Tag Archive 'Adirondacks'

Oct 24 2020

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On Jay Mountain Ridge

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At Judy’s urging, I stepped away from my literary work yesterday and headed for the Adirondacks to do a day hike. With sunny skies and temps ranging up towards 70 degrees, it would probably be the last nice day this year. Best to take full advantage of it.

I reached the Jay Mountain Wilderness trailhead by 8 a.m. and immediately shot up the trail. My walking stick clicked against the rocks as I kicked up fallen leaves. In my pack I carried everything necessary to spend a night in the woods if it came to that. At my age, you can’t be too cautious.

After an hour of steady uphill hiking, I finally caught a glimpse of my destination: the western lookout on the Jay Mountain Ridge. It looked to be another thousand feet up. A short water break and a deep breath later, I ventured forth.

My legs were just starting to cramp up as I mounted the 3000-foot ridge. I walked a couple hundred feet up a side trail to the lookout for a magnificent 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape. Then, after another short break, I headed east along the ridge, determined to go as far as I could before my legs actually did cramp up.

Remarkably enough, I made it all the way to an unnamed, craggy peak without any cramping. It was a hard traverse up and down lesser peaks along the ridge, but the great views kept me spellbound. Only half a mile short of the summit, I decided to break for lunch. Afterward I retraced my steps back to the trailhead. Seven miles and over 2,000 feet of elevation change was plenty for this 60-something.

Today I’m sore all over but much more relaxed than I was earlier in the week. All the bad news I read about this morning rolled right off me. Whatever. After spending a good day in the wild, the collective folly of humankind doesn’t have the sticking power that it usually has. That alone is reason enough to do a long, hard hike.

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Aug 16 2020

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Backcountry Excursions Reprinted

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In 1990, I published a slender, olive green paperback called Tracks across the Forest Floor. It was my first attempt to write a nonfiction narrative about one of my ventures into the woods. Tracks went out of print a long time ago, but I included it in a set of six hiking narratives called Backcountry Excursions, released in 2005. That book has been nearly out of print for several years now. Well, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Tracks, I have reprinted Backcountry with a new cover and preface. And a few fixed typos to boot.

Three of the narratives in this collection appear in other collections of mine, namely Loon Wisdom and The Great Wild Silence. Tracks and the remaining two can be found nowhere else. Just as important as Tracks, I think, is the 25-page narrative about a trip into northern Maine that I took in ’96 with my buddy Charlie, following Thoreau to Mt. Katahdin by water and land. We used a two-man sea kayak instead of a bateau and ended up hiking a different path up the mountain, but it was great fun all the same. And it gave me a reason to recount one of Thoreau’s excursions into the Maine Woods.

The real reason for reprinting this book is simply to keep it in print. Backcountry Excursions is now available at Amazon.com as well as the Wood Thrush Books website. Most of my readers are already familiar with this book, but now it’s out there for everyone to see how I got started, and what kind of critter I really am.

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Jul 16 2020

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Siamese Ponds Wilderness

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After months of reading and research for a new book of somewhat abstract, philosophical speculation, I figured it was high time for me to venture into deep woods for a while and get real. I loaded my old expedition backpack, scrawled my destination on the white board in the kitchen, then kissed Judy goodbye. The 3-hour drive into the south/central Adirondacks was an easy one. I was on the trail a little after noon.

For many years I have wanted to visit the Siamese Ponds Wilderness. I think about it every time I go back to the West Canada Lakes Wilderness – my favorite haunt immediately to the west. There’s no time like the present, I figured, so I hiked the narrow path six miles back to Lower Siamese Pond. It felt good to stretch my legs and work up a good sweat again despite the bloodsucking bugs. One of the scattered t-storms in the area caught me half a mile the pond, but I didn’t mind. A cool downpour on a warm day when my t-shirt is already soaked with sweat isn’t a bad thing. The rain stopped by the time I reached the pond.

A loon greeted me with its wild call shortly after I reached the pond. I made camp on a knoll out of sight from both the water and the trail. I gathered up some wet wood, stripped the bark from it and had a good campfire blazing a couple hours later. After a late dinner, I walked down to the edge of the pond to groove on the great wild silence as the last bit of twilight faded away. Then I settled into bed as a pair of barred owls hooted back and forth. Loons called out all night long.

