New Year’s Eve at Owl’s Head

My partner and I decided to plan a spontaneous trip to the Adirondacks to ring in the new year with some hiking and snowboarding. We found an affordable last-minute hotel room in Lake Placid (thanks to the Maple Leaf Inn, again!) and set out first thing in the morning on New Year’s Eve.

Summit of Owl's Head

Since we pre-purchased all day lift tickets for New Year’s Day at Whiteface Mountain, we decided that a short, non-strenuous hike would be best for New Year’s Eve. We both absolutely love the high peaks, but we knew we probably would be too sore to enjoy a full day of snowboarding after climbing one, so we chose a quick hike for that afternoon at Owl’s Head in Keene, NY.

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A blue sign marks the trailhead on Owl’s Head Lane

Owl’s Head is a great short hike in the high peaks region. Located right off Route 73 in Keene, the hike begins at the trailhead on a dirt road in private property and goes a mere 0.6 mile up to the summit. The trail is mostly uphill, but not very challenging, and reaches a final elevation of 2120′.

The trail was snowy and icy on December 31st, but it was packed down enough that snowshoes weren’t necessary. I used my new Yaktrax and my partner wore a cheap, knock-off pair of Nanospikes that I use for flat, icy winter runs. This turned out to be plenty traction for our brief hike, although my Yaktrax fell off my boots TWICE and by the time we got back to the car we noticed most of the spikes had fallen off the running spikes my partner wore.

The trail has a few open areas that could be mistaken for false summits, but these spots offer some nice views on the way up. Just before reaching the actual summit, there is a very steep rocky ledge that hikers must traverse on left side. Here the trail gets quite narrow, with a steep drop off on one side which can be a little intimidating. This brief section can be a little  tricky, but shouldn’t be a problem if you move slowly and step carefully.

After a steep scramble, the open rock summit offers extraordinary views of the surrounding high peaks. We stayed up at the summit for a while, enjoying the views and watching the clouds roll over the mountains. It’s an incredibly rewarding climb that requires relatively little work.

Alli at Summit 2

After a while at the summit, the wind started to pick up and our body temperatures began to cool so we made our way back down to the trailhead. Typically when hiking in the high peaks, the descent seems to take forever. On this hike, however, it feels like it took us no time at all to reach the trailhead.

Owl's Head Pano Before Summit

We passed a group of three hikers who summited just before we began our descent, and then we passed another group just heading out as we got back to the car. There is very limited parking, mostly on the side of the road near the trailhead. When we arrived we were the only vehicle, but by the time we left the area was crowded with several more.

As someone who enjoys hiking the Adirondack High Peaks, I can’t emphasize enough just how easy and enjoyable this hike is. It is a great trek for someone who wants to experience the high peaks without putting in the work required to summit one of the tallest 46. This can be done in an afternoon, evening or even sunrise hike before exploring more of what the Adirondacks have to offer. It was the perfect hike for our trip, since we were not too sore or tired to enjoy several hours of snowboarding the next day.

Owl's Head GoPro Selfie

What did you do to ring in the new year? Any exciting outdoor adventures planned? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Reflections From My First Snowboarding Season

Here in Western New York the winters tend to be long and snowy. For those who don’t enjoy winter sports it can be quite dreadful. Before last winter, I was one of those people. I didn’t grow up skiing like many people in Upstate New York, so I really missed out on some of the best winter recreation available. After having ACL reconstruction surgery following injuries in both of my knees, skiing made me very nervous.

Snowboarding

For some reason, though, snowboarding always piqued my interest and seemed better-suited for my skills (and clumsiness). The first winter dating my partner, a lifelong skier and ski racer, also happened to be his first winter snowboarding. He was a natural and eventually snowboarding completely replaced skiing as his go-to winter activity. Fast-forward to the 2014-2015 winter ski/snowboard season and he was ready to get me out on the mountain with him.

Sunset Lift At Night
Riding the Sunset Chairlift at night is beautiful and serene.

