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

Mt. Adams

6/26/21

My buddy Gavin had been telling me about Mt Adams for a while by this point, but I’d never made it a priority to go hike it. This particular day was rainy and we were planning to meet up with some friends that we hadn’t seen since before the pandemic, and thought Adams would be a perfect hike. We met at the trailhead at about 1:30pm, signed in at the register, and headed off. Our friends (David and Kelley) had two pups with them, and we were a bit anxious to see how they did with Juno (and how Juno did with them), but after an initial sniff they all just pretended the other didn’t exist and ignored each other completely!

Just a few minutes after starting, we came across a water crossing (the Hudson River) with a rickety old bridge. Surprisingly, all 3 dogs walked right across it with only a little trepidation. We noted this spot as a proper swimming option for the way back….

Soon after we started the hike, rain started to come down a bit heavier so we donned our rain gear and hats as we padded along. Thankfully it was just the right temperature to not be cold from the rain or too hot from wearing the rain gear. However, we did nearly miss this turn in the trail because we were keeping our heads down!

Soon after we came upon a nice view of Lake Jimmy.

This trail is also the way to go to climb up Allen Mountain. It’s certainly not the most popular high peak, but I’d thought enough people would be doing it that the trail would be very well established. However, after another water crossing, the foliage closed in around us as we navigated on soggy puncheon through a dense patch of the forest.

About 30 minutes after leaving the trailhead, we saw what looked like a little abandoned building. The doggies went to explore but we admired from a distance, eager to carry on. (Just to be clear, all 3 of the dogs have remote collars and fantastic recall, not to mention we carry their leashes with us just in case. They stay on the trail and don’t run out of control.)

Not a minute later we arrived at the junction to Mt Adams, where the trail deviates from the one going towards Allen. We veered to the left and continued on up.

For the next 20 minutes or so the trail was still quite flat, and had been since the beginning of the hike, so we were getting a bit worried that we were, in fact, climbing Adams and not Allen by mistake?? I, however, wasn’t worried enough not to stop and ‘AWWWW’ at a little orange salamander dude on the trail.

Well, you know what they say, be careful what you wish for….

Of course the trail did start climbing eventually. And once it did, it was fairly steep as we had all of the elevation gain over only about a mile. We had actually stopped before this stretch to take a gander at the map to make sure we were on the right path (spoiler alert: we were). The climb had been gentle though and not technically challenging, but as we gained more and more ground the climbing got more and more tricky, undoubtedly made worse due to the fact that we were hiking in the rain….

Despite looking a bit intimidating, the rocks weren’t actually very slick due to their slightly porous texture, though we did avoid trodding on tree roots, knowing how they turn into a slip-n-slide when wet…

It was so nice hiking with these guys. Somehow we seamlessly took turns walking in pairs and chatting – first me and Gildo, then me and Kelley, then David, and we kept rotating positions. It did seem to make the hike go faster, until I loudly mentioned during a slightly downhill portion that we were probably very close to the summit because so often a trail will climb and climb and climb, then go a bit down, and a bit up, then you’re there!

Yeah. For every mountain EXCEPT this one!

Every time one of us would complain about the seemingly endless climb, another would shout – ‘It’s ok! We’re almost there!’

**Do note that exactly 0 of the 4 of us had ever climbed this mountain before, and 4 of the 4 of us had no clue how far we were from the summit**

We stopped for a minute to stretch below yet another vertical pitch, wondering how much further it might go on (the trail is only like 2.6 miles to the top….we’re just out of shape 😀 ). Once we got our tails moving again, we took another handful of steps uphill and spied a metallic structure up ahead! The firetower!!

We made it at 3:20pm, almost 2 hours after starting from the trailhead. From the summit itself there are absolutely no views, but once you climb the ridiculously high firetower, you have purportedly the best firetower views in the Adirondacks. I was a bit bummed because it was looking like we were socked in, but I climbed up regardless.

And….just wow. The views were stunning. Once I had been there long enough I started to notice clouds forming down below and drifting quickly up before my eyes to join their brothers in the sky.

The scene seemed to change constantly, and I stayed up there for far too long to take it all in.

