Canoeing Ten Thousand Islands, Florida

Ten Thousand Islands is part of Everglades National Park, and you can spend weeks canoeing the waters around these islands.  If you look at a map of Florida, Ten Thousand Island takes up the entire southwestern part of the Everglades National Park, all the way from near Naples to the Flamingo Bay Visitor’s Center.

We drove to Everglades City where there is a visitor’s center and a place to rent canoes and get camping permits.  We stood in line to reserve a camping spot on one of the islands, but by the time we were helped, the only camping spots were a far canoe trip away.  We had all day to get to a designated island to camp, and given that you can canoe at least as fast as you can walk, we didn’t think much about a 10-15 mile canoe trip.

There is no fresh water out on the islands, so you have to bring enough water for your entire trip out.  It’s recommended to bring at least one gallon per person per day.  You can actually canoe a waterway that is 100 miles long, and you can imagine how many gallons of water you would need to stash in your canoe to start that trip.

We got most of our stuff into a dry bag and what didn’t fit and could get wet, we put in a backpack separately.

It wasn’t obnoxiously hot, but the sun was beating down, and once we were in open water, there was no escaping it.  We were so glad that we had stopped to buy sunglasses when we realized that we forgot them, but we also stupidly forgot our floppy hats.  We were canoeing right into the sun, and could barely keep our eyes open even with the sunglasses on.  I could feel my forehead burning despite the sunscreen.  If only we had SOMETHING to put on our heads!  I scanned the contents of the canoe and my eyes rested on our life-jackets which were uselessly discarded in a pile in the middle of the canoe.  I reached back to grab one and put my head through the hole and tightened the straps.  It wasn’t comfortable, but it worked!


I kept a compass around my neck and often checked the map, but since there are no hills and all the islands are simply covered in mangroves, it was impossible to tell one thing from another.  We were just moving around in the water, and all around us there were bodies of land covered in mangroves.   It was hard to tell if a certain land mass was an island or a peninsula, or whether an inlet was actually a boating channel or just a dead end.  Without a GPS, trying to keep track of where we were was almost impossible.

We were lost, but at least we knew generally speaking which way to go, so we kept paddling.  We kept drinking a lot of water to stay hydrated since we could feel the sun sucking up the moisture from our bodies.  Once we saw the horizon we knew to paddle towards open ocean, and we knew we could then figure out where we were.  The water started to get a bit choppy, so we headed directly to the closest island, which had a cute little beach.  We paddled against the wind to hit shore.  Once there, I pulled out my iPhone and looked at the compass app, which was very helpful, because it shows GPS coordinates.  I figured out exactly where we were (Turtle Key) based on corresponding those coordinates to our map.

Once we both peed, drank some more water and agreed which land masses we should be headed for next, we got back into the canoe and headed out.  The waves got worse.  It was so choppy that waves were breaking into the canoe, and paddling against the wind and the waves was exhausting.  I knew we had a long ways to go to get to our island, but given the conditions, we decided to stop at the very next island.

We pulled up onto the beach, and there were two guys already there.  They told us that they were the only ones on the island so far, but that the rangers allowed 2 groups to camp on Rabbit Key.  Apparently, there was one more group yet to come.  The island was big though, and given the conditions, we thought it would be best to call it quits here.  The two guys headed to a different side of the island and told us they thought we’d be fine camping there even though our permit was for a different spot.  There was room for another group if they showed up.

In the end, no other groups showed up.  We set up camp, pulled the canoe onto the shore past the high tide line, and watched the birds.  As the tide came in, I sat on a sandy beach that separated two sections of the island and watched as the water rose and cut the island in two.  I sat there for at least an hour watching the birds on the beach move with the tide.

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I then tried to cook dinner.  I use the word “tried,” because in fact, I totally failed. I pulled a “Dirt Stew.”  As I was draining the pasta, my hand slipped and all the pasta fell onto the sandy beach.  This is exactly how Dirt Stew got his trail name, only he spilled the pasta in mud.  I carefully picked each piece of pasta up off the beach and put it in a ziplock bag in order to carry it out and throw it away.  Ironically it was the shell type of pasta.  Luckily we also had instant mashed potatoes with us too, so we ate that instead.  I looked over at Dirt Stew as we ate our meal and asked him, “without looking at your watch, what day of the week do you think it is?”  “Uhhh, Thursday?”  He replied.  “Nope!  It’s Saturday!” I told him.  This was obviously a good vacation.

We got into the tent and fell asleep as the sun set.  I was probably before 7 PM.

