Whirlwind Snaefellsnes

At the beginning of our Iceland trip, we stayed in Borgarnes, since we didn’t want to be driving too far on our first day on arrival in Iceland. And since we were staying in Borgarnes, and had a day to spare, we decided that we’d tack a whirlwind tour of the Snæfellsnes peninsula onto our trip to the Westfjords.

We decided to go clockwise – driving the southern coast in the morning, and then the northern coast in the afternoon. We packed our lunch at the hostel, filled our water bottles, called up the route on our phones (always pay attention to the road, as GPS can be off and where it says turn….might not be a turn. Be sure to follow the road, and use the GPS as a back up), and set off.


Our first pit stop was at Raudfeldsgja, a fissure in a cliff face near Arnarstapi. There’s a small parking lot near the road, and a path that leads fairly straight up to the fissure, where the birds wheel overhead. You can walk into the fissure(although we chose not to as it was pretty wet, and we didn’t have a change of shoes – come prepared with a pair of water shoes/boots/sandals, to take advantage of this) but it was still interesting to do the short hike up to the cleft, and look up (and up) the cliffs, and a welcome break to stretch our legs.

From there we continued on to Hellnar, to take a short 2.5 km hike back towards Arnarstapi. The hike starts off on wooden walkways, before narrowing to a beaten track through lava rocks and fields. There are wonderful views of the glacier, as well as the ocean, and cliffs where birds nest. It’s not a difficult hike, and the trail is easy to follow. We pulled up a couple of rocks near Arnarstapi, to eat our lunch and watch the birds.

We had some tea and dessert in the café back at Hellnar, before heading back onto the road. Our plan was to stop at the Vatnshellir Cave – who doesn’t love caving? – but we were unfortunately either a half hour too early, or a half hour too late, and decided not to wait for the next tour.

Not long after hitting the road, we picked up a young couple hitch hiking. This put the curb a bit on our ‘stopping wherever we’d like to’ plan, but we did pull over into a viewing area along the northern tip of the peninsula to stretch our legs and take a few photos.

We dropped our passengers off at Kirkjufell, which they planned to climb, as we continued on to our last stop – the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, where we would not only learn how hakarl is made, but what it tastes like (hint: not so good)

It’s a one room museum, run by the family. Inside is a plethora of fishing related gear and artifacts, and after a brief presentation of how hakarl is made (from the traditional way it used to be made, to the more modern way it’s done now) they give you the chance to sample a piece (with some rye bread to cut the taste a bit if you’d prefer).

You’re also welcome to tour the drying house out back – but I warn you, the smell there is definitely worse than the taste.

From there it was back to Borgarnes, to celebrate Canada Day at the hostel (we threw our own party because that’s what you do when you’re the only Canadians in a hostel in Iceland)

Overnighter in the Adirondacks

Redfield order in ranking: 15

In all the (four) years of working on the 46, Steph and I had never had an overnighter. All of our hikes, including the entire Dix range, were done on daytrips. Last year we branched out into winter hiking (tackling first Cascade and Porter as primers, and then slogging out to Allen, and enjoying some prime butt-sliding down the slide.)

So this year, we decided that we would finally do an overnighter. We had a good idea of what items would be needed (hint: tent, sleeping bags and pads, and bear can), all we had to do was put everything into motion. The original plan was to hike in on Saturday and out on Monday, and hope to get a lean-to.

We decided to head down over the May long weekend (or rather, the Canadian May long weekend, which was May 21 to 23). We drove down Friday after work, and spent the night at the Hoot Owl Lodge to finalize our packing, and making sure all the food we had planned to bring would fit in the bear can. (It didn’t. We had to be ruthless about what we were going to bring.)

So maybe that’s the first tip. The bear can hold enough for two nights and two days of hiking – two dehydrated meals, two sandwiches, 4 peanut butter rice cakes, two pre-packaged fruit cups, two protein bars, some trail mix, carrots, chocolate covered pretzels, two pop-tarts, a mini-bota box of wine (this was cause for celebration!)…pretty much two of everything, plus toothbrushes, sunscreen, mozzie spray and any garbage we accumulated.


All loaded up and ready to go

We woke up excited on Saturday, and we in the parking lot by 6:30. We had to finangle some parking (we, um…created…a parking space.) but by 6:49 we were signed in and off on the trail.


Good morning trail

Which for some reason had grown far, far steeper than we had remembered. It started off with some rolling terrain, before hitting a steep curve at the hour mark. But we kept up our pace (slow, our pace was slow, but steady) stopping a couple of times to remove layers, and to eat and drink some water.

And that’s the second tip. We each carried a litre water bottle, full, and 2.5-litre camelbak bladders, also full. There’s enough water along the trail (and occasionally, over and under as well) that there’s no need to carry that much. In fact, on the hike out we only had water in the water bottles. (Hint three – make sure that your water purification system is handy)

Somehow between last summer, when we did Cliff, and this May long weekend, I had managed to forget about the water crossing about an hour and half in. How I did this, I don’t know, seeing as I have the balance of a three-hour old colt (bad) and always end up turtling over rocks. And with a large, heavy pack on….turtling wasn’t going to work. (I know because I tried and nearly tipped over into the water.) It’s not that the water was particularly deep, it was just deep enough for me. Steph made it over, dropped her pack, and came back to grab mine when….he appeared. My hiker in shining gaiters (I’m sure those gaiters weren’t shining by the end of the day, but they certainly were when he appeared beside me). He asked if I was having trouble, asked if my pack was heavy, then easily swung it up and bounded over the rocks on wings of gortex (or whatever his boots were made of). After that it was easy enough for me to turtle over to the other side.

