View Full Version : Irony of the trailed and trailless

07-27-2004, 05:06 PM
After doing these High Peak incursions over the last 39 years for me and more than that for my brother Steven, we have noticed the reversal of difficulties on trailed and trailless hikes.

Trailless used to be done with a compass and map. Herd paths were not to be trusted. Now with the 46ers dedication to reduce unnecessary impact, herd paths have been weeded down to whatever is essential. I missed the last left off Allen Brook at the final cairn last week but the faint herd path on the right was actually flagged with an occasional ribbon. So now when one does 'trailless' ascents one is looking for a path.

Maintained trails are under siege from overuse and not enough maintenance to keep it balanced. So travel over 'trailed' paths is actually slower as we have to pick our way through the effects of errosion. Ironically, the trailless paths get less use and are in better shape than the trailed paths. I am sure that Bob Marshall, who did 14 in one day would have had his hands full doing the Great Range under today's conditions. No doubt the Range was much more comfortable to travel back in 1932.

So how does this new shift in balance effect us? Not getting lost going up Allen accounts for a lot in making a 19 mile day for those of us short of Cave Dog. But tackling eroded trailed peaks is a handicap. Especially if you are aware of the effects of sloppy footfalls towards increasing the problem. Chosing the best path between speed, safety and impact will slow the journey. And, unless peakbagging falls out of public favor, the future is bleak as all trails degrade.

07-30-2004, 04:56 PM
I've said it before, but I'll say it again: It wouldn't hurt to have some AMC trail builders redesign some ADK trails. Lower Wolf Jaw from the Notch and the stretch between Colvin and Blake come to mind.

(No offense to Pete Hickey et al intended.)

07-30-2004, 09:25 PM
Hey guys, let's face it - the trailless peaks are not trailless anymore. All things change. The peaks are not the same as they were 80 years ago nor will they be the same 80 years hence. Our common thread is being the mountains, the commaderie, the summits and the joy of the hike. The ideal we all need to spread as "stewards of the summits" is for all to respect our precious mountains and wilderness areas.

Keep this in mind when you are casting your critical vote this November.

07-31-2004, 02:38 AM
If you want to go places w/o trails or herd paths it's still fairly easy, just don't do lists, especially lists of 4,000'ers. I'm sure there are still 3k peaks in the NE w/o herd paths.

You could also try traveling in the woods w/o going to a summit, maybe go to a remote pond or explore a notch instead. ;)

07-31-2004, 06:10 AM
Originally posted by Raymond
I've said it before, but I'll say it again: It wouldn't hurt to have some AMC trail builders redesign some ADK trails. Lower Wolf Jaw from the Notch and the stretch between Colvin and Blake come to mind.

No offense taken, but give us the resources that the AMC has and we can do it. A month or so ago, I was with a fellow trailworker in the Whites, marvelling at some of the trailwork, until he told me what kinds of resources they have.

There are limits to what can be done with volunteer workers. Skills take time to learn. Volunteers work with rocks of only a few hundred pounds. The pros move huge things. My son is pro trail worker. Look at the cairn he built.


Its work with rocks like that that is needed in many places. Small rocks just won't work on steep sections. BTW, we have sme people who can do big-rock work. NOtice some of the stone staircases on the Dix trail a bit after Round Pond. The sections you are talking about would require at least 2 weeks full time each.

The DEC throws in a pitiful amount of money for tail maintenence. The trail to Walface Pond goes through some real muddy sections. Bog bridges were installed some 30 years ago. They could easily be replaced on a 3 day project, if materials were bought and flown in. Will it ever happen? I doubt it. On the other hand, the state paid (my son and his crew) to install something like 300 yards of bog bridges on the Van Ho trail to Marcy, arguably one of the better trails in the area. Also one of the most used ones.

07-31-2004, 06:25 AM
There are a few reasons that the paths on the 'trailless' peaks may be better.

Many regular trails were not laid out to be trails. They are old logging roads. So, you start off with improper design.

The trails get more traffic than the herd paths do.

The main reason, however, is that when we re-habilitate a herd path, we will RE-ROUTE. We lay out the trail (as much as possible) so that it will avoid sections that can get muddy, avoid very steep sections that can erode. Trail layout is a MAJOR factor.

The North trail to Giant receives almost no maintenence, and it NEEDS amlmost none. Check out Tony's trail up Roostercomb. It was laid out well, and it will remain in good condition with very little maintenence.

Being able to design a trail is a LUXURY, and it can pay off.

08-05-2004, 08:18 AM
Would it do more harm than good if folks started to do different/new "off-trail" routes up the "trailess" of the 46?

My brother Hank and I remember how we did Couchie 35 years ago - a bunch of kids with a map, compass. No guidebook (reading wasn't our strength) - just plunge off some trail (from the north, as I recall) onto the woods (cripplebrush and blowdown) uphill from tree to tree to the canister. I probably don't remember this exactly right, but you get the idea.

Would this be bad for the environment now, given the number of hikers?

Steve S

08-05-2004, 08:53 AM
It works on the non-46er ADK100 Peaks. Very little activity on the trailless ADK100 peaks from hikers. Thick going, necessity of map, compass and GPS skills keep most folks away.

The 46er peaks are another story. The internet changed everthing. There is so much infomation that comes from here, the AMC Board, and the 46er listserv, that new routes quickly become apparent and communicated. If you do some neat new way up Nippletop, its all over the internet in the following couple of weeks. I read it and try it, and so do another 25 parties and before you know it, theres a herd path getting more and more established. The higher elevation of the 46er peaks means the herd path doesn't grow back in and regenerate, and now we're back to multiple herd paths.
All you need to know about how word spreads is look at the Trail Conditions section on VFTT. In the winter, someone breaks out a route, publishes it, and folks are running up there to bag an otherwise difficult winter peak while the getting's good. This is how Calkins Brook became the trade route in both the winter and summer.
IMHO, if you want to do a bushwack, great. If you just don't publicize it, the above scenario is avoided.


ps I'm as "guilty" of posting routes as the next person.