Saturday, December 31, 2016

Haderondah Hanukah

Festivus III was postponed due to some members not being able to make it. So instead Dan and I opted for a 28 mile loop in the Haderondah Wilderness. Being familiar with all the trails, and the potential snow conditions I knew this was an aggressive itinerary. Fortunately it did allow for multiple shortcuts, and bailouts.

I met Dan at our usual spot and gave him the framed photo I printed of him with the monster pike he caught this summer. The drive was uneventful, and we arrived at the trailhead with temps in the high teens and rising. We knew that freezing rains were likely later in the afternoon. This prompted us to modify our itinerary to do the loop in reverse. This would give us the short day at first with the heavy packs, and perhaps get to the lean-to before the rains. The initial climb up the hill is quite steep and really warmed us up. There were some tracks but we still needed snowshoes. The rains came earlier than expected, but were only on and off. This portion of our trip has many small ups and downs, although it always feels like more ups than downs. The tracks we had been following turned to follow the outlet of Grassy Pond and then we were breaking new trail. The section around Cedar took longer than expected, at one point I thought we might have gone past the turn-off. Checking the compass we were still heading westward, so we were still on target. Moments later the trail to Middle Branch came into view. We started the uphill climb looking for a spot to have a late lunch. We cleaned off a log of its snow and ate some pre-made venison sandwiches. We had a bit over a mile to the lean-to. It went slow as the snow was deep and we were climbing over a ridge. After we descended to the junction, it would be another third of a mile up and over a small rise to the lean-to. Along the way we would keep a lookout for firewood knowing that there would be slim pickins at the campsite. Finally at the lean-to, just over 4 miles and it was past 2pm. The planned 7 mile days ahead would be tough.

We collected firewood and got a nice blaze going. It was quite windy. When the rains started again, it would be blown all the way into the back of the lean-to. A late dinner of smoked polish sausages with peppers and onions. I had not slept well the night before, so I knew I would not be able to stay up too late. Not that I usually do in the woods after dark.

Morning came and Dan smacked the bottom of my sleeping bag to get up. The rains had put out any remnant coals from the fire, so I restarted it from scratch while Dan went to get water.

A hot cereal breakfast and coffee was quick and easy, but we still weren't on the trail until after 10am. We had a little over a mile to the junction with the old jeep road. From there a straight 3.4 miles to our next junction. Dan broke trail most of the way. A few times I would lead but he is in much better shape than I. This road walk seemed to take forever. We were averaging just over 1 mph. We had another late lunch at the junction to the East Pond trail.

This is the section which gets minimal maintenance on a 5 year cycle. This past fall it was cleared so it should be much easier to follow than it was this past spring. I was most worried about the beaver dam and the outlet of little simon pond. These can be tricky in the best of times, but with snowshoes may prove difficult. With just under 3 miles to go, we would be cutting it close. We could always make camp off trail if needed. At 3 pm, we were still not at Little Simon Pond so we started talking about our options. I said to give us 20 minutes to re-assess. I was getting tired and after little simon would be the "big climb". Not something I was looking forward to being this tired already. At little Simon, Dan crossed the outlet first. He helped me make the giant step up. From there we looked at this as a possible place to make camp. A quick look at the map and Dan said, we are so close (it was less than a mile), lets just push it. So we grinded it out, that hill was brutal. We made it to camp after the sun had dropped below the horizon so we had but a few minutes to get firewood before it would get dark. This trip coincided with the new moon, so night was as dark as could be.

With the fire lit, we set up the tent and hammock. Tortelloni and sauce for dinner. The wood we gathered produced some great coals which put out a lot of heat. It was really dark and getting cold. The fire was nice. It was significantly below freezing over night. Our tarps had a layer of ice on them in the morning. The hot coals from the night before were still glowing when i got up. It was breeze to restart the fire. I made breakfast sandwiches and we talked out the plans for the day. I was nervous about continuing on towards the Lost Creek trail after yesterday. At the junction we decided to try it, knowing that we could camp just about anywhere. the plan was to get back to the jeep trail at least. We had about 2 miles to the Lost creek trail, then a bit more than two more along Big Otter lake. After the previous day's slog we took more breaks and had snacks to keep us fueled up. The trail was certainly much more clear than the past spring. Following the cut blowdown and new trail markers made navigation easy. The cold temperatures and the previous rains compacted the snow some making the hiking a bit easier.

The sky was a bit clearer than the previous days, the sun did peak out a few times. I did remember to put on sunscreen all three days. We had lunch at the junction. 2.7 miles back to Middle Branch. Somehow we made really good time all the way back to the next junction, even with the slowdown at the flooded section. We now had our own tracks to follow for just over a mile. We figured to just get back to the lean-to, gather wood before it got dark again. Dropping our packs in the lean-to, we headed across the small inlet to where Dan found most of the wood last time. We would toss large pieces across the stream and then carry them to camp. We started the fire and built a tripod for the cook pot. I took out the candles I had brought and fashioned a menorah in the snow. We acknowledged the 5th night of the festival of lights.

With a big fire going, and the sun set we were sitting in the lean-to talking. Then a strange noise silenced us. We both stood up and looked around the lean-to to see a headlamp in the distance. My first thoughts were it was Chuck B, with a pulk. I had given him our itinerary before we left. It turned out to be a couple of college kids from Cornell. They were at one of their parents cottages nearby and often came to this lean-to. In their sled they dragged was a bag with cut cord wood.

We all shared the lean-to and the big fire. Cooked up some chili, while the two others had leftover prime rib and soup. As it got dark, I noticed a glow across the lake. It appears we were able to see the light from a distant city. It was towards the west, so perhaps Lowville, or Carthage. Could it have been Watertown?

Another cold night. While we were quite warm, our two new camp mates didn't fare as well. They were woefully unprepared for the temperature. I don't think they slept much. The fire restarted easy again. The two guys from Cornell left a little earlier than us. It had snowed more overnight and large flakes were continuing to fall. We hoped the trail would now be compacted enough to bareboot so we lashed our snowshoes to our packs and headed out. We passed by our companions at the cedar pond junction, the hills were long and tiring but at least we didn't have to snowshoe it. My microspikes weregetting clumped, so I took them off. The snow was still coming down providing significant powder on the trail. Easy enough to swish our boots through. We paused for a snack just after the Okara trailhead junction. I think my pack had gained a few pounds of snow. Only a short ways to go. Just as we got to our final turn, we spotted a dog up ahead. He ran back to the ladies that were hiking with them. We said hi, they asked how long we had been out here. "This is day 4", I replied. I was also still calculating in my head our total mileage which would be about 21 miles total. We asked if our car was still in the lot, and if the windows were intact. The last little bit if trail would be the steep drop on which we climbed to start this adventure. Surprisingly, we both made it down without a single spill, a haderondah hanukah miracle.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Annual Geminid Trip to ONeil Flow

The annual trip to ONeil flow lean-to on the NPT for the Geminid Meteor Shower was to occur close to the full moon. So even if we were fortunate to have clear skies, the likelihood of seeing meteors was slim. But we went anyway, as the celestial events are just an excuse to go hang out in the woods. Any meteors or stars, etc... are just a bonus.

As the trip approached, the forecast showed diminishing temperatures and possible hazardous driving. Many people dropped out for a variety of reasons, most not due to weather. The night before, a weather advisory was issued. I sent a message to the other two who planned on joining me that the trip was still on, but could be canceled if the driving conditions warranted it. None of us were worried about being in the woods during a snow or the cold, it was the roads that worried us.

Saturday, early morning showed a little snow, but all warnings would be over by 7am. I let the others know I was heading out. I met Kody at 7am, and we both drove together to Blue Mountain Lake where we met Bill at 10:45. Donning our snowshoes and packs we set out along the NPT northbound towards Tirrel Pond. The sun was shining although the temperature was in the teens still. There was only about 6-8inches of snow. Some blowdown along the way. And the creek crossing were beginning to freeze up solid. Even with the low temperatures I was warming up quickly hiking through the snow as we were generally going uphill. At one of our many breaks (we were in no hurry) I reprimanded myself for not wearing my sunglasses. The sun reflecting off the snow was not fun. I did at least remember sunblock.

As I walked around one of the trees crossing our path, Kody opted to duck under it. From there on he would lead. We crossed the frozen streams and soon were at the turn off to the lean-to. But first we would need to cross on a narrow two-log bridge spanning the outlet. Side-stepping in snowshoes is slow, and I took each step deliberately. We paused at the pond to catch the view. Just then it started to snow ever so lightly. The haze this created over the lake in conjunction with the whites, grays, and dark greens of the lake, mountains, trees and cliffs was breathtaking. We would often walk back to this spot over the next 24 hours just to take in the view.

