Archive for July, 2012

Jul 19 2012

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Return to West Canada Lakes

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Once again I loaded up my backpack and went to the West Canada Lakes Wilderness – my favorite part of the Adirondacks. This time I accessed it from the Moose River Recreation Area. A twenty-mile dirt road put me deep in the woods, to the desired trailhead. From there it was a relatively easy hike to Brooktrout Lake.

I had only three days so I made the most of it. I set up camp beneath some conifers along the edge of the lake then did a lot of nothing. It was just what the doctor ordered.

My dog Matika was with me, of course. She was bitten up badly by deer flies and mosquitoes, and overheated in the heat of high summer, but she enjoyed being there anyway. Matika loves the woods almost as much as I do.

On the second day, we walked over to West Lake – a place I had stayed for two nights while hiking the Northville/Placid Trail back in 2006. It felt strange being there, seeing the lake from the opposite shore, but it was good to connect the dots. Having taken four trips into the WCLW over the past decade, I’m really getting to know this sprawling roadless area. It has become my home away from home. I feel more spiritually connected to the wild here than anywhere else.

Yessir, a lot of nothing. After the short walk to West Lake, I returned to camp and hung out. A dip in Brooktrout Lake washed away the sweat. It cooled me down in more ways than one. After that it was easy to sit for most of the afternoon just ruminating and daydreaming. A raven, a pair of loons, and my dog kept me company.

The hike out the third day was predictably sweaty and buggy. I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway. And my mind was a clean slate by the time I reached the car. Wilderness solitude is good for that. “What’s the big deal about being out here?” I ask myself at least once during every deep woods excursion. The answer is nothing, absolutely nothing.


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Jul 10 2012

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Mason Climbs Monadnock

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Yesterday I finally made good on a promise to take my grandson Mason up Monadnock. He had been bugging me about it for years, ever since his family had moved to a new home in New Hampshire only fifteen minutes away from that mountain. I told him we’d do it when he was eight, thinking he’d have to be at least that old to have the stamina necessary to make it to the top. Well, he turned eight a week and a half ago, so off we went.

While studying the map a few days before the hike, I began to worry. With 1800 feet elevation change over two miles, I wasn’t sure the little guy could do it. More to the point, I didn’t want the hike to be so grueling that it turned him off hiking forever. As we were getting ready I told him that we didn’t have to go all the way to the top. In so many words, he told me that failure wasn’t an option.

We got an early start, walking in the cool morning air. I set a steady pace as the trail gradually climbed. I checked with Mason regularly to make sure he was doing okay. His face was expressionless. He sat down every time I stopped to catch my breath. I warned him that it was going to get steep ahead. He said nothing. But when we reached the first pitch he sprung to life. He dropped his walking stick and scrambled up and over the rocks on all fours. He moved just like Spiderman, as he explained to me later. “Wait up!” I shouted after him, then I started climbing a bit faster.

As the trail grew steeper and rockier, Mason became more animated. “Come on, Gramps!” he yelled then he stopped and waited for me to catch my breath. I started laughing. Oh sure, he’d get up the mountain, all right. But would I?

Mason was surefooted and being careful. Still I didn’t want to take any chances. I kept him close to me when we broke above the tree line. I pointed out the cairns, explaining how these rock piles were necessary to find one’s way across the barren rock whenever the mountain was wrapped in clouds. Ours was a calm, blue-sky day, but Mason suddenly leaned forward as if struggling against a strong wind. “Keep going, Grandpa. We have to make it to the top,” he said. I assured him that we were almost there.

Upon reaching the summit, Mason found a rocky promontory for us to sit and enjoy the view. We drank plenty of water and ate snacks as a cool breeze dried our sweaty shirts. We shared the summit with half a dozen other hikers. During the long descent back to the parking lot, we passed 59 other hikers on their way up. Mason kept count. We were both glad to be finishing our hike as the temperature reached 80 degrees. We hopped in the car and went to Jaffrey for lunch.

“So what are we going to do for my ninth birthday?” Mason asked. I just smiled, being careful not to overcommit. Then I told him that I’d think of something.


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Jul 06 2012

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On the Stream

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Every once in a while, I get the urge to walk a mountain stream. I usually take a fly rod with me, hoping to get into a little trout action, but that’s not what it’s all about. I walk the stream to clear my head, to purge the negative energy from my system. Clear running water is good for that.

My tightly wound nerves start to unravel the moment I step into the woods and hear the rush of water nearby. By the time I’ve finished kneeling on the muddy bank and tying on a fly, I’m in a groove. The first cast separates my cluttered day-to-day life back in the developed places from the streamside here-and-now. From that point on, I’m home free.

After a few casts, I scramble over moss-covered rocks to the next promising hole. When large boulders or downed trees crop up, I step back into the woods, tramping through bracken, ferns and other understory vegetation. I often find a beautiful wildflower or some other delight along the way. My dog Matika often finds something interesting to sniff. Yeah, we’re both easily distracted.

Rock, forest and running water. Shadow and light. Keeping it simple. My tiny fly floats through the emerald pools, following the riffles, and I am ready to respond to the slightest splash. Sometimes it comes, most of the time it does not. The sights, sounds and smells of the mountain stream intoxicate me all the same.

A couple hours of stream walking and I’m ready to just sit and look around. That’s when I know I’m done fishing. I sit until I lose track of time. Then I tramp through the woods, daydreaming all the way back to the car. My boots and pants are sopping wet but I don’t care. The sun breaks through the forest. A thrush or other familiar songbird calls in the distance. I smile absently. I am in my element, and it feels good to be alive.


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