Archives For Adirondack Park

The dismal wilderness.

October 16, 2017 — Leave a comment

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I decided last year that I would climb the three peaks that make up the Santanoni  range as part of a short backpacking trip. That trip fell through and I asked my nephew Alex if he would join me this weekend on the makeup trip.

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He came directly from taking his second mid-term exam and we met at a rest stop on I-87 and drove from there to the trailhead. We distributed the camping gear between our backpacks and started our hike to the campsite just beyond Bradley Pond. We arrived with about 30 minutes of daylight remaining and were able to set up camp and have a quick dinner before dark.

It rained overnight and the air was chilly and damp during our entire day in the mountains. We carried a lot of extra gear with us because of the remoteness of the peaks we were climbing and the chance that the weather might turn for the worse. The weight of the packs slowed us down during our ascent up the trail from Bradley Pond to the clearing located in the saddle between Santanoni and Panther.

From there we first hiked to Couchsachraga Peak. Couchsachraga is ancient Algonquin and is translated as “the dismal wilderness.” It is the word that the Algonquins used for the Adirondack Mountains.

The hike to Couchsachraga is deceptively difficult. At 1164 meters it is the shortest of the peaks making up the 46er list. The saddle between Panther and Santanoni is at roughly 1300 meters and the trail to Couchsachraga descends to 1000 meters before a last steep climb to the summit. The hike back to the saddle was the hardest part of the day as we struggled to regain the 300 meters we had lost hiking to Couchsachraga.

The rest of the hike was much easier. We made good time to Santanoni and Panther and headed back to the campsite at 4:00 PM.

As we walked down from Panther we debated whether we should hike out that night or stay until morning. Neither of us had slept well the night before and the freeze-dried meals I had prepared were barely edible. We reached the campsite just before dark, had a some hot chocolate and Cream of Wheat, and decided to head for home. We changed into dry clothes. packed, turned on our headlamps and started for the trailhead.

 

The trail was quiet and easy to follow because of the reflective trail markers. Although the head lamps limited our vision to just a few feet in front of us, we were able to track our progress by the sounds of the nearby streams that started softly and then grew louder and louder as we reached the valley and the mountain road leading to the parking lot.

It was probably the hardest day I have spent hiking in the Adirondacks thus far. Alex and I spent 14 hours walking 14 miles on wet rocks and slippery roots. We crossed two streams where the bridges had washed away. We were damp and sore and the boots we wore were covered with mud.

We reached three peaks, but saw nothing more than the signs and markers at the summits.

Couchsachraga.

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Today I hiked to Rocky Peak Ridge and completed my thirty-ninth summit towards becoming an Adirondack Forty-sixer. I approached from the Roaring Brook trail that leads to Giant Mountain and then hiked out and back to Rocky Peak and descended the same way I had hiked in. I saved a little time by skipping the short detour to the summit of Giant because I had already been there twice before.

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The first time was on a cold November day in 2014, when I wore micro spikes and a heavy sweater and found the summit covered with a dusting of snow. The second time was on the backpacking trip I took in September, 2015.

As I merged onto the Ridge Trail I came upon a spot I remembered from that trip.

I was hiking that day with our leader, Hannah, my tent mate Adam and Paula, who was struggling, having just recovered from knee surgery. We started the day on the back side of Giant and our plan was to camp at the opposite base of the mountain at a pond called Giant’s Washbowl.

Paula struggled during the climb, but I was able to help her by supporting the weight of her pack as she scrambled up the rocks to the summit. The climb down was much more difficult for her and, exhausted with a throbbing knee, Paula sank to the ground and started to cry.

We all took off our packs, offered words of encouragement, and waited for our friend’s emotions and fears to run their course.

After a while, Hannah reached into her backpack and produced a chocolate bar. It had been a gift to her from someone she cared a great deal for but who lived too many states away from where she made her home. The wrapper had a message printed on the inside and after she divided the chocolate amongst us, I asked to see the wrapper.

The message printed there was a love poem and I read it aloud in my best impression of a Shakespearean actor. Adam and Paula laughed at my performance and with that we decided to push on to the campsite.

Hannah was very quiet as I read the poem. I handed the wrapper back to her and turned away to struggle into my back pack. As I regained my balance and adjusted the straps I caught a glimpse of her fold the poem and gently place it in her shirt pocket.

Then she smiled.

 

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I started swimming with a Masters swim team in the summer before I turned 50.

Some parents at the swim club where we belonged hired a coach who held three morning practices a week. After that summer I followed the coach to the indoor team she was coaching and I have been swimming year round ever since.

Together my teammates and I have swum up the Hudson River and across the Chesapeake Bay and the mouth of the Potomac and have trained together for Iron Man triathlons and marathons.

This weekend I hosted five of my teammates in Lake Placid where we competed in the annual race along the submerged cable that marks the Iron Man course. They each did fantastic, winning their respective age groups and being awarded the loaf of bread  that is traditionally given as the award for first place.

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The next day, they agreed to join me on a hike to Mount Colvin and Blake Peak, to bring my total to 38 high peaks summited of the 46 that I am trying to climb by next August 1st.

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The day was perfect and we were greeted with a rainbow as we started the hike. The trails were still muddy from the recent rain but the views at Colvin were spectacular and we watched Marcy emerge as the morning clouds lifted away. The hike out and back to Blake was hard because there were several rock faces that needed to be scrambled and our boots and shoes were slippery from the mud. We were pretty tired when we returned to Colvin to finish the food we had brought with us and to even out the water we were carrying.

I suggested that we detour on our way down to visit the Fish Hawk and Indian Head cliffs that overlook the Lower Ausable Lake. When asked how much further it would add to the trip I replied, “just a couple hundred yards more.” The side trip to the cliffs was closer to a mile and included a steep climb that was made even harder by the fact that when we reached it we were already exhausted from ten hours of hiking.

My companions took it in stride and we rested while enjoying the spectacular view of the lake and valley from atop the cliffs before hiking down to Lake Road and back to the car.

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Later, while eating pizza for dinner, the conversation turned to my estimation skills. While I had been nearly exact on all of my mileage and time estimates throughout the day, I had missed the estimate to the cliffs by nearly a mile. They joked about it and I am sure I will be teased about this miscalculation for years to come.

It has been nearly seven years since I started swimming and over this time coaches and teammates have come and gone. They have moved on to new jobs and new cities and have been replaced by the new friends with whom I train today. Eventually, the friends I hiked with yesterday will also move away as they build their own families and careers.

And like the swimmers who came before them, I will miss them and remind them as they leave that in life, just as in hiking, something great always awaits us down the trail, just a couple hundred yards more.

Skylight

August 10, 2017 — Leave a comment

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Twice before I thought I would climb Mount Skylight. The first time was when I hiked over Marcy to climb Gray and take a swim in Lake Tear of the Clouds. I decided to bypass Skylight that day because my plan was to climb back over Marcy and return to the trailhead the way I had come. I was tired and afraid that the one mile round trip to Skylight would take too long and too much energy.

I hiked over Marcy again last summer, but heard thunder in the distance when I reached the trail to Skylight and, again, decided to leave that hike for another day.

Yesterday I finally made it to the summit.

I left the ADK Heart Lake trail head at 7:17 AM and hiked to Marcy Dam, along th trail towards Avalanche Pass and Lake Golden, then turning uphill to Lake Arnold and Feldspar Brook.

 

The trails were wet and muddy, as they have been all summer. The bog bridges near the Feldspar lean-to were in bad shape with some sections floating. There was a gap with missing boards, but one board was within reach and I was able to rebuild the bridge without having to wade.

