Monday, May 30, 2016

Happy Birthday Zaida -Trail Stewardship and French Louie's Cave


Happy Birthday Zaida -Trail Stewardship and French Louie's Cave

I try to do a backpacking trip every Memorial Day Weekend. This weekend would be dedicated to the memory of my grandfather who on the 30th, would have turned 100 years old. Zaida left us almost 3 years ago, but his memory lives on. Prior to leaving I put together a brief summary of Zaida's life and a few photos and sent it to his kids and grandkids. I then left for the woods for some volunteer work, relaxation and reflection.

I picked up Sheldon early Saturday morning and we made our way to Wakely Dam. We chatted about Scouts and his trip to Philmont. I reiterated our agenda which was to hike to Colvin Brook lean-to so I could do my spring assessment and general cleanup. Then return to the NPT and continue to Cedar Lakes noting major blowdown and clearing any which could be done with hand tools. I would also clear more on the return trip Monday. Sunday we planned on visiting French Louie's Cave, relax and go fishing, perhaps explore some more off-trail weather depending. We were expecting thunderstorms to pop up throughout the weekend. I had also mentioned this weekend would have been my grandfather's 100th birthday.

At the trailhead it was hot and muggy just as expected. A few bugs were around, but it wasn't to bad yet. We hiked into Carry lean-to and chatted with the boaters who were there for the weekend. They were from the Catskill area and volunteered with the Catskill Mtn Club doing trail work. We gave them some suggestions for day trips from that spot. The trail from Wakely to the Sucker Brook trail is along an old road, so travel was easy. We made the turn onto the Sucker Brook trail which would soon be added to my mileage of responsibility. The NPT had been cleared of major blowdown to here and it appeared to continue to the Cedar River. I rock hopped across and assessed the lean-to, did some general cleanup and noted the few visitors since last October. Sheldon had remained on the other side, but when he saw I stayed dry on my crossing, he came over as well. I finished sweeping out the lean-to, and we headed back. On the re-cross of the river, Sheldon slipped and in order to not completely fall over, stepped into the river soaking his boots. Fortunately I made it across without incident.

We re-traced our steps to the NPT, filled up our water bottles at the spring and continued our way to the Cedar lakes. As we hiked along, I would clear minor blowdown and Sheldon would note on his GPS major trees which would need the chainsaw to clear during the next window. The wet boot was beginning to cause a blister for Sheldon so he kept a watch on it. Coming the other way, two young ladies (sisters) passed us by. They were thru-hiking the trail. They signed in at the registers as “The Cash Sisters”. I wished them a safe and fun journey. At Cedar Lakes Dam we met up with a group of folks who hailed from all across the Northeast, but knew each other as students at RIT. I shared with them the location of a downed cherry tree where good firewood could be found as this area gets a lot of use and firewood is scarce in the immediate vicinity. One of them asked where a good place to hang her hammock was, and I pointed to a location where I had used in the past.

It was starting to get late, so far we had avoided the potential thunderstorm of the afternoon and the bugs were not bad at all. It was hot though, and we were both soaked in sweat. A swim or at least a dunking of our heads would be a welcome relief once at camp. We made camp at the tent site on Beaver Pond. We could hear voices at the lean-to so we didn't even bother to go over there. A small fire was started so that we could ward off the bugs with smoke if they decided to find us and also to dry out some of our clothes and Sheldon's boots. I headed over the bridge to get water from the spring and met up with two of the lean-to inhabitants (Amber and Justin) plus their dog (Maggie). We chatted a bit, about the trail and the lost dog posters and referenced the posts on the forum. When I mentioned my name on the forum, both Justin and Amber said “ohhhh, you're duct tape, we though we recognized you from Rob's videos.” We talked and laughed a bit more and then I headed back to camp to make dinner. I fished a bit with no luck. The fish weren't biting, but the bugs were beginning to, so I headed back to camp. The sun was barely down and I could not stay awake. It was an early bed time for us both. I was still a bit sticky from sweat even though I had washed down in the lake. The peepers were making a racket, yet I still managed to fall asleep rather quickly. It cooled down over the night to make a very comfortable night's sleep.

