The last five days passed like a dream. I was really hoping for some kind of spiritual experience or battery recharge or something when I headed off to the woods last Wednesday. And I got it. Well, I got something. Not entirely what I thought it would be, but something nonetheless.
I’ve been looking forward to spending a few days in the woods, hiking and camping, for the last few months (ever since just before the busy season started). The last couple of weeks have been melancholy and frantic – in that rushing-to-do-everything-and-not-getting-anything-done kind of way. I was hoping to walk out of the woods with a life-plan for the next few months laid out in my head. What happened instead was that I waked out of the woods with a calmer and more peaceful mind, which is therefore more able to put together a life-plan for the next few months . . . maybe sometime this week – I’m really not all that worried about it right now.
So here’s a quick run-down before I head off to bed:
I left my house Wednesday morning and met my buddy SoloJoe Whalen at the Sloatsburg rest stop on 87N (about fifteen minutes or so from my house). We then caravanned up to The Mountaineer in Keene Valley NY, so that Joe could pick up an air mattress and some other supplies. We stopped briefly at a cabin called Random Scoots in Keene NY to visit with a couple of friends from the ADKHP forum. Then we boogied back to the Northway, south one exit, and over to the Upper Works parking area. The sun was just going down as we got there and we had decent light for the first mile or two. Around 4.5 miles in (it was dark by this time), we bumped into the monument to the man for which the river we were following (Calamity Brook) got its name (his death was a calamity). The monument was, however, a side trail, so after snapping a few photos, we booked it back onto the trail, happy in the knowledge that we only had to carry our heavy packs another .4 miles before we started passing lean-tos at which we might sleep.
Well, about two miles later, we hit a sign that read “High Water Bridge” – one which we found familiar. We put our packs down, wiped the sweat off our faces and looked at each other in perplexity. I pulled out my iPhone (upon which I was tracking our progress via my GPS app) and pronounced us to have backtracked. We then said the F word a lot. And then some more. I laughed quite a bit at our predicament, as it meant we still had at least another three miles to walk that night and we were already exhausted from carrying those heavy packs.
By the way, when I say “it was dark”, I don’t mean the kind of dark you’re probably used to. I mean the kind of dark wherein there is no visible light ANYWHERE. If we switched off our headlamps, we could not see each other standing only a few feet away. Starlight, yes. Moonlight, not this evening.
Anyway, we finally made it into a lean-to close to 1AM, scaring the couple within it half to death. Joe’s got great people skills, though, so he smoothed everything over pretty quickly. I told them that we were bears, but they didn’t believe me. Probably Joe with the whole talking-thing. Joe and I decided not to eat, as that would prolong the already lengthy time we’d be keeping the nice couple awake. Night comes early in the Adirondacks – about 9PM this season – so even if they had plenty of steamy sex in the lean-to before we arrived, they still must have been asleep for a couple of hours. As we lay our heads down to rest, I could not, however, resist muttering to Joe “don’t make any moves on that guy, ok? We just met and you hardly know him.” I’m sure that was good for an extra couple of minutes of awake-time for the dude.
We woke up around 6AM on Thursday, had breakfast and were on the trail by 8:30AM. The lean-to we stayed at was the third one we poked our heads into, and the only one not full. As such, it was also .4 miles farther away from the trail upon which we would start our march. It was kind of a long day. Not in a bad way, but in terms of hours. We hiked for around 10 hours, returning to the lean-to just before 7PM and covering probably between 12 and 15 miles. We climbed Gray Peak and Mount Redfield (both “bushwhacks”), putting me at 9/46 for the Adirondack High Peaks and Joe at some ridiculous number beyond my meager 9. I put ‘bushwhacks’ in quotes back there because the trailless peaks of the Adirondacks have very clear trails on them, but they’re just not marked with blazes or signage. The bushwhacks in the Catskills are much tougher in a navigational sense, though I can’t imagine trying to get through the growth on the sides of the mountains in the Adirondacks – it’s wicked thick.
On the hike, Joe and I discussed literature, relationships, philosophy and other things sublime. Come to think of it, I don’t think I said ‘boobs’ more than once or twice.