Unfortunately the views we didn’t have were those that would see the high peaks directly in front of us. We were SO CLOSE to Allen but, for the second time, I was robbed of a view of that peak (see Mt Redfield).

I stayed up there for half an hour (apparently, looking at the timestamps on my photos) before taking some pics of the crew hanging out and snacking wayyyy down below, and heading down for some snackaroos myself.

Combos and victory chocolate. Lunch of champions. We stayed chatting about all of our past adventures for another few minutes until we started to get chill from lack of activity and headed back down. I didn’t take many pics at all on the way down, trading my camera so I could focus much more on the descent. I am soooooo slooooooow going downhill, but David was a trooper and stuck with me despite my urging him to go on ahead because, and I’ll reiterate this, I am as SLOW AS DEATH’S GRANDMA.

We had only one close call involving the aforementioned slip-n-slide tree roots, but other than that the descent was actually pretty eventless. I relied heavily on my lovely trekking poles, pouring my weight into them to try and help my knees, and something must have paid off between my PT, walking 6 miles every day, and hitting the gym, because by the time we finished the steep sections I had no pain! Anywhere! Is the me we’re talking about?? Wow. It was a great feeling, friends.

As we neared the junction to the Allen trail, we heard voices and sure enough some of the groups that had been climbing Allen that day were on their way out. Of the woods, not…you know….Anyway, I was super impressed by them, not only for hiking a ~20 out-and-back to get Allen, but for doing it in the rain and facing Allen’s infamous ‘Red Slime’, an algae that coats many of the steep slides going up the mountain, making them nerve-wrackingly slick. One of the hikers mentioned how helpful his microspikes were with the slime, so I stowed that bit of information away for the future….

After letting some long-haul hikers pass us, we decided to stop and take a proper look in the little cabin we’d passed on the way up. The inside smelled a bit musty and contained an old sink, a cot, and a table with some laminated sheets of paper. Apparently the cabin had been saved from demolition in the early 2000’s and had been restored, which we noted as we glanced at the seemingly-new roof.

Another few sweaty, stinky moments later and we were back rounding the ponds where the puppers considered going for a dip.

However we held out for the cleaner water just near the trailhead. After seeing how much the dogs seemed to be enjoying themselves, Gildo and I decided to jump in too, clothes and all. It was a great opportunity to scrub off the mud and muck before heading to dinner together!

We hung out at the water for 20 or 30 minutes, throwing sticks for the dogs and enjoying the feel of the cold water on our tired bodies. We made it back to the cars at 6:30pm, 5 hours after starting, toweled off, and heading back into town for some grub feeling the cleanest we have literally EVER felt after a hike!

I hope to see you out there sometime soon, Allen hikers!

Until then, Happy hiking ❤

Mt Adams: 3520′ Elevation Gain: 1753′

Round Trip Distance: From the Map – 5.2 miles (distances vary wildly depending where you look, but this feels right)

Total Duration: 5 hours (including 45min at the summit and 30min swimming)

Ampersand Mountain

06/09/2021

Emergency Hike!!

I’m not sure if it’s because my workload this week had been lighter, leaving my mind plenty of time to wander, or whether I was just well overdue for a hike, but I hadn’t been able to focus at work (which is very unlike me!) and found myself daydreaming about hiking. So I’d asked if I could take off early to go on an emergency hike, and that’s exactly what I did! I left home at about 2pm and made it to the trailhead for Ampersand Mountain at 5pm. (Note that the parking lot is on the opposite side of the street from the trailhead.)

I didn’t make it more than 5 minutes down the trail before I had to lower my head net and apply some serious deet to keep the flies and mosquitoes at bay. The forest was beautiful though, green and full of life, and the trail started out flat and easy.

I plodded along and after another few minutes came to a sweet little babbling stream.

As I was deciding which trail to go to for my emergency hike, I thought about this mountain because though I’d done it before, I hardly recalled anything about the trail. Even my trip report from the first time was sparse and lacking any real detail about the trail. And there’s a reason for that – I’d gone with Juno in the spring the first time and – like a real rookie – didn’t bring my microspikes….So it was real fun when we got to the upper third of the mountain and the trail was still coated in a thick layer of ice! This time we had no such issues, however I did completely forget not to underestimate this mountain.

