Thursday, April 5, 2018

Winter's Last Gasp on the FLT

We made plan A, B and C for this week's trip. April 1st is the beginning of trout season so Plan A was fishing. We knew the water was still hard in the Adks so as to not be made the fool, we looked at our next options. Plans B and C were both in the Adirondacks as well. The weather forecast was not looking favorable and the trails would be a combination of melting snow and mush so we opted for another plan, the FLT.

It had been a few years since I had done any serious mileage on the FLT and many more years for Dan. We had 4 days in which to fill. We already had our menu set, so it was just a matter of route. I drove to Dan's house early Monday AM and over coffee and a muffin we opted to hike west on Map 18 and into Map 17. This would allow us to pass through a number of State Forests and minimal road walks. We cached bear canisters at road crossings a mile before our planned campsite. These caches were mostly of the barley and hops variety.

Monday's hiking started out brilliantly. It was a bit chilly if one was just standing around, but perfect for hiking. Dan left his pack with the first cache but I carried mine. We started on the main road and then turned off to a dirt one.This eventually became an abandoned section. As we talked and chatted we noticed the blazes were no longer apparent and the junction ahead was past our turn-off. We followed a ski trail for a few hundred feet before it started swing the wrong way, so we stepped off to head towards where our footpath should be. Soon we stumbled upon a large cistern of rocks holding water. Probably from an old CCC camp as these were common. I love finding old foundations and these structures are even more impressive. We intersected with footprints that we had seen earlier and found the maker's stealth campsite fire pit. We turned to head towards the microwave tower which we knew was on the trail. Within minutes we intersected the FLT again. we reminded ourselves to pay attention to the blazes as the man made paths and old roadways were numerous throughout these forests.

We stopped for lunch briefly and continued on past the tower. We signed in at the register and found a pair of polarized ray-ban sunglasses. Winding our way around the hilltop and then down the other side along a series of old woods roads and foot paths we again lost the blazes as the main road came into view. Instead of heading back up hill we figured to walk the road the extra few hundred feet to where we should have exited the woods and to Dan's awaiting pack and our food/drink for the evening.

We re-entered the woods and headed towards the Kimmie lean-to. The trail went up and down slightly as we crossed a number of small streams cascading down the hillside into the larger stream below. The far side of the stream, we noted was quite steep. As it bent around the hill we traversed our side began to level out slightly. A campsite came into view at the stream's edge. Consulting the map the lean-to should be a tenth of mile off the trail following blue blazes. heading downstream a bit more, we crossed paths with two women looking for a place to cross the stream. We said hi and they told us the lean-to was just ahead and they were just our day hiking. At the elan-to a young lad named Alex was there. We asked if it was ok to share the lean-to. He shrugged acquiescence apparently not enamored with the concept.

The front of the lean-to was a muddy mess and the follor seemed to be falling in. Another csmpsite with a decent fire ring and picnic table was just 50 yards away in a hemlock grove so we took that instead. Dan set up his tent, and I my tarp. It was early, only 3:30 or so and we had done a 7 mile day starting just before noon. We gathered wood and and did other camp chores. Dinner came late; venison, sweet potatoes and peas.

I stayed up as late as I could but it was still earlier than at home when I went to bed. I awoke before Dan, got the fire re-started and took down the bear bag. Breakfast was cheddar grits with salsa and of course coffee. The weather forecast was rain so we didn't dawdle to get started on the 10 miles. We waved goodbye to Alex. The first time we had seen him since we arrived. We had invited him to join us at our fire when we left the lean-to but apparently he was just happy being by himself. The rains came as expected. we spent the day hiking slowly through the wet trail. A brief stop for lunch and then pressing on. we retrieved our next cache of food with a short mile downhill to our campsite.

This lean-to was situated up hill from a larger stream with a numerous waterfalls. It was beautiful, and loud. we were wet and glad the rain seems to have slowed to basically just a mist. It was early, just past 2pm. The miles go quickly when all one does is hike and not stop every few minutes to chat. The idea of a cup of soup sounded great so we fired up the stove and as we discussed which soup flavor to put on, I remembered I had cocoa so we chose the chocolate soup to start. We set up our sleep gear inside the lean-to and took off our wet stuff to start the drying process. We laid down for a few minutes to rest. When I realized it wasn't raining anymore and the trees were not even dripping, I got up to collect firewood.

There were quite a few satellite campsite scattered throughout. Even so, it was not difficult to find a large amount of wood. None of the winter fall had been collected yet. The wood was wet, but this wasn't our fist rodeo. dan joined me in the wood collection and I opted to try to get the fire going without "cheating" just for practice in these conditions. I should have had at least twice the amount of tinder but I still managed to get it going. It took some coaxing. Better to be practicing in these conditions now then when it is necessary with no back up.

The fire helped us dry our some clothes and warm us up. The rains did not return. We had some leftover venison, plus the bratwust w/peppers and onions and the adult beverages conveniently left with our food cache. Like usual I was in bed early. It got warmer over night. I awoke in the middle needing to shed layers. It also rained a bit. The fire pit still had some coals the next morning which I coaxed back to life with the wood we dried the night before and set under the lean-to overhang. Made lunch first, and packed it up and then breakfast.

We expected some rain today, but not like the previous and also tonight was to get cold. The trail was to include at least 3 big climbs the last of which would be a 600 ft climb the last mile. we did get a little rain early on and overall the trail was great. A lot of variety including an old rail bed for a short time. The climbs definitely got our heart rate going but weren't that bad. We found it curious that the trail would often crisscross and old woods road at an even steeper grade. Apparently the trail makers didn't want to use the old road. Perhaps because it is snowmobile path in winter? We filled up with water on the backside of the hill from a seep in ground. Only a tiny bit of sediment in mine.

Our last cache retrieved we started up the hill. The pack was heavier but not unbearable in the least. With the added weight it became a typical overnight pack weight. While it wasn't that cold, the winds were picking up and it was biting through a single a layer. The lean-to came into view looking up hill. The trail swung around to the right and then followed the contour towards the lean-to situated among the giant tamaracks, which the lean-to is named. Again wood was plentiful and as the winds really began to pick up more wood became available nearby literally falling from the sky. We watched quite a few branches crack and break off and a couple of trees topple. The large tamaracks were swaying and bending a great deal with the large gusts. We jokingly imagined what it must be like for the squirrels in the nests at those highest reaches.

The temp started to drop as the winds continued. The heat from the fire was intense, stoked by the wind. I made a windbreak in the lean-to with my tarp to mitigate some heat loss from the intense winds. It did get as cold as expected overnight, below freezing. We awoke with a solid dusting of snow and our water bottles with ice forming. Only 5 miles for the day to our awaiting car, mostly downhill. It was chilly. I guess winter wasn't quite done with us yet. A half mile to go, we passed by the trails coordinator of the Cayuga Hiking club. he was scouting the loop for flooding issues. We wold him about a washed out bridge a few miles back and of the almost floating bog bridging the previous day. We chatted about trail and lean-to maintenance and went on our way. On the gentleman's car, Dan left his contact info on a slip of paper to volunteer to help if needed. We then retrieved our bear canisters/trash and headed to Ithaca for some pizza. This 32+ mile trip allowed me to sleep in 2 more lean-tos to put me at 59, and backpacked just under 25% of the FLT.