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The trail from the lean-to was a steady steep climb passing through 4,000 feet before reaching Lake Tear of the Clouds. The final hike up Skylight was short and relatively easy.

According to legend it will rain if a hiker fails to bring a rock to add to the cairn on the summit. I grabbed a rock, deposited it at the cairn and had lunch enjoying the view of Haystack and Marcy and watching as the hikers who arrived after me stopped at the cairn and deposited the rocks they had carried.

I hiked back the way I came and had not even made it halfway when it started to rain.

The Washout

August 7, 2017 — Leave a comment

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The weather in the High Peaks this summer has been dominated by cold rain, high humidity and afternoon thunderstorms. The trails have never really had a chance to dry out since the snow melted and the rocks and exposed roots that are prevalent on the trails are soaked and slippery. The conditions make for very slow hiking, with careful steps and heavy boots coated with mud.

On Tuesday, though, the weather was perfect when I hiked to Cliff Mountain and Mount Redfield from the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Heart Lake trailhead.

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I signed in at the trail register at 7 AM and made it to the Feldspar Lean-to by 10:30 AM. A few minutes later I spotted the cairn that marked the start of the “herd path” trail to Redfield. I met a group of teens and their counselor from a nearby summer camp at the summit and visited with them briefly while they finished their lunches.

After leaving Redfield, I turned left at the cairn marking the trail to Cliff. The hike to the summit is relatively short but starts on a flooded trail that leads into scrambles up long and steep rock faces. There’s not much to see at the summit and I headed back home after finishing another sandwich and visiting with a mother and son who arrived at the summit just behind me.

On Thursday I met Andy and Adam at the Noon Mark Diner. We had reservations at the Johns Brook Lodge and planned to stay there through Sunday. Adam and I hiked together two summers ago during a backpacking trip over Giant Mountain and along the Dix range to Elk Lake. He brought his father Andy along on this trip before heading to California to start graduate school.

It started to rain shortly after we signed in at the Garden trailhead register and we were soaked by the time we reached the lodge. We were assigned three bunks in the ten bunk room and spent the evening visiting with the other guests and talking about the hikes they had taken and the ones they hoped to take in the days ahead.

The lodge runs on propane fuel and the electricity generated from four small solar panels, which is stored in car batteries and powers the pumps, filters and chlorination system that sanitize the drinking water drawn from the nearby brook.

A helicopter is used each spring to transport to the property the cylinders of propane  used for lighting and cooking and the empty plastic barrels that are used in the latrines. The helicopter returns at the end of the season to retrieve the empty propane tanks and the latrine barrels that have been filled during the summer. Perishable food is backpacked in as needed by the staff who cook the meals, change the latrine barrels and maintain the property.

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On Friday we hoped to climb the “Ha-Ba-Sa,” by first hiking over Little Haystack to Haystack before backtracking to summit Basin and then Saddleback by climbing up the Saddleback Cliffs.

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The trails were wet and muddy from the rain the day before and it took us much longer than estimated to reach Haystack. We waited to watch the clouds lift and reveal Mount Marcy to us for the first time during our trip.

Dark clouds were forming on the horizon when we left Haystack and thunder followed a short time later. Rather than push on and risk finishing after dark we decided to turn back for the lodge and to return on Saturday to pick up where we had left off.

Unfortunately, it started to pour shortly after dinner and it rained steadily into the next morning. By the time we awoke the trails were drenched and too slippery for hiking so we decided to leave Basin and Saddleback for another day, cut our trip short and hike out to our cars.

I had planned to hike to three peaks during the visit to the lodge, but settled for only one. And while some could say that the trip was a washout, one of the lessons I’ve learned along the way on this journey is that the mountains will be here forever and it is okay to leave a summit for another day. Especially because there is nothing more spectacular than to be on the top of New York after the clouds have lifted away.

Silver and Gold

July 23, 2017 — 1 Comment

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Bryce, Julie, Aleah and I left Lake Placid on Thursday at 6:45 AM to hike along Lower Ausable Lake to Sawteeth Mountain and then over Pyramid Peak to Gothics Mountain. It had been nearly a year since my last hike in the High Peaks and despite my efforts to keep in shape by biking, taking long walks and skipping the elevator whenever possible, Thursday’s hike was hard.

We chose the “Scenic Trail” to Gothics and saw spectacular views as we climbed out of valley. Unfortunately the trail is very steep at first, with almost a mile and a half of constant climbing before easing a bit, and I was exhausted by the time we reached to intersection with the trail to Marble Point.

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We stopped at the Sawteeth summit for a few minutes before continuing on the Pyramid Peak, a little less than a mile away. I felt fine as we descended into the col between the peaks but found the climb to Pyramid very difficult. It was hot and humid and I could not keep up with my hiking companions.

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Upon reaching Gothics, I finished my lunch and saw in the distance Big Slide Mountain, which I had hiked to three years ago with other friends.

When I decided to climb the high peaks, I climbed the first two peaks alone. Then, on August 30, 2014, two friends joined me on a hike to Big Slide. When we reached the summit that day I took this picture and showed them how to orient a map with a compass and to use it to help us identify the peaks across the valley.

I remember wondering then when I would be on the other side of the valley looking back at Big Slide.

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Thursday was that day and I am a bit sad because I have not seen the friends who were with me on Big Slide in a long time. The swimming pool where we first met was torn down to make way for a parking garage and we have each moved on, heading in different directions, focused on other things. When it is time to leave Gothics, I am the last off the summit, pausing to take one last look at Big Slide.

 

I returned on Saturday, with a larger group, to hike up the opposite side of the valley to Dial and Nippletop mountains.

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I have hiked with this group twice before. Our first hike together was to Grace Peak and last year we hiked to Pitchoff Mountain one day and over Mount Marcy the next.

Everyone in the group has an Iron Man Lake Placid connection. Three of us competed in the 2014 race and regularly share stories of our experiences finishing the swim in the middle of a lightning storm before biking into the Keene valley with water sheeting across the road. Others in the group completed the race in different years or came to cheer on friends and family members.

For Saturday’s hike, we chose an approach that was gradual on the climb up but very steep on the descent. Although this made for a slow return to the trailhead from the summit of Nippletop, we were all less tired when we finished than we would have been had we hiked in the opposite direction.

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With these four hikes complete, I have only 14 more to go to meet my goal of becoming a 46r on August 1, 2018.

Every hike has been difficult but I have loved them all. And although I have lost touch with some who have joined me on this journey, I will never forget the friendship they showed me along the way.

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On February 7, 1964, The Beatles landed at JFK Airport, bringing “Beatlemania” to America.

Five hundred and seventy-seven miles away, a recently retired Professor of Rural Education wrote the following letter to his three grown children, who were each married and raising young families of their own:

Dear Children:

Sometimes we wonder about the “Best Years of Our Lives.”

Nearly forty years have passed since your mother and I (long engaged) decided that we had waited “long enough” and it was time to establish a home and a family (God willing). Money was borrowed for a wedding trip and we started for Fourth Lake, August 1924. One of the excursions, while there, by boat and single-gauge R.R., was an all-day trip to Blue Mountain which we reached mid-day. We climbed to the very top of the tower to view that wonderful vista of the North.

No doubt our thoughts turned to wondering about the years that we might have together; the home we might establish; the children we might bring forth into this world; and their future success, as well as our own. World War I had been fought and the world was safe for Democracy. I had been forewarned at Cornell by Old Jimmie Rice of the three great decisions, namely: What to do? Where to Locate? Who to Marry? All three were quite well determined by 1924; the last one was right at hand.

