Outdoor travel comes with certain level of risk

For many outdoor travelers, the risk of passing through wild, remote areas is an important component of the experience. By definition, it involves traveling to remote or exotic locations to engage in physically challenging outdoor activities that may present a reasonable risk to life and limb. Often, the journey is more important than the final destination.

The activities vary from rock and ice climbing to backcountry skiing, whitewater paddling, biking, endurance running and more. It remains the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry. However, it has always been the lifeblood of Adirondack tourism.

In fact, the oldest continually operating adventure travel attraction in the United States is located near Keeseville, at

Ausable Chasm. Visitors to the chasm have enjoyed whitewater (and white-knuckle) paddling adventures since the early 1800s. Visitors pay an entrance fee there, but there are thousands of comparable opportunities available throughout the region.

Adventure travel provides participants with an opportunity to experience risk, discovery, surprise and natural education. While these activities are intended to be safe, enlightening, educational and enjoyable, nature remains forever dynamic. As a result, acceptable risks are a part of the game. Outdoor pursuits will always present a calculated risk, otherwise there would be no adventure.

Consider the process of gauging a waterway, which is generally quite reliable. Stream gauging is the process of measuring the water flow at a particular point on a stream or river. Even though the gauges provide an honest assessment of the flow, there will always be intangible risks with equipment failure and unexpected obstructions, such as a fallen tree or swollen stream.

While paddlers, rock climbers, hikers, backcountry skiers and hunters have learned the potential for such risks, there is always the fear of the unknown, the unexpected. The natural world is ever changing. Outdoor travel will continue to be a school of hard knocks. The only way to deal with it, is with preparation, vigilance and the willingness to accept the omnipresent risks.

Although a walk in the Park is still just a “walk unpack” for many travelers, it will always provide the potential for unexpected obstacles such as blowdown, swamps, high water, deadfalls and foul weather.

A wander out back

Although the Adirondacks is a place of natural beauty with widespread wilderness and happy tourists, it is also a mysterious place where a man, woman or child can take off for a short walk or a boat ride, and never come back.

Possibly the oddest disappearance in the Adirondacks occurred on September 21, 1933, when Mabel Douglass, a renowned college dean and educator disappeared while rowing a boat on Lake Placid. Although her remains weren’t recovered for nearly 30 years, the cold waters of the deep lake delayed the process of decomposition. Rescuers claimed it appeared she had drowned recently.

Sixty miles south of Lake Placid is Great Camp Santanoni, a seasonal residence of the Pruyn family. Located nearly 6 miles from the nearest road, the sprawling estate was the center of the search when an 8 year old disappeared in July of 1961 while walking back to his cabin to change clothes.  

Pruyn, a businessman with extensive political connections, brought in a team of more than 600 searchers who scoured the lands and waters for over two months. The search included helicopters and planes from the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command base in Plattsburgh.

Despite the manpower and advances that included the use of infrared scanning equipment, his remains have never been found. Distraught over the incident, the family bequeathed the entire property to the state of New York.

While such incidents are rare in the Adirondacks, they are not uncommon. The region encompasses vast swamps and thick forests that bare the evidence of ice storms, blow downs, floods and hurricanes. It is a land of extremes, with colder and heavier winds and participation than other regions. The local topography often amplifies the effects of weather patterns, especially in the upper elevations and in the northwest regions, where lake-effect weather systems produce heavy winds, snow and rain.

Although severe weather has long been a hallmark of the region, it appears to have amplified in the age of climate change.

In addition to increasingly severe weather patterns, there has been a growing reliance on electronic navigation aids, which include cell phones, GPS units, satellite technology and SPOT receivers. Electronic devices are only useful until the batteries quit. Then they are only useful as a skipping stone

Despite such realities, many travelers continue to take the risk, especially during the fall and winter seasons when extreme weather is more likely to develop unexpectedly.

Over the past few years, I’ve found a number of abandoned camps. Several were tent camps, while a few were more likely to have been old hunting/trappers camps that had outlived the original owners. I also uncovered a number of natural stone camps, which will provide shelter or a good “watch” during the hunting season.

At the same time, I’ve found a dozen hidden boats and canoes, several fishing rods, oars, rubber boots, balloons by the dozen, two old cars, a couple of bikes and a large stash of rakes (with no gardens in sight).

More recently, I received a complaint from an avid backcountry paddler who was upset because “some fool left 96 bottles of beer” in the lean-to he planned to stay in. I advised him to put the bottles in a mesh bag or a head net and sink them in the pond, so he’d always have a cold drink when he returned.

I also counted more than a half-dozen tree stands, including a couple of portable models. In addition to all of the above, the most common items littering the forest were balloons. I suppose it’s understandable since the woods I travel most frequently are located due west of Lake Placid.

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