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  1. DuctTape

    Big #70 @Big Island #1

    Due to the storm last weekend which cancelled my trip, I was able to sneak away for a quick overnight. I opted for Big Island lean-to on Raquette Lake. This was the lean-to I helped move slightly inland not long ago. This would also ,make the 70th lean-to I have slept in. When I arrived at the boat launch there were dozens of snowmobiles. Not much of a surprise. What I did not expect was the community ice-cutting and fishing derby. The entire complex was over-run by all these different groups. Coupled with the giant snow piles, parking was at a premium. Solely by luck, a lady pulled away from her spot just as I rounded the corner. This section was marked no parking but I was next to the fire chief. I hoped for more good luck. With my pulk loaded with firewood (knowing the island would be picked clean) I headed out onto the ice. To my right was the ice cutting operation. They were sawing and removing blocks at least 2ft in all dimensions. Ahead of me was the island and a few ice-shanties. The bulk of the snow-mobilers were to the left, following the western shore. As I approached the island I could see a series of tip-ups and 2 fisherman tending to them. I said hi, and we talked briefly. They were in the lean-to and told me about the derby. I asked if would be ok if I crashed in the lean-to. They were very obliging, even offered me a beer. I added my pile of wood to their diminishing store. Tom, Dave and I chatted for a few hours. I cooked up some dogs. The temp was in the teens with an ever so slight breeze. Tom and Dave said the wind made the lean-to cold last night. I imagine it would have been worse in its previous location. The guys would check on their lines every once in a while with no luck. One flag had its line cut/broken. The assumtion was a pike. That was the closest these two had for a fish. We joked that is why it's called fishing not catching. As the time approached 5, and no fish Tom and Dave decided to pull out and head in to the "party" at weigh in. We shook hands and they departed. The sun was getting lower, but I still had some good light. I set up my sleeping gear in the lean-to and enjoyed the waning daylight. I stoked the fire periodically and watched the sun drop below the horizon. I stood on the ice and watched the snowmobilers race back and forth. By now their headlamps and taillights were all I could see. As usual, I would be in bed shortly. Tom and Dave said the riders were out past 11pm friday night. They went quiet much earlier tonight. I was quite warm in my bag and slept soundly until the winds in the morning awoke me. Something shifted as the winds were blowing hard from the SouthEast. Not a good direction; often a storm system. Looking out over the lake there was zero visibility and with the wind I would want to keep my head down. After packing up I took a bearing and would navigate across the frozen lake by compass only. This is the backcountry version of the "bird box challenge". The wind was fierce. I kept my hood clutched over my face with one hand and my compass in the other. It was a short crossing and soon the launch came into view as did my snow covered car. The driving conditions were almost as bad as the hiking. I was traveling 20mph in the 55 zone with my flashers. I saw 5 other vehicles between Raquette and Old Forge... which took an hour to drive. Roads were mostly clear when I left O.F. after a bite at Walts Diner. View the full article
  2. The last few years I have done a winter trip with Dan between Christmas and New Years. With 5 days, we had many options. Dan suggested a foray into the Lake George Wild Forest as it was an area neither of us have explored. This is also a heavily used area and at this time of year would see less people. Besides hiking, camping and climbing we would also go off trail in search of special trout ponds. We sent our itinerary to a few friends in case they were able to join us for part of our trip. Day one consisted of the long drive to Lake George and then along the dirt road to the parking area nearest Shelving Rock Mt. We noticed the "no parking on road" signs all along the way, and numerous dedicated lots showing just how much use this area must get in the height of the season. We saw no cars, and no signs of people on this day. The temp was barely int he twenties as we parked the car and geared up. Tonight and the last night were fore-casted to be the coldest of the nights, with friday being unseasonably warm and rainy. As such, we had to pack for two seasons; winter and rain. That and 5 days of food made for an unusually heavier pack. The hike began along an old roadway. We noted the exquisite stonework used to shore up the edge. These old roads were much "nicer" than the old logging, or camp roads I am used to seeing. The trail, err road, wound its way up the mountain side. Soon we stopped to shed our heavy layer. A half mile shy of the summit was our trail junction, so we dropped our heavy packs and put back on our heavy layers. Towards the top, there was an area which was obviously a site of an old home, or cabin. After about 1.5 miles and 700', we reached the summit of Shelving Rock Mt. We had a nice view of Lake George looking to the South. We took a few photos and headed back down to the the junction with our awaiting packs. We paused for a snack before continuing on. From here we would be generally going downhill. Quite steeply in places. In total losing about 600' in elevation in less than 3/4 mile to the shore of Lake George. We continued south to the edge of private land just to see the shoreline. This took us about a half mile out of our way which we would then turn around and continue for another half mile to our camping area. Our chosen site had quite a bit of cut wood apparently from off season blowdown maintenance. We collected our own from a fair distance knowing that this wood is typically for the in -season users. It was still cold, and as the sun began to set, it was getting colder. While setting up his tent, a pole snapped back and hit Dan in the eye. A few highly stressful moments as we gauged whether to abort the trip to get him some emergency help. Fortunately the pole had hit just above the eye and his eye was not damaged. We would monitor though, just to be sure. A great dinner of roast venison with rice/beans. As predicted it got quite cold over night. Windy too. I woke up often due to the flapping of my tarp. Even with the irregular awakenings, I slept plenty. I was out of my hammock before Dan and re-started the fire. With the water almost ready Dan emerged and finished making the coffee. We ate and packed up, Today would be the toughest as we had our almost full packs and the big climb. We hiked about 2 miles to Black Mt Point all the while exploring the shoreline of the lake. The signpost here gave the mileage to Black Mt Summit as 2.75 miles with 2200' of elevation. It was still cold out, but this climb got the blood pumping and warmed us up. At the junction, 1.8 miles up and 1500' complete we had lunch to fuel us before the next 750' over the next mile. We left our packs here for the final spur trail to the summit and fire tower. As we neared the summit, a view vistas allowed us to see over Lake George and the Tongue Mtn Range. From the top of Black Mtn, we could see not only Lake George, but the other mountains in this range as well as across Lake Champlain and the Green Mtns of Vermont. A mile back to our packs and then a long quarter to our camp at Black Mountain Ponds. While getting camp set up, a two-man group stopped by. They were day hiking the Black Mtn loop. (Fred and ???) As we got our fire going, they headed out. Ground venison stroganoff for dinner. Hearty and filling to refuel after today's workout of only 6 miles, but over 2200' of elevation. Day 3 we expected rain which came over night. Our main wood pile had glaze ice on it, but we had stashed enough under the lean-to to get a breakfast fire going. Today would be a relatively short day with a lean-to midway for a dry lunch break. As we began to pack up, I looked at my watch and noticed it was a quarter to ten. We knew we slept in, but this was later than we thought. No worries since we had a short day. We donned our rain gear and hiked down to the main trail which connects to the Pike Brook trailhead. From here we headed to Lapland Pond. We followed the shoreline for a bit until we met the trail to the lean-to. Passed bv a fishermans campsite along the way. The lean-to was messy, and the roof leaked. It was also quite low. I hit my head twice on the overhang. At the lean-to was the typical junk including some canned food. We opened a can of campbells soup and heated it up on the stove. Except for the trash, the lean-to was situated at a picturesque spot on the lake. After our break we retraced our steps back to the main trail. Dan spent a little more time looking for boats without any luck. We continued on for another mile to Millman Pond and its lean-to. This one was very nice, and not just relative to the mess at Lapland. The caretakers, ironically are Russ and Dan. According to the log book they check in quite often. The other visitors commented on the outhouse as "the nicest they have ever seen". Before we left we knew we had to at least open the door to the privy. Inside it was painted red and white. there was a nice wooden box for the tp, and the walls were decorated with watercolor paintings encased in plastic. It certainly was the "nicest outhouse" I have even seen too. It was getting later in the afternoon and we had a short two miles to go to our camp for the night at Greenland Pond. we would be arriving with a waning daylight and needed to collect wood. This reminded us both of our winter trip in the Haderondah, specifically arriving at East Pond. We gathered the scraps nearby, and eventually found some downed hardwood quite a distance away. Dan cut it up and we carried it back to the lean-to as the woods darkened. We had to get water using headlamps. even with the wet wood we got a good fire going and stashed some extra birchbark for the morning. we had bean and cheese burritos with salsa for dinner and went to bed. It was windy over the night. Not so much it kept us up but just enough to dry out much of the wood. Starting a fire int he morning was much easier especially with the dry charred logs from our evening fire. Another short day to camp, but we would first need to find a spot. We first explored Fishbrook Pond and its 2 lean-tos before continuing on to Bumps Pond. A very nice campsite was situated on the point, but with the winds it would not work on the this trip. We continued around the pond and found a designated site at the old homestead location. The remnant chimney was still there. Dan went to look for other potential spots while I collected firewood. We spent the early afternoon setting up camp and getting more wood. We still had some time and the bushwhack to Spectacle Ponds was on our itinerary so we loaded up day packs and headed down the trail to where we took a bearing. Our path to Spectacle was rough through a lot of small spruce thickets and beaver ponds to go around. It took a little longer than we expected to get there, but we still had enough time to explore its shoreline. At the southern end we opted to take a bearing to the Bumps Pond outlet and then follow it back to the trail. This was a much better route. As the trek progressed I could feel my legs running out of gas. The last quarter mile would be climbing around a small hill and then dropping down to the trail close to where we took our original bearing. We got back to camp before sunset. The fore was ready to go, so we got it lit. As the woods darkened, we noticed the temperature dropping rapidly and the stars emerging. We expected it would be a cold night. Some soup for dinner and then a walk to the pond's shore to look up to the sky before bed. Dan was up before first light. He gathered the dry kindling we stashed under my tarp and got the fire going. I went to get water. By the time the fire was going the woods began to brighten in the pre-dawn making our headlamps no longer necessary. We chatted and packed up. We had more miles to do today but it would be mostly downhill back to the car, this would be after we climbed Sleeping Beauty Mtn. The northern trails had a lot more snow and ice than we had been walking on the last 4 days. After climbing about 500' over about a mile, we reached a lookout and wondered how such a well marked area would not have a sign to the summit. We descended a bit and then the spur trail to the summit appeared. Sleeping Beauty overlooked Lake George and also had views to the east. we spent a little time taking photos and climbing the various rocky knobs. It was still a bit cold out, but we basked in the warmth of the morning sun. We had the summit to ourselves. We headed down the icy trail and over the next couple miles passed quite a few groups headed up. From dacy Clearing we had a number of options to get back to the car. We made decisions at each intersection which trail to take. It was obvious these trails get very little use compared to the main trails. About a mile before the car, we stopped at a pretty waterfall for lunch. Sitting for even the short lunch break allowed us to realize it was still rather cold. We arrived back to the car and noted the lot had quite a few more vehicles. It was apparent this area is heavily used. We were fortunate to have found the solitude and steal another pre-winter backpacking trip at the end of December. View the full article