The first half-mile is deceptively smooth and flat, but gradually the trail became rockier and rockier, steeper and steeper.

I only crossed paths with a handful of people coming down while I climbed, so I was hopeful that I’d have the summit to myself, if I ever made it there! The trail really is more difficult than it seems as it just keeps climbing and climbing with no flat or downhill sections on the way up. Each time I reached the top of a steep portion I’d think “Alright, I’ve got to be getting close” just to turn a corner and see a steeper section further ahead! At some point, after delaying and delaying stopping for a quick bite to eat in hopes of just stopping once I was at the summit, I had to admit defeat and perch on a nice rock to have a snack.

Now over the last few months I’ve had some monumental discoveries with my health. For the last 10 years I’ve been pushing and pushing to get doctors to take me seriously for a whole range of medical issues, including – most irritatingly – intense pain and stiffness in my joints when I hike. FINALLY I have been diagnosed with hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome – a genetic disease that causes my body not to process collagen correctly. This means that my connective tissue, including tendons and ligaments, is too stretchy and acts kind of like old stretched-out rubber bands. Since my ligaments aren’t doing a good job holding my joints together, my muscles have taken up that job! Which is fine as long as I stay fit, but now I have to learn how to balance my muscles. So, long story short, this hike was actually a bit of physical therapy for me to practice some techniques that I was given to make sure that my muscles are supporting my joints evenly. That means learning how to engage my core and glutes rather than my quads when climbing up, and engaging the inner quad rather than the outer quad when climbing down. It might seem simple, but for me right now it means having to think consciously about EVERY SINGLE STEP that I take!

For all these reasons, my climb up was taking quite a long time, so I was really excited to see this big rock after climbing another steep section, thinking maybe it was the summit???

Nope. Not the summit. But I could practically smell how close I was! The trail leveled off a bit and led me through some interesting rock formations before going slightly downhill again.

And sure enough, 2 hours after starting from the trailhead, I had my first glimpse of the summit!

I scampered to the top to take in the 360 panorama of the lakes and mountains surrounding me.

While it was incredibly beautiful up there, there was one tiny thing that threatened to ruin the experience….or, rather, thousands of tiny things.

The black flies were out in force, and they were HUNGRY. And evidently, I am DELICIOUS. Fortunately for me, I have a bug net hat!!

I lingered on the summit – which I had all to myself – for another 30 minutes to enjoy some snacks from the safety of my bug net while enjoying the scenery.

Finally I started heading back the way I’d come. I was hoping to make it most of the way down before the sun had completely set so I’d not be hiking alone in the dark for too long. As I trotted along I met one other pair of hikers going up, just below the summit. It was actually nice to know there were two more people on the trail behind me.

As I descended, I was heading directly towards the sunset and had the most beautiful light filtering through the trees the whole way down. Each step I took I tried to tell my brain to use only certain muscles in my legs, as I clambered down the path without the usual care I take to be gentle on my knees. This time, I wanted to push it to see if I could make it through the hike without pain while walking like a normal human. Fortunately, though the trail was quite steep towards the summit, it was never technically challenging at all, just seemed to be a bit longer than it actually was! For the last mile or half-mile I did feel the pain starting to develop in one of my knees, but only ONE of them for a change! And it never quite got as bad as it gets, so that’s progress!

Anyway, I made it back to my car by 9pm, a little less than 4 hours from the time that I started. At this time of the year I only had to use my headlamp for the last 20 minutes! It was a great day for an emergency hike

Ampersand Mountain : 3352′ Elevation Gain : 1765′

Round Trip Distance : 5.4 miles

Total Duration : 4 hours

Mt. Van Hoevenberg

8/16/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And sure enough….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy trails!

