It has taken me nearly 2 months to finally sit down and write this, so some of the details below may not be completely accurate. Ken’s memory is usually better than mine, so I may need to make some adjustments if I make any egregious errors.
I met this hike with nervous anticipation, and more than one freak out. A day or two before we set off, I went in to EMS, furiously debating with myself whether or not to bring a ground pad or not, and whether or not I should bring the one I already had (a simple but light foam pad) or invest in something lighter and less bulky. I had packed my pack the night before and realized that the bear canister took up so much room it was ridiculous. I had also considered buying a specially made bag that is designed to hold the canister, thus allowing it to be lashed to the outside of a pack. (It’s difficult to lash the canister to anything without a bag holding it; this is by design, to make it more difficult for a bear to get a good grip on it.)
The poor associate who finally asked if I needed any help was incredibly helpful, pointing out the various options, including the one that she herself used for multi-day cycling trips. She also reminded me of other ways to cut down on volume, like breaking your tent down and lashing the poles to the outside of the bag. In the end, I chose not to buy a pad at that time. I ended up lashing the foam pad to my bag, and then taking it off when we got to Upper Works because it wasn’t cooperating and I thought I could do without it. Thermodynamics disagreed.
On to the report.
12 Sep 2012 (Day 1)
Ken picked me up at my house at around 08:30 on the morning of Sep 12th, and after many protracted goodbyes from my family (especially Thing 1, who was particularly distraught), we set off. We made our way up to Upper Works, stopping at the Dunkin Donuts off of exit 17 to grab a coffee for Ken. This is part of our camping ritual, but the significance of it escaped me at the time. I was already drinking hot tea out of my travel mug, and had no desire to partake in the headache inducing grandeur of DD. After that we made our way up through Warrensburg and North Creek, up past the MacIntyre furnace and the abandoned village of Adirondac/Tahawus to the Upper Works trailhead. We geared up and headed out at 10:40.
At 11:25, we took our first break at a relatively new bridge across a small brook. We took our packs off, which is not something I normally do, but it was a welcome relief. I had cut the weight of my pack as much as I could, but it was still about 40 lbs dry (add another 6 for a full hydration bladder). Ken’s was even heavier, closer to 50 lbs dry. We continued on from there, and ended up stopping about once every mile or so after that to take our packs off and rest for a few. I avoided sitting down to reduce the likelihood of a cramp.
I kept my eyes open for the point at which the old trail cut away or rejoined our trail, but I missed it on the way in. Irene had washed out two of the bridges across Calamity Brook, and the DEC had chosen not to repair them. They had instead cut a short connector trail between the old logging road that we had started out on and the bridge that we took our first break on, which was along the trail to Indian Pass. When I had first heard about the change in the trail, I thought it was a good idea, because I remembered that there were several crossings, and it had seemed a bit silly. Unfortunately, one of the bridges that washed away had been a personal favorite of mine. We found the remains of it on our way out, and it saddened me.
While I’m reminiscing about the way the trail used to be, the biggest change of all that I noticed was on the first leg of the trek. Originally the trail had followed an old woods road through a relatively barren plain. If I’m not mistaken, this was the result of logging operations after Floyd. Now 8 years later, the woods had grown up significantly, and the bleak desolation that had been there was gone. I missed this, as well, but it was also interesting to see succession in progress.
By 12:30 we were at the last major crossing of Calamity Brook; the high water bridge looked like it had seen better days, but the water was low enough that we could cross on the rocks without a problem. We made our way up, and by 13:30 we were at the Henderson Monument on the far side of Calamity Pond. Again, I was amazed at the difference between this hike and my previous hike here. On that last hike, my mom had asked my brother and I to go with her with the expressed purpose of visiting this very spot. We had gone along, still sore from a monster hike the weekend before (a traverse of Pitchoff, Porter, and Blueberry, with the requisite side jaunt up Cascade, ending up in Marcy Field). When we finally did get to the monument, we were forced to admire it from afar, since the water around it was at least 18’ deep, if not deeper, and it was October and cold. That day had been grey, and dreary, but today was sunny and beautiful, and we walked out to examine the monument. The high water mark from Irene was visible on a rock across the water, and I remember it being about level with my head.