  3. For quite some time Eric (RevYJ) and I have done thanksgiving in the woods. It started years ago as a solo adventure, then Ian joined in and then Eric. Since then, Eric has been a stable partner. Others have come and gone. This year, Kalie and her brother would be joining us. This would be the second year in a row for Kalie. Eric commented that no one ever joins us for a second trip! As the date got closer, Eric and I traded emails as to logistics. The menu etc... has been almost standardized the last few years. We must have miss communicated a little as Eric was waiting at 6am for me, and I arrived at 7am. If this was out only issue for the trip, we can call it a win. With the car loaded, we dropped off little megan at Al's place to watch for the weekend. The temp was in the 20's but would be dropping as we traveled North. The final mile to the trailhead was on a seasonal road, and since there had been considerable snow we drove slowly staying (mostly) in the tracks left by earlier vehicles. The temp was 12 deg F. The posted sign had Wolf Lake at 3.0 miles. Our map had it as 3.9. The trail had a little snow, enough for the pulk but not enough for snowshoes. We were on the trail before noon.It was well marked, almost to the point of ridiculous. The trail was gradually uphill skirting rock formations and small streams. The first obstacle was a flooded beaver section. As usual the problem is also the solution. With the snow it was difficult to see where to step. Eric led the way, took it slow. Once across it was much quicker for me to follow with the pulk. At the other side we wondered if the upstream beaver dam might be better for the return trip. Soon after the beaver dam, and old woods road came in from the left and the trail turned onto it. A few minutes later Eric paused as there were no markers. We had been chatting and not paying attention to the trail. We doubled back about 50 yards to find where the trail spun off the old woods road. Back on the well marked path we continued on. The forest changed quite a bit, a few small climbs but mostly rolling. At one point we are atop a small ridge covered with white pine and oaks. The winds swept across it reminding us of the cold temps. A few blowdowns along the way cause me to detour with the pulk while Eric could just step over. Some private land marking appeared to the left giving us a clear indication of our location on the map. Only a short way to go to the lake, and then a quick jog around the shoreline to the lean-to. A little over 2 hours for us to break trail. We dropped our packs and noted the solid lake. Glad we brought the shovel as it took a while to cut through the 2+ inches of ice to get water. We made camp, gathered some firewood and relaxed in the cold. Our standard fare for thursday was hot dogs and chili. I only made half of the chili as eric was only using it as dog toppings. Gathered more wood. when the sun set, we could feel the temp dropping quickly. It was expected to get close to zero over night. The moon rise over the lake was stunning; the clear sky a pre-cursor to the coming cold. (When we returned to civilization we would find out it bottomed out at -9°F .) I was warm with my down quilts, but I never sleep well in lean-tos. I would get a better nights sleep Fri night. Up as the sky turned pink before the rising sun, I restarted the fire and opened the hole in the ice. I heard the lake making ice all night, the hole had an inch of new ice to cut through. As the sun rose, it was directly across the lake. I needed to put on sunglasses due to the brightness and glare as it reflected off the ice. I made some coffee while Eric slept in and moved my gear to my hammock setup for Fri night. Kalie and her brother Chad would be here around 2 pm, so we had plenty of time to take a day hike to Moon Lake. It was a quick jaunt to the lake and a trail to the lean-to was along some high rock ledges along the shore. Quite pretty. We took a short break at the lean-to, and wrote in the shelter log. Either few people write in the log books, or this area gets very little use. I hope to come back in nicer weather and maybe do some fishing at this trio of lakes. Back at Wolf Lake we gathered up more firewood in preparation for Kalie and Chad. Across a small "bay" we could see where the trail would come out onto the point. Eric and I kept glancing over knowing we would see our companions a quarter mile before they would arrive. It wasn't long before Eric spotted some movement and our friends made the turn off the point. Their hike in was a solid twenty minutes shorter than ours. With them all set up, our second thanksgiving would begin. Turkey, stuffing, gravy, vegetables from the cans of green beans and carrots someone had left in the lean-to. With key lime pie for dessert. We ate like champs. stoked the fire and relaxed. The winds were picking up, as the temp rose. Odd combination but expected from the forecast. Kalie gave me an update on the Saints game from Thursday. We had a good laugh pretending to be the Wolf Lake Curling team. I shoved the ice wafer from cutting the ice hole, as eric brushed the ice with a broom. Hopefully a photo will surface. I was the first to call it quits and went to my hammock. I fell asleep quickly. It was much warmer this night, even with the winds. I was not the first one up; Chad was already getting the fire ready to be re-lit. A typical lazy morning of breakfast and packing up. Kalie was the last to emerge from her tent. It would rain today, but not until the later afternoon so we had plenty of time. The hike out was much quicker than coming in. The beaver dam was certainly mushier. The temp was closer to the 40s, a good 30 degrees warmer than on Thursday. Back at the car, we changed out of our hiking clothes and headed to Cook's family diner. Another successful Thanksgiving adventure in the books. View the full article
  4. DuctTape

    Cold at Lake Colden

    This weekend a number of lean2rescue projects were happening concurrently. As I intended to spend the night in the woods, I chose an on-site project. We would be prepping the site for the Beaver Point lean-to at Lake Colden and if time, removing the old roof from the lean-to. There was significant discussion as to the ingress to Lake Colden. Eventually we would plan to hike in from Upper Works. On Friday afternoon, I recieved a call from Doug that the crew has opted to come in from the loj, and I could still meet them at the sute. This made it easier as I was not sure if I could make the rendezvous at 8am. I would be leaving Roc at 3am as it was. The firrecast called for more snow and freezing temps. I changed my gear load for a winter trip. Three am arrived and I headed out. I stopped for coffee twice and filled the tank with gas in Long Lake. I was at Upper Works just after 8am, the plow had just come through. I changed into my hiking gear and loaded my pack. I wasn't sure where I would spend the night, or the next but I figured I would stop by the car for my 2nd days food. I signed in at the register noting only 2 people were before me heading to a nearby location. It was 8:30, so not too far behind schedule. There were a couple inches of powdery snow on the ground. The first couple miles if trail went quickly, even though it was generally gaining elevation. The snow of the trees and deadened the air, so it was very quiet walking. Every once in a while a big wind gust would kick up, blowing snow from the trees on to me. With the snow on the ground, it obscured the muddy spots. The footprints ahead of me provided fair warning for the worst spots. The trail soon began to gain elevation more significantly. I shed a few layers when I stopped for a snack. The last mile or so to flowed lands did not appear to gain elevation on the map, but it certainly did on the ground. While the first 2 miles went relatively quick, these last few were slow. I took a break at the Calamity lean-to which was occupied by the two ahead of me. I had jyst over a mile left to my destination. This last leg was not easy. Besides being uphill, the terrain was difficult, especially with the powedery snow. I arrived to Beaver Point and dropped my pack. I listened for voices of the crew assuming they were already there. Hearing none, I set up my sleeping area and then went to look (and listen) for them. Figuring I would eventually find their footprints, I continued on the trail. As I rounded the bend I saw flagging tape. I wondered if this was to mark the location for tbe new site. No footprints, no sounds just a quiet brumal day at Lake Colden. The original plan to start at Upper Works was due to high water levels at Avalanche Lake, making it impassable. Since I was here before the main crew I thought maybe the lake level was still to high for the northern approach. I headed back to my camp to wait and have some lunch. Being in the EHPZ meant no campfire. This was a bummer for a number of reasons, the least of which was I had nothing to do while I waited... usually collecting and prepping firewood takes up a lot of time. The wind picked up, blowing snow into the lean-to. I was not sure if it was from the trees or new snow. I erected a small tarp to block both from getting on my gear. I added an extra layer and sat down behind my wind/snow break. I was tired, but made sure I did not fall asleep as I knew it was going to be a long night. A few hikers passed by as they bagged some peaks and returned.By the time 4pm rolled around, I was certain the crew did not make it. I had a cold dinner, and bundled up waiting for the sun to set. Lake Colden was just beginning to freeze up, and with the temperature dropping would certainly be making more ice over the next hours. I was hoping the skies would clear so I would have a chance at the Taurid meteors known for higher than usual fireball activity. As dakness descended, the clouds remained. Unlikely meteor viweing, but it would not get as cold. I lit a tea candle and placed it into my cookpot as a "mini-campfire". I was asleep before the candle burned out. The next morning was not as cold as expected, but still below freezing. The lake had considerably more ice. I was packed up and on the trail a little after 7am. I paused at one of the other lean-tos on my way back to see the view (not as nice as from Beaver Point) and a group of three were there packing up. They had also come in from Upper Works. I guessed they might have been the voices I heard pass by the previous afternoon. I was given a hug by one of them, he had everybody deserves a hug every day. They were from different areas; Saratoga, Rochester, ... The hike out was quick as it was generally downhill. The slowest portion was navigating the big rocks as the snow made them quite slippery, so going around them was time consuming. I passed on other hiker on his way in. I was surprised how few cars were in the lot being a long weekend. I suppose folks were dissuaded by tbe weather. Usually this area, and Lake Colden in particular xan be quite busy. I pretty much had it all to myself. And it was pretty. Needing a campfire, I pondered the indea of stopping at a lean-to on the finger lakes trail or just camping in my own woods. The latter won out. Emily was glad as she hadn't been feeling well. View the full article
  5. A solo trip into the West Canadas to do some trail maintenance and check on the lean-to. A year ago this weekend Justin and I had paddled to the Carry lean-to and then hiked to the Colvin Brook Lean-to to clear a downed tree that fell by the fire-pit. As I pulled in tot he parking area, the sky opened up and it poured for short while. I put on rain gear and pack cover and headed down trail. I hiked in to the Carry lean-to. Set up my sleeping gear and headed to Colvin Brook. I cleared trail along the way with hand pruners and small saw. There was not much to be done as I had been through the area last June. I crossed the new bridge over the Lamphere Brook. This was the one I had made a temporary bridge for the 2018 NPT hikers. To get to the Colvin Brook lean-to, I had to cross the Cedar River. I donned water shoes and hiked up my pants. The water was cold. Since our last visit there have been a total of two visitors, both back in July.The lean-to is in need of some care. The other volunteer group to which i belong, lean2rescue is planning on engaging in the west canadas over the next few years. Hopefully we will get to this great spot sooner than later. I signed in to the register and re-crossed the river. Had some lunch and headed back to camp. I gathered some firewood from a decent distance away. I explored a bit of the area and then made dinner. I knew the sun would set early which was ok as I had to get up before the sun to make it to Long Lake in time for the NPT Chapter meeting. The winds raged in the early morning before the sun rose. I slept rather well mostly in the early part of the night. I made a quick fire and had some cocoa and breakfast. As I was eating I noticed some ash from the fire land on my wool shirt. I then noticed it melted and more was blowing around. The end of fall and the emergence of winter was here. I packed up and hiked back to my car. I noted in was just under freezing back at the car at 9amView the full article
