DoNorth

Ausnowble

By Nathanael LePage Hidden Treasure in a Frosty Chasm Ausable Chasm, the self-proclaimed “Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks,”offers a unique experience for visitors in the frozen winters of the Adirondack Coast. Though a popular summer destination since opening in 1870, frigid weather reveals something altogether different when the cascading waters of Rainbow Falls stop midstream, creating icy blue walls and 150-foot icicles. For nearly 140 years, the Chasm was open only from Memorial Day to October. That changed a decade ago, when General Manager Tim Bressett, who grew up in the area but had never explored the chasm in wintertime,…

By Nathanael LePage

(DoNorth/Photos courtesy of AuSable Chasm)

Hidden Treasure in a Frosty Chasm

Ausable Chasm, the self-proclaimed “Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks,”offers a unique experience for visitors in the frozen winters of the Adirondack Coast. Though a popular summer destination since opening in 1870, frigid weather reveals something altogether different when the cascading waters of Rainbow Falls stop midstream, creating icy blue walls and 150-foot icicles.

For nearly 140 years, the Chasm was open only from Memorial Day to October. That changed a decade ago, when General Manager Tim Bressett, who grew up in the area but had never explored the chasm in wintertime, found himself bewitched by its icy magnificence.

“Every year, I was asked … ‘Are you open?’ And I always said ‘no,’” Bressett says. “Then, a friend and I went to check it out. … We were just stunned by what we saw and how relatively easy the access was. We decided to open it up.”

Communicating the change was a tough task for a business that had spent nearly a century and a half offering only summertime hikes and boat rides. “In the winter, there’s less traffic coming from far-off places, unless they’re going to ski at Whiteface,” Bressett says. But there’s still plenty to do.

For locals, the absence of large crowds was a selling point. The solitude of a winter encounter gave them an opportunity to stop and appreciate the smaller details.

“It’s a more personal experience,” says Caleb Nappi, director of the Chasm’s adventure program. “During the winter tours, generally it’s just me and a small group of people.

We have the whole place to ourselves. You’re just surrounded by snow and ice. It really is beautiful.”

Dr. David Franzi, a geologist whose research focuses on deglaciation in the Champlain Valley, believes that the gorge began to form at the end of the last ice age. At that time, the area was flooded by the Champlain Sea. As glaciers melted, he explained, the land rose, the sea receded and the Ausable River flowed, gradually cutting the sandstone, creating the chasm and its characteristic right-angle turns. In the summer, the natural wonder draws thousands to marvel at the towering rockface.

Winter guests have several different options, depending on weather conditions. Guided tours include snowshoe or ice cleat rentals. In all but the most severe conditions, guests can also explore the area on their own.

But when the trails become treacherous, visitors are required to book a guided tour to ensure safety. “When we go into ‘guided-only mode,’” Bressett says. “We stick as much as possible to the Inner Sanctum Trail. That’s our most popular trail.”

Nappi, one of two tour guides regularly on duty for the winter, noted that his favorite spot, the Dry Chasm, is much more challenging to reach.

“You have to be a bit more fit to get through there,” Nappi says. “It’s like a scaled-down version of the regular chasm, where the walls are only about 40 feet.”

Other spectacular vistas are on offer in the winter, including the Long Galley, where the snow-covered sloping rocks on one side of the river are juxtaposed by the icicle-bearing sheer rock face on the other. The Chasm’s famed Elephant’s Head grows an icicle perfectly shaped like a tusk.

In summer, Splashboard is a mossy rock wall covered with water that cascades down from above. When the weather turns, the water transforms into a wall of ice good for ice climbing. Bressett imagines opening an ice-climbing park at this site one day; but that is a more long-term goal.

A jaunt down an icy trail along a frozen rock wall may sound intimidating, but the chasm staff emphasizes safety. Bressett stresses that the equipment is easy to use and even children are welcome.
“The ice cleats just simply strap over your shoe, and you just walk like you normally would,” Bressett says. “It’s so simple.”

The best part, says Bressett, is the secret majesty of it all. “You’re seeing something really magical here.”

Issue: Winter/Spring 2019

0 comments Show discussion Hide discussion

Add a comment

More in Features

More in Open Air