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Analysis: High Peaks Trails Don’t Meet Design Standards

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  • Analysis: High Peaks Trails Don’t Meet Design Standards

    I would love to see all of the trails get some attention but this analysis/proposal is asking for a dramatic change in the slope of the trails and would rebuild them to be way less challenging than they are now. Would it be as fun to climb in the High Peaks if you're getting just over 420 feet of ele gain per mile? If my math is right that is what the Adirondack Council is asking for. I use 1000 feet/ mile as the absolute minimum threshold for whether I even consider using the word "steep" to describe a trail and they want to cut that by more than half? If the trails are totally sanitized of their rugged nature and steepness would it be the same experience? I say no.

    And they have totally lost me when comparing hiking trails to interstates and wheelchair ramps.


  • #2
    Nothing that organization says in regards to hiking shocks me anymore...

    I wish publications would stop giving them such a big soapbox to stand on.


    • #3
      Many High Peaks trails actually need to be redesigned, but mindlessly building miles of switchbacks to meet an artificial grade specification is not the way.

      The old-timers knew how to route a trail to take advantage of natural terrain features. Natural sloping benches, and places where rock was already exposed to allow for steeper climbing without erosion. When you encounter those spots on an old trail where you say, "isn't this a cool set of natural rock steps," know that it was an old-timer with intimate knowledge of the terrain who routed the trail there, not some classroom newby with a specification book in hand.


      • #4
        This reminds me of those Money Magazine articles that say you need like a million dollars in your 401k or you're gonna be eating cat food by 68 years old.

        Blah, blah, bad trails, blah, blah, blah, over use, blah, blah, blah permits, blah, blah, blah.

        There is not the political will to spend the money to change things. I bet if everyone agreed to give up hiking and do trail work. Then we all came up and arranged ourselves in 5 or 6 - 50 person work gangs every weekend. The state does not have the people and money to even supervise and direct the work.
        Leave No Trace!


        • #5
          Originally posted by Bunchberry View Post
          The state does not have the people and money to even supervise and direct the work.
          Thank God. Imagine if we got all of the government that we pay for. Take the ruggedness out of the trails and all of the fun goes away.
          Me - 41/46
          Mrs - 17/46

          A trail without mud is like a day without sunshine.


          • #6
            The article goes from percent grade to angle in the blink of an eye. I think they meant degree for the staircase, but that can be 40 degree, which in percent would be up toward 100 percent, depending on how you calculate.

            Yes, how do you calculate? I think you're supposed to be using the ratio of rise to horizontal run. But its not easy to measure that when your hypotenuse isn't straight. So, in this use, it seems like they need to compare rise to hypotenuse. In other words, elevation gain compared to actual distance hiked. (sure, you can probably take a percentage off the hypotenuse, but why?)

            Like tcd said, don't look at steepness as an automatic need for a change in trail. On the other hand, I suppose a good trail, anti-erosion-wise, is going to be designed a little bit like a good development road, unfortunately. Next thing you know, you'll be able to ride a horse on these trails. Is this western U.S. influence? Grand Canyon grade was not mentioned.

            Odd article. Needs to be redone, honestly, but I guess you get the idea.
            I might be kidding...


            • FoulHooked
              FoulHooked commented
              Editing a comment
              Google says residential staircase can be 60-80% which matches with my intuitive guess after several decades of using them.

            • CatskillKev
              CatskillKev commented
              Editing a comment
              Yes, 45 degree would be most people's 100%. The rise being 100% of the horizontal run. Percent grade is such a confusing thing though, really, when it comes to hiking trails. The hypotenuse should be used, like Makwa was using in his 1000 ft per mile thoughts, I believe.

          • #7
            Any reasonably clever person who's spent more than a few years trip planning and hiking the high peaks could come up with a better plan than the current model. There are literally thousands of us out here that could develop a master plan better than what seems to be the plan (super inefficient trail location to Cascade and closing of shoulder parking??-- brilliant!).

            Basic plan :Build parking lots and minor relocation and trail building of problem areas.That's just a matter of money. Not so complicated, just a matter of doing it. Doesn't fix trail congestion in busy areas but at least gets the most glaring issues taken care of.

            In my dreams there would be a few new well developed trail heads (Dix range from the North, Opalenscent and Boreas) and competing main trails leading to popular peaks and connecting trails but that seems more or less a lost cause.

