Santanoni (14) and Couchsachraga (46)

11/6/2021

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!

Santanoni: 4607′

Couchsachraga: 3820′

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.

Seymour Mountain (34)

10/23/2021

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 😀

Happy Hiking!

Seymour Mountain: 4091′ Elevation Gain: 2798′

Round Trip Distance:~15 miles

Total Duration: ~10 hours

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

Mount Colden (11)

10/14/2018

It was a month and a half into the semester and I really needed some solitude in the mountains to replenish my spirits, so I settled on heading out on Sunday to climb Colden Mountain. I woke up at 4am on a cold, dark morning and made it to the trailhead at the ADK Loj right at 7am. The lot was already about half full, and I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t have the trails to myself, but that was to be expected. While I waited in a short line to sign in at the register I took a picture of this amazing sign instructing hikers to poop responsibly and took a super glamorous selfie of my drowsy face.

I headed down the path at 7:30am with a smile on my face, so happy to be spending a day in the woods. After 20 minutes, I arrived at the first junction in the trail. Whenever possible, I like to hike a loop instead of an out-and-back, so I chose to climb up from Lake Colden (the steeper path) and head down via Lake Arnold. With that in mind, I turned left at this junction to head toward Marcy Dam and Avalanche Lake.

About 30 minutes later I arrived at Marcy Dam, 2.2 miles from the trailhead. I took some photos of the rising sun’s rays on the surrounding mountains and took my obligatory 5 minute break at a rock on the other side of the dam at the “Marcy Dam Outpost” sign. I try to take a 5 minute break once every hour to stretch, drink water, and give my back a break from my pack.

At 8:30am, an hour after leaving the trailhead, I reached the next junction and continued to the right to head towards Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden. 30 minutes later I was at the next junction. I continued to the right, and took note that I would be returning on the path to the left toward Lake Arnold.

I was excited about the next portion of the trail, which is surrounded by large mossy boulders alongside the Avalanche Pass Slide.

I was having a heckin’ hard time with my camera today! Every time I brought it up to my eye, everything would fog up! With that in mind, I apologize for the “misty” images on this trip report 😅 I made it to Avalanche Lake at 9:40am, a little over 2 hours after leaving the trailhead. Avalanche Lake is one of my favorite spots in the high peaks. This 9-acre lake sits at over 2800′ in elevation right between the vertical cliffs of Mount Colden and Avalanche Mountain.

I started my way around the lake and stopped for second breakfast on a nice rock overlooking the lake. While sitting there, I passively noticed a boat on the other side of the lake…after several minutes, it occurred to me….How did that boat get there?! I assume it was helicoptered in, but I can’t help to imagine a person hauling it over their shoulders on the 5.2 mile trail in!

AFter a few minutes respite, I continued on the trail around the lake. Boy, I had forgotten how intense this trail is! Between the huge boulders to climb over and around, the ladders, and the hitch-up matilda’s along the way, it takes me a solid half-hour to traverse the lake.

At 10:20am I happily found myself at the other end of the lake. I snapped a few lousy pictures before continuing ahead toward Lake Colden.

The trail here because quite muddy, which pretty much set the stage for the trail conditions for the rest of the day. While I was trekking toward Lake Colden, I had an AMAZING moment where I was walking across some puncheon over a muddy bog while a Ranger was coming the opposite way on his patrol. OF COURSE I stepped on the end of a puncheon board and OF COURSE it wasn’t secured at the other end, so there I am flailing my arms while the board flies up in a comically dramatic teeter-totter fashion….AND OF COURSE I did the exact same thing at the OTHER END of the board…At the ONE MOMENT IN THAT LAST 4 MILES that someone else is on the trail.
My gracefulness is really astounding sometimes!

There were a few portions of the trail along Lake Colden that were completely submerged in the lake itself from all of the recent rain and snowmelt, so some bushwhacking was involved to make it across. Before long I had made it to the next junction at 11:00am. I turned left to leave the lake and head up to Colden.

The initial trail up was quite pleasant. It was never particularly steep or too muddy. I foolishly thought “Hey! Maybe it’s not as steep as everyone said it would be! This is nothing!”….Yeah, you all know where this is going. OF COURSE it was way more difficult, I just hadn’t gotten to that point yet. But in that brief moment of bliss, I happily traipsed along and let a large group of French Canadians pass me by.

After about a mile the conditions changed…a bit…(read: The trail amped up to a 10 to cruelly haze the unworthy). Thankfully some AMAZING trail crews had built ladders and steps to traverse the truly difficult sections.

At about this time, I kept catching up to the back end of the large group that I had let pass me. I was getting quite frustrated to have to keep stopping every time they stopped, so just as the trail started to get icy I opted to pass them all and hustle a bit to make sure they didn’t catch up again. (They were quite nice, it was just a large group and I didn’t want to hear voices behind me while I was hiking!) At this time, a couple were coming down the slick slides verrrry carefully and they informed me that there was a lot of ice up ahead. With that in mind, I trudged on.

Sure enough, they were not lying. And I am SO SMART that I, being the stubborn mule that I am, opted not to put on the microspikes that were conveniently strapped to the back of my pack for easy access.

I clawed my way up tooth and nail very carefully along Colden’s smooth rock slides until I reached another ladder, and I just KNEW that this one would bring me to the top.

I turned around at the top and let out a hearty laugh in awe at the views. Those views make everything worth it, every time.

I had really thought I was close to or at the summit, but, and I’m sure this comes as no surprise, I most definitely was not. So onward I went, but now I had some stunning views every step of the way.

I loved seeing the path that I had taken up there from the “almost summit” or whatever it was that I was on. And even better, I had a fantastic view of my favorite trio of peaks along the MacIntyre range.

I climbed up one final stretch to see a stunning view of a chilly Mt Marcy, with some supplied that may have been dropped in for some impending trail work.

