Orebed Ladders
Orebed Ladders built in 1988

The Orebed Brook Trail has been the focus of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) trails program for decades, long before the massive landslides and tremendous erosion that occurred after Tropical Storm Irene swept through the High Peaks. For many reasons, including the fact that the Orebed Brook Trail is the most direct route to the summit of Gothics from the Johns Brook Valley, maintaining this trail to protect the natural resource and to provide a safe and usable path is a high priority for ADK and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Over the years, dozens of rock steps, water bars, and stepping stones have been placed on the first 2.5 miles by both volunteer and professional trail crews. Most of this work is now overshadowed by the “ladders”, or wooden steps, that have been placed on the exposed bedrock section of trail, below the intersection with the Range Trail.

In 1988, an ADK professional trail crew replaced 220 feet of ladders on the upper section of the Orebed Brook Trail. Trees were harvested on site for stringers and 375 treated “rungs” (2 x 4 inch boards) were imported to the location. By 2010, the native logs had decayed to the point that rungs were falling off and in some cases whole stringers had rotted almost completely. With the ladders not usable and unsafe, hikers began scrambling up the sides of the exposed bedrock trampling vegetation and inadvertently making the trail corridor wider.

Orebed ladders
Orebed Ladders built in 2011

In 2011, another ADK professional trail crew returned to replace the ladders. Starting at the first ladder location and the steepest section of bedrock, the trail crew spent three weeks on the trail and managed to build 84 feet of steps. This time, pressure treated lumber for the stringers and rungs were flown in via a DEC helicopter. Longevity of the material was the main reason pressure treated lumber was chosen over using native timbers. Dimensional lumber is also easier to work with and it provided the opportunity to employ a more user friendly design – steps that hikers could walk on without the need to use hands for balancing. Descending is much easier and safer with steps as well, alleviating the chance of hiker’s boots slipping off the tops of the rungs and becoming entrapped behind the ladder.

Enough material had been flown in to complete the rest of the steps during the 2012 field season. The extra 6×6 stringers and 2×8 treads were stacked next to the trail in preparation. Then, Tropical Storm Irene happened, forcing a landslide that ripped trees, rock, and soil along with ninety percent of the cached material down the Orebed Brook drainage. Somehow, the steps that the trail crew built survived tons of debris sliding over them with only minimal damage to a few treads. The first twenty four feet of steps were completely covered in slide debris. The slide completely changed the character of the trail corridor by stripping all of the vegetation away. As a result, steep, open sections of bedrock were created between steps.

Orebed ladders after storm
Orebed Ladders after Tropical Storm Irene

After the damage was assessed, a plan was created to have a DEC helicopter transport more material in the spring of 2012. With that successfully completed, an ADK trail crew went to work. After five weeks, 172 more steps were fixed to the bedrock but the project was not finished. So, after another delivery of material by the DEC, a crew returned this summer to finish the job. Four more weeks were needed to place the final 130 steps.

Completed Orebed Ladders 2013
Completed Orebed Ladders 2013

The Orebed Brook Trail project certainly took longer and required more material than expected. Building projects can sometimes be difficult to predict, especially trail projects with so many variables. Hopefully hikers will appreciate the steps that the ADK professional trail crew labored over for twelve weeks in all kinds of weather conditions.  ADK hopes that the steps will provide a safe path for decades to come. Thank you to everyone that contributed to this project and paid for the materials, especially the DEC for flying the material in to this remote location and for all of support in planning.

Wes Lampman

Wes Lampman is ADK’s North Country Operations Director.  Wes has worked for ADK since 1993, first working on the Professional Trail Crew.  Wes lives with his wife north of Taylor Pond and enjoys mountain biking in the summer and skiing in the winter.