A Western Adventure (6/19/18 – 6/29/18)

My brother (James) and I just travelled through five of the “Continental Divide” states — Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana — and visited as many National Parks — Rocky Mountain, Canyonlands, Arches, Grand Teton and, last but not least, Yellowstone. It was a memorable, albeit expensive, experience and here are several pictures:

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Maroon Bells — one of, if not, the most photographed places in the country.

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The Grand Tetons from Schwabachers Landing.

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I saw her at the bottom of the road to Guanella Pass. She was in the road then scurried to a ledge to pose. She’s a bit ragged looking but believe me she cleans up nicely. 

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Close-up of the Grand Tetons.

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Delicate Arch, the most recognizable symbol of Arches National Park, is (as you can see) a popular attraction. Most images of the famous arch are void of context. Captured here are the throngs of visitors gathered in this “amphitheater” of sandstone as if to await the performance of some artist within the arch.

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My rendition of Ansel Adams’ famous photograph. While he had more dramatic clouds and punier pines not obstructing the bend of the Snake River, mine is better. If you haven’t seen his yet, please do not look it up. Just take my word for it that mine is better.

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Canyons upon canyons — Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

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While leaving Yellowstone, in the Shoshone National Forest to be precise, my brother spotted bears in the woods off the road. I spun around and we got out to have a look. A vigilant mother grizzly and her two cubs were moving swiftly through the woods towards the road, at which point we ran back to the car. I then got this shot. It should be said, the mother grizzly looked both ways before crossing. I have done an indeterminate amount of hikes in New York, Vermont and New Hampshire and I have never once seen a bear in the wild (not that I particularly want to) whereas in just one day at Yellowstone I saw 6.

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A roaring brook on the Taggart Lake trail. The absence of the vegetation partially obscuring Grand Teton would make the composition work as I had wanted it to.

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An overlook on the road to Independence Pass and eventually Aspen. In the Northeast you need to put in effort for such vistas.

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Build me a home where the Buffalo roam. Got a lifelong fill of them at Yellowstone.

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Up close and personal with a buffalo. He prefers buffalo wings to bison burgers.

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So much foliage-less Pine is mesmerizing.

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So effortlessly beautiful out there. This shot taken but a few yards form a Taco John’s drive-thru in Codi, Wyoming. An otherwise inauspicious spot for us Northeasterners to capture such natural beauty.

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The Roosevelt Arch at the northern entrance to Yellowstone.

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Grand Prismatic Spring releasing its sulphuric juices into the Firehole River.

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Mammoth Springs and southern Montana.

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The Great Salt Lake.

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The Great Salt Lake again.

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The Great Salt Lake sand.

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Sunset from the vicinity of Delicate Arch.

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My brother at Twin Lakes in Colorado. Who wouldn’t want to have a picnic here?

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Requisite Mormon Barn and Tetons juxtaposition.

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My 46er Finisher: Rocky Peak Ridge from New Russia.

09/05/16 (Labor Day)

The summit of Rocky Peak Ridge, the prize of an impossible journey, is — as summits are wont to be — an interminable distance beyond, beguiling and hidden. Pat and Gordon have run ahead, their bodies thrown in relief of the still and stunted pine as the trail serpents upwards out of sight. “Savor it —” David sagely advises, “you only become a 46er once.” I can appreciate the truth in David’s advice: past milestones have left me wanting in their realization. As hard as I try to be present in the moment, I am out of form. A nascent cold — I have exasperatedly awoken with on the day of my finisher — makes swallowing a labor. This new job has incomprehensibly kept me off the trails for the whole of August, not one molecule of trail dirt was trodden by my hiking boots for the month. My employer has been kind enough to offer me a northwestern-facing view from my desk, of Saratoga Spring’s Congress Park and somewhere beyond the curve of earth the High Peaks lie awaiting my return. Every drowsy afternoon, laid waste by the morning bomb of caffeine, has invited fancies of the imagination; those mountains would, as if by the dint of CGI, break from the mantle of earth and rise beyond the uppermost planes of the buildings in Congress Park — the comely dome of Marcy, the jaggy contours of the Great Range, the slides of Gothics glistening in the midday Sun, all there. The instant my supervisor jars me from the revery, back into the earth they’d all recede and some quotidian end would arrest my mind until they return again. 

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Pat fuels up while Gordon takes in the early view from Blueberry Cobbles (or thereabouts.)

There is something poignantly anti-climatic about this finish, the headlong rush to 45, the wave of momentum to the day disrupted by those pesky obligations. It would take David’s prodding: “let’s get ‘er done,” to spur me to action. 

