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Old 01-24-2013, 11:07 PM   #1
acedawg23
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Campfires in the high peaks

We are planning a family trip and recently learned of the ban on campfires in the high peaks. Is that a hard-and-fast rule, or do people do it anyway?
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Old 01-25-2013, 12:48 AM   #2
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The fire ban applies to the Eastern Zone of the High Peaks Wilderness- essentially (but not limited to) the vicinity of Indian Pass, Marcy Dam, Avalanche Lake, Lake Colden, Flowed Lands, Panther Gorge, and Johns Brook, as well as the surrounding mountains. It does not apply to the Western Zone of the High Peaks Wilderness, nor does it apply to any other management unit of the Adirondack Park.

It is a hard and fast rule, and the DEC does regularly patrol the backcountry to enforce it. If you are caught having a fire, at the very least you'll be immediately directed to put it out. At the worst, you'll be evicted from the woods and ticketed.

The reason for the fire ban is resource protection. The Eastern High Peaks is a very high use area, and the resources to sustain the amount of campfire activity that would occur if they were permitted simply do not exist. Before the fire ban, there were major issues with groups cutting down standing trees for firewood- entire areas of forest surrounding popular lean-tos and campsites were being denuded. By banning fires, the natural character of many of these areas has been able to recover. So even if you think you can get away with having one, there are very sound ethical reasons not to have campfires in the High Peaks.

I assume that you're planning a backpacking trip (the fire ban does not apply to state car-camping campgrounds in the vicinity of the High Peaks, as they aren't technically part of the High Peaks Wilderness). Some other important regulations to keep in mind as you plan your trip:
  • Maximum permitted overnight group size is 8. This is because larger groups have an exponentially larger impact.
  • Maximum permitted day use group size is 15. Day use groups tend to have less impact, but they still need to be kept below this limit to minimize the impacts.
  • If you've got an overnight group larger than 8, or a day use group larger than 15, you need to split into seperate groups and maintain at least 1 mile of seperation between groups at all times. This is because several smaller groups tend to have less impact than 1 big group.
  • Bear canisters are required for overnight trips between April 1st and November 30th. Due to adaptations by the bear population in the High Peaks as a result of poor food handling by many campers, hanging your food in a tree is no longer effective. Canisters are necessary to protect you, your food, and the bears.
  • Camping is prohibited above 4,000 feet at all times. High elevation areas in the High Peaks are especially susceptible to adverse camping impacts.
  • Camping between 3,500 and 4,000 is permitted only at designated sites. Designated sites are marked with a yellow plastic disc with a silhouette of of a tipi and the words "Camp Here." Remember too that just because a site obviously looks used doesn't make it a legal one- it has to have the plastic disc to be "designated."
  • Below 3,500 feet, camping is permitted only at designated sites, or at sites at least 150 feet from any road, trail, or water. Camping away from roads and trails helps to disperse use. The "riparian area" (the boundary between water and land) is also especially susceptible to camping impacts, so it's best not to camp right on or adjacent to water so as to protect the water quality.
  • Glass containers are prohibited. (Hopefully this one is self-explanatory!)
You can find more information on backcountry regulations at the following link: http://www.adk.org/page.php?pname=dec-regulations
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Old 01-25-2013, 09:59 AM   #3
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Yes, we will be backpacking. We had planned to be around those very places you mentioned (Marcy, Colden, Avalanche Pass) but changed our route because of the ban. For me, a fire is a big part of the whole experience, plus it aids in cooking. My children enjoy the fire at night about as much as anything else. Plus, since it gets dark fairly early in the woods, without a fire the only alternative is going to bed or packing out lanterns, etc. Thanks the for info!
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Old 01-25-2013, 10:14 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by acedawg23 View Post
Yes, we will be backpacking. We had planned to be around those very places you mentioned (Marcy, Colden, Avalanche Pass) but changed our route because of the ban. For me, a fire is a big part of the whole experience, plus it aids in cooking. My children enjoy the fire at night about as much as anything else. Plus, since it gets dark fairly early in the woods, without a fire the only alternative is going to bed or packing out lanterns, etc. Thanks the for info!
You're welcome.

Since you will be going elsewhere to have a fire, note too that there are regulations concerning fires in the areas where they are allowed:
  • Fires are permitted only for warmth, cooking, or smudge (keeping the bugs away). Usually it's not too hard to apply at least one of these reasons to your fire, but keep in mind the intent behind this regulation- keeping your fire going all day is usually unnecessary and consumes a lot of wood, which can have a huge impact. Generally, it's best to have a small fire just in the evening.
  • Firewood needs to be dead, down, and detached. Breaking dead branches off standing trees is not permitted, and if a tree is still rooted in the ground and standing upright, you can't cut it down for firewood even if it's dead. This helps preserve the natural character of the area in which you are camped.
In general, fires tend to cause the greatest impacts in the backcountry. I agree with you 100% that a fire can be an important aspect of a trip (I very much enjoy having them myself). Just keep in mind that they do consume a lot of resources, and when you have them, make sure that you're having them in a manner that is consistent with the preservation of wilderness resources.

