Thursday, February 3, 2022

Exploring Letchworth State Park - Winter Edition

 I've always enjoyed being outdoors in nature.   Everything moves a little slower, there's less distractions and I'm a happier human being overall.  Over the last couple of years we have all felt the need to escape the world around us and you see more people outdoors.  In spring, summer and fall it's easy to get out and explore.

But what happens when winter comes?  

Are you doomed to be stuck inside and only wander out to do the traditional winter activities of skiing, snowboarding, skating, sledding or something similar?  

As a Trip Leader for Adventure Calls Outfitters, most of my times from early spring until late fall is spent in Letchworth State Park sharing the river with our amazing guests.  

Then winter comes and I don't get to spend as much time as I would like in one of my favorite places.  

The good news is that there is just as much to do outdoors in the winter as there is during the rest of the year.   

Archery Field Overlook

During the rest of the year, Letchworth offers tons of outdoor options, but even during winter there are still lots of opportunities to have fun.  Whether it is camping, snowmobiling, hiking or just enjoying the views there is plenty to keep you busy.

For this adventure, I decided to check out some of the most frequently visited sections of the park and see how they compare during the winter months.  

I started my day with a quick stop at Archery Field Overlook.   The river below looks tiny, the waves and rocks that we navigate all year long are hidden by snow and ice.   The gorge walls are covered in ice and snow look like something from another world.  

Inspiration Point

The sun is shining and I make my way to Inspiration Point.  Throughout the year this is easily one of the most photographed areas of the park with a spectacular view of both the Upper and Middle Falls and the train bridge.  

Today is different.  The falls aren't raging with water crashing to the river below.  Instead the sun shines on a frozen tundra of ice build up.   The rainbows that can be seen on sunny days when the water flows are nowhere to be seen, but the scene is still something to witness.

Frozen Middle Falls

I continue my walk to get a closer look at the falls.  Middle Falls does still have a few areas of flowing water, but it's mostly a maze of gigantic icicles locking a moment in time until the next thaw.  

Upper Falls

Upper Falls is mostly frozen as well, and to see just a sliver of the river below makes me realize just how powerful nature is.    During rafting season, the water flows through this section in a range of a few hundred cubic feet a section to tens of thousands of feet a second, but on this day, the ice and water make it look as if everything is standing still (it isn't so do not try going out onto the ice or anywhere near it).

The Ice Volcano

My last stop on my walk today is to see what is the one thing I get asked about more than anything else in the winter at Letchworth State Park; the Ice Volcano.

Outside of the Glen Iris Inn is a gravity fed fountain that is fed year-round with flowing water from the pond above the property.  When temperatures drop below freezing for an extended period of time, the Ice Volcano takes shape.   The cone that forms can grow to over 50' in height when the conditions are right.

During my visit the Ice Volcano was in the range of 20'-25' in height.  

Overall it was a great way to spend a few hours wondering the park and enjoying a cold but sunny day.

All of the locations I have showcased here can be reaching by driving to them if you enter at the Castile entrance of the park in the winter.  However, if you are looking to truly experience everything the park has to offer, pick a spot to park and hike many of the trails that are open throughout the winter months.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Tackling the Holland Ravines Section of the Finger Lakes Trail – Winter Edition

One of the most challenging and fun hikes that I have discovered over the last couple of years is the Holland Ravines section of the Finger Lakes Trail.  This section is actually part of the Conservation Trail branch of the FLT and depending on where you start can range between 10 and 16.5 miles in each direction. 

If you are not planning to do a full out and back hike (or even a partial out and back) I would encourage you to work with a group of people to stage vehicles at each end of the trail.

I have done this hike a few times and each time I have failed to meet my goal of completing the entire section at one time.  My last attempt was a 8 mile hike out and back during the summer. 

It’s now late February and it has been an incredible winter so there is plenty of snow to try out my snowshoes.  It’s been a while since I’ve been out on snowshoes, but its always fun and a great workout.

Previously, I’ve done this hike alone.  For this trip, my friend and fellow outdoor guide, Tim will be joining me.  The plan is to meet at the Holland Willows Restaurant, leave a vehicle there and then drive to the Carpenter Road parking area and hike from the North to South.

