Mount Colden: Trap Dike

May 3rd, 1993; thoughts and attempts at comprehending my all-encompassing newfound alpine environment flowed like flood waters from smokey-gray clouds high above. From 5115’ above the sea, my seven-year-old eyes felt as gigantic as the planet upon which I now stood; the views from Algonquin Peak allowed the most mesmerizing images of other nearby High Peaks.

That’s crazy! People actually climb that?!” I screeched out as my father pointed out Mount Colden on the other side of the puddle that I would eventually come to know as Avalanche Lake. The route his finger traced through the thin air was rarely traveled back then; he spoke of it as: The Trap Dike.

February 18th, 2017; snowshoes crunched through the blinding snow drifts as my hiking partners and I traversed the fluffy surface of Avalanche Lake at 2,885′ above sea level; gazing in all directions, we were surrounded by massive rising mounds of sleeping granite.

That’s crazy! People actually climb.. that.. IN WINTER?!”, I huffed through my balaclava, pondering in bewilderment at the brightly colored figures dangling from their ropes amidst the chute of white and blue ice flow.

I would come to find out climbers worldwide flock to this natural wonder year-round to test and hone their rock climbing skills, and to see what the hype is all about.

Despite the more recent reviews of the route necessitating fixed ropes, harnesses and all the modern climbing gear, the first recorded ascent of the Trap Dike took place by Robert Clark and Alexander Ralph around 1850, two trappers who ascended “to get a better view”, without the use of any gear other than their determination and crude work boots!

The prospect of ascending the Trap Dike for myself initially became reality just shortly following the summit celebration atop Haystack Mountain on June 4th, 2016 as my father, our hiking partner Wendy and I became ADK 46ers, #9480, 9479 and 9481, respectively.

A local climbing legend and guide had offered, as a birthday and finishing gift to Wendy, to take the three of us using ropes, harness, helmets and modern climbing gear through the treacherous Trap Dike, to the summit of Mount Colden.

The morning of our first attempt came and went as we watched the rain tumble from the sky, we would not be climbing that day; we set another date and prepared just the same, the result was simply another wash-out. This happened four times before contact with our guide simply ceased and it seemed as if an ascent of the famous Trap Dike for us three may never unfold.

Shortly after the excitement of possibility faded from our memories, I ended up moving east, further away from my hiking crew and into a new (to me) forest known as the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

I never forgot about my desire to climb the rocks within the Trap Dike, but unfortunately a commute requiring a third of a day kept me from frequenting the Adirondacks, especially the Trap Dike. In my mind, the weather, timing, training and mindset – all had to fall into an alignment of absolute perfection to take on such a task, an occurrence of perhaps once in a lifetime.

In what felt like a blink of an eye, 2020 began as normal as ever; winter ascents of Mount Washington, trail running across the frozen spin drifts high above the 5000’ alpine gardens, even an ascent of the 4680’ Mount Carrigain welcomed me as the 1013th member to stand proudly atop all 111 (really 115 by now) peaks in the Northeast states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York) above four thousand feet – in short, it felt like life as usual!

As April 2020 rolled in, my focus shifted on converting my 2005 flat-nose to a livable school bus; my heart craved the mountains but cringed at the idea of the hours required behind my steering wheel to access some of these far-off wildernesses.

It has been too long since a good hike”, I thought almost daily – nothing but local peaks and trails called to me.

There was a statement that I had read in the American Alpine Journal which resonated deeply within me, surfacing each time I thought of traveling for a trek: “careless mistakes occur more frequently when you hike without purpose or a desire in your heart.

After what felt like months of walking trails without purpose, the bulb in my mind’s eye appeared to shine with a glimmer of light: Trap Dike; the two words encompassing my every thought.

I began checking the weather, “just in case”.

I checked multiple weather apps and stations, studied recent trail reports as if they were holy scripture, learning my route quarter mile by quarter mile – always “just in case”.

Arriving back from work on Wednesday, July 8th, I had yet to fully commit to the idea that, tomorrow, I would be starting early and driving to the Adirondack Mountains.

Gear was brought out, dusted off and packed, soft flasks filled with water, dates pitted and tossed into a bag alongside cashews.

At 8pm, I had done all the prepping required, I could not dwell over the weather reports any longer, for, I had nothing left to learn from their charts and graphs. The mountains received a brief flash of rain during the prior 24 hours, aside from that they had been bone dry for the past 4 days.

I had my window. My time was now.

Without an ounce of anxiety in my blood, I awoke at 1am to make coffee and get some over-night oats ready for the long commute.

Fingertips traced the steel shell of my school bus-tiny home as I said my “see you in a few hours”, climbed into my Subaru and set my GPS to the South Meadows lot, located just northeast of the ADK Loj.

Arriving around 6am, I remember being remarkably calm and feeling at peace, still unsure if I would be successful or fall to my death during the next several hours.

Altra Lone Peaks were laced up, running pack straps were tightened, GPS watch set to record, outhouses used. Unsure of what else I could do to ensure a perfect day – following some light stretching, I simply began down my trail.

Next destination: Marcy Dam.

I had been to Marcy Dam dozens of times by now, but never via this northern approach, I often wondered about the trail on earlier excursions, few folks used it as a direct approach to these High Peaks, avoiding the over-crowded Loj parking lot on weekends.

This was a fantastic warm up, lightly running and swinging my arms, getting my body warmed up but not to tax it yet. The trail was much like any old jeep road, some lightly eroded areas which gave way to rocks and roots, but overall, this was the perfect path to initiate my journey!

With gradual ups and downs, I switch-backed gently, meandering through the forest; expecting to encounter bear or moose in this (what seemed like, at 6am..) desolate tract of land – I found none but the occasional red squirrel on its hunt for a nutty breakfast.

Reaching the 2.5-mile mark of my trek, there was a quick descent over delicately hand-placed stone leading to the Marcy Dam area. With the aroma of coffee and sausage in the air, I encountered my first group of fellow hikers, backpacking and now getting ready to begin their own day of adventures.

I knew these trails well, having traversed them in every season and essentially every hour of the day and night – the last time I had been on them was in snowshoes with likely 5-6 feet of packed snow on the trails, today the jutting rocks made their appearance, reaching up out of the rich, dark soil that I have come to remember the Adirondacks for. The scent of nutrient-rich dirt permeated the crisp morning air which lingered along the trickling brook at my ankles.

Swinging right and crossing the bridge which spanned Marcy Brook, I was now on a straight shot to Avalanche Lake. The wet boot prints that I had been following over the previous several miles were now gone; I was alone out in these woods.

With care, I placed each foot, knowing that a twisted ankle out this far – with no sign of cell service, would make for a much different kind of adventure, one which I did not care to be a part of today!

Crossing logs and boardwalks, I twisted and turned over freshly cut trail and became sandwiched between the sheer cliffs of Avalanche Mountain on my right and Mount Colden on my left.

Growing closer to my next destination, I was now able to employ hands to shimmy over fallen boulders and around trees to enable tight turns in the trail; my entire body began to feel more alive as I ran deeper into a more desolate forest.

Arriving at Avalanche Lake, I immediately remembered why I filed this view under the “my favorite places” tab in my memory banks. Complete serenity is what I found once again down at the shoreline of the Lake. Not a single sound of human existence broke the silence as I stood there, first with eyes open until they drifted shut and I let the slight breeze float off the water’s surface and henceforth my entire being.

This is what I came for; this is the experience that I did not know my soul had been missing.

After soaking in raw peace and solitude until my sweaty body reminded me that hypothermia was indeed real, I continued. Beginning in a counterclockwise fashion around Avalanche Lake, I now found myself in a ‘big kid’ playground!

Bouncing from boulder to boulder, up and over ladders, under trees and eventually making my way to the (newly rebuilt) long wooden planks which guide hikers over the surface of the lake, this area is known most commonly as the Hitch-Up-Matilda – the story of how this name came to be is quite fascinating – but not one for today, I’d recommend researching it, if you’re a self-proclaimed ADK history buff like myself!

One cannot cross this entire section without stopping briefly to let your jaw drop and gaze in awe at the view across the lake – the Trap Dike begins to come into focus and the mound of rock and tree debris becomes real, showing its massive scale of a landslide and geological rift in the mountainside.

The narrow section separating Avalanche Lake from Lake Colden now marked new terrain for me. I ducked out of view momentarily as a trail maintenance crew hiked by with bulging backpacks and axes swung over their broad shoulders, with the appearance of having lived in the forest for the past three months, they looked like some tough women for sure!