  6. It had a few months since Dan and I had hit the trail together. We each had gone our own way on separate adventures over the summer. It would be great to sit around the campfire and tell our stories. While Justin was headed to Metcalf for the weekend, we had three days to spend, so we opted for the W. Canada Lakes wilderness to do some fishing and leaf-peeping. I picked up Dan early Saturday morning and we headed into the woods at the Pillsbury Mtn trailhead. The lot was already filling up, mostly with those hiking to the firetower according to the register. The air was chilly and we expected some rain over the weekend. We stopped at the Pillsbury Lake lean-to for lunch. It was surprisingly clean. For dessert I had a brownie and traded my second one to Dan for an after dinner beer later that night. We turned off the marked trail and headed to Whitney Lake. We arrived to the main campsite which was already occupied. A tent was set-up as well as a large tarp with a windblock. The occupants were not around; we assumed they were off day hiking or fishing. Instead of staying at the campsite at the old shelter location, we headed to the one on the other side of the lake which Justin and I had stayed at the year prior. The site was in good condition. There were signs it had been used since we had last visited. With camp set up, we went fishing. No hits and no rises for a while. Then Dan spotted a rise in the water. I cast short of it and hit immediately. Not a big fish, but a nice 9.5inch brookie. while I was playing him, Dan a much larger specimen; a 14 incher. We fished that spot a little longer and Dan hauled in a whopper at 15.5 inches. That would be the end of our fishing. Back at camp, we made dinner and talked. Dan commented how he would probably be asleep soon after dark. I, of course, would also. True to our word we hit the sack early. The rains came over night and into the next morning. Neither of us were in any kind of hurry to get up. Eventually I ventured out of my hammock and restarted the fire. We had set up a large tarp as a communal space in anticipation of the rain. This proved to be worth the effort. It rained a little on/off for the morning. We had fish tacos for breakfast while we discussed our options for the day. According to the lists, Puddle Hole nearby should have trout. So we set off to bushwhack through the wetness to check it out. We split up at the pond to search for a boat. Dan took the north side, and I the south. We met at the far side after 'whacking around the dense shoreline. Neither of us found a boat. The pond was shallow and the shoreline was not even conducive for shore fishing. We took a bearing back to the main trail and then headed back to Whitney. From there we headed to Sampson to also search for a boat. The lean-to at Sampson is in an unfortunate location perched at a run-off stream. For some reason people also seem to leave a lot of trash here too. A group of beginner backpackers from canada were just packing up after their lunch break. Two ladies were waiting nearby to secure the spot for the night. We told them we were only having a late lunch and would be moving on. We again had no luck finding a boat so we headed back to Whitney and fished our way back to camp with no luck. As the sun was getting low it really illuminated the changing colors. We again went to bed early. The morning again had rain and fog. We checked out the un-named pond onthe other side of camp before we left. No fish were seen or caught.All packed up, we headed back. As we passed through the occupied site from Saturday morning, the occupants were there and we chatted for a bit. Jim, wearing a "Whitney Lake Woods Rat" ball-cap said he had been coming here for 30 years. He told us some history, and we all swapped stories and fish-tales. Jim and JB offered us a beer, so we stayed a while longer and chatted some more. After a second one, we packed up the empties and headed back to the Pillsbury Lean-to for a late lunch and then to our awaiting car. We had just that one quick flurry of fishing. Quite a bit of rain and some gorgeous colors of the changing leaves. It was good to be back out on the trail with Dan. Next time we will hit a different part of this Wilderness. We are thinking of heading back to the Quetico next summer. A lot there left to explore. meaning Questico and the West Canadas. View the full article
  7. Justin and I had been trying to figure out when to go back to the W. Branch Sacandaga River for a few years now. This seemed like the perfect weekend. It was all set and my college roommate was joining us. A few days prior I mentioned to Justin the possibility of the Northern Lights (due to a recent coronal discharge). Immediately the plans changed to find a location with a northern view. We settled on the Boreas Ponds with the high peaks backdrop to the north. I picked up Jeff early in the morning and we made the long drive to the Vanderwhacker Forest and drove along the gravel road to the trailhead. A few cars, including Justin's, were already there. Jeff and I hiked along the rest of the road past the gate the few miles to the dam. Along the way a truck passed us. As we approached the dam we could see a few people gathering having a chat. we stopped to take in the view and down the trail came Bill. He and Justin had come in earlier with their canoes and said they would meet us at the dam. The timing was perfect. I had a rough idea of the campsite location, it shouldn't have been too difficult to find although the trail was not not visible from the main trail/road. So it was great Bill and Justin met us at the dam. We all hiked the remaining way to camp every once in a while on the remnants of an old wagon road in the woods. we made camp, explored a bit, took a short paddle. While the northern lights did not appear, the sunset did not disappoint. When we returned home, many people from around the Adirondacks has posted photos of the sunset. The next day, Jeff and I hiked out first by bushwhacking back to the main trail and then past the dam. While this was not an extreme adventure, it was still great to hang out with friends in the woods. The Boreas Ponds are quite pretty. I may return to try some fishing at some point, but I do not think this will be a recurring destination on my list.View the full article
  8. Another scouting mission for the NPT-west. This would be to check out an alternative to what I originally envisioned for a small section as well as visit a spot I haven't been to in a while (and never from this direction). I set my sights on Sand Lake via the unmarked path from the west. To add mileage and check out some other trails I started near the Oswegatchie Educational Center on Long Pond Rd at the far western edge of Watsons East Triangle WF. The parking lot was empty and I signed in at the register noting many from the Ed center use this trailhead to go to Trout Falls and Jakes Pond. A few minutes into my hike along the easement land, a guy (Brandon) and his son (Logan) were fixing a pin on their ATV so I paused and we chatted a bit. They were bringing in a tree stand for the hunting club. They also mentioned their game cameras have picked up quite a bit of bear activity between the footbridges. Also a decent buck. They allowed me to ahead of them and I continued along the recently logged area. I did notice some bear scat along the way. Soon I was on state land, and crossed the west branch Oswegatchie River, the trail became more closed in, although it was obvious atvs still came through. The forest here was quite pretty. It changed quite a bit both the flora and geology as I passed through. The trail had a few small rises to open rock areas. The air was still a bit chilly, but the sun was warming up the rocks. After about 45 minutes I came to the junction of Keck Trail and Jakes Pond Trail. The map shows a campsite here, but I didn't see anything. It is possible there was a campfire circle hidden among the ferns but without a water source this would be solely a winter camp. Taking the left fork to the Keck trail, it was more rugged and was even more winding than it showed on the map. The map showed 3 campsites along the next few miles, but were dry and hidden as well. There were a lot of different fungus growing near and on the trail. Even the air was filled with the scent of fungal decomposition. I passed another open rock area which was perched above a marshy area which had been dammed up by the beavers a long time ago. The overgrown remnant dam provided a was across the deep trickle of muck. The path was not obvious at first. Back in the woods a few muddy sections and atv tracks as well as a few bear prints. As i descended a small rise I came to another marshy section. This was criss-crossed with small rivulets hidden in the tall grass. The grasses themselves would sink underwater when stepped upon. There was no discernible path, no markers to be seen. I spent about half an hour trying to figure out where the trail went. Had I seen a marker or a trail on the other side I would have figured out a way to it. Instead I opted for plan B of my adventure. I would scout from the other side a different time. I headed back towards the Jakes Pond junction. I spent a extra time looking for some of the other campsites, but could not find them. I did come across a moose shed in a small clearing. A few minutes later I heard the sound of a motor. I paused on the trail and watched an atv slowly make his way around the bend in the trail and up towards me. I stepped aside as the red honda with 5 gallon buckets strapped all over it passed me by. I was getting low on water by the time I reached the junction. But I knew I would pass over a bridge soon. Taking the right fork towards Jakes Pond this time I headed to the river which would be the boundary between Watsons East and the Pepperbox Wilderness. I crossed the bridge and filled up my water bottle with the tannin stained water. This trail was obviously and old woods road at one time. I noticed an increasing amount of bear scat. Some newer, but mostly old. At one point I thought to myself there is poop every ten feet. I came over small rise and entered a newer growth forest with a lot of cherry trees. Some motion caught my eye and I stopped. I looked towards a stand of trees and looking back was a bear. She made a quick grunt and then two cubs scurried up the trees. I had happened to have my camera out, so was able to safely snap a few shots before i slowly backed up. As I gave momma more room, she moved into position between me and the cubs. I backed up further and waited. She backed up to her previous position. I took a wide berth around as we watched each other. My arc intersected with the trail well past the bears' foraging area. A couple hundred yards later I came across a beaver flooded section, but a well worn herd path directed me to the dam. I came to another one of these sections a little later on about a half mile from Jake's Pond where the beaver dam was just above a small cascade into a frothy pool. The old woods road headed uphill slightly to eventually reach what appeared to be a small esker between Jakes Pond and a water filled swamp. The esker made scanning the shoreline on both sides easy. Jakes has a very interesting shape. When I reached the southernmost point, I headed back and then off trail to the northern parts of the pond. No campsite was shown on the map, but sometimes one can be found. No luck and the shoreline was mucky. I took a break under a large white pine before heading back. Back at my car at 4:30 after about thirteen miles of hiking, I needed to drive up the road a few miles to a different trailhead to get to camp. I parked near the bridge over the W. Branch Oswegatchie and took the dirt road near the private land. At the stat land sign, I headed up to the shore of Mud Lake looking for the campsite which showed on the map. There were two, so I was confident I would find at least one of them in the open pine and hemlock woods, if not at least I would have water. I found a little used site just around dinner time so I made camp. Even with private lands close by, I seemed to have the entire area to myself except for the loons. It was a chilly night as expected. The morning glow over the lake was too good to pass up. View the full article
  9. I have hiked the Northville-Placid Trail (NPT) a few times now. Most recently with my friend Andy in July. while planning for our adventure, I reminded myself of an idea I had been brewing for a few years. The NPT-west. The NPT was the first project of the Adirondack Mountain Club in 1922, and completed in 1924. there have been some changes to it, reroutes and additional sections. But for the most part it is the same 140 mile "straight" trail between Northville and Lake Placid. Being in western, NY I have an affinity for the western regions of the Adirondacks and envisioned a western arc trail also connecting Northville to Lake Placid. In conjunction with the current NPT, this would create a giant loop (or backwards D). The conceptual trail I have put together is approx 260 miles and uses existing trail corridors. It actually has less road walking than the original NPT in 1924. Together with the current NPT, this would be approx 400 miles, from start to finish (start). There is much of it I have not actually walked, so this trip would be my official start of the NPT-west. I have 5 days in which to fill with miles. What a better way than to start at the beginning, the end of the NPT on Averyville Rd. I coordinated a ride and left my car at the Burntbridge TH in Cranberry Lake. I would hike the first 60 miles of the NPT-west to where it intersected with the CL-50 and then another 15 miles to get to my car. At 11am, Jack from Broadwing Adventures waved goodbye as I began my trek up Averyville Rd away from the NPT proper. I turned down Old Military Rd and then turned again at the railroad. The next few days I would be walking the unused railroad line. Currently the state is trying to rip up the rails and turn the right of way into a multi-use travel corridor; however it is tied up in the courts. The tracks were overgrown with weeds, which at times made walking through them uncomfortable. Often there was a "shoulder" of some sort, whether it was a foot path or ATV tracks which was a more level surface. A lot of the time was spent walking the tracks themselves. If the ground was level with the ties, it wasn't bad. When it wasn't the spacing was not a typical stride so steps were short and quick. Eventually I got used to it. I never did get used to the 6ft tall mullein weeds which showered their seeds when brushed against. About halfway through my first day, the sky opened up and it poured. It had been overcast and rain was expected, but this front came in and dumped on me before I had a chance to get my rain jacket on (I had prepared my pack with its rain cover). I was drenched walking through the town of Saranac Lake. This all happened just as I had re-found the tracks. There was some bridge construction near the community college and the tracks were all fenced off, so I had to figure out a way