PHOTOS: Into the Chasm

New York’s Grandest Canyon best served cold.

Issue 2: Winter/Spring 2014

    Into the Chasm 

                          Photos by Jonathan Schmitt
                          Story by James Heffron

               On the Adirondack Coast, a few days separate two opposing worlds. Jeans and jackets replace shorts and tees.
        Leaves drift from branches, and boats are pulled from Lake Champlain. Snow finds its way from the peak of Mount
        Marcy to the deepest crevasse below the boreal pines. Ausable Chasm is that crevasse; an astonishing, two-mile
        gash in the North Country’s crust.Families have been visiting Ausable Chasm since 1870, making the gorge America’s
        oldest natural attraction. For over 100 years, thousands of visitors have slithered through the chasm all summer until
        winter called the end of another season.

             Each year more attractions are added: rafting, tubing, rappelling and mountain biking. There are many ways to
       visit Ausable Chasm, but the most recent, and maybe the most spectacular option is through the new guided winter
       adventures.The tour begins directly from the Welcome Center, which rests just off of Route 9 in Keeseville, N.Y.
       Guests first walk a short distance to the famous Rainbow Falls. Water and ice compete to cover the sandstone beneath
        them. Two minutes northwest is the Elephant’s Head, a rock-outcrop that does justice to its name. The mighty head
        supports the forest above it as the trunk dips toward the frigid river. The winter is the best time to recognize the beast;
        extruding ice forms a well-positioned tusk to complement an already-stirring imagination.

            The view peaks toward the bend where the two-mile split starts. That’s where the real adventure awaits. Across
       the Route 9 Bridge, recreation manager, and chasm-guide Chuck Fries tends a fire to warm and welcome his guests.
       Fries tosses a final log atop the blaze as his guests fiddle with their snow cleats. The hike begins, and the chirp of the
       elastic metal shoes grabbing snow becomes white noise as the upper rim reveals what rests behind the pines. Lookouts
       provide bird’s eye views of Potsdam sandstone that towers over rushing water. Nearby, stairs reach down to the snow-
       topped walkways and bridges that make up the chasm’s “Classic Tour.”

           Mitten-covered hands caress the walls of the gorge as it twists and dips unpredictably. Fries paces the march,
       directing the focus of his followers from one direction to another, the logs 40 feet above their heads, to the
       rumbling rock deep beneath the river’s surface. In other areas, the chasm speaks for itself, thrashing water and
       crumbling ice creating a hoarse voice. Curiosity distracts visitors from winter’s bite.The pace up the final staircase
       is a fraction of what it had been minutes before. Some guests slow because their legs are tired but most slow to
       capture one final glimpse, one final memory.
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