I momentarily assumed that if they learned of a solo hiker taking on the devilish Trap Dike at 7am on a Thursday, they may try to persuade me of an easier route, but they simply continued on their way having not noticed my presence.

Stepping onto the bushwhack which takes climbers from marked trail to the base of the ‘Dike, I had read reports of this section being near impossible to follow in one shot. I had no difficulty, there were several herd paths which meandered in several directions but having read folks advising to ‘stay down toward the lakeside’, I did not have to backtrack at all.

Within perhaps 10-15 minutes, the thick trees opened, and I was able to peer back across the lake to where I stood just minutes earlier, behind me lay the sleeping giant.

At this point, there was no question of where to go, of where to begin – so, with solid footing, I began into the narrowing slot.

It was immense. I felt microscopic standing in such a rock-fall zone as this.

All my climbing, hiking and running had led me to this point.

Thankful for low water as I began climbing, the rocks were like pedestals as two hands were used to get one foot, then two feet up onto each ledgy rock.

Periodically turning around, it became almost dizzying how fast I was losing the Lake below me. As it fell into the distance, the pinnacle of Avalanche Mountain at 3,800’ came into view, and beyond that – Algonquin Mountain, atop which I stood at age 7 with my father as we looked down into the very spot where my heartbeat thumped like falling rocks.

I wished for my father and Wendy to be there sharing the experience with me, yet thankful for absolute silence when I could lean into the rock and absorb the echo of nesting birds calling for their mates, or the crash of fresh rainwater tumbling downslope next to my palm.

At one point, my judgment took me for a swing to the right, just to climb about 30’ up steep but sticky rock to reach an area of loose rock and scree which I deemed a death walk if I proceeded, reluctantly I turned back to descend, fully utilizing my bum and all four extremities for maximum traction.

Its difficult to say if this is the time when my fear grew, for, I was not afraid of where I had found myself – simply heightened alertness, awareness that this was indeed real, one slip now and that was it.

Completing that descent, I ferociously fished around for another route: to the left was a wet, black rock chute which spanned about 15 feet, vertically and featured the waterfall – to the right were finger holds of perhaps fingernail width, enough for maybe ¼” of shoe material to grip off camber.

I stood momentarily weighing my options and letting my pulse regain a more normal pace upon coming off my scree slab just moments prior.

Finding that the consequence of a slip, although not completely vertical, would send me perhaps 25’ onto jagged boulders beneath, I decided to attempt the blackened chute where I could not avoid the rushing ice water.

Employing new techniques, I faced away from my ascent, braced the slick, moss-covered walls with elbows and scissor-kicked with my feet to apply maximum counterforce to all rock surfaces, inch by inch I began shimmying my way off the near-flat ground below me.

Upon finishing the crux move of my day, I again stood momentarily, peering back into the wet chimney-chute that I had somehow just climbed, “holy shit, holy shit, HOLY SHIT!!” was all I could think to say aloud as I looked all around, the realization sinking in that perhaps, today, I had survived the Trap Dike.

Knowing I was only just beginning my day, I could not stop laughing and enjoying my time on the rocks yet remained mindful that there was still serious climbing to do!

Above the full body climbing that I had just completed, the rocks in the coming section changed to a creamy-white, their texture turning from mere granite to coarse sandstone-like.

I followed this white stone as the water still trickled, now on my right. I judged my progress with Algonquin as an elevation aid, across the rift below. I was starting to level out with it, only moments earlier it seemed to tower as it watched its novice climber far below.

Trying to remember my trail reports, I carefully gauged when to jut out onto the slide itself to my right, following that the remaining couple-hundred feet to the summit cap of Mount Colden.

The tacky, creamy-white rocks followed me onto the newer slide (Hurricane Irene, 2011) where I followed bare rock with its remaining old forest growth to my left.

The rock on the slabby newer slide was pitted and incredibly tacky, especially for my trail running shoes – I made quick work of this slide, simply one foot in front of the next – but sure as hell my quads and glutes began to scream at the unrelenting climb! To stop for a moments rest meant standing at a 45-degree angle, which proved completely uncomfortable and encouraged me to press-on, up that hill!

Thankful for dry, optimal conditions, I imagined the outcome from one slip at this location: a tumble down the midline of the rock slab that could potentially send a climber for an unknown distance before careening off the drop straight behind me, truly nothing to stop a slide, certainly nothing to hold onto.

Still climbing ever higher, I began to see boot prints in rich Adirondack dirt up above me – was this the end of my route? Indeed, I was able to locate the marked trail and quick trek off to the open summit rocks of Colden.

How fitting that I spend my climb of the Trap Dike in solidarity, now standing atop the summit at 8:18am, the slight breeze engulfing my body as if to hug and congratulate it on an excellent climb, and good survival!

Refueling on some water and taking in the sights of alpine bog laurel around me, I decided to make my descend before the morning hoards of hikers swarmed the summit.

Group after group, the ascending hikers stood by in awe as I bounded down the trail and they inquired as to where I came from, what time did I start, where was I going in such a rush.

I was simply going at my comfortable pace with my sights set on a bowl of watermelon back at my car!

Spirits were high as I cruised back down to the false summit of Colden and could look back to first the slide which was my route up this massive pile of rock, then back on the forested dome that was quite simply: Colden.

On the run back out to my car, I was overwhelmed with the sense of gratitude for the mountain letting me explore once again.

The watermelon had never tasted so good, these shoes never felt so good to remove, my heart was full, I felt complete.

That was, after all, The Trap Dike of Mount Colden.


Of note from the writer:

Black Diamond climbing shoes went for a ride in my 8L running bag all morning, along with a GoreTex jacket, beanie, gloves, Sawyer water filter, compass, waterproof paper map, 16oz hydration and bag of dates & cashews

Consumed during the run was ~5oz of water mixed with mango/lime Muir Energy plant-based electrolyte powder, that is all. Outstanding day!


Overall stats for the day:

  • 13.9 miles
  • 3,268’ elevation gain
  • 4 hours 10 minutes
  • A million smiles
  • Avalanche Lake: 2,885’
  • Mount Colden: 4,715’

 

Happy climbing!

 

Erik

Exploring local trails

Have you ever experienced your backyard?

Not just peering at the beauty of it through your dismal kitchen window, but really gone outside to stand in the (hopefully) cool, crisp morning air while the finches and chickadees greet you; all around is the scent of wet maple and hemlock mingle with the familiar terpenes emanating from your swath of pine, spruce or fir.

Have you ever stopped long enough to notice the little fungi that flowers (yes, mushrooms do “flower“) on that fallen log everytime it rains?

Do you ever wonder what mysteries lay beyond that 200-year old stone wall that casts a moat of familiarity and would be safety around your property?

Secretly curious why someone, such a long time ago clear cut that path which calls to you daily during your morning commute? Where does it go? Could there be a lost pond at the end of that trail that no one has the time to explore lately, in such a digital world? Maybe that was the trail Huck Finn would take to go catch all of his fish.. you’ll never know if you don’t take the time to explore.

Be the explorer.

Now that the glorious high peaks with their expansive views and spiderweb-like network of trails are off limits for most of us who abide by the ‘no unnecessary travel‘ guidelines put in place by local and state agencies; and yes.. perhaps as you read this you can look out your kitchen window to find an alpine paradise.. but unfortunately, I along with many others, do not.

So, if you’re like me then you may find yourself feeling a little stuck indoors on the treadmill (I don’t own a treadmill.. and hopefully you don’t either!) reading about, and deeply craving the forests once again.

Want to explore local places but don’t know where to begin?

These days there are loads of free GPS and mapping apps that can be installed onto your smart phone. While this is hardly the most reliable method to employ when you are actually away from civilization, it can be the cheapest to start with; if nothing more, just to get an idea of local trails, nearby mountains, dog parks, and even some of the “lesser-used” paths!

Before taking to my local paths, I typically prefer to use any number of mapping websites while I have the luxury of a larger monitor (and somewhat reliable WiFi!) of which to view the network of linking paths; alltrails, caltopo, peakbagger are all some of the pages I will cycle through, you may notice that one source may offer you older logging roads while another may show other details like wetlands, not found on other maps – this is why I try to check as many resources as possible to get an accurate and up-to-date idea of which paths lead where.