I was a little bit confused, as I continued along the snowy trail and was unsure of exactly where the summit was. I came upon a sign designating where to leave a rock carried up from the trailhead, and wandered down a path to a rock in a small clearing. At 1pm, while I was standing on that rock, a couple of fellas came down and “tagged” the rock, at which point I shouted (or yelled and frightened them probably) “WAIT. Is this the SUMMIT?!?” and it was! How anticlimactic! So I snapped a picture of some circle on the rock (I’m so technical) and wandered back out of the clearing to find a nice spot to have lunch.

I enjoyed my lunch of a sandwich, babybel cheese, and some gherkin pickles (oddly delicious after a day of hiking) while looking out towards Algonquin. And can’t forget the victory chocolate!

Now, let’s talk again at how intelligent I am. AFTER I had passed over all of the steep icy sections of trail, while I was sitting at the summit, I thought, hey, it’d be such a great idea to put my spikes on now! So I did….and encountered no more ice along the trail. Ha! At least I tried. As I headed down the path toward Lake Arnold, the trail passed over a bare rocky outcropping, so I sat for a break and to take in the breathtaking sight of Mt Marcy right next door.

At about 2pm I left again for Lake Arnold. The trail down from Colden was quite tough. It was all mud and rockhopping. Almost immediately, my right knee began to ache, so I stopped frequently to stretch and roll out my IT band with my trekking pole. Who knew trekking poles were so versatile?

By the time I made it to the junction with Lake Arnold 45 minutes later, the twinges in my knee had ceased to subside and an old injury in my SI joint was starting to cause lightning-like spasms in my lower back. It’s so fun having a body that acts like it’s been bowled over by a steamroller with the slightest provocation! So I chose not to visit Lake Arnold but went left to keep slowly making my way down the mountain.

Along the way down, I met a couple coming up who seemed perturbed. They thought they were on the wrong trail coming down from Colden because it looked so different from the path they were on that morning. After looking at the map, I suggested that there was no other path down from the previous junction, and that the trail looked so different because all of the snowmelt was turning it into a veritable river. Still unconvinced, we all continued our way down. I passed them up, and about 30 minutes later I came to another junction which verified the path we were on was the correct one. It’s incredible how much water just a little bit of snow can create!

I didn’t take many photos after that. The pains in my knee and back were intense and it took all of my mental acuity to focus on getting down the mountain. Finally, at 4pm, I made it to the junction and lied down on this wooden bridge to stretch my legs and back.

After I probably freaked out a few passing hikers by lying there on that bridge, I continued my way back toward Marcy Dam.

And that’s the last picture I took of the day. The pain was relentless and I lulled myself into a trance-like state to focus through the pain. I continually reminded myself to take one step at a time, and that the worst was behind me. After continuing on like this for 3 more miles, I dragged my aching body out to my car just before 6pm and let out a frustrated huff as I sat down to drive home.

I’m so disappointed that these so-called “overuse” injuries are still plaguing me, considering I’ve been resting with minimal straining activity for 15 months. Back to the drawing boards, hopefully I’ll be back soon.

19 down, 27 left!

Mount Colden: Elevation – 4714′ Elevation Gain – 2535′

Round Trip Distance: ~14 miles

Total Duration: 10.5 hours

Tabletop (19) and Phelps (32)

07/19/2018

Nearly 1 year ago to the day I unknowingly climbed my last 46ers for an entire year (Iroquois, Algonquin, and Wright). Shortly after what was the best hike of my life, I developed a brutal overuse injury in my right knee/leg and was left unable to hike for MONTHS. Not just mountains, but any trail at all. This past year has been quite a journey. From getting my PhD and being hired as a professor of Electrical Engineering, to getting divorced, launching my professional photography career, and learning two new instruments, all while sloooowly recovering from my knee injury, this year has been fraught with personal growth and change.

A few weeks prior, I had climbed Hopkins Mountain and used that as a test of whether I was ready to return home to the high peaks. Needless to say, that adventure was a success, so I set off at 4:30am to head to the Loj. I arrived at 6:30am, paid the $10 parking fee, and was just a little excited as I signed in at the trailhead.

It was a balmy 43 degrees F at the start, but I quickly warmed up as I treaded along the packed dirt trail.

I really love starting hikes early in the morning and catching the rays of light as they filter low through the trees.

There were more people than I expected on the trail this morning, but no one else had signed in for Tabletop and Phelps, so I was hoping to have the summits to myself. I was however leapfrogging with a young couple (I won’t get into how ill-prepared they were assuming they were headed up Marcy…in flat tennis shoes and cotton >.<). I let them go ahead because I was stopping every 10.5 seconds to take pictures. While I slowly crossed this bridge, I spotted this little snake warming itself in the early suns rays!

After half an hour I came to the first junction sign and headed left toward the Marcy Dam lean-tos.

The trail up to the dam is so nice to walk. Packed earth, no mud, and a gentle easy ascent. I feel it’s a great warm-up to a strenuous hike. As I crested one hill, I heard a loud rustling to my left, and caught a snowshoe hare foraging in the woods! Of course it started to move just as I got my camera ready, so this is the best I got:

At 7:30am, an hour after leaving the trailhead, I found myself at Marcy Dam alongside a large group of trailworkers enjoying their morning breakfast.

I didn’t want to disturb them, so I crossed to the other side of the dam to follow my “1 hour” rule and take a break to stretch and drink water (and have a snack of course).

I read this heap of signs from my perch on a large rock while I stretched. There seems to be a discrepancy in the overall distances to Phelps and Tabletop between my guide book, map, and the trail signs. Perhaps they need updating?

After a good 5 minute respite I continued on my way and signed in at the next register before starting the next leg of my journey.