The eastern approach of Rocky Peak Ridge, the one I have chosen for my finisher, is renown for its beauty and avoided for its difficulty. The trail follows a ridge from Route 9 or the hamlet of New Russia  (if it is even large enough to be classified as such). The ridge is home to a list of destinations, like Blueberry Cobbles, Bald Peak, Rocky Peak (not to be confused with the High Peak) and then, of course, Rocky Peak Ridge and ultimately Giant and on down. All told, upwards of 5,000 feet of elevation gain is required for its execution. Slightly less if you embark from the other side. Why this hike is such a bear is two-fold. Most notably, it follows a ridge, which invariably entails a lot of up and down. The other half of it has to do with the starting point of the hike — a mere 600 feet or so of elevation. This is the closest to sea level of any High Peaks trailhead; by all accounts, one is expected to climb the entirety of Rocky Peak Ridge … with many demoralizing dips along the way. Word on the street — err, the trails — is that this route is stunningly beautiful at the height of Autumn. The preponderance of deciduous trees has me a believer. 

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No shortage of picturesque places for the sake of repast.

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The most photographed glacial erratic in the Giant Wilderness. 

This trail makes a pass of the sweetest tarn in all the High Peaks, Marie Louise Pond. Come to think of it, it is I reckon the only tarn in the High Peaks — a taste of the White Mountains, where there is no shortage of high elevation lakes and by which many sleepy huts rest on their shores. 

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Heart-shaped Marie Louise Pond with Lake Champlain and Vermont’s Green Mountains in the distance. 

For being out of action for more than a month and fighting a cold, a hike of this magnitude is ambitious, to say the least. The palpable excitement of becoming a 46er has, to this point, buoyed me. Pat and Gordon running ahead has a purpose: they will document, with pictures and videos, my finish. 

I scuttle up the bare rock, as if on a cloud. Gordon snaps a picture with my every fateful step. When later viewed on my computer, the collective of successive pictures would come to engender animation, like the pages of those old cartoon books you’d swiftly thumb through. On the summit of Rocky Peak Ridge, David is the master of ceremonies and bequeaths me a 46er patch. Among the celebrants is a biblical proportion of black flies, the likes of which I have never experienced on any High Peaks summit. They are all here, each and everyone of those winged bastards who caused me such misery over the course of this journey. No one is long for this summit, myself included, but I take a moment to let it sink in. Like Giant, Rocky Peak Ridge is at the edge of the region and affords an all-encompassing view of the High Peaks. I could imagine my former self, possessed with the conceit of  becoming a Forty-Sixer, traipsing through those mountains and those at the moment unseen pushing towards the same goal. 

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Freshly-minted 46er.

As someone once told me, who illustrated with numbers the difficulty of the hike, the segment of the East Trail between Rocky Peak Ridge and Giant is the “pushing the envelope” part. Without being suspenseful, he was right. I am eager to face the section of the trail between the col and Giant, the part that turned me back when I had but three High Peaks to my name; now an emboldened Forty-Sixer, how could I possibly shrink from it? To my dismay and astonishment, it is scarcely any easier than it was back then. I can confirm that the trail from Giant to Rocky Peak Ridge is a doozy, with a full breadth of High Peaks experience or otherwise. 

As Gordon, Pat and I plop down our depleted derrières on the summit of Giant, a holler emanates from the trees, “I guess I’ll visit my girlfriend!” David emerges from the trees. To him, Giant is affectionately referred to as his “girlfriend;” on which he found solace during many trying times in his life.

As we watch the late-afternoon Sun descend on the familiar High Peaks and the endless valleys now demystified, my adventure has come full circle, close to where it had all begun. 

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No shortage of nice views on the Giant side of the hike. 

Scenic Trail to Sawteeth

October 7th, 2016

In the wake of becoming a Forty-Sixer, there is a common course taken by most finishers — to conceive of ways to re-engender that lost sense of wonderment and awe the High Peaks once held over them.

For many, myself included, a chosen course is climbing the alternative trails to summits, purposefully or not, missed the first go round. One such trail long on my bucket list is the Scenic Trail up Sawteeth. In the High Peaks, the word “scenic,” by definition, means, rather patently, scenic — but peril is found in the connotation of “scenic” and that is unequivocally “harder”; such scenery ineluctably comes at the expense of ease. So far as I’m concerned, for a long time, the Scenic Trail was the only game in town. If you desired to climb Sawteeth, the Scenic Trail was the route you had to take. Sometime later, the more moderate Weld Trail would be cut. (For the sake of its climbers, it is a less “scenic” approach.)

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One of many viewpoints that give the Scenic Trail its name. 

