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Archive for October, 2011

The next weekend after we managed to get the two more remote  peaks in the Seward Range, JT and I set out again for the other two: Seward and  Seymour.  No one else opted to go with us after our last trip story at the SUOC meeting.

The CV joint had started to get pretty bad on JT’s car; when we  drove on the highway the week before, we really couldn’t hear each other talking and had opted to blast music over the loud sound.  Instead, this week, we both drove each of our
cars to JT’s house where his brother, a mechanic, would look it over and we would take my car up to the Sewards.   Since we left late, we knew we would end up hiking in, at least partly,  in the dark.  When we hit Corey’s Road, we went along to the “road closed” sign like the week before and we parked my car before it and examined the road to  see if we could get my car to go the extra two miles so we didn’t have to road walk a total extra of four miles.  That  just did not seem appealing.  Then we  noticed that where we had parked, we saw at minimum six signs saying no parking so the snowplows could turn around.  Now we had a true dilemma: park, walk an extra four miles and possibly have my car towed, or go the extra two miles and risk getting my car stuck on the side or in the parking lot near the gate.  While  we debated these two terrible options, a jeep rolled out slowly — with  Pennsylvania plates — and we stopped them to ask about the conditions of the road further down.  The man stopped and told us that it’s doable, but parts had quite a bit of slush on it.  As he tried to leave, the jeep seemed to stall out unexpectedly and he seemed to have a hard time getting it to start and go again.  As we almost went to help him, he got it started and left.

“Ok, first off,” JT started, “Jeeps are terrible in snow.  Second, he’s from Pennsylvania.  Third, I don’t want to walk the road more than we already have to.”

I was a little reluctant, but decided to try it.

“Just get over the bump and if you can’t get over that part, it will be easy to push you back here.   Plus, we have crampons!” JT said.

So off we went, past the “road closed” sign to the gate.  It actually went pretty well and we made it just fine to the rather soggy parking lot.   Pleased with ourselves, got our boots on and set off down our three-mile  road walk that we remembered all too well from the previous week.  It did not take long and we remembered  landmarks to let us know how far we had gone.  We found, to our pleasant surprise, less snow on the road.  Once we hit the trailhead, we took a snack, get the headlamp ready, and put on the snowshoes break.   We set off and once we hit the junction of the foot trail or the horse  trail, we went down the foot trail.   Instead of doing the winter route, we planned on using the summer route
up Seward because it would be easier to hit Seymour that way.  Even in the winter, one would have to take  the summer route over to it.  We joked at  the discrepancy between the mileage amounts between the DEC signs and Adirondack
Journey — and then even between the DEC signs themselves.  Basically, we had to go anywhere between 3.8  and 4.5 miles to the Blueberry lean-to.

As we strolled down the path, we found ourselves quite annoyed  because we kept taking off the snowshoes and putting them back on again due to  large stretches without snow full of mud.   After we finally had to put the snowshoes back on for the last time that night, we started finding things in the spring melt.  This might be the only saving grace to spring  hiking while the snow melts: everything people lost in the winter and could not  find due to high levels of snow appears again!
We hit the jackpot with our first finding, a pill bottle full of green goodness!  What a find!  As we kept walking, our next discovery was a  belt.  Neither of us particularly wanted  it, nor did we really want to carry it out.   After a little deliberation, we decided to leave it there and pick it up on the way out if we saw it.  The sun had  set somewhere in our period of discovery and our last finding while walking was  a full blue nalgene with the water unfrozen.   While we both felt weird about packing out someone’s nalgene, we decided to pack it to the shelter and use the water for cooking.  Since we had no idea if the water had been treated, we figured we’d just boil the shit out of it and then cook  dinner.

Once we finally hit the lean-to, we unpacked and began cooking  dinner.  While waiting for our found water to boil, I heard a strange noise.   “Is that you?” I asked JT.

Looking perplexed he said, “No, I thought it was you.”

We both fell silent and listened.   Something was definitely making noise under the lean-to.  It sounded like the animal was chewing on the wood.  Then deja vu set in.  I had heard that sound before.  Now just to place it.  Aha!  I  heard it on the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts in the Tom Lenardi  shelter!  What was that thing?  It looked like a zombie.  As I went though this stream of consciousness out loud, JT tried to guess the animal.