After this point the trail (the Van Hoevenberg trail) climbed a bit more steeply and steadily, however it was still very easy going. There were no sections where I had to pull myself up or figure out how to make it from one point to another. As I watched the rising sun filter through the trees, I reflected on how far I’ve come in the past year, from my knee recovery to living the best version of myself. As I strolled through the woods I momentarily closed my eyes and breathed, letting all else go and relishing the freedom of the woods and feeling so, so thankful for the progress I’ve made.

About 15 minutes after leaving Marcy Dam I came to a high water bridge. I was unsure at first which way to go forward; I could continue on the right side of the stream, or I could cross the bridge; either way the trail continued with blue markers. I had figured there is another rock-hopping crossing further up ahead, and I was correct; the trail diverges slightly just to reconnect further up ahead.

After this point the trail was like a freaking highway. I’m thinking it would be a good choice in a night-hike since it’s super easy to follow and relatively free of tripping hazards.

Two hours after leaving the trailhead I reached the junction to Phelps. I had decided to grab Phelps after hitting Tabletop, so I passed it on up and continued on my way, passing a pretty cascade and sooo many toads along the way.

I passed a couple of other signs leading the way before finally arriving at the junction to Tabletop at 9:15am. I was feeling pretty darn good at this point, but I still took a short stretch-food-water break before starting the inevitably steeper ascent.

I had heard that there were no views from the summit of Tabletop, but I was really enjoying the trek up to the summit. It was more rugged, narrow, with lots of towering pines and verdant moss. Though this is technically a “trail-less” peak, it’s nearly impossible to accidentally end up off trail.

At this point I was finally feeling like I was on an Adirondack trail! That highway up Marcy is really deceiving and not at all indicative of the real Adirondack experience.

I was enjoying the trail so much that I was a bit surprised when it spit me out right at the summit, with the summit marker AND A VIEW!

I was so pleased that there was a view! Why is everyone saying there are no views from up here?

I immediately sat my butt down and started shoveling food into my face hole. PB&J sammich, victory chocolate, victory cheese, and a pickle! I’m so proud of my 4:30am food prep!

I was so happy to have the summit to myself. I couldn’t believe that after a year I was finally back on a high peak. The 46ers had become on a pedestal in my mind, and every day that passed and I still couldn’t hike made them seem that much more insurmountable.

I hung out up there for about an hour, collecting my thoughts, before heading back down just before 11am. As I headed down, I heard someone coming up the trail, and lo and behold it was a friend of mine, Gavin! So naturally I took a candid photo as he was dragging himself up the mountain.

We chatted for a moment, then continued on our way, planning to meet up on Phelps. Half an hour later I was back at the junction, turning right to get back onto the Van Hoevenberg trail and heading toward Phelps. I made it back to the Phelps trail at 12:07pm. I was getting exhausted at this point, but there was nothing in the world that would keep me from climbing this one too, so up I went.

This trail was definitely steeper than the Tabletop trail. Certainly not the steepest I’d done (see the hike up to Boundary peak from Avalanche lake….holy moly), but it was steeper than anything I’d done in a year! I stopped probably a dozen times for short breaks to curse and stretch and question my life choices.

And the damn thing JUST KEPT GOING! The sign at the junction denoted the summit at 1 mile away, but it must be longer than that. At some point, a guy descending said “You’re almost there!” and I looked at him exactly like this after clambering clumsily to the top of a boulder:

I was full of sass and said “I hope you’re being honest!”. Naturally he was a little taken aback because how weird can I be, but he assured me that in 1/8 mile I would be seeing the first views. To be honest, I didn’t believe him, but I slogged on anyway. And, I admit it, HE WAS RIGHT! I climbed to the top of this boulder along the trail to get the first AMAZING views.

Mount Colden towards left center, Iroquois, Algonquin, and Wright on the right

I was immediately energized after this, practically smelling the summit so close by. A woman coming down had warned me that the path to the top was confusing, and I suppose it was, but I followed the yellow blazes and made my way just fine.

At 1:30pm, 7 hours after starting, I planted my feet on the summit of Phelps Mountain. I couldn’t find a summit marker, but the group of people lounging at the top were a good indicator that I’d made it. And boy were the views STUNNING!

Naturally, I sat down to have second lunch, which consisted of another victory cheese, another victory chocolate, a pickle, and a fruit cup…and a couple of fig newtons…And some gatorade. 😀 Make sure you eat enough while hiking! And eat things with electrolytes! I try to stay away from dry food (like trail mix bars and crackers). I stretched out a bit up there and talked with some other hikers, and we helped each other identify the peaks in the distance with the help of my trail map and compass.

From left to right: Giant, RPR, Lower wolfjaws, Upper wolfjaws, Armstrong, Gothics, Saddleback, Basin, Haystack, Tabletop, Marcy

I was SO glad to have climbed Tabletop first. It would have been so demoralizing to be sitting at the top of Phelps looking at Tabletop, seemingly 42 miles away. I definitely recommend Tabletop first!

After spending nearly at hour at the summit, my buddy made his way to the top too, looking just as miserable as I had felt during that climb. I hung out up there with him and an eccentric school teacher with a weeks worth of supplies crammed into a day pack for another 25 minutes or so while trying to photograph one of the dozens of huge dragonflies patrolling the area.

It was pretty darn hot up there though, and the sun was causing my contacts to shrinkwrap to my eyeballs, so I decided to set off before my eyes completely shriveled in their sockets (like that imagery?). Gavin wasn’t ready to leave yet though, so I said I’d wait for him at the bottom and took one last glance before descending.

I took a little over 2 hours to make it back to the trailhead. My knee had been doing pretty great all day, but there was some definite pain during the last two miles, requiring me to stop and stretch quite frequently. I finally hobbled out to my car at about 5pm, and struck up conversation with a gentleman who’d climbed Marcy that had passed me twice along the way. I love meeting interesting people while hiking! I feel like that doesn’t happen as much when I’m hiking with other people. Another benefit to solo hiking, I think! I waited for my friend at the bottom, and we decided to hit up the new eatery at the info center near the parking lot, the Hungry Hiker. I recommend it! It was just what we needed after a long day in the mountains.