around it. Only four hours in and I was dealing with all this already? I supposed it could only get better. The rain subsided soon enough and I continued on past Lake Colby which was my intended camping area to McCauley Pond. There is a small section of state land on McCauley. I found an old campsite, hung my hammock and dried myself out. 14 miles for the day including the drive up. I could hear the camp across the lake as I fell asleep in my hammock before it was even fully dark. I had sent my itinerary to my buddy Lance whom I have hiked with a few times. There was a chance he would join me for part of this adventure. I also sent him a link to track my progress on google maps as long as I uploaded my position (if a signal was available). In town I could do this every few hours, but it burned up the battery quite fast. My second day of travel would be traversing the St. Regis Canoe Area. A few years ago we had to carry our canoe over these same tracks to get from one pond to another. This time, I would be cutting through the ponds on the tracks. This is a pretty area as the tracks passed by numerous ponds, marshes and lakes. It is also a wilderness area with no cell reception. My last upload for the day would be 10am, after only 6 miles. By 3pm, I had traveled an additional 9 miles to the far end of Rollins Pond. A snowmobile access path led to the water and there were plenty of trees on which to hang my hammock. I spent a little time exploring the shoreline and then headed back to where the tracks were in view. Made dinner and took a woods shower to get rid of the sweat and dust. A sound startled me and I turned around to see someone walking the tracks. He had on a backpack, I called out "Lance?". "Russ?" came the reply. I was not expecting to him until the next day at the earliest. We started to talk and then I said, "go set up your hammock, we have plenty of time to chat". A long quiet evening turned into a welcome chat by the campfire. Unlike the previous night, we stayed up well past dark. Like usual I was up early, at least I waited until just before day break so I could still watch the sunrise. Lance had been dropped off in Tupper Lake, about 6 miles down the tracks. There is a diner right at the crossing, so we had an easy breakfast and got our giddy-up on to the Lumberjack for a late breakfast. Brenna, our waitress lent me her phone charger so i could get a few extra percents to my battery while we ate. Thank you Brenna! All fueled up, we headed down the tracks. the first mile was really nice, including crossing a significant bridge. After that, it was monotonous. Long stretches of nothing and the walking wasn't easy. Also water was no where to be found. After 9 miles of this (15 for the day) we made it to Mt Arab Rd where Lance's car awaited. I was just about out of water, but the map showed a stream nearby. Lance went to get his car, while I poked around looking for the little stream. Obscured by brush, it was there and flowing nicely. I flagged down Lance as he came by and told him I found the stream and was going to find a place to camp nearby on easement land. After a long break and a full bottle of water, I was restless (it was only 4pm) so I pressed on. The next 7 miles were much easier going. I passed by a few lakes, and some marshes. The tracks made a slight climb as well. Not noticeable while walking, but you could see it if you turned around. A few places the resident beavers had flooded the nearby streams and the water had made its way to the tracks. I did some balancing on the rails a few times to stay out of the wet. A neat thing about the RR is just like highways, they have mile markers so one can easily keep track of pace and location. Before too long Horseshoe Lake was in view and this would be where I would make my third camp. It was after 7pm, so I took a quick bath, ate a cold dinner of trail mix and fig newtons, and went to bed. 22.5 miles, not bad. I slept great and was up before first light. I packed up and went to the boat launch to watch the fog lift from the lake as the sun rose. I made coffee and breakfast, chatted with a kid who was paddling his kayak and taking pictures. With the RR track portion of my trek behind me, I headed up the dirt rd. A snowmobile trail in winter #36/7A. The map showed quite a few intersections through this area, so I kept my eyes peeled and followed the map closely so as to not make a wrong turn. At one intersection with a gated rd, a couple of ladies were looking for a specific trail they had seen years before. I had never heard of it, but after some discussion, gave them some other information as to where it could possibly be located. For my troubles, they offered me food, water, bug dope... anything. I said jokingly, "I could use a beer". They replied, we got that too. So with my apologies to the Piano Man, it was 9 o'clock on a Saturday and I was hiking with a beer... The best part of it was it was ice-cold. One forgets how refreshing a cold drink can be after a just a few days. The downside was I had to carry an empty beer car for next 20+ miles. A happy price to pay. The dirt rd soon gave way to a foot trail just after a gate and a bridge. A campsite (#11) was at the end of this road. I was now walking in the woods for the first time in 4 days. of course the trail headed up hill as pretty much all Adirondack trails do; both ways. The trail was an old woods rd so it was easy going. A few miles later I was at the intersection with the CL-50. This would be the end of my first section of the NPT-west, but I still had another 15 miles to get to my car. I passed a few hikers doing the Cl-50, took a break at the dog pond loop junction and headed up that trail away from Cranberry. I headed towards Burntbridge Pond. I had been here once before, but never hiked the this connector trail. This 4.5 mile connector (3.9 on the map) had always intrigued me. It twisted and turned, went up and down as you earned each mile. It passed by some prominent boulders, likely were used as navigation aides in the past. I noticed one tree which had scars from axe blazes on both sides. I arrived at camp at 4 with plenty of time to relax, take a woods shower, and read the shelter log. Soon after the sun set, I watched the moon rise. It was large and bright orange. The photos would look like a rising/setting sun. Soon it was dark, except for the significant moonlight. I do not remember falling asleep. It was dark when I arose. I had my coffee by headlamp. I waited for the sun to rise before departing. Only 6 miles to my car. Moments after I arrived at 9am, it began to rain. Perfect timing. 75 miles in 94 hours. Time for some well deserved corned beef hash and eggs at the Stone Manor diner in Cranberry Lake. View the full article
  10. As the summer began, I ventured into the West Canada Lakes for a few days to do trail maintainance on my section of the Northville-Placid Trail. Originally this was scheduled as a lean-to recon trip with George to assess the conditions of the lean-tos for lean2rescue repair efforts but the weather forecast was not looking good. After speaking with George, he opted to stay home. So I set off solo from Wakely with a quick stop at the Carry lean2, and then spent a good portion of the remaining morning hours constructing a temporary bridge over halfway creek on the NPT out of materials from the collapsed bridge. The new materials had beendelivered, but construction will be in thefall. A little rain fell as I cobbled together the temporary footbridge. I cleared the blowdown which could be cut with a hand saw along the Lamphere Ridge. I then spent the next few days relaxing in the Cedar Lakes. The woods were wet with the on again off again rain, so I did not feel like exploring off-trail. I collected wood and left stashes at the lean-tos for the hikers who would becoming thru, as the kick-off for the NPT hiking seasin has just begun. A day ofvolunteer trail work and three days of Cedar Lakes relaxing. The following weekend, Jeff and I hiked into Brooktrout Lake in the ungodly heat. We expected to spend 3 days, but it was so hot and humid we could barely sleep even in hammocks. We left the 2nd day, pausing for a long while at a spring fed cascade with moss covered rocks to cool ourselves down. The last week of July I joined my friend Andy on his SOBO thru-hike of the NPT. Andy struggled with lack of appetite the first 3 days, so we took an extra day to relax and recharge at Catlin Bay. I caught a huge largemouth bass. After that it was just walking for another 8 days. We had rain for some days, including a torrential downpour right after we made camp. Passed by 37 NOBO hikers on our way to finish the 138 mile trail. The last 2 days were great hiking weather, overcast and in the 70s. As we completed the last few miles on the road walk into the town of N'ville a group of bikers gave us some nods of respect knowing what we had accomplished. At the arch, we recognized a pair of fellow hikers we had passed by days earlier. They had finished their NOBO journey that day and were eating celebratory ice-cream. This was #5 NPT completion for me. Although it was a first in some aspects as well. It was my first with a hiking partner the entire way. I am glad to have had the opportunity to join Andy on his journey. SOBO Rules! View the full article
  11. DuctTape

    Cold River Loop 2018

    I have been doing this loop for quite a few years now since the first time with my friend Ian. I have hiked it clockwise, counter-clockwise, as a 3-day trip, as an strenuous over-nighter, as well as using it as part of a figure-8 loop covering 60 miles. This time would be the clockwise loop with the last day as a short 6 miler. Two of the folks from last year were with me, Ryan and Kalie. Also joining us was my friend Andy. We started a little after 9am, the parking lot for the Seward trailhead was already starting to fill up. We signed in at the register and noted everyone would be concentrated on the peaks, like usual. The black flies were starting to come out, I did not notice if the were the biters as they more or less stayed away from my permethrin treated clothes. As we hiked they were non-existent but would begin to swarm if we stopped for too long. We passed by a few hikers, some of whom were wearing bugnets. We took a left at the first junction to follow the footpath along the boundary of the Ampersand property. We would pass by Blueberry and Ward Brook lean-tos. Both of which had hikers prepping for their conquest of the Sewards and/or Seymour Mtn. The couple at Ward Brook had day hiked from Duck Hole to climb Seymour, they had come in via Bradley pond. Quite a journey. We took our first long break at Camp Four, which we had to ourselves. A recon of the thunderbox showed it to be unusable as a tree had fallen on it. We ate a late lunch and discussed the next few miles. A steady uphill followed by a downhill to the Cold River. We were 6 miles in on our 9ish mile day. The bugs seemed to have subsided, but the air felt like rain was coming. The uphill on the old truck trail seems to be less steep each time I do this loop. Soon we were heading down towards the beaver meadow. The first time I did this loop we had gone counter clockwise and the trail across the meadow was a small beaver dam which we had to pick our way across with mostly dry feet. Since then, it had been dry, with remnants of the dam the only evidence of that first wet crossing. This time, however would be different. Somewhere downstream, the busy little rodents had done a much better job, and the trail was considerably under water. Kalie started to pick her way along the right edge of the trail, and Ryan on the left. Soon Ryan was just walking knee deep in the water and out the other side. I accepted the inevitability of the situation and followed Ryan. Soon we were all on the other side with significant water in our shoes. We only had about a mile or so to camp, and we arrived in the afternoon to both lean-tos vacant. We chose the one closer to the water, and just relaxed for a while as we had plenty of time. George and Tammy had left the Calkins Brook lean-to book for me to deliver. I was already carrying 4 others (Ouluska, Seward, CR-3 & 4. They had written as the first entry into the Calkins book, "Russ, please bring me to the Calkins Brook lean-to". I literally laughed out loud upon reading it. With our wet socks hanging to dry, we focused on camp chores interspersed with just sitting around. Dinner was eventually made as well as a fire. A couple hiking the NPT southbound stopped over to say hello. They chose to stay at the other lean-to. I was tired. The sound of the river coupled with the fact I was up at 3am had me in bed not long after sunset. I barely remember even lying down in the hammock. I slept great. I was up rather early as usual even though I tried to sleep in. Ryan was in the lean-to, so I did little to avoid disturbing him. Once he was awake, I restarted the fire to make a quick pot of water for coffee. Not long after everyone else was up. The couple from across the way started down the trail. I half-expected to see them again at Cold River 3 or 4. We were on the trail a little ways after 8am with a big day ahead of us. At least we would be going downstream for a majority. The NPT between the junction and Rondeau's hermitage is difficult no matter which way you go. Constant up and downs with not easy footing. It is a long few miles with little to see along the way except for the big green tunnel. One earns these miles. The old logging camp is growing in a lot. I remember it being more field-like but the shrubs have given way to small saplings. The old implements can still be seen scattered around. We paid our respects to Noah John, the Mayor of Cold River and headed the last half mile to the Ouluska Lean-to. A fellow hiker was here taking a break. He was doing the same loop as us counter-clockwise. There was some gear in the lean-to which he said was not his. He also mentioned the couple who was