28 January 2014

Mini Trip Reports for January, Random Thoughts

I had a few random thoughts that I wanted to post.

First and foremost: I wanted to thank the crew over at Saratoga Spa State Park.  They do an excellent job keeping the park open and accessible, even in the middle of winter.  A large portion of the walking paths, including the stretch along Avenue of the Pines and a good portion of the Putnam Road section are also kept relatively snow free.  It's wonderful, and it's very appreciated.

I went for a run today at lunch time, and found that even the back section, where Putnam Road is closed to traffic, had been partially cleared.  This section is always a bit snowy, presumably because cross-country skiers also use it to cross between the golf courses.  As I cruised up it today, I passed by two XC skiers doing just that.  When I got close, one of them asked, "Are we the only crazy people out today?" to which I replied, "Looks like it!"  I smiled and kept on running.

Part of my smile was due to the fact that I had put on my street running shoes for the first time in months.  I realized that I had been running and walking with 8mm+ drops for far too long, and that I'd have to re-adjust back down to lower drops if I was going to avoid another Achilles injury.  So, today, I went for a run in my 4mm drop shoes (Brooks PureFlow 2), with YakTrax on, because otherwise I would have been skating across the snow.  These shoes do not bite at all on snow.  They do give me +2 speed and +1 stamina, so I'm not complaining.

I got side tracked there.

Second on my list of thoughts: I also want to thank the crew at Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park, for maintaining some excellent trails over at Camp Saratoga and Opdahl Farm.  I went for a snowshoe run there this weekend, and was amazed at how great the trails are.  I kept to the side as much as possible, to avoid damaging the XC ski tracks, but in many sections, there wasn't a single set of tracks, but rather a jumble of them.  It looked like two or three people had been ski-skating through, too, which didn't help with the confusion.  Anyway, I stayed to the side, and deferred to any skiers that I happened to encounter.

That reminds me: the lot was busy when I pulled up!  There were at least 8 other cars there, and as I ran, I saw so many people out on skis.  There were at least 2 snowshoers out, based on the tracks and, well, the two people that I saw walking down Scout Road to their car.  It was great to see so many people out and enjoying the winter.

I had two interesting observations: one, with my jacket tied around my waist and my lumbar pack on, I didn't get a deluge of snow every time I took a running step.  It might have been due to the the trail state, or it might have been due to the stuff around my waist.  I'll have to experiment some more.  Two, the few times that I was trailing a skier, I found that my snowshoe running pace (14:00-15:00) roughly matched their skiing pace.  I guess in my mind I had expected them to go faster than that. 

Well, that's about it.  Oh, and I'm also trying out an alternate lacing strategy (skipping the first crossover) for my boots, to see if that helps at all with the pinched toe.

Until next time, be excellent to each other.

20 January 2014

Saratoga Spa State Park - 20 Jan 2014

I went for a run at SSSP today on my lunch.  As I drove in, I could see that barriers were up across the entrance to the picnic areas.

I parked near the Baths, and then ran down the hill (the gravel road).  I was mindful to avoid places where I could create postholes, but there really wasn't anything to worry about.  The entire road and the other roads throughout the park were covered in shallow boot prints, dog prints, tire tracks and even kid's sled markings.  The latter often seemed to be running in to a ditch.  In a few spots I saw bike tracks and what might have been snowmobile tracks.  Only rarely did I see ski tracks.

When I got to the bottom of the hill, I saw that a good portion of Geyser Loop Road was free of snow and ice.  I instinctively went for it, and opened up to a pace that I couldn't sustain (7:30-8:00).  It felt wonderful.  I eased off the throttle so that I wouldn't crash and burn, and continued on to the end of the road.  When I got to the end, I was going to go left on to East West Road, and head back to my car, but I decided to go right, instead.  The road to the right rose immediately, and I wanted to go up it.

I had seen, as I passed through the picnic area, that my return was going to be over snow, but for the length of the East West road, I was on pavement.  It was great to run along these empty roads.  I ran past the Peerless Pool, and got to the top of Geyser Loop Road, and started the return to my car.  The entire length of Geyser Loop Road was covered in snow, and in some places ice, but I was able to run it without too much trouble.  The GEL-Scouts I was wearing do very well on slippery terrain.  They breathe really well, too, which is great for running through shallow snow, but horrid for walking through it.

I was pleased to see that the Coesa Spouter was still going strong as I passed by.  I almost took the (potentially) easy way back to my car, through SPAC, along level terrain, but I decided to go for the extra descent and ascent, and stayed on the Geyser Loop.  I ran past the Island Spouter, which was also going strong, and then made my way back up to my car using a different set of pavilion roads.

All told I did 2 miles, which is my current target for these midweek runs.  It's tough for me to get out in the morning due to familial obligations, and I have no desire to run on winter roads at night.  So, it was a good run.  I was happy to have gotten out, and happy to have been able to run on a track I can't normally run on, through the woods, and faster than normal.

One final thought: as I was running up the Geyser Loop Road at the start, John Krakauer's ruminations in Chamonix about "whether I might, given my limited talents, ever rise above the life of the terminally banal" echoed through my head.  I had just cut back on the throttle because I had been running way too fast (for me) and I was wondering if I'd ever get to the point where I could cruise long and fast.  Then I remembered that I was running through freezing air, over a road that by all rights should have been covered in black ice and impossible to run over at all without traction aids, and that I won't know how much my pace and stamina have actually improved until the springing of the year.  I think it was this thought process that pushed me to go up the hill instead of taking the easier route.  The climb, at the very least, had the effect of focusing on the run and letting my worries fall to the wayside.  By the top of the hill, I was enjoying the run again.

18 January 2014

Lincoln Mountain State Forest - 18 Jan 2014

(I think I spent more time writing this than actually running.)

