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DEC: Hold off on high-elevation hiking during mud season

Ampersand Mountain and a section of Lake Flower with open water are visible from near the top of Baker Mountain in late March 2020 on a hike in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

ALBANY — The state Department of Environmental Conservation is urging hikers to postpone hikes on trails above 2,500 feet in elevation until these trails have dried and hardened from muddy spring conditions.

As snow and ice melt at high elevations, steep trails can pose a danger to hikers due to thick ice and deep, rotten snow. Thin soils are susceptible to erosion and sensitive alpine vegetation can be easily damaged.

Despite recent warm weather, high elevation trails are still covered in slowly melting ice, snow and mud. The remaining compacted ice and snow on trails is rotten, slippery and will not reliably support weight. These conditions, known as monorails, are difficult to hike and the adjacent rotten snow is particularly prone to postholing.

DEC also advises hikers to take extreme caution on low elevation trails, where thick mud, flooded areas, and deep slushy snow exist. Backcountry streams are particularly susceptible to flooding due to consistently melting snow and spring rainfall. Hikers should not attempt stream crossings during periods of high, fast moving water. The stream water is very cold and hikers who fall in can become immediately hypothermic.

Avoiding high-elevation trails during the Muddy Trail Advisory helps to alleviate impacts to the trail tread due to erosion and protects Alpine vegetation. When encountering mud on low-elevation trails, hikers should walk through the mud instead of around it to help reduce trail widening and minimize damage to trailside vegetation.

DEC encourages hikers to avoid all trails above 2,500 feet in the Adirondacks, particularly high-elevation trails in the Giant and High Peaks Wilderness areas, including the former Dix Mountain Area in the northern Adirondacks.

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