Thru-hiking north on the Northville-Placid Trail – Pt 1: Northville to Lake Durant

For so long, we had been day hikers; hop in the car at 3 or 4am, drive to the trail head to embark on our day of walking or running in the woods, typically with our two German Wirehaired Pointers in tow.. or better yet, towing us! Last year we took on some longer personal challenges, goals if you would like to call them that; we write down ideas of things that we would like to do, stick them on the wall next to our calendar as gentle reminders of what we want to do, but still had not.

Of some of these checked off were the Presidential Traverse (since moving to NH and finding this jaunt not far from our backyards!) of the White Mountains and a silly acronym known around the NY Adirondack hiking/climbing community as HaBaSa (Haystack, Basin and Saddleback Mountains).

Our journeying into the mountains began trending longer; more hours spent beginning or ending our day in headlamps, trail running point to point to squeeze out a few more drops of sights and outdoor smells from our lovely days.

Since meeting several years ago, Ciara and I had discussed our lofty dreams of taking on the well-known Appalachian Trail. We still want to, of course, but the main drawback? All of our research has shown that dogs technically are not allowed in several areas of the trail (Baxter State Park, The Smoky Mountains being just two of those..), proving to be logistical nightmares.

So what are two fluffy puppy dog owners with an unsettling love for the outdoors and back-forest-trails to do? Train hard, research harder and try out gear (people gear and puppy gear.. but mostly puppy gear at this point!) on a shorter “shake-down” thru-hike to see what works or what clearly does not work for us and our four legged companions! Always better to make those discoveries or nasty mistakes while close to home, right?

We had watched several documentaries and came up with ideas for a more “home turf” thru-hike. The Long Trail, at 273 miles is much more close to where we currently (at the time of writing this) live, but there was a draw for both of us to a 135-mile trail back home in New York.

The planning had begun. Northville Placid Trail begins!

Time off from our jobs: granted.

Trail map: purchased.

We were set to begin our trek Friday morning – May 3rd, 2019, and I’m sure you can relate when I say that Thursday work day could not end soon enough! For days – even weeks leading up to our departure, gear had been laid out in neatly organized clusters around the apartment, we began prepping packs, trying to anticipate what we would need day to day without packing extra junk that would not be used frequently. Ciara graciously took on the role (after all, her food has always been spectacular since the day that I met her) of dehydrating our plant-based (her culinary masterpieces!) meals.

Our self-appointed “Trail Angel”, Tuesday (Ciara’s awesome mama!) offered to drop us off and pick us up – to and from each of the trail heads, thus relieving the logistical nightmare and certain panic of leaving our vehicle for up to 10 days alone in town. It just all worked out so beautifully thanks very much to Tuesday!

We woke up to unending rains beating down Friday morning. The talks were cheerful though in the car as she got us closer and closer to our starting trail head in Northville. We agreed to head Northbound during our trip for no particular reason other than having the fine (vegan/vegetarian) eating establishments and local shops of Lake Placid as a reward concluding our multi-day jaunt.

Day 1: Waterfront Park – Northville to Woods Lake

The town was sleepy as the rain intensified for our arrival to the southern terminus of our trail. Gaining shelter from the onslaught of raindrops, I huddled under the kiosk to add our names to the list of folks who departed Northville in search of Benson, Piseco and all the other beautiful destinations north.

Tuesday saw us off and offered up her travel size umbrella for some temporary shelter from the rain, always thoughtful The Register makes it officialindeed. Somehow though the rain began to taper as folks driving through town stopped to let us pass and shoot us a wave, several even rolling down a window to ask how far we intended to travel. “All the way!”we would reply!

The boys seemed to get along just find in their new Ruff Wear packs which had copious amounts of space for water (we didn’t really load them up with water after the first day, seeing how many streams and ponds they had to choose from!), food, and their sleeping pads.

The initial 3.5 miles skipped by as we played with the GoPro, gawked at the buildings we passed – dreaming of dairy-free ice cream from the stand that we were certain we both recalled from days gone by. Before long, we turned off the main pavement walk onto a dirt road which would lead us over rolling hills to the parking lot and DEC trail head for the Shaker Mountain Wild Forest.

We had our hunches that this would be a wet trail right from the beginning, the weathered trail gradually ascending as the recent rain water ran past our feet, collecting sediment as it went, further exposing roots up the narrow trail. Not long into the forest trail we hit a plateau shrouded in a thick October-like fog, winded along through last years ruffling leaves and made our way to the first Mud Pond of our trip. Minutes earlier we could not have dreamt up such an eerie scene, old stumps and wirey relics of reed skeletons poking up from the blackened water.

