February 2017 featured a nice dump of snow in the Lake Champlain Region that created great cross-country ski conditions in the backwoods area. Our guest blogger, Chris Maron, Director of Champlain Area Trails, shares his solitary ski experience.
We just had a great February snowfall. Finally, in the Lake Champlain Region, there is deep snow. The family is away so I’m on my own. Now, where to explore? I pull out the CATS Map--that’s the map of Champlain Area Trails, the hiking trails in the central Champlain Valley, from Willsboro to Crown Point. Let’s see if there is some place new.
My eyes scan down to the Moriah area where there are a number of trails in the hills above Port Henry. The Hammond Pond – Bloody Pond Trail looks good. I hiked there once in the summer and found it to be a pleasant walk through the woods to Hammond Pond. I didn’t make it to Bloody Pond that day. We missed the turnoff, which was easy to do because I’ve heard since then that it isn’t marked.
A quick lunch stop in Port Henry
The drive out to the trail looks to be fascinating because the mountains rise so quickly coming out of Port Henry. But first, there are two new places in town I want to stop at. I grab a quick lunch at the Red Brick Café that just opened downtown. The reuben sandwich is fantastic and it’s one of the few places to get an espresso. I take the coffee to go because I want to get one of the cupcakes I’d heard about at the Cake Bakery and Café on Main Street. Sure enough, the cupcake is fabulous—so good that I get two more. A few cookies, too.
With all that food-energy, I can hardly wait to be on the trail. I get back in the car and head west, noting that as I drive farther out of town, there is more snow on the road. I pass the last house and all of a sudden, it seems like I am driving through forest primeval. I am on Ensign Pond Road and drive carefully as it winds through the hills. Soon, a big wetland and frozen pond stretches out on the left with cliffs and steep, mountain slopes on the right. Then, it’s back into the unbroken woods.
Skiing the Hammond Pond Trail
Several miles later, I pull into the trailhead. I text my wife and son so they know where I am, put on my skis and head out on the trail. It immediately splits and I go left to Hammond Pond instead of going straight on the trail to Moose Mountain Pond. Next time I’m out on a solitary ski, I’ll try that trail.
The trail has a quick little bump to climb, a very short downhill to get the blood moving, and then it follows a pleasant old logging road along the base of a mountain. It is an easy ski as I follow some snowshoe tracks that broke the trail several days earlier.
When I approach a creek crossing, it becomes a little precarious because the trail slopes steeply to the bridge. So, instead of skiing down the little hill and possibly overshooting the turn with dire results, I sidestep down to the bridge, ski across, and then sign in on the trail register.
“This is the perfect ski,” I think as I quietly work my way up a barely-perceptible hill. “The trail is wide, the snow is deep enough to slow me down on the downhills but not so deep as to make it difficult.”
The trail rounds a bend and then skirts along a brook, partly covered in snow. I marvel at the beauty of the brook with polka-dots of white snow-covered rocks contrasting with the dark open waters of the flowing stream. The sound of rapids and falling water fills the air and brings life to the silent forest. Animal tracks cross the trail—coyote, rabbit, weasel. Deer tracks follow and sometimes cross it.
I’m just a half mile from the road but it feels like I’m in the middle of a wilderness. Snow blankets the forest, muffling all sounds but the babbling brook. The trail is like a catwalk, wide with forests sloping down to it and then continuing to drop down to the water.
I pass a sign stating that Hammond Pond is 0.3 miles to the left. There seems to be another trail going straight—maybe this is the trail to Bloody Pond. I’ll check that later but first follow the arrow and head towards Hammond Pond. The sound of falling water at the dam lets me know I’m getting close to the pond. I arrive at a little opening and sure enough, I’m looking out over the snow-covered pond. I eat the cookies and enjoy the quiet view.
Exploring the route to Bloody Pond
Then, it’s back down the trail to the junction where I follow what I hope will be the Bloody Pond Trail. No one’s been on it yet so I break trail as I traverse along the side of the hill enjoying nice views through the trees of Hammond Pond.
Soon, I get beyond the pond and the forest envelops me in its cold winter warmth. It feels like I’m skiing through a big flatwoods but all of a sudden, hills rise on both sides of a creek that angles in from the distance. The trail narrows and I enter a little valley.
This takes me to a beaver pond where I take off my skies and walk across the dam. Back on the skies I continue going up the slowly rising hill, I come around a bend and stretching out before me is Bloody Pond. No, it’s not red. It’s snow-white with a couple of large upturned tree roots that look like sculptures.
So there is a pond at the end of the unmarked trail. I make a mental note to let DEC know there needs to be a Bloody Trail sign at the junction and then get ready for the really fun part of the ski. Yes, all the seemingly level skiing has really been a slow, continuous climb so I expect that going back will be a nice downhill.
Sure enough, it is. I glide back along my tracks and have a better opportunity to enjoy the woods, the snow, the creeks, and sloping mountain as I return to the car. I must admit—sure it is fun to go to the cross-country ski centers like Cascade and Mt. Van Hoevenburg. But nothing beats doing real cross-country skiing, when you truly ski across the country in ungroomed snow and explore wilderness trails with quiet woods, cascading water, and sweeping vistas across frozen lakes.
I’ll be back here sometime soon. First to explore the trail going to Moose Mountain Pond. Then to follow its extension to Bass Lake and a western trailhead near Route 9. But now, it's back in the car for the drive to Westport. Maybe I’ll ski with the family tomorrow. We loved skiing the Bobcat Trail last year so that could be good for everyone. I’ll save Moose Mountain Pond Trail for another solitary ski.
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