Lake Placid Holiday
The plan for a second NCMC winter camping trip in 2002 fell through, but it did lead to Tom and Jack spending a weekend in Lake Placid and getting in some good skiing in marginal conditions.
Jack was pretty sure Jay wasn’t going to make the proposed March 2-3 trip when he called him up a few days before the scheduled event. Vanessa picked up the phone and said, “He’s not going.” It is not known whether the Tillotsons have caller ID or Vanessa had a hunch who was calling. (Editor’s note: While some may infer that Vanessa’s comment to Jack was the result of her having informed Jay that he was not going, that is not necessarily the case. Vanessa could simply have been telling Jack what Jay had decided himself, free of any coercion)
Billy bailed out soon after Jay, citing a poor forecast that called for rain.
Despite the forecast, Jack and Tom decided to go anyway. They figured they could always get a hotel room rather than camp if the weather was dismal.
They rendevouzed at about noon Saturday at High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid. The town was hopping for some reason. Chartered buses were crawling through Main Street and the sidewalks were crowded with visitors.
They decided to ski a portion of the Indian Pass Trail that leads from Adirondack Loj to Tahawus. The entire trail is a little more than 10 miles long and some people travel it on what is called the “toothbrush” hike. This entails parking at Upper Works near Tahawus, walking the trail to the Loj, staying at the Loj overnight and then returning to Tahawus the next day. In this scenario, the hiker need not carry much more gear than his or her toothbrush (The first and a number of subsequent NCMC winter trips were made on the Indian Pass trail from Upper Works, either to Henderson Lake lean-to or Wallface lean-to, which is featured in the NCMC logo).
Upon arriving at Adirondack Loj, they found some Alpina representatives in the parking lot who had brought a truckload of Alpina skis and boots for demo. Jack had just bought a pair of Alpina backcountry boots to replace his failed Merrell boots, and Tom decided to demo the same boot. The NCMCers also decided to demo Alpina waxless backcountry skis. The temperature was in the high 30s, so using the waxless skis would save them the time and hassle of applying messy klister wax to their own waxable skis.
Armed with the demo equipment, they headed out on the Indian Pass trail. At one point they passed a small group of skiers taking a telemark clinic sponsored by the Adirondack Mountain Club, which owns and runs Adirondack Loj. Leaving the skiers and their heavy telemark gear to their genuflection practice, they headed into the woods. The snowpack was not as deep as it should have been at that time of year, but the trail was generally devoid of exposed roots and rocks.
The main problem was that all the snow bridges over the many streams intersecting the trail were gone, and the two skiers had to stop and detour from the trail to find a place to cross without removing their skis. Aside from that problem, the skiing was okay and the rolling, twisting trail kept them on their toes.
After about an hour and a half on the trail, they turned around to head back to the lodge. They had passed a couple of skiers on the trail who had skied across Heart Lake, the small lake near the lodge. So they decided to make a detour on their return and ski the lake as well. The lake afforded them a fine view of the High Peaks in the late afternoon sun.
Returning to the parking lot, they gave their demo gear back to the Alpina representatives, who asked them where they were staying in Placid. When Jack and Tom told them they had no idea, the reps informed them that the entire town was booked solid because of a big synchronized skating competition in the Olympic arena where the 1980 men’s hockey team had won the gold. There had also been a parade in town that day to honor skeleton gold-medal winner Jim Shea and other 2002 winter Olympic athletes from Lake Placid. There had also been rumors floating around Lake Placid that Michelle Kwan and Sarah Hughes were in town for the skating competition.
Despite this news, Jack and Tom returned to Lake Placid in search of a room. They had all their camping gear, but they had not purchased any food. They would have to get food in town even if they were going to camp.
Back in Placid, one of the motels they tried had a cancellation, so they were able to secure a room (For some reason, the proprietor asked them if they wanted a room with one bed or two. Is political correctness actually making inroads in the Adirondack North Country?). They had some Corona with limes and called Billy at the firehouse to give him a hard time for not coming on the trip. He was just back from a “meat on the stove” call. That’s firefighter lingo for a call made to the fire department from someone who smells something burning on a stove in the apartment next to theirs and thinks the place is on fire. Jack also called Mary because of a recurring flooding problem at home. They then went to dinner and had a fine meal at one of the restaurants on Main Street after waiting 90 minutes at the bar.
They returned to their room and Jack immediately fell fast asleep. A short time later, there was a knock at the door. Tom answered the knock to find the aforementioned Kwan and Hughes standing outside. Kwan was holding a 12-pack of Bud and Hughes was eating from a bag of Ruffles. Her gold medal, hanging out of her coat, glimmered in the motel’s light. Tom reached into the bag and grabbed a handlful of Ruffles. “Hi, medalists,” he said, eyeing the Bud. “Can we come in?” Kwan asked. “Gee, I don’t think so,” Tom said. “Jack’s asleep and we have to get up early tomorrow to ski. It’s kinda late. I’ll take a beer, though.” The skaters’ smiles disappeared and they turned away in a huff. “What a jerk!” he heard Kwan say. Tom shut the door, then opened it and yelled to the retreating women. “If you see Slutskaya, tell her to come over. She really won the gold. And tell her to get some Sam Adams.”
It rained a bit overnight, but they awoke to clearing skies and resolved to ski a 5.5-mile portion of the Jackrabbit Trail that promised a long downhill section after a good climb. Since they had two cars, they would be able to leave a car at the end of their route and not have to retrace their steps. Tom asked Jack which car he wanted to leave at the finish, which was west of Lake Placid on the outskirts of Saranac Lake. Jack said they should leave his car, so that he would be able to head directly home toward Buffalo after their ski. Tom thought it was a little unkind of Jack to want him to ski the 5.5 miles back to his car just so Jack could start for home a little sooner. He informed Jack of that fact and Jack pretended that he simply had not realized that whichever car they left at the end would have to be driven back to the other car (Editor’s note: We will give Jack the benefit of the doubt no matter how ludicrous his explanation appears).
Ultimately, they positioned a car at either end of their planned ski, which began from Whiteface Inn Road near the shore of Lake Placid and headed west toward Saranac Lake.
It was nearly 50 degrees when they started out, but the snow cover was good on the trail and they were again using waxless skis. Jack was using Mary’s waxless Karhus and Tom had rented another pair of Alpinas at High Peaks Cyclery. They climbed from about 1,900 feet to 2,600 feet and came to a nice lean-to along the trail about a mile and a half from the road. It would be a good destination for a one-night winter trip, although parking cars could be a problem.
Continuing to the west, they spotted a snowshoe hare hopping toward them on the trail. The less-than-alert hare came quite close to them until it finally stopped, sat for a moment on the trail and inspected them. The all-white hare then hopped back up the trail, took a big leap onto a snowbank, and disappeared into the woods. Let’s hope the bobcats don’t get it too soon.
The trail stayed level for a couple of miles, and then began its 1,000-foot descent to MKenzie Pond Road, where they had left a car. The descent offered some fairly long steep sections, and the pair of skiers got flying pretty fast at times, but managed to stay upright.
They reached the road a couple of hours after starting out, had a Corona to wet their whistles and drove back to the other car. Jack then headed off to Buffalo, while Tom made the short drive to downtown Lake Placid to return his rented skis. By the time he reached the store, the temperature had quickly dropped from 50 to 35 and it was hailing.
When the NCMC founders become too old to camp, this sort of weekend trip that combines some backcountry skiing with hotels and restaurants could become the norm, at least until someone breaks a hip, and the skiing part of the trip ends altogether!
Gallery: Jackrabbit Trail 2002