(Which brings me to this: there is a high water bridge. We still have no idea how we managed to miss seeing it, other than there is no sign when coming in from Upper Works. Coming out again, there is a sign, so we took the swinging, scary, suspension bridge of doom back over, thus freeing us from relying on strangers of unusual helpfulness.)

We came to the Flowed Lands Interior Register shortly before we hit the 3-hour mark. We were bouyed by our time, and excited to be that close to our final destination. We had been aiming for the Uphill Leanto, but had readjusted to finding something closer to Lake Colden, as the extra 2.6 miles from the dam to the lean was going to cause us serious endurance problems with the packs on. (Hint 4 – those packs are heavy heavy heavy, and less is more!)


Scrambling down

We scrambled along the trail, which had gotten woolier – more large rocks to scramble up, over and around, as well as being relentlessly up. We came to the Colden Dam an hour after signing in at the interior register, and crossed over.

Where we couldn’t find a leanto. There was a sign to one, but….no lean to (possibly it was across the water.) So we headed back over the dam, and to the McMartin Leanto, which was less than 5 minutes back along the trail.

For those planning to stay at the McMartin leanto, there is water access nearly across from the leanto trail – there is a large “No camping” sign about a 30 second walk back up the trail (towards the dam), and a snaking herdpath down to the river.


Home sweet leanto

Lucky for us, there was plenty of room in the leanto – someone else’s gear was neatly stashed along one side (he would in fact hike out that evening, so we ended up with the leanto to ourselves.) We dropped the heavy packs, ate some lunch, packed our day-packs with items we might need, and headed out to conquer Mount Redfield.

And this brings me to tip 5 (possibly 6 if you think of the water tip as a hint) – there is a reason that people hike in with the heavy packs on one afternoon, hike the next, then hike out on the third day. Because you will probably be exhausted from carting around that massive bag, and all that weight.

Since we were as exhausted as we were, we decided to leave the Gray-Skylight hike, and do Redfield. We have a grand finale planned for July, and Gray-Skylight-Marcy is a doable loop, but Redfield was off on its own lonesome, orphaned last year when we summitted Cliff.

We made good time to the Cliff-Redfield junction, arriving just over an hour after leaving the leanto. We had been told that the hike to Redfield was by far easier than Cliff, and was more of a hike than a climb.

It appears everyone lied to us.

It was a long slog up a river, scrambling over rocks and under fallen trees. I fell more times than I wish to count (scrapping my knee, ripping a hole in my pants, and grinding dirt into a cut on my palm) but the view was incredible – Skylight looming beside us, Marcy looming behind us, and Redfield in front. We hit the summit at 2:13, not quite two hours after leaving the junction. It’s possible that had we left the hike until the day after we could have been quicker – we were definitely feeling the strain from having hiked the packs in.


Number 43! Only 3 left

A group of guys made the summit before us, and we could hear one bragging that he was at number 39, so I felt the need to yell out “Number 43!!!” because dammit, I’m so close! We joined them on the lookout to stare out at the Lonely Mountain (aka Allen), before heading back to the summit to eat some more, and whinge about how tired and sore we were.


Allen, the lonely mountain

The hike down was a lot quicker, especially as we knew where the route was this time. On our way up we had a few moments where we weren’t sure if the trail went up the side of the brook, through the brook, or even crossed the brook. There are small cairns, but they can blend in if you’re not paying close enough attention. But tip 6: the route never crosses the brook, it frequently follows the brook, is in the brook, but never crosses to the other bank. The trail when it is on the land is very easy to see and follow.

We stopped once to refill our camelbaks (and treat the water, just in case) and to talk with a few other hikers who were heading up Cliff. We staggered over the suspension bridge (muttering pleas under our breath as it swayed over the rushing, snow-melt infused water below), and then over the dam and to our leanto, where we found our leanto mate packing up to head out. A ranger had told him there was a 20% chance of rain overnight, and a 70% chance of rain the next day, so he decided to head out early. (Great for us, we got the leanto all to ourselves!)

Our night was quiet (no bears!) and amazing – the soft rain did start around 3 in the morning, and the sound of it hitting the roof of the leanto (solid, no leaks!) was peaceful. The rain continued into the morning – going for the bear can, which had been carried out away from the leanto, kind of sucked, but we took our time, gathered up our gear and repacked, and by the time that had finished…..the rain had stopped. We got to walk out again without rain dripping down our backs. Tip 7: if it has just rained, don’t grab a tree for balance, you will shake the rain on the leaves down your back. We did slide a bit on the slick trails – they had been wet on the way in, and man were they waterlogged on the way out! Gaiters were definitely the way to go.