As usual, I was up before dawn. I restarted the fire, made some coffee and grabbed my fishing pole. Again, no luck. The sun was just emerging over the horizon as was Sheldon from his hammock so I mentioned the sun's status to him and he grabbed his camera. We both ate granola for breakfast and planned to head to French Louie's Cave for our morning adventure. French Louie died a year before my grandfather was born. Both were amazing me who led full lives. It was barely 7 am, we had our whole day ahead of us. As we hiked towards the wagon wheel campsite, I noted the location of the old trail which headed to the shoreline... another future exploration. At the wagon wheel campsite, we took a bearing and headed off trail towards the top of cobble hill. The witchopple was starting to grow in, but the spruce swamps were relatively dry, so it wasn't particularly difficult. We noted a few water sources along the way for the future. Our bearing took us just below the cave, so we had to turn a bit go uphill to get to the cave itself. Sheldon went straight up, I opted to go around the shoulder. Like yesterday, it was hot and muggy, but inside the cave it was much cooler. I sat on a rock which acted as a heat sink, pulling heat from me. I was cool in no time. We relaxed, and explored a bit more. Some of the other crevices and caves had ice still in them. We ventured into one dark crevice and it was almost cold.

We didn't really want to leave, but knew we would need to eventually. We headed back to the water source then took a new bearing towards the fisherman's lean-to. As we approached the NPT, the terrain looked familiar and I knew to swing left instead of having to climb up and over a ridge which was thick with both live and dead spruce. The tread on the new trail to the fisherman's lean-to was more obvious since last time I was there. We relaxed some more at the lean-to. We could hear some thunder way off to the south. There was a nice breeze keeping us cool, but we also knew this could mean we would eventually get the rain we so far had avoided. The hike back to camp went quickly, we chatted a bit, but also spread out slightly due to our different paces. I mentioned the other trail exploration would have to wait until another time as my knees were telling me they had enough and the weather seemed sketchy.

Back at camp we did some chores, and I found myself sitting near the firepit with my bandana over my head and my face in my hands. Sheldon came by and asked if I was sulking. I told him I was tired and was resting my eyes. This was true, but there was another detail I neglected to mention. For some reason thoughts of my grandfather caused me great distress, I felt a general sense of sadness. No specific details, or memories. I said I needed to take a nap, so I went to my hammock. I closed me eyes and smiled seeing my grandfather sleeping in the backyard in my dad's hammock; which then broke causing him to land on his rear. I think I slept for about an hour. Some voices of hikers going down the trail awoke me me from my slumber. They were looking for a place to camp. Sheldon was going to tell them our site had plenty of room but he didn't want to speak for me. I said, if they come back tell them to join us. I then went for water from the spring. On my way back I decided to visit the lean-to. The Rochester area backpackers who I had chatted with online were there, as were two of the previous night's inhabitants. We all shared stories of the trail, the area and other spots. One guy, I cannot recall his name, had an uncanny gift of knowing the zip code of every town. He and I shared intel about different locations we had both visited and also traded some secrets. The group started to make dinner so I headed back to camp. Sheldon had already eaten and wondered if I had gone off exploring or whether I visited the lean-to. He went fishing while I fixed my dinner. I was making a quick beef stew with some dehydrated veggies and a can of beef & gravy I had picked up at a dollar store some time back. For a while I had wondered why the heck I had bought this generic can. Earlier I joked with Sheldon that it was probably not much different than a can of dog food. I half expected it to have been made by Alpo. As I was making my stew it dawned on me why I had bought it, and also why I brought it on this trip, I got two cans of this stuff for a buck. It was a “good deal”, Zaida would have been proud. I opened the can and it smelled ok; for canned roast beef. The stew turned our better than expected. I was barely done by the time we could hear the storm approaching, so I hastily picked up and we got to our respective hammock before the sky really opened up.

A good storm ensued. I do not know how long it lasted. It was barely raining when I answered nature's call at some point in the middle of the night. By morning, all I could hear on the tarp was the rain which was dripping off the trees. We had a nine mile hike out, plus driving so we both decided to get up early. I was up first and made myself coffee and packed up everything except my tarp just in case the sky decided one last water dump. Both of us were packed up and were on the trail before 7. We passed by the Cedar Lake #1 lean-to quietly as all were apparently still asleep. After we passed, we both commented on the soaked hammock and mishmashed tarp in the woods behind the lean-to. I guess the inhabitant did not fare as well as us with her set-up.

From the dam to the junction, Sheldon would walk in front at his own pace while I would stop and cut more blowdown that I skipped on the way in. The rest of the hike out was uneventful. We made good time even with a break at the Cedar River flow. At the car before noon. We stopped for lunch in Indian Lake village. Across the street was the Chamber of Commerce where Sylvia was working. I placed my order and went over to say “hi”. Sylvia and I had never met in person, we only chatted online through the NPT facebook page. She was also a NPT trail enthusiast and steward. The sign on the door said she would be back at 12:45, so I went back to the tavern to finish eating. I would return after I ate, while Sheldon was settling up the bill (he bough me lunch, thanks buddy.) I walked into the office and said “Hi Sylvia.”, she looked towards me and said “Russ Byer, I saw the glasses and knew it was you.” We gave each other a hug and talked a bit about the trail maintenance we had done and some other areas to visit. Sheldon was waiting, so I headed back to the car.

