Friday, August 23, 2013

Riding in the shadow of Whiteface: the Barkeater Trails, Lake Placid

Mountain biking in the shadow of Whiteface Mountain, Lake Placid NY: The Barkeater Trail Alliance (BETA).

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.
When I got back into mountain biking a year or two ago, one of my first questions – like many beginning riders – was “where?” Right away I heard about the Barkeater Trail Alliance (BETA) and their growing network of purpose-built mountain biking trails around Wilmington and Lake Placid. The Barkeater trails immediately rose to the top of my must-ride list. Finally, a family vacation in Lake Placid last week gave me the chance to sample some of the riding.

Bushwood, one of the trails in BETA's Lussi trail network

BETA’s already got more than 50 miles of single track spread among three main trail networks: the Lussi trails in Lake Placid (so named because the trails traverse land adjacent to the Lake Placid Club’s golf course owned by the Lussi family), plus the Hardy Road and Flume trail networks in Wilmington, and the trail counts are expanding all the time. BETA volunteers also maintain trails at Henry’s Woods and the Peninsula Trails in Lake Placid, and at Dewey Mountain in Saranac Lake. Ultimately BETA would like to link these networks into a single massive trail system stretching from Wilmington to Lake Placid to Saranac Lake. You can read more about BETA and their trail building efforts in this article that ran in Adirondack Explorer last fall.

Wood bridges on the Judge Smails trail

I got out three times for rides of one to two and a half hours each: twice on the Lussi trails and once at Hardy Road. On my first ride, starting at the Stateline trailhead on Route 86, I made a big loop through the Judge Smails, Night Putting, Bushwood, Twisted Sister, Varmint Cong and Lumberyard trails of the Lussi network (sorry… you’re gonna have to pick up the trail maps). These are twisty trails through deep coniferous woods, with short ups and downs and lots of roots. I’d call these intermediate level trails, where the challenge comes more in riding them fast than from the terrain itself. It’s obvious right away that the trails were built with a professional level of quality: hardened tread, nice rockwork, wood bridges. Fun for sure, but I also found myself thinking that the trails and the scenery all seemed kind of the same. That changed when I rode the Hardy Road trails a couple days later.

Intersection at the Hardy Road trail network

One of Good Luck's challenging sections

The Good Luck trail at Hardy Road, Barkeater Trail Alliance.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.
I loved the Hardy Road trails right from the start, climbing smoothly through open woods of oak and white pine. But don’t let all that smoothness fool you: the uppermost trails – Safe Bet and Good Luck – get steep and rocky. Good Luck especially is a solid expert trail, and apparently I needed better luck – or, let’s face it, better skills – because I put a foot down or walked my bike more than a few times. I like a trail that goes someplace, a destination, and Good Luck tops out on a small summit several hundred feet above the trail head, with great views up and down the Beaver Brook valley and towards Whiteface. The downhills are just great: Good Luck is a fun, technical, rocky descent, the others are smooth, satisfyingly fast and flowy. I re-climbed a trail or two so that I could ride everything, and I was back at my car in less than an hour and a half. But that was just the west side of the Hardy Road trails, a new trail on the east side climbs something like 700’ up Winch Mountain and is even more fun (I’m told) on the descent than the west side trails. Reason to return.

Topping out on Good Luck

Whiteface's summit, just a few miles away as the crow flies

Good Luck descent

Looking down the Beaver Brook valley to the Jay Range (?)

Universal praise in the Hardy Road trail register

Whiteface view along Hardy Road

Back at Lussi the next day, I decided to start my ride from the opposite end of the network, at the Lake Placid Club golf course trailhead, and head for the Loggers Loops. This time I found the right mix of smooth, fast trails and technical challenge for a great ride. Cinderella Story, the trail leading out along the fairways to the rest of the trail network, didn’t do much for me but I view it as just the approach to the goods. Heron Loop, Flying Wasp and Algonquin were fun and fast. The entire length of the Heron Loop trail was lined with beautiful green moss, and Algonquin passed through open meadows filled with blooming goldenrod. Beyond lay the Loggers Loops, which in a way reminded me of riding the Canyon Loops at SMBA or skiing the Porter Mountain Loops at Van Hoevenberg: there’s a level of commitment since you’re out there. Each of the three Loggers Loops is successively more challenging.

Gentians along Cinderella Story

Moss-lined Heron's Loop

Goldenrod meadow on Algonquin

When you’re riding (or hiking, or skiing, or climbing) in a new place, it’s natural to compare it to other places you’ve ridden, and I found myself thinking that the BETA trails, overall, were less technically challenging than SMBA. But the Loggers Loops, especially the second and third Loops, are right on par with SMBA’s expert-rated trails. One other thing bears mentioning: you’re going to need the maps (available at local Lake Placid bike shops, I picked mine up at Placid Planet, $10) to ride BETA’s trails. The Lussi trails straddle private land and State Forest Preserve, and once you’re out on State land, the trails and intersections are unmarked. Even with the maps, I became disoriented when I encountered an intersection on Loop 3 that’s not on the map, leaving me wondering for a minute if I was where I thought I was. I was.

Flying Wasp

Logger's Loop 2

Algonquin again

I wasn't into the golf course vibe along Cinderella, but hey, those are the High Peaks!

The bottom line: Admittedly, I’m a relative newbie to mountain biking and haven’t ridden in a ton of different places, but there is a terrific variety of riding on top notch trails in the BETA network. The energetic BETA volunteers have done a remarkable job of creating a huge network of purpose-built mountain biking trails in a short amount of time (BETA was founded in 2009), and the network continues to expand. These are trails I’ll definitely return to, to re-ride and to explore.

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