The sunrise woke us up again in the morning, and we broke down camp and dragged the canoe over the isthmus to the other side of the island in hopes of having more sheltered waters for our return trip.

We canoed directly into the wind, fighting the tide for the first couple of miles until we got into more sheltered waters.  This time I kept much better track of exactly where we were with respect to the map, and we managed not to get lost.  We pulled out of a passage that we never would have found on the way in, because it was basically invisible unless you were on top of it.

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As we entered into the larger bay close to the mainland, a dolphin sneaked up on us.  It swam beside us for a good 15 to 20 minutes as we paddled closer to shore.  I think it enjoyed our company.  Once it decided to take off, it was clear that it could swim much faster than we were paddling, and it had really slowed down to swim with us for a while.  I felt honored.

We pulled up onto shore and returned our canoes before heading out for more land-based exploring.  We felt the rocking of the boat lingering in our bodies as we drove off.

 

Starting the New Year hiking!

It’s good to start the New Year by doing what you love, so just like last year, we decided to go for a hike on New Year’s Day.

If you’ve been following me, you’ll know that this hike, like last year’s was probably on crutches.  I’m now 10 weeks post-op since getting my other hip reconstructed, and I’d say I’m doing pretty well at this point.  It’s been rough having to go through two such surgeries one year apart, but now I know that I’m finally on the mend for good and it’s only going to get better from here.

I hiked less than 2 miles on New Year’s day, but it felt good.  The very next day I went out and hiked about 2 miles again but this time occasionally switched out my crutches for hiking poles.  That felt even better.

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One of many crutch walks

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New Year’s Crutch-Hike

Hiking with poles!

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Happy!

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Moore Cove Falls.

I plan on increasing my hiking distance slowly, adding maybe half a mile or so a week, and by March or April I should be able to start guiding hikes again.

This experience has been humbling and I think I’ve grown in ways I don’t even know yet.  I’ve learned to be dependent on other people, to be patient with healing, and to appreciate the little moments of independence and improvement.

I hope that 2017 will be an exciting year.  We have applied to Leave No Trace for a Traveling Trainer’s position which we think we are the perfect fit for, and if we don’t get that position, we will try to finish the 100 mile section of the PCT that we haven’t hiked due to wildfires back in 2014.

I’m sure there will be many other hiking adventures this year regardless of where we end up.  In just a few weeks we have a short trip to Florida planned where we’ll be able to enjoy some warmth while canoeing and hiking in the Everglades.  I can’t wait to put my backpack on again and crawl into our tent for the night.  There’s no place like home.

Art Loeb Trail in a Day

About a month ago I got it into my head that I wanted to push myself on a long-ish day hike right before my next hip surgery.  I was at a low point.  I was dreading being handicapped again for a long period of time followed by months and months of rehabilitation.  I was finally at a stage where I could hike again, and I wanted to do as much of it as possible while I still could.

So when I visited my PT, I asked him if he thought it would be a bad idea if I hiked the Art Loeb Trail within the week before surgery.  He told me he didn’t think I would do any permanent damage, and gave me the green light.  I left his office giddy with anticipation and immediately marked my calendar for Art Loeb Trail, October 22nd, 6 days before surgery.

The Art Loeb Trail is a 30.1 mile trail that starts near Brevard at the Davidson River Campground and climbs all the way up to the Blue Ridge Parkway then follows the crest of a series of stunning 6,000+ ft mountains and then slowly descends into the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp, which is basically in the middle of nowhere.  The total elevation gain is about 10,000 ft.  It’s not an easy 30 miles, and most people hike it over the course of 2 to 4 days.

For me, conquering the Art Loeb Trail held a lot of significance.  It was about 3 months after my first hip surgery, in February of this year, that Dirt Stew thought that getting me out to the mountains would cheer me up, and we drove all the way to the Davidson River Campground to go for a short walk on the Art Loeb along the river.  We walked less than half a mile before my hip wouldn’t let me go any further and I was in terrible pain.  I hobbled back to the car and cried.

Then, in late May, we tried again.  I was now six months post-surgery, and still feeling pain on a regular basis, but I was much stronger.  This time we were going to do it as a backpacking trip, and I was excited, but definitely over-eager.  We were back at the Davidson River Campground, and I was ready to conquer the trail.  On the first day I pushed myself much too hard.  The trail was hard and unforgiving.  There seemed to be only steep ups and steep downs.  I slept poorly the first night due to hip pain, and by the second day I was in so much pain, I decided to call it quits.  We hitch-hiked back to our car and drove home in defeat.

