“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir
Greetings! I’m Natalie, welcome to my blog! I am a musician (check out my original folksy Adirondack-inspired music at https://www.nocturnnemusic.com/), an engineer, and an avid hiker and photographer. I also have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome – a degenerative genetic disorder that affects all of my joints, that’s resulting in my muscles being the glue that holds my joints together rather than my tendons and ligaments…As you can imagine, that makes hiking quite difficult! EDS is a little-known and underdiagnosed condition largely affecting women, with very little research behind it. Learn more about EDS here: https://www.ehlers-danlos.com/what-is-eds/
On this site you’ll find trip reports from my personal journeys through the mountains as well as my photography portfolio. Read through my diaries to stroll with me though the woods, accompany me on my solo 46er adventures, and learn from my triumphs and failures. “Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – John Muir
Click HERE to view my photography portfolio and take a part of the wilderness home with you.
Memorial day weekend. Weather was nice and the snow and ice were finally gone from the peaks, so I decided it’s now or never. I knew there was no chance I’d get a parking spot with having to drive 3 hours from home to get to the trailhead at Elk Lake, so instead I drove up Saturday and made it to the primary lot at 10pm. I’m glad I did, because there were only 3 open spots in that lot when I arrived. Presumably the lot was full of campers’ cars. The next closest parking area is 2 miles down the road, which is for sure where I would have ended up had I not gone the night before! I set up in the back of the car and had a fitful nights sleep listening to the sounds of the loons on nearby Elk Lake.
My route would ideally cover the whole Dix Range, starting with Macomb (1, in blue, below), then to South Dix aka Carson (2, in purple), then to East Dix aka Grace (3, in green), back up South Dix, over to Hough (4, in yellow), and finally to Dix (5, in red), then down the Beckhorn trail. I knew it was unlikely that I would manage to do the whole range successfully in a day, so I also planned an “emergency exit” down Lillian Brook (in white) in case I had to bail. At minimum I absolutely wanted to meet Grace, and not orphan it out, so that was my goal.
At 4:00am my alarm went off and I promptly ignored it. I decided it’d be a good idea to let another hiker go first down the trail to scare off any bears, so I closed my eyes for another few minutes while the first hikers showed up. Eventually I didn’t have any excuses not to get started anymore, as by 4:45am I signed myself in at the trailhead and started along the path.
I trod along the path with my headlamp for just 5 minutes before deeming it unnecessary, and within 15 minutes the sun had lit the trail, the forest was alive with the sounds of the birds, and I was already ready to shed my outer layer despite the brisk temperature.
The path started off smooth but rocky and I made quick progress without much effort along the first 2.3 miles of trail.
At 5:40am I reached a nice bridge over a stream with a beautiful little waterfall, and I knew I must be getting close to the campsites and thus the junction to go up the Macomb Slide.
The trail got a little muddy here and there but nothing unmanageable, especially given the recent rain. Until now I hadn’t seen a single person on the trail.
There were several small stream crossings with VERY helpful ‘bridges’ to get across them, but I didn’t mind the challenge even though it wasn’t even 6am yet!
Just a minute after crossing the last stream, I saw the signs indicating campsite, and a cairn marking the start of the herd path up to Macomb. You can see above the camping sign on the right is a yellow marker with “Macomb ->” written on it.
I turned right at the cairn and walked…..straight into a campsite, with some folks up preparing their coffee and breakfast. I looked around and couldn’t help but feel that I was just utterly barging in on their camping, until a nice man pointed me towards the really quite obvious pair of cairns marking the start of the herd path. Time / distance from trailhead: 1h15m / 2.3 miles.
This path started off quite pleasantly. I enjoyed the sounds of the stream nearby and the trillium flowers dotting the forest floor.
After 30 minutes, I decided to stop on a nice log above the stream to have some breakfast, and take a selfie of myself while I still looked clean and presentable :D. While I sat there, 2 different pairs of hikers passed me by on their way up.
For a so-called “trailless”, unmaintained peak, this path was really not in bad shape at all. It wasn’t particularly muddy, not particularly narrow, and not particularly steep. Not bad at all for a Sunday stroll!
At about 7:00am I got my first glimpse of Macomb, and the notorious slide that I’d be climbing up. Check it out below, by the purple arrow.
On the map, you can tell exactly where the slide begins because the map shows an absolutely straight section leading up the mountain. Before that, the trail deviates from the stream for 1/4 – 1/2 of a mile, so I knew I was getting close when I couldn’t hear the sounds of Slide Brook anymore.
A bit more of climbing and within 10 minutes I was standing at the base of an impressive, long, scrambly, rocky slide with tiny little dots of people skittering up the slope.
A cairn and a rusted iron…thing mark the opening to the trail I’d just come from for those brave enough to come down the slide. This slide is the product of a hurricane in September of 1999, and has now become the main route of Macomb mountain.
Looking back from the slide was a real treat with stunning views of Elk Lake. I stood there for a minute wondering if there are any amazing little campsites on those islands in the lake before continuing up.
The slide is LONG. The first photo doesn’t do it justice, unless you zoom in to see the tiny little dots near the top and realize those are people. Let’s just say….I would NOT want to come down this slide. Though I bet it’d be a quick trip down, given that I’d most certainly just be tumbling my way from the top. The earth here consists of loose rock and sandy dirt, and almost nothing is stable. I tried to look for patches of dirt, because even though my feet sink into it and it moves a bit like sand on a beach, I had more confidence in the dirt than in the rocks. I mostly stayed towards the left side of the slide, until close to the top where the stone becomes flat and dark, and slick from the rain. When I got to this point I stayed to the right. A tip for climbing this slide with friends – give a good amount of space between you and the person in front of you! I dislodged more than a few rocks while I was climbing that could have whacked someone if they’d been behind me!
At the very top of the slide, you have two options – go left or go right. Both paths take you to the same place, though the Left one is the more popular of the two. I turned back just before leaving the slide for one last look at the views.
Things got interesting when I left the slide. The path left leads you almost immediately to a very large boulder / cliff. So here’s the thing. There is a CLEAR AND OBVIOUS PATH AROUND TO THE LEFT OF THE BOULDER. Did I take it? Nooooooo. Why? I don’t knooooooow.
So here I am, literally going straight up the side of this boulder cliff, wondering how I got here, but I was already committed so I just kept on moving my way up and towards the right. Ugh. Don’t do what I did, folks. Just go around the dang thing.
All three paths then converged at the top of the boulder – the path from the left that normal people take, the path from the right that adventurous people take, and the path from the boulder that idiots take. From here it’s hard to tell on the map how close I was to the summit, but I was sure I was almost there.
Sure enough, less than 15 minutes later I was standing at the top of Macomb Mountain!
A nice lady offered to take a photo of me after I took some of her and her family, and I happily obliged. Friends….Look at me 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣 Oh how the tables had turned since I’d had breakfast almost 2 hours earlier! Lookin gooooood! Anywaaay, I had made it here at 8:15am, 3.5h and roughly 4.5 miles from the trailhead.
I took a 5 minute break, stretched my legs, and took the obligatory picture with the summit sign, and set off toward South Dix (aka Carson) promptly.
On the map, it looks like the distance to South Dix from Macomb is maybe 1 mile. I always dread the downhill (and uphill, if we’re being honest with ourselves) on these trailless peaks because it’s usually a pretty brutal vertical descent (I’m looking at you, Couch). However the path down from Macomb wasn’t bad at all! I don’t recall any tricky or technical sections that I had to navigate, just a bit of mud here and there, which is completely expected in the ADKs.
If you look at the map, there is what looks to be a shortcut going from below the summit of South Dix over to Lillian Brook, intersecting when the trail down Lillian Brook has passed all of the steepest sections already. So when I passed this little cairn on the left on my way toward S Dix, I assumed that’s what it was. (Note that I did NOT see the other end of this trail when I was on Lillian Brook later in the day).
Just before 9am, 30 minutes since leaving Macomb, I arrived at the base of some rocky business and looked around for an obvious way up it. There was none, so I approached this like a choose-your-own-adventure game. There were some cairns sporadically scattered about but they weren’t particularly helpful to me.
I reached the top to find a handful of people milling about near a boulder seated on top. We talked for a minute to get our bearings and figure out where exactly we were. What we were standing on was the false summit to Dix, but a glorious false summit it was. The actual summit is in the trees, so I took a few minutes to enjoy the scenery while everyone else continued on.
Looking back to the summit of Macomb
The peak all the way on the right is Hough, while the sharp one to the left of Hough is the Beckhorn. Dix itself is hidden by the Beckhorn from this angle.
From my Peakfinder app – always making me feel so clever when people ask what mountains we’re looking at
I headed back to the trail at 9:15am, passed by the junction with a small cairn marking the way to Hough, and 10 minutes later I was standing on the true summit of South Dix, which is marked by a little yellow disk.
If you continue just past the summit there is a nice outcropping to the right for some views. I’d had my fill at the false summit though and continued straight down the path towards my next target: Grace (aka East Dix).
Yet again I was pleased to discover the gentleness of this path leading to Grace. This one descended very gradually, given that it is essentially on the ridge straight to Grace from S Dix. It wasn’t overgrown at all; a bit muddy in some places but nothing unmanageable.
I was a bit surprised however by how long it was taking me to get to the next mountain. I’d expected another 30 minute jaunt but for some reason it felt much longer than that. After 20 or 30 minutes of descent, a man came from the opposite direction and we chatted a bit. It’s nice to meet other solo hikers on the trail when you’re out there alone! He let me know that I only had another 20 minutes to go, and asked me if HE only had another 10 to go. I replied that I really had no idea because I’m agonizingly slow on the trail, and felt like I’d been descending for an hour 🤣 How helpful I am!
Sure enough, the trail did eventually start to climb up….
Until I popped out onto the bare rock of the summit, 45 minutes after leaving S Dix. (I swear it felt like hours though).
I climbed onto the rock that is officially the summit, though there’s no indicator of it being so besides being a high rock, and took some shots of the mountains I’ve come from, and those I’ve yet to do. And I’ve got to say…..Dix looks like it’s a hundred miles away. It might as well be across an ocean. It’s true that they’re never as far away as they look, but at this point in my hike I had a decision to make. I’d been having a growing pain in my left hip flexor and in my left elbow, making it impossible for me to put any weight on my elbow and making it very very difficult to lift my left leg to climb, which was troublesome because literally half of the hike is climbing up. I know these pains are of course coming from my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and my brittle, stretchy collagen, but still it’s so frustrating to not be able to do anything about it. I’d worn my knee braces in the hopes that my knees would be OK, and so far they were, but I just wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it up any more mountains. I decided to head back to S Dix before making any final decisions however.
I stayed on the stunning summit of Grace for 45 minutes, enjoying conversation with other hikers and some much-needed snacks, before heading back to S Dix. This time, it seemed like time flew by and 45 minutes later I was back on the summit at 11:50am. I passed by the summit and reached the junction to Hough a minute later.
I decided at this point that I had to head this way regardless of whether I could make it up Hough or not, since Lillian Brook was in the same direction and that was my emergency exit. I was super thrilled to have made it up Grace, but at the same time Hough was right there and it would be really painful to have to just wave at it as I descended Lillian Brook.
After a bit of descent, again very gentle and surprisingly easy, the path began weaving it’s way uphill again. This little mountain between S Dix and Hough is unofficially dubbed “Pough”, pronounced like “Puff”, as in, “you’ll Huff and Puff your way up these mountains”. I reached this summit only 20 minutes after leaving the junction on S Dix, at 12:10pm.