ahead of us. I glanced at the gear in the lean-to and immediately recognized the sit pad as belonging to Tammy; this was George and Tammy. I was hoping to run into them. I signed in to the register, and said "hi" to G&T. A few moments later they came down the trail. We chatted for a bit. They had spent the last two nights here and were on their way back to camp. We also had quite a few miles left for the day. A few sprinkles began to fall, but it never coalesced into a rain. We stopped again for a longer break at the Seward Lean-to. We had a little scare as Ryan seemed to have misplaced his car keys. He was using them to open his bear canister. With a methodical search, they were found sitting on his pack. The trail between Seward and Big Eddy was a real mess in the years after Irene but has since been cleared. Some new blowdown now exists along the rest of the trail. I dropped of the register as CR-4, and we rested more at CR-3. I somewhat expected we would stay here for the night as it was later in the day than I anticipated. The group opted to press on even with the knowledge we would be climbing steadily to a higher elevation. The trail would be a lot easier though being the old horse trail, and a road in previous times. I had forgotten about the final downhill section immediately before we reached our destination, Calkins Brook. This was longer than I remembered. It was early evening when we arrived to the two lean-to's finding them both unoccupied. We were all tired as this was about a 14 mile day, and the tough miles in the beginning. I gathered a small amount of wood even though a decent amount was already there. I try to not use what others have collected without at least doing my part. Dinner was made. I strung up my hammock. Kalie went to hang her bear bag. It wasn't completely dark before I wandered off to my hammock. The three of them would crash in the lean-tos. It was a little colder this night. Partially due to the wind. Again I was up before the rest. I quietly made a fire and had some coffee before anyone else even stirred. We only had 6 miles to go, but it would be mostly uphill. Plans were already made for lunch at the Lumberjack diner. The hike out was quiet as everyone was tired. We were finishing the last few miles of a 30-mile trip and I was already contemplating the next iteration for next year. Gotta love Cold River Country. View the full article
  12. DuctTape

    Very remote Adirondack Lake

    It had been a few years since Justin and I had visited this remote lake in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. Justin had spent quite some time scouting out the best route. On one of his last trips he exited via a different route. This trip would make the loop in reverse. Our buddy Dan would join us. A remote Adirondack lake with brook trout is too much for him to resist. The weather had called for rain all day, so we were expecting the hike to be a slog pretty much the entire way until we arrived to camp. Last minute forecast appeared not so bad. The hike in would begin on an old road and then turn off on an unmarked path for a few miles. As we began, the trail was a slow general uphill. As a weekend warrior, these first quarter miles of uphill always seem to remind me I need to be in better shape. Even with a light pack, made 24 oz heavier with a few cans from Justin. It took a few minutes for us to find the unmarked path as it was not so obvious from the old road. I packed a collapsible fishing rod and reel, as did Justin. Dan carried in 3 poles and his canoe paddle. while it was nice to be backpacking in the Adirondacks without snow again, this particular path was not extraordinary; was still pretty enough though. It is always nice to see the trout lilys and trillium in these early days after the snow has gone. We stopped shortly at the private cabin along the path and spoke with the caretaker briefly. The path would end soon after and our bushwhack would begin. Once off trail, we would be pushing though witchopple and across the edges of marshes. The terrain was not too bad, but the witchopple certainly was a pain. We paused for a snack at the last vly before regaining a trail for the last bit to reach the west end of the lake. An established campsite was here along with a canoe in very good shape. A small jon boat should also be nearby according to Justin. Dan and I took the canoe and began our way down the length of the lake while Justin walked the shore line looking for the other boat. There was a bit of wind but the paddling was easy. We found our campsite, and I began collecting firewood while Dan paddled back for Justin. When Dan and Justin finally arrived, I had collected some hard wood from quite a distance away as the campsite is in mostly a spruce forest. Justin had walked a bit more than half the shoreline before the found the jon boat soon after Dan had intercepted him. Dan would fish, while Justin and I set up camp. It was early afternoon and we had arrived at camp with no rain for the day. I considered the trip a win at that point. I made a small fire for a cup of coffee. Dan arrived to set up camp and showed off a big brook trout he caught. Was 15 inches or so; a beauty. Dan set up camp and Justin took the jon boat out to fish. Soon after Dan and I were out fishing from the canoe. we paddled the eastern shore and up to the northern inlet. I landed the second brook trout about the same size as Dan's. We fished and paddled and explored the eastern side of the lake. By the time we headed back in we had 4 excellent fish for dinner. Right across form the campsite along the island Dan would hook and land the last fish, largest of all. Justin was on the island and took a quick video of the fight. This fish ended up at 17 inches, 1 lb 14.5 ounces. At camp we cooked up the 3 smallest trout which was almost too much for the 3 of us to eat. Darkness soon came and my eyes were getting heavy. The early wake-up, the hike, full stomach, and the quiet lullaby of the Adirondack woods was too much. I made my way to my hammock and was asleep in no time. I tried to sleep in, and thought I did as Dan was up before me. As we were getting coffee going Justin remarked from his tent it was only 6am. The woods were bright in the morning glow of the soon to be rising sun. Out by the water, the grasses showed the remaining frost. The chilly morning was sandwhiched between the hot coffee and the warmth of the campfire. I took it all in, while Dan set out for some early morning fishing. The air was still, and the water was glass. I caught a glimpse of the rising sun as it sparkled though the budding branches along the shore. I made some breakfast and packed up my gear in shifts. Justin did the same. Dan fished the morning with not a single hit. As he packed up his gear, I paddled west to return the canoe to where we found it. By now the winds had picked up a bit. Justin was a short ways behind me with the jon boat to give me a ride back to the campsite. With the canoe back where we found it, we looked around a bit more to see if another boat was around and also to look for the USGS benchmark shown on the map. With no luck, we both entered the jon boat and began our way east. We soon realized that our positioning would not work, so we adjusted and each used an oar as a paddle. It was slow going and the oars were heavy. The boat was also returned to its original location near the garbage pile left from the days when float planes used to be able to fly into the lake. From here we would walk the dense shore line back to camp. All packed up and ready, we left camp around 11:30 am. Mostly bushwhacking to start but not as thick and marshy as yesterday. Also this route would pass by and along some pretty streams and cascades. It was a quieter hike out. I suppose we were all a bit tired. It seemed to take longer, but looking at the time it was about the same. The last 3 miles would be along the old road bed. Easy walking but muddy, and I was tired. The sun was shining; I had remembered to put on sunscreen but probably not enough. Back at the cars we loaded up and congratulated each other on another fine trip. View the full article
  13. Day 11. The Best Campsite Ever! I slept in until it was fully light out. I must have been quite tired. Not surprising after the last few days. After a quick breakfast we spent time drying out the condensation from the tents. On trail a bit after 9am. The trail started off downhill to the river where we would have to ford it again. Only up to my knees this time and not so much current. It was marshy for about 50m before and after the river. The goal for the day was the Stough Creek Lakes about 6 miles away (map distance). Along the trail we crossed paths with 3 other groups. Most people we have seen in quite a while. Snack break was against a nice sitting log overlooking a meadow. With the heavier packs and the last few days distance and climbs, I was hiking slow I thought. The entire trip I struggled to keep pace with Dan with his much longer stride (and being 10x in better shape than me). At the next trail junction the sign had us 3 miles from the Stough Creek Lakes. Like most days we seemed to be climbing. To be expected in the mountains. At a high point on a meadow not long after we stopped for a break. Dan stepped a few few away from where we stopped and exclaimed, "the lake is right there". I didn't believe him as there was no way we had come close to the 3 miles from the last junction, but there it was. The lake was just down the hill. We loaded up again, remembering our fishing and hiking poles. "Poles" was always the last thing we would say to each other as we began hiking. Like a pre-flight check to ensure we didn't forget them. As we approached the lake, we dropped our packs to search for campsites. West for me, and East for Dan. Up on the hill I found a good site used by people with stock animals. It was large, nice firepit and they stabled the animals far enough away from the main campsite. Dan located a few sites. Some seemed like sattelite sites from when the area was busy, but we were the only people here today. The farthest site was fantastic. A giant boulder the size of a small house provided an overhang and a backdrop for the firepit. We didn't have to walk up/downhill to get water. Our tents would be at higher ground. I found a spot on a ledge about 30' up which had a great view of the lake. Hoping to see a good sunset. It was only 1pm when we arrived. After a few hours of setting up camp and doing chores, Dan is off fishing and I am boiling some water and then fishing. Stough has some decent brook trout which one can watch hit the lure. Both of us were to keep 2 trout for the next meal. Within minutes I landed a pretty 8" brookie. Knowing there are bigger ones, he was set free. A 9" took the hook in the tongue, so I kept him. Soon after a 10" hit the lure, but I didn't set it. I could see him, so i cast about 5ft past him and brought the spinner right back to him which he attacked. I had my two, so I continued to catch and release a few more. I am sure Dan would be returning with at least 2, and likely larger ones. He brought back 3, so we had plenty. All were saved for breakfast since our soup dinner would be too much to finish anyway. A storm began brewing in the distance. We were able to get everything stowed and into our tents before the rains hit. It was over rather quickly, but the winds continued all night. Day 12. Mental Preparation Fish and bread for breakfast. One of our staple meals. Today was set aside as a short day to explore, fish and to rest in preparation for tomorrows adventure. We dropped our packs after crossing a small outlet. It took a while to find a place to cross; slightly easier for Dan with his longer stride. We day hiked up to one of the lakes which was situated just below a huge cliff with a chasm cut into it. The hike up required some more boulder scrambling some of which really tested me especially as we neared the lake. It was an eerie blue color, and the snow pack on the other side continued into the water. Obviously quite cold. We were sitting on a boulder about 15' up from the water. Both of us had left our cameras in our packs. Too bad, as it was neat to be so close to the mountain with the crack right in front of us. It was massive. The next stop would be to find a place to camp up one one of the knolls just before the the uppermost lake set beside the rocky steep section we would be climbing tomorrow. It took a while to find a decent spot as there were no established sites in this area. What started out as a make-do spot turned out quite well. As we set up our tents trying to get the most shelter among the small trees, black flies swarmed us. Hundreds made it inside the tent but they all stayed in the one corner. Later in the evening I had to sweep them out. The climb tomorrow was weighing heavy on my mind. Just looking at the ridge we would have to climb up to, it was steep. I was mostly concerned with what would come after, which I could not yet see. Dan tried to calm my nerves reiterating the ridge was wide open and not a knife edge. The map confirmed this, but still I was uneasy. My camera is signalling the battery is almost dead. I will have to rely on Dan's pictures for the last few days when he returns. I might be able to sneak in a couple more. Day 13. Where do we go from here? My sleep cycle has settled into a routine. Very sound until about 3-4am, and then toss and turn and am awake every hour or so. The hammock is so much better. I regret not bringing it. I was awake at first light, knowing we needed to get an early start I quickly sat up. Moments later Dan was at my tent getting the dry firewood from the vestibule. After a quick breakfast we headed to the lake to find away around the cliff to begin our climb. we found a way up and around the cliff, the final step down was almost a jump for me. We then began our climb up the steep rocky slope with grassy areas interspersed and accented by alpine flowers. It was