We continued on up the trail, and made it to Flowed Lands by 14:00. Ken signed us in, and we continued on, checking out the campsite right at the junction in case we needed to use it. We made our way up and over a small rise of land (described as a “rocky promontory” in the guidebook). This was arguably the most technical terrain we had encountered so far, and a few of the faces proved interesting with big packs on. Nevertheless, by 14:50 we at the dam at the end of Lake Colden.
We didn’t linger too long, since we were eager to find a campsite and drop our packs for the night. A sign on the other side of the dam indicated that the campsites were on a trail to the right. We followed it, and were immediately introduced to the Opalescent. Ken spotted a “camp here” marker across the water, so we dropped our packs to go investigate. He was far more confident on that crossing, and by the time I had made it across, he had already scouted out the land and found an excellent site. While I was looking around, I noticed Ken hopping across the river with both his pack and my pack. Stunned, I thanked him, and we relaxed for a few while changing our footwear. While we were relaxing, a gentleman who sounded like he was from Eastern Europe came through our area and chatted with us for a while. He talked about the lean-tos in the area, and how no one wanted to share their lean-to. On the Appalachian Trail, he said, this would never happen.
This pattern, strangers wandering through our campsite, would repeat through the entire trip. Although we hadn’t known it at the time, we had chosen the first of several campsites on the south side of the Opalescent, and so a decent amount of foot traffic went past our site every day, even, apparently, during the middle of the week. A short while after the first man left, another one walked past our site, but didn’t stop to talk. He had long grey hair and a long grey beard, and so I nicknamed him Rondeau in my mind. He did say “hello” when I said “hi” when we ran into him on the herd path a short while later, but he seemed keen to avoid people, so I didn’t attempt to start a conversation.
At some point in here, either before or after we changed out of our boots, I went to filter water for the first of many times. I had drank an entire 2+ liters down on the way in, and I was parched by the time we pulled in to camp.
After we had changed footwear, I was in need of a cat hole or a pit privy, so I said I was going to go search the area to see if the latter existed. Ken doubted that one would exist, but I had seen one the previous year at Marcy Dam, and since it made sense to build one wherever a dense collection of camping sites exist, I figured that there must be one. I didn’t relish the thought of finding a decent spot in the woods. Next time I’ll know better, and just dig a cat hole.
We followed the herd path that led through the campsites first to the right, which brought us to the bridge over the Opalescent (d’oh). Back on the other side of the river, we followed the short trail back to the dam, without finding a privy. We crossed the river again, back to the campsite, and headed down the herd path in the other direction. This led us past several camp sites, a lean-to, and eventually, a sign for a campsite and a toilet. I made my way over and relieved myself, but the entire time in there was a bit nerve wracking. The planks comprising the seat were clearly cracked on the right-hand side, and it looked like the entire thing might collapse at any moment. Furthermore, while looking in the latrine, you could see the open ground behind the structure, because the back half had been opened up. The pit was still more or less intact, but the bottom quarter of the back wall was just gone. Add to all that the fact that the seat leaned back at a bit of an angle, making you feel like you were constantly just about to fall in. Despite all that, I was still grateful for the convenience, but I think I’ll be avoiding the privy on subsequent trips.
By 17:20 we had set up our tents, Ken had rigged a clothesline, and we had filtered enough water for hot drinks and meals. I lit the stove, only to belatedly realize that I had forgotten to remove the plastic covering the bottom coils. I turned off the gas, but not before a 3’ hole had been burned through the bottom cover of my stove. We cleaned the plastic off of the burner as best we could, and then then started to heat up water once again. Dinner was in the form of dehydrated meals: some meat and potato variant for Ken, and Backpacker’s Pantry’s Katmandu Curry for me. We had caffeinated drinks as well, which helped with the post-hike recovery. I discovered at some point on this trip that Twinings’ Darjeeling tea is fantastic in this setting, much better than my usual go-to cup of Irish Breakfast. Ken made use of Folgers’ Coffee Singles (coffee in a gigantic tea bag).