We dropped our packs in the lean-to and went to col

lect firewood. With three of us it went quickly and we soon had plenty. Although we joked we would run out. After the wood was all broken down, or cut with a saw. I placed a small pile beside the lean-to to be for tomorrow morning. We got the fire going and set up our sleeping gear. The sun was at the edge of the hillside, so we knew it would be getting dark soon , and the temp would also begin to drop considerably. We ate, we drank, we laughed and added more layers. When dinner was over, we loaded the larger logs onto the fire. The moon began to rise behind the lean-to and the first stars became visible. Venus and Mars also made their appearance known. We headed down to the beach area to look up at the sky. I was significantly colder here by the lake than by the fire. The sky was beautiful and provided a grand accent to the view during the day which was now illuminated by moonlight. We stared upwards for a short time but soon opted for the warmth of the fire. No meteor sightings, but we joked about telling Diana we saw a bunch. Diana was planning on joining us, but came down with the flu. She was bummed about having to miss it. A couple more times during the evening we would come to the beach to look skyward.

Not sure how late we actually stayed up, but it couldn't have been that late. The fire crackled for quite some time during the night. Each time I awoke for brief moments, I could see the dancing glow of the fire within the lean-to. It certainly got cold, my sleeping bag was zipped up almost all the way. It was till dark and Kody's alarm went off. I suppose he forgot to turn it off from yesterday. I posited 6am out loud. Kody replied 5, time to go back to sleep. So we all did. The first to eventual emerge was Bill. He restarted the fire which had a good amount of coals. I went to get water from the hole I cut in the ice previously. I had to cut through almost an inch of new ice. We had listened to the lake make ice all night. With water in the pot and fire it the pit, coffee and cocoa would soon be had. I also cooked up a leftover bratwurst.

All cleaned up and packed we set back down the trail to the cars. The sun was beginning to shine again. There was a dusting of fresh powder in our tracks. No idea of the time, but it was early still. Made it back quickly and at the trail register was the forest ranger. He had seen our cars as was just checking the register to see if the people who had signed in were overdue. Since it was just us, he asked about the snow conditions, and blowdown. With a quick report we all walked back down the trail to the vehicles. Car was slow to start. It was only the high teens and 10:30am. We waved goodbye to Bill, and headed to the diner as both Kody and I had burgers on our mind.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thanksgiving Weekend at Janacks Landing

After cleaning up from my family Thanksgiving on Wednesday, I finished up my last minute packing for the in the woods Thanksgiving weekend. Over the years this has become a tradition for me, and a good friend Eric has since been a regular on these trips. We often have one or two others join us as well. Past participants were unable to come with, so we had a new addition, Diana from the NPT Chapter of the ADK. She would be meeting us at the trailhead. I messaged Eric as to our food plans, etc.. His reply was “standard template”. I guess when we do the trip so often, it becomes a routine. So my last minute packing was to put the leftover green bean casserole into a container for transport. We were also expecting two others to join us on Friday.

I picked up Eric at 6am and we headed to Wanakena. For many years I had been exploring this area, but the last few have seen me in other areas. I vowed to myself I would spend more time in the 5 ponds. This would be my fourth trip in this year, although we would not venture to far from camp as is typical on these thanksgiving weekend trips. The forecast for the weekend was mixed and we weren’t positive about the snow depth in Wanakena, but we brought our snowshoes and pulk just in case. The Ranger School web cam showed significant snow.

As we pulled into the main road leading to the trailhead, we spotted Diana. She followed us into the parking area which we would need to dig out in order to park. With the cars parked, and the pulk loaded we ventured down the trail. It begins on an old road (or rail) bed so it is quite wide and flat. There was plenty of snow for the pulk, but not enough to need snowshoes. It was still slow going. Beaver activity had made a mess of some areas. After reaching the campsite at the flow, we still had about a mile to the junction and then another quarter to the lean-to. From here the trail would be a bit more rocky and undulating with multiple stream crossings and log bridges. Some would require care ensuring the pulk stayed straight. Multiple trips with lean2rescue have given me some experience in this area.

We arrived at the empty lean-to and were surprised that previous campers had left some large logs in the fire pit. We figured we would have to spend most of our time gathering wood from afar. Which we did anyway. We quickly set up, and then went wood collecting. A decent load was gathered and knowing I would need coals to cook the turkey, we started the fire. The wood was icy, so it took a bit of time to prep the kindling to ensure the fire would start. Once it was going we decided to have an appetizer of hot dogs, and a beer. The sun would set early as usual and eating dinner in the dark is not the most appealing so once enough coals were made, I got the turkey on. I prepped a boneless breast of turkey with sliced shallots and apple, wrapped in foil. For sides, we had stuffing, gravy, green bean casserole. Diana brought some rolls and Eric had a cheesecake for dessert.

We ate like champs as usual. The temp was dropping a bit and the strawberries on the cheesecake were starting to get icy. We stoked up the fire and put some candles in the lean-to for added light. Also like usual, we didn’t stay up too late. The next morning I was up first, as it often the case. I restarted the fire, made myself some coffee. I tried to stay quiet as Eric likes to sleep in. For breakfast I had some homemade sausage and cheese on an English muffin (had an extra for Justin as he always brings extra for me, but Diana ate it). The day’s activities would be hanging out in the lean-to and collecting firewood. Eric did more of the former, and I the latter. We were not sure what time the others would be arriving. The day was off and on rainy. Not particularly bad rain, more misty like. It was also warming up. The hike out on Saturday would be messy we figured. We also though it might be raining by then.

I made up a pot of chili for lunch, and we tossed in some of the hotdogs. The dogs on the rolls with a scoop of chili were fantastic. Such a basic combination, it surprises me I don’t do it more often. We had so much food, that we never ended up cooking the ribeye steaks I brought for dinner. Instead we ate chili and hot dogs, with beer. The others never arrived which probably added to the extra food issue. We stoked up the fire, I put a space blanket in the back of the lean-to to reflect light. It helped a bit. The night was much warmer than the previous. At one point the smoke from the fire really bothered Eric. He was in bad shape. I recommended a Benadryl. We still aren’t sure exactly what happened. He is allergic to mushrooms, and we wondered if one of the logs had some fungus that when it smoldered caused the reaction.

In the morning, I again restarted the fire made coffee and another breakfast sandwich. I also cooked up one of the steaks, because who doesn’t like steak for breakfast. Eric slept more, as his night wasn’t very restful. His throat was still uncomfortable and he felt sick, but was getting better. As Eric slowly regained strength and we got packed up, we headed back down the trail which was more mud/slush now than snow. We would be following hoof tracks from a pack animal. Back at the car, the hunters who use the camp I found earlier in the spring were there with their donkey. They had just returned from delivering supplies to the older gentleman who uses the camp. We made small talk, loaded up the cars and went to the PineCone for lunch.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Off trail in the West Canadas

Veterans Day Weekend 2016

It had been a while since Justin and I hiked and camped together. We contemplated a few different locations and ideas. As the trip got closer we settled in on an area we were both familiar with but have never been to together. This would be in the middle of the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. We met at the Pillsbury Mtn trailhead and used the French Louie Trail to access the interior. While crossing on an old piece of lumber, Justin whacked the side of his head on a protruding branch. It left a small gash on his face. Lucky he didn't lose an eye. After a brief stop at one of the lean-tos we turned off the trail and headed towards Whitney Lake. We were glad the rain had held off, as the forecast called for it. While hiking however, it began to sleet.

We looked for an abandoned canoe or boat, but didn't find one. We bushwhacked around for a while and crossed a beaver dam. We pushed through some deep spruce thickets and headed towards our destination campsite. There were a lot of downed trees in the area, which made travel a bit slow. It was pretty though, with the sleet beginning to cover the ground. We eventually made it to our campsite. Nice rock outcroppings would make standing out by the lake very easy for water, and stargazing etc... We set up camp and began to collect firewood. There was plenty around. This site obviously doesn't get much use. It didn't take long before we had a decent pile of wood. The sun would set earlier now, so I started the fire and we cooked up some grub. By the time we were done eating it was past sunset and it was getting dark. A meteor flashed across the sky at 7:07 pm. Soon the moon would take over providing light. With the changing clouds, it was eerie.

The temperature was dropping quickly. We knew it was to be a cold night. I retired to my hammock and fell asleep rather quickly. Just as was forecasted, it got cold over night. My boots were frozen when I got up in the pre-dawn light. I restarted the fire with the remaining embers buried in the ash. I could tell we would be having a great sunrise view. I made myself some coffee and oatmeal. Justin was now up, and we both took pictures of the sunrise show over the lake.

We now had a whole day set aside for exploring. We consulted the map and made our plans. We would be off trail all day, except for some unmarked old trails. We headed to Little Whitney and then circumnavigated Whitney, almost. Took the old trail to Pillsbury Bay and then to Pillsbury Lake and back to Whitney.