You know it’s a maintained trail because of the logs

My last tip for an overnighter: keep some water and food in the car. It was nice to get some filtered water and food that we hadn’t been eating for two days.

Total climbing time: 11 hours 7 minutes
Left parking lot at: 6:49, back in leanto at: 5:56
Summitted Redfield at: 2:13


What’s in Your Pack

I’ve been working towards the 46ers (the 46 mountains in Adirondack Park that are over 4000′) for a few years. I’ll admit to being an idiot when I started – wearing jeans, sneakers and a cotton shirt, carrying only 500ml of water and a small one-shoulder backpack that contained my wallet, an apple and a pb sandwich, I climbed Cascade and Porter mountains. Despite the lack of proper gear, I had a great time (except the descent. Those boulders are killer on the thighs) and I was hooked. 4 years later, I’m looking at a finish; I’m only four peaks away.

2 Summits. 4 Hours. 1 Bobsled. 1 Road-Trip.

Do not wear this hiking

I’ve learned so much in the past four years. What to carry, what to leave, and what to wear. When to push on, when to turn around and when to put the camera down and enjoy the view.

But the biggest, most important thing has always been what to have in my pack. I started winter hiking last year, and it’s been a learning curve for how to pack.

I have two packs – one for summer, which is smaller, and has a built in rain cover; and one for winter-like conditions (so anything from fall to spring). With my larger pack, if weather conditions look iffy, I bring a rain cover – I absolutely do not want my extra gear in there getting wet – especially the clothes. If I need to change, I need to change into dry clothes!

The essentials

I always carry a map and compass, and more importantly, I know how to use them. If you don’t know how to use either, sign up for a back country course, ask a friend, or sign up for a guided hike! It’s a good skill to have. A GSP can be a good thing to have, but technology can fail. Plus a compass takes up next to no space, and a map can help you figure out how far (or near) you are to your goal. If you happen to run out of water, it can also help you find the nearest water source, not something a GPS can help you with. When I’m on a new trail, I often have a guidebook, to give me an idea of what to expect next.

My hiking partner and I have gotten stuck on a mountain, as the sun set, with a 2 hour hike back to the parking lot. Headlamps are a must. It can be surprising just how quickly the dark comes on – the trees filter out a lot of light, and  the sun sets earlier as it falls behind mountains. Add in cloud cover, and you could be stuck on a trail that you can’t follow.

Having a headlamp is great, but what happens in the batteries die? Especially in colder temperatures, batteries just don’t last as long. Extra batteries, that you can easily find!, really should accompany you.

Another essential in my pack is a small first aid kit. I keep wetnaps (for cleaning cuts and scrapes, or my hands if they get mucky with pine sap), a few bandaids of varying size, Second Skin (for blister relief), duct tape (to keep the bandaids on) painkillers (Advil, Tylenol, Aleeve, whatever), antiseptic cream (Polysporin or the like), water purification tablets, and a small pair of scissors (the foldable ones you can get for sewing). For most minor injuries, this is enough. Anything more serious, I wouldn’t be able to treat on the trail anyway. In addition to this, I have a travel size bottle of sunscreen, lip balm (with SPF), and mozzie spray for the summer months.

Hanging off my pack is a whistle, which is mostly in case I’m lost and need rescuing. I can blow a whistle a lot louder than I can yell.

I nearly always (except for that time that I hiked with The Fiancé, and left him for dead) hike with the same person, so she carries fire starters – matches, and fire starting material (lint works well, or actually fire starters that you can get at an outdoor store). While she carries this, I carry the first aid kit.

In winter and shoulder seasons, I carry a space blanket with me. I have occasionally kept it in my pack in summer months, if the temperatures are expected to cool significantly overnight.

Considering I’m often out for over 10 hours hiking, invariably I end up having to empty my bladder. It would be disgusting if we all just left our waste sitting in plain view, so I carry a plastic trowel, so I can dig a cathole to bury my waste. Along with this, I have kleenex (for either this, or if my nose gets runny) and a a plastic bag for garbage (kleenex, or food waste)

The clothing

I always have some extra clothing in my pack, less in summer, more in winter. But I always have a spare set of socks, in case of a soaker when crossing streams and rivers. I keep them in a plastic bag, to protect them from a dunking, if I fall in a river. (Again.) In summer, I also carry water shoes if I’ll be crossing a larger river that I may have trouble fording.


Water shoes, first aid kit and wide-brimmed hat, on a break

One of the things always in my pack, winter or summer, are water resistant grippy gloves. In summer, they protect my hands from pine sap, poking bits, and help me climb up rock. In winter, they cover fabric gloves that keep my hands warm, and allow me to grip snow covered things (ladders, branches, rocks) without getting my hands wet.

A breathable rain jacket, and either rain pants or gaiters, also come in handy if I’m in a particularly muddy area. I generally only have the rain pants if there’s a good chance of rain that day (which for me is roughly 40%), otherwise I stick to gaiters.

I could not hike without a wide-brimmed hat. Sunglasses just don’t do it for me, when I’m switching between shade and sun. But a wide-brimmed hat works no matter what.