In the week leading up to our planned expedition, there has been more snow, especially in the areas around the trail so I decide to check social media to see if anyone I know has been on the trail recently. 

Upon further research I found the following picture from Deborah Smith showing that the ravines had indeed received a large amount of snow in the last few days.

Photo Courtesy of Deborah Smith

I immediately texted Tim the picture and we quickly decided that hiking the entire trail in snowshoes may have to wait for another day.  However, we are still going to give it our best.

Overnight, another snowstorm rolls through and I hear that the Holland Ravines area has gotten even more snow.  During my drive south, it doesn't seem that bad, until I exit the 400 and get into the town of Holland.  There is more snow than in the pictures from yesterday.  Overall, the fresh snow is now somewhere in the range of 3-4 feet.  

We met at Holland Willows restaurant the next morning and prepared for our hike.  A short walk up the hill to the trail head and we finally see just how much snow awaits us.

The trail is pristine, not a single track anywhere in sight and the snowplows have done a great job at building up a wall of snow on the side of the road. After a few minutes of figuring out how to best navigate the wall in snowshoes we are finally breaking trail on the path.

Tim blazing the trail

Our snowshoes are sinking 10-12 inches with each step that we take, but it’s a beautiful day out and we want to go as far as we can. The revised plan is to travel to the dedication marker and back to the parking lot for a total of just under 7 miles. We continue on and make it to the first road crossing, taking time to remove our shoes before crossing and then continuing on to the next track.

The trail after crossing

Along the way, my body reminds me that it has been far to long since I’ve done this but I’m enjoying every minute of it.  Then I do what we all will do at some point in snowshoes.  I step on one of my shoes with my other foot and promptly find myself sitting in the snow. 

I am certain that Tim was doing his best to suppress a laugh or two as I spent the next few minutes trying to figure out how to get back up, but I manage, and we continue on the trail.

After an hour or so, we finally reach the first incline to the ravines.  I know there are stairs here, but I’m not seeing them.  Side-stepping or sliding might be the best way down.  But I know we have to cross the water in spots as well.

Breaking trails is hard work...

We discuss our options and decide a couple of miles on the trail is enough for today and we have earned our lunch back at Holland Willows. Overall, it was a great day and I’ll be back to tackle this trail again.

Until next time…

Thursday, January 28, 2021

River Otters, Neither Fish nor Flesh

Original article courtesy; Jacqueline Stuhmiller - Finger Lakes Land Trust Newsletter contributor 

The ever inquisitive river otter.

An interesting anecdote to this article, about 20 years ago a couple members of the ACO staff assisted the "NY River Otter Project" with introducing several pairs of river otters into the gorge at Letchworth State Park.   They were tagged with tracking devices and park patrons were asked to report any sightings to the front desk at the Visitor Center so the pairs could be monitored. Unfortunately, the batteries died after several years and there haven't been any sightings in some time so the pairs' status is unknown at this time.   

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Local Hiking Spot - MacKay Wildlife Preserve

Original article courtesy; Debi Bower 

One of the geological formations found within the preserve.

Some "formations" are man made.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

First Day Hikes at Letchworth State Park

Photo courtesy Ken Wallace

(Original article shared courtesy "Friends of Letchworth

First day hikes are less than a week ahead of us!
👋 Join Park educators for one of four different group hikes on Jan. 1, 2021, or follow the marked routes for a self-guided hike.
📞 Anyone can call (585) 493-3682 to register.
⌚️ Registration is free. To keep group sizes safe and comfortable, registration is required for all guided hikes. Registration is not required for self-guided hikes.
😷 Masks are required for all hikers over age 2.
😋 The Friends of Letchworth will provide refreshments at the meeting spots for guided hikes.
🪨 North end hikes depart the South Highbanks Shelter at 10am and 1pm. The morning hike will be faster-paced, the afternoon slower. Park in the swimming pool parking lot.
🌲 South end hikes will depart the Humphrey Nature Center at 10am and 1pm. Park in the Nature Center parking lot. The morning hike will be faster-paced and the afternoon will be slower.
🥾 The self-guided hike in the northern part of the Park will start at South Highbanks Shelter near the swimming pool parking lot and follow the marked route along the rim of the gorge, following the Highbanks Trail to Hogsback Overlook. The entire route is 1 ½ miles.
🗺 The self-guided hike in the southern end of the Park starts at Trailside Lodge near the parking lot for the Humphrey Nature Center and follows the marked route on some recently enhanced and expanded trails around Trout Pond. The entire route is 1 ½ miles, or 1 mile with shortcuts.