 We found some canoes and boats along the shorelines. We borrowed one later in the day and paddled it to our campsite which would save us a few miles today and tomorrow. The canoe had a double bladed paddle which could be separated into two pieces. I used a small piece of a branch stuck into the handle to make a grip. When we first started paddling, we went over a shallow flat rock which took a bit of time to get off of. We took this as a sign to not dawdle on the water. The wind was brisk, so we headed straight to our campsite. Back at camp, I cooked my dinner early. Justin gathered some more wood. It was nice to eat dinner while it was still light out. I wondered how late I would be able to stay up. As night set in, it was obviously much warmer than the previous evening. Sitting by the nice fire, I could barely keep my eyes open. We had hiked quite a bit today, found some old camps and campsites. I was tired. I do not recall going to bed, but I know it wasn't too late. We had joked earlier about trying to stay up past 9. Not sure if I made it. I slept soundly. I was definitely warmer this night. After I restarted the fire and had some coffee, I packed up most of my stuff. We didn't rush out of camp, but also didn't just sit around. We returned the canoe to where we found it and then headed back to the our access trail. It was only a few miles away and most of the woods were open. It was easy to follow the old path. We stopped at the Pillsbury lean-to to see if some of our friends were there. We had heard they might be camping there Saturday night. We found it empty. We had some extra time so we checked out another old trail. We found some old junk along this old roadway. A few areas the blowdown was significant and we had to walk parallel to the old tread on higher ground. Eventually we hit a wet area and figured we would save the rest of this exploration for a later time, so we headed back to the main trail. We were back to our cars around noon. We had covered just under 20 miles, most of which was off-trail. Great time as always.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Winter arrives in the Adks

Originally the plan was to go to the Adks last weekend, but the weather report was forecasting terrible rains and snow. We opted to switch to this weekend instead. As it turned out, the weather called for more rain, however not as bad. We scheduled our plan B trip where a lean-to would be available. Unfortunately Rob and Justin could not make it  (in Justin's words, he wimped out), so it would be just Andrew and I.

As we left Rochester the weather was nice, but this was not to last. On the drive it began to rain, sometimes quite hard. we hoped it would settle down a bit as we hit the trail. We donned our rain gear and headed down to the trail register. The air was heavy with the humidity and sprinkles would come and go. As we signed in, we noted a group of three were on their way out. We exchanged pleasantries and closed up the register box. The rain was on and off, but light. As it bounced off our rain gear it was all we could hear, not that there were many other sounds in this crisp fall morning. To call it fall seems strange as there was still remnant snow on the ground from the first snows of the season. The combination of wet snow and the downed leaves made for some slick walking. It was tiring. We paused for lunch at Catlin Bay and contniued North on the NPT. I was here last winter but it seemed like yesterday. We passed by the turn off to Hidden Cove and noted some boot tracks heading in the opposite direction. We figured it was a hunter. We stopped at Kelly's Point to rest and read the shelter logs. Both were new, so my entries from this past winter would be in the archives assuming the log books survived being burned by irresponsible campers.

While we rested, it was decided that we should stay here instead of continuing on. It would take extra time to gather wood in the area due to the extra distance and prepping the wet wood to start the fire. Plus our legs were tired from walking in the slippery wet leaves. We put our gear in lean-to #1 and set out to gather firewood before it started to rain again. As we were returning from our second trip we noticed two kayakers unloading gear into the other lean-to. Kayaks don't hold much gear compared to a canoe but they had hauled in quite a bit of dry seasoned firewood and beer. Quite the contrast from us. We set to work on getting our kindling split up to expose the dry interior. It was a good thing we stopped at this set of lean-to because by the time we started the fire it was already getting close to the time when we would be eating at dusk. An extra few miles would have made us starting the fire as it was getting dark. I seasoned up and grilled some venison and Andrew took out the marinated goose breast. As the meat was taken off the heat and sliced up we invited our neighbors over to have a bite. They had carried in a load of beer and firewood, but went minimalist on food.

At some point while we were sitting around eating and talking a front must have come through as the air dried out quickly and felt warmer. We finished up our dinner and went over to our neighbors larger campfire. we hung out for a bit, and they shared some beer. Soon I was getting tired and we headed back to our lean-to and climbed into our sleeping bags. I was asleep fast. It was a warm night, much warmer than anticipated. I slept very well, only got up once to heed the call of nature. As the night turned to morning, I restarted our fire to get water on for coffee and tea. Andrew was also awake by then.

The fire was warming, as was the coffee. Soon some breakfast sausage was served. The guys next door were awake and packing up their gear. We had all morning so we didn't rush. The other guys set off in their kayaks and I wrote in the shelter journal. We finished packing up and were walking around 10am. It was much nicer walking without our raingear. A brief stop at the Hidden Cove lean-to, and noting the missing shelter log. I hadn't noticed the last few times that the hidden cove lean-to was significantly less wide than the typical lean-to. Curious. Someone had left a portable propane grill on the ground nearby. The walking was much easier than yesterday even though we were generally gaining elevation. The leaves were not sliding around under our feet as much. the creeks had much more water flowing through them but we were still able to rock hop without getting wet. Past Catlin Bay the trail was much more uphill and it really got our blood pumping and warming us up. A quick snack and we were back at the car a little after noon.

Monday, October 10, 2016

No Vacancy at Cedar Lakes

A few months ago, Kyle on the NPT page posted about wanting to hike from Piseco to Wakely and was looking for people to join him. I sent him a message about being open Columbus Day weekend. So we made plans to hike the 30 miles. As the trip approached we settled on the itinerary and meeting time to spot cars, etc... The weather forecast was looking good and the fall colors were just beginning to peak. I left Rochester at 3am to meet Kyle at Wakely Dam. I arrived a few minutes early and was pulled over at the side of the Cedar River Rd entrance to send one last message before cell signal would disappear for the next 72 hours. Kyle recognized my car and pulled up beside me. I finished my message and he followed me to the parking area. We left his car and transferred gear into mine and drove to Piseco.
As we signed in to the register we noted there were two others also hiking our route. kyle led the way, and we were making good time. We soon came upon the two other hikers (Jim and Glen) and the Siberian Husky (Kai). We exchanged pleasantries and pressed on. We stopped for lunch at the fall stream campsite. The miles were going quickly. Crossing Fall Stream and the Jessup River were easy with the low water levels everywhere. The sky began to drizzle a light rain on and off. Not so much that it required rain gear. More like a light mist. At Spruce Lake #1 a couple was at the lean-to. They mentioned that #3 had people as well. We continued on to #2. A guy and his dog were there. He said if #3 was full, to come on back and share the lean-to with him. At #3, two guys were there and after some conversation, they invited us to stay. They had carried in 2 canoes to do some fishing. We set up nearby and I collected some firewood to add to their pile. A short while later Jim and Glen (and Kai) would show up. We cooked up dinner and shared stories as the rain came and went.The two fisherman (John and Bill) had some great stories, including one where Bill recalled the tale of him and the group he was with getting hit by lightening. As darkness came, I retired first having been up since 3. It rained on and off through the night. By morning though it was done. There was a chill in the morning. One of my favorite parts of fall camping.
After everyone had coffee/tea John and Bill set out in their canoes, Jim and Glen heading down the trail and Kyle finished packing up. We soon caught up to Jim and Glen at their snack break. While we were chatting, a woman came walking down the trail behind us. I grabbed Kai's collar as the woman seemed a bit nervous. As she got closer we noticed she had no gear except a small shoulder bag and a jacket. She quickly passed on between us without saying a word. It was rather creepy. Her appearance and demeanor was unsettling. Later on Kyle mentioned her again and jokingly referred to her an apparition. We took a break at the sampson outlet just after the bridge. A family of mergansers had fluttered away as we got there. The day was beginning to warm up. We stopped at the bridge over West Canada Creek and at the lean-to to read the log book.
We stopped for lunch at South Lake. While eating I read and signed in to the log book. I noted that a group of women had signed in today as well. Two sisters with their mother. Kyle and I stopped at West Lake as he had stayed there 15 years ago. There was no shelter log, but someone had left a 1988 Playboy on the shelf. Cindy Crawford was on the cover. It wasn't strange finding a Playboy in a lean-to, but one from 28 years ago, and in near newsstand condition was odd. Kyle flipped through looking for a Saab advertisement as he was in the process of restoring a Saab from the late 80's. We noted there was an advertisement for cassette tapes. Kyle put the magazine in his pack and we headed out. While we were at West Lake, Jim and Glen had passed us by. We caught up to them again. The next miles seemed to take a while. Enjoyable hiking although my knee was beginning to ache a little. The sky was slightly overcast. It had been 2 years since I hiked through this section of trail going the other way. As we neared the turn off to the Fishermans lean-to 3 college students approached. they were part of a group from Colgate. They asked if there were any empty campsites up ahead. We mentioned West Lake was empty, but it was quite a few miles away so they chose to rejoin their group at the fishermans lean-to. We inquired whether they saw the strange woman who passed by us earlier; they hadn't. We asked about the campsites towards the dam, and were told wagon wheel , and #2 had people. I filled up water at the spring and we found the Beaver Pond campsite also taken by the woman who had signed in at South Lake. Kyle talked to them while I filled up the water bottles. They hadn't seen the strange woman either. Turns out they left the lean-to about an hour before we arrived. The joke this woman was an apparition continued. Onto lean-to #1 or the nearby designated spot. At lean-to #1 a group of three were having a good time. They said if the other site was taken we were welcome to camp nearby and join them by their fire. The site was taken so we set up nearby and soon Jim and Glen joined us. I went up to the lean-to to cook my dinner on the fire. Talked with the guys there while my com-padres ate down by the beach. Afterwards they came up to join us by the fire. We handed the playboy to Nick, the 22 year old of the group. He was rather inebriated, and flipped through the magazine. Having grown up in the age of the internet, seeing a Playboy was a first for him. Hey turned the pages saying "there's a dude, there's another dude". Followed by "oh look, a turn-page". We all laughed at his description of the centerfold. It was funny, and fascinating how the concept of a centerfold which was iconic in the latter half of the 20th century was virtually unknown in the 21st. It was a good laugh though. Compounded by the fact Nick was rather drunk. We read a few of the Playboy Party jokes around the fire before we went to bed.
It got cold over night. As we had our morning coffee/tea it was only 35F, the sun was shining so it was warming up. The guys at the lean-to were awake by the time we packed up. Nick was not as chipper as he was last night. Kyle left the Playboy with Nick's dad to give to him later. The sun was warm, but it was still quite cold in the shade. We signed in at the register by the dam and noticed a single woman had day hiked from the Jessup River trailhead on her way to the Pillsbury TH. The mystery of the strange lady was solved. Still, she seemed off. The next few miles were the section of trail I maintain. Since I didn't bring any tools, this would be recon and I would come back later in the month to cut blowdown if needed. I love how this section of trail changes from open hardwoods, to spruce thickets, to hemlock stands. It also winds around quite a bit being relatively newer after rerouted from the other side of the river along the old roadway. There were a few blowdowns I would need to take care of this season. I good excuse to go hiking again before winter makes this area all but inaccessible.
The bridge over the brook halfway between the Sucker Brook Junction and the Carry lean-to has fallen into the brook. It was still able to be used, but if it was wet, the angle would make it impossible. At the Carry lean-to 3 guys who had been there since Thursday told us of some obnoxious visitors who tried to muscle them out of the lean-to. They were now on their 4th day and staying another. They had taken over the lean-to for longer than the regulations allow without a permit. And since the regs also state that one needs to share the lean-to up to capacity, I wondered to myself which party was really at fault in the encounter. Probably both.
The last few miles back to the car went quickly. It was starting to warm up. By the time we got back to the car it was close to 50F. We shuttled Glen and Jim back to their car which was another 3 miles down the road and then went to retrieve my car at the Piseco trailhead. I will need to get back one more time this year to check on the Colvin Brook Lean-to. Not that I really need an excuse to go to the woods, but it helps.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Junctions and paths taken. -Sand Lake Falls