The going was smooth for the next several miles. We stopped for a break and to fill up on water, remarking how well our trail had been marked up to this point. Standing in any given point in our trail a hiker could look north or south and see perhaps 4Mud Pond or 5 blue discs with the classic NPT text in succession, lining down the trail.

We talked to pass the time, chatting about anything and everything that crossed our minds – amazed at how smoothly our 7 mile trek had been going, we reached a shoreline and glanced at each other, “there is a bridge spanning this river, right??” recalling a sign back in Northville indicating an 80′ crossing, I desperately searched for an answer.

We had reached West Stony Creek.

The water didn’t appear terribly deep, maybe up to the knee if we didn’t judge our course correctly. Tossing the idea of shoes vs bare feet, we decided to cross in our Altra trail running shoes knowing they would dry quickly enough and provide some traction.

In short – this was quite likely the scariest moment I had ever had out on the trails. Using trekking poles to form a tripod of balance, we inched our way out into the frigid water which quickly grew to over 4 feet deep and rushing so quickly that I could not see my shoes any longer. The torrent was mesmerizing underfoot! Just past the halfway point I stood on slick buttered bowling ball rocks at the bottom of the river, jamming my numb feet into crevasses between the river rocks to brace myself from being swept in the current.

Constantly reminding myself that I had 60 pounds of everything on my back that absolutely could not get soaked this early crossing West Stony Creekinto our trek, I kept inching. The boys had long since turned back and began yipping behind us on the shore where we came from – nearly 80 feet away. Before I landed on the safe side, Ciara dropped her pack and began back to the other side to help out our doggies. They were halfway across when I was finally on solid ground! With shaky legs I dropped my gear and ran up the river where they tried out more gradually flowing waters.

With the best sigh of relief we all made it across the “creek” that was obviously swollen from all the recent rainfall. Considered staying in the newer West Stony Creek LeanTo to dry and get warm, but quickly and quietly, collected our thoughts and upon comprehending the accounts of what we had all just experienced, we walked right past, down the trail to drier pastures.

With skies that looked as evil as those fast flowing creek rapids from earlier, we continued for another 7 miles through lush forests that had looked freshly painted with the most elegant green mosses and teal colored lichens. I feel like we could have laid anywhere on that soft floor and drifted right away into a terrific nights sleep.

Crossing the trail head at Benson Road, we questioned each other if this looked familiar in our memory banks. Deciding we had never been here, we followed our still well-marked trail, signed in the second trail register of the day. Listed under the Number In Party column: “2+2 dogs”, I had been using this moniker since the first time we hiked together and felt it fitting to continue the tradition.

Just over a mile into the trail we had begun to reach the shore of Woods Lake. Gladly passing the first several campsites as we could still hear the young folk arriving to the trail head parking lot, hootin’ and hollerin’ back and forth. Whatever was going on Evening at Woods Lakebetween the other campers, we wanted to steer clear and enjoy our own 2+2 dog company; eating, gathering water, and recounting the events of the day as we sink into slumber.

I watched a loon emerge from behind a rock as I sat silently, Ciara and the pups in the tent resting, I filtered water and took in the increasingly foggy dusk and mountaintops that we would pass the coming morning poking above the low-flying clouds ahead.

It was truly a place I did not want to leave anytime soon.

That is until our neighbors (about 1/4 mile away, yet their screams echoed across the lake surface as if they were 20 feet away!) began yelling at their dog whom they could not contain. Then the highlight of our first evening – I was awakened at 11:20pm to the sound of a chainsaw… nope, not a nightmare.. a chainsaw! I laid there as the sound grew closer and closer, louder and clearer, the screaming voices now sounded just outside of our tent.

The next time I stirred the sun was just beginning to shine and my watch read 5:49am. Morning, we had survived our first crazy day on the Northville-Placid Trail.

Day 1 Stats:

(the entire trek, day by day was recorded with my Coros Pace GPS watch)

  • 14.7 miles
  • 7hr 24minutes
  • 2356′ elevation gain

Day 2: Woods Lake Campsite #4 to Canary Pond

We have survived the chainsaw escapades throughout the evening from our pesky neighbors! Waking up to a cool, overcast morning to find out we had neighbors next door – thankfully not the party type but an older gentleman and his golden puppy Ciara packing up campdog we had dubbed “Truman and Ricketts”. We developed a while back, a knack for giving our friends throughout our travels names – whatever comes to mind when we see or talk with them.

