Resting In The Unknown

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

The Four Geezers (Matt, Dave, Paul and George)

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Paul approached me a while back and said, “What about a trip just for the geezers?”, meaning all of our cohorts in the 40+ age range. Now if you’re over 40 we mean no harm. This was just our tongue in cheek way of saying we’re going on a men’s only trip. Fresh air and fellowship, food for the geezer’s soul. Something within a few hours of home, with some degree of solitude. We wanted to do reasonable mileage – not too hard, but not a lollipop hike either.

In the planning stages I first thought about Harriman Park in New York, but while I was doing my homework instead came upon the Shawangunk Ridge Trail. This trail seemed to fit the bill – it was 2 1/2 hours from home and it was a ridgeline trail so it should have views. The only real issue was a lack of info. There were no topo maps to be found, so I had no idea of how rugged the terrain was, and I deducted that water was going to be an issue. Because of the unknowns, and the fact that we were looking for a leisurely (or was that geezerly?) stroll, I kept the mileage down to about 5 miles per day. On top of that we were able to cache water at the halfway point, sooooo, problem solved.

After hiding water at Ferguson Road we went in search of the trailhead where we were going to leave my truck. I am so spoiled; between the Appalachian Trail and the Adirondacks I’m used to having good trailhead signage. Don’t count on that on the SRT. We spent a good half hour or better looking for the yellow blaze side trail where we were to park. We only found it by God’s grace because the only yellow blaze was 4/10 of a mile down from the trailhead, and Matt and I almost didn’t go that far looking for it.

After driving back to our starting point we had a short road walk and then finally, the journey began. We encountered a large blow down about 100 yards in and I thought, “I hope there’s better maintenance than this or this is going to be a long day!!!”. Thankfully, that was the only real blow down we would see all weekend. As we left the road the trail climbed higher and higher, trying to gain the ridge in earnest. Upward we climbed leaving the hardwood behind, until we finally we claimed the ridgetop with it’s covering of scrub oak and blueberry bushes. Somewhere near the top Dave and I were taking a breather and talking when all of a sudden Dave took off running, yelling something like “I gotta get outta here!”. He was standing on a ground nest full of angry yellow jackets and they decided to chase poor Dave down the trail. He got away, but not before getting stung about a dozen times. For whatever reason they never even gave me a look. We wound up taking a long break at an overlook while Dave got sorted out.

 

View toward Wurtsboro, NY

View toward Wurtsboro, NY

It was an idyllic spot for a break. There were views of the valley, and we could see gliders riding the clouds after being launched from Wurtsboro airport, climbing the same breezes that were cooling us after our climb up from the road. I haven’t been on a mountain hike in quite some time and this was a nice change of pace. Even so, my lack of conditioning was evident. I wasn’t dying, but I wasn’t leading the pack either. As long as I kept my own pace all was well.

A nice walk along the ridge was soon interrupted by a steep dip into a col, followed by a gentle climb back to the ridge. The payback for the effort was another nice view.

Dave taking it all in

Dave taking it all in

At some point along the ridge Dave and I caught up to Paul and Matt who were trying get a picture of the biggest porcupine any of us had ever seen. This critter looked like he was 40 pounds and stayed just far enough ahead of us on the trail to avoid our feeble attempts at becoming trail paparazzi. He finally bid us adieu and disappeared into the scrub as we descended into Roosa Gap. Down, down, down, and then finally back up to Ferguson Road. As we recovered our cached water we had a decision – climb up the ridge not knowing if there were any decent campsites, or double back (downhill, no less) to Roosa Gap. The decision became easier after consulting the weather; 100 percent chance of rain with thunderstorms. No one likes to retrace their steps, but fewer still want to be on top of a ridge in a thunderstorm.

Three hammocks and a tent

Three hammocks and a tent

While Dave pitched his tent the rest of us decided on hanging spots. Paul was spending his first night in his new Warbonnet Blackbird (very nice rig, if I do say so), while Matt was spending his first night hanging in my Hennessey Hammock Expedition Asym. In the meantime I hung my Warbonnet Traveler and cuben Hammock Gear tarp. After dinner Matt got a small fire going to cut the inky blackness, and as we were taking it all in the first drops of rain started. By the time we our hit respective bunks it started to rumble and pour. And pour it did for most of the night. I know I mention it every time, but I love the rain on a tarp. Everyone slept comfortably; even Paul, who is typically an early riser, couldn’t resist the comfort of his hammock.

Day 2

After breakfast and packing I had the pleasure of sharing from Hebrews 3:7-11,

“So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”.                                                                                                                                                                   This is an exhortation to be faithful and not harden our hearts. Weary and heavy laden? Jesus promises in Matthew 11:30, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”. We can only enter into God’s rest through faithfulness and obedience.

Climbing out of Roosa Gap

Climbing out of Roosa Gap

After packing up we once again started the climb out of Roosa Gap. The morning was cool and the sun was fighting a losing battle with the clouds. After a mile we reached the ridge top, with it’s cooling winds and awesome views.

Views south, with High Point, NJ some 35 miles in the distance

Views south, with High Point, NJ some 35 miles in the distance

Once again today would be dominated by a beautiful ridge walk. Scrub and blueberry lined trail gave way to the occasional view north toward the Catskills. Once again we dipped into a col, and stopped to snack at the base of an escarpment.The weather had turned decidedly cloudy and as we sat a chill started to settle in. A pack on one’s back does an amazing job of retaining core heat, and we decided to saddled up before we cooled too much.

Escarpment and stone walls

Escarpment and stone walls

A pleasant walk through hardwoods interspersed with the forgotten remains of old stone walls gave way to a gradual climb to regain the ridge top. At one of the last views we took a break as Dave took care of a cut he received after his foot lodged between two rocks. I won’t go into all the details, but let’s say I might have been a little less sympathetic than I should have been . Dave’s a good sport, evidenced by the fact that he hikes with us.

As we started down off the ridge for the last time I remarked to Dave that the trail reminded me of hiking in Maine, and he agreed. The Appalachian Trail in Maine follows some very similar looking terrain including stunted conifers, and views while walking over canted slabs of bare rock.

Descending trail with views toward the Catskill Mountains.

Descending trail with views toward the Catskills Mountains.

Down we went, steeper and steeper, until finally we hit bottom at the yellow blazed trail that led to my truck. A short walk to the road and this trip was history.

The Shawangunk Ridge Trail turned out to be everything we wanted and more in a geezer hike. The weather was great, the fellowship was sweet, and the challenges were just enough to satisfy that itch to get out.

 

 

 

West Canada Lakes Revisited

Acts 6:3

“Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”

And so it begins....

And so it begins…. Pillsbury Mt. trailhead.

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When I hiked the West Canada Lakes loop last year in New York states Adirondacks I instantly knew this was a place of solitude and immense beauty. I also knew I had to share this special place with my closest hiking companions. I put the offer out and Paul Cummings, his son Brian, and Josh Gordon were able to make it. Brian also brought along friends Micah, Antonio, and Ian, all first timers. We met around 5 am, and after many miles we finally hit the logging road into the wilderness. About 6 miles in (and after dodging a logging truck) we finally made the trailhead at Pillsbury Mountain. We were hiking by about noon (maybe later – just a little fuzzy in my memory bank), and as the trail started it’s steady uphill climb the boys were off like a shot! Paul and I took our time, letting the boys get a slight lead, although I’m sure I couldn’t have kept up even if I wanted. Ha, ha, let ’em run – I want them tired at camp. At about 1.7 miles the trail crests the hill, and the boys were taking a break waiting for the geezers to catch up.