I took a run today over at Lincoln Mountain State Forest.  I had visited there once before, in December of 2012, but that visit had been cut short.  My goal today was to explore the roads a bit, and to explore the area that appeared to be the summit of Lincoln Mountain.

I found it quickly enough.

I parked at the small parking area a quarter mile or so past the gate on Cohen Raod, and got out to check out the ground cover.  The drive in had been a bit sketchy, even with AWD, and when I set my foot down it was immediately apparent why: the road was covered in at an inch or two of ice, topped with another inch or so of snow.  The weather patterns over the past week or so matched what I saw: warm weather, enough to clear up whatever was there, or at least turn it to slush, followed by a torrential downpour on still frozen dirt, followed by a freeze, followed by snow.  I had brought YakTrax and snowshoes, and opted for the YakTrax.

I set out down Cohen Road at a trot, took the obvious left, where an arrow marks the turn of the Jeep trail and snowmobile trail, and started to head up.  I was at the top 8 minutes after setting out from my car.  I tromped around a bit, looking for the highest ground, and it looked like the small patch of dirt, surrounded by the road and a small turn-off, was it.

This was the summit, in all its glory.

Lincoln Mountain Summit

Sort of.

There's no indication of where Lincoln Mountain actually is on the USGS maps.  None.  It is part of the Palmertown Range, which includes 6 features labeled as "mountains" on various maps with only one obvious col between them, where Spier Falls Road runs through.  The labeled features are:
  • Lincoln Mountain, which is identified by the fact that there is a state forest named after it, and a road, which is labeled as Hollister Road on the old USGS maps, but Lincoln Mountain Road on newer maps.
  • Mount McGregor, which sits on the eastern edge of the range.
  • Corinth Mountain and Wilton Mountain.  The road that runs past Mount McGregor between Route 9 and Spier Falls Road is labeled as both Corinth Mountain Road (on the Wilton side) and Wilton Mountain Road (on the Corinth side).
  • Grant Mountain: this is an actual mountain label.
  • Palmertown Mountain: this is also an actual mountain label.

The range, massif, whatever it is, fades out slowly to the south and southwest, but drops off precipitously to the east and north, as well as to the west where the range encounters the Hudson.

So where does that leave us?  Palmertown Mountain is clearly defined, and Grant Mountain is clearly defined, and there is a several hundred foot col between them.  Grant Mountain tops out at 1260'+.  Following the features over to Mount McGregor, which tops out at 1070'+, the col appears to be at about 1010', near Lake Ann, giving it a prominence of 60'.  It's a subpeak at best.

With regards to Wilton or Corinth Mountain, I have to assume that these are place names and not peak names, i.e. "Wilton Mountain Road" means that this is the road to Wilton over the mountain, and vice versa.

Looking further along the ridge, at Lincoln Mountain, I see that Lincoln Mountain road drives up to a point higher than what we've currently labeled as the summit of Lincoln Mountain.  The road crosses the 1000' mark near the point where it transitions to Hollister Road.  Clothier Road runs right through a section of 1040'+ land.

Furthermore, between that section of land over 1000' and the 960'+ "summit", there's another bump of land that's taller than our "summit" (as defined on peakbagger.com).  It tops out at 980'+.

I hope to find some historical basis for the name "Lincoln Mountain", and through that figure out where the peak lies.  Until then, I have a hard time calling this point Lincoln Mountain.  If anything, this should be labeled as the Lincoln Mountain State Forest High Point (or something along those lines), though the actual highest point within the State Forest might lay in the higher ground to the northeast.

Topographical quibbling aside, I topped out and explored the area around the summit.  While I was checking out an old cellar hole, my YakTrax got caught on a small stump or root on the ground and I ended up snapping the rubber so that one of the coils was dangling free.  I fixed them as best I could and then decided to continue along the Jeep trail.  It appeared to run on for quite a while.  I eventually crossed off of state land; looking back I could see a sign announcing emergency DEC contact information.  I kept my eyes open for No Trespassing or Posted signs, but the only signs I saw were on a road leading off to the right, by a large turn-around or parking area.

A little ways after that, I came to a junction.  I could tell from my phone's topo maps that state land was over to the left, and I could see a clearing or pond not too far away, so I went over to check it out.  Eventually I crossed back on to state land, marked by a prominent "No Motor Vehicles Allowed Beyond This Point" and yellow paint splotches on the tree.  A little ways after that I came to what appeared to be a frozen beaver pond.  There were tracks leading across it, but I didn't trust the ice, so I returned to the road, which led around the flooded area.  Eventually I passed by a large parking area on my right, and then found myself heading toward Lincoln Mountain Road.  Standing at the edge of the road, I caught a glimpse of the Kayaderosseras Range: my only view of the run.  I had seen this range as I drove in to Lincoln Mountain State Forest along Locust Grove Road, and they beckoned me to come explore them, instead.  (I've already explored one of the peaks in that range, Spruce Mountain.)

I contemplated taking off the YakTrax and running the roads back to my car, but decided against it.  I had come out here to be in the woods, and I'd rather be running and walking over snow-and-ice-covered woods roads than blacktop any day.  I started to head back the way I had come.  When I passed by the beaver pond earlier, I had noticed a clearing through the trees, like an old lane, that followed an old stone wall (there are stone walls everywhere in these woods).  It looked as if the old lane was heading along the narrow strip of land owned by the State.  I followed it now, for a little ways, until it disappeared into some wetlands.  If it was a road at some point, it's lost now.