This time, October 22nd, 11months post-surgery, and I wanted to hike the whole thing in a day.  Was I crazy?  Probably.

In the days before the hike I got really nervous.  I started having dreams of hiking alone in the dark in terrible pain, losing the trail and slowly losing my mind.  I decided early on that I was going to do the hike alone.  As much as I love hiking with Dirt Stew, this time I had to do it alone.  I had to be uncomfortable alone.  I had to know I could get through it alone.   In 5 days, I will have to go through surgery alone.  Not that Dirt Stew won’t be there to support me.  He will be there in the hospital with me the whole time, and he’ll be following me with the car on my Art Loeb hike the whole time too, but physically, I’ll be the one going through it, alone.  Plus, let’s be honest here, it would be better if I had nobody to complain to.

The week before the hike Dirt Stew and I both came down with a cold.  We wound up cancelling a backpacking trip we were meant to go on together the weekend before, and by the day before my Art Loeb hike, I was still completely congested and coughing uncontrollably.  We tried to go to bed early the night before, but I couldn’t sleep.  The mucus in my sinuses was driving me nuts, so I decided to take a decongestant.  Then, my sinuses felt completely dry, and every time I breathed I felt like I had to cough.  I didn’t sleep at all.  By midnight I gave up and started reading the news, the weather, and whatever else I could find on my iphone.  When it got to be around 3AM, I thought about waking Dirt Stew up, but he was snoring lightly, so felt bad waking him.  Our alarms were set for 4AM, but I decided to finally wake Dirt Stew up at 3:30AM to get an even earlier start.  He didn’t look happy about it.  We packed up quickly and drove off.  By 4:30AM we were at the Davidson River Campground.

Dirt Stew pulled the car into the parking lot and parked.  The memories of sitting in the car crying after hiking less than half a mile came flooding back as I sat there in the car staring at the dark trail head in front of me.

“Are you going to get out?” Dirt Stew asked.

“Yeah” I said.

I got out and Dirt Stew took a picture of me.

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“See ya up the trail” he said and gave me a quick hug before turning around and getting back in the car

That was it.  No words of encouragement, no pep talk, no fussing around.  It was pitch black.  I took a few steps into the woods and looked back.  The car was gone.   I looked at my watch.  4:32AM

I shivered.  It was probably in the low 40’s and I was wearing shorts and a tank top with long underwear over top and a wind jacket and a hat.  The wind was making the trees sway around me.  As the trail started climbing, I quickly warmed up.  I soon took off the wind jacket and also the long underwear top.

I was still completely congested, but the cold air was causing my nose to run even more, and after I blew amazing amounts of mucus out of my nose a few times, I actually felt as if I could breathe.

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The trail was covered in leaves.  The leaves covered up rocks and roots and kept slipping under my feet.  I liked the crunching sound of my steps, especially in the silence of the darkness, but every so often I’d nearly roll my ankle on a root or a loose rock.  I let my mind wander.  This was probably the first time I had ever night-hiked alone.  I imagined the animals in the woods watching me hike.  I imagined people in their tents listening to my footsteps as I hiked past them.  For some strange reason, I even imagined coming across a dead body in the night.  I tried to keep a fast pace, and for the most part that wasn’t hard.

Then, I fell flat on my face.  I tripped over a root or something and landed on my hands and knees and my headlamp, which I had been carrying in my hand went flying and hit something which caused it to turn off.  It was suddenly completely dark and the leaves under my hands were cold and wet.  I couldn’t see anything.  I felt around for my headlamp and couldn’t find it.  I remembered that I packed a spare headlamp in my backpack, and fumbled around for it.  I found it and turned it on.  It took me another 3 or 4 minutes to find the other headlamp, which was black.  I found it further up the trail than I was expecting, hidden among the leaves.  I must have really thrown it when I landed.  I brushed myself off and kept going.

At around 6AM I saw a light up ahead.  It was Dirt Stew!  He had hiked in from Cat Gap.  I was surprised to see him so early, but happy to have some company in the dark.  He asked me if I needed anything, and I said no.  I told him my hip already hurt, and he told me he wasn’t surprised.  We walked another mile or so together before he said “I see Cat Gap up ahead”

“Oh this is where you leave me?”  I asked.  “Yup” he replied.

There were some tents, and a camp fire with someone sitting next to it in the dark, probably someone who couldn’t sleep because of the cold.  I looked behind me, and Dirt Stew was gone again.  No “good bye”, no “good luck”.  Had I dreamt that he was even there?