I have had this trip on my to do list for many years. Other options always seemed to be higher on the list. I was up in the air on exactly where to go this weekend, so I figured I might as well do one of the less used trails. This would be a solo trip, so lots of quiet time and sleep. Woods and a waterfall are perfect for this.

The new parking area would put me a few miles closer than it would have been just a few years ago. So it makes for another choice for a quick trip. I arrived to an empty parking lot; quite different from last spring when I drove down the road to see the upgraded road. I wondered if it was because I was early or some other reason. From the new lot it was just over a mile to the junction. Since this portion of the jeep road had not been upgraded, it provided a sharp contrast between the old and new. My map had my destination labeled as 3.8 miles from here. The new sign had it as 4.8 miles. I know that often the signage and maps will have discrepancies and sometimes neither are correct. This trail is used in winter by snowmobiles so will be rather easy to follow, and it was. Evidence of illegal ATV use was prevalent along the way. If the summer had not been so dry, this would be a sloggy mess for most of the trip. I knew it was a wet trail in general, so perhaps this played into why I waited so long to hike it. In general I had been gaining elevation, ever so slightly. The last bit would be a steeper drop. I was surprised when I started to lose elevation so soon. I filled up my water bottle at a small stream, assuming this was just a minor drop and I would begin gaining again. It was beginning to warm up. There was a chance of rain midday and it was overcast. Except for the humidity, it was rather decent hiking weather. There was a quick rise after the stream, but then I started a sharp descent which curved around a hill. The sound of rushing water was heard signifying I was getting close to the campsite. The volume increased and the lean-to came into view. I unshouldered my pack and checked the time. It was an hour and a half since I left the car. The signage distance was definitely wrong, and since I was not walking particularly fast, I believe the map was too.

I visited the falls, and refilled my water bottle. I quickly gathered a bit of wood in case the rains did come. As I was solo, the remainder of the trip would be gathering wood, sleeping, thinking, eating, etc... I stashed a small amount of wood under the lean-to overhang to stay dry if the sky opened up. It wasn't long after a few sprinkles started raining down. This was expected but I did not know how long it would last. I began to read the shelter log book and the rain stopped soon after I opened it. A few pages had fallen out, but the first caught my eye. The entry was from Paul, of Lean2Rescue listing all our names and what we accomplished that trip.

I had been to this lean-to before, but I had come in from the trail to the south. The purpose of that trip was to help fix the lean-to with the group Lean2Rescue. On one of the online forums I frequent, I had read about some of the work, and seen photos of this crew. I sent a msg to the guy who had posted them to inquire as to how I could help out. Chuck replied quickly and got me on the list. Over time, he and I would talk while on L2R trips, we camped together and communicated via email as well. He told me that I was the only one who had ever sent a msg asking how I could help out. My first trip with the group was to help fix Sand Lake Falls. The entry from Paul (our "leader") was from 8 years ago this very weekend. I pondered the significance of me joining lean2 rescue and the choice to send Chuck that msg all those years ago. Had I not, I likely would never had joined up, never would have met some good backpacking folks, and gone on some of the crazy adventures I chronicled the last few years. I am certain I would have had different adventures, but probably not with the same people or to the same places. Chuck, George, Paul, Judy, Dan, etc... All of them I met because of Lean2Rescue. The trajectory of my adventures took a very different path thanks to Chuck posting online, and my choice to send him that message.

The calendar held other significance as well, of a more global perspective. This was also the anniversary weekend of 9/11. The world took a sharp turn on its path due the events on that day and thereafter. While my adventuring life is certainly different than what it would have been due to the paths taken in my life, the entire world is very different after that junction in time and the choices made throughout the world in its aftermath. Of course history, whether an individual's or that of the world was going to exist in some form, and the present would be a manifestation of the sums over history (just a little shout out to Feynman), the paths taken are what we are. I suppose many of us are being reflective this weekend and it just so happens I had a small (relatively insignificant) connection to the date unbeknownst to me before.

The sun came out, and the combination of its warmth and the sound of the waterfall lulled me to sleep. After a quick nap, a few more camp chores, I read more of the shelter log. A smoky fire to keep away the mosquitoes which have found me, then dinner, then a long slumber. More rains came in the middle of the night, and continued into the morning. The walk out was wet, the sky was dreary consistent with how many people were feeling today. And as it always does, the sun eventually parted the clouds.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Guided Backpacking Trip on the NPT

