It was a great hike and vacation. The memories I will take with me until I breathe my last. Dare I say, if heaven doesn’t have a glimpse of the beauty of this region that I witnessed on earth…..well, then I’ll have to accept a piece of heaven was indeed on earth.
In 2020 I plan to return to hike and camp in an area called “Pharoah Mountain Wilderness Area” It was the area of the park my family camped and hiked when I was a teenager and boy going back to the 1970’s. I plan to spend a week traversing mountains, bushwhacking up-stream to remote ponds and reflecting.
Some Answers to questions you may be having…..
What about water during this hike?
The Adirondacks are blessed with ample water. Plenty of water along this whole trail from streams, brooks, rivers, ponds and lakes. Beaver-fever is rampant though, you can get a bad case of “tummy ache and the runs” from drinking it (beavers, bears, deer and moose peeing or defecating in the water)…….though I never had a problem as boy and teenager when I took gulps of this water while hiking or swimming. However, on this hike I had purification tablets made for the British Army. One tablet in a liter of water which my canteen just happened to be, shake……let set for a half hour….safe to drink. Does not protect from mercury or arsenic contamination. Not a problem here.
Hiking and camping in the California mountains; water is more of an issue there or in the foothills / chaparral. Mercury from all the gold mining has made much water unsafe to drink. Lakes and streams are also fewer and more far between. In California, I “pack” a bladder of water that fits in the backpack, holds way more than a canteen but heavy. Even with tablets, I usually boil water rolling for five minutes out here, especially in the foothills….or some would call ‘gold country’
How about bathing?
Stripped down pretty much every other day and jumped in a pond, lake, or deeper stream. COLD. Even in June. The water was about 45-50 degrees. The standard bar of Ivory Soap which is the safest soap environmentally to use out in the woods to wash, even your hair….and it floats! Wasn’t worried about anyone seeing me. I did get a leech on my one leg one night, burned it off.
Sometimes it wasn’t always at camp I made. One day…..it was mid morning at the Sacandaga River. I washed, bathed, and took an early lunch……….got dressed and hit the trail again.
Mosquitoes? Black flies? Horse flies?
In June black fly season is starting to wane, mosquitoes are everywhere. Horse flies / deer flies are starting up but July / August is when they peak. I used “Ol’ Woodsman” repellent. It smells like fishing tackle, tar, pine pitch, creosote, pine needles and 1960’s camping. It’s a black liquid, but wipes on clear. Works very well. It’s what I always have used when camping back there. The mosquitoes would “halo” around you in a thick cloud when you stopped walking, but while sweating, the repellent would sometimes smear, sweat or rub off……..and they would attack that spot. Some areas on the trail were worse than others. I had to break out “netting” only one evening over my face. I also would throw on the fire every night if they were a little worse than usual, a fresh hemlock bough…..mosquitoes don’t like that smoke smell.
My Scout jackshirt, hiking shirts, and shorts / pants STILL smell like “ol woodsman” even after many washings. Even after a year! I like it. It smells like The Adirondacks. One night after a bath in Spruce Lake during the hike. I came out. Clean. Ahhhhhhhhhh….all that repellent washed off, dirt, sweat…..but you could still smell a hint of it on me…….I was then attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes! On went a fresh coat. Yes, a pest but it did not take away from the experience.
Mosquitoes in California are not as vicious.
Were you scared?
I’d be a liar if I said no. I am a city boy now and have been since moving to California. I have camped extensively out here with the Boy Scouts…..and I was more worried in that situation as a papa bear watching the cubs. I will admit, especially the first few nights…..it was hard going to sleep on the trail. Here I was ten, twenty…..forty, fifty miles from any road or town….by myself.
It did get easier as the hike progressed.
I was more scared about straining an ankle, or breaking a bone. I had a flare gun with six charges. I made sure I signed in at all registers along the trail.
When I left Cedar Lakes, in the West Canada Lake Wilderness Area…….it started to rain. Then harder. Then deluge. No letting up. I covered the pack, got out the hat, my jackshirt I oiled with mink oil before the hike, water beaded up on it…..for awhile. The trail got soggy and muddy. Travel was slow. All the feeder streams that crossed the trail flooded. I had to bushwhack. Take detours. Thunder. Lightening. At one point. I stopped. Broke out the map……figured I had a mile or so to the next lean-to, probably less. I would get there, make camp. Travel got slower. Really slow. Rain was hard. My feet were soaked. The waterlogged jack-shirt was getting my hiking shirt wet and my fingertips were getting a little numb.
I had a cigarette, muttered a bunch of profanities to the uncomprehending trees. All I heard was rain on the leaves and on my pack, my hat was soaked………I was starting to shiver. I sat down. Cleared my head. Okay. Set my watch. If I don’t make that lean-to in the next half hour. I am going to have to make camp on the trail. get inside the tent and just get warm in the sleeping bag. As fate would have it…….about ten minutes later…..the lean-to showed up. What a sight of relief! My situation was WET and I made no time that day…but I knew I was going to be dry. After getting out of my wet clothing……the rain slowed, then slowly stopped within an hour. Cold and damp the rest of the day, and night though. Got the clothing dry. I had backup clothing, mostly socks.
I was scared. It was still ten miles to the ranger station, and I was worried about getting a good fire going. Everything was wet. Being the Scout that I am……it worked out. But I was scared.
