Posts Tagged ‘Mountain’

At 5:10am, my alarm went off.  I had already packed a day pack full of food and just had to jump into my car.  The dashboard read 39 degrees.  I love how many times the day and night temperatures vary by 40 degrees here.

I started driving toward town and dutifully went 45 miles per hour, the nighttime speed limit.  About fifteen minutes down the road, I had to slam on my breaks for two buck mule deer who came jumping out of nowhere.  When I finally reached town, I began by eating breakfast in my car while I waited for Christy, a fellow grad, and Marc to come out.

In no time, we piled into Marc’s van and headed into the Elk Refuge.  The rough road went okay until we turned up Curtis Canyon and then the going went a little slower.  We wound upward through the Elk Refuge into the National Forest past tents and large pot holes.  Reaching the trailhead, we all breathed a sigh of relief.

Throwing on our packs we began up the trail.  The first uphill slog, fireweed, indian paintbrush, tobacco brush, and sagebrush surrounded the trail.

“Wait.  If I’m hiking with two TSS grads, does that mean double the dorking out along trails?” Marc asked.

“Yes!” Christy and I both laughed.

Soon after, we topped a ridge covered in conifers.  We chatted back and forth listening to the red squirrels and trying to see how many wildflowers we could identify.  We saw no one.  Along the way, we saw a grouse and heard many pika.  Not long after the pika in the talus, we went into the Gros Ventre Wilderness.

After roughly three total miles, we got to Goodwin Lake.  A few people sat camping a little ways off the lake – the first people we saw all morning.  We took an extended snack break and used it as an opportunity to examine the map.  We knew that we needed to stay on the north side of the lake, then take a climbers trail that split off to the east.  The internet said the side trail would split about half a mile after the lake.

Elephant Head

Elephant Head

Setting off, we ran into a side trail splitting east almost instantly, but it seemed to only circumnavigate the lake.  We poked around to look, just in case and found some brilliant elephant head flowers.  Marc laughed as Christy and I examined it more closely.

We kept hiking for more than half a mile and began to examine the southern ridge.  The northern ridge that we approached before the lake looked like a lot of unstable scree, so we did not think that the trail would go up there.  On the way, we saw fields full of purple lupines and a white humble flower which we could not identify.

“Whoa! Mandy! Look at that banding!” Christy exclaimed mid conversation and pointed.

“Holy metamorphic rock!” I replied finding it.

Marc stopped, turned around, and said, “Really?!”

“It’s awesome!” Christy said.

“That’s the kind of example you hope to find to show students because the banding is so obvious,” I said.

At that point, we looked up at the southern ridge and discussed how we planned on going up.  We knew if we could get to the top of it, we could hike straight to the summit.  The question was, do we go straight up or do we look for a way to switchback our way up?  We decided to head down the trail a little bit further to get a better vantage point.

Not even five minutes up the trail, the side trail split off with a cairn switch-backing up the ridge steeply.  We laughed at how obvious the trail was.  We headed upward toward the southern ridge taking breathers to look at the map and pick out the surrounding peaks in the Gros Ventres.

We could see the summit.  We had heard that the last 100 feet or so to the summit was “a bit of a rock scramble.”  Lie.  The trail turned to loose talus and scree for the last 50 or so feet walking, not 100 vertical feet.  And it definitely was not a scramble…fun, but not a scramble.  As the first ones on the summit, we set about taking photos and eating peanut butter and honey sandwiches.

About fifteen minutes later, we heard something.  All three of us turned in the direction of the sound going silent instantly.

“Humans,” Christy said and we all went back to munching and ogling Sleeping Indian, the beautiful mountain to the north.  After the other hikers came up, we helped each other out taking group shots, then we headed back down.  We poked around at the flowers and found some more cool rocks with very apparent feldspar and quartz crystals imbedded in them.  As we passed probably 20 more hikers, we all agreed that our early start was a good thing.  We hit the summit at the right time with the right people.

Summit Cairn, Jackson Peak, WY. 10,741ft.

Summit Cairn, Jackson Peak, WY. 10,741ft.

