That old familiar smell is again scenting the mountain air. It's the essence of autumn, a sweet pungency of decay. Canada geese, in huge, honking flocks have begun their southerly migration. Ferns have turned and apples have already begun to drop.
As evening temperatures plummet into the 30s, the hillsides are beginning to put on autumn's multicolored cloak. The air is drier now as it carries the crispness of fall and the looming transition of season.
Summer is rapidly coming to a conclusion as autumn temperatures hasten it's departure. By the end of the week, small children weighed heavily with large backpacks will gather along Adirondack roadsides. School buses making the rounds to collect them will signal the official end of the summer season in most households.
In the mornings, a thick valley fog greets early risers, its sinuous path highlighting streams and river bottoms or cloaking the lakes and ponds in a smoky haze.
For the harvest, blueberries remain prolific and recently ripened. Blackberries are huge this year with a surprisingly good crop this year. Numerous blueberries can still to be had from the lake shores to the mountaintops. Fresh blueberry pancakes always provide a welcome compliment to a late summer's breakfast.
Everyone has their favorite berry patch, whether it is on a power line, railroad track, lake shore, mountainside or a roadside clearing. Revealing the location of a personal berry patch is akin to letting go the location of your best trout pond.
Mushrooms have sprouted almost everywhere, with massive flushes of oysters most apparent in forests of beech and other hardwoods. Locavores should take note of the abundance of nature's harvest.
Summer, the most fleeting of all the Adirondack seasons, will soon pass. But not before Labor Day weekend offers one final escape, one last gasp to grasp the joy of the season.
among the crowds
As can be expected, the woods and waters will be busy this weekend. Travelers looking to find a secluded campsite, a private stretch of water or a lonely pond will be challenged as the woods just seem to get busier every year.
This is especially true of the wilderness areas such as the Eastern High Peaks, Lows Lake-Bog River Flow and the St. Regis Canoe Area.
However, there remain numerous nearby wild areas that receive very little attention and/or camping pressure from the vast majority of visiting outdoor enthusiasts.
These areas include the Cold River-Northville/Placid Trail, Giant Mountain Wilderness Area, Taylor Pond, Osgood River-Meacham Lake, Hayes Brook Horse Trail System, numerous ponds in the Saranac Lake Wild Forest or the Jones Pond-Rainbow-Kushaqua Chain of lakes.
Day hikers seeking a secluded experience would be wise to avoid the High Peaks Wilderness and head out to a few of the less traveled peaks such as Azure Mountain northwest of Paul Smiths on Blue Ridge Road, Debar Mountain accessible from Meacham Lake Campground, Silver Lake Mountain near Silver Lake, Hurricane Mountain off Route 9N toward Elizabethtown and Scarface Mountain or Haystack Mountain in Ray Brook. These smaller peaks can provide fine vistas without the clutter and crowds of other visitors.
Although relatively easily accessible, travel through such "wild forest" regions will surprise "wilderness area" regulars with the lack of traffic, character of remoteness and opportunities to achieve seclusion.
Although hiking still tops the list of fall pursuits, due to the splendor of the foliage, paddle sports come in a close second. As waters begin to cool, blacken and flatten, bursts of shoreline colors provide vivid reflections on the still waters of the season.
The sporting seasons begin
Close on the heels of such pursuits comes the fall sporting seasons, which begin with the resident goose season on September 1, followed shortly after by opportunities to harvest duck, woodcock, ruffed grouse and wild turkey. An estimated 700,000 residents and over 50,000 nonresidents will take to the hunt in the Empire State this season.
After waiting for many years, the sons and daughters of New York's big game hunters will have the opportunity to join their parents in the pursuit. As a result of recently enacted legislation, the youth hunting bill will permit 14-year-old hunters to carry a firearm and accompany adults while hunting big game.
September kicks off the big game hunting season, with early bear opening on September 13. As caretakers close up 'their people's camps' on the lakes, they will return to the woods to open their own hunting camps up for the season. In the Adirondacks, hunters can spend time afield from September until December pursuing their game. New York state offers one of the longest hunting seasons in the Northeastern states.
The schedule of the big game hunting season also overlaps with other favorite outdoor pursuits. I've often utilized a canoe, mountain bike and even cross country skis in some years, to access areas to hunt.
The Fishing report
With the beginning of the hunting seasons, trout season begins to wind down but not before the fall spawn offers up opportunities for trophy quality angling for brilliantly colored browns, lake and brook trout.
At about the same time, salmon begin to enter the rivers to begin their fall spawn run, providing yet another exciting angling outlet.