During lunch I reminded Sheldon that today would have been my grandfather's 100th birthday. He asked, “when?”

I said “right now.”

“Then raise a glass” was his retort.

At that moment 12:30 Eastern Time, I along with the other members of my family around the world were celebrating the memory of my grandfather with a toast. “To Zaida.”

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Rainin' on our parade. -The Notch: Silver Lakes WA

05/15/2016 Rainin' on our parade. -The Notch: Silver Lakes WA

We had been planning this hike for a few weeks. About 22 miles; 12 on Saturday and then 10 to finish on Sunday. Canary Pond in the silver Lakes wilderness has been a desired spot to camp for us but the opportunity had evaded us, until now. The weather forecast leading up to this weekend was all over the place. Rain, wind, thunderstorms, snow, were all possibilities. The latest forecast had us expecting rain in the later afternoon/evening on Saturday, so we planned on getting an early start Saturday AM.

I left home just before 3am, and heard from Rob as I was stopped for coffee. Our plan was to meet at the Benson Trailhead, leave a car and drive to Piseco to begin our adventure. I had mentioned to Rob my next stop would be at a Fast Trac in Utica. He had stopped there for a snack, and called me to determine my ETA. I was about 10 minutes away, so he waited. Cara-vanning from the gas station, we were heading up a hill a few miles away and my car lost power, made some ungodly noises and the oil light came on. I pulled over immediately and shut her down. Without getting into all the details that followed about my dead car, I will just say we didn't make it to Piseco or Canary Pond. I have had car problems before, but man this was terrible. Sometimes when it rains... it pours!

Since there was nothing to be done about my car situation over the weekend, we made the best of it. Instead of Piseco to Canary to Benson, we opted to hike in from Benson to the Notch campsite where our buddy Justin would be base-camping for his exploration of Hell Devil Dam. It was getting close to noon when we finally had our feet on the trail. It was quite warm and the black flies were out. I tried to remember to keep drinking water. The trail was relatively dry for this time of year. The white (or painted trillium) were in bloom as was the trout lilies, violets and witchhopple. Following the old woods road, Justin had dragged his feet near an intersection to rough up the leaves to make sure we took the correct turn. His tent came into view as well as his big green tarp. Rob and I set up camp. Shot some video footage for his youtube channel and blog and gathered firewood. I wandered around a bit here and there. I climed up past the big waterfall and found a cool section of the creek that looked like a spa. It was as though someone had quarried cubic sections of stone out of the creek to create walls and seats. Though it was a warm day, it was still a bit to cold for swimming. The sky was beginning to become overcast towards the west, and the winds would come and go. I hiked down the creek and past camp, located a spring and cleared it out, as well as my head.

A few drops of rain fell, seemed like more while under Justin's tarp. Listened to birds and waited for Justin, hoping he would make it back before the sky opened up. Soon Jenny came bounding towards us, with Justin a few paces behind. We petted Jenny's head and scratched her ears, and said hi to our pal Justin in a manner more appropriate between humans. The next few hours were just the guys hanging out in front of the campfire (and Jenny snoozing on her blanket). The rains did come a little. The winds too. I eventually made my way to my hammock.

I awoke before the others and restarted the fire. It was a chilly morning. Jenny and Justin soon emerged. Rob slept in awhile longer. We hiked out in the cool morning. Back to civilization and my rental car to get back home. I had expected to have to change out of wet clothes. I did not expect to have been drenched by a major car malfunction. Even though the trip was not at all like we had planned, I still got to hang out with some good friends.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A historical trek; features man-made and glacial- 5 Ponds wilderness

05/01/2016 A historical trek; features man-made and glacial- 5 Ponds wilderness

My original plan was to hike with Justin in the Silver Lakes wilderness. We intended to explore Three Ponds Mtn, specifically to locate Hell Devil dam. Two Tents and Ben from the NEOH Backpackers were starting the NPT the same weekend. Knowing their route would be close to where Justin and I would be exploring, I was hoping to cross paths with them to wish them luck in person. Towards the end of the week, Justin had to cancel so instead of going to the Silver Lakes WA, which I will likely be in two weeks again, I opted to return to the 5 Ponds Wilderness and continue my exploration of the old loop trail and also check out the canoe carry from Lows to the Oswegatchie.