As I stood atop Pough, and looked to my right…..My God. There is Hough. Ahhhhh why is it so far away! I decided in that moment that I probably couldn’t make it up to the summit, and definitely wouldn’t be making it to the summit of Dix, so I continued down the trail to descend Pough.
20 minutes later I was standing at the junction to Lillian Brook, feeling very torn. The summit to Hough was sooooo close, but my hip was really in immense pain, and I couldn’t even help it along with my poles because my left elbow was out of commission as well. I couldn’t help but laugh a little because of all of the things I was worried about hurting on this day, these were none of them. Lately my lower back, right SI joint, right elbow, and neck had all been giving me problems. I was especially concerned before my hike that the weight of the backpack would not be ideal for these reasons. And yet….all of those things were absolutely fine! At the end, I thought, what the hell. I’m already planning on having to come back for Dix, and probably coming from rt 73 to do so, and I reallllllllllly don’t want to have to climb up and over Dix, down and up to Hough, then back down and up over Dix and back down to 73. Just….no. So instead I gave myself a little pep talk and passed by the cairn to Lillian Brook to go up up and up.
Some mud was present as always, but also this luscious green mossy stuff on either side that looked like it was straight out of a fairy tale.
The climb up was expectedly very difficult, slow, and painful for me. I had to stop a few times to sit and stretch on a rock while questioning my life choices. I finally mustered up the strength to continue on up, and before I knew it I was at this notorious cool rock ledge that leads to a sort of false summit on Hough. If you have the energy (and ideally, functioning hip flexors and elbows) you can climb right up the side of this, but I chose to go around.
I had to sneak through this cool gap in the rocks, up some more rocky ledges, and I found myself at the false summit of Hough with some pretty fantastic views – no shortage of those in this range!
I could see the true summit from here and didn’t linger. (See the peak on the right in the photo below).
45 minutes after leaving the junction with Lillian Brook, I was standing on the summit of Hough, taking a selfie with it’s little yellow disk!
Ah was I ever happy to have made the decision to come up here! I was feeling so proud of myself, and on top of that I’d had the most perfect weather imaginable. Though for anyone feeling concerned about the black flies this time of year, don’t worry! They are alive and well and ready to welcome you into the mountains 🤣 Fortunately though I’d treated my shirt and hat with permethrin at the start of the season, so I just lowered the bug net contained within my hat when I wanted some peace on the summits.
So here I am. Imagine you are me, standing on the summit from which the photo below is taken, and looking to the right to see….the Beckhorn, approximately 96 miles away. There was no debate this time, just an absolutely nope from me on making it up to Dix today, and I was ok with that. Not only was it not exactly close, but you have to go allllllllll the way down just to go alllllll the way back up. Nope nope nope. I don’t hate myself that much.
Visibility was just spectacular. I could see all the way to the Green Mountains in Vermont with ease.
I’m not sure what time I left to go back down. I was really not concerned with timing at this point, having given up on Dix for the day. I calculated the distance I’d have to go to get back to the trailhead at between 6 and 7 miles, and was hoping I could make it there by 6pm.
I reached the junction back at Lillian Brook at 2:20pm. I was again nervous that the trail would be very rugged. I could see on the map though that it would be clearly steep for the first 1/2 mile or so, and it should be pleasant walking after that. So off I went.
And yes, the path was a bit steep at the top, but it was also BEAUTIFUL.
Unfortunately, before too long, a familiar pain began in my right knee, and my stomach dropped. Of all the pains I get with EDS, there has only been one so far that I absolutely cannot handle – the knee pain that happens when my outer quad muscles get too tight from climbing and pull my patellas off track during the descent. And it was happening, despite wearing my magical braces that had always worked to prevent the pain until now. I presumed it was happening because my right leg bore the bulk of my weight during the climb up every mountain except Macomb since my right hip was hurting so much. So the quad must have gotten extra tight. I steeled myself for the pain, and moved at a snail’s pace to baby that knee and keep the pain minimal for as long as possible. Which wasn’t easy when the trail was steep, wet, and full of rocks, but I managed.
Did I mention that this trail is BEAUTIFUL? Despite the pain, I was in heaven here. The colors, the sounds, the smells….I felt like I was home.
I knew when I reached the Lillian Brook that the steepest part was over, judging from the map, and I had a much easier time navigating while trying not to bend my right knee too much on the smoother, flatter ground.
The upside of going so dang slow is that you have lots (and I mean LOTS) of time to observe things around you, like….
MR SLUG YOU ARE VERY LARGE
I didn’t want to dawdle because I was already moving pretty slowly, but at some point I couldn’t resist sitting by the stream and pouring some fresh, cold water over my face. I swear I felt a half-inch of grime wash away from my skin.
Along the way down this trail, I kept hearing things that I thought were people talking far away. Sometimes it was the brook babbling away, sometimes it was a particularly large fly buzzing around, so when I was rockhopping and yet again thought I heard people talking, I dismissed it. Until I looked up and saw two women that I’d run into a few times earlier in the day. They asked “Are you coming down Lillian Brook?” I said, “I am! Are you on the real trail??”, they said “we are!” and I rejoiced to be back in the land of maintained trails with trail markers at 4:15pm! Do note that the trail up Lillian brook is not easy to spot from the main trail in. If you’re coming from the Slide Brook leanto though, you’ll cross one small stream only before coming to a larger wider stream, which is basically the start of the Lillian Brook Trail.
30 minutes later, I’d gone the 1.3 miles from Lillian Brook to the Slide Brook Lean-to and campsites. Only 2.3 more miles to go.
The ground here was blessedly flat. Unfortunately though, by this time my feet were feeling every tiny pebble, stick, bug under my boots if I was stepping on anything not dirt. It was so achy that I started purposely going through mud even if there were rocks to hop across because the mud felt great! I was grateful however that my technique of babying my right knee and going soooo slooooow had paid off, because it really wasn’t bothering me on the flat section. I did stop at the bridge after Slide Brook to sit and rest a bit. Then I thought I could lie on my back and rest a bit. Then I thought, maybe I could just close my eyes a bit? After a few minutes I thought this was a good way to accidentally camp on the trail overnight, so I hauled my aching self to my feet and carried on.
That said….This portion of trail, after 12 hours of hiking in the incredibly stunning but exhausting Dix range, was just. so. BORING. I eventually resorted to counting my steps – not as a mental escape from the pain as I’d done previously in other treks but just for something to DO.
Imagine how pleased I was when, 1,900 steps later, I reached the trailhead….EXACTLY AT 6pm! Which was my goal time I’d calculated up on Hough!
I hopped in the car and took a solid 20 minutes just trying to wrestle my knee braces off, then started the 3 hour drive home. 29 down, 17 to go. Happy hiking!
Macomb Mountain: 4,405′, elevation gain: 2,400′
South Dix: 4,060′, elevation gain: +260′
East Dix: 4,012′, elevation gain: +350′ (+400′ back to South Dix)
Hough Peak: 4,400′, elevation gain: +630′
Total Duration: 13 hours 15 minutes (including maybe ~2h mulling around the summits)
Total Distance: ~14 miles
All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may only be used with express permission.
My first REAL winter high peak! I’ve hiked plenty in the shoulder seasons, and as much as I enjoy it, I’ve always secretly thought the people who say “Winter hiking is the best hiking!” were a few peas short of a casserole….. So here I find myself up at 4:30am, driving 3 hours to the trailhead, and sitting in the car looking at the “4°F” on the dash, wondering whyyyyyy are we doing this??
After half an hour of donning all of my layers, knee braces, and snow shoes (LITERALLY. 30 minutes to do this.), we signed in at the very broken register at 8:30am, and started the 1.8 mile walk up the gravel road.
We’d been here back in November just when winter was first dusting the mountains – we started in the dark, and finished in the dark after only summiting Santanoni and Couchsachraga. So we’d never actually SEEN this road! And it was beautiful – a thick layer of snow covering the ground, with a perfectly packed path broken out ahead of us.
After a little under an hour of walking, we reached the junction with the trail at 9:20am.
We trudged along in our snowshoes – they take me an hour or two to get used to – and when we looked to our left coming down a small hill, we saw written in the snow with a pole “MOOSE TRACKS”! And sure enough, we looked around and spotted them! No moose, but that’s the closest I’ve ever been to seeing a wild Adirondack moose! I didn’t stop to take any photos though, and 10 minutes after the junction we were at the bridge.
Shortly after the bridge, we began following a stream steadily uphill for the next ~1.3 miles. As we started to gain some elevation, we caught some glimpses of the massive Santanoni looming through the trees, covered in snow and almost blending into the sky.
We only met a handful of people turning back towards the trailhead as we climbed. I was super envious when two guys on skis came smoothly gliding down the trail – it looked so fun and must be so fast to get back to the trailhead!
At some point we stopped a few minutes to have a snack and I spotted this cute little tree with a snow hat, and couldn’t resist giving him a face with my pole – now he’s just happy to see ya!
20 minutes later, we came to the viewpoint on the left on a rocky outcropping in the brook between a line of cascades.
200 yards later and we were at the junction with the express trail up Santanoni. The cairn marking the junction was completely buried in snow, which left me wondering – how did the people who broke the trail know to turn there?? It looked almost no different than any other patch of forest, so kudos to them!
After the junction, the trail leveled out a bit for the next mile until we reached the trail up to Times Square 20 minutes later.
We were going to turn left to head up the ridge, buuuut of course I wanted to see the Duck Hole Lean-to and have lunch there, so we continued straight ahead. On the map it looks like the lean-to is right there. So first we climbed one hill. Then another one. Aaaand another one. Until I got pissed at adding unnecessary mileage to our trip and turned around 😆
So there we were back at the junction….again….We walked down a small hill and onto a clearing which is presumably a small pond when it’s not frozen, and had lunch in the sun. And I got to use my little inflatable cushion! One of the toughest things for me in the winter is staying warm when I stop to take a break, especially when I’m sitting directly on the snow and ice.
It worked so well! I sat all bundled up, enjoying my cream cheese and jam sandwich with a waaaaarm butt. Life is good.
After a nice break, we hit the trail again. For a while there was little elevation gain, but then it got very steep very fast as we passed Bradley Pond on the left. After a few minutes of steep climbing, we found ourselves perched on a boulder with a glimpse of the mountains.
It seems like every hike and every mountain we’d climbed since the beginning of winter had been during a blizzard and required not only that we break trail, but had us dealing with wind and snow buffeting our faces, and no views from the summits. I forgot what it was like to hike in such beautiful weather – and the sun?! And we passed these amazing rock cliffs to our right that were just dripping in huge icicles.
An hour after brunch the climbing briefly stopped and we slid on our butts under this tree until we reached Panther Brook shortly after.
I was actually pretty nervous about this section of trail based on what I remembered when we were here in November. We hiked down from Times Square in the dark, directly in Panther Brook, climbing over large icy boulders the whole way, and I even took a rough fall at some point. So here I was ready with my microspikes, my crampons, and revenge, but the trail was pristine so far – no rocks, no mud, no ice, not NOTHIN. Just snow.
From the bottom of the brook until the top of the ridge at times square, the trail climbs steadily and steeply. It seemed to go on and on and on, but we kept our spirits high by calling out “heeeeere kitty kitty kitty *smooch smooch smooch sounds*”….because we were climbing PANTHER…..We were sleep deprived and exhausted and this was hilarious to us. I do wonder what other hikers must have thought if they’d heard us! The nice thing though was the trail was so steep that every time we turned around, we had gorgeous views.