On my way from Duck Hole to Moose Pond…..my original plans were to finish the trail that day, only just over twelve miles to Lake Placid……..well…..it was foggy, and cloudy that morning. Humid. About a mile into the hike, the rain started again, it made the previous thunderstorm look like a sprinkle. The trail had blowdowns that I had to traverse, which is dangerous when wet………or bushwhack around and orienteer off the trail with a compass. The Moose River which followed the trail was boiling, deep, and the trail followed it…….causing the trail to be soaked. I was up to my ankles in mud on ‘good parts’ that I could still walk on.
I recall……….with the flashes of lightning, the echoing thunder in the mountains…..crawling under a tree that had blocked the trail. I got under the trunk. I just suddenly froze. I wanted to move. But couldn’t. I wasn’t stuck. It was out of pure, pure fear. A fear to just wail, cry and rail against the world and my situation. I forced myself to move. I got up, kept moving, but I was crying. The last lean-to was Moose Pond. Only five miles from Duck Hole. It took me ALL DAY to hike 4.8 miles. The trail was flooded. When I arrived at that lean-to I feel to my knees praising God for getting me through this.
Yeah, I was scared.
The forest can and will kill you. We are not pioneers anymore. Those men are gone. Even the modern-day survivalist needs food, fuel, supplies, amunition……hunting……yeah sure, ‘curing’ meat in the woods……sure you will……that same month I was in the Adirondacks…….three people had died in the park. You have to keep you head. One broken ankle out where I was could have been a catastrophe. I rested when I was tired. I pushed harder when I felt good. I kept hydrated. I also respected the forest.
What did you think about?
Mostly “time” and how quickly it goes, my mother at that point dead eight years. My father in his eighties. Me pushing fifty. Memories of the Adirondacks flooded me. Camping in the 1970’s near Ticonderoga…….Paul McCartney, Heart, Fleetwood Mac, the “Abbey Road” album and Supertramp always seeming to be on the radio………the way the light filtered through the trees. It’s different in California, the bronze water near the shore of a pond, and a crisp blue twenty feet out. The way the air smelled.
I thought about my own life. Wept over my past choices. Happy that I was “okay” again. Solace and peace just from a stream, lilly-pads on the small ponds………the trees, trees of my youth. It was great. I never once thought about California, or work or anything not relating to where I was at the moment.
Once in Lake Placid, at that convenience store waiting for my dad to pick me upo…..coffee never tasted so good! That instant stuff I had on the trail was nothing to compare it to! I ate a bunch of “Twinkees” too. Ah! Processed food! I ran out of cigarettes…….well, the last ten or so I had got soaked the day before………a fresh pack was purchased.
After I called my dad, he said “I’ll leave right now, give me just over two hours, I should be there”
It was surreal when dad pulled up in his 1989 Dodge truck……..he had it repainted professionally, so it looked new. He bought that truck the summer I finished high school. He never bought another one “When Dodge decides to build a decent truck again, I’ll get another……” He always said since the late 1990’s……in 2017, I guess that day had not come yet!
He got out. The door, making the “thud” unique to a Dodge when slammed closed………he was smiling. I got up, walked over. He shook my hand, gave me a ‘bro hug’ and said “You look great! I am so glad to see you…..really I am!”
I just said thanks.
He then said, “You smell like the Adirondacks, have to say……for once I am jealous!” He slapped me on the back…….”Come on, want some McDonalds?”
“You buying?” I asked while smiling. After dad and I always came back from camping, a canoe trip, a long hike together growing up……we always got McDonalds. I understood the moment he said it, and there was no other reply for me to make.
“Hey, you stink pretty bad….any respectable establishment here in this town would throw you out…..and scrub you pink with a toilet brush.”
We drove past the rink where the “miracle on ice” happened. Each of us watching it on TV about two hours south of where it happened back in 1980.
It wasn’t some TV “after school special” but my dad asked me a lot of questions about the hike. The trail. The woods. My dad was really excited to see the pictures. He said after we got “drive thru” in between mouthfuls of McDonalds…..
“I…….well, I was pacing the house the day that big storm swept through where you were hiking. I was on the Internet……on the “weather channel” webpage. Then, someone had died up on Ausable Pass / River while hiking. It was all over the Adirondack NBC affiliate in Plattsburgh. They also had a missing person in the Wolfjaw Wilderness. I………………..I was……..a bit worried about you. I knew you’d be okay…but, what the hell…..you’re my kid…….and to me, you still look like that teenager I brought up Mt. Marcy me with over thirty years ago. You’re still that boy who would ride in the back of the truck when we all went camping.”
It was the closest thing or way my dad would say “he had forgiven me” for my past. I guess the hike was a success. He mentioned “You’re mother would have been so tickled to death to see this right now. She would.”
We talked a lot more. He loved the pictures. He choked up a bit a few days later when he dropped me off at the airport to send me back to California.
But…..if I know my dad……..and I do. He finally had to acknowledge that “the boy” had done something he had not. I hiked The Northville-Placid Trail. It’s not a one-upper thing……but my dad has done everything or “could” have done it. He never hiked this trail…..and his son did it. From his excitement over the pictures that we put up on his big screen TV, you could tell………..he wished he could have shared “his” stories about this trail. For once, and in a good way……..he had to hear mine.
It was a great hike. Wish you could have been there. I will take the memories of this til I breathe my last.