The first time I did Sawteeth (incidentally the first time I ever hiked with Pat) the Weld Trail was our approach, up and down. Back then, the Scenic Trail, in my universe, was reckoned an anathema of the High Peaks. It had many of those scary wooden runged things called ladders. Along the way I overcame my phobia of ladders and the Scenic Trail and I made amends. It went on the list. To kill the suspense, the ladders were neither as sketchy nor plentiful as I feared they would be. To this day, the Beaver Meadow Falls trail, which connects Lake Road with Gothics, is, in my estimation, endowed with the most fraught assortment of ladders. I likewise made amends with that trail this past July.

With full anticipation of the fall color blazing the shores of the Lower Ausable, I set out on a day of resplendent sunshine. The Scenic Trail has several viewpoints — but it is a front-heavy dispersal. Most come towards the beginning, leaving viewless voids of cursedly rugged trail in its wake. The earlier viewpoints are interspersed by steep stretches. One excursion on the trail, Marble Point, offers a vertigo inducing view of the Lower Ausable. All that’s missing is a diving board, should I wish to plumb the depths of the lake with my moribund body. To the contrary, an AMR famous “Stay Back From The Edge, Don’t Be A Dropout” sign guards the edge.

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Anyone care to try out for the Marble Point Diving Team? 

This trail is either objectively difficult or an objective testimony to the state of my conditioning. To ensure the mental challenge is on par with the physical, Sawteeth has a “false” summit, well, truthfully, quite a few of them. When viewed in profile, the serrated looking edges, which give Sawteeth its name, are largely false summits. When you’re standing atop them, they cut through your spirit.

I eventually made it to the top of Sawteeth and could not retire to Lake Road without dropping by an old friend. The autumn sun shone in my eyes, backlighting the Great Range, as I rested on the popular ledge of Pyramid Peak.

As yet another hiking season draws to a close, I am lost to its reflection, of its transformative achievement and of its memories nestled in the hollows of mountains laid out before me.  Much has occurred since I last sat on this ledge, but my eyes should never be spoiled of such a view.

Phelps revisited; Tony’s Big Day

9/19/17

I would say this was many hikes in the making. Whatever it was that engendered this demented desire in me to climb mountains, Tony was there by my side from the start to cultivate it. In fact, it was Tony with whom I had the first ever conversation about the High Peaks. (Would have been most “symbolic” had Nippletop been chosen for his introduction to the High Peaks).  Tony and I would go on a bunch of memorable hikes in that first summer before he succumbed to a knee injury and consequent operation. This kept him on the shelf throughout the Summer of 2016, as I went on to accomplish the aspiration that our seminal conversation had sown. This past July, a back injury sidelined me for a month, it would linger on in the form of a nerve issue for about two more months.  This meant restless, uncomfortable drives to the Loj and elsewhere. Once I was on the mend, plans for Tony’s first were bogged down by his other commitments … (dog sitting, really?)

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Tony taking a deserved rest on Phelps.

When it came to picking out a High Peak for Tony’s first, I had the following criteria:

  1. One that is “relatively” easy. (Hikers quickly learn “relative” is the operative word in the High Peaks.)
  2. One that has a good view. (Not a cluster of trees with a hammered sign that looks as if a piece of it were chewed off by a bear.)
  3. One that has a drawn out approach into the Adirondack backcountry. (A form of a rookie “hazing” in the High Peaks; initiation to the eternity of miles that exists between every trailhead and the base of the mountain.)
  4. One that passes familiar landmarks, such as Marcy Dam.
  5. One that is not Cascade.
  6. One that I haven’t done as friggin’ much as Cascade.

Cascade is the virgin High Peak of choice for just about anyone. Of course, it was my first and meets the first two vastly important criteria in spades; whether Cascade is harder than Hurricane (which Tony had already done without issue) is a matter of opinion. But — by this point I was so doggone tired of it. Its every ankle rolling rock anticipated, its every view seared into my temporal lobe, its every denim clad future Search and Rescue-e spoiling the serenity of nature.  Worst of all were the reports funneling in of poop in the middle of the trail. Even the bears have the decency to go off trail. I guess human feces mid trail is the perverted cachet of popularity up here in the High Peaks.

Back to the foregoing criteria, it quickly became clear Phelps was the High Peak I should propose. I helped its cause by fleshing out the “familiar landmark” criterion, although Marcy Dam isn’t more than a field with a few puddles of water in it these days. As predicted, Tony was game for whatever it was I suggested. It would be nice to see Phelps with new eyes. It was a transformative High Peak for me; the first I did solo. In the beginning, I regarded the High Peaks as too perilous to do alone. In my head, I vowed Phelps would be the one exception — as it possessed a benign reputation. Then I would go about seeking hiking mates for the fraught ones that lie ahead. The thing is I would play this little game in my head before each ensuing peak until doing them alone became all but preferable. Venturing out into the backcountry alone to very many forebodes catastrophe — which is unfortunate. When good sense is exercised, wending your way through the woods on your own is empowering. On my first go round, just under half of the 46 were solo expeditions and I reflect most favorably upon them. If someone were there to “coddle” me through the 46, it would have undoubtedly dulled the luster of the accomplishment. Of course this is not to say I don’t relish sharing the trails with certain people — Tony among them.