Mount Van Hoevenberg: 2940′

Round Trip Distance: 4.4 miles

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

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

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

Jay Mountain

05/20/2017

Today was a perfect day for hiking, so Juno and I loaded up our packs and headed out at 7am to get to the trailhead at 9am. I just have to say, ::SPOILER ALERT:: this was in the top 2 of the COOLEST MOUNTAINS I’VE EVER CLIMBED! Seriously, even though this mountain isn’t a high peak, it should not be overlooked. Clearly, other people already know that secret, because the little parking lot at the trailhead at the intersection of Jay Mountain Rd and Upland Meadows Rd was already full when we arrived. We parked on the street, took our starting photos, and headed off.

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New hiking backpack!

The trail started climbing right from the start, gradually and continually via switchbacks. We signed in at the register a few minutes after leaving the trailhead, and soon after followed a cool low rock wall along the trail.

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Rock Wall

Juno was so excited to be sporting her new pack so that she could carry her own water! Or maybe just I was excited to not have to carry her water! Either way, she trotted back and forth excitedly, while I trudged up behind her.

I’ve come to realize that the first 30 minutes of any hike are the hardest! I’m constantly checking my watch, thinking “It must have been an hour already!” and it’s only been 15 minutes. After those first 30 minutes I tend to find my stride.

Juno was on her best behavior today. About 20 minutes in, this little cream colored poodle came running up to us from behind, owner nowhere in sight, and started BITING JUNO! She jumped back, looked at me like “What the heck, Mom?!” and then chased him off. She made sure the dog stayed away from me, then came back, and we waited together for the irresponsible owner and his dog to pass us. I thought this would be a one time thing, but unfortunately those two would continue to haunt our beautiful hike. This happened two or three more times throughout the day. The owner claimed the dog was just afraid of big dogs, but  scared dogs tend not to run up to big dogs trying to fight. No, sir, your dog is just aggressive, not scared. I don’t want to go on about this anymore, just, if you have a dog that’s not friendly with other dogs and doesn’t respond to your commands, KEEP IT ON A LEASH! My poor pupper was snapped at/possibly bitten 4 times during this hike, while she has never bitten anything/anyone in her entire life, and there were so many other dogs on this trail that the angry little dog could’ve hurt. Anyway, that’s enough of that. We were determined to enjoy our day to the max anyway, and continued on our way, enjoying the bright greenness of everything around us. What a welcome sight after dreary winter!

After about an hour of steady but gradual climbing, we paused for a short snack and water break, and to let a couple of young guys and their sweet hound pup pass us. A little bit afterward, I looked to my left and saw a tall mountain through the trees. I thought, “Hey! That might be Whiteface! I remember reading that there’s a great view of it from Jay!”, then I realized, nope, that tall mountain that looks sooooo far away is, in fact, Jay Mountain. So, we picked up our pace.

So I learned for sure during this hike that my dog requests my permission to do things (you wouldn’t know at home, when she’s constantly scheming and stealing socks). She saw these big boulders, ran over to them, then looked at me and started heading back, expecting to be told “No”. So when I encouraged her to go up there, she ran back excitedly, hopped up on the biggest boulder, and literally posed for the camera. Later, she did the same thing at a much more dangerous rock cliff that she wanted to climb up, I told her no, and she sighed and fell into line behind me.

Since Juno and I apparently dawdle–a lot–we had to stop quite a few times to let speedier people pass us up. We don’t mind though! Everyone was so happy today, and happy to see my sweet little girl, and she was happy to see them. After about a mile, mile and a half of climbing, we reached a little col over to Jay mountain, and Juno got a nice refreshing drink from the stream.

I was well prepared for bugginess today, with deet and permethrin, but there really weren’t many out! I also thought it was be a sea of mud, but again, nothing! It was really a perfect day, clear blue skies, moderate temp, and I couldn’t have asked for more.

Nearing 2.5 miles into the trail, the woods cleared out quite a bit, and we got a sneak peek of the amazing views behind us.

Shortly after, we reached a small junction where the trail split to the left and right. We chose to go left, which led us up to a gorgeous bare-rock lookout where a few of the people who passed us were lounging and having a snack.

I looked to the right, saw an impressive-looking rocky peak, and asked the nearest couple if that was indeed the peak of Jay. They confirmed this, and said that even though the ridge looks like it’s wooded from this angle, we’ll be walking along the other side where it’s open.

