June 2005 Issue
Western Pennsylvania and New York offer alternatives to R&R.
The word "vacation" means different things to different people. For some, it's all about rest and relaxation, while others see it as an opportunity to rev up the engines and get the adrenaline pumping. If you happen to be (or would like to be) one of those people who would rather pack a helmet and hiking boots than a beach towel and a book on your next trip, then thrills await you in the natural playgrounds of western Pennsylvania and New York. From the rugged terrain of the Youghiogheny River valley south of Pittsburgh to the placid beauty of New York's Chautauqua Lake, you'll find plenty of opportunities to satisfy your need for adventure.
If someone dropped you in the middle of the wilderness, how quickly could you get out? Well, here's your chance to find out - all under the supervision of trained professionals, of course. It's called wilderness-expedition racing and it requires mountain bikes, kayaks, ropes and a whole lot of motivation.
American Adventure Sports offers serious training for those who aspire to traverse the wild and tough terrain of western Pennsylvania's Ohiopyle State Park, all under their own paddling, pedaling and exploring power. Founder Doug Crytzer says his training academies are designed to accommodate all skill levels, meaning you don't have to have the endurance of Lance Armstrong or the navigational know-how of Lewis and Clark to give it a try. The three-day academies cover everything from the basics, such as selecting the right gear and keeping it in good repair, to the bold, which includes skills such as aggressive river swimming and navigating your mountain bike over imposing obstacles.
"This is not a conditioning course," Crytzer says. "It is a course that teaches sound and proven techniques and principles."
While Crytzer and his crew have a few training academies planned this summer at Ohiopyle (June 17â€“19, July 29â€“31 and Aug. 19â€“21), they also offer private sessions for families and businesses. For rates and additional information, visit www.americanadventuresports.com or call 724/357-9988.
Once you learn what it takes to steer a mountain bike over stumps and down steep embankments, you may want to sign up for this year's Raccoon Rally June 25â€“26 in New York's Allegany State Park. The two-day festival features several mountain-bike events on courses with varying degrees of difficulty, from beginner to expert. Organizers say bikers as young as 10 and some older than 70 compete each year. To fill out your entry form and to learn more about the Raccoon Rally, head to www.heartrateup.com.
'Yough' and roll
While the word Ohiopyle is a combination of Native American and Greek words that means "peaceful river valley," a rafting trip down the raging Youghiogheny (Yawk-a-gain-ee) River might have you contemplating some less-than-peaceful thoughts. If you're not that experienced on a raft, you should stick to the class I and II rapids of the middle Yough. If this sort of thing is old hat to you, by all means jump into the class III and IV rapids of the lower Yough, which begin at the waterfalls in the tiny town of Ohiopyle.
Barry Adams, a 52-year-old accountant who lives near Pittsburgh, says that while rafting on the Yough is a thrill, you can do a whole lot more aboard a kayak. Adams says kayaks allow you to do flips, cartwheels, spins and other nifty maneuvers.
"But it's really not something you should do without taking some lessons," he explains. "You should know how to roll up after you flip over ... without getting out of the kayak."
Each year, Adams organizes the Ohiopyle Over The Falls Festival, in which paddlers take turns dropping 18 feet over the falls aboard their kayaks. Unless you're really confident about your skills, being a spectator at this event should supply sufficient adventure. This year's festival is scheduled for August 27â€“28. For more information, visit www.fallsrace.com.
Whether you opt to kayak, raft or bike up and down Ohiopyle's scenic trails, there are four primary outfitters in the area prepared to put you in or on the vehicle of your choice -- Wilderness Voyagers, Riversport, White Water Adventures and Mountain Streams Outfitters. Details on each can be found, along with information on just about every outdoor activity in western Pennsylvania, at www.ventureoutdoors.org.
If you want to check out the natural marvels of the 20,000-acre Ohiopyle State Park for more than a day, there's a spacious campground and cottages on site to make your outdoor adventure complete. For additional information on nearby accommodations and other attractions, check out www.visitpa.com.
It's true that there are many places you can go to boat and Jet Ski, but western New York's Chautauqua Lake is an 18-mile long beauty that gives pleasure boats and fishing vessels plenty of room to peacefully co-exist.
"The summer weather in western New York is pretty tough to beat," says Lou Clementi, rental manager at Chautauqua Marina on the northern end of the lake in Mayville. "When it's 90 degrees and sunny, there's no better place to be than out on a boat on the lake."
Clementi says that while New York requires a license for boaters, you don't need one if you intend to rent from his or another marina. A provision in the law allows renters to forgo the license requirement if they stay within a certain distance of a marina representative on the water.
During warm summer days, Clementi says, water skiing and jet skiing are popular pastimes. You can rent ski boats and jet skis from him or any of the other marinas on the lake. They'll even teach you how to use them.
"But, probably the most popular thing in recent summers has been tubing," Clementi adds. "People rent the big pontoon boats and pull an inner tube that the kids can ride in."
Clementi says that each pontoon boat can accommodate up to 10 people. More information about rentals, including rates, can be found at www.chautauquamarina.com or by calling 716/753-3913.
