Sunday, May 26, 2013

High Peaks serve up the best back country tests

(Scroll down for photos.) Last weekend we shouldered our 40+ pound backpacks and set off on a 3-day back country excursion in the Adirondack High Peak's wilderness. As usual, we carried our tent, sleeping bags, kitchen, the mandatory bear barrels with food, essential toiletries, first aid and clothing to suit every weather with a couple of extra bits just in case.

Friday night we made great time driving to Lake Placid (3 hours), got  dinner at the local brew pub and checked in at the Alpine Air motel, as it was too late to find a camp site. The next morning, we set off from the South Meadows area, about 2 miles from the Adirondack Loj, and hiked to Bushnell Falls via the Klondike Trail and John Brook Lodge. The 7 miles (just over 11 km) took about 5 hours: the hiking has some attention-getting uphill sections and enough blown down trees covering the trail to slow us down a bit. Of course, we took a couple of fine breaks along the way. Furthermore, the first bridge has been washed out for a while (Hurricane Irene I think), so we  forded the river which tends to slow things down a tiny bit, too. The good news: crews were rebuilding the bridge and it should be finished by now!

Bushnell Falls area has two lean-tos a few hundred yards and a river apart. We went to Number 2 which has a designated camp site beside a mountain stream;  we were all set. After setting up and settling in we took an hour to head back to the actual Bushnell Falls, a few hundred yards from our camp, and down a steep, muddy embankment. The falls are pretty and Jan made a sport of climbing around them in her ancient sandals ... because up close and personal is always better. A fun excursion spent trying to take interesting quality photos of moving water.

We settled in to our sleeping bags even before dark and soon fell asleep happy to be out there, on our own, self-sufficient, in gorgeous wilderness.

The next day, we set our sights on Haystack, the 3rd highest 46er with 4,960 feet. We had heard that there would be snow - up to 4 feet - above 3,500 feet. It was hard to image given the summer weather we had been having. But then, there was much late winter snow that we had enjoyed in Ottawa, too. Indeed, once we passed Slant Rock we began to spot snow and as we ascended further, deep snow covered the trail. The spring melt water had been burrowing pathways across the trail underneath the snow pack. We broke through in places as the snow bridges were becoming less stable. The hiking toward summits is steep and slow. It took about 3 hours to get up Little Haystack. Just as we arrived dark clouds started rolling in. The change in weather was fast with visibility quickly reduced; when we reached the summit of Haystack, we could see just a few feet ahead and certainly no longer all the way across to Little Haystack, nor could we see any part of Mount Marcy.

Quick summit photos taken, we set out for the return to camp. A ranger had suggested that instead of crossing Haystack, descending its south side and returning along a path said to be quite difficult at the best of times - and likely treacherous with the snow and ice resulting in much challenging post holing - that we could take Shorey's Shortcut for variety. The way we hiked it, this is not a shortcut at all, quite the opposite, but it was different. Indeed, if we thought we struggled uphill through the snowy path, the downhill on Shorey was even more challenging. We applied all our snow travel skills, digging in heel first and post holed frequently as the snow bridges frequently gave way. Due to the trail's steepness with large boulders strewn everywhere, I went in more than hip-deep in a few spots struggling to gain solid ground again. With the rain falling, the snow and run-off beneath, we both got wet through and through. Perhaps needless to  say, the descent took as long as the way up. That is one of the things about the High Peak's: you can't assume that down is faster given the technically difficult terrain.

We made it back to camp safely after about 7 hours covering about 8 miles (13 km) and traversing about 2,000 vertical feet. By now we were completely soaked through and knew we'd get cold as soon as we stopped moving. We quickly decided to use the lean to until we would go to sleep in our tent. We boiled up water for tea as we changed into dry, warm clothes. Then we made dinner and tried to find a way to dry out our hiking boots that were wet inside and out. (see solution below)

With the challenges of the day, so rises the elation. Especially, since we were well equipped and had the sole use of the lean-to, we could review with relish the day's adventures and accomplishments.

The next morning, the rain let up. We packed up, wet clothes off the line making for some extra weight, and set off for the return to our car. The hike out felt easy in comparison to hiking Haystack. We enjoyed the effort and felt awesome after our last ford at South Meadows.
Jan explores her camera's settings. Result: beautiful!

Lunch near Klondike Lean-to on hike in.
Bushnell Falls and Jan.

First big snow.
Jan navigates the snowy path ably.
Clouds move in fast over Haystack.
Haystack summit, really! Just us and the thick clouds.
A tea light for every boot. This actually worked pretty well
to dry them out for a few hours.

Improvised clothes line to store our dry clothes for the night.

Back in the meadow steps from our car. Happy.

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