Photo courtesy Ken Wallace
** Check out even more hike details on our website under ‘Upcoming Events’:

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Starting a New Adventure - The Northern Forest Canoe Trail

One of my favorite things about working with my river family at Adventure Calls Outfitters is that each year someone inevitably comes up with a new adventure to try and usually invites others to join. The adventure can be anything from rafting on a new river, a weekend camping trip, climbing mountains, hiking or any number of outdoor activities. 

For me, this is great since my family doesn't always share my zest for the outdoors and "roughing" it.  We spend plenty of time camping each year, but it usually involves a warm cabin with electric and a full kitchen.  When exploring with my fellow guides, its typically primitive camping and spending time in my hammock.  

When Tim mentioned his plans for this year, I was immediately intrigued and excited.  Tim has a goal to complete the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT); a 740 mile trek that starts in Old Forge, NY and ends in Fort Kent, Maine.  There are a total of 13 sections to the trail that cover 56 lakes and ponds, 22 rivers and streams, and 62 portages (for a total of 55 miles). 

Day 1 - Starting our Journey

Starting Point of the NFCT - Old Forge, NY

Today we will be paddling the Fulton Chain of Lakes (a total of eight lakes appropriately named First Lake - Eighth Lake). A total of six of us are starting the journey together (two of us were eager to get started and were already on First Lake when the picture above was taken).

Paul (my paddling partner for the week) and our fully loaded canoe

We could not have picked a better first day to start the journey.  The sky was blue with a few clouds here and there, the sun was out and it was warm, but not too hot. 

As we paddled through the first four lakes, I'm reminded that while we are in the Adirondacks, we are in one of the most travelled parts of the park and people are taking full advantage and coming out to explore this year.

However, there are still great sights to see.  I'm not sure when the last time I saw this many loons.  While passing through Third Lake we got a great view of Bald Mountain and the fire tower at the top.

Bald Mountain Fire Tower

After completing the carry from Fifth Lake to Sixth Lake we stop for a quick lunch and head off to complete the final three lakes of the day.
Seventh Lake gives us an incredible view of a seaplane practicing landings.

Our day started in Old Forge at 7:00AM.  At 6:32PM we finally reach the end of Eighth Lake and our destination for the evening.  We have completed 8 lakes, 2 carries and 18 miles of the NFCT.
Eighth Lake shore - End of Day 1

The lean-to at the end of Eighth Lake is our campsite for the evening.  A few of us setup hammocks and tents while the rest of us prepare out sleeping bags in the comfort of the lean-to.  

At some point during the night, I hear someone or something wandering around out site.  This is the Adirondacks, so I'm fully prepared to open my eyes and see a bear or another animal wandering through the site.  Instead I see Brian searching around the site with a flashlight and taking notes on what he sees.  

I've got to see what he is looking at...............

I was prepared for bears, I wasn't expecting the issue that we now face.  We've had a visit from the local population of mice.  They are everywhere.  A few dry bags, storage bags and even one of the tents now have additional openings in them that were not there before.  

After making sure that all the mice have left I return to my slumber. 

Day 2 - A New Set of Obstacles

Our second day starts with a carry from Eighth Lake to Brown's Tract.

The Boardwalk to Brown's Tract

Brown's Tract is a completely different experience than we had yesterday.  Gone are the waves and wake from boats and open lakes and we are now paddling through a marsh that looks like the perfect moose feeding grounds.

One of the many beaver lodges in the area.

It's not the moose we need to worry about though.  Brown's Tract is home to a large population of beavers and they have built multiple lodges and dams throughout the area.  We encounter a total of four beaver dams that we need to navigate.  According to the guidebook, a misstep around the dams and you will find yourself waist deep in mud. 