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Reaching that moment when the mileage left drops from four digits to three digits allows a thru-hiker to breathe a bit easier.  Maybe we will beat the early winter snows!  Maybe our bodies will hold up long enough to reach the finish line!  Maybe we can continue eating oatmeal for another two and a half months even though we’ve eaten it for three months straight!  Maybe our new sandals or shoes will last until the end!

Bittersweet overall, this milestone always means that something great will eventually come to an end.  With a worn out body and perpetually sore feet, the drop in mileage provides a needed dose of motivation.  A new burst of energy comes with the excitement which will fuel another segment.  It becomes a reminder of how awesome life really is on trail: wake up, hike, eat, hike, eat, hike, eat, hike, go to bed under the stars with the fresh air.

This point at TSS comes with Spring Break.  A week off?  Really?  Whoa!  Returning back to campus, we have only two more classes (Spring Teaching Practicum and Advanced Elements of Field Ecology Course Design, abbreviated to AEFECD, but pronounced as affected) and a Summer Capstone.  The burst of energy after spring break combined with melting snow and longer days gives a new breath after the winter.  By melting snow, I mean that the snow is only about two or three feet deep around campus instead of somewhere around six feet.  Some of the sagebrush began poking out a few leaves above the glassy white snow blanket.

I struggled with the Spring Teaching Practicum because instead of field education in Kelly, I had to go on “Outreach.”  Instead of the kids coming to us, we went to the kids in their schools across the state of Wyoming.  Now usually, the complaints about Outreach deal with long travel time in vans, having to stay in hotels, and leaving the Kelly life behind.  My main complaint: I really just don’t like little kids in large groups.  Field Ed had an age range of 5th-12th grade.  In contrast, in Outreach, I taught 3rd grade, 1st grade, pre-k, and only two days of 6th grade.  Not to mention that the spring season means the beginning of thru-hiker season and I would not be thru-hiking.  Rough.  I could not wait to get back to teaching older kids.  At least they can zip up their own jackets.  Luckily, all summer I would be teaching high school and only one week of 5th grade.

The Tetons reflecting into Jackson Lake on my 60 mile bike ride.

The Tetons reflecting into Jackson Lake on my 60 mile bike ride.

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Despite a large dinner and dessert, we all awoke super hungry again.  Tracy made excellent sweet couscous combo for all of us and then I made cornbread to pack over for lunch since we somehow have already almost run out of trail snack food.  Oh, right…it’s because we had three trying days in a row and did nothing but go up and down which sets appetites on the “raging” mode.

Good thing, we had a sleep in morning and met up at 10 a.m. for Andy to talk about orienteering using a model of the earth made with his clothes bag and a sharpie.  It made a rather decent impression of the earth but super lumpy looking.

About an hour later, we did the usual splitting into two groups and leaving about 15 minutes apart or so.  Today’s terrain was

Continuing up the Dingle Burn River

pretty easy since the valley had widened out, the track had room to run along the small plateaus next to the river instead of shooting up to get around cliffs that the river ran right up against.

We passed by a “historic hut” which had good camping near it.  We peered in and looked around for a moment and laughed at the sign that forbid people from staying in it.  That might work fine for fair weather but I imagined that many a person has stayed in it to get out of a nasty storm, like the ones that destroyed so many of our tent poles in the mountaineering section.

From there, we stumbled around a few times for the actual trail which was sometimes marked and sometimes not.  It had a few bright orange posts and triangles which were fairly easy to spot when they existed.  It was hard to actually get lost because we just had to stay river left and not leave the valley.  Not hard at all.  We did have one small run-in with a large patch of matagouri which ripped at our skin as we pushed our way through it.

Since we went first, we scouted out our campsite and began picking spots when the other group arrived not long after and joined us in setting everything up.  The sun shone brightly and the air temperature had risen into the 70s, a nice break from the snow and cold we had before.  It inspired us to go jump in the river since we’d dry quickly.  The river water was an entirely different story and I lasted a grand total of five seconds: enough to run in, duck under, and run back out.  Damn glacial melt water.