We purchased a ski club package, offered through Rochester Young Professionals, that provided 12 weeks of Tuesday night twilight lift tickets at nearby Bristol Mountain. Since my partner gets a season pass at Bristol Mountain every year, we agreed to go each Tuesday after work from mid-December to early March.

First Snowboarding Lesson
All smiles after my first snowboarding lesson!

One of the biggest selling points of this package was that it included a group lesson each night, if desired. I took advantage of this option a couple times and, because I was the only snowboarder interested in a lesson on those nights, the group lessons actually turned into one-on-one lessons with a snowboard instructor. This was incredibly valuable, especially when I was first getting started. My partner was also able to provide helpful tips and instruction, though his patience turned out to be equally as beneficial as his knowledge.

Ski Pole Selfie with GoPro
Snowboarding with this guy makes winter a lot more fun!

Challenges of my first snowboarding season:

  • A collision with a skier who slammed into me from behind, causing severe lower back pain and bruising that lasted for weeks.
  • Getting the right equipment and gear – I had never even skied before!
  • Trying to master the toe side turn without catching an edge – I fell a lot.
  • Getting over my own fear of falling and crashing.
  • Getting easily frustrated with myself, and taking it out on my very patient, very loving partner!

Highlights of my first snowboarding season:

  • Finally getting my heel side and toe side turns!
  • Improving my technique and increasing my confidence.
  • Acquiring a few favorite trails. By the end of the season I was most comfortable on blue square trails.
  • Getting to experience all types of snow conditions for the first time: fresh powder, packed snow, slush, etc.
  • The Morning Star Cafe aka The Waffle Hut. I’m not ashamed of how much I enjoyed this yummy mid-mountain treat!
  • Spring snowboarding in 60-degree weather in April!
  • Bonding with my partner in a new way that brought us closer than ever.

Check out this highlight reel of my partner’s snowboarding videos from last season:

Overall it was an amazing winter and I learned that my love of the mountains definitely extends to snowboarding as well. I’m already eagerly anticipating the start of the 2015-2016 season – come on, snow!

What’s your favorite winter activity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Throwback Thursday: My First Half Marathon

Sometime around late 2011 my roommate and I had a crazy idea: let’s run a half marathon in the spring. I don’t recall exactly who first proposed the idea, but we both heard about the Flower City Challenge Half Marathon and decided it sounded like a cool thing to do. The interesting part? I could barely run a mile at the time.

FCC Race Bib
Want to start running? Why not register for a half marathon – ha!

I was definitely overweight and had been carrying around some extra post-college pounds for a few years. Despite that, and the fact that I seriously considered shopping to be a good cardio workout, I somehow still considered myself to be somewhat athletic (I guess my brain never grew out of the old high school athlete phase, even during some very sedentary years). A false sense of confidence can cause one to do things they might never otherwise do, including signing up for a half marathon with no experience, guidance or even base level of fitness.

Flyer outside in snow
Flyer – my foster greyhound and training buddy!

My “training” for this race was laughable. I started out by running one mile on the treadmill at an excruciatingly slow pace – nearing the 15 minute mark. Basically, what most fit folks can accomplish during a brisk walk. In late winter and early spring 2012, just a couple of months before the race, I decided to foster a greyhound for my aunt’s rescue organization. This was actually a good thing for my “training” (I’m using that word loosely here). I was able to get in a short one-mile treadmill run at the gym after work and rush home to take Flyer, my foster dog, out for a 1 mile jog around the block. It was all super helpful until I sprained my ankle chasing him down a flight of stairs. Luckily some R.I.C.E. and a couple of weeks off seemed to help enough to start running again – a couple of miles per day and the occasional longer(ish) run on weekends. I don’t think I ever ran more than 5 miles at a time in the months leading up to my first half marathon.

Alli Stacy at start of race FCC
My roommate and I before the start of the 2012 Flower City Challenge Half Marathon.

