Tag Archive 'Adirondacks'

May 31 2013

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Adirondack Book Now in Print

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ADWcoverMy narrative about hiking the Northville/Placid Trail, The Allure of Deep Woods, is now in print. I couldn’t be happier. The folks at North Country Books did a fine job with it.

The NPT passes through some of the most beautiful country in upstate New York’s Adirondack Park, traversing one wild forest and four wilderness areas. I was wet and muddy during most of that two-week trip but didn’t care. Just thinking about it makes me want to plan another big outing. What’s wrong with me?

As most of you know, I can’t walk a mile without making an observation about the natural world, commenting on the importance of wildness, or breaking into some historical rant. This book is chock full of it. I didn’t hold back.

You can order a copy by calling North Country Books at (315) 735-4877, or going to my website: woodthrushbooks.com. Enjoy!


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May 08 2013

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Hiking the NPT

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Into the WoodsAs most of you know by now, my book about hiking the Northville/Placid Trail will be released at the end of this month. In the meantime, check out the guest blog about the NPT that I have written for SectonHiker.com. It was posted earlier today.

Along with an overview of my two-week trek, there are a few photos of the Adirondacks in that guest blog. They give you some idea what the trail is like.

New York’s Adirondack Park is best known for its High Peaks, but the region has so much more to offer. The NPT is a grand tour of the sprawling forests and pristine waters that have attracted outdoor enthusiasts to the Adirondacks for well over a hundred and fifty years. I was fortunate enough to hike NPT in 2006, and have enjoyed many excursions into those deep woods over the years. It is truly magnificent country.


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Apr 03 2013

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Adirondack Book in the Works

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ADWcoverMy narrative about thru-hiking the Adirondacks, The Allure of Deep Woods, is close to reaching print. I have been working hard on it with Zach Steffen at North Country Books during the past month. The manuscript has gone through its final edit, the interior layout is complete now, and the cover has been designed. This book will be released in six weeks or so.  I can’t wait to share it with you.

The production process forced me to read ADW from beginning to end for the first time in years. I forgot how deeply it delves into the idea of wilderness and its importance to our overall well being. I also forgot how wet and muddy I got on that trek, and how enjoyable it was regardless. I think that my attention to detail in this narrative will make reading it enjoyable for you as well. As always, I’ve taken a you-are-there approach to writing about my backcountry experience.

The Northville/Placid Trail is not heavily traveled in the cool days of early September. That made my passage through those sprawling wilderness areas and wild forests even more solitary than anticipated. As a result this book oozes wildness. If it does what it’s intended to do, the wild will also stir deep within the reader. I look forward to this reaction.



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Jan 07 2013

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Coming Soon

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At long last, a hiking narrative to rival my Long Trail book has gone into production. The folks at North Country Books have assured me that my Adirondack tale, The Allure of Deep Woods, will be released this spring. I couldn’t be more excited about the prospect.

Back in 2006, I hiked the Northville/Placid Trail, which meanders for one hundred and thirty miles through five wild forests and sprawling wilderness areas, from the southwestern quarter of the Adirondack Mountains to Lake Placid. It was a good trip despite all the rain, giving me a taste of deep woods in early autumn.

In addition to being a detailed account of my encounters along the trail, this book outlines the history of the Adirondacks. It also recounts the early days of the wilderness preservation movement, since the origins of that movement can be traced to this part of the country. And there is plenty of talk about the importance of wildness, as well.  Yeah, this book covers a lot of ground.  I look forward to sharing it with all of you very soon.


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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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Dec 03 2009

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Muddy Trails

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I hiked around Indian Brook Reservoir yesterday just to exercise my dog and stretch my legs.  It seemed like the thing to do since I was in the area and had the time.  When I lived in Burlington, I went there frequently.  Back then the park was in the country.  Now it’s on the fringe of suburbia.  Burlington, like so many other cities, is growing.

As I was hiking, I noticed how muddy and worn the trail has become.  Essex Town now limits access to the park to town residents during the summer.  Can’t say I blame them.  The place has been overrun.

A friend forwarded me an email the other day about the sorry state of the Long Trail, as reported by some disgruntled hiker.  Yes, having hiked the LT end-to-end, I must concur that sections of it are a muddy, eroded mess.  But so are sections of the Appalachian Trail in central Maine, and parts of the Northville-Placid Trail in the Adirondacks – trails I’ve also hiked.  Here in the Northeast, it doesn’t take much impact to wear thin-soiled mountain trails down to roots and bare rock.  With fifty million people living within a day’s drive of these trails, I’m surprised that they aren’t in worse condition.