            Analysis of steep= impossible to maintain seems not necessarily well founded. I hiked the Ammonoosuc on Wednesday. It gains 1700' in a mile and the trail was in absolutely fantastic shape. There was obviously a ton of work that went into building the boulder steps. I


            • gebby
              gebby commented
              Editing a comment
              New Hampshire has NY beat for sustainable trails from my experience(44/48 4000 footers).

            • Neil
              Neil commented
              Editing a comment
              The Whites have different soil. Mineral vs. organic.

          • #8
            Green - how did you find the Ammo trail compared to say Giant which is 1000' per mile for three miles from Chapel Pond? Starting to tackle the Whites, and while the trails seem easier (meaning the footing), the overall average time is not reduced. Most likely as they do not have the 3 mile each way approaches. Curious on thoughts.


            • greenmountaingoat
              greenmountaingoat commented
              Editing a comment
              I've only done Giant twice both from Chapel Pond-4 years ago and 5 years ago. Ammo was a gentle uphill with some eroded and washed out areas and kind-of bouldery areas along the bank of the river for a mile. After the first (awesome) pool and waterfall, it's literally straight up boulder staircase for most of the next mile transitioning to mostly slabs as it starts to open up. I would say that the top of the steep section bears a fair resemblance to slabby steepish stuff like what I recall of the ridge trail but nothing like Cliff etc. in terms of micro-challenging steep areas. NH does have those areas but not on the Ammo. Falling Waters and Flume Slide if I recall correctly were more challenging. I haven't done tripyramids yet nor many of the "terrifying 25."

            • DayTrip
              DayTrip commented
              Editing a comment
              I do most of my hiking in the Whites. I would not categorize Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail as difficult. It is certainly steep and can be awkward in wet or icy weather and in Spring snow melt can have some dangerous or impassable brook crossings. Falling Waters is similar. Constantly climbing with some awkward areas. Flume Slide Trail is definitely on the difficult side if you stay on the actual trail. Over the years though it, like many other trails in the Whites, it has become heavily braided and there are bypasses through many of the awkward spots. I've only done Giant in Winter but I would say the Falling Waters trail would be a better comp.

          • #9
            How are we going to re-route the Macomb slide?


            • ndru
              ndru commented
              Editing a comment
              ^ ...and the bottom few levels of that ladder have been washed away and smashed downstream already. Saw it firsthand last Fall.

            • dwgsp
              dwgsp commented
              Editing a comment
              I thought that the Ore Bed Brook steps were installed to address erosion issues caused by hikers clinging to the sides. It's my understanding that this is why many of the ladders and steps have been installed in the high peaks.

              Just sayin'...

            • FlyFishingandBeer
              FlyFishingandBeer commented
              Editing a comment
              dwgsp They may have been installed for that reason, but that is relative to hikers misusing the terrain due to lack of appropriate footwear or ability. 1,000 people could walk up the center of that slide every day and it would be ages before they'd leave so much as a groove in the rock surface. That slide is gradual enough to serve as a beginner ski slope (as in green/blue trails) in the winter and is mild enough to simply walk up in the summer.

          • #10
            Just a fewvyears ago, they re-routed the start of the trail to Table Top. It is not steep. After two years of use, it became a muddy, sloppy mess. If they re-route every other trail, they will all look like this.
            ADK 46/46W + MacNaughton, Grid 273/552
            Photos & Stuff


            • #11
              Comparing the ADK to trails out west, highways and wheelchair ramps is moot. The Adirondacks are composed of different types of rock and soil than one finds out West.
              What works there may not work here.

              If steep trails are such an issue to Mr. Janeway, then why hasn't he and his friends led by example by re-routing all of the steep orange and red trails that are on the AMR?

              C'Mon Willie, put your ideas into action! Gather up your ATIS friends and crank out new sustainable trails on your club's property! Show us how it's done!


              • FlyFishingandBeer
                FlyFishingandBeer commented
                Editing a comment
                Oh they already answered the sustainability issue for those trails differently, remember?

              • gebby
                gebby commented
                Editing a comment
                FlyFishingandBeer They couldn't keep the riff raff away by taking away the parking, so let's try this! :(

            • #12
              “It’s well known that Adirondack foot trails are in crisis with overuse and huge crowds of people hiking on these too-steep slopes,” Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway

              I've seen Willie out on the trails tagging summits multiple times. He's part of his own alleged overuse crisis.