Does this sound like sufficient training for a half marathon? Nope! But it was also the most running I had done in my entire adult life. Over a couple of months those two miles a day did good things for my body, and I lost almost 20 pounds in just the first few months of the year. I toed the starting line of the 2012 Flower City Challenge Half Marathon ill-prepared but lighter, so much so that the running pants I purchased to start training were baggy on me by race day (I still wore them anyway!).

FCC Start Line
We rightfully positioned ourselves at the back of the starting corral. You can almost see the start line wayyyy up ahead.

Running 13.1 miles that day was every bit as grueling as I expected. I surprised myself by running the first 6 miles of the race without stopping to walk at all, and at a faster pace than I had ever run before. Of course, I paid for this during the second half of the race in typical rookie fashion.

Susan B Anthony neightborhood race signs FCC
Signs along the race course in the Susan B. Anthony House neighborhood.

The last several miles were very slow, alternating jogging and frequent walk breaks. There were times when I thought about giving up, but when I would check the time and see that I was ahead of my goal pace/finish time, I was filled with a new motivation to finish the race and crush my goal. What goal was that, you might be wondering? Well, this event had a cut-off time of three and a half hours, so I was hoping that I might finish around three hours. I crossed the line at  2:55:30, nearly 5 minutes ahead of my goal!

FCC Half Finish Line
The moment I crossed that finish line I was hooked!

Five half marathons later and that is still my slowest finish time yet (my PR is 2:26:00 – almost a 30 minute improvement!). Despite my lack of training and the needless suffering it caused – blisters, muscle aches, exhaustion, all avoidable with proper training and preparation – the moment I crossed that finish line is one of the most memorable moments in my life. That was the moment I completely fell in love with running and racing. The Flower City Challenge Half Marathon course takes runners through some of the most historic and beautiful parts of Rochester, and it was amazing to learn how much you can see and explore in 13 miles.

FCC Finisher Medal
My first finisher’s medal!

What was memorable about your first race? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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Black Friday Hikyoga™ at Corbett’s Glen Nature Park

I mentioned in my #OptOutside post last week that I planned to attend Black Friday Hikyoga™ led by Nicole Kazimer aka HelloYogaGirl. After a wonderful Thanksgiving day, I was ready to hit the trails and explore a local park I hadn’t visited before!

This Hikyoga™ event was somewhat different from the one I attended at Chimney Bluffs State Park. Instead of doing a warm up, out-and-back hike and finishing with a full yoga class, after our warm up we ventured to the trails without mats for a “stop-drop-and-yoga” style hike. Along the trail we stopped for several standing and balancing sequences, building off of tree pose each time.

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Photo from @HelloYogaGirl

Corbett’s Glen Nature Park is a 52-acre park located in Brighton, NY, close to the city of Rochester. The park offers over 2 miles of trails which include wood chip, boardwalk and dirt trails that lead patrons through wooded hills, along a creek, through a historic tunnel and alongside beautiful waterfalls. The trails in Corbett’s Glen are pretty wide and mostly flat which make them ideal for trail running. I love discovering new parks and trails in the area and this is a place I will definitely be visiting again soon – hopefully for some snowshoeing or trail running!

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I go big when I shop small!

After avoiding the usual Black Friday shopping mayhem, I ventured out to some amazing local shops in Rochester for Small Business Saturday! While I used the opportunity to get most of my holiday shopping done, I did get one present for myself – a “Yoga and Champagne” Hikyoga™ sweatshirt. You can pick up some Hikyoga™ gear for yourself at thread, a local boutique in the South Wedge neighborhood. Support local businesses wherever you are this holiday season!

Did you #OptOutside on Black Friday? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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Ten Ways to #OptOutside In Rochester, NY

rei-optoutside

By now most of us have heard about REI’s #OptOutside campaign. Outdoor supply retailer REI, or Recreational Equipment, Inc., is closing all of its stores this Black Friday to encourage would-be shoppers to enjoy the outdoors. My favorite part? REI’s employees are getting a paid day off to #OptOutside as well!