After filtering our water for the mornings hike and filling our bellies with some of Ciara’s re-hydrated (coconut curry) culinary excellence, we packed up, tried to stretch our aching ankles and trekked on down the trail. We decided to cook our meals in the morning-time, opting for our homemade date bars, or something ready to eat ‘cold’ in the late afternoon in our passive attempts of minimizing the attraction of any wildlife such as hungry bear or moose. Now that our thru hike is complete, I am happy to report that not once did we have any interested noses poking around our camp, and never once did we hang our food in a bear bag – while that truly was my intent from day one, just another perk of not eating fish or meat on the trail, I suppose!

Back to the trail!

The map had me thinking that we would be skirting along the lake shore for the better part of the morning, in reality we would have never known the lake was several hundred feet through the trees unless we went searching for it! Looping around and A fuzzy attachment, Crockett on the NPTclimbing over several rocky ascents, the trail started out gorgeous, and it truly remained lovely all day long although we now began to see evidence of blowdown. Forcing us to dip and dodge under tree limbs, holding branches for one another to let the pups pass under with their packs, or completely re-routing ourselves around the downed trees.

It was time-consuming finding a new path around downed trees just as soon as we get our pace back.

Then the rain began.

Just as we came upon Truman and his puppy dog Ricketts (our name given to both of them!) down the trail doing trail maintenance here and there, the rain began sprinkling on us. No problem for a few Gore-Tex layers and pack covers! The map outlined where the brooks and streams are bridged, all seemed accurate and still very much intact – just be sure to take care crossing the bare log bridges if it rains on you as it did us, they get super slick!

Stopping just after the West Stony Creek crossing (again!), noting to Ciara that it looked clear across the water, we reached for the map. Truman had somehow caught up to us and stopped his pup just far enough away to chat with us until we got rolling again, he asked what we thought of the last section we had hiked – mentioning that it was a recent re-route, still easy to follow in most legs of the trail.

Quickly finishing off our dehydrated apple slices and passing the trail junction for Godfrey Road, we were on the path alone again.

Next destination: Rock Lake. Which wasn’t really our destination at all, we intended to follow along the NPT as we had been. A bit disoriented by the trail signs which had slipped and re-angled themselves with age, we could follow blue markers Lots of crossings looked similarto the Rock Lake campsite, or follow more blue markers into an appearingly completely unmaintained trail. Thinking (and judging by the map) that we would skirt past Rock Lake and rejoin our beaten path, we began descending toward the beautiful Rock Lake.

Turns out after some back and forth, and consulting the maps on my phone (Alltrails, in airplane mode) that we really should have taken those over-grown trails after all. Knowing that we needed to go straight up the hill north and intercept our NPT, we began our bushwhack; actually we took what appeared to be a herd path, slightly used just enough to laugh to ourselves thinking of all the other folks who had come before us, taking the wrong trail and just cutting their way back to higher ground!

Back on our beloved Northville-Placid Trail, it was a reassuring relief to come upon our blue discs once again which read NTP (the T was larger and in the middle, snazzy logo design I suppose!). More blowdown, that was the theme of our day it seemed, we didn’t like the extra time it took, but dealt with it – we were there to experience it all, after all!

We officially began our new habit of glancing once up and once down the stream crossings to check for a route of rock hopping, no easy way? We just booked it right through, the shoes were constantly wet anyhow so why waste any more time!

Through the trees we could see the shimmer of water, and the trees clearly appeared to be thinning up ahead – our head down walking through blowdown was finally paying off, we thought! Excitement now took over our voices as we discussed the snacks we would have as we neared our original final destination of the day: Silver Lake, which had a LeanTo and a camp/tent site!

Packs got dropped, I think the boys were most happy for this! They took refuge on any nearest rock, curling up and quickly entering sleep-mode. I hobbled with the MSR water filter over to the lakes edge as Ciara literally fed me handfuls of our homemade trail mix (coconut flakes, cashews, cacao nibs, seeds – healthy stuff, right?).

Realistically, the time was still early enough in the day – we had time to hike further left in our day.

With heavy packs back on, we pushed forward.

The time proceeding Silver Lake passed incredibly fast as if they were some of our first of the day! Before long, we stood staring at boardwalk, planks as far as we could see cutting through beaver activity. The golden grasses blowing in the Boardwalk crossing enroute to Canary Pondbreeze, we began our wooden walk through – some planks dipped into the water. I just watched and walked, chuckling each time Crockett misstepped – plunging a back foot into the mud and as quickly as it went in, pulled it out trying to shake the mud from between his toes, I knew it must have felt refreshing though!

We could not see what lay beyond the trees, but we saw a narrow side trail. Unsure of where this led, and both thinking we had at least another mile to trek before hitting Canary Pond and the tent site that we had heard about – down the short side trail we went! Super glad we did because what we saw was an absolute majestic camping kingdom, it seemed! We had a spot for our tent, a large stone fireplace, stone benches and seats around the fire, water access a mere feet from the large tent site. This was our idea of thru-hiking paradise, all we needed now was watermelon!