              Janeway believes the problem is repairable. “Redesign, reconstruction and strategic hardening of some surfaces with natural materials will help. The state and trails professionals in the Adirondacks know what to do, if given the resources. Not every trail, nor every foot of trail, is in crisis. But the majority of the trail mileage is, and the problem isn’t limited to the High Peaks,” Janeway’s statement said. “Step one is assessing the amount of work to be done,” he said. “This analysis shows it’s a big job. The next step is a comprehensive plan, an estimate of the budget needed to fix the problems. We need a commitment to invest in the plan now and to keep investing in the years ahead.”

              OK, that's completely rational. He goes on to talk about poor trail design in the ADK; trails following drainages, etc.

              A slope of eight percent is too steep for an interstate highway (max. 6 percent), unless yellow warning signs and permanently reduced speed limits are in place. (The Adirondack Northway, which traverses more than 100 miles of the Adirondack Park, includes no permanent speed reductions for slope alone. Slopes above 8 percent are too steep for public wheelchair ramps, according to New York State’s building code. Out of the 300 studied, about 40 miles of trails have a slope between 8 and 12 percent. About 58 miles of trails have a slope of 12 to 20 percent, which is steeper than an Olympic bobsled run (Beijing’s track averages 9.8 percent; Lake Placid 9.35; St. Moritz 8 percent) and steep enough for an expert downhill ski trail. About 69 miles of trails have slopes of 20 percent or more. Whiteface Mountain Ski Center’s Cloudspin Trail is 26 degrees. The Rumor Trail at Gore Mountain Ski Center is 25 degrees. A slope of 30 percent is equal to a residential staircase.

              So wait, are we're talking about making trails easier and more accessible, or preventing soil erosion? How about a comparison to Yosemite's Half Dome? I'm no geologist or bobsled track designer, but I'm pretty sure that surface composition is a much more significant factor than grade when we're talking about longevity. It seems that most trails that follow ridge lines are in pretty good shape, whereas most trails that follow drainages are not. Low lying areas, even at elevation, are almost always muddy messes, because low lying areas hold water. I'm certainly not opposed to seeing a number of trails being rerouted. Marshall, Cliff, Tabletop, etc., but assuming that a lower angle automatically prevents erosion is just being ignorant.

              My mind was wandering like the wild geese in the west.


              • #13
                Be interesting to see the plan to re-route say, the Santa Direct, Seward, Seymour and a few others of that ilk so they get the grade down to that of a bob-sled run. The organic soil and side-hilling that would be part and parcel of such a plan would be a killer. Whatever the budget, make sure it's an annual one because the maintenance will be horrendous.

                Memo to Adirondack Council: please cut a trail whose grade does not exceed 6% to the summit of Allen.
                In fairness, you could cut a trail from the Skylight Brook crossing that spirals it's way 360 degrees around the mountain towards Sand Brook, then switch-back your way up to the summit. I did this as a whack (without the switch-backing) and it might actually work if people don't mind lots of added mileage.


                • FlyFishingandBeer
                  FlyFishingandBeer commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Most people would probably tack on a few miles to Allen's ascent to avoid the mud pits and eroded mess just above and below the slide. Or if we're dreaming big, why not a whole new route from White Lily Pond, ascending via Allen's SE ridge?

              • #14
                A trail spiraling up Allen? That would be nice, but a connection to the Cliff/Redfield mud bog would be better, and still within the slope standards.
                ADK 46*/46 CATS 5/35 FT 4/28 Saranac 0/6 Bristol 6/6


                • Makwa
                  Makwa commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Currently the herdpath from Skylight Brook to the summit is 2000' of ele gain in 1.5 miles. To get it to the standards mentioned in the article that trail would need to be 5 miles long thus making Allen about 25 miles round-trip.

                • bfinan0
                  bfinan0 commented
                  Editing a comment
                  I enthusiastically support that if it means the elimination of slide and slime (or the continuation of it as an alternate route that is not the only way)

              • #15
                The discussion further reinforces that these "standards" are mindless stupidity. When otherwise intelligent people present something that is obviously stupid, look for the hidden agenda. What is the Council's agenda here? Guesses welcome.


                • debmonster
                  debmonster commented
                  Editing a comment
                  What's especially ridiculous is that the standards being referenced are for front country type paths and walkways (what my trail crew friends affectionately call the "white sneaker" crowd), not backcountry wilderness. Trails can be hardened and drainage improved to minimize erosion without sacrificing their original character. Especially when the steep and challenging terrain is an inherent part of the experience of enjoying those trails.