I’m so, so happy to finally be back in the high peaks where I belong. After a couple of weeks to recover and grow stronger, I’ll be back for more. 18 down, 28 to go! Happy hiking!

Phelps Mountain: 4160′

Tabletop Mountain: 4413′

Elevation Gain: 3818′

Round Trip Distance: ~12-13 miles

Total Duration: ~8 hours + 2.5 hours at summits

Iroquois (8), Algonquin (2) and Wright (16) Mountains (+Boundary Peak)

7/16/17

It’s been a couple of weeks since I climbed Nippletop and Dial, and with my PhD dissertation defense looming over me (it’s on the 24th of this month, and I’m dreading it), I desperately needed to get into the mountains. I signed in at the trailhead at the ADK Loj at exactly 6am, grabbed a rock to take to the summit, and set off.

The trail was nice and wide and flat, with nice puncheon and walkways throughout. A few times, I had to check the map because the trail intersected with several ski trails, but I just continued straight, following the blue trail markers.

Not long after starting, I came across a junction sign and followed the path towards Avalanche Lake, 4 miles away.

Most people climb these three mountains by going right at that first sign to hit Wright first, then Algonquin, then Iroquois, then BACK OVER Algonquin, then back down the way they came up. I was determined to make this hike a loop by going up the steep pass after Avalanche Lake, going up to Iroquois, then to Algonquin and Wright.

Half an hour later, I came upon a trail sign for Mt. Marcy, and Marcy Dam followed shortly afterward. The dam itself wasn’t crossable, but a sign led me down towards a nice bridge.

Moments later I encountered another junction sign and went right to continue towards Avalanche Lake. 15 minutes later I came across another bridge over the brook, and took the opportunity to sit on a rock and have a snack.

Yet again, only a few moments after I left the bridge, another junction sign pointed the way towards my destination. Up until this point, I’d been leap-frogging with another hiker (Chris!) and we’d continued to do so all the way up to the summits, so I passed him up and continued on my way.

I knew I was starting to get close to the lake when I started feeling like I was in Nelson’s Ledges (look it up…then book a trip to Ohio).

I crossed another little bridge along the way, and when I turned to look behind me I saw the most perfect spider web catching the light from the morning sun.

At 8am, I made it to Avalanche Lake and it took my breath away.

I went right, slogging through the thick mud, and was super grateful for my gaitors. I followed the trail for just a few minutes before stopping on a big boulder to enjoy another snack and take a few photos.

The trail around the lake was tricky, and included awesome hitch-up Matildas (which are being replaced in August, and are named for a story about a woman named Matilda Fielding back in 1868), giant boulders to climb over and between, and steep ladders. It was a ton of fun.

Good thing they’re being replaced, because this one was missing a board. I’m glad I wasn’t there when that happened!

I reached the other end of the lake an hour later at 9am, and another register just a few minutes later.

The trail was so luscious and green after that point, and several minutes later I crossed another bridge.

After I crossed it and started to descend again, I looked back up and saw a junction sign that I had missed on the other side of the bridge. I’m so smart guys, because I decided, ‘Nah, This path feels right!’ and unknowingly proceeded 0.25 mile in the wrong direction. I reached this little outpost, and a junction sign thereafter, at which point I took out my map to figure out where the hell I was.

Just as I was reaching the conclusion that I had to backtrack, a group of badass backpacking women came through and set me on the right path, back at the junction I stupidly passed.

I was back on the right path at 9:40am, and the path immediately started climbing and following a beautiful brook full of waterfalls.

At one point, I reached the top of the falls, and the trail actually went out into the stream bed. It was so incredible to be up there, looking up at the falls.

Despite being overwhelmingly beautiful, this trail was *expletive of your choice* BRUTAL. It involved tons of boulders to climb up, and the trail continued to follow the stream, often being directly IN the water. I was baffled at how there was water when I was up so high. Where does it even come from?? The ground, I guess, but…I just don’t know. This trail was sort of becoming my own personal hell. It just kept GOING, and going and going and….I seriously considered more than once that I had never actually woken up that morning, and was instead having a nightmare about being on a neverending stairmaster.

I was frustrated, tired, and getting a bit lightheaded from the constant UP, when I met a small group of people who asked where I was headed. I told them, Iroquois, and they looked at me confused and said I was going up Algonquin. My stomach dropped. They asked how far down until they would reach the top of Boundary….I asked, were they certain the junction wasn’t behind them? Because the trail I was on literally hadn’t stopped ascending, for even a second, since I had started it. I left them there to consider their options while I continued up, certain that I hadn’t reached the junction yet. After seriously questioning my life choices for a few moments, lo and behold, I FINALLY reached a large cairn at 11:30am, to the right of which was the looming Algonquin, and to the left was a narrow, overgrown trail that could be easily be missed by anyone.

The views were beautiful, and the ascent up to Boundary Peak was quick and painless. I was so excited, the pain in my legs and feet just faded away. Boundary peak was supposedly named because it was the boundary between the Iroquois and Algonquin Native American tribes., however I’m not sure how true this is. Despite being 4,829 feet high, is not considered a high peak because it does not have enough prominence.

Looking toward Iroquois from the summit of Boundary Peak.

At about Noon, I had reached the impressive summit of my 14th high peak, Iroquois!

Looking back toward Algonquin.

Mt. Colden behind me.

The views were phenomenal, with complete unimpeded 360 panorama. I immediately sat my butt down and ate my sammich and victory chocolate.

I enjoyed seeing the beastly trail around Avalanche Lake and up to Boundary from the summit.

Lake Colden toward the middle, with the Flowed Lands to it’s right.