We were excited about the ridge, and didn’t want to waste any time, so Juno and I took a last look at the views, then headed off. We went back to the junction, met a really fun group of young men heading up to the lookout, then turned left at the junction to head up to the ridge.

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Whiteface Mountain, with it’s many ski trails.

This is where things got interesting. Very soon after this point, the foliage really thinned out and I could see we were indeed following a trail across a ridge where we could see out all around us. It was INCREDIBLE!! I couldn’t stop pausing to stare in awe. There were some thin trees that I could see through and around, and a lot of green ground foliage.

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This is the ledge where Juno would later find her own dog pack

The trail continued climbing steadily, but I really didn’t notice it since I was so absorbed in the scenery. When we surpassed the little thin trees, we were basically in open air, often climbing on bare rock ridge in between following dirt trails.


The mountain in the distance, in the center, is Big Slide Mountain with the smaller Three Brothers leading up to it just to the left

The summit(s) looked so far away, but honestly it was nice to know that we’d have so much time to travel along the ridge. It was like a great book that you don’t want to finish because then it’d be over; we wanted to prolong the adventure for as long as possible.

There weren’t any blazes or trail markers along the ridge, but luckily, there were many many cairns leading the way. There were so many times when I’d stop and look around, unsure of which way to go, and I’d spot a cairn placed just perfectly to guide the way.

While the trail up Jay is pretty mellow for the most part (until the final stretch up to the real summit), there were a couple of places where I had to pause and plan how to climb up a huge vertical boulder. Juno of course just popped right up to the top with no effort at all, and would sit at the top to watch over me while I dragged my butt up there too.

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False summit on the left, true on the right.

We followed this for about a mile and a half before we reached what we had been thinking was the peak at about 11:45am. Well, it turned out that it was a false peak, and to get to the “real” summit we would have to first descend, then ascend very steep, large rock faces to get to a slightly higher elevation than we were already at. It was probably only less than 0.5 miles away, but I guessed it would take at least half an hour to climb. As much as I hate not making it to the summits of mountains, I didn’t want to make Juno come back down that steep trail to the summit and risk hurting her joints. I decided to just stay where we were and enjoy more of our time at the false summit instead of using that time to hike to a slightly higher peak. Plus, there were a bunch of people at the true summit but I had the false one to myself for the time being!

Juno and I sat down and enjoyed our lunches, she ate almost all of her kibble and half of my Babybel cheese on top of that. Refreshed, we put our feet up to soak in the sun and feel fresh mountain breeze and I enjoyed my victory chocolate.

After a few minutes, I unpacked my tripod, switched to my wide-angle lens, and trekked over to the other side of the ridge to take some photos.

Looking East to Lake Champlain below the horizon with Vermont’s Green Mountains beyond.

After about 25 minutes, a large group arrived and set up near where I had left my pack. Juno and I headed up there and made quick friends with the boisterous group. They were so funny, cracking the same weird kinds of jokes that I do, and we enjoyed each others company while Juno cozied up to them trying to get food. I offered to take a photo of them, and they excitedly obliged. Meanwhile, while they were lining up, one of them shout-laughed at Juno to “Get out of my bag!”. Yup, my little schemer was using the opportunity to snoop and look for morsels. That’s my girl! Then she and I lined up to have our photo taken.

I really enjoyed the group of people I was hangin’ out with, and we sat and chatted for quite a while. Just as Juno and I were getting ready to go, a group of 4 older people came to the false summit from the real summit, fawning over Juno. Seriously, it must be nice to be such a cute dog. The other group left, and June and I sat and chatted with this awesome, energetic, HILARIOUS new group for a few minutes and took a photo for them, too. We were so lucky to meet such awesome people today!! So many times, people we pass just look miserable on hikes, and just mumble as we pass them, but the thrill of hiking was contagious today.

We talked for a few minutes, the we all headed down the mountain at about 1pm. This part of the hike was hilarious. While climbing up the rocky ridge, there are a lot of very well-placed cairns to show the way exactly where and when they were needed. However, on the way back down, there wasn’t such luck. The 6 of us got turned around about 5 times, slipped gracefully down some very loose scrabbling, and tripped over Juno since she’d adopted them all as her packmates for the day.