After setting up camp and ditching our soaked trail runners, Ciara and I went down to the water to rest our toes in the grass, filter water and eat some of our smoked fig bar (what a burst of flavor!!). The boys, who never leave our side, had fallen asleep in the tent for about ten minutes. When they awoke, startled, they adorably ran all over the site trying to find where their human friends had disappeared to.

We watched the neighborhood loons dive underwater, searching for minutes at a time for tonights dinner as the daylight began to dim. Time to retreat to our sleeping bags and curl up for the evening – before doing it all over again tomorrow. Despite a few rain drops, what an incredible day, such an epic journey we were having together!

Day 2 Stats:

  • 16.8 miles
  • 9hr 28minutes
  • 2408′ elevation gain

Day 3: Canary Pond Tentside to Piseco

I had my morning ritual by now, reaching from my sleeping bag for the fantastic MSR Pocket Rocket stove (I love this little gadget!) and firing up 32oz of water, 16 of which will go back into a Nalgene bottle with a spoonful of Alpine Start instant coffee to kick start my morning. Typically, I pass the bottle to Ciara who is still in her sleeping bag to bask her fingers in the Morning food!warmth radiating from the coffee bottle, when she is done – I drink!

Another warm re-hydrated meal in our bellies to fuel the morning miles, we packed up and came to a dead stop 20 feet down the NPT from our tent site spur trail. More blowdown, and this bundle of mess appeared old! Huge trees containing gigantic root balls: half my height to climb over, under or around completely. Then we came to the area we spotted on the map and cringed at – simply listed as “beaver activity” on the actual Nat Geo map, it wasn’t bad at all! Perhaps because it was early in the season and the beavers had not yet again backed up the water or maintained their dams (which were definitely there, we walked right across one of the beaver dams to follow our trail!), either way it was beautiful and we felt incredibly lucky for this smooth sailing around the creature-created pond!

Stopping briefly to look around and take in as much scenery as time would allow, spotting Moose Mountain to the slight west, we were cutting directly through the valley between many smaller mountains this morning. I could tell Ciara wasn’t feeling so great on our third day out so we dropped our packs several miles into our day at our second Mud Lake of the hike to rest momentarily, take in the lakeside views and down a pouch of Muir Energy before continuing on.

It was here that we had some signage (we always looked forward to seeing the brown wooden signs with mileage to our next destination, or showing how far we had come so quickly!), 10.8 miles to the town of Piseco. We talked about the possibility of making it here before the end of our day, speculating the entire remainder of the day over the possibility of a fruit cart selling watermelon or even a small General Store in town to pick up a dozen bananas, any type of fresh produce would quench our thirsts at this point!

Our next stop emerged from the trees, another first – the Whitehouse steel suspension bridge! We were super excited at all of the little historical details and random tidbits that we were seeing along our journey – truly an unexpected treat for sure! This adorable bridge spans the West Branch of the Sacandaga River and led us literally directly into an old stone fireplace at the end of the bridge. I cast ideas about early settlers and boaters coming down the river and seeing nothing for miles but the establishment that would house this massively elegant structure.

I let my daydreams run wild on the Northville-Placid Trail, and I loved it!

Continuing on we stopped for another brief rest to dump the packs yet again, we had hopes of having water access from the Hamilton Lake Stream #1 LeanTo. Turns out this beautiful shelter sits high on a hill overlooking the namesake water down below – not worth our time climbing down and back, so on we went for the next water source!

All was smooth going until about a mile or so from where we expected the second road walk of our excursion – we ran straight into more black water, another beaver pond, the murkiest around! I saw the NPT discs highlighting the trail – straight through the bog, Ciara also noted the discs to the left showed a re-route; that got us another 15 feet down the trail around the bog. When the time came for us to cross, we tried the log balancing technique for several minutes, searching for a route of ease.

No route? Right through we went!

Trekking poles showed us to expect about 14 inches of water, then about the same beyond that of straight mud and murky leaf litter and who knows what else! We tried to pick a route that seemed the shallowest, but we both (and the pups!) got mighty wet and dirty on that crossing.

Following a single track trail to the next register (we greeted the trail register with hugs, laughter and all of the joy that we had made it that far!), we were overcome with excitement for trekking ourselves through the uncertainty of the day – all the way to the main town on the trail; Piseco!

The road seemed to bring out a strange gait in my walk – being completely unaccustomed to walking on solid ground, we all still subconsciously chose to walk in the sand to the side of the road instead of asphalt.