First rest break

First rest break, French Louie Trail junction

With the hard part of day one over, it was time to enjoy a nice stroll in the woods. The trail heads generally down-hill, with the occasional wet area. Between the junction of the French Louie Trail and Cedar Lake there is a washed out bridge, a rickety bridge, and a washed out dam at the junction of the Northville-Placid Trail.

Rickety trail crossing

Rickety trail crossing

Trail maintenance is a little light in this section, but that didn’t seem to matter because all too soon Cedar Lake appeared before us, showing just a sample of the beauty to come. As we approached lean-to #1 a small group of college students on the last day of their wilderness adventure appeared. It was just a little too crowded for our liking, so as the rain started to come down we made a beeline for lean-to #2, just 10 minutes further down the trail (and the better location in my opinion). Not long after we settled in the rain decided to get serious.

I will say, I love sleeping in the rain. At home I’ll crack the windows so I can hear the rain on the gutters, and in the woods the sound  on my tarp is like a lullaby that soothes me to sleep. What a perfect ending to a perfect day. I’m back home in the wilderness.

Day 2

Early to bed and early to rise – blah blah blah. Anyone who’s ever known the comfort of being cocooned in a hammock on a cool morning knows that morning always comes way too early. Oh well, guess I’ll greet the morning, knowing that it’s Friday and I could be working instead – not!

Good morning Cedar Lake!

Good morning Cedar Lake!

Mountain House scrambled eggs with ham on a tortilla, along with a hot cuppa tea sweetened with honey got the old motor firing on all cylinders. After everyone ate and packed up Paul shared from the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. Nice to always remember Jesus (the Word) has always been there in God’s plan for our salvation.

Once again the morning started with an uphill climb to get the blood flowing. This section of the trail was the nicest from a ease of hiking perspective. We spent most of the day with soft trail underfoot and only the occasional blow-down.

Nice trail

Nice trail

The plan each day was to leave camp around 9 am, and get to our next destination around 2 pm. In between the boys generally hiked ahead, waiting for the rest of the group at predetermined spots on the trail. I’ll usually give them something a mile or two down the trail to shoot for, and they get to that point about ten minutes or so ahead of the rest of us. At one point we gathered at a stream crossing and it was great fun to watch the guys laughing and having a good time.

Soon enough we hit the famous South Lake Bridge, immortalized by many a camera toting hiker. Last year I spotted a family of otters here, but this year we had to be satisfied with the calling of the loons. No matter, the views of South Lake from the bridge are nothing less than God-breathed and food for the weary soul.

Approaching the South Lake  bridge

Approaching the South Lake bridge

A few minutes after the bridge and we were at the South Lake lean-to. I think next to Cedar Lake number 2, this is my favorite on this loop. The view is awesome, and if you like to fish or swim you can access the lake directly in front of the lean-to.

Wading and fishing at South Lake

Wading and fishing at South Lake
Photo courtesy of Paul Cummings

While some of us were checking out the lake Ian decided a fire was in order.

What’s really cool about getting to camp early is being able  to stay as busy as you choose. My choice was to lounge, others fished, while others just stayed busy doing a whole lot of nothing.

Josh Gordon fishing

Sunset fishing at South Lake

Still, when dark finally arrived, we were tired (ok, at least I was). Other than being awakened by the sound of a pack of coyotes howling in the middle of the night I slept well.

Day 3

Morning, oh glorious morning! Same routine, different day. And what a great routine – wake up, eat, pack up, spent time in devotions and hike. What could be simpler, what could be better? Can I get paid to do this, because if that job opens up I’m there!

Morning devotions

Morning devotions
Photo courtesy of Paul Cummings

Paul once again shared from the Book of John, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” It is only through the grace and truth (and mercy) of Jesus that we can truly be called children of God. He is the way, the truth and the light!

Reluctantly we left South Lake, but if I have my way I will be back someday. After a short hike we passed West Canada Creek lean-to and regrouped at the rebuilt West Canada Creek bridge. Here we left the Northville Placid Trail and started up the French Louie Trail.

Bridge across West Canada Creek

Bridge across West Canada Creek

IMG_0703

Looking north at West Canada Creek

French Louie was a trapper from the late 1800’s whose trap line ran roughly in the area we were hiking. Our destination this day was Pillsbury Lake, and that is where French Louie spent his last night in the forest. In February of 1915 Louie hiked into the town of Speculator and rented a room, which he paid for with a trout. He fell ill on the evening of February 27, 1915 and by the next morning had passed away at the age of 85. Fortunately there would be no illness among our group of hearty travelers.

The trail at this point follows a generally uphill course, and as I mentioned last year becomes a bit less maintained. There were many more large blow-downs in this section that made for a little slower going. Paul and I finally caught the boys at the turnoff for the Sampson Lake lean-to, which brings me to something I noticed from day one – there is signage for all the lean-tos! Last year I mentioned that most of the lean-tos had no sign showing where they were located, but this year every single one was marked. Sampson Lake previously had a shovel blade nailed to a tree, but no more! Now if they just get the junction signs at West Lake and West Canada replaced – just sayin’!

Junction with the side trail to Sampson Lake lean-to circa 2012

Junction with the side trail to Sampson Lake lean-to circa 2012

Junction with side trail to Sampson Lake lean-to circa 2013

Junction with side trail to Sampson Lake lean-to circa 2013

After a short break we were off again. I told the boys to wait up when the trail turned into a woods road. What the boys didn’t know, and what I failed to explain was that an old woods road doesn’t always look like a road. Sometimes the only indication you get that the trail was a road is that the trees on either side of the trail spread out a little. Anyway, we didn’t catch the boys again until the turn off to the Pillsbury lean-to. Fortunately they caught sight of the lean-to sign when they decided to wait for me and Paul.

Old woods road

Old woods road

Once again we would spent a wonderful night camped out at a beautiful Adirondack lake. I pitched my hammock sans tarp, Paul used his Titanium Goat bivy for the first time, and Micah decided to cowboy camp. There’s nothing like sleeping under the stars on a cool evening.

Day 4

Micah cowboy camping like a boss

Micah cowboy camping like a boss
Photo courtesy of Paul Cummings

You can tell when summer is drawing to a close, because you wake in the morning and a mist shrouds the lake as the warmer water does battle against the cool night air. Then as the morning progresses it’s a God inspired play of nature, with the fog retreating, exposing creation in all of it’s glory. I’ll take a ticket to that show any time!

Morning mist on Pillsbury Lake

Morning mist on Pillsbury Lake

After eating a warming breakfast of ramen noodles and canned chicken (couldn’t  get pouches), and packing for the last time, we once again settled our minds and hearts as Paul read from John, “He said, ” I am The voice of one crying in the wilderness; Make straight the way of the Lord.”.  That cry is as important today as it was for the Israelites in John’s day. While we wander a crooked path through the (West Canada Lakes) wilderness, it’s important that in our day to day lives we walk a path of “good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom”. 

Parting shot - Pillsbury Lake lean-to

Parting shot – Pillsbury Lake lean-to

Our walk out could be summed up in two words: short and fast. We only had 3.5 miles to the trailhead, and most of that was either level or down-hill. We hit the trailhead and our vehicles somewhere around 11:00am. I had a low front tire on my truck, and a couple in the parking lot offered me their air pump. Turns out Elijah read WWTS in preparation for his trip into the West Canada Lakes.Thanks for the help brother!

I was really glad I had the opportunity to share this special area with the guys, and would absolutely return again. We hiked for 4 days, covering 22 miles and only saw the college students on day one, and one other camper on the last night. We passed absolutely no one out on the trail, and had the lean-tos to ourselves each night. If your looking to get away and find solitude and great scenery, this might be your trip.

