LOCALadk Magazine

LOCALadk Winter 2018

LOCALadk Magazine

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We pass ice fishing holes, refrozen gaps from months be- fore, and a family walking back from the island. The view changes constantly. Somehow, this crossing makes you feel as if you are standing in the panorama of a film shot by John Ford. The world is big, broad shouldered, and promises satis- faction on a grand scale: it's great to be alive! And soon enough we arrive. There are pools of snowmelt along the shore next to huge drifts shaped by winter's va- garies, but finding a solid ramp is no problem. Standing on the western shore of Valcour, looking back at Whiteface, northern sentinel of the High Peaks, on this gleaming day is enough. So we break out our picnic, and lunch under ever- greens on the edge of the Lake. After ward, we loll on the rocks in the sun, like summer beachgoers. All this sunny magnificence has a price. While much of Val- cour Island is still snow-covered, the sun-drenched western shore is burned dr y. The howling winds and strong sun on the open lake can scour snow from smooth surfaces. But we spe- cifically planned on a biathlon. We strap our skis to our packs mountaineer style and hike the perimeter trail toward the southern tip. My daughter senses the deliciousness of this hiking-skiing biathlon—we're maximizing winter, stealing its last pleasures before spring ensues—the problem solving as- pect. She eats it up with the purposeful stride and posture of an Arctic explorer. I watch her and know these are moments she'll never forget. When we come upon Seton House, an old stone mansion, the sense of finding the residence of explorers gone before only heightens the adventure. The views from the cliffs on the southern tip of Valcour Island, looking past Garden Is- land toward Ausable Point, are stunning. The ice is patterned with striations that fade into the distant indigo of open wa- ter. Valcour Island is often iced in, while the broad crossing to Vermont from Port Kent remains open. This standing-on-the- edge-of-the-ice-pack only adds to the Arctic-adventure-thrill of a Valcour circumnavigation. If the western views from Val- cour are stunning, the southern views are awe-inspiring. As we round the end of the island to the eastern exposure, the snow returns and deepens. We strap on our skis and noo- dle along the trail. It is darker here among the hemlocks and pines in the afternoon light. Where the snow looks especially good we take to the ice, slicing across broad shadowy bays. The mountains of Vermont rise green and gold in the west- ern sun as it beams across the lake and warms us from our right flank. Histor y is commemorated on this end of Valcour Island, too. The Nomad Monument remembers Canadian comrades who crewed a yacht to Valcour together in their youth, be- fore some of them perished in WWI, as it does others of their group who died in WWII. This monument is appropriately tucked into the shoreline of a quiet bay. We read the plaque and ski on, sobered by the thought of these men—prema- turely deceased—fighting to defend places such as Valcour Island. The perimeter trail around Valcour Island is 9.2 miles long—a bit too long for our half-day outing. So when we reach the trail that transects the island at roughly the half- way point we turn west again. The trail is entertaining: flat straight sections, winding forested loops, and even a few climbs and drops over small bluffs. Island or not, this is still Adirondack skiing. When the trail spills onto a broad opening on the west- ern shore of Valcour Island, I am reminded of the clearing at Whiteface Landing on Lake Placid. But here there are open rocks and the sun sets the dried grass of the meadow aglow. Even in winter, this afternoon is so lovely that we take anoth- er break to bask in the sun. Soon enough the ice will melt. The water offshore will be trafficked by powerboats, ca- noes, kayaks, and sailboats, and the snow-covered shoulder of Whiteface in the distance will no longer gleam in the sun. So we linger until the sun sinks enough to allow a winter chill back into the air. Then we latch on our skis and head back across the ice. Back toward the boat ramp and the pop- ulated shores of Peru. The Island turns yellow, gold, and then orange in the sun- set. As we watch the colors wash over the landscape I know that next season when the ice bridge forms, I will hear the wind whispering to me again, Valcour... Valcour

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