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|04-23-2012, 10:10 PM||#1|
Join Date: Nov 2011
The Narrow Road to the North: Northville to Placid (4/7 - 4/13)
Day 1: On the trail (4/7)
I got a relatively early start (9:30am) from the Upper Benson trailhead. The trail was in great condition – dry, clear, and clean. I met three folks coming out from the Silver Lake lean-to. They were happily whistling along the trail – a good sign. I stopped for lunch at the Silver Lake lean-to and enjoyed getting out of the wind. There was a family of loons on the lake, seven in all, looking for nesting sites or otherwise doing whatever it is that loons do. I pushed on to the Mud Lake lean-to, arriving around 4:00 or so. The trail was good with only minor blow down (only one or two really troublesome spots, if my memory serves me correctly). Against the judgment of my screaming legs, I pushed on, hoping to get a little closer to Piseco. Whitehouse was great – I was really impressed with the suspension bridge – so I stopped for my last break of the day.
I must have been so exhausted that I wasn’t looking at anything other than my feet and the trail, because I missed the last lean-to. I’ve never missed a lean-to before – I mean, they’re big and, well, hard to miss – but I pushed on. Just when I was contemplating collapsing trailside and sleeping where I fell, I heard two hikers up ahead. Jody and Paul were doing trail maintenance along the Whitehouse-Piseco section of trail and confirmed my suspicions – yup, I missed the lean-to. Though it was only “a couple of miles back,” retreating wasn’t an option. Jody and Paul graciously offered me a ride into Speculator, which I readily accepted (thanks guys!).
Day 2: Ominous beginnings (4/8)
My plan was a simple one: catch a ride along Rte. 8 to the trailhead in Piseco and do an easy hike to the northern lean-to on Spruce Lake or maybe along West Canada somewhere. I started marching, pack on my back, by 7:50am, regretting my weakness of the night before – I was now $75 poorer and ~9 miles away from the trail. But that’s okay – people in the North Country are friendly – and it was Easter after all. My hitch-hiking was completely unsuccessful – maybe folks were all in a hurry or maybe I just look like a serial killer. The only car to actually stop was a young cop with mean looking eyes who told me quite simply: “Well, you don’t want a ride from me!” I believed him. I rolled into Piseco around noon or so, under my own steam. The wind was still blowing strongly and after a roadside lunch I pushed on to Spruce Lake. I met two guys coming out from Spruce. They had the glazed eyes of thru-hikers and said they had started in Placid almost a week before. They warned me of the re-route in the West Canada area and of some muddy areas. They looked happy to be so close to the end, but disappointed to hear that the Oxbow wasn’t open yet. Hopefully, they contented themselves to spend another night in the woods rather than go into Speculator as I had done. Spruce was nice – the southernmost lean-to offered ample protection from the now brutal wind, and, as I was exhausted, I collapsed there for the night. Just before falling asleep I noticed that it had begun to snow.
Day Three: Let it snow (4/9)
There was about two inches of snow when I woke up. As I was still dry and warm, I welcomed it – thought it’d be a nice change from all of the brown amongst the trees. The trail along Spruce and up to the creek crossing was great – limited blow-down, no mud. I was able to rock-hop across the creek where the bridge was, though if the water was only an inch or two higher that wouldn’t have been an option. There was a guide wire strung across where the bridge was – so crossing would be possible in all but torrential conditions. After crossing, I scurried up the slope and had a nice lunch in the lean-to. At this point the snow was steady and the wind was incredibly strong. And cold. And wet. And cold. I was thrilled to be in the “heart” of the W. Canada area – I poked around by the old ranger cabin and checked out a few lean-tos there. Again, everything was in great shape. The bypass trail, however, was a mess. At times I wondered how the trail could be any easier than whatever mess I was by-passing. There was significant blow-down, I mean every couple of feet there was an obstacle. The trail was muddy, due in no small part to the snow I’m sure, though it looked like it’d be muddy no matter what. The worst part of the by-pass was the closeness to the vegetation – I couldn’t help bumping into the branches of snow-laden bushes as I weaved my way through the undergrowth. After what seemed like ages I was off the by-pass trail and moving quickly again, though I was soaked to the core. I made it to the lean-to on the northern shore on Cedar Lake where I was forced to hole-up for the day. I barely had the energy to change out of my wet clothes. Fortunately my lean-to clothes and my sleeping bag were still dry, so I was able to pass the night in reasonable comfort. I was disappointed – I had a rough day and didn’t nearly get the mileage that I had hoped for, but I reminded myself that there were no other options and that conditions, not desire, dictate what is possible and what is not.