The food

When I first started hiking, I carried a lot of food.  Actually, thinking about it – I still do, I just eat less of it now. But here’s what works for me, with the caveat that what works for me might not work for you:

  • A small bag of trail mix (raisins, dried bananas, peanuts, cashews, m&ms, sunflower seeds)
  • Protein bar (more for emergencies than actually eating)
  • Cheese (Babybel is really easy to take hiking)
  • An apple (which is more to give the apple a tour of the trail, I rarely eat it)
  • A small baggie of veggies (carrots, celery, broccoli and cucumbers, usually)
  • Yogurt (one of the single serve containers)
  • A sandwich (of which I only eat half, if that)
  • Chocolate covered pretzels (guaranteed these will be gone)
  • A multi tool utensil (fork, spoon, screw driver, ratchet) to eat the yogurt
  • Whiskey (because you have to celebrate the summit somehow!)


    Summit whiskey is the best whiskey

I don’t eat about half of what I carry, food-wise, but just in case. If I need to spend the night on a mountain, I want to be able to feed myself. Or if I meet someone who has no food left, I want to be able to help out.

The water

I hiked 6 Adirondack mountains (Cascade, Porter, Algonquin, Iroquois, Wright and Giant) , and then I hiked Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. On Kili, I was told to drink 3L of water a day, to help with the altitude adjustment. That’s stuck with me, so I always carry 3L of water – 2L in a camelbak, and another litre in a plastic water bottle.

The water purification tablets in my first aid kit and in case I run out of water, and need to refill out of a stream. (This happened on June day when we hiked the Dix Range.) I also have a life straw, which contains a filter in the straw.

Special to Winter

New York State regulations state that either skis or snowshoes are to be worn when there is 8 or more inches of snow. In early and late winter, this often means that in lower elevations there is less than the required amounts, but as you climb the amount of snow starts to grow. So I pay attention to trip reports to gauge how much snow there is.

Additionally, I carry an extra bottom base layer, and two extra tops – one base layer, and one outer layer. When we stop for a break at the summit, I start to get cold, so I pull on the outer layer. It goes back into my pack when I start hiking.

Santanoni for the Range!

Order in ranking: 14


Santanoni had been my nemesis for a year.  Last October, we had started out to climb the Santanoni Range, heading up the Panther Brook trail to climb first Panther, then Couchsachraga before going to Santanoni, and down the Express Trail.
Our thinking was that if, for some reason, we couldn’t get to Santanoni, we could always come back and do an up-and-back via the Express.  And it turns out that we couldn’t get to Santanoni- by the time we got back from Couch, it was getting late, and we didn’t particularly want to walk back out in the dark.
So fast forward to March.  Steph had decided to try and do a winter ascent of Santa – having had success with Cascade, Porter and Allen, she thought she’d give Santa a try.  Unfortunately, the Express trail wasn’t broken out, and she while she could find the start of it, she lost it shortly there after.
Fast forward again to August.  We climbed Cliff on the Saturday, and then attempted Santa on the Sunday.  We made good time to the junction with the Express, but then we started to lose steam – our aches and pains from the climb before were hitting us hard.  We arrived at the Hilary Step around 2:00, and decided to turn around.  At the pace we were going, it would be another hour and a half to the summit, and we’d have to get down, and we were driving home that night.
So that makes 3 (4 in the case of Steph) attempts at reaching Santanoni’s summit. We were really feeling discouraged, but also determined – that summit was going to be ours.
We headed down in September for a weekend, and bright and early on a Saturday we were at the trailhead.  We headed up the road to the trail, and hit the express is just under 2 hours.  We were already making better time than our last attempt.  After a brief stop to chat with other hikers, we cross the stream (the water was low enough to rock hop) and head up the trail.
In August, at the Hilary Step

The Express trail is a bit erratic.  It starts off fairly even and flat, then there’s a rocky section that’s flat, then it evens out again but climbs, then a rocky section…this goes on for a bit before the trail starts climbing in earnest.  It starts off as a moderate grade, but quickly becomes steep….steeper….steeper… until you come to the Hilary Step – a massive white section of rock, that you have to skirt around to get back onto the trail, a point that Steph and I call ‘The Awful Up.’

This section was muddy and slippery the two times we’ve gone up it (and the two times down.)  We had to stop talking so we could concentrate on our footing – start climbing here, cross there, monkey swing around this, don’t pull on that it’s loose, climb up over there, cross again.  It took us a half hour the first time around in August, but only 15 minutes this time.
From there you enter in an area of blowdown, and you get your first view of Santa – and it looks a loooooong way off.  But just like Nippletop, the view is deceiving.  The trail descended a bit into a col, then climbed steadily (and steeply) through grabby trees, until we started to see more open rocky patches, with amazing views of Wallface, Marshall, Iroquois and Algonquin.
Elation! We made it!

Eventually you come to a junction with another trail, running left and right.  Turning left takes you over the false summit to Santanoni, right takes you towards Time Square.  We turned left, and it was minutes later that we came out to the false summit, and from there it was less than 2 minutes to summit – we got there at 11:47, four and a half hours after starting.