After a while, I ended up leaving the little group behind. They were enjoying the views, and I was concerned about getting Juno back into the shaded woods, out of the sun. I had hoped to see them again before we left, but no such luck 😦

At one point, I had paused to admire the scenery, and when I turned back to the right, Juno was up on a rock ledge…with 3 other dogs!! They were all SO CUTE with each other! She fit right in, like they were all just a pack of sweet dogs that had known each other forever. Then, yet another dog showed up, a mastiff who looked like she was really over all of this “exercise” business, and all four dogs went to greet her, tails wagging. This was just the sweetest thing, they were all so happy together.

We left them to continue on their way, and made our way back into the forest. The rest of the descent was completely uneventful. We didn’t encounter any of the fun groups we’d met on the way up, just a hiker or two here and there making their way up the mountain. We kept up a good pace, with Juno mostly following right on my heels. I was almost surprised when we made it to the trail register and signed out by 3pm, and couldn’t believe the amount of cars now lining the road!

We took our leaving photo together, which didn’t go very well, and headed to the car to pack up. This was such a great day, with great people and perfect weather. I can’t wait to climb this one again, and make it all the way to the summit! Happy Trails!

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My fabulous hat hair

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One sleepy pupper

Jay Mountain: 3600′ Elevation Gain: ~2000′
Round trip distance: ~8 miles
Total Duration: 5 hiking hours + 1 summit hour

All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may not be used unless with express permission

Whiteface Mtn. (5), Esther Mtn. (28), and Marble Mtn.

11/01/2016

It had been nearly 2 MONTHS since I’d last climbed a 46er, and I’d been thinking for a while that I was long overdue, however every weekend that I’d planned to climb these mountains, the skies decided to open up! So I said, I’ll show them (…the skies, I guess), I’ll go on a Tuesday! So after a sleepless Halloween night, I got up at 4:30am to head down to Wilmington. There were a couple of trails to choose from, but I decided to choose the less-traveled one that’s a mile shorter just to try to avoid still being on the trail when darkness falls considering that I had planned to climb Marble, Esther, and Whiteface Mountains all in one day. The trail I was aiming for started at the Atmospheric Science Research Center (ASRC). I had never been there before, so when I arrived a little before 7am (still in the dark) I was a bit concerned, because the trail was not obvious. So I parked in the big parking lot in front of the ASRC and proceeded to wander aimlessly for about 30 minutes, sometimes stumbling up a trail-that’s-not-a-trail before getting lost and deciding that could not possibly be the right way. Just as the sun started to illuminate the parking lot, I stomped frustratedly back to my car to regroup. Should I drive to the more well-known trail? Surely I wouldn’t get there until at least 8am, and it’d be an extra 2 miles of hiking. I’d definitely be coming home in the dark if I go that way. What are my other options? Just go home? Just then–I looked up and saw that early morning light had illuminated a previously invisible, MINISCULE sign that said “Hikers <–“. OMG. I started the engine, drove literally a minute more around the loop, and there was a little parking area on the side of the road, and a trail leading off of it. So without further ado, I started hiking at around 7:30am.

The trail quickly descended down where it joined up with another much wider trail; I turned left here, and kept going.

Shortly afterward, another trail branched off to the left. I continued on the wide path, hoping it was the right way, but not super confident considering the way my morning had gone so far.

A few minutes later I was almost sure I was again on the wrong path, because I came across this big metal cube of machinery, but when I went to investigate, the trail did indeed continue onward; sure enough, a trail sign appeared!

This is where that actual trail began! Huzzah! There was no register or anything, but I continued straight up the path where the climbing began. It then occurred to me that the machinery at the bottom was from an old ski lift up the mountain; this trail just followed the ski lift straight up. It was actually really cool to be able to look back and see exactly where I had started, because it was a straight shot.

At this point, my earlier frustration was just a distant memory; I was so happy and zen-like out there, enjoying the crisp air, the morning’s first light reddening the mountains, and the exhilaration of the climb. I was in such a good mood, that I nearly considered climbing inside this squat little structure I discovered on the way up, before I decided that I absolutely did not want to do that.