Perhaps, it was well that we did not know, in advance, which years might be the “Golden Years,” or the “Best Years of Our Lives.” In time we needed to look back to realize that they were the years when we were struggling to furnish homes (rented 10 years); to pay for a home; to keep our little family well, happy and comfortable; to give them educational advantages, social advantages, travel and other basic values in life that were so abundant in an educational center like Ithaca.

Still later, the scenes changed and we realized that childhood days had passed or were passing rapidly and that our little “family circle” was not the same.

When did we cease tucking them into beds and announcing “bed time” for all?

When did we read the last bed-time stories from Book House?

When did we have the last Sunday morning romp on the big bed? When did we cease going to church together?

When were the Thanksgiving and Christmas trips to Grandmother’s house over?

When did we cease going to Aunt Irene’s and Aunt Hattie’s house together?

When did we cease our Canadian trips, crossing at Clayton on the ferry?

When was our last family picnic at Flat Rocks or Taughannock Falls?

When did the family cease to enjoy long trips together?

When did the approval of companions become more important than the approval of parents?

Perhaps this is enough to cause you and your life companion to consider the values in life that you are being awarded now in 1964. Please do not think it may be easier in a few years when there are fewer debts, problems and worries, or less work.

Enjoy the “Best Years” of your lives while your little group is a unit and your children think of you as the greatest of all Moms and Dads; whose joint decisions are all important to them.

No doubt, you have heard the story of “Acres of Diamonds,” and how the Pilgrim searched the world over to find them. He finally found them in his own back yard.

Love to all,

Dad

The author was my grandfather, Edwin Ray Hoskins. He sent this letter to his three children: Earl, Angie and Paul. Paul was my father. My uncle Earl died last year and his daughter found this letter among his papers.

I never asked my grandfather what he thought of the Beatles or the Civil Rights movement or the protests of the Vietnam War. He had retired in 1962 and did not experience how these events changed the students that followed behind him at Cornell. Perhaps unfairly, I always thought he was a bit too old fashioned, too conservative and way behind the times.

But, in truth, the advice he shared in 1964 is as valid and important today as it was on that day in 1964 when Pan Am Clipper flight 101 from London Heathrow touched down at JFK.

The bridge.

August 21, 2016 — 1 Comment

I spent last week in the woods with eleven alumni and instructors from the National Outdoor Leadership School. We were on a service trip and our assignment was to repair the suspension bridge where the Northville-Placid Trail crosses Moose Creek.

 

We started on Sunday morning when we were divided into cook groups. I was teamed with Ed and Haley, two very experienced and energetic backpackers. Our group clicked immediately and worked well together all week. I usually made breakfast and helped with the cleanup for the rest of the meals. They cooked delicious dinners and made sure we had enough to eat for lunch. When it started to rain hard one evening, Ed found the leaks in the tent and we rearranged our sleeping bags to keep dry. During a hike along the Cold River on Wednesday, Haley entertained us with riddles and stories about her previous back packing trips.

The original plan had been to replace only the decking of the suspension bridge. Once the old boards were removed the plan evolved into replacing the stringers that supported the deck boards and also rebuilding the ramp leading to the bridge from the northern shore. We also improved the nearby trails by cutting down brush and installing new fence posts to replace the ones that had been damaged by bears.

The work was hard. The lumber needed for the project had been dropped by a helicopter upstream of the bridge and I spent most of the first two days carrying it to where it was needed, sometimes wading across the creek with a board balanced on my shoulders. Others from the group removed the old decking and sawed the large 2 by 6 inch boards into three-foot lengths for the deck. Still others fabricated and installed the new stringers, posts and braces needed to support the deck. Because we were in a wilderness area chain saws were not permitted and all of the cutting was done with hand saws.

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We broke camp before sunrise on Saturday and crossed the bridge for the last time just as the dawn was breaking.

Finishing the Dix

July 15, 2016 — Leave a comment

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I have hiked in the Dix Mountain Wilderness twice before but managed to climb only three of the five high peaks located there.

On the first trip the plan had been to climb all five, starting at Grace and ending at Dix. Our group was overconfident and underprepared and we turned back after reaching Grace too late in the day to try for the others.

Last fall, I backpacked over Dix Mountain but could not find the herd path leading from the Beck-horn to Hough Peak and South Dix. The next day we climbed Macomb but decided not to push on to South Dix and Hough.

Today, my nephew Josh and I reached the two peaks I had left behind twice before.

We began our hike from the Elk Lake trail head at 7:00 AM. We reached the herd path that follows the Lillian Brook at 8:21 and found the trail to the summit to be in very good condition making for an easy climb. We reached Hough Peak at 10:30, backtracked to South Dix and finished the hike at 2:30 PM.

These two bring my total to 28.

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Several months ago my nephew Josh texted me to ask whether he could spend his vacation hiking in the Adirondacks. We agreed on a date and convinced my nephew Alex to bring some friends and join us.

Josh and I arrived on Saturday and our plan was to wake early Sunday and climb the three peaks that make up the Seward Mountain Range. The weather report indicated that there was a small chance of rain and we thought that at worst it would rain in the morning before clearing later in the day.

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We left Lake Placid at 6:00 AM and started the hike at 7:00, but at the wrong trail head. We recognized the mistake after about a mile and turned back, found the right parking lot and started for Mount Donaldson at 8:00 AM.

There are three mountains in the range. The northern most is named for William Henry Seward, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State. The middle mountain is named for Alfred Lee Donaldson who wrote a history of the Adirondacks and the southern peak is named for Ebenezer Emmons who, while serving as the state geologist, was part of the expedition that made the first ascent of Mt Marcy in 1837.

We reached the herd path to Donaldson at about 10 and reached the top of Donaldson at 12:30. We spent the next two hours hiking to the summits of Mt. Emmons and Seward Mountain before returning Donaldson and backtracking to the trailhead.

Our hopes for clearing weather never came to pass and we spent the day hiking in a constant drizzle and had to pour water from our boots after the last stream crossing. We finished the hike just before 6.

Alex and his friends Nate, Kyle and Collin were waiting for us at the house when we returned to Lake Placid.

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The next morning we kayaked and canoed to Middle Saranac Lake repeating a trip I had taken two years ago with friends and a trip my mother took regularly when she attended Saranac High School.


On Tuesday, the six of us returned to climb Seymour Mountain, named for yet another former New York governor. We left the trailhead at 8:00 and reached the herd path to Seymour Mountain at 10:30.

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The weather was sunny and not too humid but the trail was still muddy from the rain earlier in the week. The climb was challenging with lots of steep rock scampers along the way. We reached to summit at about 1:00 PM and ate a quick lunch before heading down.

During the hike I taught them some of the lessons I learned from Oscar and Hannah last fall, like how to orient a map and use a compass and how to make water from the streams safe to drink.

My companions are strong athletes and team players. They offer a hand to help with steep climbs and they guard each other against falls during the descent through steep and wet terrain. They share their water and food and work together to find the solution when I stop along the route to challenge them to “Tell me precisely where we are on this map.”

The climb down from the summit took nearly as long as the climb up and we were already very tired when we rejoined the Ward Brook trail to start the four mile hike back to the trailhead. I kept to my regular pace but they were anxious to be off the trail and away from the mosquitos that joined us as we passed by Blueberry Pond. I am not concerned. They have proven that they can find themselves in these woods and work together to solve problems and take care of each other.