While there, I met many awesome people, including the trio that had unintentionally given me a heart attack. We chatted for a time (shoutout to Matt Cook!) and took photos for each other.

I ruefully left the summit at about 12:45pm, and made it back to the junction 15 minutes later to look up at the monster Algonquin.

The way up Algonquin was steep and exhausting, but the thought of the views at the summit kept my feet moving.

20 minutes later and I was sitting near the summit ripping my boots and socks off of my blistered feet to roam around barefoot. I HIGHLY recommend this! It was made even better by the fresh clean socks I kept in my pack for afterward, so I wouldn’t have to put the same nasty socks on again.

I enjoyed my time at the summit for about an hour, talking with a bunch of awesome people and enjoying another snack (of course). I spoke with one group who had brought their friend up for his first ever mountain. Not even first high peak, but first MOUNTAIN. This guy was hilarious, he was just yelling nonstop about how he couldn’t believe how amazing it was, and making phone calls to presumably ever person he had ever met to tell them he was on top of a mountain. It was really funny to witness, and I had to turn away to stifle my laughter, noticing as I did that several other people were doing the same.

I took my turn at the summit to take a photo of my beat-up feet with the geo marker.

At 2:15, I began my descent and deposited my rock at the pile designated by a small sign on the way down.

The descent was stunning, walking above the treeline to see out to the mountains around me.

Along the way, I joined with another hiker making his descent (shoutout to Fred) and we had a fun time talking, until I fell flat on my ass on my way down a slippery, steep rock slab. Nothing was hurt, besides my dignity (and some scrapes on my hands) and we carried on our way.

Lake Placid towards the upper middle.

Below the treeline, the descent was quite steep and time consuming. I finally reached the junction to Wright Mountain about an hour after leaving the summit, and turned to head straight back up.

“Wright” is written on the rock.

It was only 0.4 miles to the summit, however it was exceptionally steep and I was very nervous about coming back down. Nevertheless, I put one foot in front of the other and was soon above the tree line, once again.

Towards the summit, there was a little sign pointing right towards the summit, and left towards the plaque for the plane wreck. In 1962, a B-47 bomber practicing low-altitude bombing runs over Watertown veered 30 miles off course in inclement weather and high windes, when the wingtip clipped the summit of Wright Mtn. The mountain shattered the plane, scattering the wreckage along the southwest side of the peak. Read more about the accident here.

I popped right up to the summit, where a couple was hanging out shouting Tarzan-like ululations, and we took photos for each other.

Algonquin.

I was on a bit of a tight timeline, wanting to be back at the trailhead at 6pm, so I stayed at the summit for all of 5 minutes before heading down to explore the plane wreck.

Just a few minutes of descent and I was at the plaque with the scraps of debris.

I scampered back up to the peak, and began my descent at 4pm.

Surprisingly, despite seeming so steep on the way up, the climb down really wasn’t that bad, nor did it last very long. After 20 minutes, I was back at the junction to Algonquin. The descent after that point was rather rocky and steep, and I really had to take my time. That stupid song from one of those puppet christmastime cartoons started playing in my head, and it drove me a little bit more insane, the one that goes “put one fooot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking out the dooooor”. UGH. Of all things to be in my damn head. Anyway, after an hour of that, I made it to a nice waterfall where another group was hanging out. I took the opportunity to rest my feet and have another snack.

After that point, the trail was significantly easier, finally with some flat dirt path instead of constant rockhopping. For once in my life, I was passing everyone on this trail! I was not the slowest person on the mountain! But really though, this NEVER happens. A few uneventful miles later and I was back at the trailhead, signing out at about 6:20pm, 12hrs 20mins after I began. I headed straight to my car, changed into clean clothes to try to pretend like I didn’t stink as much as I did, and headed home.

This was absolutely my favorite climb, to date. Every single summit had complete 360 degree views, it was a beautiful day, and I felt so accomplished at having taken the tougher route to climb these three. 16 down, 30 to go!

Iroquois Mountain: 4,840 feet

Algonquin Mountain: 5,114 feet

Wright Mountain: 4,580 feet

Boundary Peak: 4,829 feet

Round Trip Distance: 13.4 miles

Total Elevation Gain: 4300′ feet

Total Duration: ~10 Hours of hiking +2 Hours at summits

All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may only be used with express permission.

Nippletop(13) and Dial(41) with Bear Den and W. Noonmark Shoulder

07/04/17

I had the day off of work, and decided that the day couldn’t be better spent than by climbing the two peaks that I left out when climbing Colvin and Blake. I left the house at 4am, thinking that the trails might be crowded despite being a Tuesday since it was Independence Day. I enjoyed the sights of dense fog lifting with the sunrise on the drive down.

Barnum Pond

I arrived at the trailhead at St. Huberts just before 6am, put my boots on, and set off toward lake road.

15 minutes later I arrived at the register, signed in, and started my long trek down Lake Rd. I had read mixed reports about whether to climb these mountains clockwise or counterclockwise; many people suggested climbing clockwise, going up Leach trail and coming down Elk Pass because Elk Pass is very steep despite being only 1.5 miles long. However, I would much rather climb up a steep path than down it, and I wanted to do the long lake rd walk early in the hike as a warm up, so I chose to go counterclockwise, anticipating a miserable climb up Elk.

I noticed two signs for “Flume” while I was walking, and decided to check out the latter. Without backtracking all the way, I walked just a few feet along the little spur trail to see some awesome waterfalls.

Usually the walk along lake is boooring, however this time, just as I was cresting a hill, a sweet little spotted fawn came galloping toward me from the other side! She skidded to a stop, as did I, and we stared at each other in shock for a few moments before she bolted into the brook alongside the road, and watched me while floating in a little pool. Hopefully that baby’s momma was close by!

I passed the first sign for Gill Brook, and continued until I saw the second sign for Gill Brook cutoff, while I reached at about 7am, an hour after leaving from the parking lot.