Getting out of the canoe isn't an option.  Paddling around the dams isn't an option.   Breaking down the dams, again not an option.   There is only one option here, paddle over the dam and stay in the canoe at all costs.

The kayaks and solo canoe go first and each navigates that dams as we encounter them.  Now it is our turn.   We back up, and get as much speed up as possible to clear the dam.  The front of the canoe clears the dam and then...

Negotiating a beaver dam in Browns Tract.

We are stuck.  Luckily we had brought along extra equipment to try in any situation that might come us, so even though we are in a canoe, we have a kayak paddle in the canoe that can be broken down into two pieces.  With one half of the paddle in each hand we are able to steady the canoe and pull ourselves forward over the dam.

The same process is used for each of the next three dams and we finally break free into Raquette Lake.

Raquette Lake

Over the first few carries and paddling through 10 bodies of water, we realize have some equipment that needs to be repaired, enhanced or replaced (some kayak wheels are just not made of the terrain we are putting them through), so we decide to stop in town to see what we can find.

While we were unable to find new gear in the town of Raquette Lake, we did find some amazing treats and ice cream.  We will be in Long Lake the next day so the new gear can wait.

Raquette Lake is the largest of all of the lakes in the Adirondacks.  The weather to this point has been amazing, but we are in Adirondack Park and weather can change at any time.

The shortest route to take would be to cross the middle of the lake and head past the Great Camps, through the islands and up to Indian Point.

As we make our journey, the winds pick up and we are paddling into the wind.  We decide to head in closer to shore and follow the path up to Indian Point.  During our paddle into shore, Paul's hat is blown off his head and my Adventure Calls Raft Guide cap joins Paul's hat in the lake.  The river gods have taken their first offering for the trip.

Our group finally reaches Indian Point and at this point we have to cross one of the widest points of the lake to get across to Bluff Point.  I watch as a pontoon boat passes and realize it is dancing on the waves as it crosses.  Everyone on this trip is an experienced guide, knows the risks and is prepared for our journey so we cautiously start the half-mile crossing to Bluff Point.

At this point, the wind picks up and the waves are now 3-4 feet whitecaps coming at as.  Paul and I take our time turning into the on-coming waves and using the break in between to push towards shore.   The entire time, I keep watching the dock on shore hoping that it will soon be within reach.  Just over halfway through the crossing, the rain starts. 

When we reach shore, we discover that we've been being watched as we were crossing the lake.  A woman is standing on shore encouraging us to come into the dock.  The rain has stopped and Mary welcomes us to Bluff Point.  

Group picture at Bluff Point with Mary

We sit and talk with Mary for a couple of hours while waiting for the winds to calm down before finally getting back into our craft to resume the paddle through the rest of Raquette Lake.   Meeting people like Mary is one of the great things about trips like this.  Things won't always go as planned, but finding a silver lining in the little things makes all the difference. 

After completing Raquette Lake, we carry our gear to Forked Lake.  Our goal is to finish Forked Lake and complete the longest carry of this trip before nightfall.  We're all drained and we've pushed our limits for the day so we decide to break for dinner on the shores of Forked Lake.

Dinner on Forked Lake

All along our route, there are primitive camping sites and lean-tos so we paddle to the next lean-to on Forked Lake and setup camp.  Our day started with a carry to Brown's Tract at 7:30AM and we reach the lean-to just before 8:00PM.  

Sunset from our campsite on Forked Lake

The campsite is a few miles short of the goal for the day but we've travelled just under 15 miles for the day. 

Day 3 - Finishing Section 1 of 13 for the NFCT

Our third day starts with a short paddle to the end of Forked Lake and to the carry that we have all been thinking about since the start of this trip.  The signs for the canoe carry don't show a distance, but the total carry from Forked Lake to just past Buttermilk Falls is approximately 3 miles.  

Most of the carry is along the road and we have wheels for each craft, but the carry is long and tiring.  

Buttermilk Falls

A break at Buttermilk Falls is a welcome distraction from the carry and we take a break for snacks before continuing the journey to Long Lake.

Our lunch view

From here we paddle into the village of Long Lake and enjoy an actual sit down meal. 