I let them go and finish this journey in solitude.

 

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We bought the station wagon in 2003 and gave it to Abby last week. Today she loaded it with a bicycle, her guitar and some clothes, waved goodbye and started a cross-country road trip to Berkeley for graduate school.

Over the last thirteen years I have driven that car to hundreds of swim practices and meets and to camping trips and birthday parties with her friends. Every summer we drove it to the Adirondacks, often listening to Jim Dale read aloud the seven book story of Harry and Ron and Hermione.

When Abby went away to high school I drove it to visit her, sometimes twice a week during swimming and water polo seasons. One Christmas her present to me was five hours of music on CDs to keep me company during those long drives. When she graduated we drove it to a music festival in Tennessee and camped behind it for three very hot days and muggy nights.

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After Abby moved to Chicago for college most of my trips in the station wagon involved swimming events with new friends. I drove it to open water swims in Ocean City and New York and to Lake Placid to hike and ski with friends. It carried my bike to the Iron Man and my canoe to Cooperstown.

But of all these travels, I cherish most the memories of the times when Abby was younger and we would stop at the Knoebels amusement park on our way home from visiting my mother as her health deteriorated.

It was about halfway and Abby loved riding the two wooden roller coasters there. On nice summer days we would spend a few hours riding the Phoenix and the Twister and maybe take a swim in the large swimming pool before grabbing a quick meal and finishing the rest of the drive. It was the perfect remedy to help us feel better no matter how sad our visit had left us.

Abby is now on her way to Berkeley driving the station wagon we bought in 2003. I love the memories made in that car and I’m not sure when I’ll replace it. But when I do I’ll be sure to find my way back to Knoebels Grove to ride the roller coasters and maybe swim a while in the large pool there.

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Last week I left my iPhone in the car, picked up a backpack and spent nine days hiking through the Adirondacks with nine people I first met at an ice breaker where we were each asked to perform a favorite dance move. This is the story of that journey.

After the dance move introduction, which did not go particularly well for me, our group of ten assembled in a field and spread out all of the clothes and gear we had brought. Our instructors, Hannah and Oscar, visited with each of us and gave us suggestions on what to bring and what to leave behind.

We were then organized into three-person tent groups and four-person cooking teams. Our food ration was 1.6 pounds per person per day. The food and gear were equitably distributed and I started the trip with a pack that weighed almost 57 pounds.

My tent-mates were Adam and Aaron. Adam is an aspiring writer and Internet entrepreneur with a razor-sharp wit who really knows how to tell a good joke. Aaron, an Episcopalian minister, is one of the most thoughtful and considerate persons I have ever met. If Jesus were a backpacker I think he would be a lot like Aaron.

For our cook group, Aaron and I were paired with Jenny and Christina. Jenny recently retired after a successful business career. She is a strong hiker and a great cook and conversationalist with a very effective leadership style. Christina is a fashion designer and endurance athlete. She was the strongest hiker in our group and never stopped smiling throughout the entire trip.

On the first evening we hiked about a mile to our campsite where we were taught how to set up the tents and how to construct a “bear hang” to keep our food safely out of reach of animals looking for a late night snack.

It is dark in the Adirondacks and I learned many valuable lessons that night. First, tent site selection is critical. I awoke on the second morning a little sore after spending the night with a large root beneath my neck. Second, be sure to remember where you have left your headlamp. When it started to rain in the middle of the night and we needed to scramble to keep things dry I could not find it when it was most needed. And finally, leave a light on in the tent to help you find your way back should you take a walk into the dark woods in the middle of the night. I thought I knew where I was until I turned to walk back to the tent and realized that nothing looked at all familiar. I stumbled around a bit before finding our tent, grateful that I had not followed up my embarrassing dance performance by getting lost in the woods on the first day.

On the second morning we learned the proper way to light our camp stoves. Unfortunately this lesson came a few minutes after I had already set a large boulder on fire after failing to connect the gas canister correctly.

On the third day we were up early for our first challenging hike up and over Giant Mountain to a campsite along the shores of a small lake called the Giant Washbowl. My hiking group for the day included two members of the other cooking group, one having just finished rehabilitating from serious knee surgery. The other strained her knee during the steep descent and our group would struggle for nearly seven hours to complete the 3.9 mile hike. Along the way Hannah displayed amazing character and leadership as she motivated all of us to finish the hike.

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We rested the next day and spent it learning more skills and swimming in the nearby lake.

On our fifth day we hiked nearly seven miles, visiting the Roaring Brook waterfall before hiking along the Old Dix Trail to another lean-to.

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Yom Kippur started at sunset and Adam could not eat during the holiday. Oscar decided to keep him company and the two spent the sixth day of our journey fasting together. While Oscar and Adam were fasting I hiked to Noonmark Mountain with Hannah, Christina, Aaron, and Jenny. At the summit we made coffee and cooked ramen noodles which we ate while using a map and compass to identify the nearby mountain peaks.

After we returned to the lean-to Adam asked me to forgive him for anything he had done to hurt me over the few short days I had known him. I was deeply touched by his gesture and could not find the right words to say before turning away so that he would not see me wipe away a tear.

Each day our skills improved. We always looked out for each other while hiking, calling out when we saw loose rocks or exposed roots on the trail. Other than that I usually hiked in silence, listening as my companions shared their life stories with each other.

On Friday Oscar, Aaron, Adam, Jenny, Christina and I backpacked over Dix Mountain, pausing for lunch and pictures at the base of the Beck-horn.

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The next day I hiked with Hannah and another small group to the top of Macomb Mountain, bringing my current total of high peaks summited to twenty-two.

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We finished our trip early Sunday morning and said our goodbyes later that day.

Over the nine days we spent together we hiked just shy of thirty miles, climbed four mountains and learned how to survive and thrive in the wilderness while carrying everything we needed on our backs. We learned how to read maps and use compasses and how to transform basic food staples like beans and rice and flour into meals that would get us through the day. We ate out of plastic bowls with spoons and drank our coffee and hot chocolate out of Nalgene bottles. We found our water in the brooks and ponds we hiked past and made it safe to drink by using chemicals we carried in our pockets. I lost a little weight, grew a bit of a beard and met amazing people whose friendships I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Last week I left my iPhone in the car, picked up a backpack and spent nine days hiking through the Adirondacks with nine people I first met at an ice breaker where we were each asked to perform a favorite dance move. Along the way I witnessed exceptional displays of leadership and compassion and ate rehydrated potatoes cooked over a camp stove in a frying pan.

They were the most rewarding days I have yet to spend in the Adirondacks and the mashed potatoes really were the best I have ever had.

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Kathy, Abby and I started coming to the Adirondacks in 1997. Abby took her first sailboat and paddle boat rides on Upper Saranac Lake and learned how to paddle a canoe there as well, a skill that came in handy that time I rented a power boat and ran out of gas two miles from the marina.

We came almost every summer and always spent a part of our vacation hiking. I bought every book I could find about the trails in the Adirondacks and tried to pick out hikes suitable for Abby as she grew from a toddler into a teenager. One of the first hikes we took together was to Rocky Falls. Here’s the description of the hike in Guide To Adirondack Trails:

Rocky Falls—4.8 mile round trip. An easy walk along the start of the Indian Pass Trail to an attractive little series of waterfalls and large pool for swimming.

The weather was a bit iffy when we started our hike to the falls but we brought rain jackets just in case there was a brief shower. We followed the trail but it had been a dry summer and when we reached the brook there didn’t seem to be anything that looked like a waterfall or a pool large enough for swimming.