First thing in the morning, I went back down to the pond’s edge to splash a little water in my face then sit on a rock just looking around, thinking about nothing, nothing at all. Eventually snapping out of that trance, I said out loud: “God, I love the Adirondacks!” Then I returned to camp for a leisurely breakfast. When I was good and ready, I broke camp, packed up and left. I savored the hike out, moving as slowly as possible, stopping once to sit next to the East Branch of the Sacandaga River, which was moving even slower than I was.

Two days later I’m still a little sore, but the overnighter cleared my head. Have returned to my philosophizing and other literary work with renewed vigor. Oh yeah, it’s truly amazing what a little time alone in deep woods can do.

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Sep 06 2019

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A Great Day in the Mountains

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Early morning. With temps in the 50s and a clear sky in the forecast, I set my work aside for a day and head for the Adirondacks. A grin breaks across my face as I enter an empty parking lot at the Owls Head Lookout trailhead. Looks like I have the trail all to myself – until other hikers get out of bed, anyhow.

After signing into the register, I hike up a trail easing gradually uphill. Morning shadows dominate the surrounding forest until the sun shines straight ahead. A blue jay calls out, otherwise all’s quiet. I hear the faint sound of rushing water and soon cross a bridge over Slide Brook. From there the trail weaves in and out of a feeder stream as it steadily climbs towards a junction. From the junction it’s a short, steep climb to the top of Owls Head. I arrive with energy to spare.

Owls Head Lookout is located in Giant Mountain Wilderness. Giant Mountain peeks at me from behind a ridge that leads to it. Rocky Peak Ridge to the left of Giant is in full view. Farther left, the forested landscape breaks away like a choppy green sea frozen in time. To the right is Knob Lock Mountain, and farther right is Hurricane Mountain. In other words, it’s wild country in every direction as far as I can see, with stunted birches directly behind me and a 500-foot drop immediately in front.

I gulp down water between bites of an energy bar, quite comfortable in a wool shirt despite a light breeze. I’m not a big one for bagging peaks, but I must admit that sitting on top of the world like this feels pretty damned good. It’s especially nice because there’s no one else around. I linger for the better part of an hour before heading down.

My right ankle, still weak from a big hike in June, complains a little while I descend. I ignore it, leaning into a heavy walking stick as necessary. I’m all smiles and whistling by the time I encounter a pair of hikers and their two dogs at Slide Brook. I greet them while walking past, then finish my hike. Five and a half miles round trip. An eleven hundred foot ascent. No bugs. Just about as good as a day hike can get.

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Aug 15 2019

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Focus on the Adirondacks

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Have returned home from another 2-day tour of the Adirondacks, similar to last month’s trip. Visited several bookstores to promote my old Northville/Placid hiking narrative, The Allure of Deep Woods, along with my latest book, The Great Wild Silence. Tuesday evening I schmoozed with a couple dozen writers and even more readers during Authors Night at Hoss’s Country Store in Long Lake. That was fun. But just being in the Adirondacks again is what really made the trip worthwhile. How I love that wild country!

Once again, I spent the night in a shelter at John Dillon Park, falling asleep to the call of loons then awakening to them in the morning. The second day, after one last stop at The Book Nook – a new bookstore in Saranac Lake – I climbed Baker Mountain. It’s located right on the edge of town. Only a mile to the summit, though rather steep towards the end. On top I enjoyed a nice view of the High Peaks with Saranac Lake sprawling below.

I’m shifting my focus. After hiking the Cohos Trail through New Hampshire’s White Mountains and beyond, I’m now looking west. Oh sure, I’ll continue visiting familiar places in the Green Mountains right here in Vermont, but what I crave is wide open country, new wild lands to explore during the years to come. I’ve only tramped though half of the Wilderness Areas and Wild Forests inside the Blue Line. I’d like to spend time in them all. With that goal in mind, I have picked up two more maps of the Adirondacks – part of a set of six canvassing the entire park. I now have five.