I have to admit – I’ve been a Black Friday shopper in the past. I know, I know – shame on me. I have a hard time resisting a good deal, and waking up early the morning after Thanksgiving used to be a fun tradition. Ever since stores began opening earlier and earlier, now creeping in to dinner time on Thanksgiving Day, I’ve had a hard time justifying the craze. This year I decided to set a goal to purchase all (or at least most) of my Christmas gifts locally, and I’ve already made a list of Rochester-based retailers and businesses to visit for everyone I’ll be shopping for. This means I’ll be skipping Black Friday to #ShopSmall on Small Business Saturday.


Since my #SmallBizSat plans leave me free on Friday, I’ve decided to #OptOutside with Black Friday Hikyoga™ at Corbett’s Glen Nature Park in Penfield, NY. You can learn more or register for this event at www.helloyogagirl.com/optoutside/. Interested in what else there is to do outdoors this Black Friday? I’ve put together a list of ten ways to #OptOutside right here in Rochester!

  1. Run the Rochester Marathon course (or part of it, anyway!) on the Genesee Riverway Trail through Turning Point Park.
  2. Climb the stairs on the Devil’s Bathtub Trail at Mendon Ponds Park.
  3. Mountain bike on the winding trails at Dryer Road Park.
  4. Play a game of kickball with friends on one of the many fields at Genesee Valley Park.
  5. Hike the Crescent Trail footpath in Perinton, NY. Enjoy the view after climbing to the Woodcliff scenic overlook!
  6. Cycle the Erie Canalway Trail.
  7. Go birding at Durand Eastman Park.
  8. Geocaching at Highland Park.
  9. Play tennis at Cobbs Hill Park.
  10. Join me at Hikyoga™ at Corbett’s Glen Nature Park!

How will you #OptOutside this Black Friday? Share your plans in the comments below!

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Buttermilk Falls & Taughannock Falls State Parks

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Taughannock Falls State Park (top) and Buttermilk Falls State Park (bottom)

This past weekend we decided to plan a spontaneous trip to Ithaca, NY to see one of my favorite bands play at the State Theatre (woo, Guster!). Since my partner didn’t want to drive two hours home late at night, he proposed we stay the night in Ithaca after the concert – and I agreed on the condition that we check out at least one of the amazing nearby state parks. Luckily I don’t ever have to twist his arm to get him to join me on an adventure, and he was as excited as I was to see a fun show and check out some new parks.


This was my second time seeing Guster at the State Theatre, and it is one of my favorite venues. I always have a blast and enjoy the historic building‘s unique architecture. Ithaca, NY is in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, located at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake. The Finger Lakes are a popular visitor destination for the many wineries and breweries, outdoor recreation, historic sites and beautiful parks.

Buttermilk Falls State Park

After grabbing breakfast at a quaint local eatery, The State Diner, we decided to check out Buttermilk Falls State Park first since it is located right in Ithaca. According to the NY State Parks website, “Buttermilk Falls State Park takes its name from the foaming cascade formed by Buttermilk Creek as it flows down the steep valley side toward Cayuga Lake.”


My dad and stepmom joined us in our spontaneous adventure and led us to the park after breakfast. They weren’t interested hiking the trails with us, but we stopped to check out the falls near the Lower Park Entrance and take some pictures.

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After saying goodbye to my dad and stepmom, we set out for a hike up the Gorge Trail to the Upper Park Entrance, coming back down via the Rim Trail.


The Gorge Trail is a really nice easy-to-moderate hike and offers great views of cascading falls along Buttermilk Creek. A little more than half way up the Gorge Trail is a lean-to rest area, which makes for a nice spot to stop and take a break if needed. Unfortunately, as is too often the case with well-traveled and easily accessible trails, there was a bunch of litter and debris around the area of the lean-to. Nothing ruins a gorgeous day in nature’s playground quite like someone else’s trash.

