(8/17/16) Day 1: Less than 1 mile
We’re on a massive road trip throughout the North East, and we were in the Adirondacks of New York. Dirt Stew had intended on renting a canoe at Cranberry Lake so we could canoe-camp somewhere on the lake, but somehow the person at the place we had contacted regarding renting a canoe was not there, and after waiting around for an hour and trying to find another place to get a canoe with no success, we decided we should just drive over to the high peaks area.
We didn’t arrive until well after dark, and once we got there, we needed to pay for a back-country permit and rent an appropriate bear canister, which we were luckily able to do after hours. The bear canister that we own—the “Bear Vault” apparently failed in the Adirondacks almost a decade ago when a female bear learned how to open it, and then promptly started teaching courses on Bear Vault opening techniques to her cubs. It’s really hard to imagine how this could possibly happen, especially if you’ve ever used a Bear Vault. Even with explicit instructions, a frontal cortex and opposable thumbs, it still took me more than a minute to get the Bear Vault open the first time I used it. You have to press on a thing while twisting it. Forget it if your fingers are numb from the cold. I don’t know what I’d give to see a bear opening one of these things.
In any case, we got our approved bear canister (Bearacade, I think it’s called?), and stuffed two days of food into it in the parking lot and got our gear packed up to head into the woods. I was surprised to see a few other people doing the same thing. Usually I find that almost nobody hikes in the dark; here there seemed to be at least a few people prepared for it.
By the time we wandered into the woods it was after 10PM and we found a spot not even a mile from the parking lot to set up our tent and fall asleep for the night.
(8/18/16) Day 2: 13.3 miles
We decided we wanted to hike Mt Marcy, and maybe hit some other peaks and maybe make a loop out of it, but we didn’t really have a very specific plan, so we started off just heading up Mt. Marcy. The forest was amazing. Perfect temperature, no bugs, ferns and moss everywhere. The woods were dense with evergreens consisting of balsam fir and red spruce, and a few other trees like sugar maples, striped maples and paper birches.
We knew we had a full day and a half to play with. There were lots of people out hiking. We passed Marcy Dam where there were loads of hikers and backpackers milling around, and then kept following the signs to Mt. Marcy.
The trail was rocky but never too steep, and quite wide. It was obviously very well-traveled. The climb was challenging, and we were both surprised when a runner passed us on the trail. From the maneuvers he was making around rocks and on bog boards, we wondered what the point of running that trail was. It seemed as if hiking would be just as fast. As we got to the top of Mt. Marcy and looked back we saw dark clouds rolling in towards us and buckets of rain falling in the distance. The top of Mt. Marcy was crowded, and the views were beautiful, but we felt in a hurry to make a decision on whether we wanted to go back the way we came, or hike over the top of Mt Marcy to continue our hike. A tiny rumble coming from the direction we just came from made my decision easy. “Let’s get the hell off this peak,” I overheard someone say. We snapped a few shots and decided to scramble down the other side.
As we got to the next trail junction we had the option to go up Mt. Skylight. The trail up Mt. Skylight looked like a stream. Our feet were already somewhat wet from having to cross a stream on the way up to Mt. Marcy, so that didn’t deter us. We saw a man coming down the trail and asked him what it was like. It was a young German guy, and he told us in a thick German accent that he hadn’t encountered a single person on this trail until us, and that it was beautiful on top. That sounded great, so we headed up the rocky stream until we got to the somewhat flat top of Mt. Skylight which had a wonderful view of Mt. Marcy. As promised, we were the only ones up there, and the weather had cleared for spectacular vistas.
We climbed back down and continued down Feldspar Brook, a difficult trail with lots of water and rocks. It was very slow going and I was exhausted. It was only mid-afternoon, and I came to the realization that I was simply no longer in shape for hiking full days anymore. You can’t just magically hike 8-10 hour days less than a year after extensive hip surgery. I was basically sleep walking at this point. We got to a camp spot, and I was ready to sleep. It was barely dinner time. We set up the tent and I crawled in and instantly passed out. I woke up an hour later drooling.
In the meantime Dirt Stew decided to investigate the trails from there and told me that in order to lessen our miles for tomorrow (we had a wedding to get to by the next evening), we should probably continue on at least another half mile or mile to the next campsite. So, we packed up and set out again on the boggy trail towards the next campground. We got there in less than 20 minutes, and we stopped and looked at our watches. It was about 7:30pm, so we had another hour before dark. The next campsite was about 1.8 miles away, and depending on the terrain that could mean anything from less than an hour to over two to get there. I learned not to make assumptions about hiking speed in the Adirondacks.
We bumped into a lady collecting water in a nearby stream and we asked her for the trail conditions up ahead. She told us the trail was absolutely beautiful and it had taken them 2 hours to cover the distance. She wondered why we would want to risk covering the distance in the dark, and I explained that we had a wedding to get to the next day. She looked at me like I was insane. I’m not sure why we decided we could therefore cover that distance in half the time, but we decided to go for it. The terrain was much easier than other sections we had hiked in, and the lady was right about its beauty. The trail followed an amazing rocky river littered with waterfalls and gorges. We hiked fast and wished we had more time to take in the scenery, but daylight was running out. I was surprised how much energy I gained from an hour’s nap.
We arrived at the next campsite in about 45 minutes, which surprised us, and we quickly set up camp and crawled into bed. My hip hurt so I took two Advil before falling asleep.
(8/19/16) Day 3: 7.8 miles
We got up around 6:30AM and got going. We were headed straight up the back of Mt. Algonquin, a 2 mile ascent going up 2300ft in elevation. We got nervous when the first half mile or so was fairly flat. The trail then went straight up a stream, up the steep rocky banks over waterfalls and steep slabs of rock. Rocky scrambles were difficult for me as my hip was sore from the day before. Every time we looked up at where the trail went we were in awe.
“That was a fun maneuver” said Dirt Stew after making it up a large boulder.
“I didn’t realize this would be the kind of trail that would require maneuvers” I replied, as I looked up at the impossible scramble.
Sometimes it was hard to tell where the trail was, but as long as we just went up we seemed to stick with it. I can honestly say this was one of the most challenging trails I’ve hiked. The trail was empty except for two young energetic men who passed us half way up.
As we reached tree line, my legs could barely handle any more ascent. To the left was Iroquois Peak, and we decided we didn’t have the time or energy to go up that one, so we carried on to the crowded summit of Algonquin Peak. There was a Summit Steward up there telling people about the plant life and encouraging folks to stay on the rocks to protect the rare species trying to survive up there.
The way down the other side of Algonquin was crowded with people, kids, dogs, etc. all clambering to get to the summit. There were large slabs of rock to slide down, but in general the descent was not too bad. We got to the junction with Wright Peak, and with only a 0.8 mile side trip, we were able to reach another summit with a great view of Algonquin Peak. Then we hiked all the way back down to the parking lot. On the way down, the trail got steadily easier, but my legs got steadily more tired. My right hip was totally beat, and by the time we got to the car it was only mid afternoon, but I was ready to spend the next hour or two sitting in the car on the way to Mike and Katie’s Adirondack summer camp wedding!