Disappointed, I headed back the way I had come.  As I was on my way back up to the "summit", I passed by the only other people I saw in the forest that day.  (By the prints, another person was here today or yesterday; they parked off of Lincoln Mountain Road and walked up to the summit area of Lincoln Mountain, then turned around and went home.  He or she was the brave soul whose prints led across the beaver pond, along with a few other, older tracks.)  Anyway, I stopped running as I approached the other party because they had a dog and I wasn't sure if I would spook it if I ran past.  We exchanged pleasantries, though they looked at me like I had an extra head or something.

I got back to my car, then explored a little of the woods just past the parking area, looking for trails or other clearings.  I found what appeared to be an old, disused woods road and signs of old logging, but nothing very exciting, so I headed back home.

The 2002 Draft Unit Management Plan [http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/saratogawardraftump.pdf] for this forest is available online, and contains a wealth of information about these woods.  (If the link ceases to work, search for "Unit Management Plan for State Forests in Saratoga and Warren Counties".)  According to the Draft UMP, which refers to Lincoln Mountain State Forest as "Saratoga I":

Saratoga I contains a major “truck trail” which connects with Cohen Road and traverses state land for about one mile to the southern boundary. This is classified for motor vehicle use. Two other access roads, one east and one west, provide access to parts of state land and for some private adjacent landowners. An easement exists for the road which runs easterly off Cohen Road. The westerly road has been barricaded by the current owner where it crosses his property. The west end of this road is accessible from Green Road. These two roads total about 2600 feet.

I've visited two of the other forests managed under this plan: Ushers Road State Forest, which links up to the Zim Smith Trail south of Round Lake, and Daketown State Forest.  If you look at satellite pictures of Daketown it looks like a tree farm from above, which was part of the reason why I went to check it out.  It looks like a tree farm from the ground, too, because it is, or was.  These are working forests, and the trees are used for lumber.  Middle Grove State Forest also has a seed orchard, supplying the Saratoga Tree Nursery with seeds.

Lincoln Mountain has some other interesting features, including some very old trees.  According to the same Draft UMP:

As a result of Neil Pederson’s research, it has been determined that an “old age” stand of Black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) exists in the northern wetlands in Saratoga I off Cohen Road. Neil is a doctorate candidate at the Tree-Ring Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Columbia University. Trees up to three feet in diameter have been found and after aging a number of these trees (using an increment borer and cross dating), Neil has found ages dating back to the mid 1400's (or well over 500 years old). Over 30 trees have been aged and recorded to date (see Appendix 10).


That about wraps it up.  Given that the amount of state land available for running is fairly small, and that I can't find much in the way of details about the easement along the Jeep trail, I have a hard time recommending this land for runners.  You could, in theory, follow the Jeep trail off of Cohen Road down to Woodard Road in Wilton, and then run back up the mountain (an ascent of roughly 500').  It's hard to say for certain whether or not the road is open the entire way, and whether or not the landowners would be OK with this use, though.  So I'm going to keep looking elsewhere.

One final note: this forest is very active with hunters during deer hunting season.  Out of respect for their sport, and concern for everyone's safety, I suggest not entering these woods during the main deer season, unless you are hunting.  This forest sits in the Northern Zone, which is bounded by Route 29 in this area.  Full details are available on the DEC site.

Big Slide and Yard - 8 Jun 2013

(Final stop: The Garden in June.  Not quite as epic as the Judoon on the moon in June, but c'est la vie.  Allons-y!)

I’m writing this report seven months after the fact, so the details are a little fuzzy.  Here’s what I remember.

Jason and Mike picked me up and we headed up north on a foggy June morning.  When we arrived at the Garden, there were still places to park, and the attendant directed us toward a spot.  A minute or two after Jason parked, she came back over and suggested that he move his car a foot or so, to ensure that no one tried to park next to him, because there wasn’t enough room for a car to fit there, but apparently people get a little bit ambitious in their attempts to park.  No surprise there.

Best View of the Day
Best View of the Day

We got geared up, and as we were doing so, another lady walked over and asked us a few questions, which were the usual questions we got when heading out into the High Peaks with dogs (do you have leashes?, how long are you staying?, where are you going?).  Basic questions to ensure that we were aware of the regulations.  We answered her questions, and we reassured her that we were aware of the rules and regulations of New York’s finest, and heavily used, wilderness.

My favorite part of that conversation was when she first walked over and glanced down to see that I was wearing FiveFingers and gaiters that didn’t really attach fully.  Her eyes widened a bit and she said, “wow, those are some awesome... gaiters.”  I thanked her, chuckled internally, and continued getting ready.

I know that it’s considered standard form to wear boots in the High Peaks, and elsewhere, but I’ve come to really appreciate wearing less footwear on mountain trails.  After wearing boots for 10 miles of rough trail, my feet ache and my toes are blistered and beat.  My pinky toes are screaming for relief, and it takes them days to fully recover.  I still haven’t made up my mind between wearing running shoes or minimalist shoes like FiveFingers, but in either case, my feet are generally better off afterwards.  That said, I fully appreciate that there are times when boots have to be worn.  Around here, that means any outing over an hour or two where your feet will get wet and cold, and any time where there’s a high chance of a venomous snake encounter.  Beyond that, boots are overkill in my mind.

We made our way over to the trail register, and stopped to chat again with the lady who had asked us about the dogs, and a guy who was heading in.  Both were either DEC or ADK employees, but I didn’t look closely enough to figure it out.  The guy and Jason talked about dogs for a bit, and then he also commented on my footwear.  He said that he had been working with a bear expert a few weeks earlier, and that the expert had come across the strangest looking bear tracks he had ever seen.  Fortunately, the gentleman who was leading him was familiar with the other wildlife in the park, and recognized that the bear expert was actually tracking a ferocious Homo sapiens vibram.