Peep how steep the trail was there….It was like that the WHOLE TIME. It was hard work – obviously – but all we could think about was how we were clearly going to be sliding down this entire mountain on our butts and it was going to be EPIC.
With the thoughts of butt sliding to energize us, the steepness got even steepier and I knew we were almost there – I even identified the spot I fell at last time. Then, 2 hours and 20 minutes after leaving the junction, we reached Times Square!
It shouldn’t even have to be said that the first thing I did was blow up my inflatable cushion, sit down, and scarf down some lunch and niiiiice salty chips. This was as close to Panther as we got the last time – it killed me at the time, but I was in so much pain that there was no way I could have made it up Panther and back. This time though, I was in great shape, feeling pain-free and energized as we trotted down the herd path towards Panther. After about 5 minutes, I caught a glimpse of the summit through the trees and my goodness it looked like it might as well be in Ohio. Nevertheless, 5 minutes of nearly-flat walking later and we reached a lookout just before the summit.
The only difficult section of trail lie directly ahead of us – a huge ice-coated boulder with just a very narrow ledge we could walk on.
Instead we took an alternate path someone before us had forged to the right, and we popped right out on the summit!
We explored the off-shooting trails to find some beautiful lookouts, and the summit sign. There was so much snow up here that we had to kneel to be at the same level as the sign!
And of course – victory chocolate!
We wandered back to the larger open area to soak in the views. Weather couldn’t have been more perfect – temperature was hovering right around freezing, the sun had been out and now was unfortunately hiding behind some clouds, but there was NO WIND. None.
That littttttttle bump is Couchsachraga….Still don’t know how that one’s a high peak!
And played with my Peakfinder app!
At 2:50pm, we made our move to head back to Times Square.
The trees up here were caked in crusted snow – it was a winter wonderland. And this time we were wearing the right clothes so we stayed completely dry! Yaaaaay dry feet! It’s the simple things.
We made it back to Times Square in literally 15 minutes, met a few other groups of hikers finishing up from Santanoni and Couch, and headed back the way we came up with our sights set on BUTT SLIDING our way down the mountain. We’d apparently gone 18,000 steps by that point – I was so optimistic at our butt sliding prowess that I thought we wouldn’t get any more steps in until we were at the bottom. You can probably sense where this is going….And you know, we tried. We really really reallllly tried. But when butt sliding somehow becomes more exhausting that just walking – using arms and legs and core to drag yourself through the snow – what even is the point?
My friends, it DID NOT GO WELL. After a while we pretty much gave up and just walked down the mountain – until we got to the steep section near Bradley Pond and I just couldn’t resist. Naturally Gildo followed after me with….less success…..
For reference, that’s the trail on his right. He is not in any way on the trail. At this point, the trail was more on him. We got ourselves back on our feet and reached the junction just before 5pm – 2 hours after leaving the summit of Panther.
I was determined at this point to make it the ~4.5 miles back to the trailhead before 7pm, so we pretty much booked it. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to bring my own trekking poles with me on this trip, so I’d been using a pair of Gildo’s ski poles that were in the back of the car, but they were about 8 inches too tall for me, and the trail was narrow enough that they really got in the way more than anything. So on the walk back, rather than bothering to carry them or use them, I started just dragging them behind me. I even gave them names, as if I was walking my two long skinny dogs – Rover and Grover, of course.
At 6pm we were crossing the bridge again and looking for moose tracks shortly after, and by 6:10pm we were back on the ‘gravel’ road.
We put our headlamps on with 3/4 of a mile to go, and by 6:50pm we had reached the trailhead and signed out at the register.
This was hands down the best hiking day I’ve had in ages. Nothing hurt! My knee braces did the trick, and kept my body from having a flare all day. Plus the weather and trail conditions were just perfect. That said, it still felt amazing to get into the car and peel off so many layers of clothing that I’d been wearing all day. 25 down! Marshall, I’m coming for you next 🤩 Happy Hiking!
Panther Peak: 4442′
Total Duration: 10.5 hours of hiking
Round Trip Distance: ~13-14 miles
All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may only be used with express permission.
Ah, the dreaded Santanoni range. Santanoni, Couchsachraga (pronounced “Kook-Suh-Krah-Guh”), and Panther – these three do NOT have the greatest reputation, to say the least. They’re unmarked, unmaintained trails and notoriously muddy. To prepare for an inevitably long day, we headed up the night before and stayed at a nearby hotel – it was absolutely adorable, but unfortunately it was the single most uncomfortable room I’ve ever stayed in, and I didn’t sleep for a single minute all night. I was thrilled when it was finally 5am and we got ready to head out to the trailhead 30 minutes away. We arrived at the trailhead at 6:30am, geared up, and headed out into the dark cold morning by 6:45am.
The trail starts off along an old road for about a mile and a half. It’s nice easy walking and a welcome warm-up to the rugged trails in our near future.
As we walked, the rising sun began brightening the sky through the trees. Which is fortunate, because it would have been easy to miss the junction with our eyes glued to the ground as we walked in the dark!
At 7:30am we reached the junction and turned right. As we walked we heard a growing sound of rushing water, and 15 minutes later we were crossing a wooden bridge over a stream.
It was definitely below freezing when we began the hike but we were comfortably warm while we walked, and we spotted some cool patches of permafrost emerging from the earth!
For the first hour and a half of walking, the trail had been blissfully rock and mud-free, and I was starting to think, “Maybe it’s not as bad as everyone says!”
Literally – and I mean LITERALLY – 5 minutes later, and we were walking up an actual stream that was calling itself a trail, complete with slippery corduroy striping the lengths between the mud pits.
The trail became pretty rugged at this point, despite being maintained. There was lots of running water, slippery corduroy, and icy puncheon, but fortunately the elevation gain was gentle and gradual, following by the REAL stream all the while. Going slow, it wasn’t too bad to navigate and I was grateful for the logs that had been put down in the wettest spots. Two hours after starting, we reached the closest point to the stream and took a moment to sit and enjoy the waterfalls.
After 15 more minutes of tactfully avoiding plunging our boots in the mud, we reached the junction to the Express trail up Santanoni at 9:15am.
We realized immediately that we were the first people of the day going up the express trail, despite a handful of groups the signed in ahead of us. We chose to go up the express route and down the Bradley Pond trail rather than going DOWN the express trail, potentially in the dark, as it seems to be more steep than the way down by Panther. The bad news of trailblazing an unmarked trail – at times, it was difficult to know where to go. We ended up following a series of snowshoe hare and fox prints most of the way, imagining some action-packed tale of what must have gone on while we walked. The good news – the path was covered in stunning ice formations the whole way up!
We soon passed a flat wetland-looking area that we had to skirt around, hopping back and forth over small streams.
We really didn’t anticipate more than a dusting of snow, but fortunately we did of course pack our microspikes and didn’t waste any time in putting them on. On the flip side, we didn’t think to pack our waterproof gear, and with all the overnight snow piled on the trees bordering the narrow trail, each time we brushed past them we were showered in clumps of heavy wet snow.
We took our time, enjoying the journey, and stopped for a refreshing popsicle along the way…
The climb seemed to go on and on, and got icier and steeper higher we got.
An hour and a half after leaving the junction, we started to catch our first glimpses of the views, and it was shaping up to be a gorgeous day!
30 minutes of climbing later and we were nearing the top of the ridge.
Finally, 2.5 hours after leaving the junction to the express trail, we reached the top of the ridge.
We hung out for just a few minutes before taking the path left from the junction and going up the ridge toward the summit of Santanoni.
And 15 minutes later, at 12:20pm – 5.5 hours after leaving the trailhead – we reached the summit!
We didn’t stick around too long as the cold was sinking in and headed back toward the express junction.
Notice the little peak to the left of the range in front of Gildo – THAT is Couchsachraga. I won’t lie, I definitely cursed when I saw how far away it is from the range, and how absolutely small! It’s well below 4000′ and is the smallest of the 46 high peaks. Not to mention it has no view, but it’s a mud slop to get to, and is the furthest removed from the trailhead. So. I was not thrilled, and Gildo had a laugh at me bad-mouthing a literal land feature.
We enjoyed the junction for another few minutes, then descended the path towards Times Square, where the paths to Bradley Pond, Panther, Couch, and Santa converge.
An hour later and we were standing by a large boulder with a view at Times Square.
We took a few minutes break to soak up the sun before continuing on to the junction with Couchie. The map is a little deceiving here. It looks like all 4 trails converge at the same point, but really coming from Santanoni you’ll meet the junctions in the following order: Couch, Bradley Pond, Panther. Turning down the path to Couch, we went down down and down some more through steep, icy rock slabs. I was shocked to see some people wearing sneakers without spikes, and cotton sweaters. They must have been tougher than me as I struggled with my boots and spikes on the ice! Part way through the descent, my dreaded knee pain reared it’s head in my left knee. I took a few moments to adjust my brace to try and keep the pain from worsening, but it didn’t really have an affect. I wasn’t about to abandon Couch being soooo close, so I took a deep breath and padded on.
Anyway. After an hour of the most demoralizing descent in history, we reached the mud bog in the col between the ridge and Couch. There is definitely a lot of hype about the mud here, and sticking my pole in the mud I can see how disastrous it would be to land in it up to your hip, but it really just took a couple minutes of careful foot placement to cross it without any mishaps. Poles are certainly an asset here!
After the bog, we headed straight back up to false summit after false summit, and finally after an hour of this we reached the summit of Couch! I found a nice root on the ground, immediately perched myself on it, and started stretching out my legs to try and relieve the pain. It was already 3:45pm, we’d been hiking for 9 hours straight, and had taken almost no breaks to sit and stretch due to the cold, wet conditions of the trail. I’d found out the hard way that my boots have apparently sprung a leak, so my feet had been enjoying an indoor swimming pool for the last 4 or 5 hours – I didn’t want to risk sitting still for too long and getting cold from that, and from our damp clothes.
As we prepared to leave after enjoying a snack and of course some victory chocolate, a sense of dread filled my stomach as I realized that it was already 4pm, the sun would set in 2 hours, we were as far from the trailhead as we could get, and my knee pain was not exactly indicative of a speedy return trip. With probably 2 miles ahead of us to return to the top of the ridge, we headed off.
The descent from Couchsachraga wasn’t bad at all – only maybe 300 feet or so and we were back at the bog, carefully navigating the fragile ice sitting atop waist-deep mud, and some sparse branches to use as flotation devices.
And then the climbing began. The climb back up is just as deceptive as the climb down – there are several ‘bumps’ or false summits to climb up and over that misled us into thinking that we were closer than we actually were. I was hopeful that we’d make it to the ridge in time to head up Panther before sunset, as it’s only about half a mile from the junction on the ridge. Even if we made it in time though, my knee was in no shape to add extra miles. At this point, it was even hurting to go uphill. At 5pm, we crested yet another bump in the trail and caught the gorgeous golden light of the setting sun.
With one last push up a steep portion of trail coated in thick ice, we were back on the ridge at 5:35pm. At this point we knew we’d be descending in the dark, so we chose to take a short break back at the boulder with the nice view while watching the sunset. I also took the opportunity to change out my socks for some nice dry ones, and cleverly folded the tops down over the lip of my boots to prevent snow from going in the tops. With the worst timing ever, I’d misplaced my gaitors somewhere at home and didn’t have them the one time I needed them most!
At 5:45pm, we gathered our things and headed back towards the junction to Couch, only this time we continued straight towards the junctions for Bradley Pond and Panther. There are no markings for any of these junctions, so we just had to keep our eyes peeled. The first junction after passing the path to Couch, we turned right and started the descent.