I got a relatively early start Saturday am, the weather was fantastic. I wanted to take advantage of it knowing that tomorrow would include rain. My initial plan was to have lunch atop Cat Mtn, then head to the old loop trail, either bushwhack to the “Big Deer Pond trail” and head south, or return to the main trail, then continue down to Big Deer. From there depending on time I would either visit Lows and/or the Oz and return to Cat Mtn Pond campsite. Silently hoping Bill left some firewood in the rarely used site.

I had noticed a group of two had signed in at the register the other day, planning on spending 3 days at Cat Mtn and a small group day hiking to Cowhorn. Other than that, it seemed like the area was relatively empty. Along the Dead Creek flow, I passed by a gentleman his dog and two kids on their way out. The last boy's pack looked quite uncomfortable as it was not riding quite right. I was at Janacksjunction in about an hour and continued on to Cat Mtn. In all my years of coming to the 5 ponds, I had yet to climb this mtn. I had a strange tingling sensation in my foot, like the laces were too tight, but they weren't. I have had this before when I start hiking at a fast pace and I am not used to it. Eventually it goes away. The first push up Cat mtn is rugged, then it levels out for a bit, another small climb and level ground. The final climb is quite rugged. At the top the two gentleman who had signed in were relaxing on the open rock. Not wanting to disturb them, I stayed near the radio tower. I ate my lunch and was just finishing up when the two guys came over on their way down. We talked a bit and one guy checked the weather on his phone. Apparently there is 4G service at the summit. I took a photo and texted it to Rob, then shut my phone down again.

I headed down the mountain noting how dry the path was on the way to my next junction. Often it is almost a river flowing down the trail, especially in spring. I made the turn on the old trail which I started to explore 2 weeks ago. Some of flagging was gone, most notable at the major junctions. I continued past where I had turned around and was expecting to be a Clear Pond shortly. The trail, easily discernible stayed to the west of Clear Pond instead of approaching its North end. Perhaps I has misinterpreted Bill's info from last week. I was definitaly on the old trail, I wondered if there was a new path cut to the North end that I missed. I continued on the obvious old trail. To my west I saw a large clearing. I paused to look. The map shows the area. It is a strange area, not just this pasture like spot, but all of this was glacially formed. Much of the path was along an esker, kettle hole and other glacial deposits are quite apparent here. It was neat to see how thse odd formations on the map looked in person. Some flagging tape was hung going in the same direction I was heading along the path. In some instances it looked like an old roadway; just filled in with trees. I often had to walk just above it as the growth was too thick.

By this point I was sure I was not going where Bill had gone, there was signs of human navigation, but it was old and infrequent. The roadway got thick, oddly enough where it was most obviously a old roadbed. I approached Clear Pond along a peninsula separated it from a glacial kettle hole to its west. The shore line was mucky, but the ground was clear. All the brambles, ferns and grasses had yet to grow in. they were still all matted down from the winter's snow. I was close to the southern end of the pond which made my decision on how to proceed to the Big Deer Pond trail easy.

I continued along the pond's edge to where it intersected with the old trail again. Most often this area is cursed by the beaver population flooding. I was going to use the resident builders to my advantage and cross the their dam to get to the other side of the outlet. I turned off the old trail and noted how close I was to Nicks Pond. Another spot I would like to get to at some point. Someday, perhaps, make the whole old loop. The beaver dam was one of those mucky ones in a meadow, but it worked. At the other side, I made my way back up tot he pond and took a bearing towards a natural draw in the land. I followed the bearing generally; mostly allowing the land formation to dictate my travel. As the draw ended and the land flattened out, I knew I had not far to go to hit the other trail broadside. I kept my bearing and like usual when intersecting a marked trail, it becomes quite obvious when you hit it. I was to the south of slender Pond and west of Tamarack. Turning south on the red trail it is easy hiking compared to my last couple miles. Just before I reached the canoe carry, I noted what looked to be a path to the west, or perhaps my eyes were deceiving me from my recent path finding. At the carry junction I opted to go towards the Oswegatchie first. Not sure how far I would go. The trail came close to Big Deer pond and I wondered why anyone would be carrying around the big pond instead of paddling it. Strange. Shortly I saw another path heading west, this was clearly a path. Someone had even marked it with blue flagging. I decided to follow it for a while.