We spent nearly an hour on the summit, chatting with other hikers, and just enjoying the views and the fact that we.finally.made.it.  We headed down, elated that the hike had gone so well.  Everything about the hike had been (and would continue to be) perfect – the day had warmed up to a nice temperature, not too hot or too cold, the summit wasn’t windy, the leaves had already started changing…our hike down went just as smoothly as the hike up, and we reached the register at 3:55.  Santanoni was our 42 – only 4 peaks left!

Total climbing time: 8 hours 40 minutes
Left parking lot at: 7:15, returned at 3:55
Summitted Santanoni at 11:47

Scaling up Cliff Mountain

Order in ranking:  44

Finally, after months and months, I was back in the Adirondacks with my climbing compatriot, for an attempt on Cliff mountain, and if we had time Redfield.

Now, we’re both currently a little out of shape.  There have been a few years where we’ve swiftly ascended mountains, like the year we did the Dix Range, but this is not one of those years.  This is one of those schlep yourself up the mountain years.

So we stayed at the Hoot Owl B&B in nearby Newcomb (our go-to accommodations for hikes at Upper Works) and headed out bright early for a 7:15 a.m. start.  The going towards Flowed Lands is very quick – the trail, while not ‘flat’ is even – i.e. there are a few rolling ups and downs, but the trail isn’t covered in rocks, boulders, logs, branches, etc.  (This is actually great on the way out when you’re tired – you can just put one foot in front of the other and not have to worry about tripping over a root that is hiding in plain sight.) We made fairly good time, hitting the monument at Calamity Pond around 9:41 a.m., where we took some photos and chatted with a couple who were hiking in for an overnight stay.  From the monument, it was a short walk, about 20 minutes, to Flowed Lands, where we stopped again to soak in the beauty, have a snack, and rest our feet.  We thought this would be a great destination for a hike in and of itself – it was very quiet and peaceful, and other than the couple that had met at the monument, we didn’t see anyone else until we were ready to leave.

Someone jumped on the bridge.

From there, the trail started to get a bit rougher, with rocks and branches waiting to trip us up.  We walked around the Flowed Lands, and towards Colden Dam, a first for us.  After 15 minutes, we came to the junction with the Uphill Trail.  The name is not misleading, the trail at this point was a bit steeper, and with a lot more rocks impeding a quick pace (for us.)  We stopped by the suspension bridge (closed due to a cable giving way, and hanging precariously over the river) before continuing on, coming to the trail junction between Cliff and Redfield about 4 and a half hours after starting.  At this point, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to do with peaks, so we decided to hike the harder one – Cliff.

Only a little mud on this hike

We started up the trail, immediately encountering mud.  But, having done the Couchie bog the year before, we just powered through – we knew our boots were water-proof.  We quickly hit the first of the cliffs for which Cliff gets its name.

The cliffs weren’t too difficult, providing easy foot holds and hand holds, and were easy to scramble up, at least in the beginning.  The higher we climbed, the harder the cliffs became.  Near the beginning our of 46er journey, Steph and I climbed the cliffs of Saddleback, and after that, these cliffs were easy-peasy.  A few spots where you had to hold on with your fingertips, monkey swing around trees, and boost yourself up over ledges, but nothing that I would classify as scary (and I’m terrified of heights.)  Of course, takes this with a grain of salt – YMMV (your mileage may vary).

We finally summited Cliff at 1:46, six and a half hours after starting our hike.  We had our traditional swing of whiskey (from a metal flask, no glass for us), some lunch, and took some photos, before heading back down.  The cliffs were just as hairy going down as they were up, although we both decided to butt slide where we could, lowering our centre of gravity and reducing falls.

We made good time out, taking some time to relax on Colden Dam and chat with other hikers, enjoying the late afternoon sun, and the view of the mountains. We finally got up and continued hiking, hitting the parking lot at 7:59. A long day, but a restful one.  We had decided to enjoy our hike, and enjoy the Adirondacks, rather than race to get to the summit and back.

Total climbing time: 12 hours 44 minutes
Left parking lot at: 7:15, returned at 7:59
Summitted Cliff at 1:46

Allen! Allen! Allen!….I hate you Allen.

Order in ranking:  26

Let me start off with I’m blogging this late because I hated Allen every step of the way.  Allen was my beast, that mountain that just doesn’t play nice.  You feel….off, your pace is off, you’re sore, and you honestly think that maybe, maybe you’ll have to turn around because this just isn’t happening.

Allen was not my day.

I’d thought, and read and been told, that climbing Allen in winter made more sense.  First, you don’t have any red slime to content with.  Second, you cut time off simply because to get down, you sit, you push off, and you slide down – what takes you 2 hours up, is only 20 minutes down.  You also can walk straight across the Opalescent and Lake Jimmy, rather than wading and skirting.  It all made sense, so I packed up my winter gear and set off.

All is well crossing the Opalescent, even with open water

I’d posted on the ADK high peaks forum that I was heading out, and I met someone at the trail head.  We set off, and things went ok….until they didn’t.  At first it was just my snowshoes bothering me.  I toughed it out for a ways, then had to take them off – part of it due to the fact that the trail was really well-packed, but had formed a bit of a ridge in the middle that I had trouble navigating.  (I know, I know, wear your snowshoes, don’t posthole, etc etc).