There has been an abiding worry this will be a “lost” autumn, the leaves appear to have wilted to a dull burgundy, missing the most colorful “stop,”  as if the foliage had by mistake boarded an express subway car instead of a local . With all the rain we had suffered through earlier this Summer, I thought the upshot would be an Autumn rife with vibrant color, the likes of which I have not yet seen since taking a fancy to long walks in the woods.

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There is a nice red leaf, at least here and there.

It dawned on me I hadn’t been Marcy Dam-bound on this trail since 2015.  When revisiting some place for the first time in a while, I strive to conjure the perspective I once had. My musing would be cut short as, at one point, the trail followed a short, meandering detour. Who knows how long this has been here for?

Tony isn’t known for his world-beating hiking pace. His stout physique is meant for powerlifting, at which he once excelled. Fusing well with his leisurely pace, inarguably Tony’s finest hiking attribute is his “existing in the moment”  mentality. So many, ashamedly myself included, tend to motor on by and don’t drink in the subtle beauty of nature. Regularly, Tony will straggle for the sake of appreciating a burbling brook.

I continuously warned Tony about the final, endless mile. He would continuously ask if we were up to it yet. I continuously told him he would know if we were up to it. The final mile climbs and doesn’t relent until there is no more mile and in its wake will leave you questioning whether they know how to measure. I knew this would be an ordeal of sorts, as, I said, Tony is not known for having the endurance of a Kenyan marathon runner.

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Tony scrambling up the steepest ledge.

At the steepest inclines, I would scamper up, wait, turn around in time to see an expression of futility flash across Tony’s face below. As we neared the summit, Tony was gassed, the needles on his gauges were in all the way to the red. By now I was able to offer honest encouragement, since we were close. Tony found it in himself to push through the final tenths of a mile and stand (or pass out) on the top of his very first High Peak. To get here has been an emotional journey for Tony who lost his brother to brain cancer some months back. To my knowledge, his brother aspired to climb a High Peak but never did so.

As a benefit of the odyssey it was getting to the top, we arrived in late-afternoon, where the descending sun enriched the beauty of the landscape as it always does. The view from Phelps was every bit as pretty as I remembered it. The steep ledges of Gothics, Saddleback, and Basin were more prominent and defined than I remembered them being. But, it doesn’t need to be said on the basis of my experience I have come to notice things I may at first had not.

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The fruits of labor.

It was slow-going on the way down and twilight by the time we reached Marcy Dam. As a test, I wanted to see how long we could last in fading light before I reached for the head lamp. A deceitful shadow forming the silhouette of a large animal in the middle of the trail had me fumble for the head lamp. What was left of Tony would take the vanguard and my headlamp would illuminate the trail before him. All the while I would indulge in my concerns of the impending drive and deliberations of what not-remotely-healthy thing I would order from Denny’s once back.

Street and Nye – 10/23/15

10/23/15

Standing at the shore of Heart Lake, it is a new day. Reflected in the lake, the frosted brows of the Macs are spotted by pines, the snow’s modest depths are confused about the ridges by the glare of the fading Sun. To an azure dome above, Colden sloughs off its final vestige of clouds. The gibbous Moon hangs close to the horizon of spruces in which the Adirondak Loj somewhere hides. The serenity of the lake and evening belies the misadventures of the day which came before it.

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Serene Heart Lake at the end of the day.

Snow flakes spritz the Heart Lake parking lot as I pull in. To this point, no hike has begun so ominously but the forecast calls for a steady clearing. A female ranger deliberately tending to her gear gives me a once-over to which a query of my itinerary predictably follows.

“Street and Nye.”

“Dressed like that? You know it’s going to be below freezing at the higher elevations?”

Indulging the momentum of her concern, I buy a green ADK fleece from the High Peaks Information Center — something I don’t otherwise need but don’t mind having. I rip the tags and put it on before embarking on the journey of the day. The trail immediately emanating out of the Loj is as well cared for as to be expected, by now I know not to take a good trail for granted. I pass a charming amphitheater with a few rows of wooden benches, soon a diversity of trees each with a sign laid out before it identifying and describing the species, this for the edification of the masses who come to visit the Loj.