The trail climbed slowly but steadily from this point until reaching the junction with the Gill Brook Trail 20 minutes later.

I went right, up towards Colvin, and ruefully continued straight past the junction for Indian Head a few minutes later. Indian head is amazing, but I’d already been there a month before and wanted to see new things.

The trail climbed pretty steadily on the way up towards Colvin. I hadn’t been bothered by bugs yet, but it was still quite early. I had also expected a ton of mud due to the recent deluge, and though there were muddy areas, none of them were sloppy, boot-slurping mud. After climbing up some rock slabs and stone steps, my stomach started complaining loudly, so I decided to take a short break just before 8am and have a snack.

After a little over a mile of climbing, I reached a decrepit sign at the junction for Elk Pass, Colvin, and Lake Rd at 8:30am. Two of the signs had fallen (presumably recently, because I think they were intact when I was there before), and I spent a moment with a couple of other hikers to ensure we were all going the right way. I headed left from the direction I came to go towards Nippletop.

The trail picked up again, climbing steadily, and I started hearing sounds that seemed out of place for a mountain trail….Frogs. It didn’t make any sense to me, and definitely made me pause for a moment or two in confusion, until the trail took a downward turn and I found myself on a muddy, overgrown little path through a bog. I excitedly took a little spur in the trail to view the bog, and the lumber supplies that hopefully mean a bridge will be built in the future.

It was so beautiful here. After a very quiet morning, the birds were waking up and the frogs were certainly lively. More than once while walking I stepped in what I thought was shallow mud and nearly left my boot behind in foot-deep muck. I’d laugh to myself, remove my foot, and immediately do it again. I was pleasantly surprised moments later to see another small pond, on the right this time, and took the opportunity for a short break.

At this point, the trail was almost lower than the level of the ponds, and boy did it show. The mud was ridiculous, and much more along the lines of what I had expected. I passed through the absolutely worst of it by balancing precariously on a sodden, broken log, and made it to dry land. THEN I took out my pole to help with any future mud. Better late than never!

I had reached a nice dry clearing with views of another small pond, which I later saw was a campsite, and then headed up the trail again.

This is when the real ascent up Elk Pass starts. Honestly, I wasn’t even really convinced I was on Elk Pass until I was almost to the summit of Nippletop because it was so much easier than everyone made it seem. I was expecting some beast with giant rock slabs and slick slides all the way up. While it was indeed steep and constant, it wasn’t at all technically difficult. For reference, I always carry my camera around my neck while hiking and put it away during difficult sections; I never even had to put it away during this entire hike.

The grade was certainly tiring, and I made myself stop for 5 minute breaks every hour (which really helped with muscle fatigue), but it was made so much better by the views I had almost every time I turned around.

While it wasn’t technically difficult, this trail seemed to go on FOREVER. Finally, at about 10:15am, I reached the crest in the ridge and the junction for Nippletop and Dial, and headed right.

20 minutes later and I was standing next to a big rock, asking a man standing nearby “Is this it?” It was indeed! Climbing out onto the rocks, I was blown away by the views of the Dix range.

I hung out at the top for about an hour, chatting with a few different people (shoutout to Doug from Delaware, the surgeon!–I’m trying really, really hard lately to remember things about people…like their names.) and enjoying my lunch and victory chocolate.

I took a photo for a pair of ladies, they returned the favor, and I convinced them to do the loop down elk pass to visit Indian Head. Seriously, the views from Indian Head are some of the best around.

Elk Lake just visible to the South (left)

Finally, at around 11:30, I decided I had to make the move to head towards Dial. Bugs had started to show their ugly stupid faces with the warming sun and mud, flies and sandflies and mosquitos and all, but they weren’t really a nuisance while I was moving, so off I went. I passed the junction with Elk Pass and marveled at the view of Giant Mtn to the NE.

Everyone I had previously spoken to had said that the trail was all downhill after leaving Nippletop heading toward Dial, Bear Den, and back to Lake Rd. This was totally not true, and I had gotten pretty frustrated at having expected it to be so much easier. It was more like, down then up, then down then up to Dial, then down then up to Bear Den, then down then up to Noonmark Shoulder, then down….Anyway, I passed several people travelling the other way while heading to Dial, and asked every one of them if I had accidentally passed over Dial without realizing it…I just kept going downhill, I thought for sure I had missed it!

Along the way, I spied a little spur trail off to the right just before noon, so of course I took it and found some beautiful views from a large boulder!

Finally, 2.1 miles and about an hour after leaving the summit of Nippletop, I reached the summit of Dial Mountain. For some reason, I was expecting the summit to have no views, however I was thrilled to see a huge boulder outcropping.

I hopped right up, and eagerly sat down to enjoy an apple, and snapped a few photos.

Unfortunately, within 5 minutes of being up there, I was SWARMED by sandflies! These things are awful! Despite having a cap coated in permethrin and being covered head to toe in deet, these things just did not care. One after another I was swatting them off of my hands, my neck, my face, and even from up under my cap. At one point, I took the deet out of my pack and literally sprayed it into the swarm, and they gave me one of these:

So I packed my stuff up and courageously ran like hell off of the summit, without even having my apple snack. After a hundred feet or so I slowed back down and lamented my short stay on the summit. The trail immediately went downhill for about a mile before climbing again up to the summit of Bear Den (1:30pm). There weren’t any views from Bear Den that I could see, and I didn’t even realize I had reached the summit until I saw the sign at Noonmark saying I had already passed Bear Den.

After a half mile descent from Bear Den, The trail again began climbing. While somewhat demoralizing to be climbing again (my knees were hurting from all of the ‘down’, and going up only means climbing right back down, and then some), the trail up to the W shoulder of Noonmark Mtn was stunning. A fire had ravaged the area in 1999, creating now-beautiful views from the summit of the shoulder and a unique young forest full of birch and aspen trees, with white bark and bright green leaves.

