The High Falls Loop (aka My Real Life Leave It To Beaver)

Proverbs 25:25

“Like cold water to a thirsty soul,so is good news from a far country.”


Click Here For Trip Photos

The High Falls Loop in the northwest corner of New York’s Adirondack Park has been on my to do list for about 4 years, and I finally decided to check it out in the beginning of November this year. As I pulled out of my driveway for some reason I though my gps said it was a 298 mile drive. As I went through Syracuse I new something was amiss. A quick check of google maps revealed that it was actually a 410 mile drive! For an overnighter! Yikes! Oh well, only two hours to go sooooo, onward weary soldier.


Yes, it was a long drive.

Yes, it was a long drive.

Actually I’ve driven much further for an overnighter. I don’t mind when the trip promises to be a good one. It was a weekday trip, and even though this loop is popular, I hoped for a bit of solitude.


The loop itself is only about 16 miles, and either starts or ends with a short .4 mile road walk. I opted to start on the Eastern Leg with the road walk, just to be done with it. Just as I saddled up a couple came out of the woods; it was Levi Tate and his wife from Hammock Forums. It’s always great to meet other forum members. We talked for a bit and I got the 411 on the trail conditions. The forecast was for wet feet. It’s not like I haven’t dealt with that before, so after some pleasant conversation off I went.

Old railroad grade

Old railroad grade

The eastern leg of the loop starts on an old railroad grade from years gone by that used to haul lumber in the area. It didn’t take long before I came to the first wet spot. The plank bridges on the trail were floating and I was going to get my feet wet. Fortunately there were some state workers there diligently working on the beaver dam to try and drain the trail.

Flooded trail

Flooded trail

More flooded trail

More flooded trail

Honestly, wet feet don’t bother me, and I knew they would dry soon enough. Views of Cranberry Lake teased me through the trees, and by the time I reached Janacks Landing my feet were dry. I stopped for a quick snack break and took in the forest around me. The most memorable thing was the smell. The entire trip I enjoyed the scent of the pines trees – I don’t remember if they were spruce or fir, but the smell reminded me of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, near my home.


Cranberry Lake

The miles flew by and when I reached the junction to Cat Mountain I was slightly surprised that I had covered 3.6 miles in 45 minutes. Yes, it’s easy walking, but still, the only shape I’m in right now is round. As I moved along there weren’t any views, just the occasional beaver pond, so I was kind of in auto pilot, not really paying attention. Suddenly I realized I was off trail and thought,” I don’t remember  seeing a turn”. I backtracked about 50 feet and sure enough, there was a turn – right onto a tree about 50 feet long that crossed a beaver pond. There was a piece of cord tied from one bank to the other to hold onto, but if you put any kind of pressure on the cord it stretched to the point that you were going swimming! I have to say, for the first 15-20 feet I was not happy. At about the half way point the tree was hewn a little flatter, and finally I was across and glad I was doing a loop. In all honesty, if it were wet and rainy I probably would have slipped and fallen. Whew!

Log bridge over beaver pond

Log bridge over beaver pond

When I finally came to the side trail leading to High Falls I was pleasantly surprised to find that instead of the rocky path following a creek to the falls, it was a nice railroad grade in the woods. It was only .5 mile to the falls but the woods were dead silent. I passed an old piece of machinery used to maintain the railroad, and marveled at all the abandoned equipment I have passed in the Adirondacks over the years.

Abandoned equipment

Abandoned equipment

Finally, I heard the beautiful roar of High Falls. The trail broke out of the woods near the top of the falls. There are the remains of an old, long gone bridge that led to High Falls lean-to #2, now inaccessible except by paddlers, and High Falls #1 sits back from about 100 feet in the woods.

Old bridge pier over fast water

Old bridge pier and fast water

High Falls

High Falls

High Falls lean to #1

High Falls lean-to #1

It was a beautiful location, with a privy and multiple campsites, and I can see how this area could get overwhelmed by visitors at certain times of the year.

When I get to camp I like to get all my camp chores done, mostly because I run out of steam at the end of a day of hiking. Today was different in that I wasn’t tired from the walk; the hike only took 2 hours. I was tired from the drive up, but still had a bit energy left.

First order of business was to get my shelter up. This hike would be my first time sleeping in a bridge hammock. I was trying out a Warbonnet Ridge Runner, and I was hoping the extra weight would be worth it. I didn’t have a proper bridge underquilt, so I decided to improvise with a Loco Libre Gear LongHot underquilt. I had brought an old DIY topquilt, since I had loaned all my quilts out, and a HG cuben fiber tarp rounded out the package.