“A skunk?” he tried.

“No.”

“A raccoon?”

“No.”

“A woodchuck?”

“No,” I found myself perplexed with the name right on my  tongue.  “Go check it out while I cook  dinner.”

“How am I going to check it out?   There is snow everywhere,” JT started.

“Just go bend down and look by one of the sides where it probably got under,” I said stirring the couscous.

As he started to go over I remembered, “A porcupine!” I said, excited that I remembered.

JT stopped, “You wanted me to stick my face by a porcupine?!  You know they can shoot needles!”

“Oops.  I forgot about that part,” I laughed.  “Dinner’s ready  though.”

“Really?  You couldn’t  remember a porcupine?  Seriously?”  He kept mulling it over.

“Where’s your spoon?”  I  said.

“Porcupines aren’t zombielike,” JT kept going.

After eating a late dinner and making use of some of the green goodness, we fell asleep to the sounds of a porcupine underneath us, hoping it  would not decide to come out.  When we woke up, we found a brilliantly sunny and warm day.  So warm, that we both had to take off layers almost immediately.  I only hiked in my base layer because with the pants on, my legs overheated.  We headed for Seymour first.  Of the two, Seymour was supposedly the easiest.  Find the path, then go up, basically.  As we went in search of the herd path, we found the Seward path almost immediately, far quicker than we expected.  Not too long after that, we hit the Ward Brook lean-to and then a path going off to the right.  Because we had not gone far, we doubted if it was indeed the path for Seymour, so we kept going a bit, just to check.  When all the evidence of other people walking went away quickly, we determined it was.  As we began following it, we peeled more layers off.  Running into a few confusing areas evident of people in the past walking in two different ways, we found the path most  traveled each time.  Somewhere between a third and half of the way up, we found a snack log to stop for a few  minutes.  The sun shone brightly and no  clouds blocked out views.

Continuing onward, we followed the herd path most of the way up,  until we realized we lost it somewhere.  Instead of trying to find it, we noticed that we were pretty close to  the top and we just went up in the least resistant way.  After the previous week’s bushwhack, we tried  to avoid thick cripplebrush.  We saw a  more open area off to the east, so we headed up and east.  This proved to be a magnificent decision  because it gave us spectacular views of the inner peaks.  The outer peaks, such as the Sewards can  offer such views of the usually higher, more travelled inner peaks.

We reached the summit in no time and had a small snack.  Offering no solid view, we peered through the  trees, bare from winter, to see a bit.   Deciding to eat lunch at the Ward Brook shelter to have more energy  going up Seward, we headed down Seymour.

Once we hit the shelter between the herd paths for the two  mountains, we found some water and ate lunch examining the map.  This time we had drawn the trails on the map  from the internet so we at least had an idea of where they should lay.  JT dried his shirt of sweat on his hiking poles in the sun as well.  It really had  gotten that warm.  So much so that we both noticed that our tracks going up Seymour had melted almost away by the time we came down.  After about an hour’s lunch break, we set off for JT’s 46th peak  and my 41st: Seward.  It proved to be one  of the hardest fought peaks either of us did.   With great enthusiasm, more on JT’s part than mine, we set off along the  summer route up the mountain.

Within about 100 yards, maybe  a little more, we lost the herd path.   Both of suspected we would end up bushwhacking, but neither of us  expected to lose the herd path that quickly.   We wandered around trying to find it a few times.  Perplexed we reread the guidebook’s description:   follow the stream up until its end, hit a cliff, go left until you can climb up easily and the summit is a ten minute walk.  Hmmm.  This should not be  difficult.

In our wanderings, we found a freshly slain deer in a pit and coyote footprints, hair, and poop surrounding it.  Looking around, we realized why — higher on both sides of us, the coyotes probably preyed down on the deer as it went
through the deer run.  We saw its full  spine and heart sitting there in the pit and the blood all around it in the  murky water.

Moving on, we continued to follow the stream as best we could until the brush got annoyingly thick.   Thinking, we had to move left at some point, we tried moving left a bit earlier and began bushwhacking through the most open path we could find.  We tried walking over an unbelievable amount of spruce traps, falling in a few of them.   Frustrated, we paused and talked through a plan.  After some deliberation, we went back toward  the stream and tried to follow it a bit more closely since we had gone so far left we could barely hear it anymore.

