Tag Archive 'backpacking'

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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Aug 01 2020

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Breadloaf Wilderness Revisted

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The news is all bad, especially now with the pandemic raging. Judy and I felt it was high time for us to spend a couple days in the woods away from it all. So we packed up our gear and headed for the Breadloaf Wilderness when finally there came a break in the weather, between heat waves and t-storms.

A few weeks ago I scouted the headwaters of the New Haven River, looking for a good place to camp. I found the spot just inside the Breadloaf Wilderness boundary where Judy and I had camped once with our granddaughter Kaylee. That’s where we landed.

Kaylee was 6 the last time we camped here. Now she’s 23. Time flies.

Judy sat on a large rock, taking in the sights and sounds of the wild forest. I sat nearby, writing in my journal. The stream flowed incessantly before us. A squirrel ran across a fallen tree bridging the stream. The sun sank behind the trees before we started dinner. Soon we were staring into a campfire, surrounded by darkness. Where did the day go?

We went to sleep to the sound of rushing water. A little later I awoke to that and the song of a waterthrush. While sitting on the big rock in predawn light, I watched another squirrel run across the fallen tree bridging the stream. I recalled camping farther upstream with my brother Greg back in the 90s, and remembered a dozen other outings in this wilderness area since then, by myself or with others. Time flies.

When Judy arose, I fixed her a cup of hot tea. She had a rough night. Sleeping on the ground is a lot harder for us 60-somethings than it used to be. So late morning we packed up and hiked out instead of staying another day.

On the way out, I recognized a patch of ground beneath a copse of full-grown maples that had been a clearing when I first hiked through here. That was back in the 80s. Seems like a lifetime ago. Yes indeed, time flies.

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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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Jun 26 2019

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On the Cohos Trail

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Back home now after nine days on the Cohos Trail – a relatively new trail in northern New Hampshire that runs for 170 miles, from the heart of the White Mountains to the Canadian border. I tramped 62 miles of it, starting in Jefferson and finishing in the rather dramatic Dixville Notch. It was quite the undertaking for an old hiker like me.

“Old” is a relative term, of course. At 63, I’m a young old with plenty of hikes still ahead of me. But when I strap on a backpack, 40 pounds or more, then take on a rugged trail winding through mountainous country for days on end, I soon realize that I’m not the hiking machine I once was. The joints, for one thing, aren’t what they used to be.

The bugs were even more menacing than they usually are this time of year. A rainy spring created ideal conditions for them to multiply. I used a whole bottle of DEET. Black flies, mosquitoes, ticks and deer flies – yeah, I had plenty of company on this trip.

The Cohos Trail isn’t a well-beaten path like the Appalachian Trail. I was hoping to escape the crowd that swarms all over Presidential Range of the White Mountains just to the south. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I saw no one for 3 days while hiking through the Nash Stream Forest. Long stretches of deep woods solitude are just about guaranteed on the CT. I reveled in it, taking 2 days to just hang out at shelters and groove on the natural world.

Indeed, the CT cuts through some wild and beautiful country: over mountains, through northern hardwood and boreal forests, across streams, meadows and bogs, and around ponds. The trail itself is sometimes a woods road and other times a barely discernible path. I recommend it to anyone craving Northeast wildness. But keep your eye peeled for those yellow blazes and a map handy. This isn’t a trail for daydreamers.

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Aug 05 2018

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On the AT Again

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Once again I accompanied my old buddy John Woodyard in his decades-long quest to hike the Appalachian Trail one section at a time. A couple years ago we hiked together in southern Vermont. Before that, I joined him on the 40-mile section of the AT between the Connecticut River and Sherburne Pass. This time we started at Route 25 in New Hampshire and hiked south to the Connecticut River.

It was a tough hike with plenty of elevation change. Originally we had planned to do it in 4 days, but soon found out that we needed more time. With a bad right knee making it hard to train, John wasn’t in as good a shape as he usually is. As for me, well, I’ve never been a strong hiker, and my sedentary bookselling lifestyle isn’t helping matters. Whatever. We shouldered our backpacks and did the 46 miles in 5 days. Not bad for a couple of 60-somethings.

While we were on the trail, about a hundred northbound thru-hikers in great shape blew past us with little effort – a few of them being our age. That psyched us out. We kept telling ourselves that for every thru-hiker whizzing by, another ten had left the trail between here and Georgia. Still we huffed and puffed uphill, grimaced at our joint pains going downhill, and sweated all day long wondering why we had let our bodies go. It’s hard, sometimes, to keep from comparing yourself to others.

The weather was great for the most part. The bugs weren’t bad, and the wild, forested landscape was just as beautiful as ever. I thoroughly enjoyed being out there hiking hard for a change, and I’m sure John also enjoyed the trek. But it would have been an even more enjoyable outing if we had been in better shape. Ah, well…

John will be back, I’m sure. He has hiked three-fourths of the AT so far, and is not the kind of guy to be satisfied with that. He still has the better part of New Hampshire’s White Mountains to do, along with most of the Berkshires is western Massachusetts. So he’ll be asking me to join him for another leg, no doubt. I’d better be ready.

 

 

 

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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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Apr 27 2017

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Early Spring Overnighter

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Every once in a while I feel an overwhelming urge to spend a night alone in the woods. Either that or my wife orders me to do so when I become too grumpy. Yesterday the urge came hard and fast.

My dog Matika became very excited when the backpacking gear came out. She knows. She was all smiles during the ride to Johnson. There I left my car at the Long Trail parking lot and headed south.