Every year I guide a section of the NPT for the ADK-NPT Chapter. This year I would lead a member along the first 37 miles which would include the newest section. Michelle did not care to hike the 3 mile road walk into town so we only did the trail section. Since it was only her, I was able to adjust the itinerary to meet her needs and go at her own pace.
I had sent Michelle the planned itinerary(subject to change), maps and the meeting plans. We met at the parking area on Collins Gifford Rd and then drove together in my car to Piseco. The original plan was a short day due to having to spot cars, and figuring those on the trek might need some acclimation to the trail. We made excellent time, Michelle did not care to walk in front so I set the pace, making sure I was not going to fast or slow. We stopped for our first big break at Hamilton Lake Stream lean-to. While having lunch, a group of day hikers came by heading in the other direction. We chatted a bit and they were on their way. As we approached the scheduled first nights campsite, it was so early and Michelle wasn't even remotely tired, so we kept going. After crossing the bridge at Whitehouse, we began the long slow climb to Mud Lake. I recalled the time we dragged roofing materials up this hill to fix the lean-to after it had a tree land on it. Michelle moved slowly on the uphills, I made a mental note of this. We filled up water at one of the small streams before Mud Lake knowing the shoreline was consistent with the name. We stopped at Mud Lake for a bit. To my surprise a few minutes later, Michelle said "Are we ready to get going"? At her request we continued on to Canary pond. We soon passed by a few hikers with bells on, I assume an attempt to dissuade bear encounters. They mentioned there were a couple of people at Canary already. The last few miles took a while. As is typical, it isn't the first 3 miles which are tiring, it is the last three.
We eventually got to Canary. There were two groups already camped. We found room a little ways away and set up. I helped on of the groups with their bear bag, as it was apparent they had never hung one before. He recognized me from one of Rob's videos. In fact him and his sister hiked into Canary after seeing it in that video. we chatted a bit, and with the other group. Made a quick fire and dinner, took a swim and watched the stars come out. While looking at the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter a fireball meteor streaked across the sky, at the tail end it fragmented. wow! I logged the sighting with the American Meteor Society:
The next day we continued on to a bush camp we made off trail. This was a long day for both of us. Same amount of miles as the previous day, but we poked around slowly for the first half of the day. We did meet up with the fellow I chatted with online who was going in the opposite direction as us. The second half of the day would be on the newer section. The modern method of trail cutting is to switchback on the hills. This makes for less of an incline, but the trail takes forever. I could tell Michelle was getting tired, I was as well. So I thought to myself at the next water source, we would go off trail to find a place to camp. We both were in bed early. Rains came at some point in the middle of the night.
A slight rain and the drips from the trees were all that remained by morning. I packed up quietly and waited for Michelle to exit her tent. We had done a third of the miles already and we still had two days left. The new section continued its back and forth on the hills on the way to Woods Lake. We paused at the lake for a while, taking in the view. I pointed out to Michelle where we had come from off in the distance. At the road crossing, a couple from California were taking photos of the trailhead signage. As we crossed, they asked us some questions about the trail as they were considering hiking it sometime in the future. Back into the woods we went. We crossed Stony Creek by rock hopping. Were able to keep our feet dry. Any other time of year, or a summer with a normal rainfall, this would not be possible. Our goal for the night was Mud Lake, which would leave us just a few miles to go the next morning. As we approached, a kid was there at the campsite, just looking out over the lake. He had hiked in the short way just to check it out. It was quite windy as we set up camp, but it would subside by the later evening. I made a nice curry dish for dinner. Michelle noted there was a weak cellular signal, enough to get a text out. A couple of hikers came by. They were doing an end to end hike of the trail. Again, I was recognized from Rob's videos. I guess I will have to get used to it. We welcomed them to join us at the campsite, but they opted to press on a little ways. I would later find out they completed the full length of the NPT. Congratulations. I snapped a few pictures of the sun setting over the lake, and retired to my hammock.
In the morning we got up early and finished the last few miles out to the awaiting car. Michelle would lead the way. At some point I am going to have to re-hike the entire trail as it now exists since the new reroutes, and new sections. I suppose that is my way of justifying going backpacking some more.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Quetico Provincial Park

According to Ojibwa legend, the name Quetico is derived from a Cree word describing a good spirit which inhabits beautiful places. Two weeks in this gorgeous wilderness. Fantastic weather and great camaraderie. In short the entire trip can be summarized as fishing, paddling, eating, sleeping, rinse, repeat. Of course it was much more than that.

Drove 1100 miles to Quetico Provincial Park. Spent night zero along a dirt road near the Michipicoten River a few miles before Wawa, Ontario just off the Trans-Canada Highway.

Quetico Day 1 “No Parking”

We arrived at the French Lake Ranger Station to get our permits. A nice young lady at the desk was helping us out. It was her first day doing permits and registration. As she inputted our itinerary into the computer, some of the lakes she had never heard of. Dan had mapped out a plan which would take us deep into the wilderness along a slash of lakes, off the beaten path. All settled up with the paperwork and fees, the young lady had the final shpiel to give about the regulations and guidelines. After a day and a half of driving we were anxious to get into the water, but we politely listened as she flipped her cue cards over to each talking point.

a few miles down the main road began the dirt road of miles which would take at least 30 minutes to drive. Along the road we saw signs which said no parking except for Ontario residents. This was curious and concern began to grow. At the parking area was a final sign repeating the same. A guide group from Minnesota was in the process of loading up. We inquired with them and they confirmed our worst suspicions. Since this put in was on Crown land and not part of the Quetico, we would not be able to park there. Our only options were to get a shuttle or use a different access point. The forst would be expensive and take time, not to mention ensuring someone would be there to get us out in 2 weeks. The latter would add significant distance to our first and last day. Another 45 minutes and we were back at the ranger station. The ranger (or supervisor) was there and when heard of our ordeal, she turned to the young lady and acknowledged she should have known. So now we are an hour past our expected put-in and about 4 hours of extra paddling, into a headwind. But we were finally on the water. From French Lake along the winding Pickerel River to the very large Pickerel Lake. We stopped at a beach site to take a swim and then continued on to our campsite for the night.

Quetico Day 2 “The Sauvage Portage”

Good fishing all day. Dan landed a monster pike, at least 20 lbs, and a 4 lb walleye (dinner). We had a couple of short carries and one monster labeled the “Sauvage Portage” on the map. It was just under 1.6km, of rugged terrain, some steep ups and downs. This carry kicked my butt. With two weeks worth of food and gear we had to double-carry everytime (until the final days). The food pack itself must have weighed 60 lbs by itself. The weight was bad enough, but it had no hipbelt and was just a sack of weight slung low on my back. I could barely step up some of the larger rocks with it. And I had a fish to carry as well. We were supposed to make it to Alice Lake which would include another long portage 1.2 km, but we opted to stop in the unnamed lake just before. There were no campsites here according to the map, so we looked for a suitable spot. Found one that was serviceable, but decided to check on the nearby island first. At the island was a fire ring, and someone had forgotten their pfd. We found home for the night. While Dan was cleaning the fish, some bass came to shore to investigate. So after we ate, he grabbed his rod and had some good action right from shore. Earlier in the day he had commented how good fishing is “never found at camp”. With camp set up and dinner cooked and eaten we went for a swim off the point. By the time we finished it was twilight and the mosquitos started feeding... on us. We clamored into our hammocks to escape the hordes. I was muggy and itchy, but eventually made it to sleep.

Quetico Day 3 “The girls”

Since last nights fish feast was so filling and we ate so late, not to mention I miscalculated the number of granola breakfasts, we snacked instead of a real breakfast. Just some coffee and munched on nuts and other leftovers. The bass were still hanging around for us to have some fun on the way to the 1.2 km portage. Again we double carried, but this time we had moved some of the food into my other pack to even out the load. The food pack was still heavy though. The last 50 meters of this carry was slogging through mud. As we got to this portion on our first carry, we crossed a group of girls from a summer camp. They were on day 9 of a 30-day trek. They asked us about the 1.6 later on and if it was hilly or muddy. They were carrying aluminum canoes and fully loaded wooden wanigans with tump lines. We finally made it to Alice. This was supposed to be where we camped the previous night. There was no way we would have made it before dark. We fished quite a bit. There was a small pool at the base of a beaver dam up a small connector creek where we had some really good action. Bass and pike. A lot of fish is such a small area. Just after the dam I landed a nice sized bass. 4-5 lbs. At the time this was noteworthy, but as the trip progressed this would be the norm. We had a decent sized walleye in the boat for dinner, so when Dan got another we saved it for breakfast. We got to camp early after our learning experience the night before. We ate, swam, got into bed before the bugs.

Quetico Day 4 “Bush Camp”

More great fishing on our way to Cairn lake. Made yeast bread and fried fish for breakfast. After our no-cook lunch on a small rocky outcropping near the portage we took a swim. I slipped on the rocks and banged my back. Not too bad fortunately. After the carry we fished the landing area and the bass were plentiful. A group of guys in 3 canoes were soon after us on the portage and since we were fishing, they paddled on ahead the same direction we were heading. It was getting to the time of night when we knew we needed to get to camp to beat the bugs. Since this lake only had the one spot, and the 3-canoe group had claimed it, we were looking for any serviceable spot. As we were paddling, we saw a moose swimming the same direction as us on the other side of the lake. We finally located a suitable spot with just enough trees for the bear bags and our hammocks. Had dinner and a swim and were in our hammocks before the swarm descended.

Quetico Day 5 “Lost Time”

Was up early and got coffee water going. I think I was subconsciously hoping to see a moose again. As per our routine we started fishing and soon got some walleye. One each. This would be the first walleye I have caught. Both would be lunch, which meant I had to carry them over the next few portages. At the end of the lake, just before the portage we had a flurry of bass fishing. As we were unloading the canoe Dan realized his watch was missing. We searching packs, pockets, and hammocks to no avail. Dan took the canoe to check the campsite while I portaged the gear. By this time the 3 -canoes had passed us again. Dan soon returned with no watch. We had his flip phone with its clock and my camera. We didn't really care much about time, it was only to let us know when to head to camp to avoid the bug festival with the main course, us. The next few lakes were long and narrow with short carries between. While trolling, Dan hit a monster Lake trout. (dinner and breakfast) Saw a bald eagle perched upon a dead tree on a regenerating burnt out island. We found a nice spot to camp and had a swim. By now we realized that my camera's clock was an hour off. Daylight savings time issue I surmised.