We even had to find shade from large matagouri bushes because the sun heated up the tents too much and we feared to open the doors and have the super duper annoying sand flies come in and attack us.  We survived and checked our food to make rough meal plans for the rest of the ration because we were afraid that our stomachs would take over and we would have no food left at the end as usual.  I nibbled on spoonfuls of peanut butter from my kilo when there was nothing else.  That was worth it’s weight in gold.  I still would have killed a pound every four days or so normally, but I rationed myself.

The next day, we decided to day hike up Mt. Gladwish which lay just to the east of us.  Instead of the usual two groups leaving 15 minutes apart, we left at the same time, but climbed different ridges to the top, then followed the opposite on the way down.  New Zealand proved its ability for steepness once again as we climbed about 1000 meters in 3 kilometers or, in American, about 3000 feet in 1.8 miles.  This time, we had much less on our backs though which made it quite a bit more pleasant.

We had a fun pow wow and photo-op on the summit since the weather held beautifully and we checked out the Ahuriri Valley which lay on the other side of the ridge where we wanted to head next.

The descent became a little trying on my knees because we went down the steeper, shorter ridge that the other group had gone up.  Tracy’s knees screamed too.  We made it down fine through the tussock grass and had a relaxing late afternoon until the sand flies came out in full force and the mosquito head nets came out quickly.  Haley discovered she could take her trucker hat and put the mesh over her face and secured it with the hood of her jacket easily enough by tightening the strings.  That worked until one got in and all of a sudden she jumped off her butt pad making a loud ruckus.

Our campsite is super small down in the matagouri

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Wake up.  Pack up.  The day has come to change valleys.  Get some new scenery.  Enjoy a new glacier.  Gaze over at different ridges.  And let’s not forget carrying extremely heavy packs through the whole beautiful process.

As luck would have it, we had a good cause to gather in the morning for a little bit instead of chasing after Roger because we are one minute late.  Kyle’s birthday of course!  Sean and Roger spent a good portion of their evening specially crafting a Betty Crocker cake.  It turned out better than any of our attempts to bake a cake.  We sang happy birthday and the whole sha-bang, and we even brought back a few of our sea kayaking rituals which Roger found ridiculous and only let them continue for the sake of not ruining the birthday mood.

When the time came to leave, we heaved the incredibly heavy packs up and trudged along the valley floor toward the drainage that we took to get down two days before.  The top of that drainage marked the “easiest” way to cross into the Ashburton Valley; the pass itself did not have a name.

As we began hiking, we paused to smother on sunscreen and delayer since the sun had come out in full force to the point where I

Traversing across

Traversing across

hiked through the snow in a tank top.  I felt a little out-of-place trudging through snow that sometimes went thigh deep with a large pack, an ice ax in one hand and wearing just a tank top.

We examined the traverse from the drainage across to the actual pass before quickly scurrying across.  The sun had quickly begun to melt the snow which could have made parts unstable, but we pushed through quickly and soon landed in the pass which gave us a fantastic panorama view of the Ashburton Valley, so close, yet so different from the Cameron Valley.

We piled our packs and decided to run up peak 1972 which lay just next to us.  Since we somehow had energy at that point, or we just wanted an even more spectacular view, we went up.  All twelve of us.  The summit offered a better view along the ridge line in either direction and the surrounding sea of mountains.  The commanding view inspired us for that time, until we had to head all the way down skidding down some icy patches.  We had fun butt-sliding down from the pass as it was either that or posthole down the whole thing.

Once we hit the valley floor, the snow gave way to uneven tussock grass, matagouri, and spaniards.  The Ashburton River flowed by chilly from the glacier and along in a million braids that would sometimes surprise you at inconvenient times: like when you find the easiest way through the tussock, then the earth mysteriously drops a few feet down into a braid of the river.  I hate getting my feet wet.

Ashburton Valley, New Zealand

Ashburton Valley, New Zealand

Roger had a spot in mind that he wanted us to head to, so we went there and set up camp relatively close together otherwise the tents would end up in a dry braid of the riverbed.  With all the snow melting, that just did not seem like the brightest idea.

After deciding to meet at 8am, we all went to our tents, cooked dinner, and promptly passed out since the tiredness caught up to us in full force.

The next day ended up as one of my favorite days of the whole section.  We began by hiking up the left gully to the base of the glacier, which in and of itself took us up 600 meters of elevation.  Luckily, only the first part dove through tussock grass and then we went through dry riverbeds and snow.