Particularly in wintertime it can be nice to have access to trail reporting websites, where users can log in and give detailed (and often very helpful) logs of which trails they have used lately, including important factors as any blowdown to contend with, stream or river crossings and their status (height), even including what gear they recommend for a pleasurable and safe trek into the forest.

It should go without saying though: while it is nice and super convenient to have the access to GPS and mapping apps on our smartphones (many of which do operate in airplane mode, thus conserving battery life), if you don’t have the initial WiFi to download the topo for a region, you may find that your map is blank with you as a blue dot lost in a featureless ocean of nothing on your screen.

Also worth noting, while using a mapping app to track your location is very convenient – these apps have a way of sucking the battery power while using the screen near full-time. It can be helpful enough to simply use your phone’s app as a back up, checking occasionally where you are located at the moment; only if needed – this way the battery power will be conserved for in the event of an emergency, when you may really need to know and follow a certain direction back to safety.

What turf do you want to run, hike or bike on?

Often times it is possible to determine what kind of surface makes up a trail network by reading a topographic map; consult the legend, typically dirt logging roads will have a different line-type, color, or level of boldness than a foot-traffic only path. It may be possible to determine how remote a trail system is by even noting per the map if the area contains man-made bridges or waterbars, all indicators of recent (safe to assume within 10-20 years, this may not always indicate a path is maintained yearly or even monthly, check the date on the map!) trail maintenance.

While it is probably safe to conclude that if it is winter outside then there is likely snow covering the trails – but with a little preliminary digging online or into local maps (check local co-ops or coffee shops for maps or info for local trails!), you may be able to conclude if these trails garner the traffic that will give you a nice packed surface following a good dumping of snow, or if not – perhaps you need to be prepared to step into a pair of snowshoes and break your own trail through 12-inches of freshly fallen fluffy snow.

Some trails around where I currently reside cycle between being host to mountain bike and running trails by summer/fall and ski, snowshoe and even snowmobile trails by winter and spring – a little digging and research should help answer your questions of what you can expect to trek on!

So many trails, so many surfaces!

  • Hiking path – will probably be the most enjoyable for trail running or exploring with your pup; chances are you will find a maintained trail with the occasional rock or small boulder to step around or over; could be wide enough to permit anything from single file all the way up to four or more folks to trekking side-by-side (although with 6-ft for social distancing, this may not be applicable at this time!); likely a marked trail with painted blazes or color-coded discs
  • Mountain bike path – similar to a hiking trail with possibly more obstacles to contend with, this can be anything from roots, rocks, sandy trails, narrow wooden bridges to skirt over and through boggy areas; if you know you are on a confirmed mountain biking trail, don’t wear ear buds, stay alert to possible incoming traffic, yield to on-coming bikers if these trails are designated for bike-use; likely a marked trail with painted blazes or color-coded discs
  • Snowmobile path – similar to mountain biking trails as far as who has the right of way, at least with snowmobiles you should be able to hear them coming from a distance; these trails are typically groomed flat for snow machines in the snowy months, often times over-grown and appearing out of commission in the late-spring/summer months; can prove difficult to follow at times (especially once ferns and new growth comes in), with a bit of research you should be able to track down a copy (online or at a local convenient/gas store) of up-to-date snowmobile paths, or contact your local snowmobile club for more info; paths can be marked/emblazoned, some clubs will even have signage at trail intersections indicating refueling stations or distance/direction to the next town
  • Old logging roads – may not take you exactly where you want to go; certainly be mindful of active logging traffic; logging roads can be quite rugged, hosting stumps, logs or small downed trees laying directly in your path (perfect if you are training for an OCR..or obstacle course race!); underfoot you may encounter a muddy, slushy or sandy path depending on time of year, many logging roads are littered with tree and wood chips which may seem soft for running, but can prove to be strenuous on the ankles; these paths are likely not marked so do your research before setting out on them!
  • Herd paths – the forest really only needs three foot steps on the same patch of earth cover before soil becomes so compacted that drainage is impacted and many root structures simply die; mosses become trampled, ferns and saplings all pushed aside with twigs broken from repeated travel; while herd paths are also not marked or blazed (possibly not even listed on recent maps), these trails will begin to test your route finding instincts; if there has been any recent traffic, tracks will be naturally easier to follow in the winter; by the time autumn hits and leaves begin to drop, these paths can become difficult to follow – spend a bit of extra time before setting out really becoming familiar with the direction of travel such as “after the path circumnavigates Pond #1, it will climb East to 2400′ and swing North continuing along a ridgeline Northwest for 1.2 miles before reaching the old Kilkenny farm house and outbuildings”; you may find neon colored surveyors tape from prior parties in these woods, best to not follow or trust unless you placed the tape and are familiar with its direction!
  • Bushwhacking (off-trail) – make note of where you depart the marked trail or roadside; be super observant of your surroundings while off-trail, make mental notes of contours and nearby hills, valleys, ravines, steams, ponds as you pass to try to picture where you are currently on the topographic map – this will be easier in winter or early spring before new growth limits how far you can see; leave ‘breadcrumbs’ in your mind of which direction you went, keep the idea of a known object or mountain in the back of your mind such as “Peak #2 should always be to the south during my trek”, if that is true – this may not remain factual on longer traverses or as you crest a number of ridges and peaks, etc

A note on bushwhacking: while it is extremely rare that you will find markings along the trail, this is where having and knowing how to use a map and compass is imperative, this skill may be what stands between you stuck overnight on a trail.. lost, and your warm cabin.

Another option that can be used is to tie a small piece of surveyors flagging/tape every so often to mark your own path into the woods, can be used to follow your way back – but be cautious, if you do not travel in an “out and back” fashion, you absolutely must trek back in your original path and take down all of your flagging, do not leave a mess for others to clean up, or even worse.. for someone else to follow resulting in them becoming disoriented and possibly more lost than they were!

Will I see wildlife?

Depending on the time of year, yes – there could be a good chance on encountering critters as you explore new places! Typically, where there is water: brooks, ponds, bogs, wetlands you will be able to find the beginnings of the food chain. Beginning with lifeforms that live in the water, whether it be stagnant and swampy or flowing downstream there may be frogs, fish, insects or seaweed and mosses which give life to larger forms of life!

Around wetlands can also be a great place to run into moose and bear depending on where in the world you’re located, just outside of my cabin doorstep lay home to hundreds of square miles of protected land – the perfect environment for larger animals (currently my muddy driveway contains what looks like a highway of moose tracks); while you think it may still be winter in your neck of the woods, that doesn’t mean that bear are not beginning their waking cycle, coming out of hibernation in search of berries, wild edibles or your mushroom jerky (if you still consume beef jerky, might I recommend trying mushroom jerky as an alternative, its both healthy and delicious!).

While this article is in no way trying to scare you into believing nature is just waiting to devour your whole being the second you step into the forest, it is simply a pleasant reminder that we are surrounded by nature, upon stepping onto remote trails.. we are entering their world, we are the guests as we trek the woods.

Big animals are all around us, chances are we may just not see them – I think they would want it that way: they have the eyes on us, we are the visitors. Be aware that if you go into their habitat with a fist of salmon and expect to not be followed, you are being really very silly. Animals are naturally curious, especially if they smell something interesting while you have stopped to check your map (as in, you are not ruffling leaves or rattling a bear bell or making some noise), they may just creep in to check out what you are munching on – depending on just how hungry they are can dictate how this encounter goes.

As a good rule that I try to abide by – eat before you enter the woods, wash your hands of all foreign food scents, try to stick with water and things that don’t have strong aromas; save the savory foods for when you get back to your car (it’s a good idea to always bring back up food, but if possible keep it sealed up for an emergency – I do this with my bag of gorp.. Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts, it’s there in case I spend longer than anticipated in the woods, but I don’t want to invite the curious to my path!).

Travel times

Be aware of how long it may take you to adventure in these newer trails; you may want to slow your pace and really observe your new surroundings, take photos or just hang out at that new pond you just discovered! Being aware though, while you are planning your adventure, a clear path that has not had recent rain or flooding can be traversed much faster than a trail that just received 6-inches of snow that you now have to break through.

This is where having the luxury of recent trail reports can pay off, just so you have some heads up as to what you are getting yourself into.

Will you have to break trail through fresh powder?

Are the temps rising in the afternoons forcing you to glissade across melting snow that sticks itself like super glue to your snowshoes, adding pounds of unanticipated weight to each step and wearing out your leg muscles that much faster?