Folks waved as we strolled through their town with full packs and doggies wearing their bright red matching Ruff Wear packs. Several actually slowed to comment how great we all looked and wished us well! Then we noticed one of the friendly wavers in his green Subaru turn around – did he have the wagon load of watermelon that I craved?

He pulled over, got out of his Subaru and we talked; noting that Piseco was nothing more than a Post Office (it was Sunday, not even open so it was a blessing we were not counting on a re-supply package!), he totally offered us a ride to the nearest grocery store 10 minutes away! I politely declined, admitting that we did have more than enough food for our trip. Then he asked where we planned to camp – we really were unsure as neither of us really knew the area.

Telling us of a plot of grassy land that he owned at the complete end of Haskell Road (we had yet to walk there), he mentioned a picnic table, a brook running along the edge of the property and a hatchet throw game? We were all about it! Turns out he is trying to work with the local DEC (Department of Conservation, basically the Forest Rangers of New York!) to have a sponsored LeanTo build on his property, he encourages thru-hikers to use his property – what an absolute treat! We could not believe the kindness of folks we met along the trail so far!

Parking ourselves outside of the Post Office for a brief moment, I tested out the service on our phones. Nothing except the possibility of trying this “unsecured WiFi” connection, maybe just for a minute? I switched the connect button on the “Judy” account and instantly Ciara was in, able to make a facetime call to her mother, the first call of the trip! We were both thrilled almost to tears to hear (and see!) that familiar voice – our Trail Angel!

Thank you “Judy”, whomever you are!

We easily found Haskell Road and finished out our walk, finished out our walk joking that this grassy spot of paradise off in the distance could actually be “the property”? It had the picnic table, it had a hatchet throw… oh my gosh it was such a welcome sight when we saw the camp register box for “Bob & Matt’s” – it was heavenly!

Another good night of sleep as we tucked our toes into the grass and tried to dry out once again!

Day 3 Stats:

  • 17.75 miles
  • 9hr 20minutes
  • 1660′ elevation gain

Day 4: Piseco: Bob & Matts Lawn to West Canada Lake-ish

Waking occasionally throughout the night, stricken with confusion – I could not judge time at this campsite due to the streetlight that shone bright not far from our tent, I waited for the soft alarm from my phone to fully wake me. We wanted to get an early start on the trail today but to our surprise a soft patter of rain cast down on the waterproof fly of the tent, meaning as soon as I remove the fly – the tent would be getting wet, I did not want to move from my toasty sleeping bag!

Opting to eat quickly and defer cooking until later in the morning when the rain tapered, we ate some date and chia seed bars. They all had molded together being compressed in Ciara’s pack – but they still tasted incredible this morning, we just bit our bites off the congealed 4×12″ bar (smaller bars came together to form one solid bar of deliciousness!).

This trail heading out of Piseco, while still had its minor water crossings and hang-ups here and there, was the smoothest trail yet! I did not want to believe anything at this point, but I told Ciara several times “can you imagine if this is our trail all the way out? We’ll be flying down the trails!” While this was truly an incredibly well maintained section of the Northville-Placid Trail, I can assure you it did not last past morning!

We burned the minor breakfast of bars off quickly, pulling a sweet potato/oregano Muir Energy out of my pack side pocket, I hoped that burst of flavor would stick some solid energy to my bones for a bit longer, until we found a spot to cook up the real food.

Muir Energy has saved me on quite a few trips, treks and running events to date; coming in convenient pouches as if it were a gel/energy supplement, they make every flavor of Muir using Pink Himalayan salt to balance and replace electrolytes that we lose through sweat during exercise, real blackstrap molasses, raw coconut palm nectar with all real and complete ingredients – not artificial flavors, or reconstituted this and that, real sweet potatoes, raspberries, kale, bananas, cashews, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds – not all at once of course, but in their own 2-3 ingredient mash-up – I am thrilled everytime that I get to open a packet, knowing they are all healthy, vegan, gluten-free, no extra garbage added!

Anyhoo, back to the hike! We were blasting through the border lines of the Jessup River Wild Forest and the West Canada Lake Wilderness at nearly 3mph! Cruising through the easy going, rolling hills of this lovely trail – there was no place we would rather be, except maybe filling our tummies (I was getting “hangry”, and this is very unpleasant for me!). Again we were alone on the NPT, we were following tracks of a big dog when suddenly Ciara stopped out front and noted these were not a dog we had been following but that of a decent sized bear! Fresh bear prints in the mud, and it had rained overnight – looking around now with the feeling of being watched, we began making more noise and talking more than usual!

Finally, friendly folks in the forest! We said hello and good morning to a group of four men who had just come from Spruce Lake. Remarking that the third LeanTo was the way to go, they had just spent 2 nights there – I did not ask about the double-sided oar one of the men carried, as they had just come from a lake. Wishing each party well, we went our separate ways.