Once at the base, we roped up with three rope teams and ten people total.  Heather and JD decided to sit this one out since they were still super tired from the day before.  I had Roger and Haley and I got the middle.

The fog that filled the valley stayed hovering down there while we hiked above and beyond it to feel the full power of the sun.  It was just like the mist in the book/movie by Stephen King, except nothing shot out of it and killed us or filled our corpses with spiders.  In response, almost every break we got, we smothered on sunscreen, and kept a hat and sunglasses on.

We got the very bare minimum basics of glacier travel while we scouted out the upper valley and what we could do in the next week or so, weather depending of course.  Because of the sun, we couldn’t wander around too much in the afternoon, so we headed back down to the base and found a good little ice climb to play.  We also did a bit of fixed rope ascension which ended up with multiple finger and hand bleeds.

Everyone managed to stay in a good mood the whole day and we all worked well.  At the last few hundred yards of snow we all

The fog

postholed at least once up to our waists which tired us out.  When we finally got back though, we were all starving!  JD had awesomely seen us coming and put on hot water which we immediately used to cook dinner.  Way to be one step ahead!

Another night, we all passed out super early because we were just beat.  Luckily, we would have the next day to re-ration and plan the rest of our section which had somehow gone down to only 9 days remaining.

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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.


“A raccoon?”


“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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April 22-24, 2011

In true SUOC fashion, Allie, JT, and I planned to leave at 1pm or so on Friday and did not manage to leave Syracuse until about 2pm.  Allie had volunteered to drive which would give me a break from driving and came to pick us up after we ran to the eroom for a tent just in case a bunch of people showed up and took over the Bradley Pond Lean-to.

When we managed to get to the trailhead, we saw two cars: one from New Jersey and one from New York.  Worried we would have to carry the tent, we checked the register to see that four and a half people signed in, two from Jersey and two and a half from none other than “LPNY.”

“Maybe they have a kid with them?” Allie threw out there.

“Or a dog,” I suggested.

JT paused for a breath before he began his rant, “They’re from Lake Placid! Signing in as ‘LPNY’ — they’re just yuppies!  Really!  Who signs in as ‘LPNY’?”

We decided not to take the tent because technically they have to make room for up to eight people and with all of them and us, there would still be room for half of a person theoretically.

We had somewhere between 3.5 and 4.8 miles to go due to the fact that the DEC and Adirondack Journey.com cannot seem to get numbers right.  First we had to walk a ways on an old, closed road to get to the trailhead which shot obviously off to the left.

Upon hitting the actual trail, we put snow shoes on to prevent post holing white muttering about how the end of April should have meant the end of snowshoes.  But no.   All of us had stories of late March when no snow covered the High Peaks.

After about ten minutes we ran into the two from Jersey, a father-son pair.  With one old external frame pack between the two of them.  Without snowshoes.  Hmmm.  Something is fishy.

“Oh hey!” the older one said as we came closer.  “Are we almost out?”

“You’re almost to the road” Allie replied as she was leading.

“Good!  That was a very long day.”

“Did you do the Santanoni’s?” I asked.

“We did Panther.  It’s hard without any trails up there, you know”, the older one said while catching his breath a bit.  “We followed this local couple because we thought they would know where the best way up is, but they took us on an epic bushwhack!  It was harder for us, too, because we don’t have snowshoes; all the post holing makes me really tired.”

Moving on, we passed though annoying, small, muddy stretches where we tried desperately not to walk over the rocks with snowshoes on.  About twenty minutes after we passed Jersey we found the infamous “LPNY” party which seemed just to be a duo.

“Where is the half of a person?” I asked blatantly.

They smiled and the man turned so we could see a small stuffed animal attached to the outside of his pack.

“That’s Topo!  As in TMax and Topo’s Hostel in Lake Placid!” The man explained handing me a card.  Unfortunately, no nearby trash cans existed to dump it in as in a city.

“Did you guys get the Santanoni’s?” Allie asked.

“No, we just got Panther,” said the woman.