What about that recent windstorm that knocked down an entire growing season worth of leaves, camouflaging your path with a sea of wet orange, red and yellow leaves that slide like ice when you step on them?

Maybe this windstorm also brought branches and limbs.. or even worse.. entire stands of trees down that you will now have to climb up and over to gain any progress.

Whatever the current conditions are can either make your adventure a smooth one, or can slow you to a crawl; maybe you brought water and food for an hour long run while you find yourself stuck in a half mile of 10-foot deep blowdown forcing you to crawl under, over or around to get back to your car – turning your hour long adventure into a full afternoon (or more!) out in the forest.

Dress for the Temps

Think about what time of the year you are heading out into the forest; is it summer where the temperatures don’t typically drop below 65 degrees overnight, and you’ll retain good visibility underneath the forest canopy until 9pm, or is the calendar creeping toward spring or autumn with temps dropping as much as 30-60 degrees as the sun drops below the horizon, maybe once the sun starts to go down you only find yourself with half an hour before stuck in complete darkness.

A little planning can go a long way and make you much more comfortable should you find yourself being out on the trails longer than you anticipated!

Pack smart

What do you need to bring, if you are only planning on being on these new trails for an hour or two to stretch the legs, why bother weighing yourself down with any extra gear? Why would I pack a jacket if its sunny and 75-degrees now? I can last all day without food and water, should I even need to bring a pack?

There was a time I sounded exactly like this, that was.. until I learned the hard way that bringing extra is never a bad idea!

Sure, if you are planning on trail running, why would you want to be weighted down by a pack or with extra water sloshing around?

Be realistic when you make your plans to explore and just let the thought enter your mind for a moment: what will I realistically need to comfortably spend an unplanned night out?

Hopefully you won’t actually need your whistle to signal that you are lost without cell service. Seeing as prices have dropped significantly in the past years, many folks these days carry a Spot or InReach – some type of personal location beacon in case things really go wrong and cannot get themselves to safety under their own power.

But.. back that thang up! Before you let yourself need to be rescued, think about what you would need should you be stuck and not able to get yourself out until the sun comes back up.

During this wild time we find ourselves, with COVID-19 reeking havoc throughout the world – do not expect the same Search and Rescue efforts to even exist. Should you find yourself needing their help in the forest, it may take considerably longer to amass a team to rescue you, or even worse – this help may never come.

Do not expect anyone to have your back, pack extra because you need to.

Do you have extra snacks?

Did you bring your water filter that weighs next to nothing?

What about that spare jacket you didn’t think would be needed at 1pm when you set out?

Did you actually bring a pack with a map and compass that you know how to use, do you really know where you are or did you just run wild through the forest thinking the trail was 50-feet that way when it was really 50-feet in the opposite direction?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have brought extra socks, or a buff to wrap around your head or neck?

What about the headlamp that you didn’t think you would need, I’d bet now you do!

Did you carry your trekking poles that you never leave the trail head without? Sure, they may help with balance.. but what if you need to secure a twisted ankle, it sure would be helpful to have the poles then!

Remember those hand and toe warmers that you never left your car without all winter, why not toss an extra pair in your pack for an unplanned overnighters?

While not even large in size any longer, it has become so easy to carry a good blade with us into the wild to be used as needed: cut sticks into a smaller size, open plastic packaging on that candy bar that you cannot grip since the sun went down and left your fingers without all of their natural feeling capability; while you no longer need to look like Davy Crockett running mad through the forest with a machete, there are hundreds of multi-tool companies out there these days, and with such lightweight materials (metals or ceramics), why not carry one – likely you will never need it, but when you do.. you’ll be happy it went along for the ride in your bag!

So many little things that can be tossed into a pack and thrown on your back that weigh next-to-nothing, can all either be never needed, or that extra little detail that make survival possible – or just endurable enough to get you through the night as needed.

On top of carrying extra things to make your survival life easier, take the extra couple of minutes while at home and learn how to use everything that goes into your pack, likely amenities and various equipment can be doubled into dozens of other uses.. with a little ingenuity and practice-work before entering the forest!

And lastly, just remember that nature is like a second home to us; respect nature and we will be rewarded ten-fold. But nature is truly wild, anything can happen – and if we spend enough time in nature, everything will happen; things will go wrong, we will get hurt, we will run into big creatures in the forest.. but if we prepare our minds and bodies and try to learn from others mistakes.. we will be that much more likely to turn a negative experience into an opportunity; to remain calm, learning and growing with nature.

Stay healthy and found out there!

Happy climbing!

– Erik

 


Northville-Placid Trail – Pt 2

As Ciara and I begin the more-and-more frequent discussions of our next long distance trek through the woods, I thought it would be a most splendid idea to get the last days and final arduous miles of our May 2019 trek of the Northville-Placid Trail (NPT) off my mind.. I mean, this is only running 9 months behind its original publish date.. final 55 miles.. here we gooo!

Day 6 – Part 2: Lake Durant (re-supply) to Salmon River Tent-Site

The afternoon remained crystal clear; blue skies with a touch of wind – just slight enough to dry our sweaty clothes and soggy gear. We all finished our cucumber and tempeh sandwiches, polished off the final gulps of fresh watermelon juice and stuffed down all the cold, crisp grapes that our hearts desired.

Were we really ready to don our 75 liter packs again? Our tired shoulder and back muscles creaked at the thought of being loaded up once again. Using the tailgate of Tuesday’s ‘pit crew’ vehicle, we reluctantly slid into our shoulder straps and slowly stood straight, bearing the full weight that we desperately tried to distance our minds from during the last several hours of down time.

Hugs were exchanged, perhaps even a few sweaty tears were dropped as we said our good-byes once again: our trail just out of the parking lot began immediately ascending into the forest to where the warm sun rays broke through springtime leaf cover.

Back on the trail, Ciara and I continued on and on.. recounting all of the lingering flavors and scents – all of the home comforts that Tuesday had graciously brought to us thru hikers, the tastes of home that we so badly did not want to depart with!

It seemed that if today had a theme it would be something to do with ‘logging‘; the path that we followed was tremendously scarred with such activity, each of us (and our pups!) climbed over downed trees, slogging our trail runners through sandy logging roads that I had actually remarked to Ciara, appeared nearly identical to the aftermath from the Mount St Helens 1980 eruption/landslide photos that I had seen while watching documentaries: the trail was absolute chaos to traverse.

One positive though, was the fact that there was no active logging taking place – no trucks or equipment to dodge as we made our way through this unsightly disaster area, which truly was a surprise given that we walked through on a Wednesday!

After several miles of following bright logging signs and dense blowdown, we reached the lovely sight of water: Tirrell Pond, where we happily swung north (left) along the pond for, there was a lean-to site but it appeared that the bridge to the campsite had long been washed out; very glad to not be traveling over this ponds’ outlet.. we continued left!

Tirrell Mountain appeared in the distance beyond the shimmering water and even when I had no experience rock climbing, I wanted only to dump my pack along the shore and ascend its glossy, gray granite slopes!

Reaching the tip of the pond we stopped momentarily to stand in the sands of what-would-have-been a fantastic tent site, complete with a beach – such a gem of a find!

Eager to find a home for the night, we pressed on into a forest that we thought would simply never end. We searched either side of the trail for what we thought would be an open grassy patch to pitch our tent, all we found was occasional blowdown (easily stepped over!) and a lovely, but dense birch forest on either side.

The miles passed so slowly as we made our way, sensing that we were truly alone for miles in either direction – we simply continued the only way the forest allowed, knowing (by my map) that there was “some-sort-of road” up in the distance.

After what seemed like an entire new day of trekking, our NPT bisected a quicksand-like desolate dirt road which stretched to both our left and to our

right.

“Which way?”, Ciara asked – eventually she found the blue “NPT” trail marker stuck to a tree off trail with an arrow signifying we head toward a bridge in the distance.

Into the muck we sank, I actually felt somewhat guilty for leaving my shoe imprints in the road – but had no other way to travel unless we trampled moss on either side of the trail.. to the bridge we slogged!

On the other side of the bridge dipped a cut-off path wide enough for a narrow vehicle.. the best part of this spur road, however, was the sight of a fire ring several feet from the waterside.

This was home.

Packs were dropped again, tent set up, wood was gathered (the night ended with no fire).. and naturally, grapes were devoured! Just the sweet juicy goodness that we required after that walk in the springtime sun, and as we listened to Salmon River lap at the shoreline, together we lay there speculating what tomorrow may bring.