Day Four: Sun at Wakely (4/10)
I awoke to the howling wind and more snow. I was still a little shaken-up from the previous day. I was well prepared for this trip – I have been backpacking for years, completed numerous solo hikes, winter overnights, etc. – but no matter how many times I’ve heard stories about killer conditions and exercising caution, I still have the “it won’t happen to me” mentality. Faced with the prospect of more snow and, perhaps most discouragingly, my wet hiking clothes and boots, I thought it’d be the smart move to hole up in the lean-to for a day and wait out the storm, but youthful impetuousness got the best of me and before I knew it I was wet and cold, but at least I was moving. The trail out was great. The trail was wide and mostly clear out to the access road, so I even got to dry out my rain-gear a bit just by wearing it. I saw a lot of turkey signs along the road, including tracks in the snow of a record tom or a small emu. The tracks themselves were as big or bigger than my hand print and he must have been in a great hurry because his stride was as long as mine in spots. The ranger cabins at Wakely were in good shape and I tucked into a protected porch to have my lunch and to drain my boots and wring out my socks. I was on the road for only a short time (less than a mile) before I reached the new trail to Stephen’s Pond and I even saw the sun for about 30 seconds. The trail to Stephen’s started easily enough, but soon became swampy as it followed a wide path (logging/access road at some point?). When the new trail departed from the old access road (about a mile or so into it) there was plenty of wet, sloppy snow. The new trail, being new, was difficult to follow and very near impossible in spots due to the recent snow. Many times I lost the trail. The snow started again, my visibility was severely limited, and the trail became even worse as I was encountering some change in elevation. Moral of the story: young trail + last year’s leaves + this year’s snow = misery. Then, almost miraculously, I walked out of it. Out of the snow, the storm, all of it. The trail was beautiful – dry and clear – and it was one of the nicest sections of trail I’ve encountered during the whole trip. I made it to Stephen’s Pond a bit before dark and marveled at the way my attitude can change so abruptly. I feel like I have always been in-tune with the weather, but after spending just a few days on the trail I was amazed at how dark skies would make me swear and nearly weep at points and how the merest glimpse of the sun could, quite literally, make me shout for joy.
Day Five: The Blue Mountain Wilderness (4/11)
Met with blue skies and vastly improved spirits, I made great time to the campground south of Rte. 28 where I had enough cell signal to text out an “I’m alive” message to the wife. The hike from 28 in to Tirrell was fine and clear, and I had a quick lunch amidst the filth of the northern lean-to on Tirrell. I came through this stretch of trail back in 2005 and got the same impression – that the lean-to is too close to the road and too easy for folks to crap up. Shame. Thus fueled I pushed on – the hike up the elevation was great – mostly clear and dry. As I got higher up, though, there was more snow. A bit more blowdown by the “summit” and about eight inches of snow on the top of the ridge made for slow going, but still I was in great spirits because I could see the sun and knew that the next few days couldn’t possibly be worse than the previous few. I pushed on and made it to the lean-to on the water in Cat. Bay, along Long Lake. The trail was nice from Tarbell Rd to Cat. Bay and was rerouted since my last trip through there (2009?) to avoid that stretch of swamp by the lean-to on the trail. My lean-to, the nicer of the two, contained a dilapidated folding table as well as other waste that had no place in a shelter (ugh…boaters), but it was warm and dry and, well, what more could I ask for?
Day Six: Cold River solitude (4/12)
The hike from Cat. Bay to Rodney's Point was clear and dry with the exception of some beaver activity just south of Rodney's that required a reroute. I had enough cell reception to make a call from Rodney's Point (verizon). After talking it over with the wife I decided to try to make Placid the following night, a bit more ambitious than I would have liked - it was my birthday and I was hoping to take it easy - but there it is. The hike was great to Shattuck's – some great beaver dams along the way.
I made it to the Cold River and breaked for lunch #2. It was great to be hiking along the Cold River again – it is probably my favorite hike in all of the ADK. I stopped at Seward lean-to (possibly the nicest lean-to in the ADK) and was tempted to stay the night, but Placid was still quite a ways off and I pushed on to Ouluska and stayed the night there. It was nice to stay at Ouluska – I remember it being wet and dreary in the past, but without the bugs it was very pleasant to stay so close to the Rondeau hermitage.
Day Seven: No ducks at Duck Hole (4/13)
Eager to make it out, I got an early start and was glad I did. There was significant snow on the trail from about two miles past Rondeau's hermitage all the way through Duck Hole. It was slow going – old snow, not the new sloppy stuff I'd been tramping through over the last week, but old firm-but-not-firm-enough snow that I spent hours post-holing in. I lunched at Duck Hole. I was at Duck Hole a few months ago (Feb.) but this was my first trip to post-Irene Duck Hole without snow. Duck Hole used to be so beautiful, but now it is just a hole. Part of me misses the picturesque Duck Hole, but mostly I am excited to see how it changes over the next several decades.
It'll sure be fun to watch it grow in. The hike from Duck Hole to Moose Pond was again, very clear and dry (for April). Moose Pond lean-to was in great shape. I wish I could have spent the night there, or at least a few hours, but I had to push if I was to make it out before dark. It was a little wet from Moose Pond to Wanika – the trail follows a swampy/marshy brook for about a mile. After Wanika, I ran into some trouble at a swampy section that had, again, been overtaken by beavers. After losing the trail in the same place twice, I kept to the west and walked over the dam and found where the trail tucks in by the pines. On the home stretch now, I was basically sprinting the final leg - it was pretty wet and mucky in spots. I encountered three women trail running – the first people I'd seen since Easter five days before – and was thrilled to be so close to the trailhead. Or so I thought. I was expecting to come out at every turn, but it was probably about two more miles until I made it out to Averyville. The wife was there waiting – we rode into Placid, crowded for the Can-Am games (EDIT: not Can-Am, but some sort of hockey thing) – for a well deserved dinner of pizza and beer. It was a great hike.
Notes: Most (>95%) of my drinking water was untreated. I only treated three or four liters in seven days from sources that had visible human or beaver activity nearby. No adverse side-effects. The trails were exceptionally dry - I was really surprised at the lack of mud in April. Also, not one blackfly/mosquito/deer fly to speak of. I didn't see much wildlife – I was moving too fast, I think – but there was a ton of bear sign. Also, I saw some moose tracks on the trail in the Blue Mountain stretch (on the incline after that brief road section approximately two miles after leaving Tirrell). I know, I know, it must have been a deer – there aren't moose so far south or so close to roads or people. But they were there. The tracks were huge.
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