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We made our way up to the Upper Park Entrance at a casual pace, stopping often to photograph the beautiful waterfalls. When we got up to the Upper Park Entrance, we looked around a bit where the Bear Trail continues up to Lake Treman, but we decided to just head back down to the Lower Park Entrance so we would have time to check out another park on the way home.

The Rim Trail follows Buttermilk Creek opposite the Gorge Trail, and is set back a bit farther away from the gorge with a wooded dirt trail. We made it back to the parking lot less than an hour after we started. We were only expecting to hike about 1.5 miles in total, according to the trail map, but MapMyRun showed a total distance of 2.8 miles. We did go a bit off trail to check out the Upper Park area, but I’m not sure how else to account for the extra 1+ mile.

Next on our spontaneous adventure to-do list was Taughannock Falls State Park in Trumansburg, NY. Since we drove past the park on our way to Ithaca the day before, we knew this was a stop we could easily make on the way home. The park’s namesake waterfall is the highest vertical-drop waterfall in the northeastern United States, plunging 215 feet.

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We drove up to the Falls Overlook to get a first glimpse at the spectacular falls before hiking the Gorge Trail for a better view. Side note – we have hiked a “Gorge Trail” at each of the last three state parks we’ve visited, must be a popular trail name!


The Gorge Trail is .95 miles long and offers a self-guided audio tour at several points along the trail. Full disclosure: the company I work for provides the cell phone tour and web app service for the Finger Lakes Region of New York State Parks, so I was very excited to finally see the park and check out the audio tour as well!

It was quick, very easy out-and-back hike along the Gorge Trail. The view of Taughannock Falls from below is even more incredible than the view from the overlook above.


On the way back, we hiked through the creek most of the way since the water level was low enough.


Both parks offer great scenic hikes that are short enough to be done in an hour or less. Of course there are more trails to explore if time permits, and we hope to visit both parks again in the future to check out what the other trails have to offer.

Have you visited any Finger Lakes State Parks? Share your favorites in the comments below!

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Throwback Thursday: First Girls’ ADK Adventure Part II – Cascade & Porter Mountains

Photo Oct 05, 9 06 26 AM (1)

This is the thrilling follow up to last week’s Thowback Thursday post, First Girls’ ADK Adventure Part I – Giant Mountain. Part one left off after a grueling, cold and rainy hike up Giant Mountain. We were all freezing and soaked to the bone, so the idea of tent camping another night sounded absolutely awful to us. We knew that without a good night’s sleep, and without dry gear, there was a very slim chance that we would actually get to climb another peak or two the next day. Finding an affordable, vacant room in Lake Placid on a Saturday night in early October proved to be a daunting task. We lucked out, however, and ended up getting the last room available at the Maple Leaf Inn, which had two queen beds, a kitchenette and dining area, and most importantly – heat and a warm shower! We got ourselves cleaned up, in dry clothes, and laid out our wet gear to dry. It felt like heaven after the day we had!

Cascade Porter Trail early sun
Early morning sunshine at the Cascade Mountain trailhead.

After getting a good night’s sleep, we woke up refreshed and ready to tackle a couple more mountains – albeit a little sore from the previous day’s strenuous climb. We ate breakfast, packed up, and made our way to the Cascade and Porter Mountain trailheads. We selected Cascade and Porter mostly because they are often described as “starter peaks” due to their well-maintained trails and relatively easy climb. Cascade Mountain is number 36 of the 46 High Peaks with an elevation of 4098 feet. Porter Mountain is number 38 with an elevation of 4059 feet. I would agree that these trails are moderate, with only a couple of steep sections. However, after summiting Giant Mountain the day before, it felt a lot more difficult than it normally might!

