Redfield (15) and Cliff (44)

9/26/2020-9/27/2020

DAY 1

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.


DAY 2


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.

Battle Wounds

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

Day 1 – 5 hours

Day 2 – Redfield: 3 hours Cliff: 3 hours Hike Out: 7 hours

Pitchoff Mountain

9/22/20

This is one of the last peaks that I need to complete the Lake Placid 9ers, and despite never really hearing any hype about it, I was so ready for this hike. Weather looked promising, and despite not sleeping the night before, I left my house at 7am with a sleepy puppy in tow and made it to the Cascade/Pitchoff parking lot on rt 73 by 10:15am. I was meeting my buddy Steve, and saw him parked in the very first lot closest to the trailhead, but I had to drive up the road a ways to get a free spot. Fortunately I found one – even mid-morning on a Tuesday, these lots for Cascade FILL UP. I took a moment to pack away my water and get Juno prepped for the hike while Steve made his way up to us.

Soon we left the car and walked on the side of the road to get to the trailhead. I had NEVER noticed this trailhead before; it’s literally right off of rt 73, there’s no lot directly in front of it, and it’s across the road from Cascade. We reached it at 10:50am, signed in at the register, and started up the trail. We were happy to note hardly any people signed in at the register, despite the packed parking lots!

Not 5 minutes after leaving the register, the trail started to climb. And boy did it. I was thinking to myself, there’s not enough caffeine in the world for me right now, so I stopped to take a few puffs of my inhaler to prep for the climb, and decided to down a Gu packet for good measure – these puppies are packed with nutrients and electrolytes, and though I’d never tried one, I’d heard great things. The taste was fine but the texture…let’s just say that “Gu” is an appropriate name. Coupled with the Nuun that I’d downed on the drive up, my body was ready, whether or not I was. So we heaved our packs back on and continued our upward slog.

I wanted to laugh; was this how the trail was going to be the whole time?? It didn’t even give us a warm-up, just immediately UP. I reminded myself, the first 20 minutes are always the worst, and 10 minutes later we had crested a ridge. The trail after that was GORGEOUS. We were up on a ridge that dropped off on either side, with a healthy vibrant canopy enveloping us, bright pops of orange, red, and yellow peeking through with the sunlight filtering through from above. I must have said many times “Woooow it’s so pretty!” at nothing really in particular but at the environment as a whole. I felt so content strolling this gentle dirt path along the mountain. We really weren’t particularly far from the road, but we were high enough and within enough trees that none of the sounds reached us.

We happily bopped along for the next 20 minutes of easy walking. I was so stricken by the beauty of the sunlight-dappled forest floor that I paused constantly to snap photos, sometimes without warning so that Steve would nearly slam into me. Sorry Steve! We reached our first lookout peering over rt 73 at 11:20am. I made sure to hook Juno onto her leash for these lookouts – curious rapscallion that she is, she gets a rush out of getting right up to the edge to look over 😬.

We hung out for a minute or two in no particular hurry, then found our next lovely perch some minutes later. I was feeling so much more energized than when I started, something I attribute to the Nuun and Gu. Nevertheless, we took a break here to set our packs down and snack on some fruit while looking over the map. There’s an icon on the map for something called the “Balanced Rocks”. I’d never heard of them, but on the map it looked like the trail to it hooked around and back from the main trail up pitchoff. It was hard to tell exactly where it was and where we were though, so we kept asking ourselves – “Do those rocks look balanced to you?” every time we spotted some boulders. We remained at our nice lookout for another 10 or 15 minutes. As we were packing up to leave, a happy older couple joined us, very excited to pet Juno. They were coming up behind us and asked if this lookout was the “Balanced Rock”. We replied that we thought it was further up the trail, chatted for a bit, then hoofed it on out.

Soon after, we reached some awesome boulders we had to craftily scuttle up, which obviously Juno immensely enjoyed, after which the trail started to descend a bit and wrap around, going deeper into the mountain ridge. At about noon, we heard voices up ahead and paused to let them pass. It was another sweet couple who warned us that the next 15 minutes would be a steep scrambley hell. I figured that maybe they weren’t used to the Adirondacks and assumed it wasn’t actually a nightmare – just as we reached the base of the steepest section of this trail.

This part was tricky to navigate, but honestly I thought it was pretty fun. Tough, obviously, but fun….That’s actually really easy to say now, sitting at home on my couch a day later; my sentiment may have been a little different in the moment….There were many places where we could see that many people had come down different routes. Honestly, it was a hot mess, a choose-your-own-adventure if you will, so we basically just let Juno run ahead and followed in her path. I stopped for just a few moments to admire some tiny mushrooms and the smoothest birch bark, but mostly we just slowly clambered up.

At one point, I could see Juno’s intentions to leap onto a narrow rock ledge on the side of a boulder and barked DON’T YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT IT! She assessed the ledge from another perspective, thought better of it (maybe because I was still shrieking at her) and turned away to effortlessly lope away up the steep mountainside. Showoff.

Amazingly, it only took us 30 minutes to reach the top, where we came to a junction that another couple had warned us not to miss on their way down. Written in tiny letters we could read “Balanced Rocks ->” on the top and “Summit <-” on the bottom.

We bore right to investigate the so-called balancing rocks we kept wondering about and were deposited by the trail onto a stunning slope of bare rock, with yet another boulder.

While we examined the boulder, again wondering, “Does it look balanced to you?” a Ranger approached from up ahead and laughed when I told her we kept wondering if rocks seemed balanced or not to determine if we’d arrived! She said to keep going, and described what we’d see ahead. I’ll not spoil it for you just yet, but we wasted no time in heaving our packs back on and trailblazing forward to figure out what was the deal with these balanced rocks 1.6 miles from the trailhead. Let me tell you……they are QUITE a deal.