No view, but still a winter wonderland

From the cabins to Allen brook went quickly.  The weather was good, the trail was solid, as were the water crossings.  I knew what to expect as a friend had climbed Allen only a few weeks previously, so I was prepared for the rolling terrain and the length of the hike to get to the actual mountain.

We signed in at the trail register, and soon hit Skylight brook and Allen brook, hearing the water gurgling away under the ice.  At this point we start to climb, in earnest.  And things just kept going downhill for me, including me.  When we hit the slide, I slide backwards and down about 40 feet.  I was frustrated, upset, and starting to think that I was going to have to turn around and attempt Allen another day.  But I had already come so far that I pushed on, and slowly (ever so slowly) pushed towards the summit.
When I finally broke out of the trees to the summit clearing (the last one) I finally felt some elation.  Here it was!  I gobbled down some food (some that I had brought, some that people fed me), before turning around and heading back towards the slide, where I could finally sit down and let gravity do it’s work (again, but this time in the right direction).  Only…..I lost control, careening down the slide, and (having already rammed into one person) I opted to hit a tree rather a backpack, wrenching my ankle.

Allen!  Allen!  No, wait, that’s Steve….

Heading back was nearly as torturous.  My climbing partner told me it’s best to think of the climb in stages – from the slide to interior register, from the interior register to the trail, from the trial to the road, from the road to the cabins, from the cabins to Lake Jimmy, from Lake Jimmy to the suspension bridge over the Hudson, which is a hop, skip and a jump from the parking lot.

Still plenty of snow at the end of March

It had been snowing on and off since about 11 am, but it really picked up pace as we hit the logging road.  It would have been wonderful if it wasn’t so tired and fed up with the hike.  I trudged and plodded my way along, and I swear my bag got heavier with each step.  It wasn’t until we hit the parking lot that I realized why – snow was collecting in a pocket – I had been carrying a growing snowball, about the size of a soccer ball by the time I found it, in my bag.

Total climbing time: 9 hours 22 minutes
Left parking lot at: 7:00, returned at 4:22
Summitted Allen at 12:20

And to apologize for the lack of pictures, please enjoy this BBC video:

Winter Hiking – Let’s Start Slowly

So my hiking partner, Steph, and I decided to try winter hiking, because we’re apparently crazy.

Having never done winter hiking (her), or snowshoeing (me), we decided to start slowly, and climb Cascade and/or Porter, if it looked like we were doing ok and had time.  Cascade is a short hike, 4.8 mile round trip hike from Route 73.  Doing Porter would add another 1.4 miles, if we decided to tack it on.

We’ve climbed both peaks before, they were our first 46-ers, back in October of 2011.  I remember hating them on the way down – the hike is steep enough, and the rocks plentiful enough, to make you curse the day you said ‘yes, I’ll hike with you, why not?’

Am I doing this right?

The day of our hike, we layered well – I had on base layers on top and bottom, fleece pants with rain pants over top, as well as a warm Vik Wind Pro mid-layer jacket by 66° North. I had an extra, heavier fleece jacket in my bag, as well as a windproof/waterproof jacket, extra socks and an extra pair of long johns in my pack.  I also had a toque, two pairs of liner gloves, and a pair of thicker mittens.  I was wearing a balaclava style neck and head toque. The temp was forecast to be quite nice, but being prepared for anything is par for the game of hiking in the Adirondacks.

We arrived early – there were plenty of cars parked along the road, but not many on the trail (or summits) – I guess they were off doing Pitchoff, on the other side, or ice climbing.  At any rate, we got settled into our snowshoes and took off, flipping up our heel lifts soon after our start, as we hit the climbing part of our day.

At the lower elevations, the snow cover wasn’t too deep – there were sections where a few rock tops peeked out, but for the most part the rocks were hidden, and our trek undisturbed.  We played leap-frog with a group of women behind us – we were hiking at the same pace, but taking breaks at different times.

Lots of snow at the higher elevations

We had one minor  incident, when I tried to back up in snowshoes (do not back up in snowshoes, just turn around) and fell over, getting snow all down my pants.  A quick brush off with a dry toque, and a change of liner gloves and we were off again.

It took us about 2 hours to hit the junction between Cascade and Porter, so we quickly head out to Cascade, to get our first Winter 46-er.  We met two men coming down who warned us about the winds on the summit, so we took out of thicker fleeces and popped them on, put on our toques, changed out of snowshoes to microspikes, pull on a second pair of mitts, and started to climb the rocks.

There’s this one rock spot on Cascade that is a bit of a bear to get up over, apparently as much in winter as in the summer.  Thankfully, another group was coming down as we were going up, so one of the men braced himself, and stretched out his pole, allowing us to get a good grip and pull ourselves up and over.

Obligatiory shoe shot

The summit was indeed blustery, and cold!, so we snapped a few pictures, as well as an obligatory shoes at the summit photo, before heading down, desperately hoping not to be blown off.  (Ok, it wasn’t that windy, but it was quite strong.)  We made good time getting back to the junction, so we stopped for some food (thankfully not frozen), before heading over to Porter.