I continued in the dark for about another hour before it got light.  I saw bright orange clouds appearing on the horizon before my view of the sunrise was obscured by the mountains.  By 7:30AM I was able to put away my headlamp.

Once I could see, I decided I should go pee, eat something, and look at my map (in that order).   I ate a tortilla covered in Nutella, and by 8:00AM I had made it to Butter Gap, already 8.6 miles into the hike.  There’s a shelter there, and there had to have been around 40 or 50 men milling around the shelter packing up camp, cooking breakfast, shivering while holding cups of steaming liquid.  I hiked through the camp like a ghost.  One guy looked at me in a daze over his cup of steaming coffee.  I don’t think he was awake enough to say “good morning”.

At 9:30AM I came to Gloucester Gap, and saw our car parked on the side of the road.  I went up to the car and inside I saw the top of Dirt Stew’s hat poking out of a sleeping bag.  I knocked on the window and he bolted up and opened the door.  His eyes were a bit swollen and pink from lack of sleep, but he was happy to see me.  “Good morning, Sweetie!” he said.

I sat down next to the trail and ate a snack.  Dirt Stew handed me a soda and I drank as much as I could quickly before giving him a hug and heading off.

From Gloucester Gap you have to climb Pilot Mountain, which is nearly a 2,000ft climb, but the climb doesn’t end there.  After a couple of ups and downs, you have to climb all the way up to the parkway and then all the way up to Black Balsam from there.   This was the most demanding section of the trail.

I slowly made my way up Pilot Mountain, catching my breath every once in a while, while looking at the views appearing around me.  I was thankful to have my altimeter watch, which told me how far up the mountain I was.  Otherwise there were about 2 false summits.  At the top I treated myself to a delicious German energy bar (which was mostly just marzipan covered in chocolate), and put on a few more layers for the down-hill.

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Top of Pilot Mt.

 

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Beautiful views

The climb up to the parkway felt never-ending.  Some mountain bikers nearly ran me over, and I wondered if they were even allowed on the Art Loeb Trail.  A half mile or a mile before the parkway, I ran into Dirt Stew again, who had parked at Black Balsam and hiked down to meet me.  He told me there was ice up on Black Balsam.

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So many leaves on the trail!

Once we made it past the Blue Ridge Parkway, the trail climbs steeply up to meet the Mountains to Sea Trail.  The climb goes up about 500 ft in less than half a mile with some scrambling, and by the time I hit the well graded Mountains to Sea Trail, I said “Thank God!”  I knew this was going to be the prettiest section of the trail.

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The sun was bright

Hiking past Chestnut Bald and then up to Black Balsam was spectacular.  My legs were tired, but the views were fantastic.  The ice on the trees made it all the more beautiful.  It was a crowded day on top of Black Balsam and Tennant Mountain, and we kept getting stuck behind slow moving people.

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Ice

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Tennent Mountain

Dirt Stew hiked all the way to the first intersection of the Investor Gap Trail where he offered me another soda, but I declined.  He also had Gatorade with him, so I drank some of that and took my first Advil of the day.  With about 10 miles left to the hike, I needed my hip to stop hurting so badly.  I got to Investor Gap, where the Shinning Rock Wilderness boundary is at 2:30PM.  I was making good time.

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Once Dirt Stew left again, the trail got easier.  It was actually flat in some sections, and followed the ridge line.  I passed many day hikers and then many backpackers.  When I passed the trail junction with Old Butt Trail, the number of hikers decreased dramatically.  I was alone again.

The trail went from flat and easy to rocky and narrow.  I was in a section called “The Narrows”.  The trail almost seemed to peter out in some spots, and at one point I really thought I had completely lost the trail.  I bush-wacked along the ridge for 100 ft or so and took out my map.  The trail definitely followed the ridge, so I was going in the right direction.  I heard voices, and followed them.  I suddenly hit something that looked more like a trail, and was a bit confused as to which direction to take it.  I looked at my map again and heard the voices again, and decided to keep going upwards, following the ridge.  I never found the people, but I did feel like I was probably on the trail.

I eventually caught up with a group of women backpacking from Atlanta.  I asked them where they were headed, and they said “Deep Gap”.  Good, I was probably going in the right direction.  The trail was hard here, and going down into Deep Gap, the trail was often very steep and with my legs tired, I was afraid of falling.  It took longer than I had expected.