The trail follows the rim of the lake before drawing away from it towards Indian Pass. Turning onto the Old Nye Ski Trail, the trail meanders through the woods, crosses puncheon laid out over muddy passages. Is it not long before I hear the growing roar of my toughest adversary of the day— Indian Pass, to be specific getting from one of its shores to the other. To most it is an unmemorable hop and a skip from one rock to another. To others, such as myself, who lack such common agility or the misguided confidence to believe they’re in possession of it, it is a greater undertaking.

Perhaps it is a question of trust? Does a slick rock have the moral fiber to keep you upright once your foot alights on it? Wouldn’t ya think a mid-stream rock, in the existential throes of erosion, may find it amusing to, just once, betray a doddering crosser for the sake of comic relief in the sweep of its meaningless and futile life? Until I could somehow appraise a rock’s geological character, I don’t wish to take the chance. I take off my boots and socks and stuff my socks within the boots. Immediately, the jagged pebbly rocks lining the river torment my feet.  I think about the barefoot lunatic hiker I once ran into on Owl’s Head who to me disseminated his dogma of bootless hiking. Purportedly a zen-like experience, so many wrongfully give short shrift. Your smelly, fungus ridden feet are allegedly the best vehicles through which to connect with nature. Who knew? Be that as it may, what order of callouses does this guy have underfoot? Here I am not remotely able to take a comfortable step sans boots and this guy is climbing mountains in Dali Lama sangfroid?

Sadly, the real agony has yet to begin. I set a foot in the icy brook and cry out. I attempt to dash across but the slick rocks at the bed of the stream prevent my doing so. I stumble and gesticulate with my arms for balance, both hands precariously clutching the boots that this barefoot crossing exercise was designed to keep dry. Lest I unintentionally pail up Indian Pass in my boots, I must chuck them to the other side. As soon as I conceive of the idea, the future flashes before my eyes: fighting to stay upright on a slippery foundation of rocks, I throw one boot to the other shore, where it comes to rest. I cheer. Then I throw the second and it lands on the first and knocks it into the water before the second dribbles into the water itself and they both float downstream never to be seen again. Determined for this not to happen, I heave both boots as mightily as I can, beyond the shores and into the woods. While I am ensured dry boots, provided I can find them, I am still left with the challenge of crossing what’s left of the stream, a hoary proposition indeed. Once on the other side, I pluck a leave to dry my tortured feet. I go off in search of my boots. One is in plain sight and I expect to be tipped off by a bear, whose nasal passages exploded with one sniff of my pungent boots, scurrying from the other. After twenty minutes or so, my toes reach the higher watermark of about 35% normal extension. Following Indian Pass, the trail diverts from a swampy area which must be a touristy summer resort of sorts for mosquitos. I am glad the black fly season has passed, then again I wouldn’t have two ice blocks for feet if it were black fly season.

I encounter the only hiker I will all day — similarly the only other hiker signed into the trail register. I ask him if I am close to the top. He tells me all I need to know with a chuckle. [Little did I know at the time but I was in the presence of a legend, Steve Barbour, who, as of this writing, is the only man to grid both the ‘Daks and the Whites. What is the grid you ask? It is the formidable (and unhinged) undertaking of visiting each high peak in every month of the year. Since there are 46 peaks in the Adirondacks and 48 in the Whites and there are 12 months in the year (in the Northeast, most of them bad) that works out to 1,128 summit visits. As you may have imagined, at the point of our meeting, Steve was wrapping up Street and Nye for the month of October.]

The herd path is covered by fallen leaves and the fallen leaves are covered by a dusting of snow so, were it not for Steve’s footprints, I would, at times, not know where the hell I am going. I get crossed up at one point, around a stream, the guidebook and map are of no avail, I look down and see corroded metal fragments of something or another at my feet. As in the vicinity of the Santas, the ironworks must have at one point held a presence here. Unless a passing hiker most recently lost the corroded metal parts he was, for whatever reason, carrying in his pack. I will have to look for an annotation “lost metal, please call XXX” in the trail register.

The climb begins, unremarkably and inexorably, to the ridge which Street and Nye share. There is nary a dicey ledge, however. Nearing the col, it is evident I am in a cloud. A spooky fog hangs on the pines. In the wild, one’s leash on the events and customs of the seasons is tenuous at best. The current scene before me suits the time of year, as Halloween is right around the corner. Still, here in the woods, the connection is not as immediately palpable. Personal trials, on the other hand, may be borne from everyday life to nature before the latter has a moment to exorcise them. Thoreau pitied and reproached those whose engagement with nature was tempered by mundane troubles.

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The guide tree at the col.