At this time we were just starting to put our headlamps on as it was becoming more difficult to see. I was pretty disappointed that this path didn’t seem any less steep than the express trail, despite appearing so on the map. I was relying on my trekking poles very heavily to take the weight off of my left knee and to try and baby my right one just in case it might start to hurt too. It’s so odd – I used my new knee braces just a few weeks prior to climb Seymour, and both knees did great! My right knee is definitely the worse one, and this time the right one seemed to be fine but the left one was in agony even with the brace. So maybe it’s back to the drawing board.
Somewhere along the descent, I was going down a steep sheer rock face coated in thick ice, and had braced my poles and my right foot’s microspikes so I could lower my left leg, and something went wrong. It happened so fast that I’m not sure what exactly happened, only that I was suddenly crashing down on top of some sharp branches jutting into the side of the trail. Fortunately I didn’t fall far at all, but I did land on my ribs and shoulder on those branches and felt pretty banged up. After a minute to make sure nothing was bleeding, I stood back up and carried on.
Obviously, there are no pictures to document our journey because at this point we were in total darkness. For a while, the trail was super rocky and difficult to navigate with running water and ice flowing over uneven surfaces. My left knee had started to stiffen, as it does when this pain happens, so imagine trying to rock hop from icy rock to icy rock without bending your knee! Slowly, we made our way down, and I was grateful to not be alone this time. Fortunately for us, the snow on the ground and the traffic from earlier in the day made it pretty easy to stay on trail despite being in the dark, and by about 8:30pm we had made it to the junction at Bradley Pond.
From here, 4.4 miles to go. We turned right and carefully navigated the corduroy until we were back at the junction with the Express trail up Santanoni – 3.5 miles to go. By now my poor body was clearly in a flare. If I over-do any repetitive physical activity, especially if some part of my body has already started to experience abnormal pain (like my knee, not muscle soreness), it will trigger an inflammatory response so that all of the joints in my body will start to experience the pain and stiffness. That’s where I’d been at for the last 2 hours – every single joint hurt (expect for my right knee??). Everything from my spine to the littlest joints in my fingers. It got so bad that I lost all grip strength in my hands and needed help unscrewing the cap from my water bottle! How pathetic!
I had decided to keep my microspikes on to help me navigate the slippery corduroy and puncheon traversing the wet wet path, and what a lifesaver they were. On flatter portions of trail I was able to make great pace, even without being able to bend my knee, and by 10:30pm we were again crossing the bridge over the river near the trailhead. ~2 miles to go!
At about this time, the fitness app that Gildo had been using to GPS track our journey recorded us as having gone over 16 miles over 16 hours just before his phone died. We felt such a sense of elation as we reached the junction with the road – 1.5 miles to go. I was cruising here – the ground was flat, dry, and so easy to walk on compared to everything else that day. It occurred to me that we started on this road in the dark, and finished in the dark, so we didn’t really get to see what it looked like. Gazing upward, however, we were treated with the most stunning starscape in the absolute darkness of the high peaks wilderness. I didn’t take any pictures, but just image a milky way bright enough to just about light the path for us. At 11:45pm, 17 hours of almost non-stop hiking since we began, we arrived at the register. I signed us out, then we both collapsed into the car before immediately changing out of all of our dirty clothes.
My 23rd and 24th peaks are done – I’m officially over halfway there! I can’t bear the thought of going allllllll the way back up that range for Panther; maybe that will be a trip for the winter when all of the mud and rocks have been covered in snow. Until then, happy hiking!
Total Duration: 17 hours of hiking
Round Trip Distance: ~16 to 18 miles (GPS says 18, alltrails says ~16 without Panther)
All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may only be used with express permission.
Ah, it’s my most favorite time of the year! Just for a minute, I need to talk a bit about the last year to impart just how monumental this hike was for me. The last high peaks I climbed were Redfield and Cliff back in September 2020. During that hike I experienced the absolute worst pain that I have ever felt. It was the pinnacle of the last several years of trying to figure out why my knees hurt SO much when I hike, and pretty much only when I hike, and it’s only gotten worse and worse and worse. I’ve been searching for answers for YEARS and the only thing I’d found myself with was less and less hope. I decided to do one last push to try and get a diagnosis (there’s more than just the knee pain, but that’s irrelevant!), and in Spring 2021, I GOT IT! I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome! EDS is a degenerative genetic connective tissue disorder and it explains everrrrrryyyyything. The first thing I did was see an excellent PT who helped me understand why my joints seem to be falling apart. My tendons and ligaments are like old stretched-out rubberbands, so my muscles are the things holding my joints together – when they’re unbalanced, problems arise. Then I found Bauerfeind – a company that makes very specialized braces for all sorts of things, and I found one that’s suited for exactly the problem I’m experiencing. I was pretty cynical, but I ordered just 1 for my worse knee just to see if it would work. I’ve tried all kinds of braces, everything you can imagine, and nothing has ever helped. Nevertheless, a few weeks ago, I went to climb Noonmark Mountain from round pond – a ~7 mile trek – and by the end of it, my worse knee with the brace on felt fine and my better knee was hurting! Which leads us to this hike. I needed to try out both braces on a more strenuous hike to see if they really do work. So I loaded up my car on Friday night and headed up to Tupper Lake to stay the night before starting the hike at sunrise.
The trailhead for the Seward range is located on Coreys Road near Tupper Lake. **Do note that a gate ~3 miles from the trailhead may close in the winter after hunting season to allow for logging trucks to use the road. ** I made it there right at sunrise around 7am, layered up, and signed in at the register.
The trail starts off flat with some muddy patches but otherwise is very nice and easy to walk.
The lot was surprisingly full when I pulled in with many signed-in hikers seemingly headed up the Sewards, and a few going up Seymour. I was hoping all the cars were for hikers anyway, since it’s firmly hunting season and I didn’t think to get myself an orange vest before heading out! After 20 minutes or so I came to the first junction – the split with the horse trail. I stayed to the left to keep on the walking trail as apparently it’s in better condition.
From here, the trail got a bit messier with large mud patches that required some careful navigation (oh poor sweet innocent me just did not know what was in store for this hike), but I was happy to see there was still some color on the trees!
Not far after the split with the horse trail I reached another junction with a private road.
The air was brisk and chill but I was making good pace and stripped off my puffy jacket, hat, and gloves. I was already really kicking myself for misplacing my gaitors at home, but I managed to tactfully avoid plunging any appendages into the mud or into the water rushing down the many streams I passed over.
About 2 hours after I left the trailhead, I crossed a nice long line of puncheon over an area noticeably lacking in mud, followed by Blueberry Lean-to 30 minutes later. I was a little bummed by how long it was taking me to walk the 5 miles to the junction with Seymour, but nonetheless I stopped at the lean-to for a short break and a bite to eat.
A few pairs of hikers passed by me while I rested, and after just a couple of minutes I packed back up and followed behind them. These 5 miles to the junction are very flat, with maybe 100ft of elevation gain the entire way, so it was a really great warmup for the real hike to come.
At about 9:45am, I passed by the cairn marking the way up to Seward. This junction is immediately after a bridge over a stream. Then 10 minutes later I was at the junction to Seymour.
There was a couple just ahead of me and almost immediately we all lost the trail. This trail is technically ‘trail-less’, meaning it’s not marked or maintained. A tree had fallen across the path, and it almost seemed like we had to cross the stream. However just going around the tree would take us back to the trail – so stay on the left of the stream at the start of this trail. The creek was beautiful with many small waterfalls dotting the way.
After about 0.5 miles of very pleasant, easy ascent, the path took a decidedly vertical turn following the stream up slick rocky steps.
About 1 hour after leaving the junction to Seymour is when things started to get tricky. The trail was becoming sloppy, with slick smooth flat rock surfaces covered in interwoven tree roots, some of which already had a thin layer of ice covering the tops.
As I climbed and climbed the slippery mess, I caught my first few glimpses of the views, and it was shaping up to be a beautiful day if I ever escaped this steep slog!
The higher I climbed, the worse the conditions became. The trail became a muddy mess. There was no stable, solid ground – everything was either thick slopping mud, rocks with water running over, or slick tree roots covered in mud and ice.
Fortunately, I was in the midst of several small groups of people all struggling through the same situation. I had to laugh when I heard a loud profane outburst first in front of me, then behind me, as someone maybe lost their grip on a root, or lost their boot to the slurping mud they were navigating over. We were all having the same exact experience, no matter the level of hiking knowledge – there was no going fast, no rock-hopping, no cruising up this mountain. Just a very slow careful drag for everybody, and there’s something kind of special about sharing that with a whole group of strangers.
After about an hour of this, we started to catch glimpses of light shining through the tops of the trees ahead of us. It’s so easy to let yourself thing “Gee Whiz! We must be nearly there!” but come on. Of course we’re not. What kind of 46er would this be if it didn’t lull you into a false sense of security before cruelly ripping that away? I scrambled up a few very tricky large boulders to find myself with two other gentlemen gazing at a far-off lump beyond the trees. “So that’s it, huh?” “Yup.” Aaaaaaand I kept on moving.
Fortunately there wasn’t really any elevation loss when moving towards the true summit, but boy howdy did the mud step up it’s game! I’d done well with mitigating the mudpocalypse in my socks and boots up until this point, but here’s when it all started to go downhill.
Something went horribly wrong in one of these many mud pits when my trusty boots BOTH slid sideways down a duplicitous submerged tree root, engulfing my left boot entirely in muck, even coming up over the lip. My right boot was mostly unscathed, and thanks to my poles the rest of me didn’t get a mud bath either, but the damage was done. I had one cold mud-foot from this moment onward, and I could feel it squelching with every step that I took. Finally, at 12pm on the dot, the trail forked and I took the path to the right for a cramped lookout full of my fellow hikers.
I plopped my muddy butt down, layered up, and took in the views.
We chatted about how nice it would be to just take our chances paragliding off the summit rather than facing the hike back down while I enjoyed some hard-earned lunch and VICTORY CHOCOLATE!
Within only 15 or 20 minutes I was feeling quite chill, so I took one last photo before heading back to the junction and going to the actual summit.
Just a hop and a skip and 2 minutes later I was standing at the summit!
With a pit of dread in my stomach, I left the safe happy summit and returned to the mudpits of doom.
It’s safe to assume that I submerged my boots a handful more times before it was all said and done, so there was minimal care taken here. It just didn’t matter anymore, I could not have been more muddy.
I’ve never gone so slowly in my life down a mountain. I was really babying my knees considering that I still had around 7.5 miles to go to get back to the trailhead. This trail was also just extremely treacherous, especially going downhill, so I couldn’t have gone faster if I’d wanted to.
I really don’t know how I would have done it without my ol’ reliable trekking poles. There were an alarming number of times when my boots entirely lost traction and I ended up either hanging from a helpful tree or planting all of my weight into my poles. (Sorry mom 😬) Obviously I was a little too busy to be taking photos…of the mud…. But I was thrilled to be back at the stream and took a moment to rest by a waterfall.
The descent was a comparative cakewalk after this point, and I was THRILLED to finally be back on flat solid ground. I couldn’t image the folks that were going on to complete the rest of the Sewards after all that! There was no way I’d be going right back up another slop like that! 2 hours and 15 minutes after leaving the summit, I was back at the junction with the main trail.
At this point I was pretty ready to be out of the trail. But you know what? MY KNEES FELT FINE! I really had a pep in my step and headed down the trail at a very fast clip. Before I knew it I was back at the Ward Brook lean-to, stopping for a few minutes to relieve my back of the too-heavy pack and relishing lying flat on the floor.