Any idea where you're headed? If climbing high peaks is still a priority for you, you can have fires in the Giant Mountain, Dix Mountain Wilderness Areas, as well as the Western zone of the High Peaks Wilderness. All of these areas offer some very nice backpacking opportunities where you can include some of the peaks in your itinerary.

There are also countless other options in the Adirondacks (the High Peaks area only accounts for about 10-20% of the backcountry recreational opportunities in the park), so if you're looking for help selecting another destination, there are numerous folks here with lots of experience who would be more than happy to help.
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Old 01-26-2013, 12:06 AM   #5
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We have "penciled in" our schedule to hike the Henry Goddard Leach trail and climb Dial, Nippletop, Colvin and Blake. We are bringing our children, so we have been doing much research about what to hike with them along. Do you (or anyone else) have any suggestions of kid-friendly trails to hike which allow campfires? My wife and I have the 46 highpeaks on our bucket list, so we want to include some of them in our trip.

Last edited by acedawg23; 01-26-2013 at 12:07 AM.. Reason: clarification
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Old 01-26-2013, 01:10 AM   #6
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For those peaks, your best bet for camping would be to camp on Gill Brook. Fires are permitted there. There's 3 or 4 designated tent sites along the trail after you cross on to state land. They are fairly well marked and are easy to find. The hike into Gill Brook is about 3-4 miles. It's not difficult, but most of it is on the access road for Ausable Lake, which is open to pedestrian traffic only (the public cannot drive on it). You'll have to park at the Route 73 trailhead across the main road from the Roaring Brook trailhead for Giant.

As far as with kids, depending on their age, athletic ability, and level of enthusiasm, you might find it difficult to get all 4 of these peaks in a single weekend with kids, for a couple of reasons. Colvin and Blake have some really steep sections, and a ledge here or there where younger kids may need a boost. Also, once you summit Blake, you have to reclimb Colvin on the return trip- there's no way around it, so you actually end up summiting 3 high peaks instead of two. It can be a long day that may tire the kids out.

As for Dial and Nippletop, they don't have the ledges that Colvin and Blake have, but they are taller, so there's more elevation to ascend, and the climb up Nippletop from Elk Pass is very steep. As with Colvin in Blake, there's also no easy return from Dial- you'd have to either reclimb Nippletop, or take the long way around to the north, climbing Bear Den and most of Noonmark along the way.

I personally wouldn't even attempt all 4 peaks in a single day with kids. I'd say that realistically, even if your kids are enthusiastic and strong enough to handle these peaks, you're looking at a 4 day trip- hike in and set up camp on day 1, climb Colvin and Blake on day 2, climb Dial and Nippletop on day 3, and pack up and hike out on day 4. (Which brings to mind another regulation I forgot to mention- you can only occupy a campsite or lean-to for a maximum of 3 consecutive nights).

With kids (especially if they are new to backpacking and peak climbing), I would probably set an itinerary with the following criteria:
  • A 3 day, 2 night trip
  • A campsite that is reasonably close to the road- less than 2 miles
  • A single peak to climb on the second day. Not necessarily an easier peak, but one with killer views that is well worth the effort.
Having only a single peak in your itinerary definitely greatly simplifies things, especially with kids. You don't need to worry as much about getting up and out of camp at the crack of dawn. You'll get to spend more time relaxing on the summit and enjoying the views. It will be more relaxing and more fun, which is important for your first trip if you're hoping to get your family hooked on the mountain climbing bug. Plus not having multiple peaks will almost certainly cut down on the "are we there yet?" factor.

I can think of two possibilities that would fit both your criteria, and as well as the criteria I've suggested above- Giant or Dix. They aren't small peaks by any means, but even younger kids should be able to climb them if they are in decent shape and they've got all day to do it. And the views from either peak are some of the best to be had in the Adirondacks.

For Giant, I would recommend camping at either Roaring Brook Falls or at Giant's Washbowl. There are designated tent sites in either area, and fires are permitted. Giant's Washbowl is a little bit more remote and gets less use, but Roaring Brook Falls is a really neat area to camp in. Both spots are a fairly easy hike in from the road (some steep sections, but short), and you can have fires at both locations as well.

For Dix, I would recommend camping at Round Pond, which is a short, easy hike in from Route 73. You can have fires there as well.