Not as bad on Porter

Shortly after the junction, we hit a patch that was a little icy, and a little steep, going down.  So we sat down, and pushed off, sliding our way over the patch.  The hike to Porter was quicker than I remember it being in the summer, and thankfully the summit wasn’t nearly as windy – the trees helping to block the worst of the wind.  We spent a bit mor time here, actually enjoying the view, before heading back to the junction, and down to the trailhead.  We made good time on the way down – it took us an hour from the junction – mostly due, I’m sure, to the fact that we slid down most of the way.

Contemplating the view, before re-snowshoeing

I Went to Guatemala (And You Should Too)

A while back, like September, I saw a bunch of promoted tweets on Twitter from ‘Discover Guatemala’ promoting travel to the country.  These tweets were retweets from travellers in Guatemala doing awesome things – like roasting marshmallows on an active volcano.
Which made me think, ‘I can do that!’  Because a) I like to hike and b) marshmallows.
So, I talked to the BF, who agreed that yes, volcanoes are great and marshmallows are tasty and ok we can go to Guatemala for Christmas.
Our flight went through Washington DC, with an overnight lay-over, so we left on a Friday after work, and landed in Guatemala City on Saturday, December 20.  We immediately left the city for Lake Atitlan, having arranged for a private shuttle with our hotel, La Fortuna at Atitlan.
The drive from the city to Panajachel (the main port town on the lake) took nearly 5 hours – we hit three separate traffic jams, due to pre-Christmas travel and shopping.  Once we hit Solola, the town at the top of the escarpment above Lake Atitlan, we hit the third and final traffic jam – it seemed most of the town was out on the steep, cobblestone, one lane streets.  Including several buses, ambulances and other emergency vehicles.  Our driver was nonchalant, “Eh, Guatemala” he said, as he careened down a (very steep!) street, around parked cars and school buses.  Thankfully, we finally arrived in Pana shortly thereafter, in one piece, and our shuttle company dropped us off just up the street from the docks, where we could catch a ferry (lancha) to our hotel.
Outdoor shower was lovely
The lanchas on Lake Atitlan are quick, and cheap, although they will try to scam you the first time – we had been told it was 10Q per person to our hotel, but were charged 25.  (In fact, the guy tried to insist it was 25Q per person, which I refused to pay)  For people staying at hotels outside the towns, it’s not difficult to flag them down – simply wave your arm and they ferry will zip in to pick you up.  We were met at the dock of our hotel by one of the owners, Kat, who showed us to our casita (a private cabin) and gave us more information, as well as our dinner order.
The next day, Kat came by again with a few suggestions on what to do around the lake, included a short hike along the shoreline from Santa Cruz (the town next to our hotel) to Jaibilito.  We thought it sounded like a good idea – it would get us out and active, and give us a chance to see some of the surrounding country-side, so we walked down to the dock and flagged down a lancha.


We arrived in Santa Cruz and started our hike to Jaibilito.  At the dock, you immediately turn left, onto what does not look like a path, and follow it as it turns into wooden bridges – the water of Lake Atitlan has been rising for a few years, and it wiped out the path, so bridges have been constructed above the former path.
Heading out on our hike

The path goes down into a small gully, past a hotel, and then turns left as you climb up the mountains surround the lank.  There was a large section of burnt out land up top – it still smelt faintly of charcoal and ash.  We walked past this burnt out area and eventually crossed a bridge into Jaibilito.  We walked through the town, than back and down the only cross street to the dock area, then turned left to go to Club Ven Aca.  Along the trail, we could see where new retaining walls had been built, as the lake water rose.

A few hours later, after lounging poolside, we headed back to Santa Cruz, pausing at the boardwalks, as the wind had pick up and was tossing waves over the bridges.  It was a wild sight – not only were the waves crashing, but the moored boats were being tossed around, to the point where we wondered if one or two of the smaller ones would capsize. We carefully walked along the bridges – they were slick with lake water, and you never could tell when another wave would come crashing over them, ready to knock your feet out from under you.
We indulged in some Zapaca rum at the hostel to the right of the dock, watching the water and the people coming and going.  The rum was good – sweet, with no fiery after burn that I find a lot of hard liquor (*cough*vodka*cough) has.  I think it would have been perfect if the day were slightly sunnier, and we were on a beach.  The boat ride back to our hotel was definitely not for the faint heart.  And as we found out, this is common on Lake Atitlan – the waters are always rougher in the afternoon, but the mornings are mirror-calm.
Zipping across to San Juan
The next day we headed to San Juan, a small, mostly Mayan community on the other side of the lake.  The lancha ride was a little longer, and a lot more crowded than our ride the day before.  At San Juan, we hiked up the road from the dock, taking time to look at the shops that line the streets – mostly selling souvenirs, but also coffee shops, a place where the show you how they make the dyes for their yarn, and a few art galleries.  We spent nearly an hour walking around San Juan, before jumping in a tuk tuk (an auto-rickshaw) and heading the few miles to San Pedro, at a cost of 10Q each.  Be prepared for some bumpy roads! The tuk tuks weave in and out of other traffic, because they’re smaller, they can often get around the giant car-swallowing potholes easier, and our driver at least wasn’t about to let traffic get in the way of dropping of us.
San Pedro is a busier, touristy town.  While San Juan felt quiet and relaxed, there was more bustle around San Pedro, and a lot more tourists.  Most of the shops and restaurants and clustered near the dock, but we wandered up and around, to the cathedral, and through the market.  We had lunch near the docks, and watched the lanchas come in, off-load one group, and load on another before heading off.  Thankfully it’s easy to figure out which lancha you need, as they yell out the names of the towns they are heading to (i.e back to San Juan, San Marcos, and Santa Cruz, or to Panajachel.)  If in doubt, it’s easy to ask – just give the name of the town or hotel you’re heading to, and they’ll either nod, or point to which lancha you should be on.
We left the next day for Antigua, using a shared shuttle.  The ride was again bogged down in traffic in Solola at the top of the escarpment above Panajachel, but the traffic lessened as we left it behind.  About two hours later, we arrived at our hostel, El Hostal.  We dropped our luggage, made a reservation to climb Pacaya the day after, then headed out to the city.
View of Antigua from Kafka

