For Carol Stone White, getting lost in the forest is just her way of life. We tapped the professional hiker and guidebook author to give us the lowdown on the best Central New York trails to hit up this summer.
By Carol Stone White
Had Carol Stone White not quit smoking 25 years ago (a birthday present to her husband, Dave), the then-47-year-old might have never discovered her true passion — hiking. For more reasons than one, the life-altering decision to put down her smokes gave life a new meaning.
A year after purchasing Fifty Hikes in Central New York and hitting the trails every weekend to boost her new health-forward lifestyle, White and her husband graduated from weekend warriors to peak-baggers with their first big climb up the 5,344-foot Mount Marcy, New York’s highest mountain. It was during this two-day excursion that White became hooked on getting lost in the vast wilderness, babbling brooks, forest creatures and all.
“Not only did I become physically fit, but my mental default state changed from being bothered by small matters to pretty much accepting whatever happens on the trail or in my psyche, pleasant or not, rain or shine,” she said. White added that she also enjoys the “interesting, intelligent, communicative, caring individuals” that she’s met while hiking. (The pair once met a flute player along the trails and hiked the whole weekend with him.)
By the time she was over age 60, she had climbed New Hampshire’s 48 high peaks and completed the 46 Adirondack peaks in 1997, making her the 20th woman to become a Winter 46er. Eager to find out if the other 19 women shared similar struggles and perseverance hiking (think: frostbite, helicopter rescues, icy falls), White’s correspondence with them transformed into her book Women with Altitude: Challenging the Adirondack High Peaks in Winter. The avid trailblazer admits that despite the fear felt during these long winter climbs, she always felt more empowered and able to move on to the next adventure after each challenging hike.
“Hiking inspires one to climb mountains you wouldn’t think of climbing, and to discover yet more wondrous views and experiences,” she said. “Hiking is an exhilarating way to enjoy free time with my husband and friends, and we discovered that being immersed in the natural world is true re-creation that energizes us for meeting our everyday responsibilities with a notably greater appreciation for simple pleasures.”
Carol and Dave are also Northeastern USA 111ers (climbers of peaks that exceed 4,000 feet in New York and New England), have climbed eight of the 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado, co-author a monthly hiking column and serve on the boards of several industry organizations and conservation committees.
When not planning her next big climb, the mother of two and grandmother of four can be found penning guidebooks to share her mountaineering tales and introducing beginner hikers on how to (carefully) become lost in the woods.
Here White suggests several hot spots to hike in CNY — the same paths that first ignited her passion for the climbing sport. So do your health a favor and mark your calendars to hit up one of these trails this month for National Trails Day.
— Courtney Rae Kasper
Green Lakes State Park: Trails around these emerald lakes are easy, and there are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the sights, as well as to camp and swim. The special feature of these lakes is their great clarity; you can see into the depths, which drop off very close to shore. Usually fish are swimming in the shallows. Route 5 east of Fayetteville.
Chittenango Falls State Park: Short, quite steep descent to the base of the falls, and re-climb more moderately on the other side. This park is near Green Lakes, so these outings can be combined. Trail to base of 167-foot waterfall. Cross bridge and ascend other side. Pick a hot day to cool off in wonderful mists from the falls! Route 13 between Chittenango and Cazenovia.
Highland Forest, Onondaga County Park: Trails vary from easy (one-mile self-guided Nature Trail or three-mile Short Cut Trail) to the very strenuous 8.7-mile loop, which passes five shelters and goes up and down a lot. A great workout and a beautiful variety of forest. Obtain a map at Skyline Lodge. Bring plenty of water and snacks! Route 80 between Fabius and New Woodstock.
Robert H. Treman State Park: The trails are strenuous, involving several significant climbs, but it offers many views of spectacular cliffs, rock formations, waterfalls, rushing Enfield Creek and deep clear pools. Drive to the top and hike down past Lucifer Falls to a bridge to enjoy pollywog and frog season. The climb up the Rim Trail is hundreds of steps; retrace more moderately along the gorge. The total trail is about 2.3 miles, with a complete circuit of Gorge and Rim Trails of 4.5 miles. Route 13 south of Ithaca; turn right on Route 327.
Taughannock Falls State Park: The one-way 0.8-mile trail to the base of the falls is easy; the rim trail circuit is strenuous. Camp and swim on Cayuga Lake. Spectacular viewing from below and above 215-foot Taughannock Falls. NY Route 89, west side of Cayuga Lake, or Jacksonville Road off NY Route 96.
