DEC urges hikers to avoid high elevation trails

KEENE VALLEY — The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation is urging outdoor recreationists to postpone high elevation activities due to unstable spring conditions.

With one of the warmest winters on record, current conditions are typically encountered in late March to mid-April. Recreationists are advised to prepare for thinner snowpack on trails, deteriorating and variable depth snow alongside and off-trail, poor quality ice, slippery trails and high-water crossings. As snow and ice continue to melt at high elevations, steep trails can pose a serious danger to hikers.

“With the lack of a true North Country winter and a marginal snowpack, trails in the High Peaks region are proving difficult to navigate,” said Forest Ranger Director John Solan. “Over the last couple of weeks, forest rangers were busy responding to numerous backcountry rescues due to icy conditions. Trail conditions will continue to decline as spring weather prevails and April approaches.”

Despite recent warm weather, high elevation trails are still covered in slowly melting ice and snow. These steep trails feature thin soils that become a mix of ice and mud as winter conditions melt and frost leaves the ground. 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 post-holing.

Hikers are advised to take extreme caution even on low-elevation trails. Hikers will encounter variable conditions such as ice, thick mud, flooded areas, and deep, slushy snow. Backcountry streams are particularly susceptible to high waters and flooding due to consistently melting snow from high elevations mixing with 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. DEC Forest Rangers recently led three long, arduous rescues in the high elevations of the Eastern Zone of the High Peaks Wilderness Complex.

Avoiding high elevation trails during the Spring Conditions Advisory helps reduce erosion on and alongside trails while protecting alpine vegetation. Hikers stepping off trail to avoid ice, mud, and snow easily erode the thin soils, severely damage fragile alpine vegetation and widen trails. When encountering messy trail conditions on low elevation trails, hikers should walk through the mud or snow instead of around it to help reduce trail widening and minimize damage to trailside vegetation. Proper footwear and clothing, such as sturdy boots with gaiters and traction devices, allows hikers to remain on the trail more comfortably despite muddy conditions.

The DEC is encouraging hikers to avoid all trails above 2,500 feet in the Adirondacks, particularly high-elevation trails in the High Peaks. The DEC is urging hikers to postpone these hikes until conditions improve to protect the Adirondack trail system and reduce the likelihood of dangerous rescue efforts of forest rangers and volunteers. Until conditions improve, hikers are encouraged to explore lower elevation trails close to home and enjoy other forms of recreation.

In addition, backcountry visitors should Hike Smart — visit dec.ny.gov/things-to-do/hiking/hike-smart-ny for more details — and follow these safety guidelines:

¯ Check weather before entering the woods — if the weather is poor, postpone your trip.

¯ Be aware of changing weather conditions — if the weather worsens, head out of the woods.

¯ Dress properly in layers made of wool, fleece and other materials that wick moisture (not cotton) — a wool or fleece hat, gloves or mittens, wind/rain resistant outer wear and winter boots.

¯ Carry a pack with the 10 hiking essentials.

¯ Carry plenty of food and water. Eat, drink and rest often. Being tired, hungry or dehydrated makes you more susceptible to hypothermia.

¯ Know the terrain and your physical capabilities — it takes more time and energy to travel through mixed conditions.

¯ Never travel alone and always inform someone of your intended route and return time.


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