It’s astonishing how quickly I get cold after just a few minutes of inactivity. So before long I strapped my pack on and took back off down the path. It almost felt like the trail was stretched out while I was on that mountain – it seemed to take forever to go those 5 miles back! My only goal was to make it back before sundown.
At least by this time, I didn’t even bother trying to avoid the muddy patches and just clopped right through them. I didn’t encounter any people on the way out, and was so lost in thought, I just about jumped out of my mud-boots when I saw glaring red lights through the trees. Taillights?… THE TRAILHEAD! By jove, I’ve done it!
I couldn’t stop smiling while I signed out at the register 2h and 15 minutes after leaving the junction to Seymour. My knees were fine!! I mean sure, every inch of the rest of my body was throbbing, but this time I wasn’t agonizingly hauling my broken carcass on hands and knees back out the trailhead! The bar is low friends, but this was a resounding success! Now I just have to wait for the mud to freeze and come back for Seward, Donaldson, and Emmons 😀
My buddy Gavin had been telling me about Mt Adams for a while by this point, but I’d never made it a priority to go hike it. This particular day was rainy and we were planning to meet up with some friends that we hadn’t seen since before the pandemic, and thought Adams would be a perfect hike. We met at the trailhead at about 1:30pm, signed in at the register, and headed off. Our friends (David and Kelley) had two pups with them, and we were a bit anxious to see how they did with Juno (and how Juno did with them), but after an initial sniff they all just pretended the other didn’t exist and ignored each other completely!
Just a few minutes after starting, we came across a water crossing (the Hudson River) with a rickety old bridge. Surprisingly, all 3 dogs walked right across it with only a little trepidation. We noted this spot as a proper swimming option for the way back….
Soon after we started the hike, rain started to come down a bit heavier so we donned our rain gear and hats as we padded along. Thankfully it was just the right temperature to not be cold from the rain or too hot from wearing the rain gear. However, we did nearly miss this turn in the trail because we were keeping our heads down!
Soon after we came upon a nice view of Lake Jimmy.
This trail is also the way to go to climb up Allen Mountain. It’s certainly not the most popular high peak, but I’d thought enough people would be doing it that the trail would be very well established. However, after another water crossing, the foliage closed in around us as we navigated on soggy puncheon through a dense patch of the forest.
About 30 minutes after leaving the trailhead, we saw what looked like a little abandoned building. The doggies went to explore but we admired from a distance, eager to carry on. (Just to be clear, all 3 of the dogs have remote collars and fantastic recall, not to mention we carry their leashes with us just in case. They stay on the trail and don’t run out of control.)
Not a minute later we arrived at the junction to Mt Adams, where the trail deviates from the one going towards Allen. We veered to the left and continued on up.
For the next 20 minutes or so the trail was still quite flat, and had been since the beginning of the hike, so we were getting a bit worried that we were, in fact, climbing Adams and not Allen by mistake?? I, however, wasn’t worried enough not to stop and ‘AWWWW’ at a little orange salamander dude on the trail.
Well, you know what they say, be careful what you wish for….
Of course the trail did start climbing eventually. And once it did, it was fairly steep as we had all of the elevation gain over only about a mile. We had actually stopped before this stretch to take a gander at the map to make sure we were on the right path (spoiler alert: we were). The climb had been gentle though and not technically challenging, but as we gained more and more ground the climbing got more and more tricky, undoubtedly made worse due to the fact that we were hiking in the rain….
Despite looking a bit intimidating, the rocks weren’t actually very slick due to their slightly porous texture, though we did avoid trodding on tree roots, knowing how they turn into a slip-n-slide when wet…
It was so nice hiking with these guys. Somehow we seamlessly took turns walking in pairs and chatting – first me and Gildo, then me and Kelley, then David, and we kept rotating positions. It did seem to make the hike go faster, until I loudly mentioned during a slightly downhill portion that we were probably very close to the summit because so often a trail will climb and climb and climb, then go a bit down, and a bit up, then you’re there!
Yeah. For every mountain EXCEPT this one!
Every time one of us would complain about the seemingly endless climb, another would shout – ‘It’s ok! We’re almost there!’
**Do note that exactly 0 of the 4 of us had ever climbed this mountain before, and 4 of the 4 of us had no clue how far we were from the summit**
We stopped for a minute to stretch below yet another vertical pitch, wondering how much further it might go on (the trail is only like 2.6 miles to the top….we’re just out of shape 😀 ). Once we got our tails moving again, we took another handful of steps uphill and spied a metallic structure up ahead! The firetower!!
We made it at 3:20pm, almost 2 hours after starting from the trailhead. From the summit itself there are absolutely no views, but once you climb the ridiculously high firetower, you have purportedly the best firetower views in the Adirondacks. I was a bit bummed because it was looking like we were socked in, but I climbed up regardless.
And….just wow. The views were stunning. Once I had been there long enough I started to notice clouds forming down below and drifting quickly up before my eyes to join their brothers in the sky.
The scene seemed to change constantly, and I stayed up there for far too long to take it all in.
Unfortunately the views we didn’t have were those that would see the high peaks directly in front of us. We were SO CLOSE to Allen but, for the second time, I was robbed of a view of that peak (see Mt Redfield).
I stayed up there for half an hour (apparently, looking at the timestamps on my photos) before taking some pics of the crew hanging out and snacking wayyyy down below, and heading down for some snackaroos myself.
Combos and victory chocolate. Lunch of champions. We stayed chatting about all of our past adventures for another few minutes until we started to get chill from lack of activity and headed back down. I didn’t take many pics at all on the way down, trading my camera so I could focus much more on the descent. I am soooooo slooooooow going downhill, but David was a trooper and stuck with me despite my urging him to go on ahead because, and I’ll reiterate this, I am as SLOW AS DEATH’S GRANDMA.
We had only one close call involving the aforementioned slip-n-slide tree roots, but other than that the descent was actually pretty eventless. I relied heavily on my lovely trekking poles, pouring my weight into them to try and help my knees, and something must have paid off between my PT, walking 6 miles every day, and hitting the gym, because by the time we finished the steep sections I had no pain! Anywhere! Is the me we’re talking about?? Wow. It was a great feeling, friends.
As we neared the junction to the Allen trail, we heard voices and sure enough some of the groups that had been climbing Allen that day were on their way out. Of the woods, not…you know….Anyway, I was super impressed by them, not only for hiking a ~20 out-and-back to get Allen, but for doing it in the rain and facing Allen’s infamous ‘Red Slime’, an algae that coats many of the steep slides going up the mountain, making them nerve-wrackingly slick. One of the hikers mentioned how helpful his microspikes were with the slime, so I stowed that bit of information away for the future….
After letting some long-haul hikers pass us, we decided to stop and take a proper look in the little cabin we’d passed on the way up. The inside smelled a bit musty and contained an old sink, a cot, and a table with some laminated sheets of paper. Apparently the cabin had been saved from demolition in the early 2000’s and had been restored, which we noted as we glanced at the seemingly-new roof.
Another few sweaty, stinky moments later and we were back rounding the ponds where the puppers considered going for a dip.
However we held out for the cleaner water just near the trailhead. After seeing how much the dogs seemed to be enjoying themselves, Gildo and I decided to jump in too, clothes and all. It was a great opportunity to scrub off the mud and muck before heading to dinner together!
We hung out at the water for 20 or 30 minutes, throwing sticks for the dogs and enjoying the feel of the cold water on our tired bodies. We made it back to the cars at 6:30pm, 5 hours after starting, toweled off, and heading back into town for some grub feeling the cleanest we have literally EVER felt after a hike!
I hope to see you out there sometime soon, Allen hikers!
Until then, Happy hiking ❤
Mt Adams: 3520′ Elevation Gain: 1753′
Round Trip Distance: From the Map – 5.2 miles (distances vary wildly depending where you look, but this feels right)
Total Duration: 5 hours (including 45min at the summit and 30min swimming)
I’m not sure if it’s because my workload this week had been lighter, leaving my mind plenty of time to wander, or whether I was just well overdue for a hike, but I hadn’t been able to focus at work (which is very unlike me!) and found myself daydreaming about hiking. So I’d asked if I could take off early to go on an emergency hike, and that’s exactly what I did! I left home at about 2pm and made it to the trailhead for Ampersand Mountain at 5pm. (Note that the parking lot is on the opposite side of the street from the trailhead.)
I didn’t make it more than 5 minutes down the trail before I had to lower my head net and apply some serious deet to keep the flies and mosquitoes at bay. The forest was beautiful though, green and full of life, and the trail started out flat and easy.
I plodded along and after another few minutes came to a sweet little babbling stream.
As I was deciding which trail to go to for my emergency hike, I thought about this mountain because though I’d done it before, I hardly recalled anything about the trail. Even my trip report from the first time was sparse and lacking any real detail about the trail. And there’s a reason for that – I’d gone with Juno in the spring the first time and – like a real rookie – didn’t bring my microspikes….So it was real fun when we got to the upper third of the mountain and the trail was still coated in a thick layer of ice! This time we had no such issues, however I did completely forget not to underestimate this mountain.
The first half-mile is deceptively smooth and flat, but gradually the trail became rockier and rockier, steeper and steeper.
I only crossed paths with a handful of people coming down while I climbed, so I was hopeful that I’d have the summit to myself, if I ever made it there! The trail really is more difficult than it seems as it just keeps climbing and climbing with no flat or downhill sections on the way up. Each time I reached the top of a steep portion I’d think “Alright, I’ve got to be getting close” just to turn a corner and see a steeper section further ahead! At some point, after delaying and delaying stopping for a quick bite to eat in hopes of just stopping once I was at the summit, I had to admit defeat and perch on a nice rock to have a snack.
Now over the last few months I’ve had some monumental discoveries with my health. For the last 10 years I’ve been pushing and pushing to get doctors to take me seriously for a whole range of medical issues, including – most irritatingly – intense pain and stiffness in my joints when I hike. FINALLY I have been diagnosed with hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome – a genetic disease that causes my body not to process collagen correctly. This means that my connective tissue, including tendons and ligaments, is too stretchy and acts kind of like old stretched-out rubber bands. Since my ligaments aren’t doing a good job holding my joints together, my muscles have taken up that job! Which is fine as long as I stay fit, but now I have to learn how to balance my muscles. So, long story short, this hike was actually a bit of physical therapy for me to practice some techniques that I was given to make sure that my muscles are supporting my joints evenly. That means learning how to engage my core and glutes rather than my quads when climbing up, and engaging the inner quad rather than the outer quad when climbing down. It might seem simple, but for me right now it means having to think consciously about EVERY SINGLE STEP that I take!
For all these reasons, my climb up was taking quite a long time, so I was really excited to see this big rock after climbing another steep section, thinking maybe it was the summit???
Nope. Not the summit. But I could practically smell how close I was! The trail leveled off a bit and led me through some interesting rock formations before going slightly downhill again.
And sure enough, 2 hours after starting from the trailhead, I had my first glimpse of the summit!
I scampered to the top to take in the 360 panorama of the lakes and mountains surrounding me.
While it was incredibly beautiful up there, there was one tiny thing that threatened to ruin the experience….or, rather, thousands of tiny things.
The black flies were out in force, and they were HUNGRY. And evidently, I am DELICIOUS. Fortunately for me, I have a bug net hat!!
I lingered on the summit – which I had all to myself – for another 30 minutes to enjoy some snacks from the safety of my bug net while enjoying the scenery.