Between the two peaks, there is similar elevation gain, but Dix is a significantly longer hike, so that one might be better if your children are older.

Hope that helps.
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Old 01-26-2013, 10:15 AM   #7
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Another option might be to basecamp at the ADK LOJ/Wilderness Campground at Heart Lake. Many of the high peaks are reachable via day hikes and you can have a camp fire. It could be an easier backpacking experience for your kids; not having to haul all their gear up and over major peaks. Just a thought.

http://www.adk.org/page.php?pname=wilderness-campground
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Old 01-26-2013, 10:32 AM   #8
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Another option might be to basecamp at the ADK LOJ/Wilderness Campground at Heart Lake. Many of the high peaks are reachable via day hikes and you can have a camp fire. It could be an easier backpacking experience for your kids; not having to haul all their gear up and over major peaks. Just a thought.

http://www.adk.org/page.php?pname=wilderness-campground
That's also a good suggestion that I didn't even think of. Yeah, the Loj property is privately owned by the ADK, not state land, so you can have fires there. Also you can buy firewood from a vendor and bring it to your site, so you wouldn't have to be running around in the woods finding fuel to burn. And finally, having a reservation can give you some good peace of mind- you wouldn't have to worry about getting to a campsite late only to find out that it's already occupied.
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Old 01-26-2013, 10:53 AM   #9
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Without sounding "smart alec-y" When was the last time you were out there? Some of what you wrote doesn't jive with the current maps, books and websites we have researched. For instance, our map shows a fork in the trail which allows you to hike to either Nippletop or Dial hiking east from Elk Pass. Could the trail(s) have changed? Sometimes maps, etc. are less reliable than eyewitness testimony, so let me give you our tentative itinerary so you can see our plans, and please let me know what your thoughts are.

We are planning to park by the AuSable Lake club and begin hiking down the pedestrian-only road and Gillbrook trail to Elk Pass and set up camp. From there day-hike Colvin and Blake one day. Another day-hike to Nippletop. Then we are trying to figure out if we should pack up camp and hike over Dial and Bear Den (with full packs) and camp someplace along the way back toward the parking lot, or if we should day-hike to Dial and back to camp at Elk Pass, camp for the night, and hiking back out to the car the way we came in. Hopefully I am at least somewhat clear in my explanations
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Old 01-26-2013, 11:07 AM   #10
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Also...we have a chart that ranks the mountains 1-7 in difficulty to climb. How reliable is that chart and what do they use to determine the difficulty? We have been up Marcy, Colden, and Algonquin. They rank as 5s but Colvin and Blake are also ranked 5s and listed on some sites as kid-friendly hikes. Not sure how that all works out.
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Old 01-26-2013, 11:39 AM   #11
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My choice would be to do Dial and Nippletop in the same day, then head back to your campsite. After two days of hiking, lugging your backpacks over Elk pass might not be fun for the kids. Another option would be backpack up Elk pass, drop your packs and do Nítop, then hike out over Dial and Bears Den.

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Old 01-28-2013, 11:27 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by acedawg23 View Post
Without sounding "smart alec-y" When was the last time you were out there? Some of what you wrote doesn't jive with the current maps, books and websites we have researched. For instance, our map shows a fork in the trail which allows you to hike to either Nippletop or Dial hiking east from Elk Pass. Could the trail(s) have changed? Sometimes maps, etc. are less reliable than eyewitness testimony, so let me give you our tentative itinerary so you can see our plans, and please let me know what your thoughts are.

We are planning to park by the AuSable Lake club and begin hiking down the pedestrian-only road and Gillbrook trail to Elk Pass and set up camp. From there day-hike Colvin and Blake one day. Another day-hike to Nippletop. Then we are trying to figure out if we should pack up camp and hike over Dial and Bear Den (with full packs) and camp someplace along the way back toward the parking lot, or if we should day-hike to Dial and back to camp at Elk Pass, camp for the night, and hiking back out to the car the way we came in. Hopefully I am at least somewhat clear in my explanations
There is indeed access to both Nippletop and Dial from Elk Pass. The trail to the top of the ridge from Elk Pass is very steep. Most people avoid going through there with packs, if possible. Upon arriving at the top of the ridge, a right-hand turn leads about 0.2 miles to the summit of Nippletop, whereas a left-hand turn follows the ridge way down to Dial.