Quetico Day 6 “Fish Portage”

Awoke before the sun for the first time. I waited for her to crest the trees across the lake. We had the tail section of the trout to use for breakfast. Combined with the leftover salsa, and avocado we had trout tacos. They were fantastic. After eating, we sat down and looked at the map to adjust our itinerary for the rest of the trip. We knew we had an extra 4 miles to the take out that was not part of the orginal plan. We started at the take out and backtracked to the present day based on our current rate of progress. Some minor adjustments were made which also included some contingency shortcuts if needed. Today would have quite a few portages starting with a 1.2km. It had a decent climb to it as well. The trail was actually quite nice, had a decent view at the top of the rise. And with 20lbs of food gone, the packs were significantly lighter. We did more fishing of course and increased our catch total considerably including another lake trout. While trolling the same lake, Dan was bringing in his lure as it was hitting bottom and just as it came to the surface another laker hit it. He got to watch the whole thing. We saw more fish breaking the surface not too far away, since I had a surface plug on I sent it in that direction. Got a hit, but was unable to set the hook. We surmised we had the exact spot and time when the lakers were top feeding. We did a few portages and stopped for lunch right after a big flurry of bass fishing under this very cool rock overhang. Both large and smallmouth bass. As we passed through one of the lakes we saw 2 more groups camped near each other. Another walleye (Dan initially thought it was a laker) was kept for lunch tomorrow, which meant I had about 7 lbs of fish to carry over the next couple portages. So much for the lighter food load. At least they would be short ones. Dan had started to set his phone alarm for 6pm, so we could beat the bugs. When it went off, it meant it was time to start looking for a place to camp. We started to shorten the distance we were paddling to do more fishing and not have to rush to make miles. It was much more relaxing. Dan and seem to have gotten into a groove. We get along well too. A lot of joking around, sarcasm, and some sophomoric humor. At dinner I mentioned that others would probably find the two of us annoying. Of course this was parried with a witty retort from Dan.

Quetico Day 7 “How many carries was that?”

Another trout taco breakfast with the tail section. Will have to remember this and plan for it as a regular addition. We did a bit of fishing with little luck this morning. Today was to have 7 portages, with the longest only 500 m. The short ones would be interrupted only by paddling across a narrow bay of the next lakes. We made our way to the first portage and saw a canoe coming from it. While the food bag is getting lighter, I still had the walleye from the day prior to carry for todays lunch. At one of the larger lakes, I needed a bath. I was hot and sweaty. Smelled like a yak, as Dan would say. Probably not far from the truth. We found a large rock island and we swam, followed by locating a weed bed and fishing it where Dan got the biggest walleye yet. That fish was lucky we already had plenty in the boat. The wind was picking up a bit, so we set a rock anchor and fished some more in the weeds. Some more canoes started to exit the portage so Dan figured he had better get his clothes back on. He was nude fishing due to having to dive in to rescue a snagged lure. Some stomach gurgling told us it was time for a snack and to start prepping lunch. We made a team effort of sweet and sour fish. It was most satisfying. A little bit of rain started while we were cooking, so we put on our rain gear. Then it subsided so we removed our gear, and it started again. We would play this game for a short while even as we were underway. At the top of the lake we turned to the left, the opposite direction as all other canoes. After this gorgeous bay with a huge rock face would start the many little portages to unnamed lakes and streams. On the approach to the first, an eagle flew over us to eventually perch himself on a nearby tree. We unloaded, carried, loaded, paddled, repeat, repeat, repeat... and then the longer to the end of the lake while fishing of course. We started getting some big bass and were focused on the action. Dan then asked me how many carries did we do, 3 or 4? I couldn't remember. I tried to count, but they were all blending in together. Looking at the map, the sun and the direction we were facing, it was realized we did an extra portage and were on the wrong lake!. Just up ahead was a campsite and we could adjust our route without having to go back. As we headed towards the campsite, dan's trolling lure hit some weeds and then began a flurry of bass fishing like no other. Monster sized smallmouths on a feeding frenzy. Our jigs were lighting them up, each fish seemed bigger than the last. This was contrasted with the lake early in the day when we were joking about who caught the smallest fish. This started after I had a tiny sunfish, not much bigger than the lure. When the bass flurry ended, we made camp. Wow! That was exciting. After dinner we adjusted our itinerary yet again and repacked the food bags for the next few days.

Quetico Day 8 “No fish (to eat).”

Cold cereal and coffee may not sound all that exciting but after the richness of the foods we had been enjoying it was a welcome change at least for me. We fished some more in the same spot as the frenzy the night before. It was ok, nothing like before. A few short carries (less than 200m), one ended in a weed choked tributary which we pushed through the muck and we were on Reid Lake. Stunning features on this lake. We fished a bit and and found a campsite for lunch. After Reid, the portage trails were obviously less used on the way to Woodside Creek and Lake. On Woodside, Dan hit a walleye on his trolling lure, so we grabbed a rock from shore and made an anchor since we had been paddling into a headwind. Must have found a school as the walleye were plentiful here with some bass mixed in. We kept 4 decent sized walleye for the next day as it was getting late and these fish would not have time for their flesh to rest in time for flaky goodness at dinner. So today would be the first day in a week where we did not eat fish for at least one meal. It was time to get to camp and instead of going backwards to the site on woodside, I suggested we do the next 2 carries to Hurlburt Lake one of which was 700m. Once on Hurlburt, we went quite far down the lake looking for a decent site. I was getting a bit anxious due to time. I did not want to experience the mosquito hordes again.We finally found a nice little site. I fixed dinner while Dan hung the bear lines. Made it into the hammock before the bugs.

Quetico Day 9 “Paddlers of the Past”

In the middle of the night some gusts of winds caused me to wake up. I have felt these types of winds before in my hammock. They usually signally an incoming rain. So far the weather has been gorgeous, only the rain game a few days ago. After a few minutes the winds slowed to allow the rains to begin. It rained for the rest of the night and into the morning. Dan had some pooling under his tarp which dampened his sleeping gear and likely didn't get as much sleep as a result. Still he was up before me. I sometimes dawdle when it is raining hoping it will end. We contemplated a simpler breakfast that baking bread and frying fish, but the rains dissipated and I was soon adding some yeast to warm water for our “english muffins”. We had made it farther up Hurlburt Lake than we had expected to do, so we only had a small piece and the channel to an unnamed lake left. On my first cast of the day I hooked a good bass. They are so plentiful, large and easy to catch here. A few times after Dan sharpened the hooks on my lure, he would drop it into the water and a bass would hit it! Dan got a Laker early on, but we still had some walleye to eat so he released it. Paddling through the channel there were some neat rock formations and a lot of bass. Small carries and then to Payne Lake. As we paddled around the lake a large cliff face was prominent in the second bay. According to the map, there should be some pictographs here. As we paddled along the rock face, we spotted them. Painted in red, likely ochre, a triangular shaped figure perhaps a man and an obvious representation of a deer or elk. They were painted right about where one would reach by canoe. Part of the shpiel when we received our permits was to not photographs the art, but drawing it was ok. This request came from the First Nations people, we respected their wishes and paddled on. On later lakes we would see similar paintings of man and elk, but also some new. One was obviously a moose. By this time it was already early afternoon and we hadn't gotten very far. We didn't start as early as we thought either. Had lunch and paddled on. We did fishg along the way but didn't dawdle. The longer carries for the day appeared to be net elevation losses so they seemed easier than others of comparable length. On one, Dan stepped into a muddy spot past his boot. He was not happy. We made camp at a large campsite, good enough for a decent sized group. There was poison ivy here.

Quetico Day 10 “The Big Easy”

Was up before Dan, I think. I try to stay as quiet as possible while getting the fire restarted and bringing down the food bag. I also did some laundry. Clean socks and underwear feel so nice. Not so good fishing as the day began. We made our way down the large lake Kawnipi. Heard the other canoeists from across the lake, not that they were talking loudly the sound just carries over the water. I commented that is why we can hear the mosquitoes in the woods across the bay. Kawnipi is a very large lake made up of many elongated bays which lead to nowhere. One could easily spend an entire day or more just paddling in and out of these stretches. Each could be an entire lake to themselves. From Kawnipi, we took the route through the “smaller” channels around the large islands and got a few pike and bass along the way. In one of the channels, we got some bass which we kept for dinner. Not huge like the monsters we were catching a few days ago, but large enough. With such a large lake, we just paddled. Slowly and deliberately making progress while enjoying the lake and fishing. Eventually our channel became a river with an increasing current. As it forked around an island there were some rapids. A lot of volume pumping through the small section and a significant drop. We carried around these falls, and the next ones further down. After the 2nd portage, we were on Shelly Lake. We fished below the rapids and Dan got 2 walleye and I some small bass. Dan took a swim deep into the dark waters to dislodge a snagged lure. This was his second dive of the day. Earlier it was within the first hour of being on the water. Made camp at the first island on Shelley. It was earlier than usual so we relaxed a bit more, plus it ensured we could get everything done before the bugs arrived. With so few portages and a relaxed paddling pace, today was gentle. Team Fish Curry was for dinner and was a rousing success. Even with our earlier stop we barely got to our bunks before the bugs.