Despite the consistently wet weather, water conditions remain excellent for this time of the season and most local waters continue to remain productive. Trout are becoming increasingly active on the ponds while the consistent insect hatches have served to keep riverside anglers happy.
On the lakes, both bass and pike fishing enthusiasts have experienced continued success especially with live bait such as crayfish and minnows, as well as with lures and jigs.
The Ausable River is in great shape, with water temperatures in the low 60s and good water clarity. The Saranac remains a bit high from the recent rains, but it has been producing some nice fall browns in the pocket waters above Franklin Falls Flow.
On the fly, Isonychia spinner falls are beginning to slow down but the tricos are still happening most mornings. Hoppers continue to be productive at midday, with the flying ants in sizes 14-16 doing well, even on the lakes, where fish can still be taken late into the early evening.
Fishing big yellow stoneflies in the pocket waters has also been productive while the cooler, wet weather continues to provoke strong hatches of blue wing olives and sporadic caddis activity.
Nighttime anglers still haunt the waters of Lake Colby with their lanterns glowing eerily in the late evening fog. Browns and salmon are slowly beginning to move into shallow waters on Lake Clear, Colby and the Upper St. Regis, where flyfishermen wade the lake waters while casting nymphs, streamers or wet flies in hopes of a hook-up.
Reports from the Tupper Lake area reveal that bass continue to be taken below Setting Pole Dam, especially on live bait while northerns offer great action on the big lake. Brown trout are said to be falling for Rapalas at Buttermilk Falls near Long Lake and walleye are still providing great action all along the Raquette River drainage.
The ponds on the boy scout reservation at Massawepie will soon open to the public again. The ponds, closed all summer for the boy scouts, open up from September until the end of trout season. This beautiful preserve includes several big lakes and numerous small ponds which offer some outstanding brook trout angling opportunities, with very little pressure. The tract is located off Route 3, between Tupper Lake and Cranberry Lake.
Top ten list of family hikes within
15 minutes of Lake Placid
1. Cobble Hill: Overlooking Mirror Lake and the village of Lake Placid, this short hike off Mt. Whitney Road offers a 360-degree view of the Olympic Village and surrounding High Peaks.
2. McKenzie Mountain: With a mountain pond on one side and Lake Placid on the other, McKenzie is a lightly traveled peak with access from Rt. 86 trailhead near Ray Brook or off Whiteface Inn Road on the Jackrabbit Trail.
3. Van Hovenberg Ridge: Stunning views of Klondike Notch and South Meadow Brook are available from this short jaunt accessible off the South Meadow access road off Heart Lake Road.
4. The Peninsula Nature Trails: Accessed through Howard Johnsons off Saranac Avenue, the Nature Trails feature lovely hardwoods mixed with cedar and wind along the shoreline of Lake Placid and it's outlet, Cold Brook. A wonderful vista of Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain greet the visitor at the small falls at the outlet of the lake.
5. Copperas Pond: Short but steep, the trail to this beautiful little pond is tucked away in Wilmington Notch off Rt. 86, before High Falls. From the far end of the pond, a great view of Whiteface Mountain appears looming overhead to the west. Lots of hardwoods make for a colorful journey.
6. Scotts Ponds: A nice hike that follows a small stream from Heart Lake and continues in toward Indian Pass. The pond is a pretty little body of water nestled among the nearby High Peaks. Trailhead begins at the Adirondack Loj.
7. Wanika Falls: The Northville Placid Trail begins or ends, depending on your direction, at the Chubb River Bridge on Averyville Road just outside the village. This round trip hike follows the Chubb River valley and brings the visitor to a great cascading falls surrounded by hardwoods and tall hemlocks. A remote location with wildlife viewing opportunities along the way.
8. Whiteface Landing: The trailhead begins near Connery Pond off Rt. 86 between Wilmington and Lake Placid. An up and down hike of some five miles one way, ending on Lake Placid Lake with lovely hardwood stands and a bonus view of Whiteface Mountain across Connery Pond for those willing to venture a short distance off the direct route.
9. Cascade Mountain and Pitchoff: Popular beyond a doubt, these two peaks surrounding the Cascade Lakes on Rt. 73 present great views of the High Peaks and the option of a 4,000 foot climb up Cascade or a quick scramble to the Balancing Rocks on Pitchoff. Expect company on these heavily traveled trails.
10. Baker Mountain: With Moody Pond at the foot of this small peak in the village of Saranac Lake, the neighborhood off Pine Street makes this appear to be an urban hike, but the views of McKenzie Pond, the Saranacs and the distant High Peaks reward the hiker for a short and occasionally steep climb.