The path was obvious. In some places it looked almost road like as well. Flags were plentiful. The line paralleled the county line. I wondered if this was path to the tri county marker. The path stayed below the contours of where the marker should be, so perhaps not. The purpose of the flagging soon became apparent as I was greeted by a majestic hemlock. One of the old growth trees in the area that survived the microburst of '95 and the logger's axes a century before. This reminded me of the tree Justin and I discovered in the HadeRonDah which I named the Queen of the Woods. I would bet the Queen gets less visitors than this other noble. Since I was so close to the Tr-county marker, I could not let the opportunity slide. I headed up a few contours on the hill where the marker should be. I wandered around a bit looking for some evidence but didn't find any. I could have been right next to it looking the other way and not noticed. I dropped back down off the hill and headed back the way I came. I noticed the blue flags were not keeping the opposite bearing I took on the way in, they deviated by a considerable margin. Since I was exploring, I explored. Eventually they intersected with the canoe carry but at a different spot. Someone must have marked it as a mini-loop. Likely for the scouts at Sabbatis on Lowes Lake.

On the canoe trail, I headed back towards Big Deer, I passed by spot where I first turned off to fllow to the old path and blue flags. I passed by the junction to the north from which I came and proceeed down the carry towards the east side of Big Deer. It was a little after 4 and my stomach was telling me to think about dinner. I found a campsite on the shore of Big Deer (site #2) and make a twiggy fire to boil some water for dinner. Had a beer with my chili. Took my shoes off and relaxed. The trail signs said it was only 2.1 miles to Cowhorn junction. This would be an easy 2 miles as it would be on the marked trail. From there my campsite was within half a mile. I had plenty of time, I figured as long as I was heading back around 6 pm, I would be in great shape. It was a less than a mile to Lowes lake, I had time to visit. The trail was flooded right along the shoreline of Big Deer, but an obvious re-route was created. There were a few trees with significant claw marks from a bear clearly showing to all this was his territory. A few of the trees had claw both new an old claw marks. All were within a few feet of each other. I wondered if one side was one bear, and the other side a different one and this was their way of surveying. Quite a bit of moose turd along the carry as well; not very recent though. Lowes came into view and the carry path continued along a ways before descending down to the lake. I signed in at the register and saw my friends' entries whom paddled the traverse not long ago. It was only a 20 minute walk from my campsite. It was only 5:20. I remembered Chris telling me he and Kim would be hiking a loop and spending the night at Cowhorn. I thought I would surprise them instead of going to the Cat Mtn Pond site.

On my way back to the Cowhorn junction, I could see Tamarack pond to the east. Wanting to be at camp by 7, meant I had to be more judicious in my stop and look at at every possible view along the way. I did pause at Slender Pond as it looked like a potential campsite; it wasn't. I filled up my water bottle with fresh water. I dumped out the warm stuff from Big Deer. I could not get good water from Big Deer, so I had to fill up from a swampy spot. I boiled it so it was warm and not refreshing at all. I had been spoiled with the cold spring water gathered north of the junction. Since then, it had been pond water. A fish caught my eye in Slender Pond. At closer look, it was a 4 inch leech...yeach! Perhaps this means the pond is healthy, maybe even contains a trout population. From Slender back to the junction the terrain was in the neat glacial area with the kettle holes and eskers. Sam had done a good job clearing the trail from the '95 microburst (or dericho?) I soon passed a small stream, what a pleasant surprise, some cold clear water. I swapped out my pond water and drank my fill. Topped off the bottle and continued on. I was back on familiar trail at the top of the esker and noticed my knee was feeling a bit sore. Not surprising since I had done over 15 miles and it wasn't used to it. Not to mention the bushwhacking and Cat Mtn. A slowed down and approached Cowhorn quietly. It was empty. Some of the wood from two weeks ago was still there. I set some aside and collected some tinder for the morning as I was expecting rain at dawn. No Chris and Kim, but I did have the giant brownie and my other beer. A small fire with the setting sun and all was good. I knew I would sleep well tonight. It wasn't long before I found myself in my hammock. I was asleep quickly.

It was a warm night, the sun had not yet risen but due to impending rains I thought I had best pack up first. I had all but my breakfast stuff in my pack and some coffee water heating when I noted the first few drops on the pond. I was finishing my coffee a few minutes after 6. By now, it was fully light out but the sky could not decide whether it wanted to rain or not. I put on my pack cover and had my rain jacket in the outside pocket. Only about 6 miles to the car. It would rain slightly for most of the hike out. Tree cover kept me mostly dry. I didn't stop much, just for water and to take a picture of a red trillium with a mossy rock in the background. Later I would caption the photo, “Spring is officially here in the 5 Ponds”. I was at the car a little after 9 am. I am liking these big mile Saturdays and short Sundays back to the car. Every time I do them, I tell myself to plan more like this. Perhaps I will remember one of these days.