Let’s begin by understanding that the name of the trail is not “The Mill Trail” rather it is a trail that is dotted by numerous mills that have been mostly abandoned. The actual name is the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail and is part of the Crooked Lake Canal system. The holidays came and went and as cabin fever was setting in, I decided it was time for a winter hike that would be rich in photographic opportunities. After looking through my typical online sites such as AllTrails (https://www.alltrails.com/ , Waterfalls of New York State (http://nyfalls.com/waterfalls/) and google earth, I found the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail (https://www.keukaoutlettrail.org/ ) that would provide the perfect opportunity to incorporate a winter hike and a photo adventure. The trail begins in Dresden, NY and seven miles later ends in Penn Yan, NY. As one of my favorite subjects to photograph are waterfalls, I checked out the trail map to find the best opportunities. I decided to enter the trail at the visitor center off of the Outlet Road which is about the midpoint of the trail system. From this location it was within easy hiking distance to two of the mill sites that I wanted to see and of course, they were in opposite directions of each other.
The trail system is very good with parts paved with asphalt and most a combination of gravel, dirt and ballast from the railroad bed. This time of the year, it was snow packed, but well-travelled. As a life-long outdoors enthusiast, I have a solid inventory of hiking skills and necessities, so this would be more of a test for my camera gear. Let me begin by what I decided to carry and what I learned from this adventure. My backpack of choice for this type of day hike on a well maintained trail system is the LowePro Pro Tactic 450. I have owned this pack for about two years and has served me well, however, in my opinion, the only negative feature is the waist belt. I ended up modifying the pack by replacing this waist belt with a Steroid Speed Belt from Think Tank. It was the perfect combination that provided better support and allows the addition of other system pouches. I further modified the pack by changing out the tripod straps from a side mount to a bottom mount which afforded a better balance in carrying my Induro tripod. My camera kit consisted of the Nikon D750 along with Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0, and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens, along with a set of Lee ND filters and my favorite Big Stopper filter. Miscellaneous gear included lens cleaners, lens air blower, etc.
The trail was well-groomed and well-traveled by other hikers and cross-country skiers so I didn’t need my snowshoes but definitely took my trekking poles. The warmer temperatures made the snow soft and made it feel like you were walking on beach sand. So I geared up and took a left turn at the trail head and headed off to my first destination, Cascade Mills and falls. As temperatures were rising, I knew that I had overdressed for this hike within the first half a mile.
First stop was the site of Mallory Mill. This was originally a grist mill built in 1827 just below the twelfth and last dam built on the outlet. It is completely abandoned at this point. While time has taken its toll on these buildings, there are still plenty of opportunities for some excellent shots.
A side view shows the open door ways and windows allowing the elements into the interior of the building.
Someone decided to use the interior as their canvas for graffiti.
This hole patch system appears at several different locations and heights on the building. Makes you wonder what kind of piping passed through these walls and what they were used for.
Just downstream is another part of the mill.
In a complete opposite direction of the Mallory Mill is Seneca Falls. I had to back track on the trail and go past my original entry point to arrive at this site. Seneca Falls is part of the Crooked Lake Canal system that was opened for navigation in 1933. The remnants are part of the first mill was a saw and grist mill erected in 1790 with a 26-foot overshot wheel and two runs of stones brought all the way from Connecticut. There were several mills within close proximity of each other. One of the owners of the mill on the south bank was a carpenter who built ten of the Crooked Lake Canal locks.
For this time of the year, the water was intensely fierce and the mist was being carried throughout the air for quite some distance.
So, what did I learn about my gear? The weather was perfect for a winter day hike with the sun shining and the temperature sitting around 40 degrees. As I stated in the beginning, this was also a test of my photography gear and I learned that I carried far more than I actually needed or used. For starters, I had too many layers for the weather. More importantly, I carried way too much gear for this type of hike. While the backpack system is excellent and I am strong enough to carry what I brought, time and distance will begin to wear anyone down and then it wouldn’t be enjoyable. In the end, all my shots were taken with Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0 which is an excellent light weight lens. Not once did I take out the Sigma 50mm Art f/1.4 or the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8. To put this in perspective, between the Sigma 50mm and the Nikon 70-200 I carried over 5 ½ pounds of lens that I did not use. In addition, my Induro tripod and ball head are over 6 pounds. While the tripod is a necessity for long exposure photography, I started researching for a light weight replacement. What I found is that carbon fiber is very expensive. The cost per pound to shave off about 2 ½ to 3 pounds for a new tripod doesn’t make sense to me at this point. I would reconsider purchasing a carbon fiber one if I were take longer and overnight hikes. Besides, by moving the tripod from a side carry to a bottom carry, it has resulted a better balanced and more comfortable back pack. On a groomed trail type hikes where reach is not a necessity, I feel that I am well served with the current Nikon 16-35 and a mid-range zoom. Since this hike, I have added the excellent Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 which will round out my lens kit. In the end, this experience and research will dictate the camera kit that I will pack for future adventures.
As spring is slowing arriving, I look forward to returning to explore the rest of the Crooked Lake Canal System and its series of mills that dot the trail. Happy trails!