Quetico Day 11”The Romantics”

In the middle of the night I awoke to flashes of light in the distance. First from the foot end of my hammock and then to my right. The night was silent except for the sound of the rapids a half mile away. I briefly wondered if it was the northern lights, but as I increased consciousness I realized the direction was to the South. Soon distant rumblings could be heard. I was in and out of sleep for I don't know how long as the flashes and rumbles inched ever closer. I awoke just as the storm was upon us. A lot of lightning and rain, but almost no wind. It was over by morning. We got a late start today for some reason. We paddled back to the rapids to fish some more with moderate success. We then paddled on through the rest of Shelly and a portage into Keats. Along the way we discussed the romantic poets and Dan brought up how much influence they had on our perspective of the wilderness. We stopped on an island in Keats to cook lunch. My pasta with lemon cream sauce was weak. I was quite disappointed. The only positive was how filling it was. Fish was good though, that was all Dan. Both portages today were around some very powerful waterfalls. The crushing force of the water was evident in the churning. As we headed toward our second but final portage for the day we paddled in a headwind past a 2-canoe group going the other direction. In an instant, a hose was turned on, the sky started dropping rain like mad. There was a moment of a few sprinkles and then these giant soaking raindrops. I yelled back, these raindrops are a quarter cup each. As quickly as it started, the rain stopped. Someone turned off the hose and the sun came out. We were drenched, however Dan noticed that except for my shoulders, my back was still dry. Must have been the wind driving the rain. After the carry, we were on our lake for the night. There were a lot of campsites in the vicinity of the falls; surprisingly to me they were all unoccupied. Our alarm sounded giving an hour and half to get to camp. There was a smaller cluster of sites further down the lake so we headed into the wind in that direction. We found an island site which hadn't been used in quite some time. After scouting it, we pressed on the the next point. Just as we rounded the turn, another canoe pulled in to the site. We asked about the next site, and the couple told us it was occupied, so we paddled back to the island. Since it hadn't been used in a long time, finding wood would not be a problem. We tucked our hammocks into the bushy trees to shelter from the wind. Since lunch was so late, when we finally got to our campsite, I was not hungry

Quetico Day 12 “What day was that?”

Great nights sleep in the hammock. I was up early to get coffee going and make the starter for bread. We had a lot of miles to do today, and the two big portages from earlier in the trip. Today we would do them both, but since our food load has significantly diminished, we would be able to do the portages as 1 and a half, instead of doubles. Like usual, we started off fishing. It was windy, not as much as the night before, but enough we needed to anchor. Just off the point by the other campsite, more walleye were caught which would be dinner. Paddling into the wind yesterday afternoon and today was slightly more difficult than the easy going we have had for almost the entire trip. We also had a little rain here and there. Not like the torrential burst, instead we played the rain-gear-no rain, game. As we approached the stream with the small rapids (we ran this on the way in) a few curious otters played around. We lined up this stream and fished in the pool just below the larger rapids which we eventually carried around. We did the 1.2 km carry and stopped for lunch where we camped earlier in the trip and picked up the pfd which was still there. The bass were not as present around the campsite as before. The smaller carries between the unnamed lakes, and the Sauvage Portage again. Man this carry is a killer. Not the distance so much as the terrain I think. A the very end while putting down the canoe, Dan lost hold and it dropped onto the rock with a loud bang. Hope there isn't any real damage; Dan is very careful with his boat. We only have one full day left on the water. The time sure has gone by fast. Seems like yesterday we started. It is difficult to recall more than just a few days back, what lakes we were on, which campsite, etc... Most of the time we refer back to the meals we ate to describe a certain day, or a unique fishing aspect such as the “bass flurry”. Couldn't say how many days back it was though. Some of the days have blended together for me, and I am having difficulty reconciling them without referring to my notes or more often, our meal plan. Fishing for me hasn't been as good as earlier in the trip. Dan still pulls them in. He also continues to have a trolling line out as we are paddling too. When we got to Bud Lake, with the many campsites it appeared to be empty. It is odd how we can be in areas deep into the park and off the well traveled routes and still see people but in this area closer to the main access points, we have the place to ourselves. Our site has been well used, the previous occupants left considerable trash in the firepit. The resident mouse doesn't seem to mind.

Quetico Day 13 “Portaging the rock”

I was up early. For some reason found it difficult to fall back asleep when I heeded natures call in the middle of the night. I wonder if the trip coming to a close had something to do with it. Started coffee and the bread dough. We spent the morning fishing Bud Lake. It took us a while to find the fish, but when we did they were some good ones. Dan with some big bass, and I with a huge pike, estimated to be 8-10 lbs. We had half our no-cook lunch by the rapids between Bud and Beg Lakes. Spent some more time fishing in Beg, then Bisk Lake. On the portage to Bisk, we met a solo paddler on her way in. We called this portage, the carry of many trails. It was short, but for some reason there were a few herd paths which all reconnected to the same destination. Since it was so short, Dan doubled it, and sent me back for the rock anchor. As I got to the end, the solo paddler saw me portaging this rock and asked me what's up with the rock. For the second half of the trip, Dan would get us an anchor rock at the put-ins. Since it was in front with me, we joked about it being my pet, my pal. The last carry around the rapids was so short, Dan just grabbed the same rock we used in Bud Lake. So here I was on that next portage, a few more rods than the other portaging a rock. Can't say I have ever done that before, or will likely do again in the future. It made for a good laugh. We joked with the solo paddler that a troll guarded the portages and required a rock for safe passage. Now in Bisk Lake, where Dan got the first walleye and the monster pike. We anchored near the channel where the walleye was caught. Well we portaged the rock, we better make use of it, right. Well we didn't have the same luck as before so we paddled on around the bend to our last portage for the day, and the trip itself. Approaching our take out just before the rapids from the dam, we waited for a family to finish putting in. We ferried across the lower rapids and did our final portage. It felt longer than the first time, even though we actually did less (1.5 vs a double-carry). On the last few meters, I slowed down when the reality of this being the final portage hit me like a freight train. Even uttering the words, “our last portage of the trip” would start to choke me up a bit. We still had a lot of miles to do, and another night on Pickerel Lake. Knowing this lake was usually busy, we stopped at a derelict beaver lodge to get some wood for camp. On a troll, Dan got our last walleye. A nice big one. We still had two to eat for dinner, so we would this one for our last day. The wind was stiff, and the waves were bigger on Pickerel due to its size. We were paddling with the wind and waves, so we were cruising. Still was a workout though due to the waves. We stopped at a campsite on a point, rather than rolling the dice on the busier beach sites farther down. After dinner and a swim, I went to the beaver dam which connected this point (actually an island separated from the main by the beaver channel) to gather some more wood for the next day. While pushing through some thicker bush I came across a fair amount of a bear and moose scat. At the beaver dam, I saw some large canine tracks in the mud flats (which were neat how how the channel of the breached dam carved them out). Wolf tracks perhaps? The wind began to taper off, which meant soon it would be skeeter o-clock, so off to the hammock.

Quetico Day 14 “The End”

The winds had subsided overnight, so it was a very quiet when I awoke. I could hear some splashing around the point. Not waves, but like someone stepping through the water. I quietly arose and noticed how calm the water was, and early morning fog before the sunrise. I approached the lake as quietly as I could. Whatever was making the noise was not seen, nor heard again. I mentioned it to Dan later, and he said he also heard it. Since the sun has not yet risen, I took the opportunity to watch it rise for the last time on our trip. Walking towards the eastern side of our point, I stepped out onto the rocks and the knowledge that this was truly my last day in the Quetico overcame me. I sat down on the rocks and began to weep. The sun began to rise, burning away the fog, and drying my watery eyes. I took some photos and gathered tinder. (The insta-fire kit prepared the night before was under Dan's tarp this morning). It was 6:30 am local time. In less than 12 hours I would be on a plane headed towards Toronto. We ate our breakfast at the point overlooking the main lake as we continued our conversations about human nature among other things. Back in the canoe we swung by the beaver dam from which I gathered wood the night before. I pointed out the tracks, and Dan confirmed they were canine, a very large one, most likely a wolf. We paddled east into the rising sun on calm waters. We had the large walleye in the boat from last night, and a rock of course. We caught ome small bass and a lake trout while trolling; when I say we I mean Dan. At one of the last beach sites, a family was just packing up, so we stopped and asked if we could use the firepit to cook our lunch ahead of time, so we could eat it at the take-out. They were obliging mostly. The older woman seemed a bit perturbed that our stuff could possibly get mixed up with theirs. The family departed as we cooked. One last dip in the lake before we set out for the quiet paddle up the Pickerel River into French Lake. Passed by a few canoes heading the other direction. Some perhaps day-trippers and some with more gear for extended days. Their trip was just beginning. Our 14 days on the water went by so quickly. Our adventure was over, and it felt like it barely started.

Overall we paddled over 100 miles through more than 60 lakes and equal number of portages. Our route took us from the Northeast part of the Quetico, traveling Southwest to within a few miles of the international border, returning along mostly different lakes until the very end. We could not have asked for better scenery, weather, fishing, food, or paddling partner. I suppose we could ask, but that would be just greedy.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Cold River Loop + NPT + Indian Pass "The Hantadventure"

“Ask me why I hike all the time, it levels my head and eases my mind. I just walk along and stroll and sing. I see better days and do better things.”