Cascade Porter Trailhead

We got signed in at the trailhead and made our way up a damp trail that felt significantly easier than Giant’s, though the once the trail got rocky it was tough on our aching muscles and joints. The weather this day was the completely opposite from the day before – blue sunny skies without a cloud in sight! Nonetheless we forged ahead at a comfortable pace. A friend had an extra set of trekking poles, which I had never used before. At first I didn’t like the idea of having to carry the poles and use my hands, but as my body succumbed to the soreness the poles became an invaluable tool to help distribute my body weight and reduce the impact on my legs, knees and ankles. After this hike I actually loved using trekking poles so much (see why!) that I knew I had to get a pair of my own!

As is common with my group of hiking friends, a couple ladies pulled ahead and a couple of us trailed behind a little ways. I was absolutely in no hurry that day, just enjoying the pleasant weather. This trail was a lot more populated than Giant, which is pretty typical. I’m sure it partially had to do with the nice weather, but also because this is a more popular hike for novice and recreational hikers – not just aspiring 46ers.

Cascade Porter Lookout Pano
Panoramic view from a rocky ledge on the Cascade Mountain trail.

Pretty soon we reached a rocky overlook which offered spectacular fall views of the high peaks region. We stopped as a group to take in the scenery and snap some photos, of course! This was a popular rest area for hikers along the trail, and I can see how some folks might even confuse it with the summit.

Group at Lookout
Real friends photobomb mountain selfies!

Just a little ways past the open ledge is the junction where the trail splits off to Porter Mountain on the right. We stayed on the Cascade Mountain trail and opted to summit it first.

Cascade Porter Trail Signs

 

Cascade Mountain has a large, bald summit that requires some open rock scrambling to get to the top. There is one spot in particular that is the easiest to scramble up, and there was a short wait to get through it thanks to the number of people out hiking that day.

Approaching Cascade Summit
Approaching the summit of Cascade Mountain.

The summit offers incredible 360-degree views of the surrounding high peaks. These sweeping vistas are undoubtedly what makes Cascade such a wildly popular day hike.

Girls on Cascade Summit

We took a pretty long break at the summit to enjoy our accomplishment of successfully climbing two high peaks in one weekend. Since it was a gorgeous day and we were making good time, we decided to move ahead and summit Porter Mountain as well.

We wandered back down from the summit of Cascade to the junction where the trail branches off towards Porter Mountain. The hardest part of this stretch of trail was that it seemed as though we were going down in elevation for quite a while, knowing that we would only have to climb back up again to summit. Additionally, this section of trail was less rocky and mostly dirt trail, which meant a lot of mud after the long day of rain that came before.

It was a relatively short trip up to the summit of Porter Mountain. This summit does not have a survey marker, which was a little disheartening since I enjoyed spotting the markers on my first three high peaks.

From Porter Summit
View of Cascade Mountain from the summit of Porter Mountain.

At first we didn’t even know we had reached the summit, until we continued past the rocky opening to find that the trail descended on the other side. Since we were able to get a data connection up on the summits, we did a quick Google search to verify that we were, in fact, on the summit of Porter.

Porter Mtn Group Summit

Oddly enough, I ran into yet another high school classmate on the summit who was hiking with a few friends as well. We chatted briefly and I asked them to take a photo of our entire group.

Scrambling on Porter near summit
Scrambling up a large, rocky ledge just for fun.

We made our way down from the summit, stopping a few time to scramble up some rocky ledges for even more beautiful views. On our way down, as it was getting to be about mid-to-late afternoon, we passed a couple of families and small groups hiking up the Cascade trail in street clothes – jeans, cardigans and Peds, even! We had a feeling that they might not reach the summit that day, but hopefully they had an enjoyable (though short, I would imagine) hike as well. This day was exactly what we needed to wrap up our first girls’ adventure weekend. I’m still pretty impressed that we bagged three peaks on our first trip together!

Cascade Summit Pano
Panoramic view from the summit of Cascade Mountain. Porter Mountain is right ahead.

What was your first hiking getaway with friends like? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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