WBRR hammock with LLG LongHot underquilt

WBRR hammock with Loco Libre Gear LongHot underquilt

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

What a great spot! Just far enough from the falls to slightly mute the roar, but close enough to be lulled to sleep. It was everything one could hope for, and best of all I had it to myself.
Next on the agenda was dry clean clothes, and dinner. Since the place was deserted I got changed right at the lean-to while I waited for water boil. I mulled over the idea of starting a fire while my Packit Gourmet Texas State Fair Chili rehydrated, but decided against it. Most of the down wood in the area was pretty damp and I didn’t really feeling like ducking smoke. What I neglected to take into account was the fact that it would be dark around 6 pm and I’d be really bored.

The forecasters on the radio on the way up said the Northern Lights would be visible tonight, and I was excited because I had never seen them. When I hit the hammock around 5 pm  I consoled myself with the idea that  I would wake in the middle of the night to a glorious light display. I was only half right – I woke many times during the night, but no lights. At about 11:30 pm I awoke and my back was chilled. I tried to ignore it (you’d think by now I’d know better), and finally got up with the excuse that I had to”commune” with mother nature anyway. I keep my camp shoes on my pack while I’m hiking with a piece of shock cord with a mitten hook on either end, and after retrieving that and attaching it to the center D rings on the underquilt and over the ridgeline it was like someone turned on the heat. Next time I use the WBRR I’ll have a proper bridge underquilt.

As a side note, this was the stillest, quietest night I have ever spent in any forest.


Good morning

Good morning

Other than waking about 100 times I had a great night’s sleep (and I won’t mention the dream I had of a serial killer attacking me in my hammock, brrrr). No Aurora Borealis either – double bummer. No matter, I still arose feeling refreshed, and broke down camp before heating water for my breakfast; Mountain House Scrambled Eggs and Ham on a burrito with cheese and Chick Fil A Jalapeno Salsa.

After I was finally packed up and prayed for safe travel I hit the trail around 8:30 am. One last look at the falls and I was off to the races. Most of the todays hike was on another old railroad grade, and it would be an easy day of hiking.

Western loop trail

Western loop trail

The trail is mostly dry, but there would be much more flooding due to beaver activity. Here’s a hint: if you go somewhere called The Five Ponds Wilderness, you’re gonna get wet feet Jack. In reality even though there was more flooding, there were also more beaver dams to cross on.

Beaver flooding

Beaver flooding

Wet spot

Wet spot

After a bit of flooding the trail ran along the Oswegatchie River, and as I walked along I heard a dull roar – High Falls. I got to listen to the roar of the falls for a few more minutes until the trail dove back into the cover of the forest and I instantly missed it. The trail and river both meander along, occasionally bumping into each other until the Oswegatchie finally decides to part ways for a while, leaving you to be swallowed up by the silence of the forest.

Oswegatchie River

Oswegatchie River

Old railroad grade

Old railroad grade

The interesting (or not) thing about this part of the hike is that you can see far ahead on long corridors of trail. The trail is smooth, so you can actually look ahead instead of looking at your feet. I passed the junction to Big Shallow, vowing to one day visit that part of the Five Ponds, and before I knew it I was at the junction to High Rock.

View from High Rock

View from High Rock

It’s a short .1 mile side trip, and the view is a classic. There are campsites and a privy, but surprisingly no lean-to. It’s a beautiful spot, but only 3.6 easy miles from the trailhead. If you want an easy hike, or don’t mind company this is a nice overnight destination. Me, I’m just passin’ thru.

The rest of the trail from here on out is what I would classify as boring. At one point I was trying to judge distance by comparing the trail to how many blocks that would be in my neighborhood. Maybe I’m better off not being able to see ahead, lol.

Aaaah, that's about 1 1/2 or 2 blocks i'd guess.........

Aaaah, that’s about one and a half or two blocks I’d guess………

Finally I could tell I was at a low point; the ridge on the right disappeared and the Oswegatchie River appeared in a marsh on my left. One last flooded spot to squish through (thank you very much Mr. Beaver) and that was all she wrote. The time was 11:30 am and when all was totalled I would drive about 13 hours to hike for 5. In my opinion it was very worth it.