From LeanTo #1 to LeanTo #3 we had trekked one additional mile along Spruce lake, growing hungrier and thirstier by the minute! Numbers 1 and 2 were not actually on the lake, a huge factor into us stopping was to re-up on our water as well as a decent lunch!

nap time, lake side

Up to this point in our thru hike, we had seen truly breathtaking vistas and lakeside sites – but Spruce Lake LeanTo #3 was everything a hiker could search for – a tent site with a fire ring leading a short walk to the actual LeanTo with a full stone fireplace, water access, a canoe out back and kayak off to the side, a bench to sit – this was a true retreat in the woods!

Wet clothes, socks – anything wet got sprawled out to dry in the morning sunshine – including Ciara and the boys who laid right out on the grass to soak up all of the warmth! Loons made the lake their playground, we watched them dive and made a game of guessing where they would pop back up! A warm lunch was further improved with our favorite hot sauce (Siete.. it actually tasted like nacho cheese – incredible stuff!), all we wished for were slices of homemade bread that we had polished off in the days prior!

Upon signing the LeanTo guestbook, I read in the previous entry that the four young men had brought the big canoe all the way in from Piseco – what a trek with that thing! We recognized familiar names of other folks who had come down the NPT before us.

Overall we took about an hour or so for lunch and rest at this spot – but we could have used another full day or so to take full advantage of everything it had to offer! Having counted the number of bridged water crossings, we gauged our progress on bridges at this point!

One, two, then three bridges. One by one I mentally checked off where we were on the map in my mind. Thankful that these man-made log structures were here today and knowing that in past days they were not – despite already being wet, I was happy to keep my feet at least warm for now as we checked off more miles and water crossings.

Passing West Canada Lake LeanTo, we knew that we were getting closer to where we had aimed to land by the end of our day. The trees parted on our west as we had a bit of black sand beach, looking out to South Lake. One of our favorite bridges was just beyond this, crossing over the outlet of this lake, the old sun-bleached bridge appeared as if it had survived the worst of earthquakes, testing the balance and tossing its patrons left and then right with their full packs, truly a beautiful area though!

Seventeen miles into our day and it was obvious that Ciara was worn out. I was worn out too but knew we were both determined to find a flat spot for our tent – we knew from several sources that there should be a tent site just up ahead!

Well we never found it.

Just after signing the register where the West Lake Trail splits off from this grassy opening where I assumed an old cabin had once stood, we re-entered the forest.. the thick, thick blown down, spruce trap laden forest. Exhausted both mentally and physically – what didn’t we need now? How about rotted snow up to our knees, blown over trees that wanted to jab at our eyes, frozen melt water and roots under all of this snow ready and willing to snap ankles – oh, we had it all in this section!

Just to top it all off, we fought our way to a sign indicating that the trail was newly re-routed.. it honestly was no better; more snow, another heavy stream to cross – this time poor Crockett (still with his pack on) tried to go boulder to boulder and ended up sticking his landing with a heavy *thud*, the sound of rib cage on granite was all Ciara and I heard. We grew quiet, there may have been an inkling of panic setting in all of us as the terrain was slow going, we were soaked and now with the uncertainty of our pups injuries.

Ciara questioned the tent-site, I told her according to the map – we were standing on it.

Clearly, we were not standing on a tent-site. Needing more water, we stopped at a clearing on the trail – Ciara would filter water and I would run up ahead without the weight of my pack in search of this fabled tent-site. The search came up empty-handed, running back my pace now hastened due to voices. Not sure what the heck was going on I was now in full sprint-mode, through mud, leaping over snow the best I could.

She was talking to the GoPro, I could relax now. Having seen 3 people in the prior 50 miles – I hoped deep down a local had found her and could say “oh yeah, there’s a perfect tent spot 50 feet in that direction”.. but that did not happen in this remote wilderness.

We were alone out here.

“How about right there, through those trees. The sun is shining down.” was all I returned with.

There was actually evidence of a fire from years past, so we had found something, maybe just not the tent-site on the map that we had hoped for! Writing it off as being lost somewhere in that re-route section, we were content enough with our makeshift home for the evening.

We had never been so happy to kick off our soaked, beat up trail runners and climb into our sleeping bags.

If there was any wildlife roaming by us in the middle of the night to bushwhack their way to the pond next door, we never heard it – we slept hard.

Day 4 Stats:

  • 18.98 miles
  • 11hr 14minutes
  • 2605′ elevation gain

Day 5: West Canada Lake-ish to Browns Brook

What do I love most about Ciara? I knew it from the day we met years ago! She always wears a smile and in the most trying times is still the most up-beat person I have ever met. I have no clue how she does it! I sure as heck can’t keep up with her in days on the trail like this! Of course, I was still enjoying the heck out of our time out here – and there was nowhere I would rather be with the four of us!