When we got back to the lean-to, we had something to eat while Joe packed his pack and got ready for the five-mile hump out of the woods. I have no idea how that sonofabitch made it – I was completely exhausted. But he did. And then he drove 5.5 hours back to NJ, packed his stuff and was on a plane from Philly to Colorado by 8:30PM on Friday night. Joe’s out there now, bagging 14,000 foot peaks.
I had the evening and the lean-to to myself, and I made good use of my time. By which I mean, I walked down to the beach of the Flowed Lands reservoir (or whatever kind of body of water it is) and rinsed myself off in the cold mountain water. I also rinsed out my shirt and socks and pumped some more drinking water from the spring. I didn’t have a computer, so I couldn’t blog, but I made some notes in a notebook and read some of Haruki Murakami‘s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (thanks, Sara, for loaning it to me – it only got a little wet on the hump out of the woods and none of the pages are currently sticking together), which I am currently enjoying immensely.
I went to bed early Thursday night – maybe 10:30 or so – both out of pure exhaustion and lack of stuff to do when it’s black as pitch outside of the lean-to door (which is really the whole front of the place).
I woke up early on Friday morning, said “fuck-it” and dozed for a few hours. I finally got moving around 10 or 10:30AM, just as the first raindrops began to patter on the lean-to roof. I made and ate breakfast and arranged my gear so as to minimize the possibility of anything getting wet besides my raingear and my pack’s rain cover. Then I humped the 5 miles back out of the woods to my car. In the rain. And when I say “rain”, I’m talking mountain lions and timber wolves. It was effin pouring. The trail wasn’t so much a trail as it was a series of rock-tops upon which to step, and small streams in which one might step without fear of the water coming above the tops of one’s boots.
Not that it mattered in any case; my boots were soaked by the time I got to the car. I had on these goretex waterproof socks, though, which kept my feet and socks dry, despite the fact that my boots were soaked through. I couldn’t believe how heavy my boots were when I took them off. Nor could I believe that the next thing on my plate was to get down to the Cats to meet Scott and hump around all night and day in the woods in those heavy wet boots.
By the way, the hump out of the Adirondacks was simply splendid. Even though it was raining, I had a great time. The weather was warm enough that it really didn’t matter if I got all wet (not that I did – I was wearing raingear). I kept a steady pace and it seemed by that point that my backpacking muscles had figured out what they were doing and gotten stretched out – they were not nearly as sore and painful as they were on Wednesday night. On that hike, I thought about various hiking-related things, but mostly just enjoyed myself and my vacation.
I got to the car and headed down to the Cats to meet Scott. Well, actually, I headed back north to Keene to get gas (should have done that Wednesday afternoon), and then south to the Catskills. I toweled out my boots as best I could and put them in the passenger side footwell, under a blast of hot air. My wet socks and shirt went on the dashboard, to be warmed and dried by the defogger. Which created some fog, but not too much.
Believe it or not, by the time I got to the Cats, my socks and shirt were dry, and my boots were barely damp. It took quite a bit of maneuvering on the drive to achieve this, but I’m glad I did.
I met Scott at the Alder Lake parking area at around 9:50PM on Friday night and we humped the 2.25 miles in to the Beaver Meadow Lean-to. This night hike also involved some backtracking, though probably only about .5 miles-worth. I wonder if there’s a patch for night-hike backtracking miles.
We hit the lean-to around midnight and ate, then slept in on Saturday morning and hiked a rather lazy six miles or so along Mill Brook Ridge, bagging the high point and the high point of Woodpecker Ridge (a quick bushwhack), while talking of recent events and things sublime. That puts us at 47/102 for the Catskill Hundred Highest.
We then stopped back at the lean-to, gathered our heavy stuff and humped back out to our cars.
When we got home, I took a nice long hot shower and went to Steve’s Sizzlin’ for a big steak, then swung by Scott’s house to hang out for a bit.
Today was a lazy day, but I got all my errands run. It was an excellent weekend and I’m currently walking the earth with a deep sense of peace in the background. I’m pretty ok with going back to work in the morning, which means it was a successful vacation.