The man interrupted, “We found the start of the herd path and then we lost it, so we followed the GPS up taking the hypotenuse instead of the two legs.  So, when you get to the cliff, turn left.  We found the herd path going down, so there are two sets of tracks.”

“It was a four hour hike up, and a forty minute hike down.  Amazing,” the woman finished.

“Ok, thanks for the beta” JT replied as we continued up the trail.  In not too much time, we made it to Bradley Pond lean-to where we had first dibs on which side we wanted.  The sun had started to go down and the temperature began to drop below 60 degrees.  We set everything up, cooked dinner and talked for a bit about our plans for Saturday.  We knew that the weather report had dismal news for Saturday, but relatively good for Sunday.  As per usual, we fell asleep early because we were too lazy to pack in any beer for the extra weight.

We woke up to a few fresh inches of snow.  In April.  The snow began to change to sleet as we all peered out of our sleeping bags.  Shaking our heads, we went back to sleep.  Awhile later, we popped our heads out again.  Fairly heavy rain.  Needless to say, we went back to sleep.  The third time we checked the world outside of the lean-to, it had changed back to sleet.  At that point we crawled back in the sleeping bags to discuss what we wanted to do.  None of us particularly
wanted to go get all wet to not get any views.  Forty degree sleet is pretty miserable and undesirable.  After a small “debate,” we came to the unanimous decision to have a zero day and stay in the lean-to all day and hike all three mountains on Sunday, hike out, and drive back to Syracuse.  At the time, this seemed like a brilliant idea.  We were all still tired and wanted to sleep more, we didn’t want to get sleeted on all day, and we could see more if we waited until the next day.

After sleeping another few hours, we managed to sit up and watch it precipitate in multiple forms.  It shifted between rain, snow, and sleet as much as a mood ring.  We ate some lunch and talked about SUOC gossip, the Jersey people, and the self designated “LPNY” people.

With nothing else to do, JT began to devise a little fiction to add to the shelter log while Allie and I picked through it.  Unfortunately, the shelter upkeepers had just replaced the old log for a new one so we did not have any older information.  Then JT began writing, smirking and laughing out loud while he wrote, preventing Allie and I from reading any snippets until he finished.

Immediately after finishing the last word, he interrupted Allie and I by clearing his throat to read us the story.  It went from meeting people from New Jersey to finding the shelter to sacrificing them to Gaia for better weather in the fire pit (accurately described in front of the lean-to) to hiking the Santanoni’s.  A rather violent poem ended the fictional masterpiece.  Three pages added to the four pages existing in the log.  Not signed.

After more time killing conversations and activities, Allie fell back to sleep.  But then we heard voices.  JT and I woke Allie up and we sat up in anticipation.  Two people walked tiredly up to the lean-to; a man and a woman with quite a large amount of stuff shuffled over to the side that we did not occupy.

“Is it ok if we share with you guys?” The man asked with an accent.

Grrrrrrimper immediately went through all of our minds.  “Sure, we’ll consolidate a bit more for you,” I replied.

They moved their mammoth packs in and started changing out of sleet soaked clothes which made us all happy we had stayed in the lean-to and not gotten so wet.  They murmured things in French between themselves and then once they became a little more comfortable and not sleet soaked, they sat down and began talking with us…in English!  This is not the typical grimper way!  Something is happening…

“Did you do the Santanoni’s today?” the man asked.

Exchanging looks, Allie replied, “No, we stayed here because the weather is so terrible we didn’t feel like it this morning.”

“We’re going to do all three tomorrow,” JT added.

“We tried to do the Sewards yesterday, but the weather was too bad, so we came here,” the woman said.

“Oh wow, we did them in two weekends a few weeks ago and ran into between four and five feet of snow,” I replied.

“Yes, and the road was closed off as well,” the man added, seemingly annoyed.

JT and I laughed and he said, “We just walked three miles on the road to get to the trailhead, then hiked in.”

“Ah, well,” the man started, “we did make a new sign for Couchie because the old one is gone.”

“Nice, that will be helpful” we all said.

The grimpers took naps while we chatted for a bit until they woke up and we all began to make dinner.

“I wonder if our downstairs neighbor will make noise tonight,” Allie laughed.