As an added bonus, Brian Cummings put together an awesome video compilation of the trip. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Buggin’ Out At Sand Lake Falls (or How I went hiking and left my brain home)

Exodus 8:20-23

“20 And the Lord said to Moses, “Rise early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh as he comes out to the water. Then say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. 21 Or else, if you will not let My people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand. 22 And in that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there, in order that you may know that Iam the Lord in the midst of the land. 23 I will make a difference between My people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall be.”

Woodgate Trailhead

 

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We all have one – that one backpacking trip you’ve been dreaming of for a very long time. That trip you’d give anything to go on. I have wanted to hike to Sand Lake Falls in the west central Adirondacks ever since I bought An Adirondack Sampler II by Bruce Wadsworth back in the early 90’s. Out of all the trips in that tomb of Adirondack gold, Sand Lake Falls stood out to me like a beacon on a clear dark night. Well, after 20+ years of thinking about it I finally decided to make my dream hike happen. Only one hitch. No big deal really, I just had to leave my brain home. Now I hear you saying “how do you leave your brain home?”. Ask your wife or significant other and I’m pretty sure they can name at least one time when you went brainless, so I’m sure it’s possible. Actually, it’s more like you overlook or disbelieve every logical piece of info you receive, or otherwise craft it to fit whatever truth you hope for.

On this particular outing I started by breaking my number one rule of backpacking – no trips in July. I will hike any of the other eleven months, but July is a no-no due to heat and bugs. I then justified it by telling myself that the Adirondacks were going to be much less humid than the lousy weather we were experiencing in southern New Jersey. I then backed it up by consulting the ultimate story tellers – weather.gov. Come on, weather men who work for the government? Really??? Then, just to make sure my brain was thoroughly in neutral, I left without a bug net. What could go wrong?

Trailhead sign

 

By the time I made the drive up it was about 11:30, and after changing and chatting with a fellow hiker in the parking lot who was heading to Chubb Pond, I was off around noon. The hike starts off on a nice jeep road that eventually becomes a rutted ATV trail. Can’t really complain here because the road is used by some of the hunting camps in the area, and a portion of the trail is routed away from the road for  a little bit.

Jeep road

I don’t remember much about this section of the trail because reality came running up behind me and smacked me in the back of the head. The mosquitoes and gnats were intense beyond annoying. I tried to out hike them :), and by the time I got to the Village of Millbrook (population zero in case you were wondering) it was time for a fix. Banadana on- check. Roll down sleeves – check. It’s 85 stinkin’ degrees- check. Where’s my brain – at home – check. That’s better, I’ll just melt my way to Sand Lake Falls.

Bug free

Do I look brainless to you?

 

After a quick lunch I headed out with my new adjustments doing a dandy job. The next section of trail between the Village of Millbrook and my destination wasn’t without it’s challenges, but it still seemed to go by rather quickly. The first hundred yards or so are kinda vague and boggy.

Trail?

Thata way!

 

Then the next couple of miles alternates between nice trail and nasty bogs, with deep sucking mud.

Boggy trail

 

The final mile or so to the falls was my favorite, since it was nice dry trail. Once I realized I was on the final downhill I listened, and there it was. The unmistakable roar of the falls. There is no better energy booster than knowing you’re almost there!

Sand Lake Falls lean-to

Sand Lake Falls lean-to

I have to say, for all my whining up to this point, wow! A picture perfect campsite if I ever saw one. Kudos to Lean2Rescue for such a beautiful job restoring the shelter. And not but 100 feet in front of the lean-to was the prize – Sand Lake Falls. The falls were more beautiful than I imagined! Their roar would later lull me to sleep – one of the best nights sleep I’ve had in a long time. It’s a blessing and a pity that this site sees so little use. Here it was, July 13th and the last journal entry was from May 29th, and they were passing through.

Sand Lake Falls

Sand Lake Falls

After taking in the surroundings I decided to check out the lean-to and to my surprise and concern, muddy bear tracks! In one side, mulling around, and right out the other.

Muddy bear prints!

Muddy bear prints!

All I could do was hope he was a passerby, and not a regular. I started dinner on the picnic table outside the lean-to. While I was waiting for water to boil I set about hanging my hammock in a nice stand of trees up the hill a little ways from the lean-to, and searched out a good spot to hang my food. Since I knew for certain bruins were close by I was going to be extra diligent about my camp triangle.

At least I brought a bugnet for the hammock!

At least I brought a bugnet for the hammock!

I enjoyed a dinner that consisted of tortillas stuffed with Mountain House Chicken Fajita Filling, which I have to admit was very tasty. It had plenty of roasted vegetables and chicken, without a lot of filler. I’d definitely do that one again.

After finishing up my camp chores there was nothing left to do but sit around and feed the bugs. I decided instead to hang out in my hammock, listen to my ipod, and read. It was about 7 pm, and the big problem was it was still about 80 degrees. I spent the next hour sweating until it occurred to me to slide my underquilt out from under the hammock. That did the trick. I dozed off sometime around 9 and woke up at one point just to pull my sleeping bag over me, at which point I slept like a baby, lulled by the sound of the falls.

I was up early, and walking by 7:30 am, hoping to beat the heat and the bugs. With a great nights sleep I had a much better attitude and appreciation for my walk out. That is until I stepped up to my knee in a sucking mudhole. I couldn’t get me shoe out with my foot, so I had to bury my arm up to the elbow to get it out.

They pay big money for this a those fancy spas....

They pay big money for this at those fancy spas….

Oh well, my sock needed to be fixed anyway, so now I didn’t have an excuse not to. Shake it off, move along, 10 minutes later squish – I slipped off a log and buried the other leg up to the knee. Right about then I was thinking’ “Give me a break!” and as I pulled my leg out the shoe came with it. That was my break I guess. I looked down and I had to laugh because now I was “even”.

Once again I took a break at the hunter’s camp at the Village of Millbrook. This time there was the remnants of a fire from the night before, an ATV, and empty beer cans. I called out to let someone know I was here. No one answered so I figured they were sleeping it off. I wolfed down a quick meal and was on my way before I became a nuisance to a groggy camp owner.

The final miles flew by and I was back to my truck by 10:30 am, completely soaked by the humidity. I was never so happy to get into clean dry clothes.

When I finished the trip I swore I’d never go back again. Now that I’ve had a few days to reflect, I think I’d go again in the right season. Maybe next time I’ll even bring my brain.

_________________________________________________________________________

For your viewing pleasure a short and poorly edited video of Sand Lake Falls

 

 

High Peaks Adventure Redux

Hi Everbody! I was reminiscing about my first trip to the Adirondacks in my adult years. which I had chronicled in a blog I used to write. I decided to share it here for your reading pleasure. This post is from September of 2010.

Last weekend my buddy Dean and I decided to hit the Eastern High Peaks in the Adirondacks. This would be my first trip to the area in about 32 years, since my scouting days, and Dean’s first. This time I was really feeling my age – after working all week and driving 6 hours on 2 1/2 hours sleep I was a bit ragged. On top of that I’ve been nursing a torn miniscus since April. No snivelling, just a little history.After spending way too much time in Keene eating breakfast we finally hit the Adirondacl Loj arount 10am. The only problem is that the trailhead filled up around 8am, so we were forced to park about a mile down the road and hike back to the park.

It should be noted here that the Eastern high Peaks area requires the use of bear cannisters, and more specifically the Garcia cannister. It seems the bears have figured out how to get into the the Bear Vault by unscrewing it with their teeth and claws. Clever beasties they are. Since I am primarily used to bear bagging PCT style I rented a Garcia for the reasonable fee of $5.00 for our 3 days out.

