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.