28 May 2013

Spruce Mountain - 25 May 2013

I have had a bad, bad case of wanderlust for the past few weeks, and this weekend I finally got to satisfy a small chunk of that.  For the most part, I have spent this year on level ground, working on cardio fitness and overall training.  It has been fantastic, and while I feel great and have had some wonderful experiences, it’s time to get some elevation.


I also needed to test out my gear, since I am pushing myself to transition fully into minimalist footwear.  Since, I knew that none of the shoes I have are waterproof, I wanted to know how bad it would really be.  Saturday looked like the best bet, and when the opportunity presented itself that afternoon, I geared up quickly and headed out.  The day was cold and rainy, so I stopped at the Stewart's in Greenfield Center to get some coffee.  I was at the trailhead by 15:15, and headed up the trail by 15:20.

The trail itself is comprised primarily of multiple logging roads with a few single track segments thrown in to keep you guessing.  There are very few markers, and some of the markers that do exist lie boldly to your face.  “The trail goes this way!,” they whisper, knowing full well that no one believes them.  Only an idiot would choose to blunder out the door without at least reading the trail description one more time, so as to be forewarned about these myriad follies.

I am that idiot.

And I stumbled through myriad follies.

I managed to guess correctly at the first junction, based on a trail marker that consisted of the remnants of a piece of paper stapled to a tree.  I wish I was joking.  When I arrived at the point where trail cuts back on to private land, I wasn’t convinced that I was supposed to proceed across the private land, and instead followed what appeared to be a trail that went off on the public side of the property line.  That turned out to only be a herd path, going nowhere, fast.

Backtracking, I started to head back down the trail, looking for an unmarked junction that I must have missed.  Eventually I gave up and consulted my phone; I confirmed that the trail did, in fact, still proceed over private land.  Eventually the trail dwindled down to a grassy old woods road with a single track running through it.  To keep up the excitement, it disappeared briefly right near a junction.  To the left, I could see a woods road that was still in use, based on its condition.  To the right, I could see the grassy remains of a wood road, with a broken single track pretending to wander down it as it had down the previous lane.  After a minute or two of Pooh-ish pondering, I headed up the right-hand track, which turned out to be the correct route.  Eventually I saw a few cairns marking the path, and knew I was on the correct course at last.

The excitement was short-lived.

After the grassy section, the trail heads into the woods again, following a stream up the mountain.  I stopped and took several pictures of the first honest marker I had seen that day: a white Saratoga PLAN marker.  As the trail proceeded upwards, the stream got wider and wider, until there was no distinction between the two.  This was good for my LNT training, since it gave me ample opportunity to walk through the wet sections.

Not far up the trail, I came to a proper pond, the size of any respectable kiddy pool.  To the left, just a short way up, I could see a Saratoga PLAN marker.  I waded up, only to find that I was quite literally walking up a stream.  There was no sign of a trail at all, except for the markers on the trees that told me I was heading in the right direction.

They lied.

This was the abandoned side trail that the ADK Guide Book authors had warned me about.  Once again my decision to not give the guide book a proper read came back to haunt me.  I blundered onward, and came out to an old woods road, which I would have been able to follow had I gone straight at the kiddy pool instead of angling to the left.

C’est la vie.

The rest of the trek was uneventful, aside from losing the trail several times over the next quarter mile.  Eventually I came to realize that the trail just kept splitting and rejoining itself, and that it didn’t really matter.

By 4:30 I was standing on the summit.  I took a few pictures, had a snack, and then headed over to check out the fire tower.  Right next to the fire tower was an interesting looking pool.  It wasn’t immediately obvious what was feeding it, but it seemed to fall away at the far end.

Summit Marker

As for the descent, well, the service road that went back down to where I had parked loomed right behind the fire tower.  The wind had picked up, and it was still raining, so I opted for the easier route down.  Down I went.

The road leads past several buildings and numerous side roads. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the road and the surrounding land was how open it was, often with grassy fields on the side.  At one point, I came to a junction with a map and several signs sitting on one side of the field.  Walking over, my first thought was that it was some kind of promotional sign, but it turned out to be a map for snowmobilers.  The map showed where the user was, and the trail network in general. There was also a junction sign on the other side of the clearing, similar to what you would find on a hiking trail.  To top it all off, there were route markers (corridor 8) and real, reflective trail markers leading off into the woods.

Near the bottom I passed one soul enjoying his or her (or their) cabin.  I realized that that was the first sign of another person that I had seen on this hike.  A few minutes later, I was back at my car.  I cranked up the heat, downed the rest of my coffee, and headed on my way.

This trail crossed private land, so I’d just like to say “thank you” to everyone who opened up their land for us hikers to enjoy.  Thanks!

P.S.  I realized while I was posting this that I forgot to describe how the shoes did on the hike.  I intend on writing a full post on this in the future, but for now, here's what I wrote on the Flickr picture, which I think sums it up:
So, this was my first hike up a mountain wearing VFFs.  They did very well, in terms of traction, but this particular model (Bikila LS) has no water resistance at all.  They breathe really well, which works on warm days, but doesn't work so well on wet ones.  Especially not trails that have been turned into streams by the May rains.

So, I'm looking in to my options.  There are a few water-resistant models (no GoreTex, though). There's always wax/oil, as well.

Despite the permeability issues, I had no blisters after the hike, which is the main reason why I transitioned into them: to reduce blisters caused by my feet getting crushed inside traditional boots.

One other positive aspect is how well they flex; on several occasions I felt more of my foot go against a slanted or rounded surface than would have made contact if I was wearing a traditional boot.  This extra traction was a plus, and I can't wait to see how they perform on more difficult hikes.
Thanks for reading!  Until next time: "be excellent to each other!"


  1. Great post. I have never been up Spruce Mountain but I love fire towers. My dad has been up it & says to look for logs at the trail head (which, as an avid hiker, I'm sure you do) because people leave notes about diverted trails & erroneous markers. He lived by ADK guides.

    1. Tisha -

      Thanks, and thanks for your comment! There's no register at the head of this trail, at least none that I saw, but I'll double check the next time I head up.

      I can't say that I've ever met your dad, but please tell him that I said thanks for his input. Does he still hike?