Regarding camping, there are a few restrictions to keep in mind. The Ausable Club owns the land around the ausable valley; camping on their property is not permitted. In the Adirondacks, camping above 4000 feet is prohibited at all times (except in dire emergency). Camping between 3500-4000 feet is prohibited except for designated camping areas. [This regulation is taken from the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (APSLMP, 2001, pg. 21).] I don't have the english unit maps available to me right now, but I believe that you're either already in or close to the 3500' mark in elk pass. As such, camping is prohibited in most of that area. It's been several years since I've been in there, but I do seem to recall seeing a few designated spots up there. Carefully look into the matter before you go, however.
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Old 01-31-2013, 08:22 PM   #13
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Thanks for all the helpful info!
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Old 02-02-2013, 08:40 PM   #14
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For instance, our map shows a fork in the trail which allows you to hike to either Nippletop or Dial hiking east from Elk Pass. Could the trail(s) have changed? Sometimes maps, etc. are less reliable than eyewitness testimony, so let me give you our tentative itinerary so you can see our plans, and please let me know what your thoughts are.
This is not quite correct. You can't get to Dial from Elk Pass without going over Nippletop. Yes, the summit of Nippletop is technically down a short side trail, but for all intents and purposes, you've already climbed Nippletop when you get to this junction. The side trail to the summit has very little elevation gain compared to the rest of the hike.

Take a look at this map, and you'll see what I mean. The junction is only located a few feet lower in elevation than the summit.

So yes, what I said before is essentially correct- a trip to Dial from Elk Pass (or vice-versa) is going to involve an ascent of Nippletop.

Quote:
Originally Posted by acedawg23 View Post
We are planning to park by the AuSable Lake club and begin hiking down the pedestrian-only road and Gillbrook trail to Elk Pass and set up camp. From there day-hike Colvin and Blake one day. Another day-hike to Nippletop. Then we are trying to figure out if we should pack up camp and hike over Dial and Bear Den (with full packs) and camp someplace along the way back toward the parking lot, or if we should day-hike to Dial and back to camp at Elk Pass, camp for the night, and hiking back out to the car the way we came in. Hopefully I am at least somewhat clear in my explanations
Are you planning to do Colvin and Blake the same day that you hike in? Doing them on a second day would probably make it a lot easier with the kids.

As far as camping in Elk Pass, I would probably camp further down on Gill Brook instead for a couple of reasons. It'd be less elevation gain with full packs, the Elk Pass site isn't the nicest (and can be somewhat hard to find if you've never been there before), and if the Elk Pass site is already taken, it's going to mean a lot of backtracking to find a place you can camp (the forest is way too thick there to find your own spot off in the woods).

Same with carrying full packs up and over Nippletop/Dial, and camping somewhere on Bear's Den/Noonmark. There's no designated sites along that stretch of trail, meaning that you'll be on your own to find a spot that is at least 150 feet off the trail, that is also below 3,500 feet in elevation, and isn't on Ausable Club property. Not always the easiest thing to do in the higher elevations in the High Peaks, where the forest tends to be pretty thick, and the terrain uneven. I would probably just try to do Nippletop and Dial together as a day hike, and return to camp in Elk Pass/Gill Brook again for the night.

Hope that helps.

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Old 04-25-2017, 08:40 PM   #15
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Great Map!

Thank you posting that map link. The map I've been looking for. BTW on a scale of of 1 to 10 where would rate this route plan: Elk Lake to Rainbow Falls and back via the Elk-Lake-Marcy, Great Ridge and Weld Trail. 4 day, 3 night trip. To my understanding I would only permitted to camp near Panther Gorge and Rainbow Falls. I'm athletic with a lot of stamina however, I do realize these will be intense hikes.
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Old 04-25-2017, 08:53 PM   #16
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Thank you posting that map link. The map I've been looking for. BTW on a scale of of 1 to 10 where would rate this route plan: Elk Lake to Rainbow Falls and back via the Elk-Lake-Marcy, Great Ridge and Weld Trail. 4 day, 3 night trip. To my understanding I would only permitted to camp near Panther Gorge and Rainbow Falls. I'm athletic with a lot of stamina however, I do realize these will be intense hikes.
How much hiking/backpacking experience do you have? That's a particularly rugged route. There's a huge difference between being athletic and being in shape for hiking in mountainous areas. Running and exercising often at home don't really translate directly to being able to hike long distances in rugged terrain. This is not the sort of itinerary I would recommend for a beginner backpacker, regardless of how athletic they were.

In terms of camping, the Adirondack Mountain Club's High Peaks Map (different than the National Geographic Map) is worth purchasing as it shows the location of legal, designated campsites. In particular, you need to be aware that there isn't really any camping (legal or established) near Rainbow Falls. The closes good camping is at the sites near Gill Brook, across the valley.

Note that you'll need a bear canister for this trip, as you'll be camped in the Eastern Zone of the High Peaks. Fires are allowed at Gill Brook, as well as the designated site south of the Colvin Range, but no where else. And make sure you pay attention to the location of private property that the trail crosses, on which no camping is permitted at all.
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