My Buddy Dan wanted to do a higher mileage trip in preparation for his upcoming trip to Yosemite. We were looking at the Cold River Section of the NPT and the surrounding area to create a backpacking loop which would cover about 13 miles per day. We finally settled upon a route which would be a figure-8, starting and ending at the summer trailhead for the Seward Range on Coreys Rd. We would head south to the Cold River, then follow the NPT upstream to Duck Hole and continue to Wanika Falls. From the falls, we would bushwhack up the Chub River to the saddle between Street and Nye Mtns where we would intersect the herd path. From there, we would summit both peaks and then take the approach trail down the other side to Indian Pass. Through Indian Pass to Henderson Lake and then back to Duck Hole which would complete the circumnavigation of Wallface and McNaughton Mtns. Lastly we would follow the old Ward Brook jeep trail back to the car to finish the circumnavigation of the Seward Range and Seymour Mtns. In total we would hike about 60 miles, along trails, up creek slabs, and bushwhack through high elevation spruce thickets, summit 2 peaks, and encircle 6 other mountains. With about 1 km left to the car, Dan described the trip as grueling.

Day 1, we left the car at the summer trailhead for the Seward Range and headed south to the Cold River. As we signed in at the register, Dan noticed the other board which had information about mice and hanta-virus. He wondered aloud how prevalent this actually was. Today would be very familiar trail for me as I have done the Seward circumnavigation a few times over the years. Stopping briefly at the Calkins Creek lean-to and visiting Latham Pond on our way to the Seward Lean-to. Dan swam in Big Eddy on the Cold River and we both took a dip in Millers Falls at our campsite for the night. So far the bugs hadn't been bad at all. The river was not as cold as its name would imply. With 13 miles already under our belt, we were feeling great. A light dinner was chosen. We ate avocado, cucumber and tomato wraps out on the rocks in the river. A few bugs here and there, but so far not too bad. The ziplock gallon bag which held our dinner fixins had mouse turds on it in the morning. We dubbed it the Hanta-bag. It would become our trash bag. Every time something was put into it, or we had trash we would just say “hanta”.

Day 2, was a late start for me. I am usually walking close to first light. By the time breakfast and coffee were done it was likely close to 9am. With probably the best 3 miles of the NPT behind us, we continued upstream of the Cold River to Duck Hole stopping at a few scenic spots and the other lean-tos along the way. So far we haven't seen anyone for the first 20 miles of the trip. Itwas only lunch time the second day and we were a third done with our total mileage, but the test was still to come. The new Duck Hole lean-to is a beauty. Since the Bear Lake lean-to build, the DEC has allowed us (lean2rescue) to construct a number of shelters to either replace those which are no longer serviceable or new ones as approved in the UMPs. This Duck Hole lean-to would replace the one near the dam. I had the fortune to help build this lean-to at the shop in Keene. My first log scribe was on the top rear log. With about 6 miles left for the day we were still going strong, although our clothes were drenched in sweat. From here, we hiked along Roaring brook for a while. While there are certainly some nice cascades and pools, much of the brook is slow moving. In one of these parts, we were fortunate to watch a beaver swimming underwater for a while. What a magnificent sight. At Wanika Falls, we set up camp, and took a swim in the pool below the falls. Most refreshing. We laid down in the hammocks to rest after our swim, we easily could have gone to sleep right then. In fact both of us did snooze for at least a few minutes. After dinner, we watched the stars come out, but we were too tired to stay up too long.

Day 3 would prove to be a tough one. It was early and I thought I heard voices. The previous night, the sound of the rapids played tricks on my ears so I dismissed it. Eventually I could make out words, so I knew it was axtual people, the first since we started. A couple of NPT hikers had thought his was the continuation of the trail. After we had re-oriented them in the direction of Placid they were on their way and we were now awake. Though it was early, we still got a later than usual start. The day was looking to be beautiful as we headed up to the top of the falls. After a few photos from the top we began our ascent to the the river's source. Mostly we climbed up the rock sheets and scrambled over the boulders in the river. There were quite a few more cascades and pools and some very cool crevices and chasms, all of which we would need to bushwhack around only after taking photos which we knew would not do them justice. The river thinned and slowly was choked out by growth as it began to level off. We had been paying attention to the map and compass to verify we were following the correct drainage. As the water began to peter out, we took a bearing towards the saddle and our goal which was the herd path up street/nye. Atop the saddle, we could see the summit of Street Mtn and knew we had to drop down a bit and then come back up to hit our target. The next few thousand feet would be tough, swimming through young spruce growing so tightly together than we could not see 2 feet in front of us, nor what was under our feet, we carefully parted the trees and stepped over significant blowdown all while avoiding the ankle trap holes in the duff. Almost as though a switch was flipped, the wall of trees gave way to an opening and after a few more steps we were on the herd path. It was now 2:30, it had taking us 5 hours to travel 4 miles. Leaving our packs on the side of the trail, and taking only the necessities including lunch we headed up the trail to the summit of Nye Mtn. There isn't a view at the summit rock, but a small path lead to a stump which when standing on, gave a clear panorama of many of the Adirondack peaks. With a map and compass in hand, Dan pointed out which peak was which including the range he would be hiking next week. We could also see Heart Lake far below us. After a late lunch a group of 3 joined us on the summit and we helped each other take photos under the summit sign. We then headed back to our packs, summitted Street which made my quads jelly by the time I reached the top a few minutes after Dan. Then the rains came. A light sprinkle at first, but by the time we were headed down the other side of the mtn, it was a full on rainstorm. Dan had dropped his water bottled somewhere on the way down from the Nye Summit, so he headed back up to get it while I started down the very steep trail. We had 4 miles of significant downhill in the puring rain to reach heart lake which we were just looking at from above. Going slow as to not slip in the mud, it was getting late by the time we reached the Loj property and we still had 2 miles to go to get to our early stopping point at Rocky falls. The Scott Clearing lean-to was our original goal, but it was an additional mile and half and we were spent. Apparently the Rocky Falls lean-to is on the the other side of the the Indian Brook, and we passed right by it looking over our other shoulder. We ended up doing the “loop” twice just to locate it. We were glad to find it empty as we were soaked. A huge pot of minestrone soup and some dry clothes were in store. The noseeums were quite annoying here and we quickly ate and got under our bug netting to sleep.

Day 4. Already we were a mile and half behind schedule. Though after the beating we took yesterday, it was amazing it was only that much. We still had a third of our miles to go including going through Indian Pass. The sky bounced back and forth between misty rain and sun. Eventually the sun won out and we headed back across the river. The climb up through Indian Pass was a lot of bouldering and rock hopping. It wasn't long mileage, just slow going, Everything was wet, so it was even slower than what would be typical. Not to mention how beat we were from yesterday. As we approached the summit rock, the cliffs on Wallface came into view. Some more photos and lunch atop summit rock. The downhill portion of Indian Pass seemed to be more difficult the uphill. The ladders were quite slippery as were all the rocks and roots. As the ground began to level out, it was again getting later in the day, and we still had significant miles to go. Not much earlier, Dan had slipped and turned hi ankle. This would hobble him for the rest of the day, making our progress slow, and I am sure his hike rather painful. We paused at the Henderson lean-to for our second, later lunch. This point would mark approximately the bottom portion of our figure-8, though we had done significantly more than half the miles. The next 6 miles to Duck Hole would seem like an eternity. We were glad to see there was a reroute to avoid the thigh high deep mud in the flooded section, but this reroute would add extra distance. The climb up to Preston Ponds was just as long and arduous as I remembered dragging a pulk full of “supplies” to the cabin. We eventually made it to Duck Hole and both lean-tos were occupied so we made camp at the designated spot near the register box. As we were setting up our tarps and hammocks, dan mentioned that we probably should have started dinner before we set up and let it cook, I replied that it was a good idea to do the shelters first just in case it rained. It wasn't 10 minutes later and the sky began to rain upon us. I was tired and had finally hiked dry my wet clothes from the day before and this really soured my mood. The rain eventually stopped and we were able to eat by the fire instead of being relegated to our own tarps. We were both exhausted. Only 10 miles to go. Sleep never felt so good.

Day 5. It rained again overnight. Both Dan and I stashed insta-fire kits of dry wood before bed. A morning fire always lifts spirits and sets the tone for the day. Perhaps that was what was missing the previous day as fires are forbidden east of indian pass. Anyway, the day began with wet leaves and brush but the miles would go quickly at first under the blue sky. This last section of trail was also very familiar to me. Compared to what we had already hiked through, quite boring. We made good time along the old truck trail to camp 4. The elevation changes I recalled were insignificant relative to the past two days. Camp 4 was Dan's first lean2rescue operation after we recruited him at Woodhull lake. In the next 5 miles we would pass by significantly more people than we saw the entire trip. When the parking lot finally came into view, it was obvious why, as was the 3 pages of people who signed in at the register t=in the last 2 days, most of which were climbing the Sewards. At the car we changed into bathing suits and drove to the Raquette river where we would swim to help us smell less like wet monkeys. It was great to put on dry clean clothes for the drive home.