I was in AWE. I couldn’t close my mouth, it just about dropped open all the way to my knees. I tossed my pack on the ground, grabbed my camera, and basked in paradise. I wanted to stay there taking photos forever. It was just…perfect. We could see SO MUCH! From the olympic center on the side of Mount Van Hoevenberg, to Mount Marcy and Mount Jo, even all the way to the ski jumps in Lake Placid, blanketed in a shroud of blazing red beneath a hazy sky.

I told him to “do something with his hands” because they looked awkward…

I had so much fun playing with my Peakfinder app and identifying all of the mountains in front of us!

I climbed up onto THE balanced rock (I think) to get a better perspective, and of course Juno threw a fit until she was up there with me! This slope of bare rock is characterized by huge boulders lying around and atop cracks and crevasses that cut straight down into the mountain below.

We remained for 30 minutes. It was so nice to be in no hurry today and to linger for as long as felt right. I took plenty of time to stretch my legs, hydrate (both myself and the pup), and soak in the splendor. At 1pm we turned away and padded back up to the junction, where the first couple we’d met that day was just finishing the steep climb. They remarked that this was NOT the “moderate, family-friendly trail” an acquaintance had told them it was, to which I responded, “It kind of is an easy one, compared to the rest of the Adirondacks”. Even the “easy” mountains here are still rugged. I feel for people who get suckered into thinking climbing an ADK mountain is like a walk in city park. Anyway, we pointed them toward the balancing rocks, and informed them that they’ll know it when they see it, just keep going until the end. Then we made our way toward the actual summit of pitchoff.

Looking back from the Balanced Rocks to see the summit of Pitchoff.

The trail descended a bit from the junction before climbing again. After about 30 minutes we reached what we thought may be the summit, from which there were no views but there WAS a very large boulder. With no signs, we recalled on the map that the true summit is the first high point along the Pitchoff range coming from the West trailhead (as we had), and from there it descends a bit. We continued on hoping for a nice place to stop, enjoy lunch, and stretch.

Sure enough, a few minutes later at about 1:30pm, we reached an open outcropping with a steep slope down the side of the ridge. I was a bit nervous with Juno so I leashed her to me, however it wasn’t really necessary – I had her food, cheese, and water, so she wanted nothing to do with exploring. We three sat and enjoyed our snacks, pondering how the view here doesn’t hold a flame to the one at the balanced rocks.

Still, we had the summit to ourselves, and we waved up to the constant filter of ant-sized human shapes we could see moving about the summit of Cascade across the way.

Again I took the opportunity to play with my Peakfinder app! I have so much fun with this thing. It was identifying peaks alllll the way into Vermont, which we could see as a pale blue silhouette on the horizon beneath a haze of wildfire smoke. My favorite of these was “Breadloaf Mountain”.

We stayed until 2:00pm, then took our leave. We were certain by now that the summit was just the big boulder we passed on the way up, so we patted it with our hands and strolled back to the junction, where we AGAIN encountered that same kind, happy couple for the third time that day. They asked us if the boulder was the actual summit, and said they didn’t explore further but were confused not to have seen us! We talked for a bit, then passed them to fall with style down the steep scrabbly slope. We quickly caught up to another group heading down with difficulty…I myself employed the ADK Butt Slide technique of, you guessed it, sitting on the near-vertical rock slabs and shooting down them on my ass. Luckily my pants are sturdy, and at the next tricky spot I opted instead to climb down backwards, facing the mountain and lowering 1 foot at a time.

That mess of rocks and plants and dirt….is the trail.

Before long we were at the bottom of the steepest section and felt light on our feet as we climbed back up to the ledge along the ridge to view the cascade lakes. We’d repeatedly caught up to the group in front of us, so they kindly let us pass by while gushing at Juno, much to her delight. She knows EXACTLY how cute she is.

A glimpse of Cascade Lakes

We made great time, and at 3:30 we were back at the register signing out while I lazily tried to get a pic of me and Juno together, without much success.

NAILED IT

Walking back on the road I was excited to see the “balanced Rocks” from the road! Another landmark I can now happily identify on my drives through the mountains.

Juno slept the entire 3 hour drive home, after which we scarfed down a meal (sushi!!!) and were in bed by 8:30pm. This hike is in my books as one of my new favorite trails.

Pitchoff Mountain: 3500′ Elevation Gain: 1400′

Round Trip Distance: ~5 miles

Total Duration: 4.5 hours including who knows how long at summits/overlooks

Happy Hiking!

Big Crow Mountain

9/15/20

Despite the name of this one, it is the shortest of the Lake Placid 9ers at 1.4 miles round-trip. Immediately after finishing Bear Den Mountain in Wilmington, I and my two hiking buddies (and Juno) made our way up the narrow dirt road toward the Big Crow trailhead. The drive up gave us a fantastic view of the mountain we were about to climb, and I was thinking, “Wow, that sure seems like a steep climb!” until I realized the road we were on took us nearly all the way up! Since this hike was so short, I opted to leave my pack behind and take only the essentials up with me to give my back a break. We lingered just for a moment at the trailhead to enjoy some beautiful huge red leaves, then made our way up to the register at about 3:15pm.

The trail started off relatively flat, but before long we were certainly gaining some serious altitude. With an elevation gain of 570′ over only 0.7 miles, of course this was going to be a steep one!