We made our way up the Brothers, stopping to assist the dogs when needed.  If I remember correctly, Autumn seemed to fly up the short cliffs, but Indiana hesitated often.  We all worked together to get the dogs up, and I remember enjoying the challenge.  There were several very large erratics along the Brothers ridge, and the northeast ridge of Big Slide, and I remember suppressing the urge to scale a few of the smaller ones.  (I really need to stop holding myself back on these hikes.  Most of the time I’m so focused on pushing on that I forget that it’s OK to wander a bit.)  There was one in particular that caught my fancy that I’ll need to check out the next time I head up; it might have been where the USC&GS marker is that’s labelled on the USGS map (near the NE summit of Big Slide).

The Brothers and the northeast ridge of Big Slide are fantastic.  Aside from the erratics, there are massive expanses of exposed rock.  Combined with the mist that we were walking through, it was an altogether beautiful hike.

After a while we headed back in to forest, and we came to an area with some intense blowdown.  The guy, ranger, whoever he was, had warned us about this.  It was bad enough that we found ourselves wandering through the woods unexpectedly.  We stopped and took a guess at where the trail would be, and I told the guys to wait a second while I went to have a look.  I found the trail about 30’ away, and hollered for them to follow.

Not long after that, we came to the junction that led back down to the JBL.  I knew from my reading that the base of the slide was a short way through the woods, and had wanted to go take a look.  There was supposed to be a herd path, and there was indeed a faint one, but it petered out without getting close to the cliffs.  We walked for a couple of hundred feet, then turned back and returned to the trail.

We continued on up, and soon enough came to a short side trail that led over to a view of the slide.  Jason pointed out that it was unlikely that many people would hike all the way up here to climb the slide.  It wasn’t worth the effort.  The slide was nearly vertical, and looked like it would be a class 5 climb.

We continued on toward the summit.  When we were nearly at the top, Indiana slipped on a 12-15’ rock face.  We had been supporting her and Autumn through a series of them, and they had both been fine, but Jason noticed some blood on her paw.  We got to the summit, and he immediately set about checking out her paw.  There wasn’t much that we could do for her, but the bleeding wasn’t heavy, and it stopped while we were on the summit.  We had initially planned on going for Yard, if we had time and conditions were good, but since Indiana was injured, we decided to head back instead.

I have made several silly mistakes this year; all were due to me skimming too fast over a map or a guidebook, or not bothering to read them at all.  On Greylock, I stupidly assumed that it would be easier to use the road instead of the trails, and added several miles over hard (literally hard) terrain that we didn’t have to do.  I was so concerned about the snow condition that we skipped the Farmer’s route up to Mt. Williams, and instead walked the road up to the AT and then hiked up from there.  On the descent, we took the road back instead of the Bellows Pipe Trail, because I thought that there would be a high risk of an avalanche on such a steep looking slope.  The slope looked steep on the map, but didn’t look steep in person, and there wasn’t enough snow or open terrain for an avalanche, anyway.  I let fear get the best of me, and made a long day unnecessarily longer.

On Sawteeth, I didn’t even both reading the guidebook, and just took a few internet reports as enough information.  As a result, I didn’t know what to expect, and couldn’t convey that to my hiking partners.  We ended up stretching ourselves a bit thin on that one; yes, we did make the summit, but we were right on the edge of what we could accomplish.  It could have been bad.

Here, on Big Slide, I read the map way too quickly, and thought that there was a trail that lead down to the JBL out of the Big Slide - Yard col.  I thought that would be the quickest way to get down, so I suggested that we go that way.  Jason agreed, because he didn’t want to take Indiana back over the rocks that had cut her up in the first place.  We got to the summit of Yard quickly (it isn’t much of a col) and I realized that I had made a mistake: the trail I was thinking of was actually back at the junction we had passed before summiting.  I felt horrible, since I was trying to get Indiana down as safely as possible.  The descent off of Yard was rough in spots.  At one point the trail dropped straight down off of a 6’ cliff.  We could get ourselves down fine, but Indiana wouldn’t get close enough to the edge for us to hand her off.  We saw another possible route over to the left, and tried to show it to her, but she wasn’t having it.  While I was checking that out, she walked back over to the trail and let Jason help her down.

Eventually we found the Klondike Notch Trail.  From this point on, we were on mostly level terrain, but decidedly muddier.  Ridiculously muddier.  We made our way over to the JBL, passing a few people doing trail maintenance, and stopped for a rest and some water.  I decided to go inside and have a look around, and ended up buying a coffee each for Jason and I.  Mike chose not to have one.  The coffee was a locally roasted blend called Hammer.  The JBL staff prepared it in a percolator, served it in small ceramic cups.  Payment was collected on the honor system.  The whole experience was wonderful.  I had intended on purchasing more of the coffee, but I never got a chance.  The company that roasted it, Adirondack Bean-To, went out of business a few months later.

Paned o Gaffi
A Cuppa in the Woods

As we were enjoying our coffee, a group of younger, fit-looking men came up to the JBL and plopped down not far from where we sat.  They were visibly exhausted, like they had pushed way too hard for far too long.  It was a bit strange then, and even stranger in hindsight, because they had come from the direction of Marcy or the Orebed trail.  They had to have descended to get to where they now were, and most people don’t get bushed like that on a descent.  The only thing I can think was that they must have been running.

We made our way now along the Phelps trail, aka the Northside trail, which led back to the Garden.  It was fairly uneventful, until we reached a junction.  I had a look at a sign board, and noticed that there was a note, written by a ranger, instructing the members of some party where to find another member of their party.  When we got back to the Garden, we found the ranger and the boy.  I stopped to chat briefly, letting him know that we hadn’t seen the rest of the party on our way out.  The ranger said that the boy had been left behind by the rest of his party up near the col between Wolfjaws, and that he had mistakenly descended in to the wrong valley.  Luckily the boy had his wits about him, and he got help.  As we got our gear off and got ready to head out, the rest of the boy’s party finally showed up.  We heard a bit of the conversation as we headed out, mostly of the boy’s older companions making excuses about why they had left him behind.  I was very glad that it had ended like this, though, with embarrassed excuses, instead of the other way, with SAR and dwindling odds of survival.