DAY ONE

Our itinerary for this trip was Adirondack Loj to Wallface lean-to, then Wallface to Colden Lake, and finally Colden Lake back to the Loj, a modest 20 mile trip. My goal was not big miles, since I knew my knee would not tolerate too much abuse, but rather to take in a leisurely 3 days in some beautiful country. The beauty of the loop I chose is that if things didn’t work out as planned the trip could be modified to suit current conditions. Good thing because not one single day went as planned.

After a late start it was finally good to get on the trail. We made our way around beautiful Heart Lake and set our minds free of all our cares as we enjoyed some of the most deafening silence I’ve heard in quite some time. The trail was nice and the weather was picture perfect. After a bit we came to a side trail to Rocky Falls. I’m a sucker for waterfalls so we made the side trip and took a break to enjoy the roar of the water.

We tore ourselves away from what on any other day might be a great spot for a nap, only because we still had a good way to go. By the time we hit Scott Clearing it was becoming obvious that we would have to push just a little harder than my knee would allow to make our destination before dark. Dean and I assessed our options and decided that we would rather relax and make an early camp. We came here to do something I haven’t done in a long while – to hike and camp without pressure or goals. We would just see where the next few days would lead us.

While heating water for dinner a chipmunk decided to join us, and he definitely had his eye on a quick snack. Chalk up another plus for the Garcia. I hated carrying around an extra 2 1/4 pounds of plastic, but love not worrying about critters feasting on my goodies. In the time it took for my dinner to rehydrate I had the tarp and bivy up, and mr. chipmunk was jealous as I wolfed down my Mountain House lasagna dinner.

All summer I’ve been putting a prototype of my new tarp through it’s paces. I must say, it’s one of the nicest 8×10’s I’ve had the pleasure to use, and will be a replacement for my favorite Oware tarp.

After we were settled in Dean and I took in the views of Wallface Mountain from the stream bed near camp. We were camped near the rockdam and there was even a pool deep enough for Dean to swim and go under. How I have missed these simple pleasures. It’s nice sometimes to change gears and not be so goal oriented.

Right before bed we shared some time in Proverbs and after some time of worship it was lights out. I went out like a light and when I awoke in the dark I checked the time on my Ipod – 9:48pm! I thought it was much later and fell in and out of sleep all night. When the sun started to peek it’s head I checked the time again, only to find my Ipod said 11:59pm! Apparently it was about 6 hours off :).

DAY TWO

We had talked with a fellow by the name of Tim, and his mother Joan, who were also from New Jersey. They had camped near us, and now Tim was helping us with his 7+ years of High Peaks hiking experience. He suggested to us that our route through Indian Pass was one of the more rugged ones in the area, and that we might consider taking Cold Brook (formerly Algonquin) Pass over to Colden Lake, then along the Opalescent River to the campsite at Lake Arnold. This sounded reasonable, so we changed plans. In hindsight it would have been much better if I had shared with Tim about my bum knee, but why let your limitations spoil a good plan, eh? After our morning devotions we were off to chase our new adventure.

Up to this point the trails had been very nice and not so rocky, but the trail over the pass was a whole different ball game. It was reminiscent of the trails I so know and love in Maine and New Hampshire on the Appalachian Trail. The trail was lightly used (we didn’t pass another soul) and steep and rocky. The seemingly never ending climb was highlighted by some small but beautiful waterfalls. The trail crested at a high boreal bog, complete with a boardwalk and views of Colden Mountain.

As steep as the climb was, the descent was even steeper and rockier and at times trying. Like I said, just like Maine and New Hampshire. I had to stop at one point and catch my breath, and say a little prayer for patience, since my pace was about half of what I’m used to. This was the only part of the trip where my pace was really off, probably because I was trying to lessen the strain on my knee while going downhill.

Once at the bottom we made our way to the lean-to at the bottom of Colden Lake. There was an awesome view just 50 feet in front of the shelter of Colden Lake, with Colden Mountain on one side, and Avalanche Mountain on the other, framing Avalanche Pass in the distance.

At this point it was once again decision time as to where the path would take us. We could either stay put at the shelter and enjoy a swim in Colden Lake, continue on our current route, or hike over Avalanche Pass and camp at Avalanche lean-to, giving us an easy day three. I really wanted to stay put and swim, but my better judgement told me to give myself an easy third day. Dean agreed that whatever I was up for doing was just fine with him. Dean has been a great hiking partner, and I think that comes from a simple love of the outdoors, along with a hang loose, whatever it takes attitude.

The trail to Avalanche Lake was relatively easy, and soon enough we were at it’s lower end.

On both shores the mountains tower over the lake, and touch it’s shores with vertical cliffs. This marks the beginning of the boulder scrambles using ladders to get around the harder stretches. At one point you reach the “Hitchem Up Matilda” bridges. They were depicted in a somewhat famous Harpers magazine painting, and consist of boardwalk supported by steel rods in the sheer face of the cliff.

Once you reach the upper reaches of Avalanche Lake the boulder scrambling ends just as abruptly as it began. I actually thought this area was great fun. The rest of the trip over Avalanche pass was fairly easy and we finally cruised in to the lean-to, only to find it taken over by a group. No worries, I’d rather tarp camp anyway, so we found a nice quiet spot and put up our tarps. Dean once again disappeared to take a swim, this time in the stream that feeds Marcy Lake, while I was content to make my dinner and set up camp. I guess I’m just a creature of habit, but I like my camp routine. At this point I just want to say kudos to the folks at Hawk Vittles . They make some really awesome meals, and the Sweet Italian Sausage with Pasta dinner I had that evening has my mouth watering even as I type this. I highly recommend giving them a look.

DAY THREE

Day three dawned early, and we were in no hurry.

Once again we were met with some of the nicest trail the Adirondacks could produce, and it would remain that way all the way back to the trailhead. About a mile down from camp we came upon a ranger dismantling an old lean-to called “The Barn”. Judging by the pile of logs it must have been rather large. We were also told that the prior evening someone left some candy in their pack at one one of the Marcy Lake lean-tos and a bear grabbed the pack and shredded it to get at the candy. Bear cannister regs are in place to protect people from the bears, and the bears from themselves. I’m sure it sucked for whoever had to carry all their gear out in a shredded pack (lots ‘o duct tape I guess). At Marcy Lake, Avalanche Pass once again formed a great backdrop over the area. Some views you just never get tired of.

We returned to the trailhead somewhere around 10am, just in time for some Strawberry Rubarb pie in Keene before the long ride home.

I can see the Adirondacks becoming a regular obsession.

Hangin’ Out on the Maryland AT

Like A Tree by Justin Rizzo

“I want to be unmovable and unshakable, So let my roots go down deep, unmovable and unshakable in You
I, I want to be like a tree planted by the streams of living water”

Ready to hit the trail

Ready to hit the trail

Click Here to View Trip Pictures

Finally, a little free time to hang (literally and figuratively) with the usual suspects (Paul Cummings w/ sons Sean, Matt, Brian and Josh, Dave Darrow w/ sons Dan and Noah, Dean Delfico, and Josh Gordon) as well as newcomers Mike Ryan and his son Shawn. We were looking for a trip with a little flexibility since some of us were out for three days while some needed to bail after two. After a bit of homework and discussion the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail seemed to be the best choice. We met at Calvary Chapel Bellmawr, and after stuffing our faces at Waffle House and spotting the cars at Crampton Gap and Turner Gap we started off southbound from Wolfsville Road.

The trail begins with a long, moderate climb to the ridge top.