Not too long afterward, the brush became too thick again and we found ourselves forced left again.  Once we got a view of the mountains to the north/northeast of us, we tried to  pinpoint where we were and guess our elevation.
Unfortunately, we had not gained much elevation and thought we had over a thousand feet to go.  Frustrated, we  decided to just go toward the most open path.   Occasionally we found a little ribbon tied to trees and thought we might  as well follow that.  We even found part of a plastic bag tied to one.  Then, JT  found a Sunto visor on the ground and tried to convince me that we should go  that way since people had been there before.

Pushing on, we found another drainage to the east of the one  where the herd path supposedly was.   Pondering our options, we decided to just follow this drainage up  because a.) it was clear, b.) it went up, c.) it was still frozen over and we
could walk more quickly.  At a few points we could hear water underneath us and we hoped the snow wouldn’t break through.

For the first time in a while, we found ourselves making progress.  Then it opened up and we could  see what we thought was the summit.  The  only thing in our way was a large 300 foot (or so) slide covered in a  significant amount of snow.  We took a  snack break as we checked the snow pack because we knew this could take a lot of energy.

JT started upward, kicking in large steps.  He yelled down that it was difficult, but the  snow held just fine.  The only issue was that it stuck to the snow shoes making them much heavier, the same problem as last week.  Every few steps we had to  lift each snowshoe and either shake it or hit it with a hiking pole for the sticky snow to release.  We went one at a  time up the steep sections so we didn’t overload the snow.  Forty-five minutes later and me getting slightly freaked out, we
reached the top of the slide.  Looking behind it, we got some of the most spectacular views that I have seen in the High Peaks region.  All because we weren’t anywhere near the trail.

As we paused to take the views in, we also noted the cripplebrush we would have to plow through up to the summit.   The profanities began to drop as we climbed through trees, over spruce  traps, under large branches, and over five false summits.  Yes, five.   When we got to the last one, both of us thought the next one was actually  lower than the one we stood upon until JT spotted the familiar yellow  disk…about two feet above the snow pack about 40 feet away.  We clamored over to it and took a sigh of relief.  We had 360 degree views because we stood on at least five feet of snow.  We laughed  that the yellow disks are usually about two feet above my head in summer  conditions.  It had taken us five hours  to bushwhack up what should have been a two-ish mile trail.

JT sat on his pack and drank the 22 he brought up to celebrate getting his 46th peak.  I gave him congratulations as I ate a cliff bar.   Checking the time, at 7:45, the sun had begun to set and we watched as  it lowered beneath the foothills in the distance and the glow that it placed  over the inner peaks in the opposite direction.   As much as I cursed the snow hiking up Seward, I thanked it for giving us  more of the terrific views, especially the ability to see 360 degrees on a  summit which was not bald.

After half an hour and a sunset, we gathered ourselves to go down.  We saw where the herd path should  have brought us up, but we decided to follow our own tracks down because we  knew they got us to the trail at the bottom.   JT made a good point when he said that not following our tracks down would probably make us spend an unexpectedly cold night in the woods.  Then we realized that he had forgotten his headlamp at the lean-to and we had to share mine.  Luckily, I had just changed the batteries and it gives off a startling amount of light.

We bushwhacked back to the slide slowly, but surely, following our  footprints and decided to slide down the slide on our butts one at a time.  Excited to make up some time, JT went first, bit by bit.  When he got down, I  went.  The ride proved quite exhilarating  as each of us had paused to slow our momentum and make sure the whole thing  wasn’t going to let go after us.

Continuing downward, every time we crossed a spruce trap, I  turned around so JT could see where it lay.   It went like that until we hit the trail at the bottom and we checked  the time.  It took us three hours to get down, making Seward an eight-hour bushwhack.   The tiredness had hit us both and we meandered back to the lean-to where  we each ate a cliff bar and went to bed.   The day was my second longest hiking day: fifteen hours and fifteen  minutes, falling only fifteen minutes short of my longest day.

Again, we fell asleep to our downstairs neighbor who I supposed was a porcupine.  However, we didn’t hear  it too long.

