Cross-Country Skiing in the Western Adirondacks
Hedgehog Mountain has been one of those secluded peaks that have been eating at me for some time now. I see it on the map every time I pan around the Cranberry Lake Region and each time I say to myself, I need to just go. This winter has been one of the most difficult I can remember with the relentlessly deep snow, which over the course of 2-months has not consolidated in the least, and the bitter cold. Both of these take a physical, and honestly a mental toll, on your body, my body. But yet I don’t let it stop me.
My friend Jamie Savage was on my call list, so I threw out a feeler - kind of like throwing spaghetti at a wall to see if it sticks, well apparently Jamie likes spaghetti. It was 9:45 on a Friday morning with a negative 8 degree nip in the air, not a cloud in the sky, and a broken ski trail in front of us. We strapped our snowshoes to our pack, clipped on the skis and off we went to see what we could find, because honestly I had no idea.
Getting to Brandy Brook Flow
There was one car in the parking lot and by the looks of it, a dog of a sizable nature as well. The kick and glide seemed to be all uphill for the first part of this endeavor, but we were feeling pretty good. We got engrossed in conversation about the Ranger School, oh, I forgot to mention, Jamie was one of my professors at the college.
The trail was in prime condition, better than I could have imagined. This trail is also designated as a snowmobile trail, but it didn’t appear snowmobiles used it much. By the looks of it, it might have been a month since the last had passed by. We pushed on and came by the one and only other visitor on the crisp morning - and, of course, we knew the guy. I mean, doesn’t everyone know everyone in Cranberry Lake?
It wasn’t too long before we got to the bridge over Brandy Brook and from there we knew it was only a couple kicks away from Brandy Brook Flow. At Brandy Brook Flow the snowmobiles started to appear, in track form anyhow. This was a major thruway for them, groomed and everything, but they all went toward Burntbridge Pond. Some actually hit the snowmobile trail a bit further south along Brandy Brook Flow, which required us to ski their tracks for about 0.5 miles. Normally this isn’t a bit deal on groomed trails, but this half mile was not groomed and the snowmobile use caused a washboarding effect that made skiing a bit cumbersome.
Then I heard, "Hey! HEY! Back here." What did I miss? Was there a moose? What? No, I skied right past the turn for the Cranberry Lake 50 to Hedgehog Pond, and kept right on a going down the snowmobile route. As you might have guessed from this comment, it was not even touched, and to my defense very easy to miss. No sign of skiers, snowshoers or even deer. It was going to be a long day from here on out. I was not too optimistic that we would reach Hedgehog Pond as planned, but surely we would get to Hedgehog Mountain if it wiped us right out doing it. I started with the trail breaking, and as soon I stepped out onto the trail from the solid ground I sunk in a good 8-10 inches of pure powder. Might not seem like much but over the course of the next half mile it would be a brutal battle with traction.
Cranberry Lake 50
Both our skis have fish scales on the bottom but they honestly only work under packed conditions, and they work well too, under those said conditions. But on powder and not packed out, they are nearly useless. Even the insignificant small hills tended to be a task. Eventually the trail came to the section I was not looking forward to, here several steeper rolling hills would need to be traversed. I gave up about halfway up the first and hit the trees for more of a side hill ski with less elevation change. We would simply cut the corners off and not do the elevation, however the dead maples lying about made the traverse even harder. The maples in the region got hit hard by the forest tent caterpillar about eight years back, and many died off from not being able to overcome the loss of foliage.
Enough about forestry, now how about that trail up Hedgehog? Wait, there is none. As I mentioned I gave up on the skis, and quickly made the decision to switch to snowshoes, Jamie agreed and followed suit. The snowshoes have had it easy so far, it was time to make them earn that scenic ride on my back. The snow wasn’t any shallower with snowshoes, but at least we had traction. I pushed on as Jamie switched out his approach gear, and I made decent time up the steeper slopes out of the Cranberry Lake Shoreline area. Then POW!!! A grouse took flight right in front of me, but first it had to explode from the under snow – heck a couple more steps and it would have been on the bottom of my shoes or up my nose. I pressed on, feeling good, after all breaking through deep snow has been my career all winter (or so it seems).
We battled the deep snow in the open hardwoods. In summer we look for open hardwoods since it’s easier to move through. But in winter we look for the conifers. The conifers keep the canopy tight, and keep a portion of the snow in the trees, making the snow on the ground a bit less deep. And then when it falls from the trees, it packs out the powder near it, making for excellent snowshoeing conditions. Pushing through thick growth is a small price to pay sometimes.
The slopes of this 2000-footer were very gentle for the most part, making it tough to see our objective, but our GPS kept us on track. Eventually the slopes started to get steeper and we were looking up at a jumble of boulders. We tried to climb through them, but we couldn’t get purchase with our snowshoes. To gain the top we ended up going around and over a couple of downed trees that acted a bit like ladders. The top wasn't quite as amazing as I had hoped. We had some views to the west through the trees out over Cranberry Lake, and through the trees to the south of Bear and East Mountains.
After a quick snack we started our descent. It took us two hours to go those 0.9 miles from where we dropped off the skis, it would prove to take us a quarter of that time to get back – just 30 minutes back to the trail. We donned our skis and set off down the newly broken trail back to Cranberry Lake. The small hills that were an issue on the way in were nice glides out, but still, even the small ups seemed to badger us with lack of traction. It was all over soon enough as we reached the snowmobile trail once again.
Remember all those sections of uphill on the way in I talked about; they seemed to be all up hill on the way out too. I don’t remember going downhill much at all on the way in, amazing how your mind works and the way the mental state of tiredness affects your memory.
The Cranberry Lake Region is prime real estate for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and the backcountry snow conditions are in amazing shape. Dozens of miles of trail are open every day to ski to your hearts content, with no waiting lines and no lift fees, you should check it out.