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.