In the morning, we took an incredibly lazy morning and read the  lean-to log, which unfortunately only had about six entries in it.  One of which we found went to SUNY ESF and  called himself “Bird Man.”  We wracked our  brains trying to figure out who it could be, but came up empty.  We enjoyed the last of the green goodness and headed out slowly.

Once we hit the road, we noticed the distinct difference in snow as we could walk on dirt for a majority of it.   This excited us both immensely because both of us wanted to put the snowshoes on the shelf for a bit.

However, this adventure did not end when we reached the car.  Far from it.   We put everything in the back and changed clothes and shoes.

As much as we found ourselves enthused that the snow had mostly melted off the road, we found ourselves not enthused that it had melted around the car.  I managed to back up about two feet before the front tires dug themselves into muddy, slushy holes and spun out.  Fantastic.

At first, we did not think this was a big deal and began trying to move forward out of the holes.  This  failed.  We tried stabilizing the drive wheel that spun and JT pushed.  This  failed because my car became stupid and switched its drive wheel  from the  stabilized one to the spinning one.  We  tried stabilizing the other wheel.   Fail.  It switched again.  We tried sticks, we hacked the ice out with crampons and the butt of the snowshoes.   Then we tried boards from the signs that were near us on the  ground.  Fail.  Finally, JT gets it forward a bit out of the  holes, but it won’t grip there either.   During this process, it began to rain, worsening our situation.  We got back in the car and tried to think.  Then we remembered we got minimal cell service there.  Enough to text, not enough to call.  Then I decided to try Karen because Tupper Lake was only about 15 minutes from us.  The text read: “Hey Karen.   JT and I were wondering if you knew anyone free in Tupper that could  unstick cars from snow.”

She messaged back: “Oh no!  Let me call my dad and Will’s friend.”

I texted: “Thanks!  We’re at the gate to the Seward’s trailhead, from Rt 3, take Corey’s road back, then we’re two miles past the road closed sign.”

A few minutes later: “My dad and uncle are on the way! They will  be there in about 20 minutes.”

I responded: “I owe you big time!”

True to the text, twenty minutes later, a red truck came out with  her dad and uncle who were cheery, loud, and extremely helpful.  We explained what happened and they laughed and said, “Well, let’s try pushing with three of us and see if that works.  If it doesn’t we’ll work something else out.”

I got in the car and the dad, uncle, and JT pushed.  On the third heave, I eased the gas and we  got back enough to get out.  Cheers all  around!  They decided to go ahead of us and make sure we got out past the road closed sign.  Before they passed us, the uncle leaned out the window and jokingly said, “Did you miss the road closed sign?!”

Slowly but surely, we got the car out and thanked them again for all their help.  We had tried for two hours before we gave up and texted Karen.

Moral of the story: don’t take a two-wheel drive car past a snowy road closed sign.  And, of course, Karen to the rescue!

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Over April Fools weekend, JT, Andy, and I headed out for the Seward Range.  One of the most remote ranges in the High Peaks wilderness, the winter conditions made it even more remote.  Yes, winter conditions still left between four and five feet of snow; but, the snow had a wet, sticky quality to it, not nice, fluffy snow.

It took us, as usual, longer than we thought to get there, partly due to the fact that when we started the trip, Andy had to get in the backseat only one way because one of the back doors had been tied shut with webbing so it stayed closed.  During the trip, the other door decided it didn’t want to open anymore so to get in and out, Andy had to climb in and out of the window.  This did prove constant amusement for not only us, but for all those who watched this operation in action at every gas station.

Once we made it to Corey’s Road, we hit a “road closed” sign about five miles from the trailhead.  We had JT’s CRV, so we just went past it and into some mushy, slushy snow, not too deep, but enough that it took the concentration of Rage Against the Machine for JT to drive up to where the gate closed the rest of the road off.  From the parking area by the gate, the Rackette Falls trailhead stretched out and would also get us to where we wanted, but would add mileage.

After parking, the three of us set off for a three-mile road hike, then a little over a mile trail hike to a “campsite.”  The sun began to set as we walked down the road which we bare booted, but slid around.  As we walked, there were two small hills that we went down and I noted that I knew when we came back they would be a bitch.  They weren’t hard by a long stretch, but they seemed like after a long hike, tiredly walking back, I would not find myself thrilled with their existence.

