Sunday, June 18, 2017

Cold Rain, Mud, Mountains, Backpacking, Misery, Heartbreak... They All Go Together

Taking a day off between hikes is usually a good idea, so Rob & I decided to go back to the motel to do some laundry and pack for another trip into the High Peaks. I had my eye on a 2-day weather window approaching, in which we'd be able to potentially hike in with only a quick storm, then have a partly-cloudy but not rainy day for the Gothics/Armstrong/Wolfjaws ridge, and finally, hike out... of course... in the rain. Ha!

We packed our gear and made the drive to the Garden lot and trailhead. Arriving early in the AM on a weekday and early in the season, the lot was the most empty I had ever seen it. Most people never have and never will see it the way it is photographed above... such tranquility... those who have hiked here before will know what I'm getting at here. 

The hike in is beautiful, and runs along John's Brook for a bit at the start, and then again a few miles in near John's Brook Lodge.

This stream was, seemingly on its way to recovery for Brook Trout until, after Irene, the lower section was channelized and "ruined" by man. The fish don't seem to want to swim up anymore. I'll avoid delving too deep into this topic right now, but its a sore one, to say the least. I hear they now stock the stream up here with small brookies, and we did catch a few along the way. No wild fish from what I caught.

The warm sun was bringing out the mushrooms - and although there was a storm forecast for later on, I was able to feel, even if just for a moment, that things were taking a turn for the better. Looking back, I probably should have seen this as too good to be true, or some kind of foreshadowing.

Meanwhile, though, the sun was still shining in full force, and walking into the field with the familiar old cabin near the trail junction and suspension bridge, I really felt a sense of overwhelming joy - as well as a bit of nostalgia from years passed.

I was happy that Rob was getting to see this area, and I couldn't wait to see his face when we got to the slide climbing up to Gothics the next day.

Crossing the suspension bridge, we noted that the river was still raging. It was early June now, and melt out should have been finished long ago. However, late snow storms had left extra ice and snow to melt away... and, coupled with all the rain that had been falling, things were clearly running a bit behind schedule.

I chose for us to set up camp at the site near the Orebed Lean-To, and we arrived right before the scheduled storm was supposed to roll through.

As if on cue, the clouds began to fill in the sky above, and we marveled at the rare accuracy of a mountain weather report.

Bunkering down in the lean-to, we sat and watched the storm roll in... fast. The thunder was pretty loud, and the storm moved in right over us. First came the rain, then the hail, then larger chunks of hail... and then a bit of solid rain. 

Rob read aloud some stories from the lean-to's log book, some of which were quite interesting. The most memorable was that of a bear that scared some hikers away from their food as they were eating dinner, preceded to eat their half-made dinners, then the rest of the food from the barrels, packaging and all, and then finally left them alone and went away. 

But the craziest part was how they described the bear returning at 1:30 AM, waking them up in their hammocks, plopping down right under them, and then unleashing a fury of loud farting, belching and disgusting breath... I just pictured these guys fearing for their lives, trying not to gag from the smelly bear emissions, and not being able to sleep at all. At least I know that the dehydrated food does the same thing to a bear's stomach as it does to mine if it isn't rehydrated well...

Little did I know Rob would soon be writing his own crazy story in that very same log book... but for now we were eating dinner and getting ready to hit the sack early. I rehydrated some morels, and combined that with some herbs, salt, corn and peppers in a single serving of 5 minute cous-cous. It ended up being one of the best meals I've had on the trail in a while. And of course, the joy of knowing we picked those morels was pretty great too.

 Orebed brook campsite is a great place to get water... the tributary running next to the site tastes really mineral after running over rocks for so long. I always love drinking the water from here, and I can think about the taste right now as I'm writing about it.

The upper Orebed brook itself is similar, if not a bit larger. There are no trout up here anymore, if there ever were any at all... 

There were plenty of other things to look at and photograph than fish though, that's for sure.

Sunset over the mountains with the clouds in the distance was beautiful, and I forgot all about the rain for a moment. But the next morning brought new challenges, as I awoke to a loud scream. I wasn't sure that was what I heard... but then I heard a yell for help.

Wiping the sleep out of my eyes, I looked down as Rob threw this stake-impaled shoe under my tarp, and I jumped up, knowing that this was a major injury in need of some immediate medical care. It turns out Rob had stomped a stuck tent stake in his Altras, and somehow it went right through the sole, the rock guard, the foot-bed and then into his heal. Ouch.

After a flurry of activity, wound-cleaning and bandaging; shock management and recovery and a bit of a breather, Rob posed for a photo with his shoe. Good sport. I was worried about how we'd get out of the backcountry, at least 4-5 miles in, given the situation. I contemplated which hut or building the ranger or caretaker would be in, and the fastest way to get there. I thought about how I'd carry his pack and stuff if he could walk out. But it turned out we didn't need to worry about any of that, as Rob figured out how to walk out on the ball of that foot, with his own full pack, making somewhat remarkable time out and back to the car.