45 minutes after leaving the roadside, I alighted upon the top of marble mountain, where I encountered the twin to the cube machine at the bottom of the slope.

I rested here for a couple of minutes enjoying the early light, but when I started to shiver I decided it would be best to move on and warm up.

Almost as soon as I left the summit, I met the junction with the other trail that led up Marble Mtn., and took the right path to carry on up the ridge.

The trail was a lot snowier up here out of the light of the sun, but I was reassured knowing that my microspikes (crampons…whatever) were tucked in my pack, ready when I needed them. Boy was that false hope. (More on that later).

As I climbed, I was lucky enough to catch some glimpses of the mountains through the trees, and what a sight they were.

The trail was a total and complete mess. Some areas were running water, some were solid ice, some were a miserable mix of both. If nothing else, it made for some interesting structures along the way.

Oh, joy! I’ve found another creepy little sled hut, and look! This one comes complete with a moth-eaten burlap blanket too! How cozy :/. Let’s just hope I won’t have to use it, and will be back well before dark.

After climbing up this ridge for almost an hour and a half, it finally flattened out, and I knew I must be close to the junction for Esther.

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Whiteface mtn in the distance

Not 10 minutes later I had arrived at the giant, obvious cairn and the sign for the
herd path up Esther Mountain. I had put my microspikes on at some point climbing up the ridge when it became particularly icy, and they were giving me a bit of a hard time by not staying square on my feet; the left one kept slipping off the side, and I had to adjust it constantly. It wasn’t too bothersome though, I was definitely better off with than without, anyway. So off I went, down the trail to Esther. Along the way, I captured a glimpse of a verrrry far away mountain, and hoped with all I had that it was not Esther. After viewing the same mountain occasionally becoming ever-so-slightly closer, however, I determined I was indeed climbing Esther. To make it better, this herd path was horrible. Ice was covering almost all of it, only it wasn’t even thick enough to hold my weight; I kept punching through, splashing into muddy mucky disgusting water every other step. To make things even better, my brand-new microspikes were not doing so great; the left one continued to slip, and one of the bands on the right foot had snapped completely, leaving it unbalanced and threatening to slip off of my foot. I decided to just keep an eye on it, because I really had no other option. So the going was quite slow, but eventually I made it to the summit of Esther, an hour after leaving the junction.

Apparently this mountain was named for the 15 year old girl who first summitted it. Woah! I’ll settle just for climbing a mountain, not discovering one. I cleared a little patch of rock to have a seat and take a sip of some piping-hot hot chocolate, which I was SO glad for prioritizing at 4:30am.

I didn’t stay long, however, because when I looked up and saw the tower of Whiteface like 4.2 lightyears away, I knew I needed to get moving or I wouldn’t get back to the car until 3pm tomorrow.

This is when the poop really hit the fan for me. The heckin lousy microspikes. During the hour it took me to return to the junction on the ridge, the other strap on the right one broke, so the set of spikes under the front of my right foot kept slipping and popping up over the top of my boot, often stabbing my other leg when it happened. To make matters worse, both straps on the left one also broke during that hour. I was so frustrated and angry at this point, I very nearly chucked both of them off of the mountain, good riddance, but decided to strap them onto my pack in case of emergency, or to burn maliciously later, or whatever. I resolutely took both poles out of my pack, and very carefully made my way up Whiteface. Wow, it looked soooo far away, and TALL. At one point, I reached a really cool clearing that must have been an old ski slope or something, and it was nicely shielded from the wind, so I decided to have a seat on a convenient boulder and have some lunch.

Who can argue with that view? I didn’t stay long (didn’t want to wait for the cold to seep in) and 20 minutes later at about 1pm I reached the giant wall signifying the base of the wall bordering the Whiteface Memorial Highway! I must be close!

I took about 40 pictures of the dang wall, all of which look almost exactly the same, then climbed some slippery rocks up to the road itself.

 photo IMG_2940_zpse4terx8r 3_zpsl196xfne.jpg
Ski lift!

