Picking the right trail or even day to ski in the early spring can sometimes be a hit-or-miss situation because snowcover on the trails is often thin.
Luckily, I hit it right on Tuesday, joining friends Spencer Morrissey and Corenne Black on a cross-country ski trip to Raquette Falls.
We headed out to Raquette Falls on the 4.2-mile long trail off of Coreys Road in the Western High Peaks. Leaving at about 9 a.m., the temperatures were hovering around freezing. The snow was crusty from cold overnight temperatures, but the cover was pretty good for this time of year.
Spencer Morrissey admires the Raquette River on Tuesday during a ski trip to Raquette Falls.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
For those not familiar with the area, the trail to Raquette Falls is relatively flat with gentle hills. It winds through the forests near the Raquette River, offering glimpses of the gently flowing waterway in several spots along the way.
The trail seems to get a consistent amount of traffic, but I've rarely seen big crowds on it that you might see on some of the popular Eastern High Peaks trails. Instead, it often provides a quiet and secluded experience. On this day, we saw only one other skier.
The most challenging part of the trail is located about two-thirds of the way to Raquette Falls. Here, you'll find a few steeper downhills, including one that includes a challenging S-turn.
On some of these steeper sections, we found the cover to be pretty thin. Some short stretches were not skiable as rocks poked up through the snow. But as we arrived at these sections, the skiing got better overall as the rising temperatures had softened the snow.
Less than a mile from the Raquette Falls, we stopped at a lean-to near the river. It was the perfect place to rest, have a snack and take some photos. Walking down to the river, we could see that it was free of ice and flowing unobstructed.
The Raquette River and nearby Stony Creek, which passes under a bridge on Coreys Road near the trailhead, are actually two good early-season paddling destinations. Both waterways often flood in the spring after the snow melts. When the water stretches out into the floodplains, one can actually paddle through the trees.
The springtime paddling trip from Stony Creek Ponds to Axton Landing is one of my favorites. But on this day, both waterways were contained within their banks.
Soon after leaving the lean-to, we arrived at the Raquette Falls carry trail. At this junction, you can go left to the interior caretaker's cabin that is occupied by a state Department of Environmental Conservation caretaker during the warmer months, head right to the river or continue down the carry that leads to the lower and upper Raquette Falls.
We decided to start off by heading right to the river, where there is a canoe access point. Here, we found some nice scenery as the end of the rapids flowed into a slower stretch of river. What stuck out to me here was that many of the large boulders in the water were ringed in ice that had formed intricate patterns. The boulders were bare on top, with a layer of snow below that, followed by a layer of ice that ended a few inches from the surface of the water. The interesting thing about the ice was that little balls had formed on the bottom of it, hanging like ornaments.
After taking in the sights, we headed up to the lower Raquette Falls, which is just a few minutes away. Lower Raquette Falls isn't anything spectacular. It's just a short drop of roughly 10 feet, but it's a worthy destination in any season. The perfect place to rest after a 4.5 mile ski into the woods.
I try to visit the falls at least a few times each year. I've had some funny and interesting experiences there. The last time I went through that area was in mid-September during the second day of the 90-Miler. The visit came during one of the toughest paddling days I've experienced on the water. We started that day on Long Lake and paddled to The Crusher boat launch. The waves were high, winds intense and rains cold.
Perhaps my most memorable experience at Raquette Falls came several years ago when I was doing a three-day trip from Long Lake to Axton Landing with my uncle Tim. During that trip, we camped in a site near the lean-to at the end of the canoe carry.
When we woke up in the morning, we saw a garter snake eat a large frog next to my tent. The whole process took at least an hour. I can still picture the frog legs sticking out of the mouth of the snake.
That morning, I also saw another unique sight. This time, a boyfriend and girlfriend were transporting their canoe and gear on the canoe carry. Strangely enough, the boyfriend used a rope to transport their boat. One end was tied to a heavy plastic canoe, the other end was tied around his waist, and he was dragging the canoe 10 feet behind him. He had a pack full of gear on his back and his girlfriend was walking alongside of him. It's the only time I've seen someone try to transport their canoe in that manner, and I can't imagine it was very easy or efficient on this rocky and hilly carry that is 1.25 miles long.
This time, there was no such excitement. After relaxing for a half-an-hour at the falls and eating lunch, we headed back on the trail. We skied back to the trailhead at a quicker pace in the now soft snow. Overall, the trip took about five hours, including a couple long breaks.
Raquette Falls wound up being the perfect early-spring destination for a ski trip. It also whet my appetite for paddling excursions in the coming weeks. I'm looking forward to returning in a few weeks, trading in my skis for a paddle and a canoe.