Steady southbound climb

Steady southbound climb

Once on top we took a short break to regroup and headed on to the first overlook for lunch. It was nice to be able to catch some views and relax.

Lunch break with Mike Ryan and company

Lunch break with Mike Ryan and company

Once you are on the ridge top the trail between Wolfsville Road and Interstate 70 becomes a nice woods road that is fairly level for most of it’s length. After watering up at Pogo Memorial Campsite we were off to Black Rock Cliffs.

Yours truly on Black Rock Cliffs

Yours truly on Black Rock Cliffs

Maryland Countryside

Maryland Countryside

After we finished taking in the views we focused on our home for the night – Annapolis Rocks Campsite. The last mile flew by, and after arriving we spoke with the caretaker and chose a site that had the most level ground. I have to say, this campsite is very nice. Two very well kept privies, a good water source, and sunset views from Annapolis Rocks must make this a very popular destination in season. After everyone got their tarps rigged ( and I my new hammock setup – more on that later), dinner was on the agenda. I feasted on a concoction of rotini pasta, white cheddar powder, crumbled bacon, diced tomatos, and canned chicken. Mmmm, mmm, was that good! While some of the others enjoyed the sunset I fidgeted with my tarp stakes, since they kept loosening up in the soft soil. After a while I gave up and bunked down to the sound of a flapping cuben fiber tarp, aaaagh! I was just being lazy and would pay the price by waking occasionally to the crumply noise.

When I wasn’t being awakening by flapping I slept well – nice and warm and toasty. I forced myself into the 30 degree morning just in time to witness the gratitude in the men’s eyes as Dave’s coffee pot finished perking. All I heard was it looked like motor oil and tasted great!

The hounds waiting for COFFEE!

The hounds waiting for COFFEE!

I also quickly discovered that my bruised left heel ( from walking around the rocky camp in crocs the night before) was still a bit tender. Oh well, suck it up and keep moving.

It was definitely a beautiful day for a hike. The breeze from the day before had subsided and once we started moving with our packs on the morning didn’t seem quite so chilly. After a quick snack break we headed down from the ridge and across the one thing most folks don’t associate with a hiking trail – a bridge over an interstate highway.

Bridge across Maryland Interstate 70

Appalachian Trail bridge across Maryland Interstate 70

I always get a kick out of how you’re never that far away from civilization on the AT, and yet  at times you can feel so far away. The next few miles were pretty nondescript, and I remember when I hiked through here in 2004 I ran out of water on a 90 degree day. Then, as now, I was never so happy to see the “original” Washington Monument, only this time I was looking forward to a lunch break, not dying of thirst.

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

One of my favorite parts of hiking the AT in Maryland is all of the Civil War history. The trail passes many historic sites, and it’s worth slowing down to take a look. After taking the views from the top of the monument, I found a nice grassy spot and after lunch took a nap. Man, I love trail naps!

Before we packed up to move on I had the privilege of sharing from Ephesians 6:10-20, “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness”. Truth speaks of God’s truth or faithfulness in keeping his promises. Righteousness involves a right relationship with God, and a sense of that makes us fearless. Put on that armor every day!

Once again we were on the move, and the last two miles were over before we knew it. As soon as we started the downhill I knew we were just about there. At the last minute Dalgren Chapel came into view and it was decision time.

Dalgren Chapel, Turner Gap

Dalgren Chapel, Turner Gap

The heel of my bruised left foot had been bothering me most of the day. I didn’t want to bail on the trip, but wasn’t completely sure I was up to the next part of the hike. Since Paul and Mike and their boys were leaving us at this point, I asked them to shuttle me to my truck so I could bring it to Turner Gap. After taking care of that Dean, Dave and I discussed tomorrows options. I told the guys they could slack pack to Crampton Gap without me, since they could leave their gear with me, and I would meet them there. When I brought up the idea of slack packing with them Dean said,” That’s not an option – I’ve never seen you hurting like this before.” He’s been with me on more than a few trips, so he knows me pretty good and I figured he was right. So on to plan “C”, camp on the AT at Dalgren Backpackers Campsite (since we were planning on doing that anyway), and hit Harpers Ferry in the morning. In the end this turned out to be a great choice.

We set up camp, along with 2 thru hikers and 3 fellows finishing up Maryland. The Dalgren Backpackers Campsite is a nice service provided by the state of Maryland. While it’s only 2/10’s of a mile from Turner Gap, it’s still a really nice site. There are showers and restrooms, running water, and each site has a bench, picnic table, and fire ring. And it’s FREE!

HG cuben tarp

HG cuben tarp

My hammock setup

My hammock setup

My first order of business was finding a place to hang. This was my first trip out with this setup and only my second night, but I  was already lovin’ it. My old hammock setup was a Hennessey Hammock with 2QZQ’s mod# 4 (which I highly recommend to all you HH users), with a tewa breeze underquilt, and an End2End Trail Supply 8×10 silnylon tarp. My current rig is a Warbonnet Traveler single layer 1.7, Whoopie Slings with Dutch hooks, 1″ nylon tree huggers with Dutch Clips, a Hammock Gear Incubator underquilt (0 degree on this trip), Hammock Gear cuben fiber tarp with Tarp Flyz and Fling-it line.My bag of choice for this trip was a Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15. I was VERY warm, but look forward to a lighter bag and underquilt as the seasons progress. Also, I’m evaluating all the hardware my current setup has, and may simplify it as time goes on.

Dave and Dean preparing dinner

Dave and Dean preparing dinner

Before long dinner was past and the fire was dying, and it was time to bid farewell to another day on the trail. What a pleasant trip, what great company!

Dawn always comes too early it seems, but nothing gets one moving like calisthenics with Dean. It was great fun to watch Dean and Noah get pumped up for another day, and Dave’s coffee didn’t seem to hurt either.

Mountain climbers anyone?

Mountain climbers anyone?

Once we packed up and loaded my truck we decided to grab some real breakfast food. We hit a little place in Boonsboro called Bonnies at the Red Byrd. I will tell you this, if you ever get in the area, look Bonnie’s up. The food, service, and hospitality can’t be beat. Afterwards, we gathered up Dave’s truck, and off to Harpers Ferry we went. We parked by the 340 bridge and took the AT northbound towards town. A little ways along the trail we came upon five feeding deer, who seemed none too concerned with us.

Deer

Deer

A few hundred more yards and we were at Jefferson Rock.

Jefferson Rock

Jefferson Rock

If you’re ever in Harpers Ferry this is definitely one of the must see spots. There are views of the Shenandoah River one way, and the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers in the other. I hope to return and spend a weekend exploring the area sometime.

Band of Brothers, Josh, Noah, me, Dave, and Dean

Band of Brothers, Josh, Noah, me, Dave, and Dean

View from Jefferson Rock

View from Jefferson Rock

The rest of the day was spent roaming the town, and ended with a visit to ATC headquarters. The folks there are extremely gracious, and love catching up with all the AT hikers who visit.

ATC headquarters

ATC headquarters with Dave and Noah

ATC headquarters

ATC headquarters

Once again, we had another great trip, and the weather was as perfect as we could ask for in April. Can’t wait to do it again!

 

 

 

Ghost Writer In The Sky (with apologies to the Outlaws)

Mountain of God by Third Day

“Even though the journey’s long
And I know the road is hard
Well, the One who’s gone before me
He will help me carry on
After all that I’ve been through
Now I realize the truth
That I must go through the valley
To stand upon the mountain of God”

Due to some issues with my knee, which never fully stopped hurting after my West Canada Lake Wilderness trip, I asked Sean Cummings to recount his thoughts and  experiences on our group’s latest and greatest adventure. I was surely with them in thought and prayer, and am happy to recount the trip along with you, here and now:

On Saturday, November 20th I got the opportunity to hike up in Port Clinton, PA to Eckville along the Appalachian Trail.  Ever since my first time hiking with George in 2009 I have jumped at every opportunity I can to trek in the great outdoors.  As George wasn’t able to go this time due to knee problems, he asked me to be his “Ghost Writer,” to which I happily obliged.