While it's doubtful that she ever went tubing with Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball had a knack for turning the simplest tasks into adventures. Maybe it's something she learned growing up on the southern end of Chautauqua Lake in Jamestown, N.Y., where you'll find all kinds of shrines to the red-headed comedienne, not to mention plenty of outdoor activities.
"The outdoors are just fantastic here," says Irene Bogozian, owner of Evergreen Outfitters. "We really have whatever floats your boat."
Bogozian suggests floating in a kayak and paddling it on Chautauqua Lake or on the unimposing waters of either Conewango or Cassadaga creeks. If you're looking for whitewater rafting, she says, Cattaragus Creek would be your best bet when water levels are up.
After a day of tubing, skiing or hiking, you'll definitely be looking for a place to recharge your batteries. Luckily, the Chautauqua Institution is located right on the lake. Billed as a place of renewal, this National Historic Landmark is a cultural district where faith, values and artistic expression take center stage. It's also home to the Athenaeum Hotel, which has been welcoming guests since 1881. A stay at the grand Victorian structure might have you thinking that time stopped 100 years ago until, of course, you wake up in the morning and speed your ski boat across the lake.
For more information about the Athenaeum and other Chautauqua-area accommodations, visit www.tourchautauqua.com or call 800/242-4569.
On the rocks
If you're the kind of person who encounters an obstacle and chooses to go over it instead of around it, then rock climbing is probably your thing. As a climbing instructor for firefighters and the Boy Scouts in western New York, Harry Armstrong has long had a thing for scaling large rocks.
"Rock climbing is such an adrenaline rush," says Armstrong, who operates an outfitting company called Eastern Climbing and Rescue (ERAC) in Randolph, N.Y.
Armstrong says that one of the best places to climb in western New York is Little Rock City, located in Little Valley. While you won't need ropes and harnesses at Little Rock City, Armstrong says, you will definitely need to wear a helmet and have a crash pad handy to cushion any possible falls.
"The tallest rock there is about 20 feet," Armstrong says. "So, the climbing there is mostly bouldering. It's a good place for all skill levels to practice hand holds and crack climbing."
Just south of Little Rock City in Cattaragus County, you'll find the 65,000-acre Allegany State Park - another popular rock-climbing destination on Armstrong's list. He says the park features good bouldering areas along the Bear Cave Trail and at a spot called Thunder Rocks, where a group of more than a dozen two-story boulders awaits your inspection.
Allegany, which is the largest state park in New York, is located just east of Chautauqua Lake in the so-called "Enchanted Mountains" of Cattaragus County. Along with its aforementioned trail system and rock-climbing formations, the park has a pair of lakes suitable for paddlers. Three hundred campsites and 300 cabins are available for rent on site. Visit http://nysparks.state.ny.us to make reservations.
Back in Pennsylvania about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh, McConnells Mill State Park features two areas set aside specifically for rock climbing and rappelling - Rim Road for novices and Breakneck Bridge for advanced climbers (as the name suggests). Because the park is located in the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, heat is rarely a deterrent to climbing.
"You can climb there in the middle of the summer and it feels like springtime," says Bob Cenk, who owns a climbing school called Mountain Dreams in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. "It's also great for a family because there are a lot of canyons and caves to explore and the hiking is incredible."
Cenk says climbing is something that people of all ages can enjoy, but it takes a little bit of time to develop the proper techniques. If you are interested in climbing, he adds, be sure to buy or rent a pair of climbing shoes.
"Climbing shoes are very important," he says. "When asked if they are necessary, I tell people to imagine skating without ice skates."
If you are interested in climbing instruction and tips from Pennsylvania's Cenk or New York's Armstrong, visit their respective web sites at www.mountain dreams.com and www.erac.us. Cenk can be reached by phone at 800/553-0991 and Armstrong at 716/358-9171.
That's how Mike Schiller refers to the Rachel Carson Challenge, a 35-mile hiking experience that will test your willpower and measure your stamina. As executive director of Pittsburgh-based Venture Outdoors, Schiller knows the most worthwhile outdoor recreational experiences in western Pennsylvania, and he puts the Rachel Carson Challenge near the top of his list.
Schiller says the "way difficult" trail, which runs from Harrison Hills County Park to North Park along the northern border of Pennsylvania's Allegheny County, features lots of steep inclines and runs uphill in both directions. The trail, which is pretty primitive in some spots, requires hikers to traverse streams and creeks on their own - there are no bridges. While the hike is tough, you will be rewarded with stunning views from steep bluffs and a visit to the majestic Hartwood Mansion - a once-private home that now serves as a center for the performing arts in the Pittsburgh area. You can log on to www.rachelcarsontrails.org for more about the trail.
If a long hike is not your idea of an adventure, then perhaps you're better suited for a long drop. If that's the case, a call to Skydive Pennsylvania is in order. Sending patrons plummeting toward the earth is their specialty, and they do it Wednesday through Sunday each week. For an extra fee, they'll even videotape your fall so you can relive the thrill over and over while standing firmly on the ground in the comfort of your home. Visit www.skydivepa.com or call 800/909-JUMP for details.