Many refer to Astronomical Spring on March 20, as the first "official" day of spring. Most meteorologists will argue that spring begins a few weeks before, on March 1st. For me spring begins when the snow and ice are gone, the buds on the trees start to pop and tiny sprouts of spring bulbs push their way up through the damp earth. Soon enough, spring will arrive and with it the flowers, green grass, the birds and the wildlife. Until then, I’m hoping to get in a few more snowy hikes.
I had not gotten out hiking as much as I would have liked this winter so when the opportunity to hike to Rainbow Falls and Indian Head was discussed, I was all in. My partners in crime were Sue Coonrod and Wendy Patunoff both huge fans of winter hiking. Our day would begin at the parking lot for the Ausable Club (AMR) in St. Huberts. One plus with hiking this time of year is that you can be pretty well guaranteed a parking spot as it is usually never full, unlike hiking in the summer.
From the car you start by walking .5 miles to the sign in register followed by a 3.5 mile walk on a private road. While signing in we were greeted by some friends who were heading out for a ski. After chatting for a bit, we strapped on our snowshoes and then watched as they glided out of sight. The snow condition was perfect for snowshoes. As we walked along, it was fun to see the pretty ice formations in the brook glistening in the sun. Since the road does have some elevation gain it was not long before we were shedding layers. Continuing, we walked and talked and walked and talked as unfortunately, that road has not gotten any shorter since the last time I was on it.
Arriving at the Lower Ausable Lake, we headed down to the bridge at the dam. Looking across the lake, we could see Indian Head high up in the distance but first things first. After crossing the bridge, we followed the signs to Rainbow Falls.
As I turned the corner and took in my first view it took my breath away. Pictures just do not do it justice and words cannot describe it but I'll try. In one word, it was magical. It was a 150 foot tall giant, sparkling chandelier. Icicles hung from chunks of rock hard ice covering the entire falls. The waterfall is tucked back in a small box canyon with rock walls covered with areas of dark green moss. Even the moss had delicate ice hanging from it. This was Mother Nature's gift to us. Looking up at the unique ice formations it made me want to break out with a song from the movie Frozen. I think I resisted singing and spared my friends the torture. After a million oohs and ahhs and a zillion photos it was time to leave.
Back up at the road, we stopped to grab a bite to eat and drink. The next part of our day would be on a marked trail. The path was broken out by previous hikers but it was still soft in some areas. As long as you stayed on the trail you were good but one step off, even with snowshoes you would sink in. The first part of the trail has several switchbacks which help with the steepness. We passed a wall of cascading ice with a small cave at the bottom. Sue thanked me that I did not ask her to pose inside it. Don't think it didn’t go through my mind. There was only one sketchy, icy spot where you had to be careful but it was no problem for this trio. Before we knew it, we had reached one of the most popular views in the Adirondacks. From Indian Head, we were treated to magnificent views of the Lower and Upper Ausable Lakes, Sawteeth, Mount Colvin, Nippetop as well as most of the Great Range. It was hard to believe but we had this grandiose view all to ourselves. Enjoying a short rest on the summit, we ate some snacks and prepared for our return trip down the Gill Brook trail.
The Gill Brook trail is beautiful anytime of year but there is one section in winter that is usually quite tricky. We trudged along enjoying the snowy winter wonderland. After successfully navigating down a few icy spots, we were hopeful that maybe it wasn’t as bad as we remembered. We may be older and the memory is declining a bit but it was spot on this time. I heard Sue, up ahead say, “Oh oh, should I take out my rope?” The decision was unanimous. Out comes the rope also known as the clothesline. She looped the 60 foot line around a tree and dropped it down the steep, icy decline. Since it was her rope, it was only fitting that she go first. Preparing for her descent, she tossed down her poles. After a few grunts and groans and maybe a few other words she made it to the bottom. Next it was Wendy’s turn. You have to shuffle across the ledge up top to get hold of the rope. She was golden until her head hit a branch dumping a pile of snow on her head. There may have been some laughter and a few more words but down she went holding the rope carefully maneuvering the steep section until she reached Sue.
Last but not least it was my turn. I’m not a big fan of slippery slopes and I was very appreciative of Sue’s rope. I did my share of mumbling plus getting the rope caught in my snowshoes but I made it down safely. Sue retrieved her rope and packed it away. We continued our descent being proud of ourselves that it may have not been pretty but we were all in one piece. That’s all that matters, right?
The rest of the trail was great following the brook for the most part. Soon, we were back on the road putting one foot ahead of the other while closing in on the sign in register. By now, as Sue would say, my hips were talking to me and I was ready to get back to the car. Coincidentally, our skiing friends arrived back at the same time. We all agreed what great winter conditions we had experienced. As we signed out, we were greeted by four deer who were grazing on the side. What a lovely way to end the day.
When you read this article, spring is just a day away. Don’t be fooled by that. Most of the trails will still be ice or snow covered with the high peaks still having a large amount of both. Some of the water crossing, usually frozen in winter, may be raging from spring runoff. Be sure to bring the proper traction and be safe out there. Happy Trails.
Note that if you choose to hike on the Adirondack Mountain Preserve (AMR) it is private and no dogs are permitted. Also, beginning May 2 to October 31 you will be required to have a reservation to park.