The Northville-Placid Trail Guide is essential to plan a hike on the NPT, yet it has a number of errors that should have been corrected before this 2007 edition (4 th Edition) was printed and released.
This is part of the Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Trails guide series. The Editors are Jeffrey and Donna Case, and the series editor is Neal S. Burdick.
This summer a friend and I hiked just over 70 of the 122 miles of the Northville- Lake Placid Trail, which is now usually called the Northville-Placid Trail, or NPT. The trail is a hiking trail, begun in 1922. It was the first long-distance trail through the Adirondack Mountains of New York, and remains the only long-distance trail today. (The North Country National Scenic Trail is in the process of being given a route through the southern portion of the Park.)
The trail itself is one of the easier ones to hike in the “Dacks.” It is essentially a valley trail. You will see lots of hills and trees and beautiful lakes, but it is not a trail with peaks to bag. There are only a couple of climbs in its entire length that are even challenging. It is also very much an Adirondack trail with lots of rocks, beaver ponds, and black muck. Any NPT hike will be an Adirondack treasure, but just don’t expect the High Peaks (this trail is west of that area).
So, we purchased the guide book. I had high expectations for correct information since this new edition was just published last year.
The book is arranged well with introductions about the NPT, and about the Adirondacks and their various management systems which are unique- different from anywhere else in the country. There are also sections with explanations of the symbols used in the book, Adirondack camping etiquette (unwritten rules with long traditions are very much adhered to in the area), and suggestions for gear, safety precautions, planning and logistics.
The meat of the book is divided into ten sections of the trail, each about ten to twenty miles long. For each section there is a map showing roads, parking areas, lakes, rivers and streams, the trail, shelters, and various other points of interest. These are political maps, not topographic, although mountain peaks and their elevations are indicated.
The sections begin with an introduction, access points and parking (if any; this is a long-distance trail). There are suggestions for section hikes, and special notes for hiking in winter.
Each section has a mileage log beginning with 0.0 and noting mileages at landmarks through the section. There is no cumulative mileage given in the log; you would need to figure these yourself.
There is also a written description of the section which does include the cumulative mileage to each location of note. These descriptions are quite complete, and when I read these before the trip I was feeling that the book would be a really big help.
Side trips to points of interest on trails which intersect with the NPT are also briefly described.
There are a number of black-and-white photos of scenes along the trail. These are of mediocre quality.
Included in the guide, in a pocket on the back cover is a large sheet with 1:24 topographic maps of the entire trail in sections. These are printed with the contour lines in brown on a white background. The trail is red, other trails are black, and the water light blue. These are very easy to read in the field. There is nothing printed on the back, and these strips could be cut apart if you did not want to carry the entire map.
THE NOT SO GOOD
The guide is arranged for those hiking south to north. If you are hiking north to south (as we were) there are some problems with following the directions. I re-wrote all the sections of the guide so that they would describe the trail in the direction we were following it. There were a number of places where the trail is described (for example) as merging with an old tote road and continuing. This is fine S-N. But if you are walking N-S this means that you will be coming to a fork, and will not be sure whether the trail is the right or left branch. You must just hope for good marking, or a well-worn treadway. Other sequences for the N-S change were also problematic.
We found the descriptions to be incorrect in more than just a few instances. I hesitate to be too critical, because I have authored a few minor guides to trails and know just how difficult it is to be 100% accurate. However, we found a lot of things that we expected to be up-to-date, given the 2007 publication, that were not. A few serious examples are: The book indicates two shelters at Catlin Bay. One of these shelters has been gone for quite a few years. It seems to me that this should have been an easy error to catch if the trail had been checked on foot. Also a serious problem is the inclusion of a drinking water source (not needing treatment) at Wakely Dam that has also been unavailable for years. In fact, we kept asking around till we found someone who knew where the spring used to be (because the directions to the spring were also poor), and when he showed us the spot we found that the spring is no longer piped and there is just a creek. Water, to be sure, but probably needing treatment like every other water source.
It seemed as if some sections had not been checked at all before the most recent publication. Sometimes there was very good information about how to skirt new beaver ponds on one section (these features change often). Then, in contrast, another section would say that you needed to watch carefully for the plentiful trail markers because there were many old tote roads branching off the section. What we found was so few trail markers that the description became a joke (we found 8 markers in about 10 miles), but the treadway was clear so we didn’t have trouble following it. However, when we first entered that section we kept expecting those plentiful markers, and I actually hiked back a half-mile to the junction to be sure that we had not missed the correct path because we hadn’t seen any markers at all. Hikers don’t like backtracking!
In some respects I think that this trail guide is suffering from long success and familiar use. The first guide to the trail was written in 1934. This means that all the data which goes into subsequent guidebooks can be built upon the foundation of the previous information. This is great in some respects! The more information, the better. However, as people who are very familiar with the trail continue to work on that information they tend to forget to look at the trail through the eyes of someone who has never seen it before. Things which seem so obvious to a person who has been at some corner many times may not be obvious at all to a newcomer.
By all means, buy this book if you plan to hike the Northville-Placid Trail. Just be aware that not all the information contained in it is as good as you might wish.