When I got to Deep Gap I wasn’t sure if I was actually at Deep Gap, and I didn’t see the Art Loeb heading down the hill, so I decided to keep going straight for a while to see if the trail would continue to go up or down.  It went up.  I looked at my altimeter and checked the map.  To be sure, I hiked up a bit further.  Yup, still uphill.  I was climbing Cold Mountain.  Oops.  I turned around, and went back to Deep Gap, and there was a man there staring at a map.

“Is this Deep Gap?”  I asked?

“I don’t know, I’m a bit lost myself” He said.

We traded notes, and he was looking for the trail that I had been on, and I was looking for the trail that he had been on.  How convenient.  It’s hard to find the trail down from Deep Gap to continue on the Art Loeb.  It’s not marked at all, and where the trail turns, it is a bit overgrown.  I was glad to have made my final turn.  Now there were no mistakes left to be made.  I left Deep Gap around 4:45PM.

About 15 minutes later, I ran into Dirt Stew.  “YAY!”  He said.  “You’re here!”  He had hiked up from the terminus of the trail, hoping to meet me at Deep Gap to keep me from making the wrong turn.  He was happy to see me, and told me I was a badass.  I was still about 3 miles from the end, and I knew the last few miles downhill would be rough on my hip, my knees and my feet.

A few minutes later we ran into a man who asked us if we had an extra headlamp and if he could buy if off of us.  I asked him what was going on.  He had made a wrong turn from Cold Mountain and hiked down the Art Loeb to the Boy Scout Camp instead of hiking in the opposite direction on the Art Loeb back to where he had set up camp at the Old Butt Trail junction.  He had a long hike back to his camp, and no headlamp.  It was definitely going to get dark before he made it back.  So we fished through our gear for an extra headlamp.

“How much do you want?” he asked, pulling out money, “60 bucks?”

“Oh, no, headlamps are only like $20.”  I said, and handed him a functioning headlamp.  He handed us the money and thanked us profusely.

“You guys are life savers,” he said.

Then the trail wore on.  One foot in front of the other.  I kept having shooting pain in my hip and I bit my tongue so as not to complain.  My legs were tired and my feet sore, but I was so close.

The last mile felt like five, but when I finally saw the car my pace quickened.  I could feel myself grinning.  “Oh my god, I made it!” I proclaimed.  “And it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought!”

Dirt Stew took a few pictures, and I limped over to the car and got in.

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That was it.  I conquered the Art Loeb.

And I’ll conquer hip surgery on Friday.

And Dirt Stew will be there for me to support me again.  I can’t thank him enough.

Adirondack High Peaks

 

(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.

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(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.

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Going up 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.

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Storm rolling in from the summit of Mt Marcy

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Top of Mt Marcy

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.

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Top of Skylight

 

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.

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One of the ridiculously boggy trails that Dirt Stew investigated while I was sleeping

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.

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Cool waterfalls

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.

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The lake that we camped near– the next morning

(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.

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Start going up

“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.

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Rocky Trail

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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.

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Going up steep slabs of rock

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.

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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!

Juan de Fuca Trail Day 3

Day 3, 7/30/2016: 21 km

We woke up at 5:30AM and got a quick start.

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The beach at sunrise

The trail was extremely demanding and progress was fairly slow.  This was marked “the most difficult” section, and the trail was very steep and slippery and we were constantly clambering down the sides of cliffs and up muddy banks.  I was happy not to see a single bug for several hours.  The forest was beautiful.

Dirt Stew stopped me as I was teetering on the side of a cliff and showed me a Douglas Fir cone, pointing out the funny dragon tongue protrusions on the cones.

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Meanwhile I was nervous about what would happen if we encountered one of these wasp’s nests in a particularly dangerous area.  I could see myself falling to my death while running away from wasps.  We managed to tip toe past several nests and arrived at Bear Beach where there were tons of people camped.  We walked along the beach and my legs felt like jelly.

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I was relieved to be through the difficult section but we had many more miles to hike to make it to the end of the trail, and I knew my legs would need to find some extra energy.  We then heard that there were more wasp’s nests ahead, and I told Dirt Stew that I’m happy to finish the trail, but I wasn’t about to hike it again in reverse to get back to our car.  I’d prefer to hitchhike back and day-hike somewhere else with our extra time.  We hiked on to Mystic Beach which was absolutely crowded with people and their children.  The last 2 kilometers of the trail seemed to last forever.  Fatigue had gotten the better of me.

We were able to hitch hike back to our car without too much trouble and we drove to the nearest place to have a meal.  After an expensive and disappointingly small plate of linguini alfredo, we drove back to the beginning of the trail at Botanical Beach and camped in the forest out of sight of the trail.

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Nothing feels quite as much like home as the tent.