We turned back, not sure whether we’d actually found the falls and then it started to rain. Hard. The next two miles were miserable and the rain soon overpowered our jackets and soaked us to the skin.

To get us through it we played a game that Abby had invented. It was basically a variation of “20 Questions” with the goal to try to guess a character from the Harry Potter books. Abby was amazing at the game. I could never stump her when it was my turn to pick a character. When Abby picked, Kathy and I would often ask dozen of questions before giving up to learn of some minor wizard that was briefly mentioned in the middle of The Prisoner of Azkaban. It was a fun game and it came in handy to help pass the time on our family hikes.

Today, I decided to return to Rocky Falls on my way to Mount Marshall. I left the Adirondack Loj parking lot at 6:25 AM and reached the falls at 7:17. There was plenty of water and what I saw today matched exactly the description I first read eighteen years ago.

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The remainder of the hike to Mount Marshall was hard. Most hikers approach it from the camp sites to the southeast of the mountain. I took the longer route and approached from the northwest first climbing to Cold Brook Pass before taking the shorter but much steeper unmarked path to Marshall.

By the time I reached the summit at 11:27, the temperature had risen to 80 degrees and it was very humid. I was a bit dehydrated from the climb and regretted not stopping on the way up to top off my water bottles. It was a long, hot trip back to the parking lot but I finished the 17 miles in just under ten hours.

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There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and no need to rely on The Harry Potter Guessing Game to get me through the last few miles. I played it anyways, making a list of the characters to use on my next hike with Kathy and Abby.

Henry and Josephine.

August 30, 2015 — Leave a comment

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Today I hiked to Nye Mountain and Street Mountain, my 18th and 19th peaks on the way to 46. The hike was straight-forward and not that difficult. I left the parking lot at 8:47 AM, reached Nye at 11:00, had lunch on Street and was back to the car a few minutes after 2:00 PM.

Both peaks are covered with trees and the views are not as spectacular as the views from other nearby peaks. On the way down I catch a glimpse of Heart Lake and remember the story about how it got its name.

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According to the legend Henry Van Hovenberg left New York City in 1877 and visited the Adirondacks. He met a young woman, Josephine Scofield, and together they climbed Mount Marcy where he pledged his love to her. Looking out at the valley below them they saw a heart-shaped lake and decided that they would marry and build their home on its shores.

They returned to New York City together before Josephine left for a trip Toronto. On her way she stopped outside of Buffalo and was never seen again after taking a walk to the edge of the Horseshoe Falls.

Heartbroken, Henry returned to the Adirondacks in 1878, bought the 640 acres around the lake and built a hotel where he had planned to build his home with Josephine. He renamed the lake Heart Lake and a nearby mountain Mount Jo in honor of Josephine.

Recent attempts to verify this story have failed and many people now believe that Henry made up the whole thing as a marketing ploy to romanticize his hotel.

Even though there probably never was a Josephine, I suspect that at least once in the last 138 years a man and a woman hiked together to Mount Marcy and fell in love while looking down at Heart Lake and the beauty spread out before them. That is the true story of Henry and Jo.

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Last Thursday I hiked to Iroquois Peak.

Leaving from from the Adirondack Log trailhead just before 7:00 AM, I stop at the McIntyre Brook waterfall at 8:21 AM, pass over Algonquin at 9:55 and reach the summit of Iroquois just before 11. 

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While enjoying a sandwich on Iroquois I remember back to July of 1975 when I worked as a counselor at Crumhorn Mountain Boy Scout Camp. I taught merit badge classes and lived in a large canvas tent with a wooden floor. 

I was a pretty good instructor but what I loved most about that summer was the ceremony we held every Friday night to recognize scouts selected for the honor of joining the Order of the Arrow. It began just after dark in the middle of Lake Crumhorn where about twenty of us waited in the camp’s fleet of canoes. When the scout troops were all assembled in front of the mess hall, we lit torches made with strips of old tent canvas dipped in Kerosene and paddled to shore.

For the next forty minutes we told the legend of the Lenni-Lenape, a peaceful tribe that inhabited the Delaware River Valley long ago. When neighboring tribes started to raid their hunting grounds Chief Chingachgook asked “Who will go to the villages of the Delaware and warn them of the danger that threatens?” No one stepped forward except his son Uncas who volunteered and ran from village to village to provide the warning and recruit others who would volunteer their service for the good of the Lenni-Lenape.

In our ceremony Dave Jones played Chingachgook. I was Meteu, the medicine man, and Eddie Frazier played Uncas. I opened the ceremony by dancing around the council fire, pausing four times to chant a Lennai-Lenape blessing while shaking the large rattles I carried. Dave recited the legend of the Lenni-Lenape and then Eddie sprinted past the gathered campers tapping the new recruits on the chest as Uncas had done when he travelled from village to village to gather volunteers.

Try as I might I cannot remember the words to the songs we sang on those Friday evenings long ago other than the opening line Dave sang after I finished the blessing. I leave Iroquois singing it over and over again hoping that the rest of the words will eventually come to me.

They do not, but I smile anyways remembering that amazing summer in 1975 when I played a medicine man who danced around a council fire.

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My hike to Table Top and Phelps starts later than usual and I don’t depart from the Adirondack Loj trailhead until 8:49 AM. I cross below Marcy Dam at 9:38 and follow the blue trail as it climbs along Phelps Brook before veering south towards Mount Marcy. My plan today is to hike to Table Top Mountain and then climb Phelps Mountain on the way back to the trailhead.

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Marcy Dam

It is hot and humid and I stop at the second to last crossing of the brook to refill my water bottles. A father and a son pass by me as I sit on a rock waiting for the Steri Pen to finish. We exchange hellos and they continue up the blue trail. The boy is a chatter box and appears to be about ten years old. His father is quiet. They are well prepared for the hike carrying day packs and wearing well-worn ankle high boots. I wait a while longer to give them space before rejoining the trail.

I pass the start of the trail to Phelps at 10:15, reach the start of the trail to Table Top at 10:57 and begin the steady climb to the summit. As the trail steepens I narrow the gap and can now hear bits of their conversation. The boy wants to know how much farther is left to climb. The father does not answer at first, perhaps realizing that with lots of climbing yet to do no prediction will satisfy the boy. When pressed, he finally replies, “I don’t know, but we sure have hiked a long way.”

I hear this exchange several more times as they continue the climb and think that there is no better answer to the boy’s question. When I reach the summit they are having lunch on a rock ledge. The father identifies by name the peaks that are spread out before them and the son asks about the trails to each and the father shares his memories from having climbed them in year’s past. After they leave I finish my sandwich as a storm gathers around Mount Marcy.

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Mount Marcy from Table Top

I start the climb to the Phelps summit at 1:25 PM. This trail is much harder than the trail to Table Top and I have to stop several times to catch my breath. I climb a section assuming that I have reached the top only to find that the trail heads in another direction and starts climbing again.

I get discouraged and want to check the map to figure out just how much more is left to climb. Instead I remember the father’s answer to his son and choose not to worry about what lies ahead but rather to be proud of what I have accomplished thus far.

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Wright and Algonquin from Phelps

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One of the reference books I rely on to plan my hikes is the 14th edition of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s “High Peaks Trails” (2012), edited by Tony Goodwin and David Thomas-Train.

