other side of the bridge. The original economic driver of Ausable Chasm this was, and is, home to a power plant and was at one time the home of several other factories using the power of the falls. First fun fact from Judd: The chasm became an attraction for travelers and was first opened to the public in 1870, making it a natural attraction older than any of our National Parks (Yosemite opened in 1872). Second fun fact: the chasm property is 900 acres (gave that one away in the title).
Moving on from here, the fun really starts as you descend hundreds of feet into the chasm via a series of wooden stairs and boardwalks. This is where the true winter wonderland begins! December is early in the season this year for the full ice formations but even so, the view is spectacular. Fun fact three: With the right conditions it will only take a matter of weeks for icicles and walls of ice extending over hundreds of feet to form in over nine main locations throughout the 2 miles of the chasm.
Even with the beginnings of ice on our visit, the spectacle of Ausable Chasm is something hard to put into words. There's definitely something 'otherworldly' about visiting in winter. Of course, with trails and boardwalks running the full two-miles of the attraction, the opportunities to gawk come one after the other, I'm sure each season is spectacular in its own right. This is a fun one- to two-hour workout in the snow and definitely one of the most well laid out and extensive boardwalk systems I’ve seen.
An introduction to ice climbing
There is another main attraction to the winter Ausable Chasm experience: ice climbing. The ice wasn’t thick enough for me to try my hand this week, but once the ice thickens they have two great locations where they’ll lead ice climbing excursions for beginners. The first is ‘Cookies and Cream,’ a moderately sloped ravine that covers with ice and gives first-timers a chance to practice their climbing skills. The second, which is right along the Inner Sanctum trail, is the ‘Splashboard Ice.' The ice grows right off of the wall near the boardwalk and gives climbers the opportunity to repel down to the chasm floor.
I’ve never been ice climbing and the time and money investment in a professional guide and gear to learn has always been a bit of a barrier, but after talking to Judd I would totally come back here when the ice gets thick enough, rent their gear, and try my hand at these beginner slopes for my first-time ice climbing experience.
A winter day well spent in the Lake Champlain Region
As I said, I'll shamefully admit this was my first trip to the Chasm - but it won't be my last. The great thing about the winter is that the ice is always growing and changing so I'll get a different experience along the same trail two months from now. Can't wait to see the BIG ice! I think I can honestly say Ausable Chasm was also kid-tested and mom-approved by Oliver and Kim (thanks for coming along!). Also, a big thanks to our guide Judd! While a self-guided tour would be great, arranging one of their guided tours ahead of time was definitely worthwhile.
In related icy ADK news: