Backpacking in the Adirondacks|
August 10 - 15, 1977
Wednesday, Aug 10, 1977
Garden to Dry Brook - 2 miles The day arrived to the steady beat of rain on the bedroom windows. Not an auspicious start to our week of backpacking in the Adirondacks. Jeannette, Tim, Steve, Rich Blanco, Steve Rogers and I were to leave by 7:00 A.M. It would be necessary to tie 3 backpacks on the top of the car, which we couldn't do in the rain and still hope to at least begin our hike with dry equipment.
Rain threatened the whole trip up. We had lunch in Oswego and finally arrived at the Garden in Keene Valley; our jumping off spot. Rain began as we shouldered our packs but soon halted.
Tim and Steve R. headed for the tough Range Trail. Steve and Rich preceded Jeannette and me on the easier John's Brook Trail. We soon shed our raincoats as the rain had ceased and the humidity turned the forest into a steaming rain forest.
We found a camping spot near Dry Brook. We set up our tent and prepared dinner of macaroni and cheese. By the time the dishes were washed and our bear bag up in a tree it was quite dark. We were in our sleeping bags by 8:30. A couple of parties of late hikers went by, one banging a tin pot to warn the bears.
During the night we heard an animal sound; a low, rising whistle we were not able to identify.
Thursday, Aug 11
Dry Brook to Opalescent - 9.22 miles
We got up about 8:00 Thursday morning. After a breakfast of bacon and eggs we were on the tail at 9:10 A.M. Within a short and easy hike we were at John's Brook Lodge and ranger station where we studied our map and talked with an ADK (Adirondack Hiking Club) ridge runner. At Bushnell Falls we took a short, but steep, side trail to see the falls where we rested and ate an orange.
Shortly, the tail divided. We followed the trail to our left across the brook toward Slant Rock.
Now the trail began to ascend and became more rugged. It seemed tough but looking back from trails we walked later in the day it was but a mild introduction.
We gratefully stopped for lunch at Slant Rock leanto. The side is dominated by a gigantic boulder, with one face beveled to provide a natural shelter. The leanto was occupied at the time by a couple who were out for about 3 days.
From Slant Rock a view of the magnificent cliffs of Little Marcy is afforded, towering in the sky. One's feeling for the scene is somewhat dampened by the realization that our immediate goal; the summit of Mount Marcy, though unseen from this point, towers another thousand feet higher than these cliffs.
Now the ascent began in earnest. The trail became increasingly more rugged. The trails in the High Peaks are characterized by great rocks, torturous, twining tree roots, water (every trail runs like a small brook) and ---mud. Forward progress is now agonizingly slow. We now require an hour and a half to two hours to cover a mile.
The summit of Marcy was to be the first rendezvous with the four boys. We saw the silhouettes of Steve and Rich against the sky. They clambered down to meet us and Steve carried Jeannette's pack the remaining distance to the top.
Mount Marcy is the highest peak in New York State (5,344 ft.). It must always be cold and always windy at its top. We quickly dug out our sweatshirts and found shelter in a niche in the rocks.
Steve and Rich had been waiting for us since 1:00. It being 4:10 when we arrived, we talked with them, established our next rendezvous for Sunday evening at Slant Rock, and they were on their way for a campsite at the Opalescent River.
The arrangements were such that we would meet at the summit between 2:00 and 5:00. After that, we would continue to Lake Tear of the Clouds and make camp and there meet anyone who hadn't made it to Marcy by 5:00. We were not surprised that Tim and Steve R. were not at Marcy, what with the extreme ruggedness of the Range Trail. Accordingly, we left the summit at about 5:10 and began the descent to Lake Tear. The last quarter of mile to the leanto at Lake Tear was a veritable swamp, and we arrived at the leanto with a great splash.
The site was well occupied, so, thinking that we would find a tent site not far along the trail, we continued.
Never were we more mistaken. The trail led steeply downward, the trail a morass of rock, root and mud, bordered by a spruce forest, thick as any jungle. Feldspar Brook, the outlet of Lake Tear of the Clouds and the highest source of the Hudson River, rushed through a gorge far below us to our right.
Darkness was coming and we were extremely tired. We were desperately looking for a site when at last we spotted a small, mossy spot just about the size of our tent. We gratefully shed our packs and pitched our tent. Jeannette crawled in the tent, spread the sleeping bags and undressed for the night while I began to make tea. In the half darkness I looked back up the trail and saw Tim tramping along to meet us.
He had left Steve R. behind in order to make the rendezvous; Steve R. with the tent, Tim with the food. Tim, too, was very tired and was glad for a cup of tea. We ate nothing but a Granola bar and climbed into our sleeping bags, Tim spreading his beside ours in the tent.
Friday, Aug 12, 1977
Opalescent to Lake Tear - 1.00 mile
During the night the rain came. Each time I awoke it was pounding on the tent roof, its sound mingled with the roar of the Feldspar Brook, just a few yards away. By the time we awoke the rain had ceased, but even though we remained dry in our tent, a wet tent, wet backpacks, rope, plastic ground cloth, etc., etc. are not the easiest to handle.
Breakfast made up for the lack of dinner of the previous night. Pancakes, syrup, tea and coffee are great in a cold stomach.
Tim was soon packed and away to find Steve R. someplace along the trail. Under a dark and threatening sky we completed our packing, put on our raincoats, shouldered our packs and started back up the trail to Lake Tear. And the rain came again! We seemed to be moving up into the cloud as we ascended the mountainside, while the rain came down to meet us. What had been puddles in the trail the night before, were ponds this morning, and the trail was a running creek.
A number of tent sites are located in the area, but most seemed to be underwater. We began to feel that we were surrounded by a sea of mud. If our ancestors long ago crawled out of the primeval mud, we felt that we were about to slither back to our ancestral home.
At about the same time, Tim appeared with the missing Steve Rogers, and the cloud lifted, giving a glorious view of the great rock cone of Mount Marcy.
Tim had met Steve R. on the summit of Marcy. Steve's tent was soaked through, since the ground cloth had been with Tim. We all searched about and found two good and reasonably dry tent sites. We pitched our tent, Tim and Steve R. suspended theirs between two trees to dry. Then, glory of glories, the sun broke through the clouds. We strung our rope and hung everything out to dry. We had a lunch of instant hash browns and fried Spam, spent a relaxing afternoon reading, writing and observing the high mountain peaks with the tiny gem of a lake nestled in their midst. Dinner was Spam sandwiches, a cup of soup and a cup of tea. Then to our tent to read and listen to the song of the white-throated sparrow as the light faded away.
Saturday, Aug 13, 1977 Lake Tear to Panther Gorge via Skylight - 2.47 miles
Saturday morning dawned with a brilliant blue sky. We breakfasted on instant oatmeal (not a favorite of either of us). We were on our way at 10:20, before the boys were packed up. When we reached the Four Corners, some of the people who had been in the leanto met us, having made an early morning trek to the top of Mt. Skylight (4,926 ft.). They were so enthusiastic about the view on this beautiful morning that we decided to leave our packs among the trees and take a side trip. We reached the top of Skylight about 10:45. We were presented with a full circle panorama of the Adirondacks: Marcy, the giant of them all dominating the aspect to the north, with Whiteface far in the distance over Marcy's left shoulder. We first saw here the precipitous cliffs dropping from Marcy and Haystack to the depths of Panther gorge, our goal for today's walk. Sawtooth, aptly named, ranged to the east with the Green Mountains of Vermont a hazy blue in the distance. To the west was the great cone of Algonquin, with its slightly smaller neighbor, Mt. Colden, in front of it.
Soon Tim and Steve R. arrived. Their plans also included another ascent of Marcy before joining us in Panther Gorge. We left them on the top, returned to pick up our packs and continued the trail to Panther Gorge.
About 2 hours later we arrived at the Panther Gorge leanto. The path was fairly easy, but with a continuous descent. The drop in elevation from the peak of Marcy to the gorge at its feet is 2,100 feet. We pitched our camp along the shores of icy Marcy Brook. We were joined shortly by Tim and Steve R., had lunch and spent the afternoon lounging on a huge rock at the side of the brook.
The clouds were scudding rapidly overhead as evening approached. We were all anxiously surveying the sky, searching for a portent of tomorrow's weather. Tim built a campfire around which the four of us sat, Tim and Steve R. long after Jeannette and I retired.
Sunday, Aug 14, 1977
Panther Gorge to Bushnell Falls via Haystack - 4.61 miles
During the night the bane of the backpacker struck again---rain. This time accompanied by lightning and thunder rolling and reverberating among the mountains.
By morning the rain had stopped, but the clouds hung low in the sky, hiding all but the feet of the nearby mountains. We fried pancakes and began preparations to break camp, since we were all to rendezvous at Slant Rock that afternoon.
Tim and Steve R. had pitched their tent on a level but low spot and had been thoroughly flooded during the night. They hung out sleeping bags and tent on the unlikely chance of drying during the morning. Jeannette and I left them and began our hike to Slant Rock at about 9:30.
As we set out, the sun made a few feeble attempts to break through the cloud, giving us false encouragement regarding the weather prospects for the day.
The trail to Slant Rock from Panther Gorge lies directly over the summits of Mount Haystack (4,960 ft.) and Mount Little Haystack. The Guide Book calls the trail up Haystack the most difficult in the High Peaks. Accordingly, we determined to give ourselves plenty of time and be easy on ourselves. This worked well, for, although the trail was difficult, we reached timberline without being unduly wearied.
At this point the rain began again. In the protection of the scrubby spruces at the tree line we got on our rain coats. As we began climbing the bare rock toward the summit, the trail now marked by cairns, the rain came in earnest. Here on the mountain top the wind was sweeping viciously. We were of course, in the midst of the cloud, which the wind was sweeping violently across the mountain, the variation in thickness of the cloud rapidly and fantastically altering our field of vision; now limited barely to the next rock cairn, now suddenly opening to give us a view of the awesome depths of Panther Gorge on our left with the fierce, sheer cliffs of Marcy forming its far wall.
Here we met a fellow traveler; a man in his twenties, who, having crossed the mountain before, offered to guide us since the markers often disappeared in the cloud and rain.
As we crossed the very summit the wild rain now changed to sleet and snow, the wind howled, and thunder echoed among the cliffs. Such a wild and desolate scene made one feel that one was standing at the beginning of the world. It was an experience one would not ordinarily walk into purposely, but would not trade for anything.
Down the side of Haystack, up over the rocky hump of Little Haystack and again into the protection of the trees. The time from treeline to treeline was about a half hour.
Now our trail is down hill continuously. We arrived at Slant Rock in a driving rain. The leanto was full of people waiting out the rain. Just across the rushing stream we spotted Steve's new green tent. We looked in and, there, dry and cozy, were Steve and Rich, munching on crackers and peanut butter. We, of course, about as wet as could be.
We joined the 10 people in the leanto where we talked with them and watched the rain continue. In about an hour Tim and Steve R. arrived. Steve R. was all for continuing the remaining 7 miles to the car and home. A conference followed. We decided that we could just make it out by dark, and then a 6 hour drive to Brockport. With Tim and Steve R. soaked, and the leanto filled, it seemed that there was little else to do.
Jeannette and I started immediately, Tim and Steve R. remaining while Steve and Rich broke camp.
To Steve and Rich goes first prize for camping skills. They kept dry and relatively clean. A man in the leanto commented regarding how efficient they were when they arrived. They picked the best site, worked together to set up the tent quickly, carefully covered their packs, and were in the tent by the time the rain hit. It seemed a pity to ask them to break camp now, but both were cheerful about it.
We covered about 2 miles when the boys caught up with us. At this time we were at Bushnell's Falls and right by a leanto which was empty. To whom the idea first came I don't know, but it seemed a good idea to everyone to spend the night there.
Out of the jumble of wet equipment and people we got ground cloths spread on the floor, Tim's and Steve R.'s sleeping bags hung up, dinner prepared and eaten and a good roaring fire (in spite of wet wood) in front of the shelter. Several red squirrels and chipmunks kept us entertained by competing for cracker crumbs. By the time we laid our sleeping bags out (6 of them, side by side, reached wall-to-wall) we were all feeling much better and the wet bags were even somewhat drier.
The rain came at intervals during the evening; sometimes very hard. In spite of an evening of the kind of hilarity to be expected with four teen-aged boys together, we all at last drifted off to sleep.
Monday, Aug 15, 1977
Bushnell Falls to Garden - 5.00 miles
I awoke early, before the sun rose. I got up, pulled on my wet jeans and boots and began to make coffee. The air was cold, but the sun arose in brilliant brightness. Mist rising from the watery forest floor funneled the sunlight in golden beams through the leaves.
Again, Jeannette and I set our first, knowing that the boys would set a much faster pace. Five miles lay between us and the car, but the trail now was wider, smoother and more level. The boys caught up with us at John's Brook Lodge, about two miles along the trail.
As we neared Keene Valley, we met more and more hikers just beginning their outing, some with packs, some day-hikers. We, the wet, the dirty, the unshaven, the unwashed mountain-folk, felt a smug superiority to those tender clean neophytes we met; the sort of feeling the battle seasoned veteran must have for the nervous new recruits joining the regiment.
At last we arrived at the Garden where our car was parked, 5 nights, nearly 6 days, about 25 miles and innumerable climbs, rocks, roots and mud holes from the time we left our car.
Backpacking is not for those who want a physically relaxing vacation. It is for those who love the exhilaration of weary muscles; to whom there is a challenge of meeting nature without the cushioning protection of the artifices of civilization. For those to whom the knowledge that one is so far in the back country that it would be impossible to reach any of the comforts of civilization in less than two days lends significance to their own existence and abilities. It is for those for whom the usual camping area, now dominated by motor homes and patio lights, has lost all its charm. It is for those to whom it is important that there always remain that which is natural and wild and free.