The bright side of this hike is that before you know it, you’re at the top! It took us half an hour to reach the summit at about 3:45pm.

The view at the top was a little bit clearer than at our previous summit, but not by much. Still, there is no better way to spend an afternoon than looking down on the adirondacks with it’s reddening foliage.

After about 15 minutes, we took our leave. I was trying to be in my car by 4pm; it’s a 3 hour drive home, and I didn’t want to spend it in the dark! As we were heading out, we passed the sweetest little family – a mom and dad with 3 little kiddos – who were so excited to greet Juno as we descended past them.

Within 20 minutes we were back to the flatter part of the trail, where I spotted a HUGE orange mushroom that I must have missed on our way up! Jeepers this thing was the size of my foot!

On the way down, we talked about how this trail is a perfect little Adirondack hike; it has all the elements of a real high peaks trail, just scaled back. We arrived back at our cars at 4:25pm. The lot, which had been so busy just over an hour before, had emptied out. I learned this lot is also another trailhead for Hurricane mountain! I had no idea there were multiple ways up Hurricane, but that explained how there were so many cars but almost no people on our trail. Not that I’m complaining! As I drove home, I watched the sun set in front of me, that same odd orange ball that I had seen that morning, with the distinct aura of being seen through a screen of wildfire smoke.

Big Crow Mountain: 2815′ Elevation Gain: 570′

Total Distsance: 1.4 miles

Total Duration: 1 hr 10 minutes, including time at top

Happy hiking!

Bear Den Mountain

9/15/20

Now that summer is basically over, the crowds have dispersed, weather is cooler, and I have Tuesdays free, I figure it’s time to get my lazy butt back into the mountains. I’m starting to push myself again to see if I’m ready to hit those high peaks, so I thought a good place to start would be with the Lake Placid 9ers. My plan was to go up Bear Den, then head into Keene to try for Big Crow as well.

I left home by 7am and drove the three hours to Wilmington, with the most bizarre rising sun ahead of me. The only time I’d seen a sun looking like a floating orange ball in the sky, with no aura, is when I’d seen it through smoke from wild fires. Considering the circumstances out west, that isn’t exactly a crazy assumption. I made it to the trailhead of the Flume Trails off of 86 where I met two of my very best friends, Gavin and Steve!

We tried to sign in at the trailhead (“tried” because there were no free spaces on the sign in sheets) and set off on the wide mountain-biking trail at 10:30am, with Juno zipping between the trees left and right. My map didn’t have very clear markings for these trails, but fortunately I snapped a picture at the register of the trail map, which came in handy as we reached each of many many junctions. We stayed on the Corridor trail heading towards the Upper connector trail.

After some climbing, we reached a beautiful “sugar bush” which Gavin was particularly excited about, full of strong maple trees just starting to drop their bright leaves on the forest floor. Gavin gushed at all of the maple trees, hugging a select few special ones, while I oohed and aahed at the MUSHROOMS. The mushroom situation on this trail is unreal. I had to fight the urge to pick them every time I found a large strand of shroomies, so instead, I took photos of them!

It was around this time when I started to realize how out of shape I am. I’m trying to assess if I’m ready to get back into the high peaks, logging 20-mile days with a full pack, so I thought I’d try hiking with my full pack for these smaller hikes to see where I’m at. DANG BUD, IT’S ROUGH. Of course I wouldn’t tell my hiking buddies at the time but my god I felt like I’d be better off dragging my carcass along the trail with my arms! Instead, I insisted on frequent breaks to catch my breath, using the opportunity to get Gavin talking about trees to extend our break (Sorry Gav! I’m shameless), before continuing on. It wasn’t a particularly long hike, but it was a bit more strenuous and a bit more UP than I suppose I was expecting!

Along the way, we passed only one older couple heading down, so I was looking forward to having the summit to explore on our own. We climbed and climbed and finally I could see a break in the trees! We scrambled up to a gorgeous view of Whiteface Mountain practically looming over us at 12:30pm.

We three dropped our packs to soak in the view and have some lunch, and after a few minutes Gavin and I realized we lost Steve! Jokingly I said, ‘Maybe he took a wrong turn and wound up on Whiteface!’, but instead we found a narrow trail leading further up. As it turns out, we weren’t actually on the summit. We left our packs behind, and I felt positively bouncy! I felt so light without the weight of my pack as I bopped my way along the trail. After just a few more minutes we were at a slightly higher outcropping with a slightly nicer view, where we found both Steve and Juno.

Naturally, I immediately set about capturing some photos. I was feeling very frustrated as I stalked around, crouching and leaning to get various shots of the landscape, but the sky was just so….UGLY. It was ugly. There was not a single cloud in the sky, so logically the sky should have been blue, right? But no, it was this greyish-whitish haze that settled to a ruddy orange around the peaks in the distance. It made all of my shots look slightly out-of-focus. One of my biggest pet peeves as a photographer is when people saturate the sky when taking pics, so the sky just looks totally white instead of showing any dimension or clouds…..AND THAT’S WHAT ALL OF MY SHOTS LOOKED LIKE! But they weren’t saturated, just…ugly! So that was the second indication of the day that we were seeing massive amounts of smoke, high in the atmosphere, that had drifted in from the wild fires out west.

Despite the ugliness of the sky, we marveled at the pops of red sprouting in the canopy beneath us.

We hung out for a while regardless, and I turned my focus to a lovely model to distract from the ugly sky – Juno! Her poses were really on point. Check out this saucy look:

At 1:15pm we decided to head back down so that we’d have time to make it to our 2nd peak of the day. Right about at this time we encountered our second pair of people for the day, a couple who also thought the first rocky outcropping was the summit. We directed them to the path to the top, and hustled down the trail.