I knew the trail would come to the road, but I wasn’t exactly sure where it would pick back up. I decided to explore the road a little bit, which overlooked some incredible scenery. That said, I wouldn’t want to drive up or down this road, EVER. I’m saying, even in the summer. Nope.

Looking up the road toward the observatory, I decided that the trail must’ve continued up this impossible-to-climb cliff, covered in ice, that I saw when I first climbed up to the road. So for future reference: you never actually walk along the road. I didn’t think any of the buildings were open up ahead, so the only way up would be the precarious trail. Just dandy.

I climbed up very carefully, and at about that point realized that there was NO WAY that I would make it back down the whole mountain without my microspikes. Even the slightest decline can be extremely difficult when icy. I was a bit nervous, but decided to worry about it more after I had reached the summit, because there was no way I was turning back now.

The trail continued along this really cool ridge all the way up to the summit. It would have been even cooler if I was afraid of being blown right off the edge by the omnipresent gusts of wind.

But oh myyyy the views were spectacular! I’ve never seen anything quite like this.

FINALLY, at about 1:30pm, I reached the deserted summit. Not a soul in sight, which was a little creepy, I must admit, but it didn’t bother me much.

I stayed up here for all of 5 minutes. Seriously. It was cold, and it was soooo much later than I had anticipated arriving (stupid microspikes!). So I took a few last pictures, and turned back. Unfortunately for me, the road was closed past that point, so I had to go back the treacherous way I had come up, until the trail met the road again.

And this is where the photos end. I had some very tricky decisions to make at this point. Do I go back down the mountain the way I came up, risking falling on the ice (or worse) with no one around to help for miles and miles, risking returning in the dark (even though I have a headlamp, I’d prefer to not have to use it)? Or do I take the Whiteface Memorial Highway back down, risking the road being immensely long, or not ending up near where my car was parked? In the end, I went with my gut, which was telling me something bad would happen if I took the trail back. I also figured that, if nothing else, the road could lead me to people who would hopefully help me, if need be. So down the road I went, and I didn’t turn back. Though the views were sublime, I was so focused on getting home that I didn’t even think to take out my camera. After an hour of walking, I was getting really nervous, because I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. I still seemed to be really high up in the mountains, nowhere near the elevation at which I’d parked my car, and there was not a soul in sight. I realized now that the road was definitely closed at the bottom, and reasonably so, but I was afraid the road was 15 or 20 miles long. So at this point I just started running, my heavy pack slamming down onto my shoulders with each step. Soon after, I saw a sign indication the downward slope would continue for another 5 miles. I was simultaneously overjoyed and devastated: the road wasn’t 20 more miles, but I still had 5 miles to go and my whole body was hurting. I decided I had no choice but to continue on; my phone was dead (of course) and the road would EVENTUALLY lead somewhere, hopefully somewhere close to my car, and not on the wrong side of the mountain. I steeled my resolve, and kept running. And running. And running. Then, up ahead, a toll booth!! Are there people in there? Either way, I must be getting close to somewhere. There were no people inside, but when I passed the booth, I looked to my left and had to do a double-take: a LAKE. Somehow, I had reached a low enough elevation for there to be a gorgeous little lake; on top of that, I heard cars nearby! I slowed to a walk, and came to an intersection. Another tough decision: do I turn down the new road, or do I keep going? I had studied maps of the Adirondack region quite a bit, and reasoned that I should stay on the Memorial Hwy. Less than a mile later, I came across a sign, which I read about 6 times just to be sure and not get my hopes up: Marble Mtn. Road, ASRC. I jumped and danced and cheered and ran (read: limped) down the road to where my beautiful gorgeous little blueberry-mobile sat waiting for me (it’s a bright blue subaru…we call it the blueberry, naturally.). I was so grateful to be so lucky, and I peeled out of there to head home. Finishing time: ~4pm. Hey, I beat the sunset!

Whiteface Mountain: 4867′

Esther Mountain: 4240′

Marble Mountain:2753′

Total Duration: ~8.5 Hours

Round Trip Distance: I have no idea…fitbit says 17.5 miles, but that can’t be right….maybe 10-11 miles?

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