Finally I started heading back the way I’d come. I was hoping to make it most of the way down before the sun had completely set so I’d not be hiking alone in the dark for too long. As I trotted along I met one other pair of hikers going up, just below the summit. It was actually nice to know there were two more people on the trail behind me.
As I descended, I was heading directly towards the sunset and had the most beautiful light filtering through the trees the whole way down. Each step I took I tried to tell my brain to use only certain muscles in my legs, as I clambered down the path without the usual care I take to be gentle on my knees. This time, I wanted to push it to see if I could make it through the hike without pain while walking like a normal human. Fortunately, though the trail was quite steep towards the summit, it was never technically challenging at all, just seemed to be a bit longer than it actually was! For the last mile or half-mile I did feel the pain starting to develop in one of my knees, but only ONE of them for a change! And it never quite got as bad as it gets, so that’s progress!
Anyway, I made it back to my car by 9pm, a little less than 4 hours from the time that I started. At this time of the year I only had to use my headlamp for the last 20 minutes! It was a great day for an emergency hike ✌
If you’ve been following the saga of my bizarre excruciating joint pain that I experience while hiking, know that I’ve been to many many doctors to get it diagnosed but to no avail. However I am not ready to give up my dream of being an ADK 46er!
SO. I figured, since the pain is the worst when I’m going downhill, maybe hiking in the winter would be best since I can slide down on my butt?? There’s an actual fancy term for that…glissading. Such a pretty word for such a silly act! And I thought I could handle it even better if we can split up the hike by camping somewhere along the way. We’ve never winter camped before though, so we thought we’d do a trial run of sorts by camping overnight at Roaring Brook falls and summiting Noonmark the next day. That way, if anything went wrong, we were camped very close to our car for an escape, as opposed to being 8 miles into the middle of nowhere. This was also a trial for Juno to see if she would be able to winter camp too – she’s a labradoodle, or as I like to call her, a velcro-dog, because EVERYTHING sticks to her, including snow.
We arrived at the Roaring Brook trailhead at about 2pm and decided to scope out the campsites before lugging all of our gear out there. Just a few minutes of trotting down the trail and we had reached the waterfall, which was really more of an ice statue at this point, crossed the stream and investigated the 4 pristine campsites on the other side.
Roaring Brook falls was not exactly ‘roaring’
Satisfied with our options, we returned to the car, loaded up our packs, and came back to set up camp.
As they say, you don’t know what you don’t know, and our first lesson was to figure out how to secure the tent to the ground when the ground is frozen solid and there’s no snow on top. We ended up placing rocks over the tent ends and pouring some water over top so it would freeze in place. Surprisingly, it worked really well! Gildo gathered firewood while I set up the interior of our tent (**See our winter camping gear here**), so that by 4:30pm we were completely set up.
We spent the rest of the evening by the fire with some s’mores supplies that Gildo got from a run to Stewarts…Only problem was, they didn’t have normal sized marshmallows, just the tiny tiny ones! I fashioned some tiny skewers from twigs and cooked 4 at a time over the fire, giggling to myself at the silliness of it. And they were gooooood.
Our second lesson of winter camping came while we were trying to prepare our dinner (ramen with an egg. Very sophisticated.): our regular propane camp stove barely worked in the cold. We had read about this beforehand but didn’t know how significant it would be! Since we didn’t yet have a white gas stove, instead we just boiled water over our roaring fire.
*** Sound On ***
With our bellies full, we fed the last of our wood into the fire and crawled inside our tent to try and get some sleep.
Lesson 3: I need to learn how to sleep in a tent. In the summer, I usually sleep in my hammock, and I sleep like a baby! But in a tent….not a wink of sleep. Not even a single minute. So I have to figure that out, obviously hiking is not sustainable without sleep. When I finally peeked my head out of the tent, I saw we’d gotten several inches of snow overnight!
I perked right up with my morning coffee, stretched a bit, then we headed back to the parking lot to pack up for our hike: snow shoes, microspikes, warm bottles of water, and even a little red sled! We crossed 73 to the St. Huberts lot, and started our walk up the road toward the Noonmark Mtn trailhead at 11:30am. ** FYI: despite the prohibition of doggos on AMR property, the trail up Noonmark is NOT included in that, so you can bring your pup with you here! ** We walked maybe 1/4 mile up the road, then turned onto the Noonmark rd just before the golf course, and continued on that road for maybe another 1/4 of a mile (these distances are guesses, if you know the correct distance let me know in a comment!).
So this hike is a bit of a redemption for me. I had attempted to summit Noonmark back in July, and this mountain just about damn near killed me with heat exhaustion, something I’ve never experienced before. (Check it out here). It really isn’t that hard of a climb, I was just having a realllllly bad day. Until now, this mountain has been my nemesis as the insurmountable one who got away – so what better way to redeem myself than in the complete opposite weather conditions from the first time?!
It seems so simple, right? Just 1.5 miles to the summit from that sign. Mhmm. Right. More on that later. We were enjoying playing detective, trying to figure out how many people had gone up before us by analyzing the footprints in the snow, and we concluded that there were maybe 2 or 3 ahead of us, and that none had come down yet. We were really impressed by the people ahead of us because they’d broken trail and hadn’t made a single wrong turn! We stopped a couple of times to stretch and guzzle some water, but mostly we carried on slowly and steadily in their footsteps.
The trail conditions were pretty tricky. Beneath the ~4 inches of snow was a THICK layer of ice, so that you’d place your foot and put your weight on it to climb up with the other leg, slip, and go sliding right back down. Juno had issues with her boots, which offered little traction, and I banged the same knee several times. But we still had smiles on our faces!
The trail steadily got steeper and steeper until we reached the first lookout. I started recalling the stops that I had made on my last trip up the mountain, remembering stopping at this particular point for an hour to lie down and hydrate, feeling increasingly dizzy and nauseous. It’s a humbling feeling.
As the hike steepened, we left our sled where we could grab it on the way back down, and headed up up up. At some point I recognized the place where the rangers had found me the last time, stopping to take my blood pressure and to find my faint, rapid pulse. We soon came to a ladder up a steep section of rocks, and saw the group of people that we’d been following coming down on little round sleds. It looked so fun! Unfortunately our detective skills are severely lacking – we thought there’d been 2 or 3 people, but there were 6! Ha. I guess we’ll keep our day jobs. Finally we made it to the spot where I recall sitting against a rock calling the rangers to get help, being dizzy, confused, nauseous and with a hummingbird heartbeat. It was a lot lovelier this time around!
So this was it. This was as far as I made it the first time. To be honest, I have NO idea how I’d gotten that far. I was just determined to get to the top and go down the other side. This time, we could see that the previous group had stopped here at the false summit, and the path ahead had not yet been broken. And boy, that summit looked a million miles away. I reassured all three of us that it’s never as far as it seems, and took lead through the woods as we started the real climbing.
It…..was not easy. I had to eat my words as the summit was exactly as far away as it had seemed. But I couldn’t let this mountain beat me again, so we persevered. There were MANY places that I had to claw my way up tooth and nail, yelling, trying not to slip on the ice underneath the snow as I scaled up near-vertical rock slabs. With a smile on my face, of course!
We were getting to be INCREDIBLY skeptical that this trail was seriously only a mile and a half long. By our estimates, we had been going for 10 miles. That’s what it felt like anyway. If an Adirondack mile is equivalent to 3 miles, then a WINTER Adirondack mile is 8. That’s what I’ve decided! So we went like 20 miles that day as far as I’m concerned.
As we forged on, we heard voices up ahead and saw a couple sliding their way down the trail. We had a laugh together at the ridiculousness of it all, they reassured us that we were nearly there, and we continued climbing Everest. Sometimes we had to help Juno quite a bit by tossing her up onto the next ledge of rock, sometimes she walked by us like it was nothing while we clung to roots and ledges like our lives depended on it. I was NOT willing to give up though, and contorted my body in new and interesting ways to get there, to which Gildo referred to me as a ‘frickin spider’. Ok. I’ll take it!
The camera was absolutely tucked away in the pack for all of this, though I do wish we’d captured some moments it wasn’t worth wrecking our equipment. FINALLY finally finally we reached the windblown summit! I tried to make it to the absolute top and had to sit down or be knocked down by the wind. Juno was not thrilled.
** Sound On**
We stayed for a whole 30 seconds and scampered back down the way we had come, with our frozen eyelashes and strands of hair. THIS was the fun part! Butt sliding! Woohoo! And man it was a blast! All those passes that had taken 20 minutes each to scale took 20 seconds to shoot down. This alone makes winter hiking so worth it! We stopped for a minute below the summit to enjoy our victory chocolate before carrying on.
Soon enough we were back at the false summit, paused for just a moment, and continued sliding our way down. I must say I’ve developed quite a skill for seamlessly gliding into a glissade from walking, then popping right back up to a walk. I think that’s as graceful as I can get!
Of course at some point along the way my ugly knee pain reared it’s stupid head, but I made it much farther in the snow than I would have without it, so that’s a win! We did try to ride our sled down, but it literally shattered into pieces……..I’m not sure what’s up with that, but we decided that it’s probably unnecessarily dangerous to ride a sled down these trails anyway, being so hard to control and going way too fast. So, no sledding for us.
We reached the trail sign at about 5:00pm. That’s right. 5.5 hours. To go ~5 miles. Sorry, but I’m sticking with 20 miles, if anyone asks!
As we reached our car at the roaring brook lot, we re-assessed our situation. Juno was, as predicted, COVERED in clumps of snow. There was no way she would be warm and dry in our tent for another night in the woods, so we decided to pack up our camp and head home. Lesson number 4: Juno cannot accompany us up the high peaks in the winter. I felt nervous for her climbing such steep, icy passes anyway, so it’s for the best. Sorry Juney 😦
This is the fastest we’d ever torn down our camp – from start to finish, it took 1 hour to get to the site, tear it down, and haul it back to the car. We didn’t worry about folding everything up and packing it away nicely since it would all need to air and dry out at home anyway.
So that’s it! Our first winter camping trip was basically a success! Now time to plan for the next one and hope for more snowfall between now and then. Happy Trails!
Noonmark Mountain: 3556′ Elevation Gain: 2300′
Round Trip Distance: Either ~5 miles from roaring brook, or 20. I’m going with 20 😅
An hour after finishing Cobble Hill, after stretching and contemplating whether my joints would hurt too much to add another few miles, I decided to go for it. I put the car in gear and drove the 20 minutes to the Baxter Mountain trailhead on rt. 9N. It was raining now, but that didn’t bother me. Juno, on the other hand, thought we were done for the day and was curled up sound asleep in the back seat when we rolled into the lot for Baxter at 2:30pm.
Two minutes after walking onto the trail, we met two grumpy people on their way out, and then we had the trail entirely to ourselves. I pulled up the hood on my raincoat to keep my head at least dry, put one foot in front of the other, and we made our way up the mountain. For anyone that doesn’t know, I’ve been struggling with some undiagnosed autoimmune disorder for the last several years that causes extreme pain in my joints, especially when hiking. Figures. So yes. I have logged 20-mile days in the mountains without a single ache, but these days just going a few miles can be excruciating. I was so relieved that the trail up Baxter was just switchback the entire way up. It was so pleasant, even in the rain, and I was happy just to be there, back where I belong.
After about a mile of easy walking, we reached a junction with the Beede Road trail, and turned right towards the summit
At this point the steady rain had turned to heavy wet snowfall, so pictures are scarce. Once I turned to head up to the summit, the trail became a bit trickier and rockier, slick with the continuous rain and snow, though it was never icy to the point that my microspikes had to come out.