Now that I think more about it, I wonder if the out-of-breath guys were his companions, having made a hasty climb back up the AMR side of the Great Range and down to the JBL side?  Or perhaps the boy descended down the AMR side and the ranger brought him back over to the JBL side?  I suppose that makes more sense, since their cars were parked at the Garden.  Anyway, enough rambling.

To end on a positive note: I love hiking with dogs.  Especially these dogs.  Indiana is a Husky and Autumn is a German Shepherd.  If you’re feeling tired, Indiana will literally pull you up the hill, as long as her leash is attached to her harness and not her collar.  It’s instinct for her, and I love it.  On the first hike I took with her, I was dragging far behind, and she kept an eye on me.  It was wonderful.  Autumn is excellent on the trail, too, finding her way very well, even over the steep stuff.  On top of all that, they’re both wonderfully affectionate, and well-behaved.  You couldn’t ask for better trail dogs.

(Thus concludes our trip backwards through time.  I'm caught up on trip reports.  Finally.  Time to go climb something new.)

17 January 2014

Sawyer Mountain - 14 Jul 2013

(The TARDIS takes us back to July, now. Don't forget your bug spray.)

I set out one July weekend day with the intention of going for a walk and possible run over at the Hennig Preserve. 10 minutes into the drive I realized that what I really wanted to do was hike up a mountain. I didn't have enough time for anything too strenuous, but I knew of a few shorter trails relatively close to home. (I've been working on finding short and sweet hikes, for when I get to bring family members out.) I settled on Sawyer Mt, a 1 miles hike up by Indian Lake. I knew it wouldn't be enough to fully satisfy my craving, but it would be better than nothing. I confirmed with my spouse that she was OK with my sudden change in plans and headed out.

I arrived in Indian Lake and stopped at the Grand Union to grab a snack, only to find that the store had finally closed for good. I headed on to the peak. (I don't remember why I didn't stop at Stewart's or the shop just south of town, but I assume it had to do with the traffic. I know that Hamilton County prides itself on having no stop lights, but a light at the intersection of routes 28 and 30 in Indian Lake would really help when the town is busy.)

Vantage Point
View From the Ledge Just Past the Summit of Sawyer Mountain

I parked at the trailhead, sprayed on some bug spray and got hiking. Immediately it became apparent that my bug spray (California Baby) wasn't phasing the mosquitoes. I hiked as fast as I could, and topped out in less than 30 minutes. I walked past the summit to check out the view from a nearby ledge. It was decent, but the mosquitoes wouldn't let me longer to take it in. I explored a little bit, looking for herd paths to other viewing areas, and found none. So, I booked it back to the car.

The hike back was uneventful, and I headed back home. My cravings were at least partially satisfied, though I wouldn't have minded a little more elevation and a lot fewer bugs. Still, it was nice just to get out.

(Next up, a High Peak, a mistake, a wounded pup, and the conclusion of our journey backward through time.)

15 January 2014

Eagle Cliff and Sky Top - 24 Aug 2013

(The TARDIS takes us back a week and across the Hudson to the beautiful Shawangunk Mountains.)

This trip was a repeat of a hike that Ken and I did last year, with a few alterations.  Ken, Justin and I headed out in to the Mohonk Preserve from the Coxing (Clove Road) trailhead.  We hiked along the Old Minnewaska Trail over to Giant's Workshop, and proceeded through that.  I decided to explore the cave immediately to the left of the entrance a little more.  It goes a few meters in, curving to the right a bit, and then appears to dead end.  While I was exploring the, Ken was attempting to fix some piece of gear.  Justin went on ahead of us, and ended up missing one of the turns.  He ended up at a completely different area, wondering what all the fuss was about.  Meanwhile, I pushed on ahead trying to catch up to him, and ended up at the top of the cliff with no one else around.  I headed back down to figure out what had happened, and caught up with the guys as they were nearing the top.

Eagle Cliff, The Trapps and Beyond
Eagle Cliff, The Trapps, and Beyond

After that we made our way over to the Eagle Cliff ascent, where we had yet another good laugh at the markers that are completely invisible to me.  The markers are red, and several of them I cannot see because I am colorblind and this particular color blends in very well with the rock.  I occasionally have a problem with red or green markers, but it's never as bad as it is with the markings on the Eagle Cliff ascent.  (Usually if I change my angle in relation to the marker I can see it.  With these, I had to use GIMP at home to shift the colors around so that I could see it.)

We made our way over to the Lemon Squeeze (the Crevice).  This time we found the correct side trail that bypasses the majority of the talus scramble to the base.  As we approached the base of the crevice another party let us go ahead of them, since they were in no rush to start up.  The ladders are a bit sketchy looking, and they're definitely intimidating at first, but they don't move and they're made out of solid wood.

There was a bit of a queue, and it took us a few minutes to move through simply due to the line ahead of us, but we made our way up to the top without incident.  It's nearly impossible to get through the top third of the route without taking your pack off, and we did a bit of pack shuffling as we made our way up.  Once on top, we took in the view, and then found the exit scramble and made our way up to the tower itself.   The usual crowds were loitering around the tower and the summit area, but we found a nice spot in the shadow of the tower to eat our lunch out of the midday sun.