Day 6 (part two) stats:

  • 7.18 miles
  • 3hr 44 minutes
  • 722′ elevation gain

Day 7: Salmon River to Plumley’s LeanTo (Long Lake)

Awaking from possibly the best night of sleep yet on our multi-day trek, I briefly walked our road barefoot, letting the sand massage my constantly wet and shriveled up toes – I guess folks pay a lot of money for this kind of foot-treatment back home!

Coffee and breakfast complete, once again we packed up – neither puppy dog wanting to step into their harness – but we had miles to go; according to the map, today we would be reaching the actual high point of the Northville Placid Trail; unable to locate a name as we did not actually pass over a ‘summit’, but the trail traversed between the named peaks: Salmon Pond Middle-West Peak to the east and Salmon Pond West Peak.. to the west!

Prior to beginning the gradual climb to our ‘scenic view point’ however, we did encounter possibly the most beautiful open-grass field of the entire trek! Complete with a petitely arced bridge mid-field, we stopped to take many photos – the grasses grew nearly as tall as our pups packs and gently swayed in the morning breeze – it was surely a sight we will never forget!

Back on the climb though, and without knowing otherwise we could have mistaken this land for any gentle-grade mountain found in upstate New York: we had rocks, roots, vistas behind us, yet another magical place to find ourselves today!

We never actually found the ‘look out’ spot listed on our map, perhaps it was shrouded in springtime growth, needless to say we both greatly enjoyed what we had before us, no need for anything more! And as soon as we reached the crux, we began a steep decent down the northern side.

In the far distance we could even spot our next destination: Long Lake.. but how could it appear so many miles away? Neither my eyes nor legs wanted to believe that speck in the distance would be our next rest stop!

Descending from the Salmon Pond peaks, eventually we were kicked out onto muddy forest access roads where we awkwardly stepped into sunken truck tire tracks which we reluctantly followed for several more miles; our spirits occasionally lifted by signs trail side indicating we were growing closer to the town of Long Lake.

Remarking to each other that someday we would return to ski the beautifully remote trails which spider webbed in every direction, we continued until our hanging jaws stopped us dead in our tracks.

We had reached the longest boardwalk that I had ever encountered; nearly a full mile trek of log underfoot, meandering gently through boggy swampland on either side – I don’t think either one of us had seen a trail quite like this – to this day I am amazed at the craftsmanship that went into such a lengthy creation!

As the sound of auto traffic intensified, we talked to fill the air with the idea of lunch in our very near future.

It was a strange sensation to put feet back onto blacktop once again – which we followed out of town and past quaint residences or vacation homes, while we didn’t see anyone around it was nice to have each other!

Reaching the trail register at nearly the end of Tarbell Road, we dropped packs once again, layered with jackets and all collapsed onto the grass in search of lunch: oranges were top on the menu – still fresh from our re-supply with Tuesday yesterday.. and oh boy did that orange juice hit the spot!

Next stop: Long Lake!

Surprisingly, this is one area of the Adirondacks that I do not remember ever visiting as a child, but I am surely glad we did on this trek!

Crossing the outlet, climbing over boulders and rocks, we reached the trail and kicked our way through nearly a foot of last years fallen birch leaves, which lit up the trail with the brightest yellows, oranges, and speckles of reds – at that time there was no place I could imagine enjoying more!

I stopped to take photos of little white flowers with pink and purple stripes (Carolina Springbeauty.. or Claytonia caroliniana), mushrooms of all shapes and sizes lined the trail – it all appeared to be straight out of an 1800s post card!

Now, for the first time in what seemed like days we encountered hikers and other friendly folks out enjoying this incredible stretch of nature alongside the ‘Lake.

We had our choice of camp spots and lean-to’s but decided to cross our fingers, hoping that the finest of the lake would be available.. and much

to our delight – it was!

Following a short spur trail toward the lakeside we set up ‘home’ for the night in Plumley’s lean-to, which had a short trail out front to filter water, another out back to a boulder where I sat watching ominous storm clouds roll in; all around we found debris that had washed ashore from neighboring lake homes as we roamed around, becoming explorers while we had packs off!

Our first night with the luxury of a roof over our heads, which came at the absolute perfect time – before long the sky grew dark grey and the rain began spitting on us overnight. Needless to say, we were content and dry in our sleeping bags while we slept the rain storm away!

Day 7 stats:

  • 17.28 miles
  • 8hr 46 minutes
  • 2418′ elevation gain

Day 8: Plumley’s LeanTo to Duck Hole

Awaking to the pitter-patter of rain still bucketing down on the lean-to roof, I unzipped the tent door to confirm what I heard: it was raining. But I wanted coffee.. and no rain had ever stopped me from morning coffee!

 

Ciara and the boys slept as I filtered water, waiting for coffee water to heat up over the MSR stove – the sound of MSR Pocket Rocket will always remind me of these mornings as it resembled a jet taking off.. next stop.. Coffeeville, USA!

Within a short walk, we were offered an outhouse; despite its front door laying on the ground adjacent, we still felt blessed to have that little nook to get out of the rain and accomplish what was needed!

With a late start to the morning, we packed up like usual after concluding our long breakfast of tempeh with hot sauce (this treat really grew on us over our thru-hike, sure to grace our taste buds next trip, I hope!) and plotting out our next moves – we talked now with hesitation as we ruminated over warning signs on our map such as “Caution: Beaver Activity” and “Caution: Blowdown Area“.

We knew we were in for a slow slog as we prepped our minds for what was to come!

Once actually out on the trail though, we passed several re-routes which thankfully avoided several boggy areas. The sound of water crept back in, the rains had returned. With several minutes of dry walking, we had the time to once again equip with rain gear once again.

Upon reaching Shattuck Clearing, we thought we had seen the worst of it – in fact, up to this point.. we had not seen anything.

The deafening thunderous crash of river whitecaps broke any silence we had and before long, we could not hear one another yelling – despite being only feet away from each other.

This was Cold River.

When the map reads ‘Cold River’, they mean no joke – the air chilled as we lost elevation and continued toward the sound of chaos. Our spirits were lifted if only briefly at the sight of a suspension bridge crossing the raging river. Minutes earlier, as we walked toward the river, we spoke grimly – not knowing if we could get around this obstacle, we then considered the fact that we may actually have to retreat after 115 miles of walking this path.

We thought the worst was over. The river was crossed, we breathed calmly again – proceeding to all have a snack and sips of water, readying for an easy trek along the shore toward our next camp spot. Wrong again.

We entered the “Caution: Blowdown Area“, depicted on my topo-map, and this time the map was clearly not wrong. The rain came down in buckets turning the worn trail underfoot into a slick mud slide. Up and down, over wet terrain we went, over trees, under trees.. slowly progressing, our hands only growing increasingly numb by the minute.

Honestly, my mind was not in a good place at this point (yeah, yeah.. it’s nature, enjoy nature..). My numb extremities crawled up into my Gore-Tex jacket sleeve, using trekking pole straps just to keep each pole from falling away; hands nor feet could get any more wet.

I stopped dead in my tracks staring in bewilderment: the Cold River came up and over the Northville Placid Trail – trail markers off in the distance under feet of foaming river water.

With water cresting as far into the woods away from the river as we could see – there was no way around but through.

Cold. The river water was frigid, it took no time at all for me to question how this body of water came to be named. The air surrounding the river was growing icy as elevation dropped, and up to our knees we began.

Slowly the miles crept by, somehow we advanced down this trail – I knew the alternative – and there was no going back now: the only way out, was through.

I knew how far we advanced by the tributaries we had passed – next stop was listed as “footbridge“. Just prior to reaching the Ouluska lean-to where “we could dry ourselves there and build a fire there if needed“, I think I said out loud at least once – the cold blood from my fingers and toes began to skew my memory.

Just.. Walk.. Forward..

Did we find the footbridge? Yes, we did.. wait, actually – we were completely uncertain of where we were, I thought we had reached the footbridge – every aspect of our surroundings indicated that yes, we had in fact reached the footbridge.. where the hell was our damn footbridge??

Directly in front of us was another swollen river flowing into the Cold River – so with that, I knew exactly where we were.. the footbridge had broken away from our side of the shore and drifted down stream: we could clearly see what used to be a footbridge was now a collection of toothpicks half under water.

We grew desperate, cold, I began to panic. Seeing the lean-to across the river – we now had to find a way across, but how? Not a chance either of us could actually swim through this torrent! Dogs would be swept away in a second.. assuming they were crazy enough to follow human counterparts across this raging mess.