The descent was much more smooth than the climb, and I was thrilled to find that my knee didn’t hurt! Since we were making good time, I didn’t feel guilty about stopping and climbing into a stream to get some pics.

As I was climbing out of the stream, I noticed Juno acting real odd next to me up on the bank. She was jumping around, wiggling and scratching, and I noticed a small bright yellow wriggling mass sticking out of her haunch: a hornet was repeatedly stinging her viciously in her hind hip! I swatted it away, but it continued to dive-bomb us so we ran ran ran back to the trail to the boys. She was still acting erratic and scratching at her head when Gavin saw another hornet fly out from behind her ear. We looked back at where she and I had been near the stream and spotted a hive on the ground, surrounded by the swarming assholes. Once we were sure Juno was fine, we wasted no time in getting the hell out of there.

Before long, we were back to the mountain biking trails above the marshy pond. We saw a few odd groups of older folks slowly ambling up the trail; for some reason they seemed quite strange to me. Maybe it was the way they were dressed, or that they gave us wary looks as we passed and wouldn’t make eye contact. Whatever the case, we made it back to the parking lot at about 2:30pm, had some snacks, and headed off for Big Crow. Juno never stopped running today, so the first thing she did was pass out in the back seat. Poor thing thought we were done for the day!

Bear Den Mountain: 2650′ Elevation Gain : 1300′

Round Trip Distance: ~4.5 miles

Total Duration: ~4 hours, including time at the summit

Next up : Big Crow Mountain

Mt. Van Hoevenberg

8/16/2020

It’s a gorgeous Sunday, with perfect weather, AND it’s my Birthday! All I wanted was to spend some time in the mountains. I only recently learned about the Lake Placid 9er challenge, since I’ve been recovering from a persistent knee injury for a few years I must have missed it! Now I’ve got my sights set on completing this challenge too, and since the high peaks are overwhelmingly swamped with hikers these days I thought it would be a great opportunity to explore some less-popular trails. So off we went to Mt. Van Ho! There are two main trailheads for this peak – one that starts at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg ski center, and one that starts either at the Loj or at the South Meadows lot. I wanted to avoid the crowds and the parking issues present in the high peaks lately, so we opted to start at the ski center. There were several cars in the lot, but we realized most of them were there to mountain bike, not to climb the mountain. We signed in, I peed for the millionth time that morning (having downed an entire nalgene with Nuun – see Noonmark mountain – to prevent dehydration during the hike), and we set off around the building and over the bridge into the trails right at 1pm.

The trails are fortunately VERY well marked, and it’s very clear that hikers should follow the yellow markers all the way up. There were even distance markers every 0.5 mile. The paths were wide and grassy, and if not for the many many signs at every junction it would have been very easy to get turned around.

The going was very easy along these paths, almost boring, but I was just so content to be out in the mountains, smelling the wildflowers.

After a mile of walking, we reached the junction where the REAL trail branched off and meandered up to the summit. I love the feeling of being nestled beneath the safety of a green canopy, and felt right at home….as did Juno!

As we walked the steady switchbacks, it became very apparent that this trail is undergoing very active maintenance! It was so cool to see! We engineer nerds can’t help but to always wonder how on earth the trail crews move such large boulders and create paths….well, now we have a better idea!

It’s going to be a great trail once they’ve finished, and I imagine it will help a ton with trail erosion. We happily walked along, and as we climbed we started seeing these great boulders with awesome caves built-in! I’m not sure why but my mind always says “Yeah, we could hide in there!”

On our way up we passed only a handful of people coming down. Before we knew it we were at the first incredible lookout with a pair of women sitting and enjoying the peaks.

We chatted for a few minutes before hopping back onto the trail toward the true summit. Just a hop and a skip and we were approaching the next clearing, this time with a sign:

And sure enough….

So cool! I hope that someday I will be able to volunteer on a trail crew to help maintain these trails that I love so much! Plus, I just really wanna know how they do everything 😀 For some reason, we weren’t quite sure that this was the summit (to the best of my knowledge, it was) so we kept going ahead, past another overlook, and back into the woods. At some point I noticed we were now following blue markers and were heading somewhat downhill, so we turned around and settled in at the last viewpoint we had passed.

Check out Saddleback and Basin in the image above! They’re almost exactly in the center of the image, you can see a big saddle-like dip in between the two peaks…Yep, can’t wait to haul my carcass up those high peaks! As ready as I was for my lunch and of course my VICTORY CHOCOLATE, I was super excited to try out an app that I recently put on my phone. It’s called PeakFinder, and it’s not very easy to use, but it identifies all of the visible peaks on the horizon!

I fiddled around with that for quite a while, and enjoyed the knowledgeable feeling I had when a few people from out of state asked which peaks we were looking at and I could answer them! We could even see the ski jumps in Lake Placid.

I can’t believe this little mountain doesn’t get more attention. The climb up couldn’t have been easier and the sights were breathtaking.

We were in no rush as we enjoyed our sandwiches and stretched our bones. Juno, however, was not too happy with us; we tied her to a tree because she kept STICKING HER SNOUT OUT OVER THE CLIFFS. This is why she doesn’t go up high peaks with me anymore! Kids these days…

As much as we enjoyed the summit, we began to grow weary of the sun beating down, so we packed up our things and headed back the way we came, stopping for a few last photos of course.