Here is what the that book says about Esther Mountain, the peak I climbed on Wednesday:

This most northern of the major Adirondack peaks is named for Esther McComb. In 1839 at the age of 15, while trying to climb Whiteface Mountain from the north, she became lost and made of the first recorded ascent of this mountain instead. The Adirondack Forty-Sixers placed a tablet to her memory on the summit in 1939.

I decide to start from the trailhead just of route 86 after it crosses the West Branch of the Ausable River. I start at 7:00 AM by following the trail to Marble Mountain, much of which can be used by mountain bikes. There are no particularly difficult parts on the hike, just a steady climb. I have the trail to myself and reach the top of Marble Mountain at 8:25 and head southwest on the trail that leads to Whiteface Mountain. Soon I hear snippets of a conversation and realize that a couple is behind me, having started from a different trailhead. I reach the Esther Mountain trail junction at 9:33, pass over Lookout Mountain at 9:44 and am enjoying my sandwich on Esther when the couple finally catch up.

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We exchange hellos. They are from Connecticut and are surprised to hear that I regularly drive to Lake Placid from Baltimore. We gather around the plaque and compare notes about Esther McComb. My story is that she got lost trying to climb Whiteface. Her story is that Esther was never found. His has a happier ending; she was lost while trying to find her father who was surveying Whiteface but he rescued her. I like his story best.

I am amazed at the possibility of being lost on this mountain. It is desolate at the top of the peak. I have no idea what the forests here were like in 1839, but today they are impassable. Every inch is covered by the boughs of pine trees and the trail is very narrow and nearly overgrown. It is cold and very windy. A terrifying place even with a well-defined trail, a compass and a map.

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The hike down is easy and I am off the trail by 1:10 PM,

When I get back to the house I am intrigued about the story of Esther McComb and consult another reference book on my crowded bookshelf, “Heaven Up-h’isted-ness! The History of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks” (2011). Starting at page 557, Tim Tefft recounts the various legends surrounding the naming of Esther Mountain and then explains, relying on the research of Sandra Weber in “The Lure of Esther Mountain, Matriarch of the Adirondack High Peaks” (1995), that Esther McComb probably never existed

None of the information uncovered by Sandra Weber was available in 1939 when Grace Hudawalski, for whom Grace Peak is named, and her husband decided to organize a celebration to commemorate the one hundred year anniversary of the legendary ascent with a plaque placed at the summit in Esther’s honor.

And although it turns out that some to the information set in stone at the summit is probably not accurate, there’s an even better ending to this story. As Tim Tefft explains:

For many years, at her summer home near Adirondack on Schroon Lake, Grace Hudowalski had on her porch a summit register canister which had once been fastened to a tree at the top of Esther. Esther Mountain meant a lot to her. After reading Russell Carson’s “Peaks and People” and having determined that she would climb the 46 peaks, Grace decided that Esther Mountain would be her finishing peak. Thus it was that she became 46er #9 on Esther Mountain on August 26, 1937. She was the first woman to complete the 46 and the first 46er to finish on Esther. She championed and celebrated Esther McComb….but is possible, just possible, that the first woman to climb the mountain “just for fun” was Grace herself.

11, 12 and 13

August 3, 2015 — Leave a comment

2015-08-03 14.10.03My plan was to climb three peaks to bring my total to thirteen. I thought I would finish in seven hours. Ten hours later I still had a few miles to go.

I started at the Garden trailhead and decided to take the Southside Trail ignoring the signs warning that it had been abandoned.

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The trail is an old forest road that for the most part is in remarkably good shape.

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But then it disappears, having been violently washed away and into the Johns Brook.

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The trail steepens after crossing Wolf Jaw Brook and I reach the Wolf Jaw Notch just before ten o’clock. I decide to turn right and head first to Upper Wolf Jaw Mountain. I am hiking alone today and am cautious at every tricky part. Others are not. I am passed by a young man running his way to the summit and I meet other groups heading up and down the trail at paces much quicker than mine.

I carry two forms of emergency communication, an ACR personal locator beacon and a signaling mirror that is a hold over from my days as a Boy Scout. It is doubtful that the mirror will be of much use in an emergency given the dense tree cover over head but I like having it and knowing how to use it. The locater beacon communicates with satellites. Although it is surprisingly heavy I always bring it because it provides me with the reassurance I need to hike these trails alone.

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In my earlier hikes I carried a day’s supply of water in a Camelback bladder. Now I bring two water bottles, a filter and a UV water purifier and drink water from the streams and brooks I pass along the way.

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There are two peaks on Upper Wolf Jaw Mountain, I reach the highest one at 10:56. It takes me another hour to reach Armstrong Mountain. I stop for just a minute and turn back, recrossing Upper Wolf Jaw on my way back down to the notch. I am very tired when I start the climb up Lower Wolf Jaw Mountain. I reach its summit at just before two o’clock and stop to enjoy my last sandwich.

Peering across the valley I spot Big Slide Mountain and remember fondly my hike there with two friends last Labor Day weekend and how we sat eating lunch staring at the mountaintop where I am now.

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During that hike we came upon a young deer just as we entered the trail. I think I may have met her again today.

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Goodbye Grace.

July 26, 2015 — 2 Comments

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The planned hike was an ambitious one. Meet for coffee at 7:00, reach the trailhead by 7:30, follow an unmarked trail to the start of the Dix Mountain Range and hike to four of the high peaks before returning to Round Pond. The hike would cover nearly sixteen miles, the first seven of which were along unmarked paths to the first peak.

Her name is Grace and it fits her perfectly. She is simple, elegant and set apart from the other four in the range. She is hard to reach because the path is not that obvious and the several crossings of the South Fork of the Boquet River are hard to find. When you get closer to her the trail improves but then gets very steep.

The view from the summit is breathtaking and we sit silently eating sandwiches and surveying the three remaining peaks we had hoped to reach. They are too far away and separated by valleys that are much deeper than we expect. It has taken too long to get here and there is not enough time left to complete this journey. We decide to head back the way we came and to leave the remaining three for another day.

It is beautiful here and I really do not want to leave. I try to convince myself that I will visit Grace again, but I know it will likely not happen. She stands alone, away from the others and no longer on the way to anything else on my list. I regret this deeply because I have loved this hike more than any of the others I have taken.

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I needed a backpacker’s trowel but there were none at Eastern Mountain Sports. They suggested that I try a hardware store. Trips to the two located in Lake Placid did not turn up the trowel I needed. Almost as an afterthought I stopped into High Peaks Cyclery. Sixty minutes and $126.50 later I left with a new map, first aid kit, whistle, two books and the $1.99 trowel that had brought me there in the first place.

While browsing the shelves of camping equipment I met the owner, Brian Delaney. He and his family have been outfitting hikers and guiding trips into the Adirondack wilderness for the last twenty-eight years. He invited me to sit with him at his map table and after making sure that I had every item on his list of the “Ten Essentials” for outdoor survival he asked me what I had in mind.

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I told him I wanted to hike through Avalanche Pass and climb one of the 46 high peaks. He suggested Mount Colden and marked out a course with a yellow highlighter on the new map he had just sold me.

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I awoke before dawn the next morning and arrived at the Meadow Lane trailhead at 6:00 AM. From here I followed an abandoned truck road to Marcy Dam, 2.7 miles away.

Mount Colden rises from the left behind what is left of the dam. Its distinguishing feature is the pointed false summit in the foreground.

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There are two approaches to top of the mountain. The more popular trail approaches from the false summit side with a steady, gradual climb. At Brian’s suggestion I take the trail from the back side which is steeper but affords spectacular views of the MacIntyre Mountain Range.