I like to hike the LT south from Route 15 in early spring because there’s not much I can do to damage the trail. It crosses a meadow, tags a rail trail, follows a logging road, then becomes a skidder trail as it climbs into the mountains. By the time it’s a bona fide footpath, I’ve left it and am bushwhacking along a stream.

The loggers are taking a break during mud season so I had the woods all to myself. Just me and my dog, that is.

I travelled light, only taking with me what would fit in my old rucksack. A three-mile hike put me deep into the woods. I found a nice place along the stream to make camp. Afterwards I collected wood and made a small campfire. I can sit and feed sticks into a campfire for hours. Matika likes just looking around and chewing sticks.

An hour or so after dark, I slipped beneath the tarp to sleep. Matika was already there waiting for me. The sky broke open and the stars came out. You know what that means. Radiational cooling. I froze my ass off despite the fact that temps shot into the 60s yesterday and the 70s today. But it was worth it to crawl out this morning to a sun cresting the nearby ridge, deep in the woods. The mountain stream roared endlessly. And a breakfast campfire made it easy to shrug off last night’s chill.

Hiking out, I found a small patch of spring beauty, then a purple trillium in bloom – one that had still been closed the day before. Ah, spring! Matika crossed paths with a red fox that vanished in the blink of an eye. Something for both of us.

 

 

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Sep 22 2016

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On the Trail with John

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view-from-prospect-rockFor six years I made excuses before getting back on the trail with my old hiking buddy, John. It’s shameful, really. No one is that busy. But at long last we met in Manchester, shuttled cars, then set foot together on the white-blazed AT/LT, headed north.

John is section hiking the Appalachian Trail. He has done 70% of it so far. Six years ago, I did a 40-mile stretch in central Vermont with him, then shuttled him south so that he could do another section alone. This time I joined John for 19 miles, between Kelly Stand Road and Route 30. I didn’t think my flabby body couldn’t handle more than that. I set aside 3 days from my allegedly busy life to do it.

We went up over Stratton Mountain first thing, tracing the same route that I had hiked with my grandkids a month earlier. A steady rain kept us cool and John let me set the pace. As a result, we got up and over the mountain with little difficulty.

We talked our way through the first day and into the next. We talked and talked. Six years is a long time. We had a lot of catching up to do.

After spending a night at Stratton Pond Shelter, I was feeling pretty spry for a 60-year-old. I suggested that we push it all the way to Route 30 the second day instead of going just to Spruce Peak Shelter. That way he could get in a full day’s hike the third day. John thought it best that we go as far as Spruce Peak Shelter before making that decision. I agreed.

Our traverse through the dripping forest was a trip down memory lane for me. We skirted the edge of Lye Brook Wilderness where I’d spent some time alone some years back. Then we stopped for lunch at Prospect Rock. I had stopped there 21 years earlier while thru-hiking the Long Trail. This time John and I cooled out while watching clouds gather slowly over Manchester below. A pleasant break, indeed.

Sure enough, I was still feeling strong when we reached Spruce Peak Shelter early in the afternoon. With only 3 miles left, we went for it, popping out on Route 30 with plenty of time for a 2-hour drive south into Massachusetts. We parked my car at Dalton then hiked half a mile south on the AT to Kay Wood Shelter. There we stayed for the night. In the morning we retraced our steps back to my car where John picked up a 5-day supply of food before continuing north all the way to his car on Kelly Stand Road.

That was two days ago. Since then John has been hiking over Mt. Greylock and I have returned to my busy-ness. John and I have been having outdoor adventures together since we were Boy Scouts back in Ohio. We’re not done yet. Next year, I’ll join him on another tramp along the AT. No excuses. I’ve got my priorities straight now… and a year to get myself in shape so that I can stay on the trail with him longer.

 

 

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Aug 26 2016

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Sunrise at Stratton Pond

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Sunrise Stratton PondA loon cried out as predawn light filtered into the tent. Hearing it, Hunter sat up for a moment. Mason heard it as well but he just rolled over. I went out to investigate, leaving the tent as quietly as possible. Our hike over Stratton Mountain the day before had been a tough one so I thought it best that my grandsons sleep a little longer.

The air was still. Insects dappled the glassy surface of Stratton Pond. No sound. The loon was long gone. Out of habit, I went to put on my heavy wool shirt but set it aside instead. No need. I was perfectly comfortable in a t-shirt.

The sun peeked over the ridge rising towards the mountain, promising another beautiful day. I heard the boys stirring inside the tent. When they came out I put them to work fetching water for tea, dropping the food bag slung in the trees, and making orange juice from the powder on hand. I fired up the camp stove.

We sat on foam pads drinking juice and tea, and eating bagels. A chipmunk chattered. A bird meep-meeped nearby. “That’s a nuthatch,” I told the boys, then I shut up so they could enjoy the deep woods silence that followed.

This was their first bona fide trip into the wild.  Oh sure, we’d been hiking and camping before, and had even backpacked to a “remote” camp site in a state park, but this was different. Several miles from the nearest road, they were encountering Nature in all its glory. The look in their morning eyes said it all. I reveled in their quiet astonishment.

An hour or so later, we broke camp. The boys were eager to hike again. They enjoyed the easy walk along the shoreline and the relatively flat Stratton Pond Trail that followed. It seemed to me like we were coming out too soon, but they got a good dose of it – a couple days in the woods they wouldn’t easily forget. I was quite pleased with myself for having arranged it.

 

 

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