The descent was gentle, and I relished feeling no pain in my knee or hip….just some in my back, but hey, I’ll take what I can get, I’m an old lady now! 🤣

Just a few minutes later we were back at the wide ski trails heading downhill toward the ski center. I was kind of dreading this part a little bit because it is pretty boring; it’s not what you think of when you think of hiking in the ADKs….That is, until we realized that the trails are lined with red raspberry bushes the whole way down! So obviously we really took our time and snacked during the whole descent – Juno included. Sometime in the last few months, after watching me forage for berries, she learned how to forage too, and now I can’t keep her away from them.

The photo above was taken on our regular walking trails, not on this hike, but you get the idea.

We made it back to the car at about 5pm and wasted no time in packing up and heading down Rt. 73 to the Cascade Lakes to take a refreshing dip before driving the 3 hours back home. And OF COURSE we stopped for Stewart’s pizza and ice cream before heading back, what kind of hikers would we be if we didn’t?! (Campfire S’moreo, in case you were wondering 😉 )

I can’t wait to go back and finish the rest of the 9ers! It feels good to be completing a challenge until my knee can handle the 46ers again.

Happy trails!

Mount Van Hoevenberg: 2940′

Round Trip Distance: 4.4 miles

Total Duration: ~4 hours, including who knows how long at the top.

Noonmark Mountain

7/18/20

Weather: 85 F and Humid

All right. This is a hard one to write, but the most important one too. Please read until the end.

I left home at 4:30am and started driving towards the sky brightening with the rising sun and a perfect yellow crescent moon. As I hopped on rt 73, I became increasingly aware of how full the little side lots were already, so before I even made it to the AMR lot at St Huberts, I knew it would be full (it was full at 4am!). Of course I checked it out anyway, and indeed it was full, so I went back up the hill and parked at Chapel Pond with several other cars with rock climbers prepping their gear. I took out my map and decided, hey, I came here to walk, what’s another mile or two added to my route?

I found that I could hike downhill along 73 to get to the trailhead, then summit Noonmark and continue down the south side of the mountain to exit near round pond, finishing with a short downhill walk along 73 to my car. So at 7:30am I set off down the road, stopping to gaze at Chapel Pond and two serene loons cruising her surface.

I joined the caravan of bewildered stragglers journeying to the high peaks. I didn’t mind walking the extra distance, but I could have done without the cars dangerously zipping past me while I ambled along the shoulder. Fortunately, the road is all downhill until AMR, so it was an easy warm-up. Along the way I discovered a hidden drive/lot for climbers (the Beer Wall) and saw some impromptu camps set in the woods along the road. I made it to St. Huberts lot at 8:00am and followed the road until the Noonmark Trail adjacent to the golf course where I signed in at the register, noting the printed list of important items to bring hiking and mentally checking them all off. There were only two groups ahead of me so I was looking forward to a quiet hike.

I trotted along the gravel path studded with stately private homes until I reached the yellow markers indicating the trail to Noonmark.

The trail started off pretty tame, gently but steadily gaining altitude. I stopped for my first hourly break at 8:30am, sitting on a rock in the middle of a dried-up creek bed to eat, drink, and stretch. I’m still coming off of a knee injury from several years ago, and I know I don’t eat or drink enough when I hike, so my method is to stop every hour for at least 5 or 10 minutes to take care of myself. I took a moment to jot down some notes for this trip report, then headed on behind the couple that had just passed me up.

Soon after I heard a rush of water and peered over the edge to see the most beautiful clear water and waterfalls. I wanted so badly to jump in already, but it wasn’t even 9am, so I carried on and soon passed up the couple ahead of me, and made it to the next trail junction! Only 1.5 miles to the summit!

The climbing got more vigorous after that, but it wasn’t technically challenging so I went slow, took many pauses, and made it to the first lookout at 9:15am. I took this opportunity to take another break and drink my gatorade and water, and eat some goldfish, fruit, pickles, and a protein bar. I was feeling a little tired already so I lied back to take a long rest in the shade. I was unaware at the time, but this was the start of my troubles.

After resting for a while, I gathered my things and continued my uphill slog. I found I had to move very slowly and was feeling a bit lightheaded, so I stopped frequently to rest in the shade and drink water and eat my snacks. At 10:30am I made it to the next lookout and took yet another long break.

At this point, I knew I wasn’t feeling well, but I thought my best bet would be to make it over the summit to take the gentler descent back down to my car. So I continued moving forward 10 yards at a time at most, taking many many breaks in between. I could see the summit (or at least what I thought was the summit) from where I was sitting, and it was close, so my choice made sense at the time. I didn’t understand why I was feeling so bad; it was hot out, but windy too, with some clouds, and I really wasn’t sweating much and I didn’t feel hot.

I was now feeling nauseous, dizzy, lightheaded, and weak, and I was getting concerned because I’ve never felt this way before. I was wearing the right clothes, the right materials, I had my hat on to keep out of the sun, I took breaks, I ate the right foods and drank the right things. So I just kept inching my way up, thinking that eventually the nutrients from my food would kick in and I’d feel better.