All in all it was a nice, easy, peaceful trip. I didn’t pass anyone on the trail in two days, and although some of the walk can be a little monotonous, I’d like to come back. If I can find the time I’d like to dust off the pulk and snowshoe to Cat Pond this winter (as well as climb Cat Mountain) and I’d also like to do a 4-5 day trip traversing the entire Five Ponds Wilderness.  As always, so many trips, so little time.



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 – 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.


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.


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 :).


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 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.

Putting Away My Winter Toys

Ecclesiastes 3:1

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”

For backpackers that includes putting away the toys of winter. I spent the last few weeks tweeking my wood stove design and I am finally happy with the results:


The only mod I made from the above picture is adding a combination cleanout and draft door where the bottom holes are:


It burns about as hot as I could hope and I’ve gotten almost 5 hours from one load of wood.



Unfortunately my window for a winter snow shoeing/pulk sled trip closed last weekend. Temperatures are too warm and the snow is melting with every passing day. No worries – spring is here and in a few weeks I’ll be on the AT in Maryland for three days of hiking and hanging in my hammock. Time to break out the 3 season toys, yeah!!!

Taming Old Man Winter


Genesis 25:27

“And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.”

I’ve always been a four season hiker, but that’s easy to do in the mid-atlantic region of the country. Temperatures rarely dip below the teens, and mid twenty to mid thirty degree temperatures are the norm. I did most of my hiking for many years on the Appalachian Trail, and either a lean-to or tarp (and most recently a hammock) were plenty fine for most conditions. There was a time when I would hit the Presidential Range in New Hampshire for winter camping, but a serious fall a number of years ago dampened my sense of arctic adventure. Over the past few years I decided to once again embrace the “extreme season”, and the Adirondacks in New York state have been my destination of choice. Temperatures can be more severe there, with sub-zero temperatures a regular occurrence. A trip last February that saw morning temps of minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit convinced me that even though I had the proper gear and experience for the occasion, I wanted to rough it a little more comfortably. Even though I consider myself a “plain man, dwelling in tents”, as was Jacob, I decided a “hot tent” was just the ticket.

Golite Shangria-La 5 "hot tent"

Golite Shangria-La 5 “hot tent”

What is a “hot tent” you ask? Well, it’s a floorless shelter fitted with a fiberglass “stove jack”, so that a chimney from a wood burning stove can be inserted through the wall of the shelter. My first order of business was research. After deciding to attempt to build my own stove I ordered the materials from McMaster Carr. I have been playing with a prototype, and came up with this:

Prototype wood burning stove

Prototype wood burning stove

The firebox is made from two steam table trays, connected by stainless steel all thread legs. I purchased a titanium damper and spark arrester from Titanium Goat, and fashioned the 10′ chimney pipe from .005″ stainless shim stock. I’ve got about 15 hours of burn time on the stove and now that I have a better understanding I will be moving forward with my final design. I chose the Golite Shangria-La 5 for my shelter due to it’s low weight, spacious footprint, purported four season capability, and also due to the fact I got it on sale last spring from Golite. I shipped the shelter off to Seekoutside, where they expertly installed a stovejack.

The setup

The setup

As you can see from the pictures, I have room for at least 3 people and their gear in my heated haven of heavenly habitation (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

So, how well does it work you ask. I had the opportunity to sleep out a few days before Christmas, and I can honestly say that on a twenty degree night that little stove threw out some serious heat. With the damper wide open everything was glowing a bright cherry red, and there was plenty of heat. I had originally thought that I would be able to lighten up my winter gear with the addition of a stove, but my night out proved that my thinking was flawed. The stove only burned for about 1 1/2 hours before it needed to be stoked again-not conductive to a long nights sleep. If you lighten up you will will be waking up every couple of hours to stoke the stove. I will be making my next stove with a bigger firebox for longer burn times, but not so I can lighten up. After talking with some folks who use this type of setup I have rethought how I look at this rig. Instead of lighter winter gear, I will still bring my normal gear. I can get changed, read, cook, get out of the weather, relax, and get to sleep in comfort and warmth. Because I brought my usual gear, after the fire goes out I will still sleep through the night, and in the morning when I wake up way too early on those long winter nights, I will once again have the warmth of a fire to thaw my boots, get changed, eat breakfast, and otherwise pack up in comfort.

I look forward to getting out and using this rig in the field, and will be sure to get a trip report/gear review out asap.

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!