Looking bewildered, JT and I asked what she meant.

“Whatever animal was making noise underneath us last night!  You guys didn’t hear it?” she couldn’t believe it.

“No, we took a bunch of Benedril to sleep and we just passed out” I replied laughing.

In the morning, we woke up able to see Panther in front of the lean-to like we saw on Friday when we hiked in and patches of blue sky!  Yay!  As we began getting ready, we realized that we were playing a highly competitive game of who-leaves-the-lean-to-first game because neither we nor the grimpers wanted to break trail out on the herd path.

“I woke up last night when the animal came through and I saw it,” the man told us when he realized we had woken up.  “It was a pine martin.”

After waiting extra long, we decided we couldn’t wait any longer and we began hiking.  We almost immediately had to have a layer-peeling break as we searched for not-bog water where the grimpers suggested getting it from.  This meant hiking about half an hour until we crossed Panther Brook on a rather sketchy snow embankment stretching over the rushing spring stream.

I found myself fairly dehydrated from not drinking enough water during our zero day so we wouldn’t have to go get it in the sleet.  With water and food I felt a bit better, but felt slowed down.  While we broke half an hour after the we put iodine in the water, we took a break and the grimpers passed us and broke trail almost the rest of the day.  HA.  We won on that one.

We followed them over to Couchie and met them about 10 minutes from the summit.  The “Times Square” large rock was fairly obscured due to the few feet of snow still present, but we followed the grimpers’ tracks although sometimes we wondered if they had simply followed the GPS because they went through some places that obviously screamed “NOT TRAIL…BUSHWHACK!”

One good thing about all the snow did mean that the giant bog in the col between Times Square and Couchie virtually did not exist and we could walk straight over its mostly frozen-ness.  The whole time that we hiked over there, we bitched about how Times Square, which is the col between Panther and Santanoni, is 400 feet higher than the high peak Couchie.  Surveyed wrong, most 46ers still climb Couchie despite the fact that it doesn’t really have a good view and it looks like an arm of another mountain and not really a mountain in its own right.

On top, we admired the sign the grimpers hiked in and ate lunch.

Our lunch conversation consisted of something around the following:

“You know,” JT started while chewing his onion bagel with peanut butter and cheese, “Even thought they don’t pay taxes and they bring their yuppie culture into the High Peaks, it’s kinda cool that they took the time to make the sign and hike it in here.  I wouldn’t have done it.”

Afterwards, we moved onward, back up to Times Square where we realized that the grimpers had gone up Santanoni.  We decided to be a little nice and break the trail over to Panther since they had done all the other work.  Lucky for us, only a quarter-mile separated us from the summit of Panther.  It did not take long at all to get there and we actually had to take our snowshoes off in order to get to the summit.  The rock appeared through all the snow and we enjoyed greatly taking two pounds off of each foot and walking normally.  Panther turned out to be the best summit of the three of them.

On our way back down, we ran into the grimpers right before Times Square and we told them about the rocky summit as they told us to follow the way they had come back because they followed the GPS then found the trail going back.

As we headed out there, the walking was pretty easy and for the most part we found the trail over.  Then we hit four false summits before hitting the actual one where we took a snack break and to enjoy the view.  We realized the evening would set in soon and we had a long drive after the hike out.

It did not take us long to hike out and pack our other things up.  Hiking out did not take too long either except for the fact that a considerable amount of snow had melted at the lower elevations and we took our snowshoes off too early in anticipation.  Frustrated and too stubborn to put them back on, we postholed a bit in the last quarter-mile or so until we reached the road where we could walk bare booted.

Once we reached the trailhead, we found something a bit odd.  An old man from Colorado had himself a small fire right smack next to the parking lot next to his truck.  He began asking us questions about the skiing conditions.

Allie, the resident skier of the three of us gave him a bit of information as we managed to get everything into the car and head toward Long Lake for a phone.  Since we had planned on getting to JT’s parent’s house to pick up his car hours before we got back to the car, we figured we needed to let his mom know we were all ok.  Unfortunately, we missed the closing of Stewarts by a few minutes, but we asked the guy closing up and he let us use the landline.

After the long day, we got back to Syracuse a little before two a.m.

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