On the way back, we checked out the spring labelled on the map, but it didn't look safe to drink, at all.  We made our way over and down to the Rhododendron bridge, walking at ease and talking about sports, of all things.  We took the Overcliff road back, instead of the Old Minnewaska Trail, but it didn't provide much in the way of scenery, and I wouldn't recommend it.  I dropped my map at one point and I (literally) ran back to get it.  This was when I was still recovering from my Achilles tendon issue, and I hadn't run in months.  It felt amazing to run, and that's probably the best way to traverse the Overcliff.  (It reminded me a lot of the Upper Awosting Carriageway: it served a purpose and offered a walk through the woods, but didn't seek out the best views, like many of the other carriageways in the Gunks.)

When we got to the end of the Overcliff, I was delighted to find that we were at the bridge over 44/55.  We gawked at the erratics for a moment, then turned right, and found our way to the old native trail, the Shogum Trail.  It led back to the Old Minnewaska Trail, and back to the car.  As we got close to the Old Minnewaska Trail, the trail underfoot was lined with many small rocks, forming a stone pathway of sorts, which I found very strange, and out of place.

We hadn't seen many people near the parking lot when we first arrived, but as we passed through now, the Coxing Kill was full of people out enjoying the water on this hot day.  We made our way back to the car and headed out.

(Next stop in our travel backwards through trip reports: a quick jaunt up an Adirondack peak.)

13 January 2014

Equinox Mountain - 29 Aug 2013

(The TARDIS takes us back to August of 2013 now, and there's singing in the distance... not quite elvish, not quite dwarvish...)
Yet my eyes are drawn toward
The mountain in the east
Fascinates and captivates
Gives my heart no peace
The mountain holds the sunrise
In the prison of the night
Till bursting forth from rocky chains
The valley floods with light

I do not know of dust to dust
I live from breath to breath
I live to climb that mountain to
The Fountain of Lamneth

- Neil Peart, RUSH, The Fountain of Lamneth
I grew up in between the Adirondack and Catskill mountains, and visited both frequently, with my family and with the Boy Scouts.  From our house, and from the surrounding land, however, neither region was particularly visible.  Despite this lack of visibility, there was a mountain that I saw on a regular basis, off to the east.  The vision of it was so ingrained in my head that when I saw it again, a few years ago, I stopped in my tracks and stared at it in wonder.  “Which peak is that?”  I asked myself that question over and over again, stopping whenever I visited my old hometown and attempting to take seat-of-the-pants measurements.  There’s no good place, really, to stop and take a bearing, since all of the good vantage points are along a busy road.  Nevertheless, after months of obsessing I was fairly certain that I was looking at Equinox Mountain, which belongs neither to the Adirondacks nor the Catskills, but to the Taconics, the stubby remnants of ancient giants that run through four states.  I drove over to take a look at it a few times, though never when I was able to get out and actually walk up it.  From up close Equinox looks even more impressive.  I don’t know how the Taconic peaks do it, but they all look much larger and much more difficult than they generally are.

The View

Finally, one clear winter’s day, I was driving along Northline Road in the Ballston area when I came across a view that made me pull over and gawk.  Instead of seeing a single peak or a double peak, I saw peaks.  Plural.  Several of them.  I snapped a few pictures for later analysis and moved on.  When I posted the pictures to Flickr, a kindly gentleman named Kevin was kind enough to show me Peakfinder, which is an excellent utility that takes a location and a compass bearing and displays an approximate view of the mountains in the distance, complete with labels.  Once I had that I was able to confirm that, yes, I was seeing Equinox, and Little Equinox, and their neighbors, including a smaller mountain over in Greenwich called Willard.  To the south of Equinox I saw Grass Mountain and its neighbor Spruce Peak.  (I had mistaken Spruce Peak for Stratton Mountain, which sits across the valley and is a Green Mountain, not a Taconic.)

Just confirming the names of the mountains that I had been fascinated with was enough for the time being, and I was a bit put off by the topo for the Equinox summit trail.  It looks treacherous.  I decided to put it off until the snows had gone.  Come August, I found myself with a spare day, somewhat unexpectedly, and I decided to go climb Equinox.  I drove over to Manchester, VT, found the correct back road(s) and parked at the Equinox Preserve and Trust parking lot.

The lot was nearly full, which was a bit surprising for the middle of the week, but it seemed like most of my fellow hikers were just enjoying the trail network down below.  There are miles of trails at the foot of the mountain; from what I could see they were almost entirely old woods roads, wide and a bit eroded.  It reminded me a lot of the Gunks, with their quaint old roads leading through beautiful woods.

I made my way up the red trail and then the Blue Summit Trail, past a heavily graffitied water tower, a small information booth, and numerous junctions.  At the final junction in the lower section, with the Maidenhair trail, there was a sign attached to a post, warning hikers that a trip to the summit was a strenuous hike.  Well, they were right, though it was nowhere near as steep as it looks on the map.  The trail climbs steadily for about 2600’ over about 2.85 miles, which is on par with an Adirondack High Peaks hike.  The key difference between climbing Equinox and climbing a High Peak is that there isn’t a 2-4 mile walk-in to start climbing, which is often the case for the High Peaks.  The other differences were that the majority of the Equinox trail is wide and gently rising, and the only exposure I got was in a section even more eroded than the rest.

Around 12:30, an hour after setting off, I came to a bench by the side of the trail, and a junction.  The left side of the junction led to a spring in 250’, and the right continued the hike.  I chose to skip the spring for the time being and just focus on summitting, so I headed right.  The trail immediately narrowed and steepened.  At once I felt like I was transported to the Adirondacks or Catskills - the mud was much darker now, and the roots of nearby trees were visible and ready to catch a toe or two.