When we hit the trailhead, we stopped to put on our snowshoes and headlamps.  A large sigh came out of all of us as we put on our snowshoes; all of us wanted summer.   As we started walking, we joked about how awesome mud is.  Only a little over a quarter of a mile, we came to a junction between the walking trail and the horse trail.  At this point, we were still walking off the map and had not entered the outdoor realm of the High Peaks map.  I found myself confused because I did not see where the easiest point was to get to the Caulkins’ Brook Trail.   JT insisted that he knew where to go, so after a small argument, we followed JT’s plan.   He was right.

About a mile later, we came to another junction where the Rackette Falls trail joined the horse trail.  Supposedly, somewhere just a bit away from this junction was a campsite.  Since it was already just before 10pm and we all wanted dinner, we found a solid flat spot and just set up the tent, hoping that no DEC officers decided to come by since the spot lay not too far from the trail outside of the designated campsite, if it still existed.

We cooked up some couscous — the rice so nice, they named it twice!  I found it difficult to sleep that night because I had tried my first 5-hour energy and I’m sensitive to caffeine.  I discovered it to act more as a 10-hour energy and I did not sleep much.

The morning came and would could see patches of blue sky, motivating us to actually get out of the sleeping bags.  We managed to leave somewhere between 8 and 9 am.  We trucked on down an old logging road trail toward Caulkins’ Brook.
Finding some water in another stream, we picked some up and put the good old iodine in it to purify it.  Gotta love that taste that makes you still seem thirsty after you drink it!

When the trail, or rather old logging road, made a sharp right turn, we went to the left where the herd path extended up alongside Caulkins’ Brook.  We followed some faint footprints along the brook until we saw an arrow to cross over it.  Usually when someone takes the time to make a large arrow in the snow, it’s generally a good idea to follow it even if you want to cross a brook about a quarter-mile in and you know you haven’t gone a quarter-mile.

Poking at the snow banks extending over the brook with the hiking poles, we determined we could walk across some of them to another rock and jump to the other side.  We found the snowshoe prints again and followed them on what seemed like a fairly easily discernible path.  JT led because he was super psyched as these were his last four mountains of the 46.  At some points we found ourselves perplexed as to where the path went and we guessed and usually found a snowshoe print or two somewhere.  It’s always hard because you don’t necessarily know if the people who made those prints knew where the path went or if they just bushwhacked up.

After a while of hiking and a few glimpses through the trees, we knew we should be close to the split where one herd path goes north to Seward and another goes south to Donaldson and Emmons.  We already knew we wanted to head south to knock out the two more remote ones first, but we kept going and no junction coming up and no more snowshoe prints to look for.  Finally, we just looked at Andy’s iPhone to see where we were on the phone’s GPS.  From there, we realized that we had passed the junction, wherever it was and were only about 100 yards from the summit of Donaldson.   JT took a bearing from the GPS and we just went straight up and over some trees and steep banks up to the summit.  When we go up there, we stopped for lunch in a protected area where the wind could not batter us.

We knew that either Donaldson or Emmons had a big boulder on top for the true summit, so we searched around and found it just beyond our lunch site.  Marked with a small disk, we rejoiced, “one down!”

According to the map and Andy’s phone’s GPS, the summit of Emmons lay about seven or eight-tenths of a mile away.  We set off excited.  Unfortunately, we did not know exactly where the herd path left Donaldson and the weather started to change to the more cloudier side of things.  We saw a bump off in the distance and bushwhacked over to it.

Excited, we reached it, but found no summit disk.  Discouraged, we found no summit disk and consulted Andy’s phone.

“Ummm, guys,” Andy started, “We’re no where close to it.”

“What?” JT asked seemingly annoyed.

Andy showed us the phone and we looked on the map as well.  We had just gone over to a false summit of Donaldson.  Oops.  I remember kicking myself for not drawing the trails on from adirondackjourney.com’s online maps.

“Shit,” JT said, “well, let’s go over there.”  He pointed to the bump which we all recognized as the summit of Emmons which extended over the ridge between the two mountains.