After this short section, I came to an outcropping that probably normally has a gorgeous view. Not today! I didn’t mind though. I continued on past this false summit and climbed just a bit more until we reached what I presume to be the true summit. We explored a bit up there to be sure we made it until the trail started to descend again on the lesser-used trail back to Beede road.
We stopped just for a minute to take our summit photos at 3:15pm, then went straight back down before the cold could set in since we were both soaking wet.
The walk back was quick, damp, and surprisingly painless. By 4:15pm we were back at the car, dripping wet and hungry, as new Lake Placid 9ers!
Even without views, this was a really lovely hike. Now I have to go back and do it again when the summit is clear!
Baxter Mountain: 2440′ Elevation Gain: 764′
Round Trip Distance: ~2.4 miles (according to the LP9er website) or 3 miles (according to the trail sign)
Weather was not looking promising on this Thursday morning, but I didn’t care. I was determined to finish my Lake Placid 9er with Cobble Hill and Baxter back to back, so that was my plan, rain or snow be damned. I arrived at Lake Placid at about 10am and found the trailhead, however because it was located on the private property of the Northwoods School, which had closed it’s gates to the public due to Covid, I chose to park next to the Lake Placid beach and walk around Mirror Lake to the trailhead.
We warmed up with the mile walk to the trailhead, passing by many people on their morning walk. We reached the trailhead right at 11am and set off through a muddy, boggy wooded trail.
This trail was almost comically over-marked. Every few minutes we reached another obvious junction with laminated markers with arrows. It seemed that we were walking through a narrow strip of woods between private land, passing right behind houses, with many side trails marked off by bright orange plastic fencing.
After 10 minutes of traipsing through the woods, we reached a junction with a very straight path going upwards from left to right, across which a sign leaning against a tree pointed to the left indicating the “easier” ascent up Cobble Hill. I chose to continue straight to go up the steep part and down the gentler grade to complete the loop.
The going was pretty easy for being the “steep” side, as the path continued gently uphill for the next 10 minutes or so. So far I’d had the trail entirely to myself, and the weather was holding, so I was optimistic for some views at the summit!
At about 11:30am I finally reached the “steep” section that I was anticipating. I had to laugh because there were so many trail markers along the way in places where the correct path seemed so obvious, however here, where it would have been very helpful to have a sign or two, there were none. Without knowing any better, I chose to stick to the left side on this steep, slick, flat rock face and scamper my way up. Obviously that was the wrong choice, as I found out when I got a bit stuck and had to crab-walk my way across to the right side, where I could now see some clear treadmarks from hikers before me. So learn from my mistake – when you see the steep part, stay to the right! There’s even a rope to help you up a section that isn’t particularly difficult, and leaves you on your own after that, HA!
As I dragged my muddy keister up that slope, I turned at the top to see my first views of the day.
Once atop the steep section, I could see where the other gentler trail merged on the left. After that it was just a hop and a skip to the summit, where I threw my things down and strode to a flat spot to stretch my legs and enjoy the view.
Clouds steadily rolled in, obscuring the white-capped peaks in the distance beyond the Lake Placid ski jumps. Juno and I sat and had our snack and greeted a young man who had run up the trail. I could tell that Juno desperately wanted to say hi to him, and after getting his O.K, she gave him a muddy tail-wagging greeting.
We took our leave at about 11:45am. Instead of going back down the slippery steep slope, we turned to go down the gentler grade that would follow around echo lake. I love this time of the year, the barrier between summer and winter, when the trees are bare but the ground is still covered in verdant life in contrast with the backdrop of snow in the peaks.
Along the way I encountered only 1 or 2 pairs of people. The second set seemed ill-prepared, and thought the gentler ascent was still too steep. I warned them that the top is slick with rain, and hoped for the best for them before carrying on my way. Before long, I reached the edge of Echo Lake! Juno and I stopped at just about every clearing to admire the still water.
Just after this point, we were back to the beginning of the loop, following the trail through a bizarre plot of land where a house was being built. We met several more groups of people along the way before we reached the register, and chose at that point to take the side trail to another private road instead of walking through the school grounds again in an attempt to avoid more people.
So ended our walk up Cobble Hill. Juno and I hobbled our way along the sidewalk for the mile back to the car. I felt distinctly out of place among the nice-dressed joggers and strollers making their way around mirror lake, with my wet pack, trekking poles, and muddy muddy pants. When we reached the car at about 1pm. I stretched my legs for 45 minutes before deciding that I would be able to make it up Baxter too; pain or not, I would finish the 9ers today.
Cobble Hill: 2332′ Elevation Gain: 450′
Round Trip Distance: 3.2 miles (loop) + 2.2 miles (Mirror Lake) = 5.4 miles total
It’s been an entire year since I’ve last been to the high peaks. I spent the last 8 months doing daily yoga practice and hiking progressively longer trails like the LP9ers to assess whether my knee issue is better. I’m still determined to summit all 46 high peaks solo, but all of the ones I have left would be looooong day hikes that I’m definitely not ready for. Instead, we decided on a compromise: Gildo and I would hike in from the Upper Works on Saturday, set up camp at the Uphill Lean-to, then hike Redfield and Cliff alternately the next day, then hike out. So that’s what we did! We arrived at the trailhead with our newly-rented bear-proof food canister from The Cloudsplitter at about noon on Saturday the 26th, signed in at the register noting many groups ahead of us and a surprising number of people carrying in canoes. This is the first time either of us had ‘backpacked’ in the high peaks and we were so excited! We signed in at 12:30pm and hit the road down the Calamity Brook trail.
It was a surprisingly warm, sunny day, and Juno hasn’t had a haircut in a while so she was pretty fluffy and prone to getting too hot, so at the very first junction 50ft into the trail we followed a spur trail down to the river to coat her paws and belly at least in the cool clear water. Naturally she got the zoomies after that and spent her energy fighting Gildo over a stick.
5 minutes later we were back on the trail, and Juno was back on her leash. Unfortunately for her, dogs are required to be on leash in the high peaks region, even if they are trained with a remote collar like she is, and they are VERY strict about this. It took some time for all of us to adjust to hiking this day – Juno to being on a leash, and Gildo and I to having much larger heavier packs on our backs. But we were happy, and the weather was perfect.
Gildo and Juno having a heart-to-heart about not pulling on the leash
We followed the signs to Lake Colden and stopped many many times to admire the fall foliage.
At 1:15pm we stopped, yet again, at an irresistible pool in the river to let Juno go for a swim. She made it look so nice that we both climbed down too, and I soaked my shirt and cap in the water before dunking my face and hair under. Ahhhh so refreshing! I took a minute to stretch and take care of my knees before we climbed back up the bank and carried on.
By 1:50pm, we reached another junction. Apparently we’d only gone 1.8 miles in the hour and 20 minutes we’d been hiking, so we stepped up our pace a tiny bit as we were a bit nervous about finding open tent sites at the uphill lean-to.
At 3:00pm we reached the river-crossing, rock-hopped our way across, then continued a gentle incline up the hill on a markedly rockier path. We had about 2 miles to go to reach the Flowed Lands.
At about 4pm we reached what looked on the map like a tiny pond, indicating that we were very close to the next junction. We weren’t quite sure until we passed through increasingly muddy portions of trail. Gildo suggested we were next to the pond; I suggested we were IN it.
Sure enough, 20 minutes later we were at the Flowed Lands trail register. We paused just for a moment before heading left into the woods for the next mile.
After another 20 minutes we reached a nice bridge with a deep stream underneath. Well, deep enough for Juno to jump in and splash around for a bit!
Immediately after the bridge was a cairn marking the path up to Mount Marshall.
We passed it on up and by 5pm we were at the Colden Dam. We took a nice long break here, enjoying the sights of Colden Mountain on the right and Algonquin on the left, and entertained several groups of people lounging on the dam with Juno’s dock-diving skills. She has no fear, and leaped right off of the bridge to chase after rocks that Gildo was throwing for her. She never has a chance to get them, and I think she knows that, but it’s her all-time favorite game!
After an enjoyable 10-minute break, we climbed up the other side of the dam and followed the signs for the uphill lean-to. Shortly after we paused at another beauteous little spot with a suspension bridge in front of a waterfall. We stayed here in photographers paradise for probably longer than we should have.
The trail took a decidedly steeper ascent alongside Uphill Brook. A few times, we opted to take our ascent in the river itself, climbing along the bare rocks and and waterfalls
I was starting to feel a bit anxious. It was nearly 6pm and we still weren’t at the campsite, and I was all too aware of how much earlier the sun sets in the mountains. However I still couldn’t pass up the chance to glimpse into the gorge the brook had cut into the mountain.
We stopped maybe once more to admire the crystal clear water and the shapes of the rocks beneath the surface. We were both tempted to jump in, but time was not on our side, so we continued on uphill.
Finally the trail started to descend a bit and I was wondering when the hell we were ever going to get to the campsite when we met a pair of hikers coming the other way who told us we were literally 50 feet away. Well hot dog! We scampered on and sure enough, there it was, with the two established sites and lean-to already taken. Fortunately we found a flat, clear spot within 20ft of one of the tent site markers and set up shop there. I collected and filtered water from the river just down the trail (with a mini sawyer filter, the BEST) while Gildo set up the tent, we ate our mountainhouse meals, packed the bear canister and stowed it well away from the camp, and hit the sack.
Despite taking a load of CBD oil and my regular sleeping aids, I slept for maybe an hour or two that night. Not for any reason, that’s just how I am. It was a quiet night – no bears, no activity of any kind besides a sporadic drizzle of rain during which Gildo jumped up to relocate some of our things that were outside the tent. I was groggy and didn’t get up until 8am, but that was quickly remedied by some camp coffee and breakfast scramble!
As we got ready for the day, we were met by a pair of rangers inspecting the sites who informed us that where we had set up was not an official site, despite being very clearly used. We were humbled by that knowledge, and quickly packed up our camp so no one else would be tempted to set up there, and for good measure dragged a few fallen trees and logs over the clearing to dissuade others from making the same mistake. It was almost 10am before we made our way to the cairn just beyond our camp marking the trail to Redfield and Cliff.
The trail was slick from the light rain the night before, but within 5 minutes we were at the next cairn marking the junction between Redfield and Cliff. I had opted to climb Redfield first, as it’s the longer of the two at 1.3 miles, while Gildo climbed Cliff, and we planned to meet somewhere in between in the cross-over to have lunch together.
Markings on the tree show: <-C ->R
I felt bouncy under the light weight of my day pack, a delightful contrast to the previous day lugging the hefty overnight pack. The trail was rugged, rocky, and slick with rain, and before long I was back at the Uphill Brook, weaving in and out between the brook and the trail.
At some point I decided climbing in the brook was much easier, and it gifted me beautiful views of the foggy mountains. I couldn’t see any of the high peaks, which would probably frustrate most hikers, but I was just so happy to be there. Plus there’s a unique beauty in mountains shrouded by fog.
I was extra grateful to my hiking poles for saving my clumsy hide NUMEROUS times along the trail. However, some scrapes and bruises were inevitable. Being a trailless peak, the path is narrow and crowded by pine boughs, which showered me with collected rain with each step. So I was soaked, but fortunately it was a warm day, and I wasn’t cold despite the on and off sprinkling. I also seemed to impale myself CONSTANTLY with many many cutoff shards of sticks, branches, and logs that jutted into the trail, but it wasn’t enough to dampen my spirits. After about a mile and an hour of slow clambering and enjoying the stream, the brook came to an end and I entered a trail straight out of a fairytale.