pretty, but a grueling climb. It took us about an hour to ascend the 1200'. From there we would take the open ridge (and gain more elevation at a much gentler grade)to the next Canyon to look for a way to get down. It was quite windy up on the exposed ridge. As the other canyon came into view, we tried to determine which lakes we could see and then cross reference with the map to determine a suitable climb down. Some of the lakes shapes didn't seem to jive with the map so we spent extra time to determine our exact location and the safest route down. Dan went to check out a possible route while I sat behind some rocks out of the wind. He returned with a plan. We had to climb a bit more and circle around one of the peaks to descend into Saddlebag lake. As we began our descent all I could think of was "this is crazy". I am climbing down, over, between boulders at an almost vertical pitch. I thought I was tested earlier, holy crap this was insane. I didn't even have an opportunity to get nervous, I was just going, climbing down a crack and at the same time trying to figure out which way to go next. I put myself into some rather precarious positions by way of my route. My only choice was to figure a way out or climb back up; which wasn't going to happen. I was smart to have have disassembled my hiking poles as I needed both hands most of the way. By now Dan was much farther down the boulder scramble where the ground began to level out (a little). It would take me some time to get there, as I still had about 200' to drop down. I am not sure how I made it, but soon I was at the gentler grade and saw Dan waiting at the shore of Saddlebag Lake. Dan had lunch waiting for me. I turned around to look back at the 800' drop I just descended and shook my head in disbelief. From the base of the lake it looked almost straight up (of course it wasn't). I ate my lunch, Dan told me to take as much time as I needed. He would slowly wander ahead and fish the outlet. We had barely covered any mileage on the map as we were only a half mile from the site where we camped in the other canyon. I was mentally exhausted but surprisingly not physically. I didn't linger to long and made my way to the outlet. Since Saddle bag is a the uppermost lake in this canyon, we had still had to drop down as we checked off each subsequent lake. The next couple of lakes had more boulders and minor cliffs to contend with. Nothing like what we conquered earlier. We stopped at Windy Lake (aptly named) and filtered some water. From here we would continue East through the Atlantic canyon to Calvert Lakes where good campsites were supposedly found. After Windy Lake we criss-crossed a small stream where Dan landed his first true golden trout. What a beautiful fish. Dan caught a few more. And then it started to rain. we followed the stream for a bit and then hit a gorgeous pond punctuated with rock walls. It looked fishy and was. Big brook trout 14"+, nice and stocky too. 4 of these would make a nice dinner. We followed some game trails around the lake and eventually some cairns which went in our direction. they led us right to Calvert Lakes and an ok campsite. We dropped our packs and went looking for others. We found a fantastic one at the other end of the lake. It was up on the hill and surrounded by massive rocks stacked with some "caves" and overhangs. We went back for our packs as this site was awesome. With potential rains threatening us, we set up tents first. I then got a fire going while Dan fetched water. A few feet behind us was a nice flat rock which made a great platform and bench for our hot baths. The wind was chilly though. Dan caught some more fish to save for breakfast. Fried trout dinner with potato soup. As we ate, Dan reminded me to write in the journal that getting to camp at 5pm makes for a relaxing evening with plenty of time to get everything done. Tomorrow is our last full day which is hard to believe. I am also unsure of how our bear canisters seem to still be completely full. Also need to remember to bring more tortillas in the future and that pre-cooking lunch "for the road" sounds better in theory, but no-cook is much better. Anyway, today was brutal. Not so much because of miles hiked, but the mental fatigue from climbing down off that ridge. I am certain to have a little muscle soreness especially in my arms. Time for bed. Day 14. Last full Day I could not fall asleep for the longest time, but I must have eventually. Had strange dreams of which I cannot recall. I wonder if it is knowing the trip is coming to an end. It has been a tough adventure and I think I am ready to head home. I know that within minutes of getting home I will wish I was back in the woods. I was up first, just barely. I restarted the fire and got the bread rising. Dan prepped the fish and it wasn't long before we were passing the frying pan back and forth. The plan for the day was to basically head back close to the campground area so that we could meet our shuttle early tomorrow morning. since we had all day, we would take a roundabout way. As we left "our" Calvert Lake heading towards the other, I noted a brass plaque on one the rocks. The engraving read: "CALVERT LAKES" A Tribute to the Calvert Family in memory of Charles Calvert He represented what was right about Wyoming and still is. From here we started bouldering again. I thought to myself, "I am officially sick of these boulders, my legs cannot take it anymore". We worked our way up towards the trees at an angle gaining elevation to the uppermost Calvert Lake. A semblance of a trail was discernible with infrequent cairns. We followed it for a bit and headed up the drainage to wards the pass. As we approached the more open section the cairns became more frequent showing the way. We hadn't gone very far and already my legs felt like we had done 20 miles. I kept trudging along with many breaks. From the top of the pass we could see Island Lake below us. We took a 10 minute break to enjoy the view. Following the cairns down to the Lake was easier than the way up (600ft gain). As we leveled out, Dan motioned for me to stop. I froze, heard a splash, a young moose appeared and sauntered off into the woods seemingly unaware of our presence. The main trail through Silas Canyon was just ahead as was a larger hiking group from NOLS. We found a nice point on Island Lake. Dan made lunch and I filtered water. Dan wanted to head west up the canyon to explore and fish. I needed to rest and took the time to sketch the view across the lake. The NOLS group including some learning to fly fish. It was warm in the sun, but would get shilly quickly as the sun moved behind a cloud. Dan was back earlier than I figured with 2 large brook trout for dinner. As we hiked to our final campsite we discussed our plans for dinner with the remaining food. The trail here was well established and we made good time. That is until we came close to one of the lakes and the many braided herd paths caused us some confusion. apparently the main trail headed away from the lake so we we headed uphill (of course) and eventually intersected it. Back to our food discussion. We had leftover salami and cheese wraps from lunch so those would be our appetizer. This trail seemed to take forever. At a stream I filtered some water and we consulted the map. It showed a pond where now a meadow exists. A few feet later and a side trail appeared. This was an old connector trail to the campground where we would meet our shuttle tomorrow. We found a spot to make camp, and our evening routine ensued. Tents, fire, water, bath, dinner. After toasting our lunch wraps we thought it would be neat to make a cheese and salami stuffed bread, like a calzone. Just as I finished cooking it, the rains came. I carried the bread to my tent and am keeping it dry in the vestibule along with the frying pan Dan had just added oil into for the fish. The rain eventually stopped long enough for us to eat. Dan cooked the fish and we packed it away for tomorrow. Raining again as we head to bed. Day 15. Heading home We packed up wet tents and hiked the quarter mile to the campground. Made coffee on the stove and Dan had just started on his granola when the shuttle arrived. We expected Christian to be punctual. He expected to be early and wait for us. We loaded up our gear into the van. with ur traveling luggage kept safe at Christians house. Like usual the last thing we said before drove off... "poles". We drove the winding roads back to Riverton. I took a quick shower at Dan's motel room and the shuttle brought me to the airport. Being early for a delayed flight, I inquired about setting up my tent in the parking lot to dry it out. No one will bother you I was told by security. All my gear is dry and the few people in the airport were called to their flight; a delayed flight from earlier on the same airline as me. With some fast packing and security I was able to jump on this flight. I would much rather hang out in the Denver airport instead of Riverton. Heading to the plane. Video of still photos taken on trip. Please excuse the date error on title page. View the full article
  14. Day 6; Off Trail to High Meadow and down the boulder fieldYesterday was a 7 mile (on the map) day, being on switchback trails certainly made it much longer. Today would be mostly off trail, shortening the mileage but making the inclines that much steeper. We began the day on the High Meadow trail to its namesake lake and then up the draw to the high meadow between the two cirques. But I get ahead of myself. Coffee always starts the day and today was no different, paired with cream of wheat it makes a quick breakfast. The trail climbed a short ways to High Meadow Lake which had numerous boulders surrounding the outlet. Dan tried out a new fly on the brook trout in the outlet with success. I captured one of the hookups and landings on a 25 sec video. From the outlet we could see the draw which we would soon be climbing. Working our way around the lake and then started heading uphill rather steeply. Dan commented that this was the level section. As the pitch increased we began following a game trail which headed in the same direction we wanted to go. Back and forth, we went quickly gaining elevation unlike the long switchbacks on the marked trails. The woods were open, the ground was soft and sandy with pine needles. Not easy to get a good grip with the boots, my hiking poles helped tremendously with this. Dan kept us on a steady pace, but slow enough for me to not fall too far behind. He spotted some fresh scat, and hoped if went went slow enough and stayed quiet into the pass we might catch a glimpse of some wildlife. The rocky areas off to our right looked to be prime wildlife hiding areas. I wondered to myself whether being quiet in grizzly territory was such a good idea. Sighting of wildlife was not to be, but the view as we approached the opening anf then across the pass, even turning around so see where we had come from was breathtaking. The meadow was gorgeous, spreading out in front of us providing a foreground for the mountains in the distant background. We sat down to rest and had a snack. Just enjoying being there, and taking some pictures. It had taken just about an hour to make the climb. After our break we began our descent. This part would be completely different from the way up. First we had to walk down the meadow's north face which still had patches of snow and what appeared to be sheep prints in the soft soil. We passed through a few trees and entered the boulder field. Like the other day, dan pushed me beyond my comfort zone. Some of this traverse would have been difficult even without a pack. Apparently I survived. As the boulder field ended we entered the woods which still found us descending rapidly. Eventually we made it to Cook Lake. Scouted a few small fish and an OK campsite. Following a compass bearing to Cloverleaf Lake where we had heard the campsites were better. We intersected the marked trail to the lake and followed it to the campsite. The site was quite large, up the hill from the lake with a large firepit. Unlike the previous night, the area where the horses were stabled was far from the camping area. A late lunch of camp bread and fried trout. Dan is off exploring another lake while I finish up camp chores and get caught up in the journal. There is fresh bear scat only a few meters from camp, so we somewhat expect a midnight visitor. Hopefully not. Day 7; Changing weather A later rise than usual, but the typical morning routine of restarting the fire, fetching water and retrieving the bear bags. Dan went fishing for breakfast while I started making bread. I finished the bread and started to get my gear packed up when motion out of the corner of my eye made me freeze. I slowly turned to see a mule deer enter camp. He slowly made his way around and I quietly retrieved my camera glad I turned off the sound. I was not sure how long the deer would remain so I started just taking pictures. He continued in his circle and I was able to get a few good shots when I spotted another deer part way up the hill. After they departed I had to go restart the fire. I had hoped Dan would get a chance to see the deer, but the fish were slightly more hesitant to take a fly this morning. After breakfast we loaded up and made the short hike to Middle Lake which we had seen from up on high meadow the previous day. We made our way around the lake, fishing and checking out the campsites. There were at least two groups here; busier than most other lake we have seen. After Middle Lake we arrived at Cathedral Lake. Dan wanted to hike to Upper Cathedral so he emptied the heavy gear from his pack and I filled up his water bottle. I found a nice log to sit on to sketch and enjoy the magnificent view. After my sketch I was inspired to write down a few thoughts. Not something I usually do. The steady gurgle of the outlet, a crow in the distance, the hum of mosquitoes. A gentle breeze, clouds drifting and parting. Occasional