I began to scour the shore: searching for anything, for a sign of hope that we could proceed without certain hypothermia. Swimming was out of the question. I had a coil of rope.. but had not thought that I needed to bring enough rope to span a 30-foot river!

The only chance we had lay draped across the river, with violent waves lapping up and over: a log. Not a speck of bark remained on this log, it was completely glossed over by prior torrents of water and perhaps countless winters. Would it hold us? Not sure. Would it crumble into the white-capped river below? Maybe.. I was the first to jump at the chance to find out.

This log was indeed slick.. absolutely no denying that fact, but in that moment all extraneous thoughts fell away, all of life’s concerns trickled out of my mind and followed the path of the stream: it was me vs this icy log.

Unsure of how I actually survived this delicate walk – I tiptoed, then sprinted full-on while tread lost traction across the remaining half of the log as I felt my traction disintegrate below my trail runners. I could have knelt down to kiss that sand – never had I been so relieved to stand on solid ground!

My attention now went to my friends remaining on the other side – I swear, I was witnessing this river growing deeper as the seconds passed – as if trying to swallow this log, effectively keeping us from safety.

First, Crockett lunged himself onto the glossy wooden water crossing, pausing just long enough for confirmation from mother back on shore of a job well done. I desperately called his name until he proceeded toward me.

In all honesty, I have absolutely no recollection of the mind-bending seconds of panic surrounding Ciara and Boone crossing this log –  I do however, recall very clearly thinking that today would be my first rescue mission, and I did not cherish that thought.

Once on the other side and all safe the hugs and kisses commenced – we survived possibly the scariest moment of my life in the woods, next thru-hike.. bring rope!

Geared back up, we began the 20-foot trek up to the lean-to; turned out there was a young couple sitting in the lean to the entire time.. and never heard any of our shouting or screaming over the crashing waves. We exchanged a brief recount of our trip thus far, all I knew was that they had made it to this point.. we could surely make the trek out!

I think my mind was numb for the next hour or two following that river crossing, unable to tolerate much more adrenaline than what it had just experienced.

We passed the site of the Rondeau Hermitage, a place of ruins and antiques that I had wanted to photograph for years leading up to our adventure – but as the rain proceeded to come down in sheets, we blew through that intersection without batting an eye.

The blue NPT discs grew extremely sparse now, at times I was even unsure that we were trekking the correct path – only to be reassured by signage indicating Duck Hole was just ahead.. thankfully we were still on the correct trail!

Not far out of Duck Hole, the snowy trail returned. Half rotten old snow, we post-holed with every careful step – slamming shin-bones into a hardened layer of crust found just below the surface.. it was no surprise that the lack of patience, hunger and sleep deprivation now grew palpable.

Convinced that we would find another gem of a tent site just prior to needing headlamps, we sloshed through more mud.. even slipping down the trail several times. Needless to say, our level of disagreement between one another grew until we both gave in and pitched our three-person tent along the side of the trail, certain that we would not encounter a single living hiker at this time of the night, here in such remote wilderness.

Goodnight bears. Goodnight moon.

 

 

Day 8 stats:

  • 20.18 miles
  • 10hr 1 minute
  • 2343′ elevation gain

Day 9: Duck Hole to LAKE PLACID!!

Don’t quote me – but I think this final night I actually slept for 36 minutes.

It was a rough night, to say the least.

The sun was not even a glimmer of hope as I decided to myself “now I make the coffees!

The gentle sound of both dogs waking to yawn, then back to sleep coincided nicely with the sound of Ciara’s clear frustration with me as she slammed over to the other side of her sleeping bag, I couldn’t blame her a bit; we were all over-tired, hungry, ready to trek out but were all still soaked to the bone from the prior days onslaught of downpour and sketchy river crossings.

I think she ate two bites to my nine as I cooked our final day of homemade black bean pasta, couscous and veggie something-or-another.

The only questionable spot on the map standing between the morning of day nine and Lake Placid was one final: “Caution: Beaver Activity“. In my mind, we took on the worst yesterday.. so at least I was convinced: today should be a slice of cake!

Departing the Roaring Brook area (where we camped for the night literally on the trail..), we started with possibly the fastest pace of the trip yet. I had Crockett still attached to my pack and possibly sensing the end, he pulled hard with every step, sending my pack straps straight into my hip bones; with each step my patience with him grew more and more thin.

Grin and bear it, I reminded myself.

Someday, I would like for all of us to return to the Wanika Falls area – it was truly a beautiful sight, but unfortunately we had a rendezvous with Ciara’s mama, Tuesday – so on we trekked at lightening speed. We could see the fast flowing falls in the distance cascading majestically down the mountainside, a place I would expect crowds.. but luckily for us, we found none!

Today’s stream-crossings were no less frequent: muddy trails, 10-foot brooks every quarter-mile or so kept our shoes and toes nice and cold (insert sarcasm here), but to our delight the sun was shining and our speed kept our tired bodies more than warm enough.

The trail meandered around standing water – Crockett almost taking me into each as he lunged for toads.. really anything that moved was fair game for his chasing – even blades of grass dancing in the wind were pounced upon!

We passed a trail crew during our final miles, thanked them for their hard work (secretly wishing they were ahead of us earlier in our trek!), the volunteers inquired about our trek up to that point. We were extremely happy to have met them.. until they shattered our reality with the words: “enjoy the next 5 or so miles!“. Ciara and I were convinced, per our map that we had gone further in the day, we were not ready to hear the grim news of five more miles to trudge.

Those miles were near silent, we walked over bridges and around bends in the trail, I tried to take in the beauty of it all but desperately wanted some joyful laughter between the two of us back again.

As we began to pass more day-hikers who smelled of cologne and cheap perfume, we both knew that our nine day exploration journey was nearing the end.. somehow, I was not ready for our trip to end. I was not ready to get in the car and be whisked back to the doldrums of everyday life. I craved the simplicity of survival, of walking, of filtering water and heating food. I secretly craved more trail.

We eventually happened upon the road, the trail head, the parking lot of cars with folks driving in only to take selfie photos with the Northville-Placid signage, which indicated: Northville, NY – 135 miles.

We had walked from Northville, I felt we earned our selfie with that sign.

Only we knew what we had endured during those nine days over one hundred fifty-three miles (according to my GPS tracks).

Others had walked our trail, but we had our stories, our blowdowns, our breakdowns, our love of the trail.

Today was our day, today we completed what we only dreamt for so long.

And with one text message, we found out Tuesday did not expect us until much later in the day.

Turns out Tuesday still had many hours before she could be here to get us.. so with the hike still fresh in our minds, we broke out a sleeping bag, curled up and sat next to Chubb River.. covered in mud, soaked with sweat, not ready to give up our trek yet.

With the morning sun beating down, we drifted off.. dreaming of our next long hike.

Day 9 stats:

  • 10.6 miles
  • 5hr 2 minutes
  • 1070′ elevation gain

Northville-Placid Trail

Total Stats:

  • 9 days, 8 nights
  • 153.83 miles tracked by my GPS watch
  • 18,460′ elevation gain tracked by my GPS watch
  • 21,855 calories burned (according to Strava)
  • Altra Superior 4.0 – shoes worn by both Erik and Ciara

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

 

 

With Haystack, Another 46er Is Born.

To take my mind off the fresh 15 or so inches of snow from last nights storm, and the fact that I just ran in negative three degree weather – I’m going to rewind my memory banks all the way to June of 2016. To a time prior to meeting Ciara, Boone or Crockett; a time when running a marathon distance had not yet crossed my mind; back to the scary days of still believing the hype about hikers and runners actually needing protein from fleshy animals – yikes, I was still eating chicken!

But don’t worry – thankfully, I don’t actually consume any meat or dairy products in this recap! I had been hiking with my father – Ben, and his friend Wendy, who he met years, many years past at his local gym. Wendy was a professional body builder in her past life, Ben was a semi-cool dude who had gotten me hooked on the outdoors from age 4 or so, when we originally began hiking the high peaks region of the Adirondack State Park. These ‘High Peaks’, as they were locally known, were not the biggest mountains on the continent, but for the relatively low-laying New York State, they towered across the horizon and on clear day could be spotted from neighboring states!