For obvious reasons, I don't have any more photos of this trip after we ate breakfast, but needless to say, given the situation, we got out of this one pretty easily. However, we were now off the trail for an unknown period of time, and there was of course the immediate fear of what this would do to affect our plans for hiking a section of the PCT later this season. And the weather... more rain forecast for weeks. Ugh.

We went back to the hotel, assessed the situation, and decided to take a short break, before going west early. It was time to abandon the Northeast this year and make the best of what we had. We would return to the New York Metro area and relax for a few days in real beds, while Rob let his wound heal, making sure it didn't get infected. Being that you're reading this after the fact, rest assured that everything does, in fact, turn out ok! More on that soon... for now, sleep and recovery from the first Western, high-alpine snow hike of the season.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Cold & Rainy Welcome to the Adirondacks

Rob and I took a beautiful route between western MA and the Adirondacks, and while we were able to enjoy a quick bit of sun and stream-side relaxation upon our arrival, it was soon right back to rain.

The fishing was also still not incredible. While we began to see more active fish, overall the fish were still holding low, under rocks, and generally just not yet that interested in feeding.

We found plenty of false morels and probably could have committed some days to hunting for the real thing nearby, but I had no idea what trees to cover up here, and we felt we had enough Morel success this season that we'd just pass that idea by. 

Maybe one day I'll learn to identify dead Elms, but for now, I have no idea how to find them. Other than that, there doesn't seem to be one obvious kind of tree to check in upstate NY, rather many...

We fished a few random streams, and then I managed to catch a few smaller trout on our first day on the Ausable. Usually I clean up in that section... as I would end up doing a few evenings later.

We camped at the Wilmington Notch Campground first, and then on threat of plenty more bad weather, moved to a "cabin" at the KOA which ended up being a Home Depot-style garden shed with two beds, a window, and an electric heater. The "mattresses" were coated with some kind of waterproof vapor-barrier and the whole experience was pretty shoddy.

Given that the fishing wasn't great either, we decided to do some hiking before preparing for our first backpacking trip into the high peaks.

We chose to do a quick walk up Owl's Head due to the threat of more intense rain. It was a good choice, and we made it to the summit quickly. 

The views from the area are great - you get a lower perspective and 360 degree view, but from a peak - so you can see the higher ridges and peaks all around.

There are some nice pitches for climbers, but we didn't see anyone out this time around.

After that we went to check out a waterfall...

Then I took us to a small stream I'd wanted to fish/scout, not realizing there was a nicer and more productive looking tributary that we just had to fish.

That stream ended up being absolutely beautiful, and the rain was light enough that we could enjoy some fishing before it really began to pour.

This was a typical high-gradient Adirondack brookie stream, complete with slots, rock-walls, deep plunges, and plenty of deadfall. Trout heaven.

Not surprisingly, this stream was the first to really fish well for us. We each grabbed some small ones, but the pouring rain followed soon after. The larger brookies were still holding deep.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to fill some Growlers at the Beer Castle in Keene. I hadn't noticed this spot before, but I'm really glad we found it this time around. They had some Grimm bottle releases, a few really great IPAs - one I particularly liked from Sloop. Check this place out if you visit the area. 

Next on the agenda, I wanted to show Rob a few sections of the High Peaks Wilderness, poke around for some high elevation brookies, and cover some truly back-woods trails that get less human traffic than the more popular Eastern High Peaks zone. More on that coming soon.

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Muddy Adirondack Spring - Santanoni & Panther Peaks

Being that it was almost memorial day weekend, it was time to get into the woods and away from the bigger holiday crowds near town and in the most popular areas of the high peaks.

The Santanoni range makes for a perfect destination in this situation, and we planned to camp back in the wilderness and away from the main campsites. Of course, it was raining as we met up with some of the other Peak Enjoyers from past stories here... Derek & Zane joined us in the afternoon at the lot, and we headed in.

After a short walk on a private, gated dirt road, we arrived at the wilderness trailhead. The first crossing was easy, and we noted it looked fishable. We didn't fish though... the rain and the hike ahead were more front and center at the moment.

The rain was not too heavy and for some moments, even stopped. However, a fresh shower or misty cloud would blow by to remind us that yes, in fact, the rain is falling this year. The second crossing was more gnarly, with the bridge in need of complete repair. 

Soon after, I noticed a strange white slug on some fungus. I have seen thousands of slugs up here, but never and large white ones.

The trail follows a stream that looks rather fishy, but we didn't try to fish it until relatively high up. I got nothing. Likely the fish in this area were wiped out a long time ago, and have not or cannot make it back up above this many waterfalls.

