Encountering an inexperienced, motley crew

It appears winter has arrived in time for the holidays. Fortunately, local trails already had a generous base of snow, which allowed both nordic and alpine skiers to hit the trails.

There’s been plenty of snow for non-skiers as well, which was painfully evident as I watched a group of novice snowshoers struggling with their gear as they set off to tackle Scarface Mountain. If there was ever an opportunity to capture footage for “America’s Funniest Home Video” television show, I was on the spot.

I had planned to enjoy a short ski trip on the side of Scarface before I encountered the motley crew. They were only 10 minutes from the trailhead, and they were already struggling to keep their snowshoes on and their heavy gear off.

Temperatures were hovering around 32 degrees, and the evergreen boughs sagged under the weight of a heavy, wet snow. Between the heavy snow cover, their inexperience and the apparent danger of crossing an old, wooden bridge spanning Ray Brook, I decided to offer them some assistance.

The first move was to shed the snowshoes before walking across the wooden bridge. It was a long and difficult process, which took more time than necessary due to a snowball battle that had been raging from the time we left the parking lot.

With the whole crew safely across the bridge, I strapped on my skis, helped them with their snowshoes and set off on a remote section, well off the trail. The route was covered with fresh snow, and the group was already floundering as I took off on an untracked section of woods. The fresh snow illustrated the tracks of deer, coyote, turkey and a few ruffed grouse. Nothing too dangerous, I thought to myself.

To my surprise, it was a grouse that got them. I had just crested a long, slender ridge about 100 yards down the trail when I heard noise in the distance. I attempted to dismiss it, but as I skied a bit further along, I was soon out of range. I recall thinking, “They certainly are a noisy bunch.”

I had already turned off the main trail and into the open hardwood forest when I heard them yelling and hollering. My initial thought was to ski harder to get out of hearing range. I was already out in the open, gliding through the sparse woods when I heard a faint call, “Help, Help!” Over the years, I’ve dealt with dozens of such incidents, which have become more evident in recent years. Despite an inclination to leave them to their own devices, I decided to turn around and see what all the commotion was all about. Their calls were simply too loud and too long to dismiss.

So I hurried off down the long hill to see what all the noise was about. I arrived to find the entire crew huddled in deep snow, hidden in the well of a tall spruce tree. I skied up to the tree and asked, “What the hell happened?” The youngest shared the frightful tale.

After I left, they walked off the trail and were attacked.

“It was like a bomb went off,” explained the youngest. “We tried to hide in the trees, but there were two more shots, and we started to call for help. It sounded like a lawnmower at first, and then they came at us from different directions. We decided it would be best to hide until you returned.

After everyone calmed down, I took them over to where the first explosion occurred and showed them where a grouse had been burrowed under the snow. There were even a few feathers left behind as evidence.

The episode provided further evidence of the pressing need for outdoor education in our school systems. Increasingly, our society is growing ever further removed from our roots. Kids and their parents simply don’t know how to comfortably conduct themselves in the outdoors. Although cellphones provide them with an ability to navigate the woods, they simply don’t know what to do once they arrive.

There is a considerable segment of our society that is no longer comfortable traveling outdoors. Although they may know how to hike and navigate, they simply don’t know how to conduct themselves in the woods. They may have been introduced by internet-based campaigns or by the challenges offered up by organizations such as the Saranac 6ers, the Tupper Triad or the vaulted Adieondack 46ers organization. Their “peak bagging” mentality continues to attract large crowds into the woods, purportedly for the challenge of it.

But it begs the question: When is enough enough, or maybe too much? There were more than 500 hikers counted on the summit of Cascade Mountain in the course of a single day earlier in the year. In such situations it is important to have the sense to avoid those situations, or to bail out before any trouble occurs.

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