After Ben had torn Wendy out of the gym and introduced her to the exuberance one can inhale from the 4098 foot (above sea level) summit crown of Cascade Mountain – they were both hooked! Wendy, over a warm cup of soup at the Noonmark Diner post-hiking, had inquired about these 46 ‘high peaks’ – exclaiming that if she just conquered this peak, the other 45 should be a piece of cake! What’s even more for this lofty goal was that

Wendy wanted to complete all of these 46 climbs by the time she turned 60 – a mere 14 months away!

As I recall, each and every one of our ascents could be legit-make you laugh and cry all at the same time-kind of stories. The threat of Wendy giving up on our journey while stuck on the Allen Brook Slide trying to get up its face in winter, the tears of hearing an ankle pop as it gets hung up on a pesky root, standing on the summit of Basin just to realize that I did in fact have the flu which drained my energy full force by the second – so many ups and downs occurred on our journey that it is hard to believe over ten thousand other folks have similarly exciting experiences as we’ve had!

We were not even over the excitement of completing our 43, 44, and 45 climbs the previous weekend –

reflecting on the highs and lows for most of the repetitive commute up to The Garden parking lot and trailhead on this June 4th morning, hoping that we were not beginning our nearly 18 mile journey too late in the day – we were scheduled to arrive and depart for our trek to Johns Brook Lodge around 6am.

The village of Keene Valley was still quiet as we made the left onto Adirondack Street, which quickly switches names with Johns Brook Lane (being frequenters of the Adirondack State Park almost every weekend for the past year and a half – this was a certain “John” that had become oh so familiar to us by now! Driving this morning in darkness, I was bummed out to see that the DEC (Department of Conservation in New York) lot sign read FULL already at this point; I did not want to believe what I was seeing – knowing that if this warning proves to be true – we would have to turn around, park in town and walk the several miles to the trailhead (each way!), or drive over to Marcy Field and wait for the 7am shuttle which may have us back to the trailhead and beginning by 7:45am – neither settled okay with us, so we proceeded driving.

What we saw next brought the first set of tears to our eyes of the day –

the little old woman who usually guards the lot (and stays in the shack), was out roaming around the what-appeared-to-be-full parking lot, making sure everyone paid had their $10 and received their orange day passes. She was pointing right at us, right at Wendy’s car and gesturing to pull up. “What’s this? She should be instructing us to turn around, to get the heck out of here!” – we all thought to ourselves. Wendy put the car in park, unbuckled her seat belt, turned around and glanced from Ben to me, back to Ben, then back to me – astonished that we had just locked down the very last parking spot in the Garden lot and trailhead.

Someone was on our sides this incredible June morning!

We quickly, and enthusiastically grabbed for our packs, tightened our boot laces, threw on our headlamps, checked into the trail register (NY trail heads generally have these rustic brown sign-in boxes and highly recommend using them, something that I have only encountered once while living in New Hampshire). There is a good chance that we would not have even needed our headlamps to navigate this 3 mile section of the Johns Brook Trail; by now in our hiking careers we had hiked this path in 3 feet of snow, in daylight, complete darkness – trekking this same section of trail over 10 times on our quest to say that we stood on all 46 summits!

Quick work was made on this initial 3.6 mile, relatively flat warm up section, heading through the various forests to JBL (Johns Brook Lodge), stopping for a quick snack and sips of water before pressing on and being greeted with a narrowing, rocky path ahead. It was still relatively easy going for the three of us as we neared the 5.5 mile mark – still walking away from our car, we approached the junction for Bushnell Falls at about 2900’; a part of me wanted to stop and see all of these new destinations (especially since the falls were advertised as being only 0.1mi off the main trail!), but I knew that we had a long enough journey ahead of us that we should just continue to press-on, after another hydration break of course!

We had followed a portion of this trail in the same direction only 3 months earlier;

during a cold-snap brought from an icy late-winter, when we made our initial ascent of Basin (the ‘adventure’ when Wendy had busted through a snowbridge while crossing Basin Brook – this is when we learned of the value of carrying spare grocery bags for such events!). Luckily no wet or frozen feet on this trip – and with it being early June, blue skies and lovely temperatures – we all thought ahead this time, back to our tenacious winter crossing nightmare of these swollen springtime brooks: so we all attached sandals to our packs! Thinking that we would have time and the willingness to strip off our boots and wade across the rushing mountain water in our Crocs – I can report that these sandals simply went along for the ride, all day – we never stopped long enough to take them off our packs.

Cruising along the Phelps Trail now as the sun warmed us, nearing 10am as we crested the 3400’ mark – we found the famous Slant Rock. I had heard about this 20 or so foot tall boulder erratic when I was very young – stories of a rock which had been dropped glacially on the mountainside, providing shelter for those early mountaineers who were forced by weather to camp at this spot; consulting their maps by campfire light and prepping for the following days climb. Well now – here I was, basking in all of the day’s enthusiasm for similar reasons. It gave me a huge sense of pride to have my picture taken under that boulder, something that I felt had worked so hard to accomplish -and once refueled, re-hydrated and ready to continue – we followed the path along Johns Brook (which was a fraction of what it was only several miles back), passing the junction with Shorty Shortcut that we had planned to return on later in the day.

The trail now had forced us to slow way down, a small stream now trickled under our boots, falling off the rocks as we ascended. For the first time now we could look out and take in the vistas of Howard, Big Slide, Yard, even Cascade and Porter could be viewed from our climb up to the notch between Marcy and Little Haystack Mountains. Spirits were flying way high; enjoying each others company, reminiscing, talking about future plans (Ben and his dreams of kayaking!). Speculating that we would have the summit to ourselves, but that it was not likely on such a nice weekend as this! We were drooling over the thought of champagne at the summit that Wendy had snuck in her pack (complete with plastic wine glasses of course!).

At this point, we knew which trails we needed to take to get us where we needed to go, but as far as mileages – none of us had memorized exactly how far our landmarks were apart. As we chatted and gazed down at the wet rocks that made up our trail, I was leading the group as I peered up ahead.. signage! Something that I always enjoy seeing while in the backcountry – especially here today, being such a memorable hike for us.

We all stopped in the intersection for a few moments to take in, let sink in – just what we had in front of us. Many trails all joining at this spot – but the trail we needed to take next? One more mile. Our last one-mile stretch to reach the culmination of the past year and a half, so many miles put on vehicles and legs to get us to this last mile.

At this point we all had tears running down our cheeks.

Wendy curled over against a rock letting the heavy moment settle, my father and I just standing. Not much to say than just reflect within ourselves and look at our beloved “1-Mile To Go” sign. We had many miles together in these woods and this final mile to Mount Haystack at 11:02 in the morning on June 4th, 2018 may have been the most silent mile we have ever walked together. Silent tears of joy ran down our faces and dotted the rocks below.

We were finally losing the stream which ran under foot as we began our climb up a quick 400-foot section, it was finally time to use all hands and legs to muscle up some of these rock slabs – a hiking technique that I always favored the most! Some rocks only wanted to roll around, peering down it almost appeared sketchy enough that one misstep could send us sliding to our doom far below, but with just a bit of care and good foot placement – we all made the ascent, grinned at one another and pressed on.

The next view that came to us through the pine trees was of a rock.

Possibly the most fantastic sight that I have ever encountered in the Adirondack Mountains was now shining bright, welcoming us to have a climb – the smaller hump known as Little Haystack since the days of Orson Phelps (1849, he made the first recorded ascent of Haystack and compared its appearance to that of bales of hay stacked up one by one) and followed by the real mammoth Mount Haystack, standing guard not far in the distance. We knew that we would end our journey over on that second mass of anorthosite, stoked to the max and enjoying the warmth of the sun with no indication of wind over head!

A quick dip into the col had us passing by the very trail that we had planned to make our exit on: The Range Trail; this would also take hikers over to Basin Mountain, following the Great Range along what some day hikers knew as HaBaSa (or Haystack, Basin & Saddleback which I would return several years later to tackle with Ciara, Boone & Crockett). Coming out of the col, we climbed our first boulder and passed some short, windswept alpine evergreens.

From down below now, we could not see what lay ahead of the climb in front of us – so we began with grabby hands, finding cracks in the rock face to fit our narrow boot tread, in attempts of maintaining what little traction we already had. I’d be crazy if I said that what I repeated to my father was anything new, but despite both Wendy and I yelling “Fathaahhhh get down, LOW! – LOWER!!” – he can typically be found standing completely straight up, looking most precarious (his feet have slipped out from under himself on several mossy-covered-rock occasions, he falls, hits what he hits and gets back up, thanking himself that he drinks so much milk for strong bones.. as Wendy and I just shake our heads knowing that someday he will actually get injured from falling in the backcountry). He did fine ascending today, and at 11:47am we were on the round, exposed summit of Little Haystack with several others stopped for a mid-morning snack before proceeding either up or down.