To be honest, at this point I wasn’t even interested in the scenery, which in retrospect was astonishing. I took a few photos while I rested, but not my usual fare. I took some time laying against my pack at this false summit. I tried closing my eyes, but I would feel the world spinning beneath me. I stood up to move toward some shade and felt my head spin and my heart absolutely race. I felt like I was going to faint at any moment, and was worried I’d hit my head hard if that happened. My situation was getting very real and very scary. I took a second to quiet my tears and call my boyfriend, who was camping elsewhere, but I didn’t know who else to call. As I left a message, I realized that I was having trouble stringing words together; I was aware enough to realize that I was quickly losing awareness. I hung up and called the DEC Ranger’s office at around 11:45am. SAVE THIS NUMBER IN YOUR PHONES if you’re an ADK hiker: 518-891-0235 . That is for the DEC Ranger’s office for the Adirondack region. The man who answered was kind and calm. He asked my name, where I was, and what was happening. I tried to be clear that I would MUCH rather make it out on my own two feet, if he just had some advice for what the hell was going on with me; I didn’t even want anyone to come help me because I didn’t want to be a drain on resources. I didn’t even think it was dehydration because I’d been drinking my water and gatorade and eating plenty. He told me to stay put and that he’d have another ranger call me with more instruction.

I am not a panicky, scared person. I am usually unflappable and stubborn as hell; if I’m in pain, I hike through it. I carry a map, I don’t get lost, and I feel comfortable and safe in the woods. This was like nothing I’d ever experienced before and I was TERRIFIED. I want everyone to be clear, that I was PREPARED. I was EXPERIENCED. And this still happened.

A few minutes after I made that first call, I got a call from a ranger saying she was on her way, and she had two assistant rangers coming up the trail to meet me. I hung up, finished the rest of my gatorade, and was starting to feel slightly better so I started heading downhill to meet them. I did NOT want to be carried out of the woods, but to be honest I had no clue how on earth I would make it in my current condition.

I walked for a solid 10 minutes before I started to feel much much worse. I even passed groups of people going up and had the clarity to reassure them that they were almost there. I didn’t want help from any of them though; I’ve been staying clear of people during this pandemic business, and I didn’t want to burden some hiking family with feeling obligated to assist me off the mountain. So I sat off to the side with my head between my knees to let them pass. At this point, even when I was sitting my heart was beating incredibly fast. I would stand up, stumble a few paces down the path, which was actually technically challenging at this point even for a healthy hiker, then have to sit again to catch my breath. I was texting the ranger all the while, trying to give her a better idea of where I was located on the trail.

At about 1:30pm I spotted two women in tan uniforms heading up the trail. I was so relieved. They sat me down and started taking my vitals and my information. Turns out that my heart really WAS racing; it was above 100bpm even when I was sitting and resting, and would shoot up to 120bpm after I’d very very slowly walked only 10 paces downhill. And I’d have to sit again.

After about 30 minutes of this, the ranger made it to us on the trail and gave me a Nuun tablet with a bottle of water. It’s a dissolving tablet with sodium, protein, and sugar. I downed it, though it was a struggle because I felt so nauseous that the last thing I wanted was to put anything in my stomach. I ate some fruit and had another half bottle of water, and another bottle with a Nuun tablet.

All the while we were slowly making our way downhill, stopping very frequently. Even though I was taking the tiniest, slowest steps, and they were carrying my pack, I still felt too weak and shaky to make it more than a few yards at a time.

Finally, midway through the second bottle of Nuun, my vision stopped swimming. Feeling started to return to my fingers and lips; they would tingle and go numb every time I stood up before. I wasn’t so nauseous and dizzy. Still felt weak, but it was a big improvement. By the time I finished the second bottle, the color had returned to my face, I was joking with the crew (they were actually a ton of fun to hike with, despite my feeling so crummy), and I was feeling strong enough to even carry my own pack. I finished the trail in a final 30 minute push that I was able to do without stopping. The longest stretch I’d been able to do since before 10am. I waited at the bottom of the trail with the assistant rangers while the ranger went to get her truck to drop me back off at my car. I was so relieved to finally be going home. To the rangers, should you read this: Megan, Chrissy, and Sarah (I hope I spelled your names right!) – You were all SO AMAZING. I felt so comfortable having you there with me; I can’t tell you how scared I was up on that mountain alone feeling like I would lose consciousness. I can’t thank you enough, and I hope to run into you again sometime under much different circumstances.

So that’s what happened. (After thinking about the symptoms more and more, I am fairly certain I was experiencing dehydration and heat exhaustion. Check out the chart at the bottom of this page). Once I sat down in my car and started driving, I finally started to feel hungry…VERY hungry. I ate almost everything else I had in my pack by the time I made it home. In fact, my heat exhaustion/dehydration was so severe that I was feeling just as sick when I walked in the door of my house that I didn’t feel I had energy even to make something to eat. I managed to heat up a bowl of Campbell’s vegetable soup (you know, with noodles, veggies, and more salt than the ocean) and ate the whole thing with a few crackers. To top it off I enjoyed a hot bath with epsom salts! At this point, why the hell not.

I’m writing this the day after. I woke up exhausted, with a headache, and HUNGRY. Other than that, I’m ok, and I’ve already bought 3 different kinds of salt chews and gels and tablets to keep in my pack. You can bet I won’t be in the woods without them ever again.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Learn from my mistakes; if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. I’ll say it one last time: I was prepared, experienced, and smart, and I still needed emergency assistance to get off the mountain. All I was missing was salt, because apparently gatorade and goldfish are not enough when you find out the hard way that you are sensitive to lack of salt.

Happy Hiking.

Noonmark Elevation: 3556′ Elevation Gained: 2175′

Total Distance: I’m not sure how close I was to the summit; in hindsight I think I was much closer than I realized. I’ll guess I only went about 5.6 miles in total, including the walk to AMR from my car.

Total Duration: 9 hours.