Once at the col, I spot the engraved guide trees and, as chosen in advance, head off to Nye first. Nye is the closer of the two from the col and notorious for its non-view, perhaps the least view of any High Peak. Doing it first will give the clouds a chance to lift by the time I get to Street, so I hope. The herd path to Nye is straight-forward although it was once reckoned a bear for its blowdown. Decades ago, a hurricane had swirled on through knocking down so very many of the trees (though, for whatever reason, the ones encircling the summit must have been spared as, by all accounts, no view has ever existed on Nye.) For kicks, I snap a panoramic picture of the misty, tree enclosed summit of Nye.

The fog obstinately hangs around on the trip over to Street. As I get higher (Street represents the first time I get above 4,000’ on the day), the ice becomes less avoidable and the determination to put on Microspikes must soon be made. I, at last, capitulate and sit on a rock to, for the first time ever, strap Microspikes to the bottom of my boots. I take a few virgin steps, gaining familiarity with the experience of walking with spikes under my feet. To my chagrin, after merely 20 yards, I arrive at the summit of Street. There are no views (or would be no views on a normal day) around where the summit sign is. Rather, there are little paths radiating to clearings. I stare out into the dense, interminable cloud framed by spruces. Beyond the curtain of vapor, an intimate view of the Macs “backside” must be had.

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Where things intersect: Clouds and Sun, Winter and Fall.

I depart the summit of Street with the feeling of having been cheated. This is the first time I have ever been socked in by clouds on a mountain top. Further exasperating, as I near the col, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and omnipresent clouds are giving way to a beautiful day, as the snow capped trees glow in the Sun. The valleys below scintillate beneath the stubborn pall which before stole my views. By the time I get down, the dusting of snow has melted, leaving just the fallen foliage to navigate. I reflect on my having reached the 20th High Peak milestone and how, merely a few months earlier, it seemed all so daunting to do but one. All the while, I anticipate round two with Indian Pass. As before, I go barefoot and brace for an excruciatingly “zen-like” experience.

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Street and Nye at twilight.

[Nearly two years later, I would, at the behest of Pat, return to Street and Nye. While this early-June day would prove to be no blue-bird day, I got to see the view from Street. While few acclaim Street’s view, I was nonetheless disappointed. Most interesting is the view of the Santas to the south from one of the clearings on Street but, fittingly, the Macs were embattled with the clouds. I can confirm there is nothing to see on Nye, clouds or otherwise. Hey, at least the crossing of Indian Pass was more tolerable in June.]

Pictures from the second trip to Street and Nye (6/3/17) ~

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The view of the Macs not long before the col of Street and Nye.

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The Santas from the summit of Street. 

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Indian Pass, still an estimable foe.

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Pat on the shores of Heart Lake at twilight.

 

Tabletop (x2) and Mount Jo

10/27/15 and 11/14/16

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Pat admiring Marcy from the summit of Tabletop.

Tabletop is mostly done in conjunction with at least one other High Peak. By dint of proximity, that Peak is often Phelps, other times Marcy, sometimes both, or, yet, as Mr. Senecal (#6907W) would have it, Colden.

As has been the case, I have done Tabletop twice, neither time in the accompaniment of another High Peak. The first time at the tail-end of my inaugural hiking season, it was my 21st High Peak. After an exceedingly uncomfortable walk back (stomach cramps) I found it in me to, as originally planned, do Mount Jo, so as to make it a day. Not surprisingly, the view from diminutive Mount Jo was more interesting than from the largely “vegetation-infested” (fancy way of saying lots of trees) Tabletop summit. Mount Jo is, in a sense, the de facto fall foliage sighting summit in the High Peaks. It isn’t hard to come by a faultless fiery scene of Heart Lake with the Macs, Colden and Marcy girdled by puffy clouds. The trees had already shed their leaves when I visited. I kept thinking, for a guest of the Loj, Mount Jo would be a good summit on which to flout DEC regulations and pitch a tent and spend the night gazing at the stars, Heart Lake capturing their reflections while the Peaks hide in the mystery of their shadows.

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Little Mount Jo has a big view.  

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Familiar arrangement to those who have driven down Adirondak Loj Road. 

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The lesser shown view from Mount Jo of the north. McKenzie Mountain Wilderness and the town of Lake Placid.

There are two trails to the top of Mount Jo, the short trail and the long trail. Naturally the former involves the extent of elevation gain in a short distance, great big boulders and the palpable attrition of your knees. I didn’t do the long trail, in either direction, it swings out in the direction of Street and Nye and must be less demanding.

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Marcy Dam in November.