warmth on my back from the sun. I sit in my pew, just a log at the base of Cathedral lake. Looking, thinking, wondering, dreaming, enjoying. I gaze in amazement at the awesomeness before me. The present calm of the lake's water shines in contrast to the gray violent past of the mountains in its background, as does the annual fragile alpine flowers interspersed with the age old granite boulders. The sounds, the sights, my thoughts. Right here, right now all is perfect. In my catherdral, my church. The sky turned more gray as the clouds hinted yesterday. Our goal later this morning would be to again go off trail and follow a drainage part way up to Bear's Ears Mtn and then down the other side. Short miles, but plenty of elevation. The rain plan is to stay on trail and go the long way around. One of the camping groups came by also on their way to upper cathedral. They apologized for disturbing me; even though I had no claim to where I was sitting. A few raindrops fell so I covered Dan's gear with his rainfly and put on my jacket mostly to mitigate the intensifying wind. The sky continued to threaten but so far no real rain. Dan returned shortly thereafter so we headed back to Middle Lake. The sky seemed less threatening by now so we began our climb up the hill by the stream on the way to Bear's Ears. Like yesterday, it was steep going. We paused for lunch at a meadow about halfway up, we used the stream to fill our water bottles before we angled away from it for the next, steeper section. From the meadow we could see our route to the saddle on the left with more trees. The steepness in the woods gave way to boulders. It was windy as we made it to the pass. From there we could see the bowl below us and the saddle just beyond. We contoured around the bowl to reach the saddle. It was slow going as we neared the other side due to the tree growth seemingly interwoven among the rocks. Once we got through that obstacle, the saddle opened up with Bear's Ear Peak to our left. We had climbed the 1400ft from Middle Lake and now had to go down to the meadow below. We could see the Bear's Ear Trail from our vantage point. I was glad to see the meadow was not that far down and would be an easy walk. We would need to find a place to camp somewhere among the trees on the other side of the meadow. A large snowfield was on the left of the meadow as a backdrop to the pool of water which sourced the creek running through the meadow. The meadow was covered with willows, but growing more as shrubs. They were wet, apparently this side of the mountains had received more rain. We crossed the creek and went searching for a place to camp. In the trees was remaining hail stones. I guess it wasn't just rain. Dan found a great spot and we set up our tents. While up in the saddle we could hear thunder way off in the distance so we wanted to be ready just in case. It did not take long for the rains to find us. The rain was cold. We got a fire going and made soup for dinner. Fortunately the rain stopped just long enough for us to eat, and clean up. It would get cold over night. Day 8; Thunder and Hail on the Lizard Head Trail! Neither of us slept very well last night so we both got up late. We had a big day ahead of us, almost 10 miles involving a lot of elevation change and traversing the Lizard Head Trail; an exposed area. Dan fetched water and food while I prepped the fire. To save some time we had a simple breakfast. After packing up we began our day's trek at the snowfield and followed the Bear's Ears Trail up the slope. This is a horse trail so the switchbacks were long on the steepest sections but then it began to follow a more straight line. In general it was a long slow climb. Overcast and a little chilly with great views of the valley below as well as the Bear's Ears and Mt Chauvenet. at one point we crossed over the actual continental divide. we paused to fill up our water bottles from a small rivulet just before the trail turned South. As we made our way around the bend the Mtn which backdropped Cathedral Lake the previous day came into view. Soon we were looking back towards the outlet of the lake. After consulting the map, the actual Cathedral Mtn is a bit farther back from the lake and not the prominent one in the pictures. also from our vantage point, the junction of the Bear's Ears Trail and Lizard Head trail could be seen in the next valley over. Dan spotted some wild sheep on the hillside across from us. They were so far away one had to wait for movement in order to see them. As we gazed over the valleys, other hikers approached in the distance along the Bear's Ears Trail. We met up with one of them at the junction. He was carrying a fly rod. Dan traded him a fly for some leader. The group of 6 hikers were also heading up the Lizard Head Trail. The sign here said "stock animals not advised" Our trail led directly into a snow field, and not wanting to trudge through more snow, we stayed below it, and then made our way straight up the rocky hill to intersect the trail. As the sign pointed out this trail is not suitable for stock animals due to its pitch. We came around to the far side of Cathedral Peak and took a lunch respite behind some rocks to block the wind. With lunch barely started, the winds really began to pick up. We donned our rain gear and stowed our remaining lunch. By now the group pf 6 had caught up to us, although they were quite spread out. The next section of trail would be downhill for a short while followed by a significant climb/ All of it on the exposed ridge for the next 6 or so miles before dropping down to the Bear Lakes. Hardly more than a few steps and the hail began. The quarter inch pellets stung with a direct hit on exposed skin. To go with the hail, thunder in the distance. Both Dan and I increased our pace. It wasn't as though we could outrun the storm. For the most part the lightning kept its distance, but a few flashes and booms were a little unsettling on this exposed ridge. As the hail continued, the ground began to be covered with it. From afar it would look like snow cover, but it was an inch deep of hailstones. Following the cairns we quick stepped our way across the the next few miles. As the hail subsided, we would stop to capture some photos just as the Bear Lakes came into view below us. The hike on the Lizard Head trail was a grind. Not so enjoyable as we were doing it, a little unnerving at points, but I am glad I did it. The campsite at Bear Lake was not very good, so we explored a bit seeking a better option. It began to rain so we opted to head towards Lizard head Meadow where plenty of campsites should be available as it was on the way to the Cirque of Towers. At the Lizard Head Meadow the weather was kind enough to stop raining as we set up camp and have dinner. As the sun set, the stars emerged. Hopefully tomorrow would be better weather. Day 9. The Grumps Must have gotten colder last night as there was frost on the tent. For the second night in a row I did not sleep very well. Not sure why. So I was not in a chipper mood. I mentioned to Dan I had the grumps. he understood as apparently he felt the same yesterday. Our plan for the day is 12 miles, although we could knock off a significant portion by skipping the cirque of towers. Dan allowed me me to make the call since he would be visiting the cirque later in the month when the others join him. After some coffee, map consult, and personal reflection I opted to hike to the cirque. We would just have day packs since we would be coming back this way, having lunch and then moving on. We pre-made lunch so it would be awaiting our return. The Cirque of Towers is likely the most popular spot in the area were are traveling, for hikers as well as climbers. The trail was wet from all the recent rain. As we approached the cirque I was rather unimpressed with the view. It was beautiful, but some of the others cirques we have seen were also spectacular. I suppose I had expected this one to be "better" due to its popularity. I wondered if its popularity had to do more with ease of access along a straight trail. Anyway, it didn't even crack the top three of what we had already seen. We were not alone at the cirque. The folks from our Lizard Head trail traverse were also there. They had their gear spread out trying to dry it in the morning sun. A few were fishing. We all chatted a bit, laughing about the the craziness of the previous day. From across the lake we could hear climbers on one of the towers. "on belay" clearly carried over the water. we took a slow hike back to camp. Dan fished in the Popo Agie, the outlet of the lake below the Cirque. A few raindrops fell, so I donned my jacket. These droplets were a harbinger of what was to come. No sooner did Dan make it back up to the trail did the sky open up. We hurried back to camp. I am not sure why our pace increases in bad weather, but we made it in half the time. We packed up our tents and gear from the inside out to keep the dry stuff dry. I kept my rainfly up so we would have a dry space to eat lunch. Just as Dan finished packing up, the rain subsided. Not wanting to tempt fate too much, we sat under a tree overhang which had remained dry to eat. As we ate our prepared lunch, what a smart move by us, the sky cleared. We often joke about Adirondack weather changing quickly, but here in the Winds it is crazy just how fast the weather shifts and also how specific to an area it can be. The next few miles would be a gentle downhill. We should make good time. The canyon had some great views along the entire stretch; mammoth cliffs followed us on the other side of the river. At the next junction we would head away from the main trail and begin our climb. 600ft over one mile to the next junction. Followed by another 200 ft section over a half-mile. Since it was a horse trail, it would be a long switchback. We had come down this section earlier in the trip and were heading back to Baer and Echo Lakes. While filling water at Lower Baer Lake, we noted signs of horses crossing the outlet. Dan fished a bit while I went to explore for a potential campsite. I reported back, " I found the spot where we will be drinking coffee tomorrow morning". It was a fantastic site up on the hill overlooking Lower Baer to the South with the mountains behind it. It was 5:30pm. Camp set up, hot bath, late dinner. A small amount of rain, possibly some snow mixed in. It all ended before we went to bed. I can hear an airplane high overhead as I write this. Big climb tomorrow. Day 10. Up, Up and more Up. Our campsite was very nice. At 6AM the fog and the moon at the breaking of dawn was fantastic. The view from where we had our morning coffee was just as nice as expected. With our coffee we had trout tacos for breakfast. We also pre-made our lunch. some time was spent drying out our gear in the morning sun so we didn't head out until after 10. The trail was a gradual ascent to the Echo Lakes and then the 800ft climb up to Deep Creek Lakes. Even with our light packs (almost no food as we will be picking up our stashed bear canisters at Deep Creek Lakes) it was tiring. Dan was waiting for me at the cached food which had not been disturbed. After re-arranging the gear in our packs to accomodate the canisters we dropped down to the Deep Creek Lake junction with the Ice Lakes Trail. From there it was a short 100ft climb up to the first of the Ice-Lakes where we had lunch. Dan is off fishing now one of the upper lakes. There is thunder in the distance to the SE. From the Ice lakes we had a long 500ft elevation gain to the the top of the next pass before we would drop down to 9800ft. The first time below 10k in a few days. This climb was the most difficult of the trip, but after the last few days and this mornings mornings climb it felt like it. Oh, and our packs just gained 10+ pounds with the food resupply. Some fisherman passed us going the other way. They provided some info about which of the lakes held fish and which didn't. By the time we finally got to camp a few hours later, both of us were whooped. Dan was starving, I figured the dehydrated black bean stew would be a fast dinner. It wasn't. For some reason the black beans would not rehydrate and remained crunchy. Seeing it was not a large volume fo of food to begin with, dan decided to supplement the meal with a brook trout appetizer. He headed to the stream to catch a pan full of brookies. By now it was much later and the beans had still not fully rehydrated. Very odd since the black beans the other day rehydrated just fine. I added more water to the stew while Dan cooked up the fish. It was dark before we ate. I was bummed the black bean stew was a dismal failure as it is typically one of my favorites. At least we went to bed warm and dry. Clear skies signalling a possible cold night. Even though it felt like we all we did was hike up hill all day, it was actually a net elevation loss of 200ft. Video of still photos taken on trip. Please excuse the date error on title page. View the full article