We glanced at each other, then to Haystack, back to each other. It was really real.

The trickiest area of this whole alpine zone climb (for me at least!) would have to be on the descent from Little Haystack back into the treeline before heading back up the real Haystack, gaining more elevation. We could definitely find evidence of an old camp down here within the trees, probably from days when a party got stranded up here in foul weather. We moved directly through the sticky black mud as we craved once again, the bare, sticky rock face. While back out in the open sky with sun on our arms and faces, slowly becoming more tan than when we began this journey only several hours earlier.

The next, and final big ascent remains somewhat of a blur to all of us I’m sure, but what I do remember was Ben (Ranger – as Wendy has dubbed him during our hikes for always having the driving directions, a bit of local folklore and of course – having his black and white print-out map with yellow highlighter showing our path of the day) hanging back to snap several photos of us from a distance as we motored up the slant rock face of Haystack. There was a young woman who jogged past us, heading for the summit as Wendy doubled over, started what sounded like sobbing – this caught all of our attention as I didn’t see her twist an ankle or fall for any reason.

Wendy looked up to me with real tears running down her cheeks.

She did not even need to say anything to me, I knew what it was all about – I turned to our now concerned friend passing by and told her “It’s okay, today is kind of a big day… it’s our finish of the 46..” Our friend congratulated us and knowing that Wendy was “okay”, she continued on. I’ll admit, the sight of Wendy not even trying to choke back those tears of joy made it a bit more surreal for me.. and second by second it rolled in waves and hit me: “everything we had worked for, we have worked for this moment for almost two years”. I have dreamt of the day I could have a real, truly earned 46er patch on my bag – often seeing these as a kid as we hiked around the High Peaks Region, I knew what it was all about. I now knew of the struggle that comes with summiting all of these very different summits. The knowledge of self that one can gain as we sit on an ice cornice trying to decide how to proceed ascending a slide on Cliff Mountain, or the feeling of finding oneself 8+ miles into the wilderness along the Opalescent River in a snow storm just to come to terms with your lousy nutrition as it finally catches up, bringing with it achingly fatigued muscles and joints. Needless to say, we had all experienced a life-times worth of highs and lows while hiking together – we now knew many things – strengths, interests, potential weaknesses about one another we never would have experienced without the desire to say: “Lets Climb All 46!”

Ben took his photographs, Wendy caught some of her breath, regained some of her composure – though now with red, puffy, tear-soaked cheeks; we all regrouped as we could look up and see within 50 feet we could be there. On the summit rocks there were about 8-10 other folks gathered around, everyone spread out just below the summit boulders, out of the way for others passing by and getting their photos. Again, like most days – I was out front with Wendy next and Ben following up – then the first sandwich eater stood up to give us a hand up to the official high point.

His outstretched arm was now a handshake, not a helping hand.

One by one, someone eating pretzels stood up, another pounding down the Gatorade from a colorful Nalgene bottle; one by one every one of our new friends stood up to congratulate us on our great accomplishment and huge achievement, beginning together and finishing together. At 12:23pm on June 4th, 2016 we all stood hand in hand celebrating us, celebrating what the mountains had given to us, celebrating how grateful we were to be able to walk away with only a few drops of blood shed, bruised knees and now a lifetime of stories that will forever flow in and out of our memories.

Every one up on the summit seemed to have questions for us, curious about our first peak, last peak, how long it had taken us, what we planned to do next with our outdoor adventures. After meeting so many great new friends (the congratulations did not end with these folks at the summit – as we were on the top, probably an additional 15 people coming and going learned of our “big day” up on Haystack through word-of-mouth and now after 10 minutes or so we could finally drop our bags, have some lunch and get to the champagne (which was replaced with Lemon-lime Gatorade for Ben). We all took playful photos on the summit, Wendy demanding the most of her photographers at all times – wanting the views, her plastic champagne glass, the chalkboard 46er sign that Wendy kept in her pack – the boys of the group were a bit easier to please!

Once we had shed all the tears remaining in our faces, we packed up, bid everyone one last thank you, checked the time and began back down, party over. Aside from the two steep pitches to hurl ourselves up to get back up onto Little Haystack, our trip was uneventful, but not in a bad way! Since we had all spent the day climbing successfully, no injuries, no nothing to mention – we wanted to keep it that way and so we sternly instructed Ben one last time to “get down on your bum!!” as he made several hairy descents down to Little Haystack – he complied this time;

it took only 46 mountains, but finally we got our way!

Back in treeline we took the aforementioned trail, continuing our descent along what brought us the most pain of the excursion so far – rock hopping after being tensed up scaling down a rock face, we were reaching our usual norm of being exhausted at 10 miles or so, plus with the vertical ascent well over 4000ft for the day – our soles felt every jabbing pebble! Gradually descending over this washed out stream bed, we began to realize that we did not remember how far the turn for our “Shortcut” would be – we trekked all the way into the col – assuming that we somehow passed it, was it possible that we had to now begin climbing the shoulder of Basin Mountain before we could hook onto our trail out?

We turned back.

Our fates were confirmed by a couple passing slowly, looking for a tent site that did not seem to exist (they were having slightly similar map and location issues!), we had to climb only a short way before we would come to the junction for Shorty Shortcut. We had taken this trail in the past to find our way to Basin Mountain, but that was months prior while the trail was under many feet of snow, today was a mildly different story – without any words exchanged we climbed up, over, and around this so-called “shortcut” and whence we saw our luck of ditching this mess and heading back on the Phelps Trail from Slant Rock to Johns Brook Lodge – this is when we all agreed that shortcut was no shortcut at all! Being the most frustrating, unmaintained, slowest trail to traverse that we had ever been on! Now-a-days, I think it would be easier to remind myself that “Yes, I am on a crummy trail. Yes, I would like to be eating sweet potato fries anywhere with Ciara – but I am in the woods, I am free of bills, free of every day struggles“, I feel that being just a bit older and not expecting a golden paved trail for my 46er finish, I feel that I would enjoy just even the act of being on any trail, any trail beats being at work!

The trek out remained rather quiet – most of us partially reflecting on our journey, partially tired from both sun and exertion. Crossing back over Johns Brook, we stopped to dip our headbands and get cooled off. With many fewer photos taken on this trek out, we all had dinner on our minds and just kept putting one foot in front of the next, mile after mile.

This finish of the Adirondack 46 High Peaks did not keep us from getting together and continuing our hiking tradition; following June 4th, we began hiking with others with whom we had met along the trail; we hiked smaller mountains which touted even better views than some High Peaks that we became familiar with, we hiked ridges that we saw from far away summits, to waterfalls we had heard about, to Fire Towers all around the Park – but most importantly:

we continued hiking for the sheer joy of being together in the outdoors!!

Fast forward to the time of writing this – 2019, Ben and Wendy still live in NY and frequent the Adirondack State Park every chance they get, in fact they just tackled the Saranac 6er Challenge! I don’t get to join nearly as much as I would like to, as I now call the White Mountains of New Hampshire my home turf: trail running, hiking, backpacking – anything Ciara and I can find to do in nature with our furry buddies Boone and Crockett – this is where you can find us year round (for now until our bus is finished)! Since becoming ADK 46er number 9481, Ciara and I have ascended several of the states highest (Wheeler Peak of New Mexico and Humphreys Peak of Arizona remain two of my most enjoyable climbs outside of the east coast) with sights set to go visit Mount Hood once again in the near future!

I hope you enjoyed traveling through our adventure as much as I enjoyed sharing it! I hope it makes you want to get outside, get out in nature and just be. Take in the sights, sounds, and scents to just exist peacefully and be a part of the outdoors.

I hope you’ll choose to join me as I continue hiking and running anywhere – so many projects and ambitious undertakings in the future – it’s sure to be an exciting one!

Please do leave a comment below, questions, advice – anything! I’d love to hear from you all.

Take care, enjoy nature and Happy Trails!!

Erik

 


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with the Ramblr app

  • 17.8 miles
  • 13hr 44minutes
  • 4,554′ elevation gain
  • Mount Haystack – 4961′
  • Little Haystack – 4692′