Morgan Hill State Forest & Labrador Hollow Unique Area: These two areas right next to each other feature a great variety of trails! There is Tinker Falls, ravines, an overlook 700 feet down to a “kettle” lake left by glaciers, a 2,000-foot long boardwalk, conifer forests, stocked fishing ponds and free camping in most state forests. From Tully, take NY Route 80 east to NY Route 91 south—visit Labrador Hollow Unique Area website for complete directions. From Rt. 80 or 91, Morgan Hill State Forest is accessed best on paved Shackham Road, which runs north and south through the state forest.
Buttermilk Falls State Park: Close to Robert Treman State Park is another spectacular park to appreciate the wonders of rock and water in Ithaca. Cross a bridge at the swimming area and climb next to the falls and rushing cascades, waterfalls, and overlooks of Buttermilk Creek. You reach West King Road, off NY Route 96B. Retrace by the Gorge Trail, or take the Rim Trail back, or cross the road and hike Bear Trail or walk the Park Road to Lake Treman. (Or you can drive up here; there are two parking places in the Upper Park). The trail around the lake is interesting, crossing a dam and walking in shady evergreen, then approaching the water where you may see hundreds of pollywogs or tiny frogs hopping around. Strenuous climbing initially. Camping and swimming.
Whetstone Gulf State Park: A three-mile-long gorge cut into the eastern edge of the Tug Hill Plateau has spectacular vistas from a trail that climbs up the gorge and then goes down the other side, often close to very steep drops! Camping and swimming.
Bald Mountain: A wonderful scramble for a mile to a fire tower. You walk atop interesting narrow rock formations, and pass vistas of the Fulton Chain of Lakes north of Old Forge. We saw a fox exploring the fire tower area. Walk beyond the tower to a large balanced rock. This is great in blueberry season, too. Enjoy a swim at Old Forge and perhaps the water park.
Carol’s ‘Before You Go’ Checklist
• Check the weather report of where you’ll be hiking.
• Be sure someone knows your plans.
• If hiking in a group, stay in a group.
• Wear lightweight, loose, breathable clothing and experiment with layering; avoid cotton because it absorbs moisture and does not dry, so in dropping temperatures it can be uncomfortable or dangerous.
• Bring food and plenty of water, extra clothing and rain gear, good (broken-in) boots, extra socks, flashlight, insect repellent, sunblock, hat, watch, guidebook or map, tissue, whistle, dry matches, jackknife and first aid kit. Camera and binoculars are optional. “GORP” is the suggested food to pack, in addition to a sandwich and fruit. GORP stands for “Good Old Raisins and Peanuts,” but add sunflower seeds, cashews, chocolate chips or M&Ms, Craisins or other dried fruit, and anything else you like.
• Read up on aerobic exercise and physical conditioning; both are necessary to fully enjoy hiking.
• As you extend your territory and seasons, learn about prevention of heat exhaustion or hypothermia.
• And to answer the hiker etiquette question that is on everyone’s mind, bring a trowel for using nature’s facilities when no bathroom is available.
Even if you’re headed out for a short hike, an injury, severe weather, or a wrong turn could become a serious matter. Now you are prepared for the unexpected, and remember, turn back when your intuition suggests it. Enjoy!
Q & A:
TCNYW:What kept you going all of these years in the sport — what is it about hiking that makes you continually pursue it? CSW:This is a favorite thing that Dave and I like to do together, and we love leading hikes and and participating in hikes; we meet people we like, new friends, and generally positive and enthusiastic folks who are good to be with. What kept us going is the culture of “peak-bagging” in the Northeast: You accomplish a given number of peaks in an area, then learn about other areas. There are 46 Adirondack high peaks, 35 Catskill high peaks; 5 Vermont high peaks, 48 New Hampshire high peaks, and 15 Maine high peaks — those defined as exceeding 4,000 feet. Then there are the “Hundred Highest” in each region; and you can do all these in the winter. Organizations keep track of all this as you send in your peaks climbed, and you are added to the rosters kept by all these organizations, including the Northeast 111 (now 115). People then become “gridders,” those who hike all peaks in a regions in each of the four seasons. Now people climb all peaks in one calendar winter, three months. Not everyone is a “peak-bagger,” but many are; it inspires one to climb mountains you wouldn’t think of climbing, and to discover yet more wondrous views and experiences.