Day 1 

Before officially beginning our hike, we carted up some firewood in a wheelbarrow on a short, three-quarter mile path up to our campsite and stored it for later.  We then proceeded to drive around to the entrance of our trail, which was about five miles away.  We started hiking around 9:30 am, and almost immediately, the trail became a steep incline.  Online, the description of this particular path was described as “strenuous,” and I was certainly not disappointed.  It felt almost like we were walking directly up the mountain itself.  After about an hour of gasping and bumbling around, we took a short break at a small outlook, giving us an idea of our altitude. 

First views

 We had some snacks and cooled off for about a half hour.  Some of us sat down together on a log, which was funny because since we were balancing the log with our weight, every time one of us got up, the rest of us would fall (kind of like a teeter-totter).  After discussing our first destination, which was Pocahontas Spring, we continued down the trail, which flattened out considerably shortly after.  The air was fresh and damp from the recent precipitation, and the ground was covered in wet leaves, giving off an earthy, sweet smell.  The sky was bright blue and almost completely free of clouds; the air was just chilly enough to keep us moving.  In other words, the weather couldn’t have been better.  We stopped at the spring to refill our water supply, and the water was fresh and cold.

Getting some fresh liquid hydration

The path eventually turned into flat, hard rock, which was easy to walk on, but broken in places; we had to watch our step.  The trail eventually seemed as if it couldn’t decide between incline and decline, and by the end of the first five miles, it was only by the grace of God that my legs could move; they seemed to be fighting me every step of the way.  Some of the others seemed to be dealing with similar ailments, and before long we reached our campsite at Windsor Furnace.  We grabbed some of the firewood we had stashed, and before long we had a cozy blaze going.   

Nothing like a campfire

After eating a delicious dinner of mashed potatoes and tuna (cooked on my Gram Weenie Pro stove), I was ready to get some sleep.  I decided to hit the hay early on so I could get extra rest for the eight miles tomorrow, but after a few hours I woke up with excruciating pain in my back and chest, unlike any I’ve ever felt.  After about four hours of tossing, turning, walking around, and growling in frustration, I finally got to sleep.

Day 2

I awoke the next day to less pain than the night before, to which I was grateful.  I heated up some instant oatmeal with my Gram Weenie stove and enjoyed the morning.  The air was chilly, and the sun was just beginning to make light in our camp.  I devoured my oatmeal like a hungry bear, and chased it with a cup of hot chocolate.  After packing up and looking over our map, we hit the trail, feeling refreshed and ready for anything. 

Windsor Furnace lean-to group shot

We hiked for the first few miles uphill, until we got to the general apex of our altitude for the day.  We made our way around the trail, which led to almost the outer side of the mountain.  It was pretty precarious, and I had to fight not to look down for some of the way; I tried to remember to drink a lot of water and stay hydrated.  Eventually, I was able to look down and realize how high up we really were, and I started to get really excited at the amazing views we were going to see.  I was not disappointed either.  Out first stop was Pulpit Rock.  After scrambling up a steep rock face (me trailing behind) we finally saw the breathtaking view that pulpit rock jutted out to.  I was reminded of Amos 4:13 – For, lo, He forms the mountains, and creates the wind, and declares unto man what is His thought, that makes the morning darkness, and treads upon the high places of the earth, the Lord, the God of host, is His name. 

Pulpit Rock

 We refreshed ourselves and enjoyed the view.  To my surprise, my back and chest pain had gone down considerably, and I walked around on the cliff with ease.  Coming down off of Pulpit Rock, we walked between two rock formations that led straight to a body of water, where we refilled our water supply and marched on.  I was excited about visiting the Pinnacles for the second time, as we had camped in the area with George last year.  We finally got there and I was astonished- I had forgotten how amazing it was! 

We could see for what looked like 20 miles

Beautiful Pennsylvania farmland

After some lunch, my dad, Paul, led us in a devotion in Philippians 2:12-18: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.  Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.   But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.   So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.” 

My brother (to the left) and I eating some lunch at the Pinnacles

My Dad with his bible in a waterproof bag (pretty resourceful)

Before long, it was time to hit the trail once more.  I felt refreshed and re-energized, but before long, the trail became a steep decline, and remained that way for the last few miles of the trip.  I hung back with my dad, mainly because our legs were killing us!  We slowly made our way down the trail as our legs screamed in protest; I found myself wondering how it would feel to be doing this with the body of a fifty-year-old man.  I think I’ll try and find out when the time comes.  We didn’t realize how far we were trailing behind until we finally reached our car- everyone had been waiting for at least a half hour.  I like to take my time when I hike; it’s much easier to enjoy the scenery that way (and easier on the legs too!).  All in all, this trip was one of the best yet- 15 miles of ups, downs, and great scenery- and I can’t wait for the next one.  A trip during the winter would be sweet.

 George’s note: I have the body of an almost fifty year old man – that’s why you’re writing this one 🙂 ! Thanks Sean!

A Weekend on the AT

Matthew 28:19

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Unfortunately I had to bail on the last hike due to knee problems, but my buddy Brian Cummings came ot the rescue with an awesome video of the trip. The guys decided to hike on the Appalachian Trail from Port Clinton, Pa. to Eckville with an overnight at Windsor Furnace Shelter. A trip report will be coming soon!

Seeking the Son

Matthew 6:33

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” 

I can’t speak for others who venture into the outdoors, but I always seem to have enough to occupy myself for today. Tomorrow is the unknown today, and I’ll worry about that then. That could have been the theme for my solo hike into the West Canada Lakes Wilderness in New York’s west-central Adirondacks this past September 22-24, 2012.

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Trail head sign

Day 1

After a long week and little sleep the alarm sounded waaaay too early. In fact, it went off at 2:30 am, 3:30 am and 4 before I finally said the heck with it. “I’ll get up when I get up!”. I finally did get up and was on the road by 11:00 am for the long drive to my destination. What that destination was was still up in the air until I hit Albany, as I decided between the West Canada Lakes and Pharoah Lakes. In the end the adventure of an unseen destination won out. I had been looking forward to the 22 mile loop around the West Canada Lakes for some time, and as I approached the trailhead even the steady rain that had begun to fall couldn’t dampen my excitement. As I climbed the rough logging road to the parking lot I thought, ” Surely no one will be out here in the middle of nowhere in this weather.” Yeah, right. I got the last spot in the lot and I thought, “So much for any solitude I was hoping for.”

It’s go time….

I threw on my pack, and around 5 pm I started the 5 1/2 mile slog to Cedar Lake lean-to #2. The miles flew by as the hike alternated between thick green forest and boggy swamp on surprisingly dry trail. The trail gave no clue as to anything that resembled lake country; I was completely surprised when the woods finally gave way to Cedar Lake. I reached the #2 lean-to right at dark, two hours after starting out. It was occupied by a father and son who, after 300 miles of driving and 5 1/2 miles of trail, lived about 5 miles from my home. Small world. Their company, as well as the warming fire they had going made for a good finish to a long day. I decided not to try to pitch my hammock in the rainy darkness, and opted instead to use the lean-to. Truth be told, my feet hurt and I was tired, so I hit the sack without dinner hoping for a better tomorrow.