Six million acres and most of it wild country. The Adirondack Park is roughly the same size at Vermont. Forests, mountains, streams, lakes, ponds and bogs. And a thin network of roads and tourist towns to boot. Plenty to keep me busy during the next decade or so. Looking forward to it.

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Jul 19 2019

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Civilized Camping

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Six years ago I discovered John Dillon Park tucked away in the Adirondacks, just north of Long Lake. Earlier this week I spent a night there again, while out promoting my most recent book, The Great Wild Silence. The place was even nicer than I remembered it being.

John Dillon Park is an unusual phenomenon, owned by International Paper, run by the students at Paul Smith’s College, and open to the public. The entrance to it off Route 30 is easy to miss, and the two-mile unimproved dirt road back to the Welcome Center is a little rough. But all nine shelters are well kept and easily accessible. Only one site can be driven to, but the five- or ten-minute walk to the others along a gravel path is nearly effortless.

“Making the natural landscape of the Adirondacks accessible to everyone,” is the principle behind the place, and both the paths and shelters are handicap accessible. Compost toilets, bear-proof food storage boxes, and bins full of firewood next to a metal fire ring – this is camping at its most civilized, I’d say. Roughing it, yes, but not by much.

I stayed in a shelter overlooking Grampus Lake, listening to a loon calling out at midnight and awakening to a chorus of songbirds in the morning. Only one other shelter was occupied and the air was perfectly still so I enjoyed the deep forest silence while I slept that night. Appropriate accommodations when one considers what I was doing on that trip.

I’d recommend the place to anyone young or old who wants a taste of the wild but doesn’t have the wherewithal to go backpacking. There are carts available in the parking lot for hauling in your stuff. Camping out doesn’t get much easier than that, short of car camping. And it’s free. All you have to do is reserve a shelter in advance.

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Jul 19 2018

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New Adirondack Book in Print

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Five years after the release of The Allure of Deep Woods, I now have a second Adirondack book in print: The Great Wild Silence.  It consists of a dozen short narratives and essays about backpacking in the Adirondacks, along with one rather long narrative about my 5-day sojourn in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness last year.

The Great Wild Silence is the juxtaposition of movement and staying put, of hiking and abstract thought. The main narrative in this collection, “Deep Forest Ruminations,” is a series of meditations on nature and our place in it, braided with observations and routine activities while camped alone at a backcountry lake – just me and my dog Matika, I should say. That’s the second half of the book. The first half sets the stage, recounting various excursions in the Adirondacks over the past 25 years, both alone and with others. Some of the latter pieces first appeared in the ADK publication Adirondac and other periodicals but haven’t been seen since. I’ve extracted others from previous collections of mine. It’s a curious mix to be sure.

If you’re as enamored with the Adirondacks as I am, then you’ll probably enjoy this book. You can order it at my website: woodthrushbooks.com, or you can find it at Amazon.com. Be forewarned, though: there’s a lot of philosophical speculation in this book. It isn’t just about walking in the woods.

 

 

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Jul 23 2017

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Adirondack Retreat

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After driving in out of downpours for 4 hours, then making my way up several miles of partially flooded dirt road, I parked my car at a trailhead and started hiking into the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. My dog Matika was right behind me, just as happy as I was to be slipping into the wild despite a light rain falling.

The rain stopped halfway to Pillsbury Lake but the trail was a stream by then and the forest was soaked. A rumbling in the distance. Hmm… Sounded like another storm approaching. We rolled into the shelter at Pillsbury Lake right before the next big downpour. Surprisingly enough, Matika and I had the place all to ourselves that night. So I strung a line inside the shelter and dried out my wet clothes and gear.

The next day was a different story: mist in the morning burning off to a warm, sunny day. Buggy, yes, but a nice day all the same. I looked around for a good place to camp but didn’t find one. So I spent a second night in the shelter. Again, no one came along.

The idea was to stay put instead of pounding trail, to hang out by a lake for 5-6 days, groove on the wild, and record my thoughts in a journal. That’s exactly what I did. On the third day, Matika and I grew a little restless so we went for a day hike to another lake in the area. That took a few hours. But for the most part we just sat. And we had Pillsbury Lake all to ourselves for a third night.