Day 6 – Sedona and Phoenix

The next morning, we woke up excited for another day of hiking. My mom and grandma were doing Part 2 of their trolley tour, so we dropped them off in town and headed back up to that Route 89A with the intent of hiking the West Fork trail. This trail is supposed to be the iconic Sedona trail through a slot canyon following a river. I thought it would be good especially since there’s no climbing involved and my knee wouldn’t hurt. Turns out, the rest of Arizona thought it would be a nice trail too, as there were HUNDREDS of cars parked along the road. We definitely didn’t want any part of that, so we wandered around for about an hour just looking for a trailhead. Trailheads around here are incredibly poorly marked, but finally we found one called the North Wilson Mountain trail and headed up it. Right away the views were stunning, and we even had some tree cover and shade for this hike.

We were heading towards those dark cliffs in the distance, and I couldn’t wait to see it up close. We encountered one small group of people during our time on this trail, and that was it.

We continued on for about an hour, and entered into the cover of trees, which had stunning fall foliage.

We sat and enjoyed our lunch at the base of the huge cliffs. It was sort of a sad moment as we realized this would not only be our last hike for this trip, but our last hike together for quite a while.

After that short break we decided to head back down the mountain. It took about an hour, and surprisingly, I had no knee issues! I finally mastered the art of hobbling down mountain trails!

We got back to the car, went back to town, picked up my mom and grandma, and started the trek to Phoenix. This portion of the trek was uneventful. We didn’t stop for any photo ops, instead just carried straight through to Phoenix. During this time we saw REAL desert, with towering saguaro cacti and tumbleweeds. We arrived around dusk and got settled into our hotel, the Sheraton Grand Phoenix. My grandmother and I were on the top floor, and when we opened the curtains of our room, we saw this:

We looked at each other and just laughed, it was the best hotel room view we’d had all week (or probably ever). That night, I went to investigate the pool, which was totally empty, and went for a perfect nighttime swim.

The next day there was no time for exploring as I was presenting my poster at the BMES conference. My mom and grandma hung out by the pool all day while my father explored the city; meanwhile I was walking around in 100 degree weather in my fancy clothes.

That night, we enjoyed one last sunset in the endless sky, and went to bed early to catch our flight early the next morning.

After a long couple of days of travelling, I made it back to New York and reunited with Juno. This trip was absolutely incredible, and I’m so grateful that my family was able to go with me. Can’t wait to go back for more!

Day 5 – Sedona

The next morning, we got up, ready and excited to explore the area. We were all a bit bummed because that 89A road is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the country, but of course we travelled it in the freaking dark. A typical thing for our family to do. So my Mom and Grandmother embarked on a trolley tour of the area while my dad and I filled our packs and headed out to hike….somewhere. We didn’t know where to go, so we went to the gas station across the street and got a map. As we were looking at it, we had to laugh because we saw the road we came down on….It looked almost cartoonishly twisty and curvy, like a bowl of spaghetti spilled on the floor.

Anyway, we took the advice of a kind gentleman we met there and headed off to the Airport Loop trailhead. It was a lot longer than we expected just to walk to the trailhead, but we finally got there and set off on our way.

I have never seen so many cacti in my entire life. I recognized that they were prickly pear cacti, and that many of them had ripe, plump, reddish-purple fruit on them, so naturally we had to investigate further. We each plucked a fruit from a cactus, I immediately dropped mine because they apparently have super tiny sharp hairs in clusters on the fruit themselves that stick right into your hands! My dad managed to get his fruit open though, and we each had a bite…Those things are FULL of super hard seeds! It tasted delicious, but we each only had a nibble. Unfortunately for my dad, he got one of those tiny sharp hairs in his mouth and had to deal with that for the rest of the day! At about 2pm, we came across a junction where we could either continue on our way or we could take a short detour by climbing up a…small mountain? Rock? Mesa-thing? I’m not sure what it was, but it was well worth the climb.

That woman was doing some yoga-meditation thing, swaying side to side, but it made for a nice picture!

I was really feeling like I had entered into some prehistoric landscape, and half expected to see Littlefoot and Spike walking the trails with us.

So we were quickly learning just how unforgiving this landscape really is. The air was so dry it just sucked the moisture right out of our skin and mouths, and we went through our water way faster than we thought we would. We left that perch with half the water that we started our hike with, and more than halfway to go to return to town. This fear of running out of water was completely new to me. In the Adirondacks, if you run out of water, you just refill at one of the 8 million streams, lakes, and rivers that you’re bound to come across. Out here, we’d have to resort to sucking the moisture out of more prickly pear fruits, and neither of us really wanted to do that. Luckily, the trail we had embarked on wasn’t super long, only about 4 miles round trip, so we were’t too worried.

 

The trail we followed is visible, cutting right across the rock.

 

We left the summit and followed the trail around the edge of the small mountain, on top of which was the Sedona Airport. This route was extremely exposed, with little to no areas of shade, but it offered incredible views the entire time.

After climbing and climbing, we reached what we thought was the top and sat beneath a rare tree to enjoy some lunch and guzzle more water. Shortly afterward, we heard helicopters overhead and saw that we were right beneath the airport!

We started descending after this point, and quickly made it back to town. My knee was irking me, but luckily the pole I had borrowed from my father made it much more bearable. We went back to our hotel, walked into the lobby, and asked if they had any drinking fountains where we could refill our water bottles. We’d both long since ran out, and were quite parched. We must have looked pathetic and about ready to drop, because a manager took one look at us and led us back into the employee break room to fill up from their water cooler. That was the most delicious, COOOLD water I’ve ever had! We were there for probably 10 minutes filling up our bottles, drinking, and filling up again. Finally hydrated, we took a much-needed dip in the pool.