To reach this trail I first hike to Avalanche Lake and then on to Lake Colden. The mountains rise quickly on each side of Avalanche Lake and the trail is dotted with ladders, bridges and even cat walks built into several rock faces along the way.

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Lake Colden is much wider and I take the trail down the east side. I focus too much on the ladders and cat walks and miss the intersection of the trail to Mount Colden. After backtracking a bit I reach the summit just before noon.

I enjoy the view for a few minutes and head back down after a quick lunch. I sign out at the Meadow Lane trail register at about 4:00 PM, ten hours and 15.2 miles after I began.

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Skating the Olympic Oval.

January 30, 2015 — 3 Comments

Oval

On July 27, 2014, just before sunset, I finish the marathon portion of the Lake Placid Iron Man and jog around the Olympic Ice Skating Oval to the finish line. The oval is bare concrete during the Iron Man and lined with friends and family waiting to celebrate the finish of the racers they have come to see. I jog easily and smile when I hear Abby cheer “Go Dad!”

Since then I have returned to Lake Placid whenever I get the chance, sometimes to hike the high peaks but more recently to enjoy the winter weather and especially to skate around this oval, now covered with ice.

It is cold tonight and I have the rink to myself. Eric Heiden won five gold medals here during the 1980 Olympics and set the world record during the 10,000 meter race. As I circle the infield I remember when I first learned to skate ten years before those races on a man-made ice rink set up in the village where I grew up. Years later I would spend Wednesday afternoons watching Abby learn to skate in Baltimore and on winter Fridays we would leave from school and skate together at a temporary rink set up next to the Inner Harbor. We haven’t skated together in years and in a matter weeks she will graduate from college and move on to new and greater adventures.

Tonight I stay longer than I had planned and cross the finish line 28 times before leaving. Each time I do, I think of how proud I am of the person my daughter has become.

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Giant love

November 9, 2014 — 1 Comment

Today I climbed Giant Mountain. At 4627 feet it is the twelfth highest of the forty-six high peaks. I take the Roaring Brook Trail approach which is 3.6 miles to the summit with an ascent of 3375 feet.

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It is just below freezing when I start and I wear the winter hiking clothes I bought yesterday. My hiking shoes are heavier today with spikes attached.

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The trees are bare and the lower part of the trail is covered with frosty dead leaves. The rocks that just weeks ago were coated with wet moss are now encased in ice that the spikes grip easily.

I make a quick detour to visit the Roaring Brook Falls before rejoining the trail to the summit.

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It starts to snow and soon the trail is covered with a light dusting that tells me that no one else has passed this way this morning. I pause occasionally to take pictures and make steady progress up the trail.

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I do not see another person until I am nearly to the top when I step aside to let a young couple come down a rock face from above. They are returning from having spent the night at the lean-to on the far side of the mountain with gear they rented for the weekend. They do not have spikes on their boots and it is too slippery for them to walk on this part of the trail. Instead, they sit and slide down the rock together, smiling and laughing the whole way down.

I have the summit to myself. It is beautiful but cold so I do not stay long. On the way down I pause at the rock with the side by side slide marks and smile remembering how two people, clearly in love with each other, spent a few wonderful moments together in a wonderful place.

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A bench by a stream

November 8, 2014 — Leave a comment

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In early June, I purchased a new bike to use during the 2014 Lake Placid Iron Man and spent the last weeks of my training practicing on it, mostly while circling Lake Montebello hundreds of time. I rode it on the course once before the race, just before the road to Keene was re-paved. It handled well during the ride but I felt uncomfortable when riding in an aerodynamic position, especially down the steep hill leaving Lake Placid. My center of gravity seemed too high and way too far forward and I felt that the slightest mistake would send me tumbling to the ground.

The days leading up to the race were beautiful. An easy run on Thursday was followed by a short bike ride on Friday in perfect weather. A flat rear tire greeted me when I brought the bike out the basement door on Saturday morning. There was no clear puncture and although I thought I found a small piece of glass poking through the tire, I was not sure I had found the source of the leak before replacing the tube

I woke early on race day and walked to the transition area with my brother and a bike pump fearing that the tire would be flat again. It was pretty cold but the sky was clearing and I was optimistic that the predicted rain might not actually appear. The rear tire was fine.

I was at the beach early, trying to get towards the front at the start but ultimately only made it to the fourth wave. I did not wear a wetsuit and kept my sweatshirt and sweatpants on until the last-minute when I left them, never to be seen again, neatly folded next to a trash can.

I stayed far left during the swim and swam by the wet-suited competitors bunched tightly and colliding with each other while following the cable that connected the course buoys. It started to rain within the first 800 meters and with one half mile left the thunder-storm hit. I watched the lightning flashes as I breathed to the right side and the short delay before the thunder-claps told me the storm was moving towards us very quickly. I swam as fast as I could to get back to the finish of the swim course and waved to Kathy and Abby as I ran up the chute leading from the shore.

I spent a long time transitioning to the bike portion of the race. It was raining hard and the thunder-storm was in full force. I was soaked even before I mounted my bike. None of us were in a hurry during the fourteen mile ride down to Keene in the pouring rain. Once we reached the bottom the rain eased and the rest of the ride went by without incident.

I felt good at the start of the run. I was on schedule and certain that I could finish with time to spare. I ran for five minutes and then walked for thirty-seconds, guided by a Garmin watch that beeped on cue. I repeated that cycle fifty-nine times before crossing the finish line.

During the run I passed by a memorial to the 10th Mountain Division next to a small stream. I promised myself that someday I would come back and visit it for a while.

Which is what I did today.

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On top of New York

September 15, 2014 — 4 Comments

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There comes a time in life when you don’t look forward to birthdays. It’s like reading a good book. At the beginning you love everything you experience with each turning page and can never imagine that the story will end. As you reach the last pages you read each one with both excitement to see how the story will end and with regret realizing that this amazing story you have been reading is almost over and that once you have read the last page there will be no going back.

Yesterday was my birthday and I decided that today would be the day I would hike to Mt. Marcy, the highest point in New York State. The mountain is named for New York Governor William L. Marcy, who authorized the survey that originally explored the area. Its first recorded ascent was on August 5, 1837, by a large party led by Ebenezer Emmons who were looking for the source of the East Fork of the Hudson River which they decided was Lake Tear of the Clouds, located just below Mt. Marcy.

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I start my hike at 6:30 AM and will spend the next eleven hours hiking seventeen miles.

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I spend most of the hike thinking about Saturday when I watched my nephew play in the homecoming football game. I met a friend from high school there and we drank coffee while sitting on the aluminum stands and telling each other about our respective daughters, each now much older than we were when we last spent as much time together as we did on Saturday. I remember fondly, but do not mention, the times we spent together floating down the Unadilla River in inner tubes and how she was the first person with whom I actually shared a kiss. Instead we talk about friends who have died and being in Explorer Scouts together and she laughs while telling me that her daughter loves to wear the tee-shirt that served as our uniform in 1977. When I say goodbye to her I realize that I had not seen her in over ten years and am a bit sad wondering how many more years will pass before I see her again.

I summit Marcy at 10:11 AM and after a short stop continue down its other side to Lake Tear in the Clouds.

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The lake is clear and there are stones lining the bottom at the mouth where it empties into the stream that leads to the Hudson River. I have not seen a soul all morning and decide to go for a swim. I leave my clothes on a warm rock and wade out a ways. I consider swimming across the lake and back but the water is a bit too cold so after a few strokes I scamper back to the warmth of my flannel shirt and wool sweater.

