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Gorgeous day saw ‘probably the highest use in High Peaks history’

There were parking records, rescues and a Jeep at Marcy Dam

A hiker takes pictures of brilliant fall foliage from Owl Head Lookout Saturday afternoon. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

With blue skies and the reds, yellows and oranges of fall leaves at their peak, hiking in the Adirondacks this weekend was at levels as high as, or higher, than ever before — and with high usage came higher levels of injuries, parking issues and misuse of the wilderness.

State Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers were on numerous, back-to-back rescue and carry-out calls. Several parking records were broken at the Adirondak Loj trailhead, according to DEC and Adirondack Mountain Club staff. A campfire became a forest fire near Indian Lake. And one man bypassed more than 2 miles of hiking by illegally driving a Jeep to Marcy Dam in the High Peaks Wilderness.

Saturday “was probably the highest use in High Peaks history,” Forest Ranger Scott van Laer wrote in a text, speaking in his role as a union delegate of the Police Benevolent Association of New York State.

Jeep

A Jeep Cherokee is driven back from Marcy Dam in the High Peaks Wilderness Area on Tuesday, after its driver was ticketed by a state forest ranger. (Provided photo — Brannon Anders)

Hikers traveling through Marcy Dam in the High Peaks Wilderness were shocked on Tuesday to see a white Jeep Cherokee parked next to the interior trail register.

Adirondack Mountain Club Communications Director Ben Brosseau said the driver took the Marcy Dam truck trail, a 2.6-mile former logging road that starts at South Meadows Road.

Van Laer said this driver was ticketed. He said it is illegal to drive a motor vehicle on protected state land.

“We will take an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) on (the truck trail) for emergency purposes only, rescues,” Van Lear said. “It no longer resembles anything that could handle a motor vehicle.”

From left, Jonathan DiCrasto, Stephen Cerbone and Anthony Curletta play with Curletta’s two dogs, Mila and Porter, while enjoying the fall scenery at Marcy Dam Saturday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Brosseau said it is possible the gate was left open from a rescue call, but he added that the driver “chose to ignore all the signs that say ‘No Driving.'”

“It’s actually rather astounding that a vehicle got down that far that wasn’t a four-wheeler,” Brosseau said.

In a video taken by Brannon Anders, who was filming from the other side of the dam, the Jeep can be seen driving away from the trail register, getting stuck on a bump and accelerating through the obstacle.

Brosseau said he was not sure of the extent of damage caused by the drive but said he had not heard of any serious damage yet.

Anders said he overheard a ranger talking with the diver.

Anthony Curletta of Rochester sits atop Phelps Mountain with his dogs Mila, left, and Porter on Saturday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

“The guy in the Jeep was telling the ranger that he didn’t know he couldn’t drive back there,” Anders wrote in a Facebook message. “I’ve been hiking there a hundred times and never seen anything like it.”

The truck trail has not been accessible to public vehicles for decades.

Fire and graffiti

Hikers take in the scenic views from Owl Head Lookout in the town of Elizabethtown Saturday afternoon. There were 12 people and two dogs on the summit at the time this photo was taken, a relatively busy day for a traditionally less well-known hike — one AllTrails.com describes as “lightly trafficked” compared with many “heavily trafficked” options nearby. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

A half-acre wildland fire, which the DEC spent several days fighting last week in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness near Indian Lake, was started by an improperly extinguished campfire, DEC spokespeople told the Albany Times-Union newspaper Friday. The fire was started on Sept. 21.

Graffiti on Blue Mountain has also come to light, although it appears to have been spray-painted more than a month ago.

John Sasso said he was hiking the mountain in Blue Mountain Lake on Saturday and was infuriated to find the names of around 10 people spray-painted on rocks at the summit, along with the dates “8-19-20” and “7-9-17.” Sasso said on Facebook that the 2017 graffiti had been painted over in an attempt to erase it, and he believes this one was repainted freshly in August, along with the other ones.

He also said there was paint on the trees.

Parking

The Adirondack Mountain Club’s Adirondak Loj (pronounced “Lodge”) property is generally considered the state’s busiest trailhead, and it was busier than ever.

Van Laer said he counted 512 cars on Adirondack Loj Road, South Meadows Road and the High Peaks Information Center. He said this was not counting the Loj itself, its campground or the “numerous ‘drop offs’ that now occur.”

“(There were) 30 cars north of Alcohol Brook,” he wrote. “That’s always been our benchmark. New record.”

Brosseau said Saturday was “definitely one of highest” use days at the Loj ever.

He said the club’s summit stewards counted 300 hikers on Mount Marcy and 300 more on Algonquin Peak throughout Saturday. He said it’s more common to see Saturday visitors in the low 200s on those summits.

He said the parking lot filled up at the earliest time ever, by 5 a.m. Cars were parked up to 2.5 miles down the road, which is the farthest he said he has ever seen. The mile of road closest to the Loj does not allow parking.

Brosseau said when the lot fills up very early, that means many hikers are already on the tail when the information center opens at 5 a.m. This makes it harder for staff to provide education to hikers before they head out into the wild.

Injuries

Van Laer said on Saturday rangers performed carry-outs of injured hikers on Azure, Whiteface and Pitchoff mountains.

On Friday he said there was an injury on Pitchoff Mountain, a carry-out on Blueberry Mountain and a search in the Giant’s Washbowl area.

He said some of these carry-outs were conducted with “litters” to lay injured hikers down; others were done “piggyback style,” depending on the hiker’s injury and weight.

Van Laer said Saturday was “brutal” for the rangers. They relied on volunteers and worked 12-hour shifts with “all hands on deck.”

He said it is physically strenuous for the same people to be going from carry-out rescue to carry-out rescue.

Brosseau said a hiker accidentally sprayed themself with bear spray outside the High Peaks Information Center at 8 a.m. Sunday. He said the person was assisted by DEC staff, and he was told they are “fine.”

“It’s very similar to pepper spray,” Brosseau said. “It’s going to hurt for a while, but you should emerge OK.”

Busy summer

It wasn’t just the backcountry that was packed with visitors. In Lake Placid, sidewalks and businesses were very busy as well. Lines dozens of people long stretched out of restaurants on Main Street, and traffic through the business center of town was congested.

Van Laer said this summer has been extra-busy, but that this sort of backcountry usage has been building for a while now.

“This is not a one-off,” van Laer said. “I know COVID has had a spike, but the spike is relatively small compared to the building use that has been happening for decades.”

In recent years, Columbus Day weekend has been the busiest time for hiking in the High Peaks. That is coming up Oct. 10-12.

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