Day 6 – Sedona and Phoenix

Day 4 – The Grand Canyon

The next day, we packed our things and set out for the Grand Canyon. The initial plan had been for my dad and I to hike to the bottom from the North Rim, stay the night, then hike back up via the Bright Angel trail to the South Rim. We ended up deciding not to do it since we just didn’t have enough time in our mini vacation to do it; good thing too, because my knee was not in great shape for descending.

On our way there, we took this scenic route (89A), and stopped numerous times to take in our surroundings: the Vermillion Cliffs.

 

The moon, always visible

 

We stopped again shortly later at some cliff dweller ruins where two Navajo women were selling gorgeous handmade jewelry and pottery. My mom and grandmother perused the items on display while I took the opportunity to snap some photos (of course).

Throughout the whole trip, the conversation theme tended to be “How on Earth does anything/anyone live here? Where do they get their water??” Alas, it’s a mystery we never solved, as every single creek and riverbed we passed along the way was bone dry. The world may never know (except for those that live there >.<).

After a few hours of driving (and stopping, and driving, and stopping), we finally made it to the Grand Canyon! We parked the car and went into the visitor center for our first glimpse.

 

The Colorado River

 

I was, believe it or not, a little bit underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon. I think I had such high expectations of it, but when I was actually standing there, amidst droves of noisy tourists snapping selfies left and right, it just didn’t feel real. It felt like we were looking at a backdrop of a movie set. I think the real problem is that we didn’t hike down into the canyon. That makes all the difference. Just standing on the rim, walking along the ledge, you see pretty much the same view the whole time and you really can’t grasp the enormity of it. Regardless, after almost immediately losing my mother and grandmother, my dad and I set off along the rim trail.

Along the way, the crowds thankfully thinned out a bit, and we were able to enjoy the walk a little more.

We walked for more than an hour, thinking we were getting close to the Bright Angel trailhead which leads down into the canyon until we saw this view from a rocky outcropping:

To clarify, I’ve overlaid the path in red:

That’s the trail. It was about this time that I started to realize just how massive the canyon is. I couldn’t even see people on the trail from up there.

Despite how disappointed I was in not having the time or the knee function to be able to climb all the way down and back up, I was also a bit relieved because I hadn’t realized how incredibly wide the canyon is. I couldn’t even be sure where the other side was (and the layer of smog on the horizon didn’t help). After one last snack at an overlook, we turned and headed back to the visitor center.

The whole day walking along the trail, the most wildlife we spotted were a couple of brazen squirrels trying to steal things from peoples bags. Then, back at the visitor center, there is a family of Elk just hanging out in the middle of the square!

We left a bit before sunset and started on our way to Sedona. As it was getting dark, we turned onto scenic route 89A (same name as the one we were on earlier, but not the same road?). During this ride was probably the most car sick I have ever been in my entire life (which is really saying something). I was in the back of the car, and I swear we were just driving down a spaghetti road. We would all yell “WOOOOAH” going around tight turns that never seemed to end, and of course we really couldn’t see anything at all since it was dark out. We FINALLY made it to the bottom and to our hotel for the night.

Day 5 – Sedona

Day 3 – Kanab and Bryce Canyon

The next morning, we got up early to prepare for our day in Bryce Canyon. On our way out, we spotted a little museum that contained the sets from many old western films that were shot in the area. We just had to check it out.

All of the building had been relocated to the site of the museum and reconstructed beautifully.

We left the museum and arrived at Bryce Canyon after about an hour and a half of driving. My dad and I were so excited to hike here, and were eager to climb all the way to the bottom and hike some trails from the inside of the canyon. Luckily for me, he had brought two trekking poles, so we each took one and I was able to put my weight on it instead of on my bad knee. Bryce Canyon also uses a shuttle system, so we hopped on and took it to the farthest point, Bryce Point, and headed down amongst the hoodoos.

This place was full of these strange twisted trees

It’s unbelievable how all of these formations were created. Millions of years ago, all of that land used to be ocean. Then the sea receded and the land crunched together to create jagged moutains and mesas. When ice and snow accumulate around the rocks in the winter and thaw in the summer, the ice melt takes away bits and pieces of the rock, creating those spires called Hoodoos. As we saw many of these hoodoos, my dad would remark what they looked like to him, and I had to laugh because I was bothered that I completely saw the same crazy things. Great minds think alike, I guess.

We thought that hoodoo in the middle looked like Snoopy

The trail we took to the bottom was called the “Peek-a-boo” trail, and we quickly surmised that it was so named because every time we turned a corner, we saw an entirely new and incredible view.

We kept noticing as we were walking that there were huge boulders precariously perched over our heads. Even worse was the rubble around the trail where rocks had tumbled before! We kept joking that the road runner would come topple those boulders onto us.

Wile E Coyote

We decided to stop at one particular overlook (though really the entire trail was an overlook) and have a bit of lunch. It was FREEZING in the morning when we started our hike, but thankfully the wind had begun to die down and the sun was warm.

We finally made it to the bottom where we encountered a tour group on horseback and followed the trail as it meandered through the forest.

The loop we were on eventually joined up with the Navaho Loop trail. We took the middle path (of three) to make our ascent and view the Two Bridges formation along the way.

The Two Bridges

We ascended via switchbacks all the way back up to the ridge, where we took one last look from the edge.

We followed along the ridge, passing sunset and sunrise points along the way, finally back to the Welcome Center where my Mom and Grandma would be waiting.

We happily left Bryce Canyon after fulfilling our desire to get in a nice long hike, and headed back to Kanab. Later that night, we headed up the road toward the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary to view the stars, and boy we were not disappointed.

Day 4 – The Grand Canyon National Park