But there are those days out here that resemble an ultra-marathon, a run of miles and miles when you just can’t place yourself at the finish – it’s a mental game, plain and simple.

Packed up, ready to get back on the trail and fearing a repeat of yesterday afternoon – we put tired feet back into cold wet Altra’s. For just a moment, some days there would be an hour or two of relief! Some days I would be lucky enough to have dry socks – and today was one of those, pure heaven for the toes! Building a morning of routine: coffee, food, Heal the Sole (herbal balm from Runners High Herbals for our feet), socks – either wet or dry, shoes, pack up and sling the packs back up.

The morning started dry, but that didn’t last long. Thankful that at least we had time to fold the tent and get the pack covers on, the drizzle began about 10 minutes into our hike.

Didn’t bother me – I had dry socks!

That mentality lasted about 20 minutes into the rain until I could feel the chill sink back into my socks, here we go again with wet feet. GoreTex hoods kept the rain off my face, pants slowly got soaked through but we kept moving enough to stay warm. No need to complain!

All we heard was the rain beating down, Mud Creek rushing by and the jingle of the boys leashes.. there was no need for conversation if we couldn’t hear each other, I sunk down into my minds cave and dreamt as I walked.

We gave up early on with our attempts of keeping wet feet, no time to waste today, we walked right through mud and water.

Passing all of the landmarks we recalled from our map consult earlier in the day, we walked right by – it was just too wet to take cameras out or even to stop to remark the beauty of the area, we were wet!

The rain beat down in sheets as we passed the Cedar Lakes leanto’s, one by one. As we walked, I could see the trail on the other side of Cedar River, “how the..? we can’t cross that river!” I thought in my mind. Super relieved when we arrived at the next set of wooden signs, indicating that our trail followed the river, only crossing if we wanted to escape to civilization faster!

Heads down, hoods up, trekking poles stabbing the soaked earth beneath us – we hauled right along now that the trail was just smooth going! Opening up to an old forest ranger/jeep path, the bridges widened, but the trees bowed inward, soaking Ciara with each step forward, who was out in the lead keeping pace.

We walked for what really may have been ‘forever’ today. Just mile after mile of old jeep road, enclosed by drooping evergreens and dotted with waterways.

As the rain began to taper, we lifted our hoods and began to keep each other company – just wanting to get dry.

Consulting the map we found up on a bulletin board, somehow we had trekked ourselves all the way to Wakely Dam in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest, “Wow, that went wicked fast!”

The rain was ending, the sky now parting to show signs of sun up in that ominously grey sky, we were walking through a campground that should have been bustling with dozens of campers, tenters, rangers – but there was no one.

We walked straight through a scene taken from The Twilight Zone, we were alone out here. All the man-made structures, but no one in sight, a very eerie feeling indeed.

Oh well! We had each other and eight legs of dog – that’s all we needed for now!

All we could do was laugh when we recounted my comment days earlier, “hey – when we get to Wakely Dam, if we are up for it – let’s drop our packs and run up Wakely Mountain Fire Tower!”. It was obvious now there was no way we would be climbing a mountain in addition to the required daily mileage, maybe next go around!

We followed the crushed stone road, deciding to ‘just walk’ now and enjoy the bit of sun that cast down on us, slowly drying our jackets and warming our drippy bodies!

We needed water but didn’t want to stop quite yet. Turning onto Gould Road and unsure of what water we would have ahead, I looked back and thought of filtering back at Wakely Pond – at least I wouldn’t have to go far for that water – it was coming nearly into the road!!

“Stop here and set up?”, we were at the Wakely Pond campsite that was a flat concrete slab, but.. it was complete with a real-deal National Forest-esque vault toilet! ..It was still too early in the day to stop, so down the road we all went.

We continued along the rolling hillside, half-thrilled with how far we were making it for the day and partially stoked for how clear the sky was now becoming, blue glistened all around us! Plus we both knew that we had plans to meet Ciara’s mother with our re-supply in the morning at Lake Durant at the road crossing, so the further we pushed on today – less walking in the morning! Sounded good to us!

Glancing at my watch and knowing we were about to break 22 miles for the day, as we descended toward the brook we decided to call it a day wherever we could find a spot to throw up the tent, maybe even dry out our clothes for a few minutes before crashing into slumber.

Marked on our maps as Browns Brook, it was crossed with a beautiful, recently built wooden bridge to which the trail continued onto an old jeep path/logging road. “How about here? The ground is flat at least!” I asked, looking ahead to get ourselves off the actual NPT. “Let’s do it!”