Day 2

I slept in and awoke with no soreness in my feet, although my knee was a little tender (I tore the miniscus in my left knee a couple of years ago and still haven’t gotten it fixed). My shelter mates were up and out at a decent hour, but I decided to take it easy. I was still in my bag eating breakfast when they left and this turned out to be the perfect opportunity to start my morning in the book of John, chapter 7 (it’s my habit to read where my home church will be teaching on Sunday morning). Between the view and the word, there couldn’t be a better start to the morning.

What better way to start the day than with a great view!

The rain had stopped, with the sun occasionally trying to make an appearance and the day  was full of promise.

One happy camper

Earlier I had thought about whether it was wise to continue further into the wilderness with a sore knee, and I had considered doubling back and camping closer to my truck, but in the end I decided I was up to the task. I prayed for God to keep me safe and strong, and off I went. As I crossed Cobble Hill it started to rain once again and at first I didn’t bother with my rain gear. The trail was really nice and free of blow downs.

Easy walking…..

As I passed Cat Lake something changed and at first I couldn’t place it. Then it suddenly dawned on me – it was hailing! On with the rain jacket as the weather started to get progressively worse. Feets don’t fail me now! I stopped at Mud Creek to grab a bite and thankfully the hail stopped.

Hail? Really?

Normally I enjoy whatever the weather throws at me, but today I was in no mood. I was looking to be immersed in God’s creation, not submersed! Just when I was hitting bottom God reminded me just how lucky I am. After passing the junction to West Lake I came to the South Lake bridge. Just as I stepped onto the bridge a family of river otters swam by and turned to get a closer look at me. Awesome!

I stood on the bridge and took it all in – the views, the weather, the wildlife. At that moment I felt  grateful for God’s provision. This was but a small taste of how it must have been when God looked down on his creation and said it was good.

I have to say, I really enjoy hiking in the Adirondacks. I spent the first twenty five years of my hiking experience as an Appalachian Trail section hiker. When I started hiking in this region I realized I was home. Had I known from the beginning, I don’t think I would have gone anywhere else.

The remaining .7 miles flew by and I climbed a small hill to arrive at the West Canada Creek lean-to. I dropped my pack, grabbed my lunch and broke out the map.

West Canada Lakes Wilderness trails

I was chilled and tired, but it was only 2 pm! On one hand the lean-to and privy were the nicest I had seen, sitting on a small rise overlooking West Canada Creek. On the other, it wouldn’t take long for me to get antsy, as Sampson Lake lean-to was only another 2.5 miles. I opted for a shorter last day, and packed back up just as the first and only actual hiker I would see in three days crested the hill. He was a NPT (Northville-Placid Trail) thru hiker. We talked for a few minutes and then parted ways, he northbound and I leaving the NPT for the French Louie Trail. At the bottom of the hill I crossed West Canada Creek, watered up and took the turn-off that led toward Sampson Lake.

Bridge over West Canada Creek

Looking downstream – West Canada Creek

At this point I wasn’t feeling like I was making great time. I really thought I was only going about one mile per hour. It was slightly rougher going as the trail here was a little more in line with what I picture a wilderness trail to be; lightly maintained, in places even vague. This section had the only real blow downs I can recall, and the going was basically steadily uphill. After what seemed like quite a while I sensed that there might be a lake in the forest ahead and below me. The woods tend to fool you at times and your mind plays tricks on you as you anticipate your days destination. Finally I came to what I had to believe was the trail junction to Sampson Lake lean-to. There was a rock cairn in the middle of the trail, a shovel blade nailed to a tree, and pink surveyors tape. I would have settled for a simple sign, but what do I know.

Junction with the side trail to Sampson Lake lean-to

Truth be told, about half of the trails leading to lean-to’s in this wilderness area don’t have signs, so you have to remain aware of your location on the map if you plan on using them. Cedar Lakes #2, #3, South Lake and this lean-to left you guessing where they were, and most were easy to miss (I didn’t see the junction for Cedar #3) if you weren’t paying attention. I kinda like that.

Home sweet home -Sampson Lake lean-to

I reached Sampson Lake lean-to at 3:30 pm (not bad), and considered my surroundings. There was a point with a great view of the lake just beyond the shelter. There were plenty of trees to hang my hammock, but most looked like widow makers. In the end I decided that if no one else showed up I would hang in the lean-to.

First order of business was something hot in my belly. As I waited for my water to boil I hung my Hennessy in the lean-to, as owls and loons called across the lake. I enjoyed their  calls as I wolfed down mashed potatoes to which I had added canned chicken and gravy. Washed down with a hot cuppa tea, this was a meal fit for a king. After getting into warm dry clothes I did what little housekeeping needed to be done and settled in to read the word. Last thing I remember was plugging in my ipod and falling asleep just as the sun set, while listening to worship tunes. I awoke a few times during the night to the calling of both the owls and the loons, but otherwise slept well.

Day 3

Morning mist on Sampson Lake

No hurries, no worries. Day three dawned sunny and warmer and once again I took my good old time moving out. I only had 6.9 miles and all day to hike it. After I packed I spent time in Proverbs 24, “If you faint in the day of adversity, Your strength is small”, and reflected on the challenges of the past few days.

Reluctantly I said good bye to Sampson Lake, and was on the move by about 9 am. The trail from here on out was clear of blow downs and was through some very nice forest. After passing Whitney Lake the trail became an old woods road, and before I knew I was at the turnoff to Pillsbury Lake lean-to. I stopped and ate lunch, but the cool breeze coming into the front of the lean-to made this stop a brief one. Back on the trail I passed a set of moose tracks. I see tracks all the time, but never any actual moose. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to keep doing this until I do, lol.

Moose tracks

All too soon I reached the turnoff back to the trail head. The next 1.8 miles were all downhill at this point and before I knew I was back at my truck.

What a trip! Three days of walking, covering 22 miles and aside from my shelter mates the first night I only passed one other hiker. If solitude is what your after, the West Canada Lakes Wilderness just might be the answer. I’m sure I’ll be back to explore more of what this area has to offer.

Plenty of parking on a Monday morning!

 

 

 

Walking In The Wilderness

Exodus 9:35

“So the heart of Pharoah was hard; neither would he let the children of Israel go, as the Lord had spoken by Moses.”

Well, the heart of Pharoah might have been hard toward the Israelites, but Pharoah Lake Wilderness in the Eastern Adirondacks was especially kind to those of us who ventured out this past May 4-7. I had the great priviledge of spending 4 days there with my brothers in Christ – Paul (with sons Sean, Matt, Bryan and Josh), Matt (with sons Sam and Barry), and Dave (with son Noah),as well as Josh Gordan.

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Group shot at Putnam Pond

Day 1

Sometimes the hardest part of hiking is the actual drive to the trailhead. Once we left New Jersey and it’s thunder showers behind, the miles seemed to fly by. After we reached our exit on the Northway we split into two groups. Paul took one car to the Putnam Pond trailhead, while Dave followed me to the Crane Pond trailhead. Dave would be leaving us a day early due to some personal obligations, so we spotted him for an early exit.

Once we rejoined our group at Putnam Pond two things were evident – spirits were high, and the black flies were abundant. Thankfully, as long as we were moving the flies were mostly a very minor annoyance. 

And so it begins

I have never hiked the Pharoah Lake Wilderness, so I was very surprised at how dry the trails were. I expected a lot of wet hiking since the area has a large number of lakes. Instead we were greeted with beautiful trail, and a rather pleasant day for a walk in the woods.

Well maintained trail

The best part was that there was water everywhere, so I only had to carry 1 liter at a time, instead of my usual 2 liters.