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After the swim I climb Gray Peak, another of the 46, and then decide to head back to Marcy and leave nearby Mount Skylight for another hike.

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I have brought with me a molasses cookie and a single candle to celebrate my birthday. I ponder awhile, taking in the view of the valleys and mountain ranges below me. I think about all that I have accomplished since my last birthday and decide not to light the candle. While I don’t know how many more pages are left before my book will end, on this day and at this moment I can think of nothing better to wish for than to be exactly where I am, sitting on top of New York eating a molasses cookie with hair still a little wet.

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My mother spent her high school years in Saranac Lake while her mother, a nurse who treated tuberculosis patients, attempted to recover from the same disease. She told me stories of how she and her classmates would take a motor boat from Lower Saranac through the Upper Lock and into Middle Saranac Lake. I’d often wanted to visit that lock and repeat that trip and yesterday I got my chance.

We left the Second Pond boat launch at noon, traveling in a canoe and a kayak. A light rain fell most of the day and there was a strong headwind at the start of the trip. We traveled upstream to the end of Lower Saranac and entered the channel connecting the two lakes. Halfway through we came upon the Upper Lock and visited with the lock keeper as she closed the downstream gates behind us and then opened the upstream wickets causing the water level to rise the two feet necessary to bypass the rapids on the other side of the island.

When we reached Upper Saranac, we stopped for lunch at the first island we came to and then decided to head back. We spent some more time visiting with the lock keeper on the return trip. She explained that the lock had been in place for nearly 100 years with its last major upgrade in the 1980s. On a busy day she will operate the lock more than 100 times. As the water drained to lower us to the exit, she explained that some canoeists actually run the rapids rather than use the lock.

When the downstream gate opened, we paddled around the island and after a short consultation decided to make one more pass through the lock. The keeper shook her head when we passed into the downstream gate and disclaimed any responsibility for damage or injury as the water filled the lock. When the gate opened we turned left, entered the channel and several exhilarating seconds later shot out the end of the rapids and rejoined the calmer waters.

As we paddled away I wished I had visited the lock earlier in my life and been able to share this story with my mother.

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Alone in the woods

August 17, 2014 — 1 Comment

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It’s 56° and there’s a light rain as I drive from Lake Placid into the Keene Valley to begin today’s hike to Porter and Cascade Mountains, two of the forty-six high peaks I hope to summit in the next four years. The conditions are not great but if I’m going to complete this journey in time for the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the 46ers I’m going to need to hike in all conditions.

I have probably over-packed for today’s hike, a vestige from my Boy Scout days. I am carrying three liters of water in a Camelback, the pockets of which I have stuffed with a space blanket, emergency sleeping bag, signaling mirror, first aid kit, map, guidebook, flint and a survival knife. I am also carrying two sandwiches, some fruit and the compass pictured above.

I start at 7:20 AM from the Marcy Field parking area and climb first to Blueberry Mountain and then on to Porter and Cascade before returning to the parking lot. I am alone today and will hike for thirteen miles, not seeing another person for eleven of those miles.

The trail to Blueberry Mountain is very steep at the beginning but the mountaintop offers wonderful views of the fog lifting from the valley below. The trail is well-marked with yellow trail markers and stone cairns placed strategically across the rock outcroppings where there are no trees.

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While following the line of cairns atop Blueberry Mountain I came upon some stones made into the shape of a heart. The moss growing on the stones tells me they have been here for sometime. As I head on to Porter I wonder about the story behind the heart on top of the mountain and begin thinking about a backpacking trip I took in the Adirondacks with John and Jerry in the late fall of our senior year of high school.

At the time I had a terrible crush on a girl in our class. We’d become friends that summer and spent a wonderful day taking her younger sister on all the amusement rides at that year’s State Fair just before school began. I never mustered the courage to tell her how I felt about her and our relationship never went any further. Just before leaving for the trip I learned that she was going steady with the captain of the basketball team.

I was heartbroken and not very good company to John and Jerry. With John, though, a bad mood never lasts long. While he had no great words of wisdom he just knew how to make you feel better and when we walked out from the woods three days later I was ready to move on from the heartbreak.

Jerry died of cancer at age 41 and I remember how devastated his son JT was at the funeral. Later that spring John organized the first of many annual trips to South Carolina to take JT golfing and visit with Jerry’s parents. Over the years I watched JT grow into the amazing person he is today and marveled again at how John knew how to say and do just the right things to help JT deal with the tragic loss of his father.

As I finish today’s hike I realize that I have never known a more dedicated and caring friend than John. So while I’ll never learn the true story behind the heart made out of stones I came upon in the Adirondacks today, I will choose to remember it as a symbol of the love shown by John to a friend who left us too soon.

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Trails to Porter and Cascade

Trails to Porter and Cascade

Next weekend I hope to climb two of the Adirondack’s forty-six high peaks, Porter Mountain (4059 feet, order of height 38) and Cascade Mountain (4098 feet, order of height 36). I’ll be guided on my journey to become a 46’r by the 14th edition of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s amazing book, High Peaks Trails, and the topographic map that accompanies the book and illustrates the trails to each of the high peaks.

Porter Mountain is named for Noah Porter, Ph.D., the president of Yale University from 1871 to 1886. He was a summer resident of the Keene Valley and made the first recorded ascent of the peak in 1875 with renowned guide Ed Phelps.

Cascade Mountain is one of the most popular high peaks hikes because it is easily accessible from a trailhead on Route 86, number 90 above, and has a bald summit that affords spectacular views of the area’s other high peaks as well as the Champlain Valley to the east. The mountain was originally called Long Pond Mountain but later renamed Cascade Mountain for the steep and beautiful waterfall that cascades down the mountain into the two lakes below.

There are three trails to Porter and Cascade mountains. I have chosen the trail to Porter Mountain from Marcy Airfield by way of the Ridge Trail, number 17 above. High Peaks Trails notes that “there is some steep climbing in the lower sections, but the variety of views makes it worthwhile.” I’ll let you know whether I agree next week.

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The-Spirit-of-the-Park

This picture appears at page 346 of Thomas Morris Longstreth’s The Adirondacks, published in 1917. In that book, Longstreth describes the Adirondack Park as follows:

We have our little air holes in the cities, which we call parks, and we have some sections of the West roped off by law which the East is welcome to roam over if it can pay the carfare to them. But it has remained for New York State to set aside more than a tithe of its total area where men and women can seek sanctuary from cities and heat and the everlasting press of things. And New York State has done more. She has not only offered her mountains and lakes and woods to the tired student from Ithaca, the tired philosopher from the Hub, the tired businessman from everywhere, but she has made trails through the mountains, has stocked the streams and lakes, and is doing her best to preserve the forest. The citizens of the State pay for this, and anybody can enjoy their gift for a thank-you.

Perhaps inspired by these words, brothers Robert and George Marshall along with their friend and guide, Herbert Clark, climbed Whiteface Mountain on August 1, 1918. Nearly seven years later, on June 10, 1925, the three finished climbing the 46 high peaks of the Adirondacks and became the first three members of “The Adirondack Forty-Sixers.”

Since then 8,283 hikers have joined Herbert Clark and the Marshall brothers to become an “ADK 46-R.” If all goes well, later this month I will start my own journey to add my name to that list. I will start the first hike sometime after 12:01 AM on July 28, 2014, but will save Whiteface Mountain until last and climb it on the 100th anniversary of the hike that started it all.

So, if you have a few days to spare over the next four years, pick a peak that interests you and come hike with me a while.

photo