The tent was up, clothes were drying and we had one treat left: our Smoked Fig Bar, what a slam dunk for the taste buds! Just the dank perk we needed for the day!

“Hey, did you see the moose track over there?”, I asked about the hooves that tracked their way right up our camp-site/access road. Ciara had an idea to prevent a 900lb intruder in the middle of the night: string up the boys leashes across the trail as a deterrent. I was sold.

Our longest day was done, we braved the coldest weather of our trip thus far and still had blue skies to fall asleep to.

For days, we were completely uncertain if we could get us and the pups through this changing terrain in time for our rendezvous.. but believe me – we were so excited when we could lay down and say to one another: Next stop, re-supply from our favorite Trail Angel!!


Day 5 Stats:

  • 22.87miles
  • 10hr 48minutes
  • 2251′ elevation gain

Day 6 – Pt 1: Browns Brook DIY Tent-Site to Lake Durant (re-supply)

Waking on day six to find that we had thankfully not been trampled by moose, I decided to keep warm right in my sleeping bag and fire up the water for coffee in bed! I could tell Ciara was not in the mood to get up and rocket down the trail – not much I did seemed to make her or the pups stir.

The air was chilly to start, but I knew from 33 years of staring up that the certain whiteness in the sky would soon give-way to blue – brilliant, azure blue skies!

We knew from consulting the map that we should be following the highlighted golden NPT trail for a bit over 4 miles before reaching Stephens Pond/LeanTo. Admittedly we did some head-down, just walking in silence this morning – but when we looked up and belted out “signage!” to one another, I think it was fair to say we both expected at least another mile and a half to the pond – the sign read a mere 0.6 miles.

The best news that we had received all day, we were closer to our Trail Angel Tuesday and all the watermelon juice than we thought!

A minute of celebration and we were off – never seeing the actual LeanTo but the lake itself was marvelous, shimmering and reflecting our beautiful blue sky in the morning haze! Despite more soggy-leafed trail and slick rocks, our pace was one of the strongest yet – so ready for our “half-way point” meet up.

The sound of chainsaws grew louder, signs became more and more frequent, next stop: Lake Durant State Campground.

We walked like champions that morning into the campground, still early in the season so really no one was around but the workers cleaning up brush from the sites. We had been out of water for several miles, assuming that I would just filter Lake Durant, I jumped on the chance to fill up from the water spigots in camp!

I gestured to one of the men who fed limbs into the wood chipper – of course he couldn’t hear me, but walking over, he yelled “Let it run for a minute!!”. Glad for a chance at free water, I complied. Before I could get a drop into my Nalgene bottle, he returned from his work truck with two bottles of water for us – yelled again “It’s lighter than the bottles you have!!” and walked away. Knowing that we needed water eventually, we thanked them for their generosity, still snatched up 64oz of campground water and continued down our path, next stop Route 28!

Talk about perfect timing, not even thirty seconds after Ciara and I dropped our packs in the shady lot where our NPT departs civilization again (our trail later in the day), her mother rolled up waving and holding a hand painted sign “NPT Hikers This Way”, a sign she had strung up for us before we left days prior!

Content on catching a ride to the picnic area just down the road, we all caught up, exchanged news while Ciara and I unpacked and strewn our wet, stinky gear across the lawn. It was like hitting a “Reset Button”, having fresh socks, dry clothes, dry tent and sleeping bags.. and food.

Oh my hot diggety dang the food!!

We began with exactly what Ciara had asked for, craving pure watermelon juice – made by her mother, no store bought juice for these hikers! As I broke out gear to dry along with the solar charger set up in the grass, they made smoked tofu sandwiches with veganaise, cucumber and tomato – on pretzel buns! Next came the tempeh salad, grapes, bananas with peanut butter, ginger ale, fresh pineapple juice (seriously 1 pineapple per Ball jar, how incredibly tasty and sweet!), date balls for desert.

We were living the good life once again! We did not want our visit to end, but after several hours with one State Trooper who drove through asking if we were having a yard sale, we finished packing up and took a quick drive to show Tuesday the town of Long Lake and where we would be trekking over the next few days.

Just as quickly as we were picked up, we were dropped back off at the “Blue Mountain Lake/Long Lake Section” trail head of the Northville Placid Trail. Hugs were had, packs back on, poles in hand and off we four went, up the trail out of view once again.. back to the trail life to see what adventures lay ahead!


Day 6 (morning) Stats:

  • 7.54miles
  • 3hr 34minutes
  • 627′ elevation gain




– Up Next: Lake Durant to Lake Placid! –

The Adventure Continues



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