TCNYW:Describe the transformational experience of who you were before discovering hiking to how it’s made you the person you are today? CSW:I always wanted to write, and it happened when something inspired me, when I experienced extreme conditions that few people have had the privilege to know first-hand, that I felt must be conveyed somehow; and I met others who had also shared my experiences. My guest post on www.sectionhiker.com on May 6th, and my book Women with Altitude, describe some of what we and others experienced and learned while hiking the Adirondack high peaks in winter. Not only did I become physically fit, but my mental default state changed from being bothered by small matters to pretty much accepting whatever happens on the trail or in my psyche, pleasant or not, rain or shine. Hiking is an exhilarating way to enjoy free time with my husband and friends, and we discovered that being immersed in the natural world is re-creation that energizes us for meeting our everyday responsibilities with a notably greater appreciation for simple pleasures. I wanted others to know about this wonderful lifestyle, so I’ve written or edited six books about hiking. I tremendously enjoy the outdoors in all seasons, where before I only thought about being outside in summer and fall. I love plants, trees, wildflowers, mushrooms, brooks, waterfalls, frost heaves (when mud freezes and ice emerges in dozens of filiments), rime ice (like wind, made visible), and every aspect of smells and sounds and sights of nature. The bad news is, I can hardly enter a mall, though I enjoy it with my granddaughter and seeing her perspectives, which are refreshingly modest, materially; she loves to draw. I like the people we meet while hiking; most are interesting, intelligent, communicative, caring individuals with a wide variety of interests.
TCNYW: Other knowledge you as a novice hiker would impart on beginners… maybe things you learned along the way through experience but wish you would’ve known when starting out? CSW: We thought we were “weekend warriors” and could do anything physically that we decided to do. Early on, we backpacked three and a half miles and found ourselves having climbed two “small” peaks and to the top of a third high peak, and my strong husband, carrying heavy stuff, became unable to continue. We think he got heat exhaustion and had not eaten or drunk enough water. He was only age 45 and quite quickly recovered, but that taught us something. While winter hiking, he thought he could hike fast enough to keep his extremities warm (his feet after getting wet breaking though an icy brook), but this does not happen. (One must change socks, insulate dry socks from wet boots with bread bags or other plastic, and then put on wet boots). On testing myself, I always felt fear on long climbs in winter, because we did most of them by ourselves, not recommended. What if something happened, way out in the wilderness in winter? I always thought, we can turn back if necessary; but very far out, what if an injury happened, was always in the back of my mind. I enjoyed it much more when we hiked in groups. Yet, after each successful if challenging hike, I felt more empowered, more able to try the next excursion. By the time we tried the 48 high peaks in New Hampshire, I became less afraid. This idea that you don’t “have” courage, you build courage by experience, is interesting. If you can climb the Adirondack 46 in winter, you can probably do Everest, almost seriously. (We did learn to acclimate properly, in order to climb eight of the Colorado peaks exceeding 14,000 feet, with no problems).
White on women featured in her book Women with Altitude: Challenging the Adirondack High Peaks in Winter:
Betty’s first sentence tickles me: “I thought by the time I was 40, I’d be down the tubes.” She goes on, “I didn’t discover hiking until my children were in their mid-teens and when I did, it changed my life in many ways — it made me fit. This sport makes every day an exciting experience. It gives you perspective, provides time for thinking matters through. I continue to make good friends, and unexpectedly found someone who became my best friend and husband.” They were the first married couple to summit all the peaks in the Northeast in winter at ages 57 and 58.
Linda hiked the Winter 46 with her husband and two boys, starting when they were 7 and 10 and finishing when they were 16 and 19. “Climbing the Winter 46 helped me to see my sons as individuals, not just as ‘my sons.’ I learned to appreciate their strengths and abilities and judgment far better than I might have any other way.”
Marta was an overweight, stressed-out factory worker who hiked a fire tower mountain one day and ended up hiking many rounds of the 46. “This gives me relief from the stresses of everyday life,” she wrote. “For years I battled eating disorders that almost destroyed my life.”
Carol Stone White’s books about hiking include Peak Experiences: Danger, Death, and Daring in the Mountains of the Northeast, published by the University Press of New England in 2012; Adirondack Peak Experiences: Mountaineering Adventures, Misadventures, and the Pursuit of “The 46” and Catskill Peak Experiences: Mountaineering Tales of Endurance, Survival, Exploration and Adventure from the Catskill 3500 Club, published by Black Dome Press in 2008 and 2009; Women with Altitude: Challenging the Adirondack High Peaks in Winter, published by North Country Books in 2005. With her husband David, she wrote Catskill Day Hikes for All Seasons, published by the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) in 2002 and they edit ADK’s comprehensive guidebook, Catskill Trails, for which they measured 350 miles of trails by surveying wheel. The National Geographic Society is producing a new Catskill Park trails map with their assistance, which will be packaged with Catskill Trails, and their measurements updated the Catskill Forest Preserve maps published by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.