Noah makes a friend

Outlet of Grizzly Ocean

Even though the mileage was modest, day one was tough due to work and the long drive. Everyone was glad to finally see Pharoah Lake lean-to #3, but then who wouldn’t be with such a gorgeous view. There before us was Pharoah Lake spread out just 50 feet in front of the lean-to, with Pharoah Mountain setting the backdrop for an impressive finish to day one. This truly is God’s country!

Life is good!

A few of the younger guys decided to fish, and they caught a couple of good lake trout. Noah decided a swim was in order. There’s certainly something to be said for youth. The rest of us set about cooking and setting up camp.

Try as I may, I had to give up the fight and I hit the sack with the last of the sunlight slowly fading. At some point during the night it rained hard, but that was the only rain we would see the entire trip.

View from my hammock

Day 2

I have to admit, it was really nice to sleep in, and I finally got up around 8am. I think I can get used to this hammock hanging thing. By the time I got moving everyone was up and about, and the coffee drinkers were getting their first cuppa down. Normally I don’t actually cook breakfast, but when I planned my meals for this trip blueberry pancakes sounded good. The only problem is they don’t cook well on a Vargo Jet Ti stove. The heat pattern concentrated the heat in the middle, so the center was over cooked while the edges  were just getting done. Plan B was to eat my day 4 breakfast and figure the rest out later. In the end it all worked out.

After we packed up Paul led us in the word with a study from 1 Kings 2:

“Now the days of David drew near that he should die, and he charged Solomon his son, saying: I go the way of the earth; be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man. And keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgements, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn” 

 What better message could a father pass along to his son? And what could be better than to spend time in the word in such a beautiful place? This is something we would repeat each morning, and I personally believe every morning should start this way.

As we readied ourselves for the day ahead a decision needed to be made – do we follow our original itinerary and cross Pharoah Mountain, or do we take a shorter and easier route up through Glidden Marsh? Looking across the lake Pharoah’s summit was socked in a cloud, so we decided not to waste our energy making the climb up a viewless Pharoah. Given that we (meaning the older members) were still a little tired from day 1, the route through Glidden Marsh turned out to be the right decision.

We hiked to Split Rock Bay, at the top of the lake, and grabbed a quick meal. Soon after a steep climb took us to the height of the land were we would pass a number of beaver ponds.

Beaver hut

 

Glidden Marsh

Matt took the group on ahead as Paul, Sean, Matt, Dave and I ambled along at a leisurely pace. Soon enough we turned away from Glidden Marsh and made the short climb to Oxshue Pond, where once again the setting could be nothing less than God inspired.

Oxshue Pond and lean-to

One of the advantages of sleeping in is that even though our mileage was reasonably low each day, we still wouldn’t get to camp too early. Each day we strolled in around mid afternoon, leaving the boys enough time to enjoy fishing and exploring, while everyone else set up camp and started dinner. After dinner, firewood was gathered, and everyone started to wind down. This backpacking thing is a simple existance if you allow it to be. No cell reception, no noise pollution, no worries. A lake, a tarp, a warm sleeping bag,  the sound of the coyotes and the loons, and of course (at least at Oxshue Pond) the serinade of hundreds of tree frogs at dark. Life is good!

Day 3

It cooled down during the night, and while everyone else was toasty, I spent a fitfully chilly night in the hammock. This was only my third night hanging, and I had some things to learn. That’s ok because I’m a fast learner, lol. I stopped trying to get comfortable and finally decided to get up around 7-ish.

Mountain House no cook scrambled eggs with bacon were on the menu this morning, and they are one of my favorite breakfasts. The warm food did much to warm my bones, along with some tea from Matt (I forgot mine). About this time a couple of guys paddled up the pond (they had camped at Crane Pond the night before) and took out right at our campsite. They would be doing a portagé to Horseshoe Pond. I have to admit I was somewhat intrigued by the prospect of carrying a pack AND a canoe up the same trail we would be hiking. It did help that their canoes weighed 12 and 17 pounds, but still!

After everyone packed up it was Matt’s turn to share from the word. 1 Kings chapter 3 was the place to be as Matt spoke of Solomons request for wisdom:

” Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours? The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.”

Lord grant unto me not only the wisdom to discern good and evil, but also the heart to do what is right in Your eyes!

Finally it was time to move on. Dave and Noah would be hiking out at this point, so we said our goodbyes and parted ways. We had a great time with them and they would be missed.

Crab Pond outlet

A short walk along the Short Swing Trail brought us to the outlet of Crab Pond and more amazing views. The entire walk today was along pleasant trail and it just felt like a perfect day to take a hike. It was a little more hilly today, but nothing you could call tough.

We stopped to take a break at the junction to Rock Pond for snacks and to regroup, but the black flies made sure it was a short one. One tenth of a mile later we came to Lily Pad Pond lean-to, which overlooks it’s namesake pond – who put me in charge of the map? Before we knew it we were at Rock Pond. Again, we had a decision to make – camp here or push on to Clear Pond. It wasn’t a very tough decision actually, it was early and the lean-to at Rock Pond was occupied so onward we went.

Rock Pond

This proved to be an excellent choice. After skirting the pond and crossing a low ridge we finally came to Clear Pond. What an amazing place to call home for the night. Not 50 yards in front of the lean-to a penisula juts out onto the lake, making for a perfect place to fish, take a swim, or just take it all in.

Looking out from Clear Pond lean-to

Everyone decided to cook down by the lake and take the views in, but I was a little chilled and tired, so I layed down on the floor of the lean-to and half dozed while waiting for my water to boil. A tasty dinner of Hawk Vittles Baked Beans provided the warmth and energy I needed, and setting up my hammock for the last time went from chore to blessing.

By this time everyone had finished eating, and Matt and Paul took the group on a hunt for firewood. Normally a campsite this easily accessible is a shambles, but this site was beautiful, clean, and well maintained. The only issue was a lack of firewood. A short walk over the hill (too much effort for most visitors, I guess) solved the problem as everyone came back with armfuls of wood.

One last campfire

I was determined to stay up as late as possible to ensure a good nights sleep, and it was great to enjoy this last campfire together. At some point we all started to get a little giddy and I threatened to start telling cheesy jokes if things didn’t settle down. How do you catch a unique rabbit? Unique up on him! Good times.

Day 4

What a glorious day! I had the best nights sleep and was up early and refreshed. Slowly the camp started to show signs of life.

Matt, Barry and Sam sleeping in

I went down to the water to listen to the loons – their call is beautiful and yet haunting. I’m not much of a birdwatcher, but I can’t get enough of their call. It just adds to the experience for me.

Remember I said my day 4 breakfast would work out? Turns out Paul had about 10 packs of uneaten Ramen noodles and I happily took two packs off his hands. I think ramen might become a breakfast regular for me!

After we were mostly packed up it was my turn to share in the word. Luke 15, and the parable of the prodigal son was this mornings destination, as I spoke of God’s faithfulness:

“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I haved sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand , and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

We serve an awesome God! He’ll meet you wherever you are and restore you if you will come with a contrite heart. Never underestimate the love of the Father.

 

Day 4 and still smiling

The hike out was short one, just 2.4 miles, but it was ever bit as enjoyable as each of the previous three days. At one point, since it was Monday, Paul started singing The Mamas and  The Papas Monday Morning . Matt and I started hamonizing (fa la, la la la la), but at some point Paul realized that was all the help we were giving since only he knew the words.

God's country!

The hike out was over before we knew it, and our next goal was Golden Corral for the lunch buffet. In the end what can I say, we had the campsites to ourselves every night ( a rare feat in the crowded northeast), the company was the best, and the weather was perfect. I’m sure we’ll be back soon!