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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.

 

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.

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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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.