Power Moon ushers in the bitter cold of winter

The arrival of the recent full Power Moon served to kick off the winter season with temperatures that dropped into the double-digit below zero range. While pixie dust sparkled in the cold evening air, a huge full moon lit up evening scene. Trees groaned and popped in the nearby woods, as frost solidified the sap. The result was an ongoing series of cracks and sharp pops in the woods and on the hillsides. 

While the forests continued to bellow, snap and crack, the lakes and ponds chimed in with the rolling thunder of ice setting up. As temperatures continued to drop throughout the evening, the ghostly presence of lake fog, shimmering in the dark night air produced an almost mystical element on the scene. The growing power of the huge moon in the black sky intensified the experience. 

The cold snap served to set up the lakes and ponds, but lake travelers are advised to avoid areas near bubblers, streams, inlets and outlets. After falling through the ice last season, I have developed a much greater appreciation for the vagaries of ice. Although the experience was not life-threatening, it could have been.

Fortunately, it occurred along the shoreline of a pond, and I was able to return over land, rather than on ice. As always, I had a pair of ice spikes hanging around my neck and a water-activated inflatable PFD under my jacket. It was a helpful reminder of the fickle nature of nature.

As local residents continue to deal with the aftereffects of the recent cold snap, outdoor travelers of all sorts have taken to the woods, lakes and trails. The breathtaking chill provided a reminder of what the depth of winters used to bring. In such conditions, when the body struggles to maintain its core temperature, it is vitally important to protect the core areas such as head, neck and chest.

When the core remains warm, the extremities will do so too. Putting a hat on your head and wrapping a scarf around your neck will do more to shed the cold than all other measures. It is also important to keep active, as the warm blood rushing to your extremities is essentially the same as the warm water being pumped to a radiator.

It is also important to fuel up, especially with hot liquids. However, despite the brief warmth provided by alcohol, a stiff drink does nothing to warm you up. In fact, it will actually constrict the flow of warm blood to the extremities, robbing the warmth. Alcohol may also numb the pain and affect your judgement.  While a few nips here and there may be warranted in the course of the celebration, don’t allow too much of the good stuff to make it all bad.

In such conditions it is important to dress properly. I often use toe warmers and warm packs in the pockets of my pants, shirt and in my mittens. Mittens, of course are much warmer than gloves.

With recent temps dropping down into the double-digit below zero range, taking a simple walk in the woods can be downright dangerous. Traveling alone is not recommended. Frost nip or frostbite may not even be apparent to the victim until it is too late. In such conditions, especially if the wind is steady, it is also important to moisturize all exposed skin, even if it is covered. 

I’ve also learned to pace myself, especially on the trail — skiing or snowshoeing — or standing on the ice waiting for a flag to tip up. I always attempt to keep warm enough to maintain a comfortable temperature without breaking a sweat. And the secret to doing so is always a balancing act — too warm and you sweat; too cold, you shiver.

By historical records, the recent cold snap almost surely produced a “three dog night.” The term, which was adapted by a popular 1970s rock and roll band, was originally used by by sheep herders in Australia, who huddled with their dogs for warmth in the cold evening air.

Now that the full winter has arrived, a full spectrum of traditional recreation is once again available. Ice fishers have their shacks out on the local lakes and ponds, while the backcountry skiers have taken to the woods. Pond hockey is now in fashion, as is ice sailing.

The Moody Pond Curling Club is back on the black ice of the pond and ski-skaters are enjoying the new season.

While Lake Placid remains the most widely known winter wonderland in the state — and possibly the entire country — it makes it easy to overlook some of the other offerings that are available in the region. On Lake Champlain, free skaters now travel with the wind at their back and ski poles in their hands.

The Big Lake also attracts an ever-growing contingent of ice boaters, as well as para-skaters who harness the wind with hand-held sails that take them at a breathtaking speed across the lake ice.

A pleasant combination of skiing and skating is available on many local lakes, particularly in the St. Regis Canoe Area, where there are a number of routes that feature a combination of skiing or skating on ice or overland.

Farther to the north and west are the almost limitless trails that are always available in and around Cranberry Lake and the nearby vast Five Ponds Wilderness. Cranberry Lake, which is a relatively quiet town during the summer season, is truly a sleepy hamlet during the winter season. While that may be a game changer for some, it has become a boon for those who prefer to ski without the aid of a chairlift or waiting in long lines at a ski center. 

I make a point of traveling up that way every winter, where trails are never crowded and snow is endless. While snowmobiling is always a popular outlet, the sleds are not permitted in the vast woods of the nearby wilderness. It is big country, with big trees and endless possibilities. 

I was first introduced to the region while fishing for brook trout in the spring. I also spent time visiting with friends who attended the ranger school in Wanakena. A sign leading down the road off state Route 3 to town announces Gateway to the Wilderness.

I used to visit with my old friend Ed Reid, a former forest ranger from Saranac Lake who had a cabin in Wanakena. He was also an accomplished writer, who penned a number of tomes under the title of Adirondack Reidings. He spent his days in Duck Hole and Lake Colden and maintained a camp in Wanakena.

Although Ed is long gone, I have had the good fortune of spending time in Wanakena with the good folks who have settled on the site of Ed’s old cabin on the Oswagatchie River, just over the bridge from town. Rick Covac and his wife now operate a wonderful B&B in a log cabin home on the site. Known as Packbasket Lodge, it actually sits where Reid’s camp was. Packbasket Adventures, Kovak’s Guide Service was named after one of Reid’s books.

The facility is open year round by reservations and in the winter it has become a base for friends and families to take advantage of the Big Woods, the quiet trails and the cozy accommodations. Don’t worry about crowds. Wanakena has approximately 40 year round residents, and they are friendly folks. For further information, please visit www. packbasketadventures.com.

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