I climbed the slab up to the shoulder and plopped my butt down. The views were AMAAAAAZING. I wanted to sit there for so much longer than I did, but alas, bugs. Writing this the day after the hike, I have a number of itchy bites, where mosquitos had bitten THROUGH MY DEET-SOAKED PANTS. What even are these things?! How do I prevent this?! Grenades?! Ugh.

After only a few minutes respite, I continued on up and over the shoulder and again headed downhill through the beautiful forest and some mud.

From here on out the trail was much easier. There was less mud and the decline was less rocky. At some point I passed this beautiful little mushroom, still somehow intact despite residing in the middle of the trail.

A mile and a half later I was back on Lake Rd, and at the parking lot at about 3:45pm, about 9hrs and 45 minutes after leaving.

I learned some valuable information on this trip:
1. Adirondack bugs don’t give a hoot whether you’re wearing deet or permethrin. If they’re hungry, you’re lunch.
2. Elk Pass wasn’t bad at all, and I would recommend any and everyone go up Elk and down Leach, for several reasons. First, you get the long walk down lake road out of the way early on, and it serves as a nice warm-up before any climbing. Second, you reach Nippletop for some awesome views faster than you would if coming from the Leach Trail. Third, it’s easier to climb up steep, slippery rocks than to climb down them.
3. The Fourth of July isn’t a crazy busy hiking day when it’s during the week (except maybe on a Monday or Friday). I only saw a handful of people all day. Good to know!

13 down, 33 to go! Happy Trails!

Nippletop Mountain: 4620′

Dial Mountain: 4020′

Bear Den: 3399′

Total Duration: 8.5 hours of hiking + 1.25 hours at summits

Round Trip Distance: ~14 miles

All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may only be used with express permission.

Colvin (39) and Blake (42) with Indian Head and Fish Hawk Cliffs

6/3/2017

Weather reports for this day had been spotty all week, with everything ranging from sun to clouds to rain to snow, but I had been set on hiking no matter what, and at least if weather wasn’t great, then the trails shouldn’t be very crowded. I got up at 4am, checked the weather again, and it looked promising! So I hopped in my car and headed to the St. Huberts parking lot off of Rt. 73 (technically on Ausable Club Rd.). I arrived at around 7am, the lot was already around half-full, and headed up the road alongside a very difficult looking golf course.

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Ausable Club

I met and chatted with a friendly couple from Ottawa along the way, and 10 minutes later I signed in at the register by the gate with a pep in my step.

Surprisingly, there were no bugs out yet, but I fully expected o be swarmed later in the day. At any rate, the walk along Lake Rd was a nice warm up before starting any climbing, and it follows a scenic brook along the way.

My initial plan for the day was to hit Indian Head first, because people are always talking about how amazing it is and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, then to hit Fish Hawk Cliffs, Colvin, Nippletop, then Dial, and I wanted to follow Gil Brook on the way up. So when I saw the first sign for Gil Brook, I followed that trail.

I absolutely have to recommend this trail to anyone and everyone looking to hike in this region, and I recommend going up it instead of down, because you can see all of the waterfalls as you come up to them. I spent soooo much time putzing around by the brook, but it was only 8am and I wanted to get to know my new camera (a mirrorless Sony a6000, much smaller and lighter than my big Canon, which was also in my pack of course)!

If at any point along a trail you encounter a sign with two arrows, one for an “easy” route and one for a “Scenic” route, take the scenic route!

There were two such signs along the path, and boy were they worth it. It wasn’t even a difficult traverse, and the waterfalls were stunning. What is it about waterfalls that makes me want to be standing under them?

Shortly after the last waterfall, I came upon a junction for Colvin/Indian Head/Elk Pass, and as I paused to snap a photo, another hiker approached from the trail I had just been on. We stopped to talk for a minute, and he suggested that I absolutely do not want to orphan out Blake Mountain, since the way to get to it is generally by climbing Colvin first.  So if I didn’t do it today, I’d have to come back and climb Colvin again to get it. So I said, Ok, this hike is getting really ambitious, but sure, I’ll add Blake to the list! He continued on, and I admired the Gil Brook for a moment more before continuing on.

About two minutes later, at 9am, I encountered the same hiker (shoutout to Josh) at another Junction sign. He was debating whether to climb Indian Head, but was hesitant because he hadn’t told anyone he would be going there. I said I was planning to climb it too, so together we set off up the path to Indian Head.

30 minutes later we arrived at the summit and our minds were blown. Honestly, I could have stayed there all day, it was so incredible. But, alas, I’m an aspiring 46er and didn’t want to miss the chance to bag some high peaks.

We stayed up there for almost 30 minutes enjoying the views and trying to figure out which mountains were around us. It was really nice having someone to hike with; not only did I have someone to talk to besides myself (I’d already caught myself mumbling to myself a few times that day, which was mildly concerning), but I had someone to take my picture! I had taken my tripod out of my pack that morning, so I wasn’t really planning on being in any photos.

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The peaks behind me are Colvin and Blake

Having enjoyed our fill of the beautiful landscape, we next set off for Fish Hawk Cliffs, and arrived there 15 minutes later at 10:15am. NOW I KNOW WHY IT’S CALLED INDIAN HEAD! I was really wondering about that on the climb up, and it was so freaking cool to see Indian Head from another angle.