Unfortunately at we have to cut our planned trip short here.  There is a large storm moving into the area and the risks of continuing outweigh moving on to the next section.

We are already planning the next section of the trip as well as looking ahead to the sections to come.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Book Review: Secret Places: Scenic Treasure of Western New York and Southern Ontario

Now that we're finally getting a prolonged period of warm weather here in Western NY and with restrictions being eased a bit, it would be a great time to get out with the fam' and explore the Great Outdoors.  Perhaps you could even visit some places you haven't been to yet or weren't even aware of.  With that in mind, Mike Radomski has a book suggestion for you to help guide you in that direction!

Secret Places: Scenic Treasures of Western New York and Southern Ontario

Secret Places: Scenic Treasure of Western New York and Southern Ontario is a book written by a local author, Bruce Kershner.  Kershner was an environmentalist, author, high school biology teacher and forest ecologist in Western New York. Mr. Kershner was a renowned authority on old growth forests. He won numerous awards for environmental activism which include “Environmentalist of the Year” from the Sierra Club (Niagara Group) and the Adirondack Mountain Council. 

In 1996, he was awarded “Environmentalist of the Year in New York State” by Environmental Advocates of New York. Kershner lead several ecological studies in WNY at locations such as Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve, Zoar Valley, Allegany State Park, and the Niagara Gorge.  Sadly, Mr. Kershner passed away in 2007 after a long battle with esophageal cancer.
Maps of the Chimney Bluffs on the Coast of Lake Ontario
Mr. Kershner’s love for WNY and the environment is evident in the book. The text is written in a format that makes you laugh. It contains a wealth of little known facts about the secret place along with some whimsical humor mixed in.
Each secret place contains a written description of the location including its history and points of interest. The entries also have a hand drawn map of the location with detailed illustrations pointing out points of interest. You really get a sense of the author’s humor and excitement for the areas.
Zoar Valley Map
The secret locations are all in Western New York and Southern Ontario. They include Zoar Valley, Reinstein Woods, the Niagara Gorge, Little Rock City and Griffis Sculpture Park. There are a total of 25 secret places. One of my favorite entries, though I have not visited the location is “Swallow Hallow and the Frog Orgy Experience”. Apparently in the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge you can hear “the bizarre sounds of singing, peeping and chattering frogs (in a state of orgiastic fervor—this is the sexual version of “Spring Break”).” I look forward to witnessing the orgy.
My other favorite entires include:
  • Skinny Dipping Beach at Zoar Valley: “a traditional skinny dipping beach since the 1960s when hippies “liberated” the area from the inhibitions of prudish society.”
  • Directions to Buttermilk Falls: “…turn left into the village of Leroy (the “Birthplace of Jello”)”.
  • About Reinstein Woods: “..Lily Pond reminds many fo the famous Monet painting of water lilies. In essence, the Preserve is a living “million-dollar painting” and raises the question, “Does art imitate nature, or does nature imitate art? 
Mr. Kershner’s descriptions and details add enjoyment to every secret place we have visited this far. We have visited a few locations we would have never found by ourselves. He even reminds us “Bring plastic bags with you so you can clean up the environment!”
Every WNY outdoor enthusiast should own and treasure a copy. 
Although, I have been to several of the “secret places”, I have not visited them all. To honor the memory of the author, I am making it a goal to visit all 25 places listed in the book and do a trip report on each location. The trip reports will include some of Mr. Kershner’s commentary of the location, photos and an updated digitized map. My trip reports are in no way a replacement for the actual book. Every WNY outdoor enthusiast should own and treasure a copy.
Side note: A friend of mine suggested this book to me. When I looked it up, my wife said, “Hey, that’s my high school biology teacher, I think my dad has that book.” My wife remembers Mr. Kershner as a energetic, whimsical and even a little cooky, teacher, loved by all. Her favorite memory is Mr. Kershner dressing up as a mad scientist and feeding his students a Jello brain. She said he really enjoyed teaching, loved his students and the environment. 

Exploring Letchworth State Park - Winter Edition

 I've always enjoyed being outdoors in nature.   Everything moves a little slower, there's less distractions and I'm a happier h...