February 4, 2011
ADK Winter Outing an Experience Worth Trying
By John Barron
Deep Snow at the Chateaugay State Forest.
Photo: Bob Ensminger
Every season the ADK tries its best to stage an all-club outing. The Spring and Fall Outings are organized by a different chapter and happen in a different part of the State every year – provided a chapter step forward to organize, which usually does happen. Summer Outing is always a paddling trip, in or near the St. Regis Canoe Area. Winter Outing is almost always held on the Tug Hill Plateau, which is known for abundant snow. As 2011 began, I had been on only one seasonal outing – Fall Outing 2006, which the Laurentian Chapter organized; it had been very enjoyable, and I resolved to go on Winter Outing 2011 to learn what it was like.
Winter Outing is organized on a rotating basis by the Black River, Onondaga, and Iroquois Chapters. Each of those chapters does the organizing for two consecutive years, and then the lead passes to the next. This year was Black River’s first year of the current cycle, so my first contact was with registration organizer Janine Johnson, who cheerfully signed me up right away.
Tug Hill is known for an abundance of snow, but I had no idea what this meant until I arrived near Lacona, south of Watertown. Suddenly the trees were covered with big plumes of powder snow, and the roads were lined with huge snow banks. The powder provided perfect ground conditions, to accompany the sunny, cold weather that characterized the weekend.
Mad River Clubhouse
I arrived at the Mad River Club about 5 PM. It is a hunting lodge consisting of a large open upstairs room with a big wood stove and a well-equipped kitchen. Downstairs, people set up mattresses or cots and sleeping bags on the concrete floor of a basement dormitory. Shower facilities are extremely limited, but those who wanted one could obtain one. Some trails begin right at the door, and I became one of many who spent an hour or so exploring the snowy fields and woods on snowshoes before returning to the lodge for hot chili and cookies. All the food was provided by the organizers, including trail lunches, and the standard of quality and quantity was high throughout. Lights out was at about 10:30 PM, and I’d say everyone slept soundly, even though it was cool – well, cold – in the dorm.
Saturday group of skiers at Winona State Forest
Morning brought a substantial breakfast and a choice of four outings: two snowshoeing, one skiing, and one amenable to either skis or snowshoes. I opted for the ski trip, which consisted of two halves with a return to the lodge for lunch. We spend the morning on the trails of Winona State Forest, which is the venue of the annual 50 km Tug Hill Tourathon. The trails are compacted but not track set, and this led to an excellent and not too strenuous morning for a large group of skiers. After lunch I joined a much smaller group of generally more-experienced skiers for a few hours of ungroomed trail skiing at Chateaugay State Forest (not to be confused with Chateaugay in northern New York). This short but challenging trip revealed the full depth of the powder snow; it was an experience.
Skiing on the Winona Way
Supper on Saturday was a feast. There were appetizers, soup and salad, a choice of roast beef or turkey with several vegetables, delicious cakes, and wine included. Later on we enjoyed the music of an energetic two-man local band and several people took to the floor for dancing. People drifted off to bed at their own pace. Some seemed to wonder if the band might keep those wanting to sleep awake, but I don’t think that was so. I went to bed before the party ended, fell asleep the minute I crawled into my sleeping bag, and slept the sleep of the just all night.
Morning brought the same kind of nourishing breakfast as Saturday’s – hot oatmeal, ham, and pancakes, as well as the last of the cake from the evening before, which was very popular. By this time many people knew each other by name and were very much among newly-found friends. Home towns extended as far away as Buffalo and Ohio at least, so I wasn’t the farthest from home by any means. I exchanged contact information with several of my new friends and expect to see them again.
Last minute planning and sign up for the Sunday outings took place, and led to the only slight miscue of my weekend. I chose to go on what had originally been planned as an off-trail ski along the Salmon River, but in view of the great depth of new snow was revised to visit a parcel of detached Forest Preserve near Booneville. There was no time to draw revised maps or give written driving instructions; instead there was to be a convoy of about five cars. I was the last, and the driving speed on the snowy back roads proved a little fast for my comfort level. There was one reassembly point a couple of miles from the lodge, but within the next five mile or so I fell enough behind the car in front to reach a Y-junction with no one in sight. I tried both branches for a half mile or so, in both cases to a point where there was visibility a long way ahead, but without luck. I’d become detached! I waited at the Y-junction for about five minutes, then made my way back to the Mad River Club to possibly join one of the other groups instead but it was now too late. Well, I missed about two or three hours of skiing and about an hour an hour and a half of extra driving; I got home earlier as a consequence, so it wasn’t too great a loss.
Saturday Night Dancing
The camaraderie of this weekend is extraordinary, and I highly recommend it. There are trips for every level of ability, and accommodations are made cheerfully and without apparent effort to the needs and abilities of all the participants. Ron Filhart, who was primary organizer of the weekend as well as on-trail leader of the two ski trips I took part in on Saturday deserves a whole lot of credit for an excellent event.
Participants who don’t want to sleep at the Mad River Club have two
options – staying at local motels of which there are a lot, or camping
outside (this year several did, despite bitterly cold weather overnight). Try
it yourself next year; I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
All photos by John Barron except as noted.
Feb 4, 2011: Tug Hill Winter Outing