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Plan to watch the eclipse from a wild mountain summit? Be ready for harsh conditions

Ben Brosseau with the Adirondack Mountain Club says people who want to watch the eclipse in wild places should be prepared. "It's rugged here," Brosseau says.
Brian Mann
/
NPR
Ben Brosseau with the Adirondack Mountain Club says people who want to watch the eclipse in wild places should be prepared. "It's rugged here," Brosseau says.

A few weeks before the total solar eclipse, Ben Brosseau with the Adirondack Mountain Club walked an icy trail on the shore of Heart Lake.

It's a popular hiking destination on the edge of the High Peaks Wilderness near Lake Placid, New York.

"Local officials are estimating about 170,000 visitors between the western edge of the Adirondack Park and the eastern edge," Brosseau said.

That's a lot of people flocking on a single day to this 6-million acre state park, one of the wildest places in the eastern U.S.. Small towns in the region are normally home to a population of around 130,000 residents.

Big crowds are also expected in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Green Mountains of Vermont and in remote parts of Maine.

That kind of excitement is great. But there's concern that a lot of eclipse watchers won't be ready.

"They come here looking for that adventure, which is fantastic," said Brosseau. "But what people aren't always prepared for is sometimes the remoteness, and the trail conditions. It's rugged here."

In the northeastern US, conditions on April 8 could still be wintry especially at higher elevations.
Brian Mann / NPR
/
NPR
In the northeastern US, conditions on April 8 could still be wintry especially at higher elevations.

It's easy to understand why some people would want to experience the eclipse in a wild place. There are expansive views, a sense of remoteness. But backcountry experts say caution is warranted.

Earlier this month, New York's state forest rangers posted video on social media of a recent rescue in these mountains. At lower altitudes, the weather has been spring-like. But up high, conditions were freezing cold with howling blizzards.

"This time of year it's tough because you have to be ready for three feet of snow," said Ranger David Nally, who took part in the rescue, speaking on the video.

"You have to be ready for ice, you have to be ready for mud, it's a tough time of year to be in the woods for sure."

Experts say those are the kinds of unpredictable conditions adventurous eclipse-watchers could face on April 8.

Brosseau with the Adirondack Mountain Club warned that first responders, including rangers, state police, local volunteer fire squads, and backcountry rescue clubs could be overwhelmed if a lot of people get in trouble at the same time.

"If I slip and fall and twist my ankle, it's going to be a long time before someone rescues me," he said. "Do I have enough layers to stay warm [while waiting for help]? Do I have enough food to stay warm?"

The trail system operated by Paul Smiths College in New York's Adirondack Mountains will be open for eclipse viewing on April 8. Local officials expect big crowds.
Brian Mann / NPR
/
NPR
The trail system operated by Paul Smiths College in New York's Adirondack Mountains will be open for eclipse viewing on April 8. Local officials expect big crowds.

How to plan ahead for wild eclipse viewing

Outdoor experts say there are some other basic tips if you plan to watch the eclipse in a wild place:

-As anywhere, you need those special eclipse-viewing glasses. (Find a full explainer from NPR here.)

-Wear proper footgear, stout enough for mud and ice, and carry crampons, snowshoes, or other traction devices in case the trail is slippery.

-Bring a light, either a good headlamp or flashlight. Don't rely on the light on your cell phone.

-Research the route you plan to travel carefully and tell someone exactly where you're going.

-If you plan to watch from a boat, remember even if it's a warm spring day, water temperatures could likely be treacherously cold.

Scott Van Laer, a forest ranger in the Adirondacks for 25 years, said he's excited a lot of people will get outdoors for the eclipse. "I think it's going to be like the busiest day of the year," he said.

Van Laer now manages a 40-mile network of hiking and skiing trails owned by Paul Smiths College, north of Lake Placid. He said unfortunately many visitors don't come with the right gear or planning.

"With this kind of influx of people, I do think you'll have a greater percentage of people unprepared than normal."

His first advice: stay off of remote mountain trails on the day of the eclipse. Across the Northeast, outdoor groups and state officials are urging people to watch from places that don't put you at risk.

The summit of St. Regis Mountain in northern NY.  Views like this could be a big draw on the day of the total solar eclipse, but conditions can be wintry.
Brian Mann / NPR
/
NPR
The summit of St. Regis Mountain in northern NY. Views like this could be a big draw on the day of the total solar eclipse, but conditions can be wintry.

They point out that many trailheads are reached by narrow, winding roads that can be treacherous in mud season.

Often there's limited parking. In the springtime, thawing trails can also be damaged by foot traffic.

For those who still choose to watch from a summit, or a similar wild place, Van Laer said they should prepare for harsh conditions, even if it feels like spring.

"If you're going to go into the backcountry, into the wilderness, what you're going to see in the front country is not what you're going to see in the backcountry."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.