The first time I did Tapletop was in October and the second time — at the behest of Pat — was in November. The start of the herd path is clear, after all there is a sign on the Van Ho marking its beginning, no ambiguous cairn. On both occasions, the customary eroded herd path was glazed over with ice. The second time — the time with Pat, that is — the ice was laid on thick. Microspikes endow its wearers with a sense of invincibility, icy stretches are traversed with sang-froid. By my estimation the best view to be had from Tabletop is looking back at the Macs and Colden peaking above the pines. From this vantage point, Colden is distinctly double humped. One of the humps is of course the “false” summit you would cross over coming up from Lake Arnold.  Once the trail “plateaus out”  you know you’re on the table. The summit, the tree bearing the Tabletop sign, is in a ways. But from here there is little in the way of up, the air of the final stretch pervaded by aromatic pine.

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Tabletop herd path in October.

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Tabletop herd path in November (a wee bit icier).

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Looking back at Colden and the Macs while nearing summit of Tabletop.

As I mentioned above, the summit is damned by heavy tree cover. I tried to shin up one of the stunted trees to get a better view of the Great Range. Mount Marcy soars to the east, bespeckled with late-Autumn ice. Off its flank, the cone of Haystack rises sharply on both its ends. Pat proclaims the view from Tabletop trumps Phelps. I’m not sure what he’s drinking. In all fairness, Tabletop does offer a closer view of Marcy. From Phelps, Tabletop is the humble and unmemorable hunk of green prostrating to the king — the sight of Marcy is not in the least qualified by its presence.

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Had to mount some tree branches to get this shot of Haystack and Marcy.

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Thank heavens for Microspikes!

Marcy, Skylight, and Gray – 10/12/15

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Marcy behind one of Skylight’s famous colossal rock piles.

A few days before I did MSG I saw the motion picture Everest in the theaters. MSG — not monosodium glutamate, the bane of Chinese cuisine, or MSG, The World’s Most Famous Arena — rather, a combination of mountains commonly done at once by aspiring Forty-Sixers: Marcy, Skylight, and Gray. Way back when, the thought of knocking out the triumvirate, all at once, three of ten tallest mountains in the state of New York, was (to me) epic in scale. A few of the more experienced hikers on a forum to which I contributed took exception to my calling it epic as they boasted of their exploits in others threads, which would go like this:

“I stretched my legs with the Macs, then dropped by Redfield and Cliff, on a spur of the moment paid a visit to Gray and Skylight, and, by Jove, since I still had an hour of daylight to spare, I threw in the Great Range for good measure!” 

The movie Everest did a good job of putting things in perspective. In the context of the Himalayas, the ‘Daks are an hospitable assortment of hills. No surprise, rapidly-intensifying low in the Indian Ocean wheeling hazard at me, no impossibly precarious crevasses to deal with and even more impossibly precarious apparatuses by which to cross them, and, last and most certainly not least, no elevation point at which my body would slowly begin to die until I got back down to it. I could go on. No — Columbus Day, the holiday this epic adventure would fall on, was a beautiful, blue bird day and an unseasonably warm day, to boot. That I chose to invest in my first pair of Kahtoola Microspikes just the day before, in retrospect, seems silly.

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View from Adirondak Loj Road at dawn.

Since it was October: a hike of considerable length on a day of truncated sunlight — I had no choice but to get on the road early. For the first time, it was dark the entire drive up, I only caught a hint of day break around Schroon Lake. Likewise, the entire drive home was in the dark. An entire day appropriated to hiking. As always is the case, once making the turn onto Adirondak Loj Rd, I had the compulsion to pull over and snap the view of the mountains. This time I capitulated to it.

By now, I had become well-acquainted with the the trail from Heart Lake to Marcy Dam and made it a priority to breeze through it. I ran, jogged and walked briskly, passing curious parties, their inquisitive voices fading in my wake.

Once crossing Phelps Brook, I was taken aback with how muddy the trail was. At one point, my right leg got stuck to my knees. Mud, of its vast incarnations, would be a fixture the whole way up to Marcy. It was apparent to me now, if It hadn’t been to me then, that the first time I did Marcy I had the luxury of doing it in the midst of a drought. Hiking Marcy without its infamous mud is akin to seeing a present-day performance by The Doors without Jim Morrison; in either case an indispensable component of the experience is missing. As was the case the first time, I huffed and puffed the final stretch to the summit. The reason the final bit is so exerting may have to do with the elevation — Marcy does stand a mile high and I awoke this morning in a bed damn near sea level. Did I have enough time to acclimate to the increase in elevation? My frail ego will chalk it up to the elevation increase and not to my probable shoddy conditioning.

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The day’s itinerary.

This second time around it was quite blustery at the top. I was greeted by the same summit steward I had met on my maiden voyage to the state’s tallest peak back in September. She snapped my picture and gave me pointers for the journey into the expanse of unknown which lay before me. She told me to veer to the left on the way down Marcy’s southern face and to heed the cairns. What did I do? I hung to the right and gave short shrift to the cairns. A hiker some ways down bellowed “get over to the left.” I carefully crossed over kicking aside treacherous scree. The way down to Four Corners — which lies at the col of Marcy and Skylight and is intersected by the trail running from Panther Gorge to Lake Tear of the Clouds —was, as predicted, wet. The trail up to Skylight was more or less a stream but a straightforward climb. No nifty ledges to break the pace.