  15. Day 1: The Trip is On!Emily dropped me off at the airport at 5:30. Received a call from Dan that they were stuck in traffic and would be a few minutes late; we would still have plenty of time to make the 7:40 flight. At the ticket counter we needed to re-arrange items in our luggage to get below the 50# weight limit. Our food for the 2 weeks plus gear! Some of the food needed to be moved into our carry-on bags. At security, my carry-on was flagged for additional screening. It had 10 pounds of food almost all repackaged into ziploc bags. The security agent was friendly, and we joked a bit as he went through it all swabbing bricks of cheese and bags of dehydrated meals. During the conversation he asked us if we knew what the spectrometer was screening for. We replied we didn't and he told us traces of explosives. The joking continued as he just swabbed the bag of chili. The flight from Roch-Charlotte-Denver was uneventful. The shuttle to our hotel took a long time to show up. It was past midnight before we checked in; 2am Rochester time. Day 2; Already Behind Schedule The next morning I checked on our flight to Riverton and the struggle began. The 10am flight had been cancelled and we would now be on the 6pm flight. We looked into all different options including renting a car and driving but all were cost prohibitive. Money vs time. We re-arranged our shuttle pickup for our new arrival time in Riverton. In the meantime, Dan did some "phone shopping" for flies from an outfitter in Lander, WY. Our shuttle driver would pick up the supplies for us to save some time. We eventually arrived in Riverton and were met by Christian of Custom Crusie Control who then drove us first to drop off our traveling luggage and then to Worthen Meadows. We arrived close to 11 pm. Set up tents in the dark and made plans to get up early and try to make up some time. We had hoped to do 4 miles already with our heavy packs leaving only 8 for the next day, but now we would be carrying our full load 12 miles, starting at 8000ft. Day 3; Legs of Jelly Up at dawn and all packed up. Boy the pack is heavy with that much food; more than double what I usually carry and we are at elevation. We were on the trail before 8am. 12 miles to go with a net gain of 2000ft, no time to acclimate we jumped into the deep end. This was going to be tough a harbinger of what was to come. signed in at the register 2 people, 12 nights, no stock animals. The trail began uphill, of course. The pack was heavy but not so bad. A lot of people backpack with packs close to 50#, just not me. The trail was called Sheep Meadow and we were heading to the Popo Agie River 3 miles in for our first stop; breakfast. Dan mentioned he liked the idea of starting early to and stopping for breakfast, though this was the only time we would use the technique for the rest of the trip except for the last day. Cream of Wheat and coffee, quick and easy. We set aside of lunch fixins', we chose to use of one heavier lunch options originally scheduled for Day 5 to get it out of our packs and it was a no-cook option. The trail, the elevation gain, the heavy pack, and the altitude was beginning to take its toll. I was still moving, just much slower struggling to keep up the pace. Each step seemed to sap more energy than usual. We took many breaks, but it wasn't enough. Made lunch at 1 pm, and rested for 30 minutes. Each step felt like a burden and we still had 5 miles to go and a significant climb of 600ft right at the end to reach our final elevation of 10,200 ft. Dan slowed down his pace, and I still trailed behind. I stopped numerous times on the uphills, leaning on my poles. Dan kept encouraging me and stayed just enough ahead to pull me along. I pushed myself to take each step deliberately. We eventually made it to Deep Creek Lakes. I do not know how, I could not feel my legs for the last 2 miles. Snow was visible on the upper slopes and a smaller shelf on the northern shore of the lake. we set up camp. Dan fished, I filtered water and got the fire going. Boiled some water for dinner, but since Dan returned with 2 large cutthroats trout it would be fish for dinner. We adjusted our menu plan for second time and tonight we would have trout tacos. The water would be used for bathing. Day 4; On the Edge We adjusted our itinerary to make today a base camp/day hike. Basically we swapped our Day 4 with Day 9 when we would be passing through the Deep Creek Lakes to pick up our food cache. An easy breakfast and pre-made lunch to have it waiting for us when we returned from our morning adventure. The plan was explore the Deep Creek Lakes in the AM and then the Ice Lakes in the afternoon. We started up the trail along the lower deep creek lakes towards its inlet. About halfway to the inlet Dan spotted trout rising. The trail was a good 20-30 ft above the shore of the lake and the steepness provided a good view into the water. He snuck down to the waters edge while I spotted from above. The cut-throat trout (we thought they were golden at the time) were somewhat picky. Often approaching a fly and then turning away at the last second. Dan brought in a few good ones which we stashed in a rock cooler at the shoreline for our return. We put up a small cairn to mark the spot on the trail so we could find it later. Continuing on to the inlet and the northern slopes. At the inlet a large snow shelf was being undercut by the water. Dan fished the inlet, we could see the trout swimming through the shallows and stacking up in the deep pools. While Dan fished I continued up to the next lake and scouted a location for us to cross the inlet. At the next lake I sat on a rock lining the shore admiring the view and exploring the mountain backdrop with my eyes. As I was finishing my snack, Dan made it to thee lake. We backtracked a bit to the crossing and made our way to the inlet of the middle lake to the south. This inlet was a decent cascade transporting the water from the next lake a few hundred feet up. There was discernible trail at this point, so we picked our way through the boulders, wild-flowered grassy knolls and eventually tothe eastern shore of the largest of the deep creek lakes. A fantastic view greeted us. Using the map, dan would point out the different peaks such as Little El Capitan and Wind River Peak and other geologic formations we could see across the lake and surrounding the lower lakes. The un-named peaks were just as impressive as the named ones. We were now at 10,800 ft. To the SE, up and over the ridge was the Ice-Lakes. After a brief respite we worked our way back a little to the outlet to find a way to cross the cascade. There was knoll on the other side which we were going to use a means to access the uppermost of the lakes. The best spot to cross was jumping a gap at the limits of my stride. I was more concerned with the return, but I would deal with that later. The knoll ahead of us is just shy of 11k ft. we climbed up a ways and made our way clockwise along some of the ledges and dropoffs. These heights would typically cause me concern, but I was glad I was able to enjoy them without anxiety. I did maintain a healthy distance from the steepest cliff at 120' above the waters edge. Continuing in our clockwise and up direction at one point we had to climb up a crevice to get to the next ledge. Soon the smallest and uppermost of the deep creek lakes came into view. The rock dam holding it back reminded both of us of the shortest portage in the Quetico last year which began the "portaging the rock". Satisfied with just seeing the lake we also decided it would be best to find a different way back/down. We continued in the same direction to either climb down the northern section, or go up and over the top. The next few minutes found us walking north up a grassy meadow towards the other deep creek lakes. "The hills are alive..." rand through my head. Dan climbed up on a rock to visually scout us a route down. It would necessitate us walking along the top of one of the snow fields. As it was August, the snow field has been pulling away from the rock face leaving a narrow but deep crevice between. At first we would lean towards the rock with an out stretched arm and our hand along the rock face, but eventually the gap became to large and we would have to drop into the crevice for a short while. It was a challenge to keep far enough from the crack to not have it collapse, and not so far we would slide down the snow field. At the other side we were able to drop down to the next ledge which we should be able to follow around to the the other side. We rested a bit here and looked out over the lakes with the mountains in the distance. It turned out that this way was not our route out. We came to a drop which was too much. So we backtracked back up to the snow field, and retraced our steps. It was easier the second time as our previous footprints provided more stability. We then headed up and over the top of the knoll. I lost Dan in the trees so I climbed up to the very top to see if I could make out his hat. He soon realized I was not immediately behind him, and called out. By then I had figured out which direction he had gone and was almost caught up. Now on the eastern slopes we swichbacked down the ledges back to the water's edge about 200ft down. The route we had taken both on the ascent and descent had pushed me well beyond my comfort zone. I would later thank Dan for pushing me past my limits. He replied to not thank hom or he just might do it again... little did I know at the time. We scrambled down the boulder field the way we came to the middle lake. Dan tossed a fly into a hole which had a number of fish stacking up. It didn't take him too long to hook a beauty. From my vantage point I took a number of photos of the fight and landing. Since we had some nice ones already "on ice" this one was spared the frying pan and released. Dan continued to fish and I slowly made my way down and back to the trails. As I closed in on our campsite I passed another with a family setting up. They had packed in with 2 llamas. After chatting a bit and a couple llama photos I returned to camp and began filtering water. I had barely started when Dan returned. It was now 3pm, our morning adventure had taken the good part of the entire day. Our late lunch would be an early dinner and a late supper. Dan is fishing again while I write and relax. After the 12 miler yesterday and todays adventure I could use it. Day 5. Old McDonalds Farm So far the both of us have been awakw before sunrise proper around 6am. Today was no different and I being up slightly ahead of Dan restarted the fire from the buried embers in the ash. Dan made coffee and I buckwheat pancakes w/pecans & blueberries. Dan stashed the bear canisters with our food for day 10-15 as we would be coming back through this area on the last leg of our journey. We were on trail by 9am which was our goal. A little uphill before the long descent of 800ft to Echo and Baer Lakes. We would be climbing this stretch on the morning of day 10. At the first Echo Lake, the brook trout were rising so we stopped for 15 minutes as Dan landed a few which were spared the frying pan. While scouting campsites for our return through this valley we were leap-frogged by 2 other backpackers. We caught up them at the next trail junction. They were in the site next to us the previous night and on the last few days of their trip, with today being the Cirque of Towers (our goal for day 8). We headed in the direction of Dickinson Park and had to cross the Popo Agie River. The ford at the crossing is likely more often used by horses with higher clearance than ourselves. With our pants and shoes around our necks Dan went first. At the deepest section with the fastest current the water was mid thigh. For me, it was wetting the bottom portion of my shorts. Dan entertained himself by taking pictures of me crossing the river. I have not seen them yet. Oh, the water was frigid! Later we would cross another stream but this time on a log. A decent step off for Dan, but for me a bit longer than a full stride so my trailing foot just barely hit the water as Dan grabbed me from falling in completely. Thanks buddy. Heading up the high meadow connector trail which would be about 650 ft elevation gain on winding switchbacks with plenty of equine evidence. These horse trails are long; this one showed relatively recent trail work with shored up side hills and water bars. As we neared the top a great view over the valley was found so we rested a bit. We opted not to have lunch here since both of us were low on water. Soon enough we would find a waterfall and make lunch nearer the next junction with the high meadow trail. After lunch and at the junction we turned left toward Cliff Lake following fresher horse tracks and poop. Wishing out loud, I commented they might be on a day ride. With just under two miles to Cliff Lake, Dan had a little giddy-up in his step, hoping to get to camp before the horses I imagined (and later confirmed). As it became apparent we were not going to catch them, we stopped at a boggy meadow to fill water and look around. I was swarmed by black flies, but they were a minor inconvenience unlike our Adirondack blood suckers. While looking around Dan found some horseshoes in a sandy area of the meadow. It looked like some folks had set up a horseshoe pit at some point in the past. Pressing on we arrived at Cliff Lake with the horses tied up in the campsite. The group was on a guided tour led by two younger guys (20s-30s) all dressed up in the cowboy/dud ranch attire. They certainly looked the part. The one napping at the lakeside confirmed they were on just a day ride and would be heading out soon. Dan gave a show to the kids hooking a large trout on his first cast right from the shore. We explored the other side of the outlet looking for a better campsite nearer the sandy beach. Returning to the other campsite, the group had departed and the campsite was now covered in horse manure. It smelled like a barnyard. We found some tent sites away from the main area with all the manure; ironically closer to the area where the stock are usually tethered away from the human camping area. Using a pince branch we swept walkways through the barnyard for access to/from the firepit, and the trail to the water. Dan fished some more while I readied camp, collected wood, filtered water, heated bathing water and other camp chores. Cliff Lake is aptly named. Its backdrop is mountains like most here, but the mountain is much closer and more vertical and the cliff face terminates at the waters' edge. A descent cascade also pummels down the cliff, carving into the rock as it descends into the lake. Later we would feast on trout and cream of potato soup. We made it to bed before dark with the scent of manure wafting through the mosquito netting. EIEIO Video of still photos taken on trip. Please excuse the date error on title page. View the full article
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