On the subject of food, this trip proved to me that I could survive (thrive) on a plant-based diet, even under heavy exercise. I had finally made the switch to vegetarian stick at the end of July (after a decade of attempts). Adding to the complication was the fact that I was essentially eating like a vegan, since I had found out a few years ago that a good deal of my physical ailments were caused by dairy products. I had read up on the subject (of vegan health) quite a bit, and had spent hours making sure that the food I was bringing with me would provide me with enough of the core minerals I would need (i.e. iron and calcium) and enough of the protein lysine. The Katmandu Curry was essential part of this; the lentils that form its protein base are an excellent source of lysine, as are the pistachios that I had included in every bag of trail mix. The curry dish also provided ginger and turmeric, two anti-inflammatories, making it quite possibly the best vegan option from the Backpacker’s Pantry line-up, if not the best vegetarian one, in terms of hiking and backpacking fuel. The only nutrient I really found myself craving at the end of each day was vitamin C. I had contemplated bringing a few plastic containers of pineapple but didn’t want the weight. I should have just packed a few vitamin C pills. Oh well. The vitamins I had brought along ensured I wasn’t completely deprived of it.
Anyway, enough of my ramblings. Onwards.
After we finished dinner and stashed the bear canisters, we took another walk around the area. We made our way over to the dam, so I could try to get some photos. I had noticed that the light had turned golden while we were cooking dinner, presumably due to the sun’s position in the southwestern end of the valley that we were camped in. I had hoped to get over to the dam so I could get a few shots of Colden bathed in this light, but the timing didn’t work out. However, while we were doing our exploring, we did meet up with a ranger and a DEC employee armed with a shotgun. We chatted for a few minutes; the ranger confirmed that we weren’t camping too long without a permit, and that we had our food properly secured. I asked gentleman with the shotgun if it was for bear training, and he confirmed that yes, they were out looking for bears, and that the gun was for hazing the bear should they come across one (as he put it). It was a bit late in the season, they explained, and this weekend would be the last time they would make these rounds. As it turned out, we saw very little wildlife while were there, and nothing larger than a chipmunk.
Which reminds me: while we were cooking dinner, I looked up a few times to see a chipmunk peeking out from behind a tree, staring at me. It seems that every campsite we stay at is also home to a chipmunk, and this one was no exception. Every time we cooked our meals he would try to get close enough to steal some of our food. We didn’t feed him, but that didn’t stop him from trying.
We took a few pictures off of the dam, and then headed back to camp. By 7:30 we were in our tents settling in for the night, but not before we had one last visitor. As night was descended, another hiker came through our area, making his way via a wreck of a herd path to his lean-to. It may have been a clear trail at one point, but the repeated flooding of the area, especially Irene, had accumulated a significant amount of debris across this terminus. It seemed that we were camped on the flood plain of the Opalescent. It would have been very wet in the spring, but in the fall it provided a perfect campsite: flat, sandy and nearly devoid of roots, twigs and stones.
The guy who wandered through our area said that he had been up at Lake Tear on his way up to Marcy, at about 16:00, but he had turned around at the tarn because of the late hour. Another hiker up there had told him he would have been hard-pressed to get up and down Marcy in the light, which was sound advice. He said he was going to give it another try tomorrow, and as we said our good-nights, we wished each other luck and said we hoped to see the other on the top tomorrow.
His name was Gabe, but I didn’t find that out until the following day. That evening, in my notes, I referred to him as Wolverine, due to the style of his facial hair. In my head I also thought of him as Thoreau, off finding his wilderness, as he tromped through the woods and the wet to get to his lean-to.
As I settled in for the night, my legs started to cramp up. I was upset at myself for not bringing a ground pad. The ground was a gigantic heat sink, and even a thin piece of foam would have been better than nothing. At 20:30 I headed out of my tent to relieve myself and try to stretch my legs a bit. I happened to glance up and was blown away by the stars. There were no artificial lights nearby, except for the faint glow coming from Ken’s tent. I saw a satellite floating by overhead; it looked large enough (and bright enough) to be the ISS, but I didn’t confirm it.
Sleep was slow to come, due to the cold, but exhaustion eventually knocked me out. I had intended on sleeping in just boxers, since I was in a 40 degree mummy bag and the night was well within its range, but I ended up throwing on my long underwear and long-sleeve top.
I'll post the next segment of this report soon. I wanted to break it up a bit since the report is so long.