On day four, I was feeling pretty crunchy. Staying put had mellowed me right out. Ditto Matika. Chipmunks, sparrows, butterflies, and other critters started overrunning the camp. Neither one of us did much about it. Meanwhile, I just kept on scribbling in my journal.

At dusk when I went to put out my campfire and go to bed, I thought I had the place all to myself for a 4th night. But a pair of hikers came along an hour or so later. They were nice enough fellows. Still their sudden appearance broke the spell of my deep woods solitude. There would be more hikers on the way, no doubt, with the weekend fast approaching. So the next day Matika and I hiked out.

It’s hard to say what value the words I wrote in my journal have, or what exactly happened to me while I was out there, but I returned home incredibly relaxed, lighthearted and happy. My wife Judy found that amusing – so amusing that she waited a day before trying to have a serious conversation with me about anything. She saw the wild in my eyes. Hard to miss, I’m sure. Yeah, I went deep this time.

 

 

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Mar 27 2017

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Dreaming West Canada Lakes

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This coming Sunday, I’ll be talking to the Mohawk-Hudson chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club about the Northville-Placid Trail in the Adirondacks. While going though my slide show for the event, I became transfixed by photos of the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. I plan on spending a week there this coming summer. That trip can’t come fast enough.

I’ve been waiting rather impatiently for the snow to melt off so that I can start hiking again. Looking at photos of the West Canada Lakes is like scratching an itch. There’s no place I like more than the sprawling forests of the southern Adirondacks. Once the snow is gone and the trees leaf out again, I’ll be headed that direction.

I’ve been in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness four times. I first approached it from Wakely Dam in 2002. Went through it on the NPT in 2006, spent a few days there shortly thereafter, and visited Brooktrout Lake a few years ago. Brooktrout Lake, shown above, pulls a close second to West Lake by my way of reckoning. But that entire wilderness area is wild and beautiful and visited by few people compared to, say, the High Peaks. A good place to get lost. Yeah, the West Canada Lakes are right up my alley.

I’m not sure what this says about me. I am drawn to sprawling forests time and again – especially to those places that most other hikers avoid. If I go there, step off the trail and start bushwhacking, it’s that much better. And if I find a backcountry pond with no trail to it, well, then I’m in heaven. These are the thoughts that drift in and out of my mind as I go about my daily work routine, selling books, writing or publishing them. That’s one way of knowing that winter is almost over. Such daydreams are as sure a sign of spring as the first robins.

So enough with the white stuff already. Bring on the cold mud, and let the hiking season begin!

 

 

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Aug 07 2014

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Touring the Adirondacks

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Sacandaga CampYesterday morning I awoke to the sound of the Sacandaga River flowing southward just a few yards from my tent. As I broke camp I marveled at how much of the Adirondacks I’ve seen during the past 14 months while promoting my book, The Allure of Deep Woods. I’ve visited dozens of stores in as many towns, sometimes doing readings or signings. I’ve driven hundreds of miles inside the Blue Line, crossing my own tracks more than once. The task has given me a different perspective on the Adirondack Park, to say the least.

A couple hundred yards north of where I camped, the West Branch of the Sacandaga River joins its main stream. I crossed the West Branch eight years ago while hiking the Northville/Placid Trail. That’s the subject of my book. How strange to be so close to that wilderness experience yet so far away. Adirondack wild country and the web of roads and towns superimposed on it are two closely related yet entirely different things. I’ve come to know the latter quite well during my 14-month book tour.

The folks attending my reading at the Northville Public Library the night before asked me all sorts of questions. I did my best to answer their questions as honestly as possible, but can’t help but feel like I failed them as far as conveying the essence of deep woods goes. I sometimes wonder if my book is any better at that.

The Adirondacks are a vacationland for most people – a playground you could say. That’s a good thing. Any exposure to the natural world is good for the soul. That said, I wish I could relay the deeply religious sentiments that stir within me whenever I roam a wild forest, and inspire others to experience the same. But words only go so far.

 

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