One can always find fault with those who are supposed to maintain trails:  Essex Town, the Green Mountain Club, or whomever.  But the fact remains that trail maintenance requires manpower and money.  Join a trail maintenance crew for a day and see how much you accomplish.  Meanwhile, anyone who’s in the mood can go for a hike.  And for the most part it’s free.

As I hiked around the reservoir, it occurred to me that someday this place will be regulated to the point where I won’t be able to come here any more, or won’t want to.  The Town of Essex will eventually clean up this trail and those using it will have to pay, one way or the other.  Regulations have recently been put in place in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks, effectively halving the trail traffic there.  Those concerned about trail erosion think that’s for the best.  Will the same thing happen to Vermont’s Long Trail?  Probably, in due time.

I feel like one of the fortunate few.  I can grab my pack and go for a hike whenever I want.  I don’t like turning my ankle on an eroded stretch of trail any more than the next guy, but in a world where a billion people don’t even have enough to eat, complaints about poor trail maintenance seem mean-spirited, small-minded and ungrateful.

We are lucky to have trail systems available to us, cars to reach their trailheads, and time and health enough to hike them.  If I had to spend all of my time in developed places, constantly interacting with others, I would go stark raving mad.  So excuse me for not complaining about trail conditions any more than I do.  I find merit in even the muddiest of trails.

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Sep 12 2008

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Four Days with the Loons

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From Monday afternoon until Thursday morning, I was alone in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. Or perhaps I should say, I had only the company of my dog, Matika, a few small forest creatures, and the loons who inhabited the lakes where I camped. That was company enough.

Much to my dog’s bewilderment, a loon called out as soon as we reached Sampson Lake. A dozen miles from the nearest paved road, it seemed an appropriate greeting. I smiled as I listened to it, fully aware that I had arrived at a truly wild place. Beyond that I didn’t give the matter much thought.

At dusk the loon called out again, loud and clear. This time the wind had died down and both lake and forest were silent and still. I stopped what I was doing and went down to the water’s edge to see the loon. With my binoculars I saw a mere bird floating about, occasionally dipping beneath the surface. Yep, that’s a loon, I thought. Then I continued about my affairs.

The next day it rained steady from daybreak until late afternoon. To my surprise, a pair of loons called out in the pelting drizzle. First I spotted the female, then the male, then both of them together. They reminded me of another wet day in Southeast Alaska when I was camped alone in the wild. The Adirondacks on a rainy day aren’t much different.

On the morning of the third day, a loon called out and that did it. I broke down and cried. In that moment the loon’s call seemed to me like the voice of the wild itself, like the voice of God heard only in the most remote places – far away from all the nonsense that passes for civilization. I cried because I couldn’t keep up my armor another second. I cried because I had forgotten, in all my busy-ness, what the wild is all about. The shock of sudden self-awareness. Adam longing to regain access to Paradise, yet still Adam. Existential tears.

The sunset at Pillsbury Lake was a hallucination. I watched the steady advance of that undefined edge between day and night until it crowded all the pink and orange sky into a fiery grand finale on the horizon. The glassy lake perfectly reflected the show, and the call of a loon echoed through the mountains until the boundary between the real and the surreal disappeared. Then I groped beneath the stars for some kind of firmament upon which to stand.

Yesterday morning a loon bade farewell to me while I was packing up. I left the wilderness with some reluctance. The walk out was one long daydream. The call of loons swirled inside my head even as I drove home. And right now it doesn’t seem to matter what I’ll do today, how high the price of gas will go, or who will win the upcoming presidential election. I am still haunted by loons. Give me a few more hours to armor up.

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Sep 05 2008

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Managing Wildness

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A copy of Adirondac, the Adirondack Mountain Club publication, appeared in my mailbox the other day. I immediately cracked it open and looked for some provocative article to read. The ADK rarely disappoints on that count. I found an article titled “There’s a Reason for the Rules,” in which a club member defended some of the more controversial DEC regulations recently applied to the Eastern High Peaks. My blood boiled right away.

Last year I shelled out seventy bucks for a bear resistant canister so that I could legally backpack into the Dix Mountain Wilderness, which I believe is subject to Eastern High Peaks rules. Yep, that’s right. Can’t just sling my food bag in the trees like I have for the past 30-odd years. Gotta have a big, heavy plastic can for the bears to kick around. Well, okay. Bears are a problem in the High Peaks, so I went along with it. Then I returned home from my trip to find out I could have been issued a fine anyway, for building a campfire out there and having my dog off leash.