The trail continued up, occasionally clinging to the edge of the mountain, but generally proceeding up on a reasonable slope.  Eventually I came to an especially damp and dark section, which wouldn’t have looked out of place along the Porter ridgeline.  The woods were gorgeous, and they marked the point where the trail really started to level out.  A few minutes later I was in the summit woods, surrounded by stunted trees and on a different trail network.  Ahead of me, the summit trail continued on, and to my right a path led over to Lookout Rock.  Another trail led off to the left, unmarked.

I continued toward the summit, and in a very short time I came to a bizarre metal building with a chain-link fence attached to it.  The trail continued around it, as did I, and I immediately came to another junction.  Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had come upon what appeared to be the remains of an old road, one that used to climb over the summit and continue on down to Beartown Gap and Dorset.  This wasn’t obvious at all from where I stood, but as I headed left toward the summit, I passed an old road sign on rocks that looked far too narrow to support motor traffic.  Later, when I hiked over to Lookout Rock, I found another pair of road signs, along the same track, as well as a wide corridor through the trees that looked a lot like an old road.  I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise: there are roads all over this mountain, and there were roads all over the other Taconic peaks I’ve visited to date.  The trail to Mt. Berlin is entirely on an old woods road, with roads coming in from all different directions at regular intervals.  When I mentioned that I had hiked to the summit of Mt. Berlin, a buddy of mine told me that he had wheeled up it years ago.  The Greylock massif is covered in paved roads that provide motoring tourists with summit access, as on Equinox.  People really like driving over the Taconics.

The Summit of Equinox

I found the summit not long after heading left at the junction.  The summit of Equinox is viewless, or at least it was that day, due to some low clouds.  Just off of the summit is a massive aerial - well over 100’ tall.  What really caught my eye, though, was the visitor’s center.  I had read about it, briefly, but when I first saw it, it looked more like a shrine to a Christian saint than an actual visitor’s center.  There was a massive, larger than life painting, presumably of St. Bruno, facing the summit.  It was illuminated in the gloaming, presumably as a call to the faithful.  I hope he wasn’t too disappointed.

I circled around the mist enshrouded building, self-described as the “Saint Bruno Scenic Viewing Center”, and found that there were several people on the other side: a summit steward of sorts and 4 or 5 motoring tourists.  The steward was explaining to the motorists that people also hike up to the summit from Manchester, using me as an example.  I smiled at the motorists, said “Yep!” and kept moving.  I don’t particularly like being made into a spectacle.  As I was wandering around the outside of the building, the steward stopped me for a few minutes to discuss my choice of footwear; she was astonished that I had hiked up in my FiveFingers.  I stopped myself short of saying “well, I almost hiked up barefoot, but the gravel near the base would have slowed me down way too much” and instead just explained that I had been getting nasty blisters from my boots, and the FiveFingers worked much better for me.  We chatted a bit more, and I took my leave.

I headed back the way I had come, and then headed along the old road towards Lookout Rock.  I passed by a few pet burial sites, and arrived at Lookout Rock a short while later.  At least I assume it was Lookout Rock, since there are a few vantage points along the way and none actually bear a label.  The view was nice, and the clouds had parted slightly, but it wasn’t anything spectacular.  I could see the Green Mountains, and Manchester in the valley below.  The view is probably better without clouds obscuring it, and I have to assume that the view from the summit viewing center is much better, since it sits at a better vantage point, and is, after all, a “viewing center”.

I would have liked to explore the old road some more, and head down towards Beartown Gap a bit, but I needed to get home, so I left it for another day.  I was thrilled to at least have seen those signs at this point along the mountain, since I had seen the old road on the USGS topos, but couldn’t find anything about it online.

Trail Junction
In case there's any doubt, THAT is the Yellow Trail.

I took the yellow trail from Lookout Rock back to the first summit trail junction I had come to, which was a much prettier route than the old road, and then started my descent back down the Blue Summit Trail.  I stopped to check out the spring, which, to my surprise, was running through a gigantic white pipe thrust into the hillside.  The rocks below the pipe descended in a cascade of brilliant green moss.  I didn’t dare walk over to sample it.
Now, at last I fall before
The Fountain of Lamneth
I thought I would be singing
But I'm tired... out of breath
Many journeys end here
But, the secret's told the same
Life is just a candle
And a dream must give it flame

The key, the end, the answer
Stripped of their disguise
Still it's all confusion
And tears spring to my eyes
Though I've reached a signpost
It's really not the end
Like Old Sol behind the mountain
I'll be coming up again...

- Neil Peart, RUSH, The Fountain of Lamneth
(The TARDIS is only taking us back a week or so for our next stop, to another Appalachian feature.)

01 January 2014

Sawteeth - 23 Nov 2013

Next stop: November, 2013.  A bright, sunny, beautiful (windy, cold, desolate) day gets even more fun as the snow starts to fall and Sawteeth plays her tricks upon us all...

My brother (Don), Ken and I met up around 7:00 at a Park ‘n’ Ride along the Northway.  The wind was blowing so fiercely while I waited for the others to arrive that I swapped my soft shell for my hard shell and kept it on the whole day.  Once we were all assembled, we jumped into Ken’s Jeep and headed north.  We arrived at the AMR lot, geared up, and headed out around 9:00.

It was bitterly cold as we made our way up to the trailhead and then headed along the Lake Road Trail, but after a mile or two I felt myself start to warm up some.  I was wearing new boots, and they felt a bit stiff, but they were better than my alternatives: running shoes designed for breathability.  I had gotten rid of my old pair of boots after Slide, and I had finally come to terms with the fact that my feet didn’t fit inside them, but hadn’t bothered to pick up any new boots since my FiveFingers were fine for warmer weather hiking.  Faced with the prospect of snow and icy streams, I thought it wise to pick up something waterproof and protective.  I fell back on an old favorite: Merrell Moab Mids, and ended up going up a full size, from 10.5 to 11.5, in order to get a fit that didn’t crush my pinky toes.  It’s still not perfect, but it’s infinitely more workable.