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Marcy’s southern slope from around Schofield Cobble.

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Marcy and Haystack.

The summit of Skylight is exquisite. It does not come to a point but is so rounded as if to seem flat. It is also home to two colossal cairns. The legend goes that if a hiker does not carry a rock to the top, it will surely rain. I decided to test this theory but subsequent rock-toting hikers would have surely foiled the experiment. When it comes to strange weather phenomena, Skylight has its fair share. The unique shape of the mountain must play a part in it. One of my friends recounted an experience on Skylight when a mini, waist-high cyclone funneled on by … on a lovely, cloudless day. Whether I’m right or not, I picture a circulating current of air from which Warner Bros.’ Tasmanian Devil would have been wont to have sprung.

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Scarred Marcy and the breadth of the Upper Great Range from Skylight.

The view from Skylight speaks to its distance and seclusion. Marcy soars to the north in relative proximity, its Panther Gorge facing facade prominently scrapped, but many of the other big players, while identifiable, are not as intimate. No hiker would mistake Skylight for a centrally located High Peak — it is, after all, just about an odyssey from any trailhead. Nonetheless, the summit ranks among the best and rewards those for the effort (not every High Peak is as considerate).

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Placid Lake Tear of the Clouds.

Lake Tear of the Clouds is a short jaunt from Four Corners. A bucolic pool of alpine water in the shadow of Mount Marcy, Lake Tear is “regarded” as the highest source of the Hudson River. However, the Opalescent, the river into which the water from Lake Tear via Feldspar Brook eventually flows, has a higher stem a few miles north. Still, Lake Tear is, for all intents and purposes, a historical site. Inarguably our coolest Commander in Chief (for no other reason than he climbed in the ‘Daks), Theodore Roosevelt, was told, on the shores of Lake Tear, that President McKinley’s condition had taken a turn for the worse. If he was anything like an aspiring Forty-Sixer he would have finished the hike by his own power (so it would count) before rushing to be sworn in. While Lake Tear may not be the highest source of the Hudson River, it is undoubtedly one of the river’s highest sources. I straddled the modest brook at the mouth of the lake; a pass of it is necessary to access the herd path to Gray Peak. Here at 4,295 feet, this water three times the elevation of the Empire State Building it will fatefully flow past in the harbor of New York City.

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Less intimidating route stage right.

There was a moment of confusion early on the Gray Peak herd path. The trail descended a sheer slab rock. I headed back towards Lake Tear unsure if I was on the herd path and afraid to commit in the event I wasn’t. After some thought I chose to proceed beyond that point and a reassuring climb commenced thereafter. Gray is a case study for trail widening. Every one of Gray’s menacing rock faces had a mud laden path off to the side. The summit of Gray is underrated. There are two windows. One with a view to the southeast, towards Skylight, the other with a view to the northwest, towards the Macs. I briefly savored the feat and ingested my first thing since breakfast, a macadamia Clif Bar.

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“The King” as seen from the summit of Gray Peak.

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Looking northwest towards the MacIntyre Range from Gray.

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Skylight, 4th tallest mountain in New York, from Gray Peak. Lake Tear in foreground.

Being at the “aphelion” of the hike and daylight swiftly waning, I had no choice but to head back. I chose to make a loop of the trip instead of returning back over Marcy. This involved crossing the Opalescent bog I once, after missing the turn-off to Colden, swam in. This time I negotiated the floating bridges with due diligence and kept myself afloat. Beyond this point, my legs were weary and every rock was a pest.

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Floating Bridge of indeterminable notoriety.

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Expiring moments of a memorable day: Colden from Marcy Dam at twilight.

I snapped a shot of a gloaming Colden from Marcy Dam. The remaining 2+ miles to Heart Lake were done in the dark. I furnished my brow with a lamp and picked up a tree branch, a readying clutch to ward off a marauding bear. In spite of my familiarity with every square inch of dirt on this trail, it was a different animal at night. I periodically stubbed my toes on rocks and got tripped up by roots. My concerns of being an early and effortless dinner for a wild beast were assuaged as I caught up with party of hikers returning from their adventures. One of them would ask me for a lift back to his car down the road. I obliged as a form of recompense for the comfortable final mile in the company of others.

I had a hankering for breakfast fare and knew where it could be slaked. At Noonmark Diner, I made a point of consuming all the calories I had striven throughout the day to exhaust.