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Indian Head, in the center

We didn’t linger long there, and began our descent down to the col between Colvin and Indian Head. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I am SLOW when hiking steep terrain. I have very weak joints, and landing wrong could collapse my knees, so I go very slowly, using my arms a lot to lower myself down to avoid any injuries. My new hiking buddy, however, was much faster, so I encouraged him to go on at his own pace so I wouldn’t slow him down and, at some point along the way to Colvin, he did. This was fine with me, because now I could go exactly as slowly a I needed without feeling rushed. After reaching the col, the climb back up Colvin was a bit tricky and just never seemed to end. It was getting pretty muddy and slick, and more than once as I walked through a muddy patch I felt my boot sink in and schlurrrp as I pulled it back out. At least there were still, somehow, no bugs! At some point I started hearing people talking, and finally, 2 hours after leaving Fish Hawk Cliffs and about 5 hours from the trailhead, I made it to the summit!

The summit was a glorified rock with about 6 people already hanging out at the top. My hiking buddy and I reunited, and I immediately sat my butt down and ate food. And then ate some more food. And then a little more. I was really hungry, guys.

The summit was very windy, and it was about 52°F, which is probably why bugs weren’t an issue all day. While the views from the summit certainly weren’t 360°, it was incredible to be right in the middle of the Adirondacks and so close to the other high peaks.

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Looking back toward Indian Head

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Mt Marcy behind me, with snow still towards the summit

This was my 10th high peak, so I’m officially in double digits! Talking with the other people at the summit, it seemed the overall consensus was that Blake Mountain SUCKS. It’s a steep climb down from Colvin, and a steep climb  up to Blake, which has no views and isn’t even 4000ft, then back down Blake and up Colvin again. Now, on the climb up to Colvin, I had had my cap on and was looking down and completely missed BOTH junction signs just before the summit. Yikes. We left the summit at about 12:40pm and headed down towards Blake.

The descent didn’t start out too bad, albeit expectedly muddy, and 20 minutes later I had the first glimpse of Blake. Boy was that a demoralizing sight.

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Blake Mtn

As we headed down, things got STEEP. The mud made things very tricky and slick, and it was a bit intimidating. Luckily there were a few ladders to help with the worst spots.

Both of us decided to descend next to the ladder rather than actually using the rungs due to how steep and widely spaced the rungs were. Now, being the graceful moose that I am, I lost traction part of the way down, and slid down on my butt. On the way, my hiking pole got caught under my pack, which jammed the pole about a foot into the mud at the bottom of the slope. I had to laugh at myself, as Josh asked me “Is your pole stuck in the mud?” and I replied, “Sure is!”. I unearthed it, and we continued on down to the col.

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The hole from my pole, circled in red

As I’m writing this, I’m surprised because it felt like that descent took forever, but was apparently only 35 minutes. At 1:15pm, we reached the col between the mountains.

My hiking buddy went on ahead during the ascent up Blake, and another hiker or two passed me as well, looking tired and covered in mud, but still in good spirits. Everyone I met this day had been absolutely awesome, and I stopped to talk with many of them. I even met a group of students from my university coming down Blake, one of whom I’d actually taught before! Even though Blake is kind of a really awful mountain, the people I met along the way more than made up for it, probably because the only people who would be out there are people who just love hiking, like me. No matter how tough the hike, everyone is willing to meet one another and lend a hand.

As this climb was dragging on, I saw a man who had passed me earlier was now coming back down. When I asked him if the summit was anywhere close, I heard Josh yell up ahead “It’s right here! Keep going!” so with a last burst of energy, I scrambled up to the summit at 2:15pm, which was noted with a small pile of rocks and no view. Time from Colvin: 1.5hrs. Time from trailhead: 7hr 15min.

We both had some snacks and victory chocolate, and I gratefully let my heavy pack fall off of my shoulders.

While we were up there, another gentleman reached the summit with us, and the first word out of his mouth was an exasperated “F**k!”. We burst out laughing; that one expression completely summed up the hike to Blake. The three of us sat together for some time chatting and dreading the trip back to Colvin.

Nevertheless, at 2:45 we headed back the way we came. I was moving so incredibly slowly sown the steep, muddy rocky slopes, and was soon left behind by my hiking buddy, which was again fine with me. At least if I fell on my rear no one would be there to see it! Surprisingly, despite my lack of grace, I never did fall. I was so incredibly relieved when I made it back to the col to Colvin, because the worst of the descents for the whole trip were over. I made my way back up Colvin, and again the climb never seemed to end. Every time I though I must be close, it just kept going.

I sat once again upon the summit of Colvin at 3:50pm, alone this time, and enjoyed the most delicious fruit cup I’ve ever eaten in my life. At 4pm, I left my perch, now drained of any ambition to climb Nippletop and Dial. It was getting windier and the clouds were more forboding, and I didn’t want to be on a summit in the rain. As I headed down, I met another group of really fun people heading up for Colvin and Blake, and encouraged them to keep going because the summit was literally 2 minutes away. We talked for a few minutes, then parted ways. Climbing down from Colvin was tougher than I had anticipated, with lots of slick muddy rocks, steep descents, and rock hopping, and my knees soon started to ache and feel weak. I finally reached the junction after an hour of very careful descent.

The going was much easier after the junction, and I sped right along the Gil Brook trail, bypassing the scenic overlooks that I’d already seen. I made it back to Lake Rd at about 6pm. I hadn’t used a restroom since 7am, and the rushing water of Gil Brook alongside the road was not helping my bladder situation, so I really picked up my pace to make it back to the parking lot! Along the way, I rescued a small bright orange salamander from the middle of the road and chatted with a nice fellow from Montreal (shoutout to Maxim) while we walked back to the gate. I signed out, then practically ran back to the parking lot. I made it there at about 7pm, after 12 hours of hiking, and was SO HAPPY that I had a change of clothes, socks, and shoes waiting for me in the car.

I drove the two hours back home all with a stunning sunset in front of me. 11 down, 35 more to go! You’re next, Dial and Nippletop.

Colvin Mountain: 4057′

Blake Mountain: 3960′

Indian Head: 2700′

Fish Hawk Cliffs: 2600′

Total Duration: ~12 Hours

Round Trip Distance: ~15 miles

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