By 10:20 we were at the dam, and checking out the view.  I’ve heard this described as one of the few fjords in the area, and it is most certainly a waterway bounded by steep cliffs and of glacial origin.  The view was incredible, though a bit hard to admire from where we stood, due to the position of the sun and the winds coming across the lake.  The wind hit us with its full force as we trudged across the bridge over the Ausable, and we didn’t dally.

Once on the other side, we picked up the Scenic Trail.  The trail wandered along the side of the lake for at least another mile before it finally decided to start climbing.  As we started to gain elevation we saw the only other hikers we would see that day: a pair of French Canadians.  We let them pass and never saw them again.  I remarked that every time I go hiking in the High Peaks, I get the urge to learn French, since a large number of the people you meet on the trails up here are speaking it, except to say hello.

The snow started falling lightly, and by 11:20 we were at one of the more picturesque lookouts (Outlook #2, I assume).  The snow was actually coming upwards from our point of view, due to the wind hitting the cliff that we were standing on, and the wind was strong enough to rock a massive erratic sitting on the cliff.  We kept moving on, but by the time we got to Outlook #3, Ken was starting to have serious doubts about our ability to summit safely.  I know we were lagging, but figured we would still have enough time.

After a short, steep climb, we were at the next outlook, #4, and in to the snow in earnest now.  It was 12:45, an in our earlier discussions, we had figured that we would be on the summit by 13:00.  The guys pushed on while I stopped to get my poles set up.  The combination of snow and a descent into a minor col meant that I was getting unsure on my feet.

We passed the turn-off for Marble Point, and at 13:20 we passed a sign labeled “Cougar Gulch".  I saw the first DEC marker of the day at the top of a small slippery face.  I grabbed ahold of a nearby tree to snap a picture of the marker, and then turned around to take a picture looking back, since the view was pretty in the misty, snow-filled air.  We stopped 15 minutes later, near what I was certain were the cliffs of the false summit.  Don and I tucked in to our lunches and some coffee; Ken had already eaten his lunch while waiting for us in Cougar Gulch.

Shortly after heading out again, we were at outlook #5, with only a few misty masses emerging from the clouds to hint at how wonderful this outlook must be.  A few minutes later, as expected, we dropped into a col and started what I assumed to be our final push to the summit.  We found the highest ground, which was viewless, and then set off on what we thought was our descent.  We found a great view a short way down the trail, where we posed for pictures, and then we came to a tiny col.  I searched around for our next trail, to no avail.  It took me a few moments to realize that Sawteeth had tricked me: the high point we had thought was the summit was actually the false summit I was expecting to find, and the peak that we had seen when posing for our summit pics was the real summit.


I stopped briefly to try and put on traction devices, only to realize that they weren’t going to fit on my new boots.  I trudged on, bushwhacking slightly to get around an icy ledge, and caught back up to the guys.  The rest of the trek to the real summit was uneventful.  We reached the turn off for the Warden’s camp and then the real summit around 14:45.  We posed briefly for actual summit pictures, admired the view of Pyramid looming in the gloaming, and then set off to find the Weld trail.  We were immediately greeted by a series of slick, steep descents, and Ken and I took to glissading down a few of them.  On one particularly steep drop off my fear of falling kicked in, and I was momentarily paralyzed until gravity kicked in and I landed hard upon the rocks beneath the drop-off.  (It was steep and slick enough and situated such that I think it would have been tough to reverse [go UP] without front points or ice tools.)

We found the junction with the Weld trail around 15:10, and headed down.  The trail was considerably narrower than the trail that we were on.  I watched, in horror, a moment later, as my brother flew through the air after finding a particularly slippery spot.  He saved himself by wrapping his arms around a nearby tree.

The rest of the descent was relatively uneventful, though we took a few more spills on the slick ground.  Ken, as per usual, flew on ahead, and I slowed down.  I watched his tracks for evidence of slippery ground as Don and I made our way down.

The valve on our hydration packs kept freezing up on the descent, and we kept reminding each other to drink in order to keep water flowing through the hose.  I ended up stuffing my valve down my outer shirt a few times in order to thaw it out.

We paused briefly near some waterfalls, and chuckled at the nearby sign: “Don’t be a drop-out.  Keep back.”  By 16:25 we were on level ground.  Ken had paused near one of the junctions: he had heard a cacophony up ahead and was waiting for us to catch up before proceeding.  We never did catch sight of them, but there were several of them and their tracks indicated that they were probably staying at the AMC lodge: smooth soles wouldn’t have done well on the slick mountainous trails.

The four mile walk out was uneventful.  We walked stubbornly through the fading light for 2 miles before putting on our headlamps.  We reached the gate, signed out and then encountered blinding wind and black ice on the short paved section. When we finally reached the parking lot, we were met by a Canadian woman asking if we had seen another party - they had been together on Round Mountain, and then split up.  The rest of her party were heading over to climb Dix.  We said that we hadn’t seen them, and I made sure that she had the DEC emergency contact number in case she needed help.

The ride home was treacherous, even in the Jeep, until we got off at exit 28 to go to the Stewart’s in Schroon.  Route 9 was mostly clear, then completely clear, and the snow had stopped falling by the time we got to the shop.  Not a moment too soon, either: I had a nasty charlie horse from sitting in the back of the Jeep.  We picked up some coffee and snacks and then headed home.  I had a big smile on my face as we headed back home: it was a tough day, but I had fun, and I was happy to have gotten to spend time with the guys in the wonderful Adirondacks.