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.
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.
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.
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.
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) ~
The view of the Macs not long before the col of Street and Nye.
The Santas from the summit of Street.
Indian Pass, still an estimable foe.
Pat on the shores of Heart Lake at twilight.