Right now I have backpacking gear laid out on the floor of an extra bedroom. I’m getting ready for a 5-day excursion into the Adirondacks – with my dog, of course. We won’t be going to the High Peaks, that’s for certain. The DEC rules are more relaxed in every other part of the Adirondack Park. I will land in a place where few people go, build a campfire the size of a pie pan, and stare into it for a several hours after cooking my dinner on it. I call this meditation. Others call it a violation of backcountry ethics.

I fully understand the need to regulate high-use areas like the High Peaks. On many occasions I have hiked the battered trails leading to the Park’s highest summits. Often I have passed so many people on the trail that it hardly felt like a wilderness experience at all. I’ve seen neophyte backpackers drag small trees to fire pits and torch them as if deep woods is the perfect place for a bonfire. I’ve seen dogs chase deer to exhaustion, wild animals open up backpacks full of food, and mountain streams tainted by soap suds. I’ve personally picked up enough trash scattered around shelters to fill my car once over, at least.

Yeah, I know exactly what the rules are for, but I also know that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) is a state bureaucracy that thrives on the endless creation of rules, and that there are enough eco-fundamentalist zealots in both the DEC, the ADK, and elsewhere to impose fixed, one-way worldviews on the rest of us. And anyone who objects is a selfish, nature-hating troglodyte.

Where will the rules end? You can use your cell phone in case of an emergency, by the way. Think about it. Cell phones and bear cans are in; campfires are out. This is not the natural world of John Muir, Henry David Thoreau or Verplanck Colvin. This is the wild managed, the backcountry with signs telling you what you can and cannot do, the canned wilderness experience. Must it come to this?

Next week I’ll go deep into the woods with my dog, doing my best to avoid contact with the rule-makers of all stripes who dominate the civilized world. I desperately need a break from their bullshit. And when the DEC starts breathing down my neck this year or next, I’ll go elsewhere, to more remote places, like a mountain lion or a grizzly bear, until there’s no truly wild country left. I, too, am on the endangered species list it seems. That’s okay. Nothing’s meant to last forever – not even wilderness or those who thrive in it.

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Aug 13 2008

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A Blank Spot on the Map

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It’s time to seek out a blank spot on the map and lose myself in it. I’ve reached a point where short excursions into the woods aren’t working for me anymore. This happens every year or two. I get up, go about my daily affairs as cheerfully as I can and pretend that I’m just like everyone else. But down deep I’m fighting back the urge to rip off my clothes, howl at the moon, then disappear into the forest.

This thing called civilization, with all its written and unwritten rules, is a prison to me now. I’m just counting the days until I can escape. Soon I hope to venture deep into the Adirondacks by myself. Just me and my dog, that is, who understands my urges. Already I can hear the loons.

One never breaks completely free of civilization, but it’s possible to go deep enough into wild country where other people become largely irrelevant. A brief encounter with another backwoods traveler; a few minutes of polite conversation with a pair of backpackers; perhaps even an exchange of information about weather or trail conditions with some solitary soul. Nothing more than that. Society is precisely what needs to be left behind.

Not a day goes by now that I don’t think about West Canada Lakes Wilderness. I first visited it in 2002. I wandered through it while hiking the Northville-Placid Trail a couple years ago. It’s the biggest wilderness area in the Adirondacks and one of the largest roadless areas east of the Mississippi. I miss it the way most people miss home when they’ve been away from it for a long time. I’ve blocked out a week next month to go there, so all I have to do is hang tight until then. Easier said than done.

Once the wild has gotten under your skin, there’s no going back to who you were before. Not really. I’ve been dealing with this ever since I left the Alaskan bush sixteen summers ago. In a sense, a part of me never left the bush. Now I need the wild as much as I need human contact. Can’t imagine going without it indefinitely, and there are times like these when it trumps every other need but food and water. So I’m counting the days…

I’m fortunate enough to be married to someone who understands this need. In fact, Judy’s been on me for months to break away. She usually sees it in me before I do. Not quite sure what she sees, but she’s learned over the years to recognize it. Maybe it’s the faraway look in my eyes; maybe it’s the sharpness of my words or the darkness of my thoughts. Hard to say. She just knows.

My dog, Matika, just groaned. She’s lying on the floor, relaxed but ready. If I grabbed my pack and started gathering up my gear, she’d be bouncing off the walls in a matter of minutes. She’s waiting for the command: “Let’s go!” I hope to bark it at her in a few weeks. Then together we’ll go deep into the woods and rediscover our wilder selves. But for now patience, patience.

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