After leaving the stream, the trail seemed to drag on and on more steeply than it had previously, and I wondered when it would end. So I started counting my steps – after 100 steps, I would take a short 30 second break, then start up again back at 0. Along the way, I turned around to look behind me and thought, “Wow! I’m gonna have an awesome view from the summit!”
HA! Yeah right! I took to counting my steps again and didn’t even make it to 100 when I became aware of how near I must be to the summit. With a pep in my step I hurried along until the trail ended with a vast ocean of cloud vapor before me.
Wow, what a nice view of Allen Mtn!
I turned around, spotted the summit sign, laughed at my misfortune of weather (Curse you, weather men! How can you always be so wrong 🤣). Undeterred, I sat down to enjoy my hard-earned victory chocolate. Time at summit: 11:30am.
I really only stayed for 5 minutes or so. It’s not like there was anything to see from up there, and I had a lot of miles in front of me, so it’s best to get moving. As I descended I noticed my eyes squinting occasionally. I was a little confused until I realized it was because the SUN was out! The sun? What’s that?? HA! Anyway, I could see the clouds starting to break up a bit, and grew hopeful of some views on the way up Cliff.
I was making my way sloooooowly one step at a time down the bouldery brook when I saw a very familiar pup pulling at her leash to greet me. Gildo had taken Juno since I can’t manage her on a leash while using my trekking poles, and evidently she was not happy with that arrangement! He had had to drag her all the way up the trail to me because she was convinced I had gone back to the camp! At 12:20pm we happily sat down on a boulder in the middle of the brook to enjoy our lunch together.
We continued our separate ways after just a few minutes together. Besides a minor incident wherein I was lowering myself down a steep section with my left hand holding onto a small stump and my right leg braced on the slippery rock, until my right foot slipped and the stump I was holding onto flopped sideways out of the earth and I skidded on my elbows for a foot or two, the going was smooth. After another 30 minutes I was back at the junction to Cliff, where I scared the jeepers out of some poor girl who didn’t hear me padding down the path until I cheerily said “Hello!” . We both apologized and laughed for a bit, traded some wisdom about the peaks – they had just come from Cliff, where I was headed. I warned them of the slick rocks on Redfield, and they warned me of the mud on Cliff, then we set off. Distance to Cliff summit: 0.8 miles.
Ok. The mud….was no joke. It was dog-deep (DONT ASK how I know that…more on that later), but fortunately I had my pole to help balance as I crossed various branches and logs, however every time I tried to remove my pole to move it forward, the mud held on tight until it released with a wet squelching sound. I though for sure I would lose part of my pole to the mud, but we all came out ok!
After the mud fields the trail took a gentle ascent for 10 minutes until I found myself squeezing through a narrow path, ducking beneath downed trees and brushing through sharp pine boughs that encroached upon the trail. More than once various parts of me and my pack got snagged on the tree bits lunging into the path, and I had to retrieve my water bottle several times after it had been knocked out of my pack.
After a miserable 100ft of this, I decided that though there were old puncheon and man-placed logs beneath my feet, this COULD NOT be the trail. I wasn’t about to go back the way I came, because it SUCKED, so instead I ventured just to the right of the trail where there was more space between the trees and started heading back downhill. I stopped for a moment to gather my senses when a loud WHOOSHING sound erupted to my left, causing me to shout “F*** ME!” to the woods in surprise. Hopefully no one was around for that….Not my best moment. Turns out it was a grouse – that I obviously hadn’t seen – taking flight from right beside me. By this point I was bruised, battered, and pissed in general, so I ducked my head and charged down the hillside barging through dense pine shrubs until I found my way back onto the trail, still wondering how exactly I had lost it in the first place.
Ok so the hike up Cliff hasn’t exactly been ideal so far, but it had to get better, right? WRONG. The trail soon took a decidedly vertical ascent, where many many times I stood at the bottom of a massive vertical rock slab wondering just how in the hell I was going to get up there without breaking my neck. Thankfully I have long legs, I’m 5’9″, because if they were any shorter I’m not sure I would have been able to make the climb on my own. It was pretty technical, complete with slick dampness from the overnight drizzle, and I added a few more scrapes and bruises to my collection, including a new hole in my pinky finger from when I grabbed a pine branch to keep myself from falling and a broken twig speared through my skin.
Image above – Looking up from the base of a vertical slab
Image below – Looking down from the top of the same rock slab
Fortunately, the weather was starting to clear, so I actually had some views at the tops of those cliffs! Not that I enjoyed them much, I was pretty determined to be pissed at this mountain 😆. At some point the climbing was too difficult to manage with a camera dangling from my neck, so I stowed it in my pack. Finally I passed over the last of the cliffs – every time I mounted one just to look ahead and see another one – and crested a little hillock that offered a view of the true summit. Just then a group passed coming the other way and told me I would descend and then climb right back up to the true summit.
False summits, love them, right?? UGH. So I just climbed up all those god forsaken cliffs only to climb right back down the other side and back up to the true summit. Fortunately the trail on this side of the mountain was a whole lot easier, and by 2:20 I had reached the true summit. Which has absolutely no view. None at all. THIS PEAK ISN’T EVEN 4000′ WHY IS IT ON THE LIST. Ok ok rant over. I took a few pics to show how happy I was to be there and to document my battle wounds, enjoyed some victory chocolate while stretching my legs, then got the hell out of there.
You guys, I was MISERABLE on this mountain! That’s so unlike me, but it’s almost funny now, considering I had no single major injuries but TONS of constant scrapes and bruises, which at some point had me shouting profanities at the mountain on the way back up to the false summit.
When I got there, I saw two very familiar faces greeting me – Gildo and Juno had come back up Cliff after completing Redfield at lightning speed to make sure I got down the cliffs safely. Awwww. Too bad I was a bitchy mess! I was a bit conflicted with them being there because I am set to climb these 46 peaks on my own, but really I’d already done the climb, and it was nice to have some company on the descent. Within a few minutes, at about 3pm, we were back at the top of the highest cliff, looking out at the mountains across from us.
I was really really nervous to go back down the cliffs, but they actually weren’t that bad. After my pole got stuck in my way for the 40th time that day, I angrily chucked it down the cliffs and crab-walked my way down. The rocks are super steep but textured, so they aren’t very slippery, and before I knew it, we were at the bottom. I’ve decided that Juno isn’t a labradoodle but a mountain goat the way she bounces from ledge to ledge like it’s nothing! 30 minutes later, we were at a junction in the trail that I obviously missed on the way up. Since my eyes were down as I climbed up the rocky, wet path, I totally missed the little cairn sitting atop a high embankment, which was where the trail was supposed to go. I could see now that there were sticks and logs placed to prevent people from going the wrong way, but it clearly had no effect on me! Gildo took a minute to make the incorrect path a little more inaccessible and obvious, then we continued on.
My knee was unfortunately starting to ache, which was a terrible sign since I still had ~8 miles to walk out downhill to the Upper Works, so we hurried through the muddy path (which is how I realized that the mud is dog-deep, as poor Juno trudged her way through, using much effort to extricate each limb from the muddy trap with a squelching sound at each step) and found ourselves back at the campsite just before 4pm.
We took some time to hydrate, have a snack, and filter more water while I stretched my hips and knees hoping to alleviate some of the pain. I’d started each day by taking an Aleve-which I took again at midday-which has been doing wonders for the knee issues, along with daily yoga practice and hourly stretch breaks during hikes. I realized I’d been way too lax with my stretch breaks, keeping too close an eye on the minutes passing by, all too aware that we wouldn’t make it back to the trailhead until very late. We hefted our packs back on and left our site at about 4:30pm, and headed back along the Uphill Brook.
At 5pm we reached a deep pool along the trail that we just couldn’t pass up, and took the opportunity to wash Juno’s leash – it’s usually a lovely aqua but you wouldn’t know it by how black it had become – and Juno. Our jaws gaped open when Juno leapt into the water and instantaneously a CLOUD of brown mud exploded out of her fur. It’s not like she left a trail as the mud came off while she swam, it was instant. But you know what they say – a muddy dog is a happy dog!
We stopped briefly several times along the trail to admire the waterfalls and the gorge, and an adorable community of teeny mushrooms nested on a mossy rock.
At 6pm we were back to the suspension bridge, and a few minutes later the Colden Dam. By this point I was in substantial pain. And for the first time, I had mindnumbing pain not only in my right knee, but in my left knee too. I knew it was only a matter of time, since I’d relied on my left so heavily in the years since the pain had started, but it was a sinking realization nonetheless. We stopped for just a few minutes at the dam to enjoy the last rays of light on the mountains across the water, then climbed back up the bridge toward the Flowed Lands junction.
Colden on the right, Algonquin on the left
We reached the junction at 7pm. I had been moving increasingly more slowly, cursing the rocks and boulders as we passed over them. Nothing hurts my knees more than the unpredictable walking surface of a rock-strewn trail. At this point both of my knees were screaming, and after a particularly earth-shattering lightning bolt jolted through my left leg from a misstep, I stopped on a large boulder and sobbed. More from the prospect of having to walk 4 more miles like this than from the pain.
At that point it was dark, we donned our headlamps, and Gildo provided me with another trekking pole in the form of a large stick since I usually only use the one pole. I adjusted my walking technique with them and found that it helped considerably! I still couldn’t bend my knees without extreme pain, but I could at least pour my weight into both of the walking sticks and hobble along. I don’t have any pictures from this stretch (it was dark anyway), and to be honest, I don’t really recall any details. At some point my mind had retreated to some safe place to exist outside of the pain. When that didn’t work, I counted my steps. Gildo had taken my pack; I guess it was too hard to watch me dragging my stiff legs painfully along the trail, so he was carrying BOTH of our overnight packs. He was such a trooper; he must have been hurting from carrying the weight of both packs, but didn’t say a word. Time trickled by. I reached 1000 steps counted. Then 2000. Then 3 and 4. At some point I stopped counting and just let my mind live someplace else while my body toiled. Finally, we reached the first junction from the Upper Works – only 0.4 miles to go. I can do that. I’d managed to pick up the pace quite a bit with both sticks on the heavenly flat, smooth trail out of the upper works. I resumed counting my steps after that, and was so shocked when, at 410 steps, our headlights shone on the reflective lights of a truck! We had made it to the parking lot! It was 11:15pm. We quickly changed clothes and hopped in the car for the 3 hour drive home, stopping someplace in Old Forge to creep out a convenience store clerk sometime after midnight, as we were covered in mud, bruises, probably blood, and looking like we’d been through hell. We gorged on all manner of salty goodies, and Juno on a bagel, while we made our way home.
I woke up Monday morning feeling like I got hit by a Mack Truck – EVERY joint in my body hurt – even my knuckles were swollen. They improved a bit throughout the day. It’s been 3 days now and I’m feeling pretty good! Knees are still a little achy but not nearly as bad as I had expected.
I’m invigorated now to try my new method of using the trekking poles for my next hike to see if I can escape the joint pain. For now, it’s back to yoga and stretching. I was so utterly devastated during that hike that it’s been 4 years and this pain is still haunting me. BUT I made it so far without the pain setting in – about 13 miles over 2 days – I’m definitely making progress, and hope to be out there again sometime soon. Mount Marshall, I’m coming for you next.
Thanks for reading ❤
Redfield Mountain: 4606′ Elevation Gain: From base of mountain – 1340′ Overall -3225′ from Upper Works
Cliff Mountain: 3960′ Elevation Gain: From base of mountain – 694′ Overall – 3919′ total
Total Distance: ~19 miles
Total Duration: ~18 hours, including many snack breaks and much putzing