Heading off, the weather began changing rather rapidly.  First, it snowed.  Then it became mixed precipitation, more toward rain than snow.  Moving proved slow as we encountered thick cripplebrush (yes, that is an actual word, look in
the glossary of the High Peaks guidebook if you don’t believe me).  Spruce traps also impinged our movement as we tried not to step over their pockets of air produced by the branches under snow.  A few times we each sunk down to our waists and had to extract ourselves and the snowshoe from a thick tangle of branches.  You can just imagine the curse words that got thrown out through this process.

Annoyed, we all pause for a moment and then JT swears he sees a person about 50 yards over.  Neither Andy nor I see anyone.  We decide to go toward “the person” anyway.

“Ouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuch!” screams JT and we turn around.  “A branch hit me in the face and it left something in my eye.

I walked back to look in his eye.  Indeed, a tiny piece of bark or something had caught itself in his eye and I tried to get it out.  After a few minutes we succeeded in that at least.   If someone actually was over there, they would have definitely heard the profanities that dropped.

We continued until we think we see the summit not too far away.  As we all turned to look at it, JT fell in a spruce trap and started complaining about being cold instead of being caught.  Then we realized that he had mild hypothermia because his shell had soaked through from the 35 degree mixed precipitation.  Andy leant him his shell while he continued to use his soft shell and I helped him up out of the spruce trap.  Then we took a snack break because the amount of cursing can usually be directly correlated with hunger for hikers.

Then we bushwhacked onward.  In not too long, we did make it to the “person” which was actually a stump about four feet tall, and then on to the summit.  It had taken us almost three hours to go less than a mile.  Once there, we saw what we
thought was the trail on the way back and we decided to follow it, because if push came to shove, we had our tracks marked on Andy’s GPS and we could get back to it.  Jokes flew around about how we couldn’t find the trail well because we followed the GPS too much.

We did end up losing the herd path and ended back on our steps again.  Once we summited Donaldson and went to head back down, we had to do a double take because the wind had swept away our tracks.  It also beat us in the face as we thought back to our landmarks downward.  Luckily, once we passed the last hundred yards or so that we bushwhacked up, we found ourselves back on the herd path that actually looked like a herd path with only a few minor blowdowns to climb over or crawl under.

We clamored down, wanting only dinner and our sleeping bags.  We opted not to go up Seward, even though we only had about 600 ft to gain or so from the gap because the weather, bushwhacking, and difficulty had tired us out.

I made dinner, which we all ate from our sleeping bags and talked about what we could do on Sunday and manage to hike out and drive back to Syracuse.  The end conclusion was that we should just hike out and go to lunch because we all knew we would find ourselves incredibly annoyed if we came all the way back in there for just one mountain.

After the long day, we all just wanted to go to sleep, so as soon as we finished dinner, we went to do just that.  But then, we heard footsteps.  Dun dun dun.  A headlight shown in our direction.  Then it flashed all around like the person wanted to figure out exactly where he or she was.  I nudged JT and he hushed me and whispered to stay quiet in case it was a DEC officer so we wouldn’t get a ticket for camping there.  My thoughts had gone in a different direction because I doubted the DEC would come out to check on us because we were the only ones out there, that is, until now.  I thought it was just some dude and he flashed his light on our tent to see if we were still awake to answer some questions or tent by us.

He seemed to meander around for about five minutes, then continued down the trail toward Caulkins’ Brook.  Once we couldn’t hear his footsteps or skis anymore, JT said, “We should leave relatively early tomorrow because when he tries the Sewards following our footprints he’s going to be pissed.”

With that we went to sleep and woke up in the morning at about 8 am.  We ate breakfast and broke the tent down.  It was a more than usual lazy morning since we knew all we planned to do was hike the four miles out, drive to food, then drive to Syracuse.  Our motivation to leave at a decent hour was to not hear the pissed off guy who would inevitably follow our snowshoe prints.  As we left, we finally solved the argument of if the person walked or skied in; we determined by careful  investigation that he had walked in with a sled.

After we hiked out, we packed our stuff in the car, getting our cotton change of clothes.  Andy climbed in through the window and we managed to get JT’s car out of the slush filled road, once again with the aid of Rage Against the Machine.  Our restaurant of choice ended up as Little Italy in Tupper Lake whereby, as per ritual, texted Karen telling her we were in Tupper.  Since she’s from there, I always text her when we stop in.   Afterwards, we got back to Syracuse at a reasonable hour which we seldom manage to do.

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