Those waterfalls and pools were beautiful and provided a great backdrop for a couple of rest-stops and water breaks.

There were some newer plank walkways through the path, but not enough of them in the muckiest places. The Santanoni area is known as one of the muddiest and wettest of the areas, and this was a truly wet season to add on top of that.

For the most part, we made good time and arrived at the junction to the Santanoni trail with some time to spare. We decided to camp up high in a campsite we had seen on the last hike through the area.

A funny sheep-shaped tree required a stop for a pose...

... and lichen coated the stumps and fallen wood all around us.

We had to gain a little bit of elevation before the day was over, and the mud wouldn't let up at all. Much of trail was a stream or a mess of mucky, slippery and sloppy earth that didn't give much confidence to any single step.

When we arrived at camp it was still cold, we were wet, and it was time to make dinner right away. Derek & Zane were still wearing shorts and didn't seem to care about that, but even after setting up my hammock I was in need of my down jacket to feel good. We ate a good meal and hit the sack as the misty wet air swirled all around.

The next morning I awoke to a surprising joy - THE SUN! There was water evaporating off of everything, and we had a chance to dry some things off for a moment.

After dilly-dallying around camp for a bit, we set out to Peak Santanoni & Panther around 10:30am. The climb is steep, with much of the trail in the water. The views slowly appear as you climb, but you have to remember to turn around and see them.

Photo credit Rob Lepczyk

Once you get up on the ridge, there are more opportunities for views in various directions. You can see most of the Eastern High Peaks from up here, as well as the Seward range. The view from Santanoni itself was great - I thought there was no view, so I was glad to have been wrong.

The sun was gone by this point, and it began to rain on us at the summit. We finished lunch and headed back down the ridge towards the junction with Couchsachraga and Panther peak trails.

We skipped Couch this time around (I swore I'd never hike it again last time,) and headed for the famous boggy path to Panther. It was in fine form, full of knee-deep holes and the classic deep muck that defines the entire area. 

Carefully picking our way around the mud while trying not to damage the high alpine region is difficult. For this reason, and since I had already peaked this one more than once, I hung back a bit while the other guys grabbed the peak.

After a triumphant snack near the summit, we headed back down towards camp. There was still snow  along the trail, as there has been in this area at this time before. I was almost surprised not to see more, but there had been more rain than snow over the last few weeks, that much was clear.

Back at camp for the evening, the sky cleared a bit and we got a nice sunset view from the ridge. Unfortunately, the camera couldn't quite capture it in full beauty, even though the image does evoke the feeling of the moment quite well.

Photo Credit Rob Lepczyk
That night was an early night, and the next morning was an early rise, as we had planned to hike about 8 miles around and back to Henderson Lake to find a campsite.

The Sun was out again, and this day looked a little more promising than the previous day in terms of the weather. The trail was still a stream though, for most of the day.

There were hundreds of newts around, and we constantly had to watch for them on the trail. Luckily they are bright orange and easy to spot.

Inside this hole I saw a toad peeking out, and I learned that there was such thing as a toad-hole in the moss. Is this where they all live when we can't see them?

Along the trail, we found a bit of a puzzle that we had to solve. There were many spruce boughs and tree tops lying around areas that didn't have the same kinds of trees. It became apparent, after some investigation of the area and repetitive finds, that these had been blown here by the wind. Just crazy!

Back at Duck Hole we had to ford the Cold River. The bridge over the old dam is gone, as the dam collapsed and hasn't been replaced. Its nice to see nature reclaiming much of the area, and we ran into a DEC volunteer back there who was clearing some of the blowdown and checking in on the trail. Devil-Dog, if you're out there, you missed a few trees on the way back to Henderson Lake, dude! ;)

Meanwhile, we were making slow time this particular day, generally lallygagging and enjoying the views, as well as the sun. It hadn't rained yet! We covered a lot of ground before it began to drizzle. Luckily that didn't last long at all, and we made good time on the last few miles.

I had never travelled this section of trail before, and it meandered through old ponds, streams and then what appeared to be the backside of the mound of earth that makes up Wall-Face. We circled around to Henderson Lake, back up towards Wall-Face, and the backcountry campsites. We found a small site and set up a tight hammock camp, barely working around the tight trees to find a good spot.

The next day we woke up to threatening clouds and the cold winds that signal a shift in the weather. Storms were brewing, and we raced to pack up camp before the rain hit. Just on cue, the rain began to fall as we broke camp, and we hiked back in the rain. I didn't take my camera out to photograph the morning, but there wasn't much to show - just more rain. We had a hot meal in town and said goodbye to the other peak enjoyers, heading to a hotel to do some laundry, get clean, and plan another  backpacking trip, this time into the Eastern High Peaks zone.