There is no substitute for experience. But if you can't rely on your own experience, the next best thing is to rely on the experience of a trusted source. The Adirondack Mountain Club's continuously updated series on the trails inside the Blue Line is among the best resources for backpacking the Adirondacks. Dr. Orra Phelps -- a fascinating woman for whom the High Peak is named -- published the first ADK Club guide of the High Peak Region in 1934. The High Peak Region is now in its 13th edition and the series has since spread to all areas of The Park.
A guide for the West-Central Region, where Woodcraft is located, first appeared in 1980. The West-Central guide book is now in its 4th edition. I read some portions of the West-Central book that are familiar to may Woodcrafters. I immediately found a helpful update. The Middle Settlement Lake Trail is a short distance from Old Forge. Most campers who spend a few years at Woodcraft usually hike this trail at some point. In the 2nd edition of the guide (printed 1987) the trail is described as follows: "At 2.0 mi., near impressive cliffs on the R, the route joins with a blue-marked trail from Pine Lake and Lost Lake (trail 70). Continuing L, the yellow-marked trail passes the S end of the beaver pond."
Seven years later in the 3rd edition, that portion reads: ". . . from Pine Lake and Lost Lake (70). The Middle Settlement Lake Trail continues L, but is overgrown, obscure and not currently maintained. Maintenance may be resumed someday." Sometime in the seven year interim between publications about the exact same spot, the trail waned in popularity, a ranger retired and wasn't replaced, or a storm knocked some trees down, etc. This is a good example of familiarizing yourself with a guide book because even if you've been to this trail before, you can gain new information.
Guide books also offer another strong asset; an accompanying map designed specifically to be viewed while reading the book. Changes or additions to the network of trails are mentioned in the text and easily referenced on the map. The first map shown below is from the 1971 9th edition of the High Peak Region book. Two trails head north from Little Marcy past Indian Falls. The DEC must have deemed the trails unnecessarily redundant because maintenance ceased on one and it was allowed to grow over. Reading about your route and consulting the latest map saves you a lot of trouble looking for a trail intersection that isn't there.
Private land is another concern. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the land ownership and public access situation in The Park can be complex. Some areas are private and fully restricted. Others are private but state mandated to allow hikers through as long as they stay on the trail. Particularly when hiking in trail-less situations, it is possible to find yourself on private land. Land can change ownership and your information can be suddenly out-of-date.
Guide books compile this information for you so you don't have to be an expert on real estate deals, a DEC insider, a trail maintenance guru, or a cartographer -- you can just enjoy the Adirondacks with the help of the latest available expertise. When planning trips with campers, our counselors explain the trip and involve the camper in the process. The guide book is a great tool for instructing young Woodcrafters on safely and knowledgeably enjoying the wilderness around them. And years from know, when they climbed their 46th, their guide book should look like John's (Adirondack 46er #865) . . . . A bit dirty and worn from a lot of use.