We wandered down to the arch, then past the Merced Church before finding Kafka, a restaurant that had been recommended to us.  They have a wonderful rooftop patio, with an amazing view of Pacaya.  (In fact, quite a few places in Antigua have rooftop patios with views of the volcanoes that ring the city.

It was pretty windy, and getting cooler, so after one drink we headed out and wandered towards our hostel, we took a pretty rambling route, because one of the things that we enjoy is just walking through different cities and seeing the buildings, the people and the lives that happen there.

The next day we were picked up at 6:30, and driven to the trailhead for Pacaya, an active volcano just outside Antigua.  Tickets typically do not include entrance to the park, an extra 50Q per person.  The two other people with us, a German couple, didn’t have enough money, they hadn’t known that they needed extra to enter the park.  We weren’t going to ruin their Christmas Eve by making them wait at the gate for us, so we offered to lend them the money.  They only need a few Quetzles for the entrance fee, so we were shortly off.

On top of Pacaya

The hike itself starts out at a moderate grade, but quickly becomes much steeper.  Our guide, who spoke fairly good English, would allow us to stop every 30 minutes or so, for a quick break to get our breath back.  As it was just the four of us, we made good time.  We climbed higher and the guide pointed out lava flows from both 2010 and from early 2014.  We then headed across the lava field, over the jagged rocks, being carefully where we stepped.  We stopped to pose for a few photos, and then rounded a corner to find….a store.  The Lava Store, to be exact.  This store provides local with jobs – they make jewellery that have lava stones set in them.  Buy a piece, and you get a small change purse, made from traditional Mayan cloth.  We lent the German couple some more money here, and honestly I wasn’t going to ask them to repay it.  You do good deeds to do good deeds, not to get rewarded or paid back.  However, true to their word, they left the money for us at our hostel later that day, after we had returned from our trek.  I hope they had an enjoyable rest of their holiday.

After a brief stop here, we headed over to another lava field to roast some marshmallows (which, along with a stick, were provided by a guide.) over a hole dug into the rocks.  We spent a bit of time here – we were the first tourists to arrive, so we were all alone, and wandered around a bit.  When a larger group appeared, we decided to head back – our solitude having been interrupted.

Back in Antigua, we headed out for the challenge of finding something open for lunch (and then dinner).  A lot of restaurants in Antigua close for both the 24 and 25 of December, although we noticed that the places closer to hotels or hostels tended to be open.  We also found out that most hostel offer cheaper beer than the bars, and you don’t need to be a guest to drink there.  Good tip if you’re looking to save some money.

In Tikal

On the 26, we were picked up by a private shuttle and taken to the airport in Guatemala City, where we climbed aboard a 19-seat plane for a quick flight to Flores, and from there to Tikal, a set of Mayan ruins buried in the jungle.  We had booked a hotel right in the park, along with a few tours.

Our first tour was immediately after arriving at the hotel.  We walked into the park, and stopped at nearly every tree for a brief discussion on what it was.  It took a few minutes before we got to our first set of ruins, and they were blissfully empty.  We wandered around (and over) before heading to the Grand Palace, and the hordes of people.   We climbed up a few pyramids, but trying to wind our way between the crowds was difficult.  Our group had 7 people, 3 Americans, 2 Colombians, and us 2 Canadians, so the tour was mostly in English, with some Spanish for the Colombians.  We all seemed to go at the same pace, which was great.  After climbing up the largest pyramid in the park, and enjoying the views (if you’ve ever seen Star Wars: A New Hope, you might remember the aerial views of Yavin 4, which were filmed at Tikal.  That’s essentially the view you get from the top of the pyramid) we hopped a truck back to the park gates.

Up top at yaxha

Our trip the next day was to Yaxha, another set of Mayan ruins not far from Tikal….as the crow flies.  Driving there takes about an hour and half.  Only about 10% of Yaxha has been unearthed, so you constantly pass “hills” that aren’t hills – they’re pyramids buried under earth, trees and roots.  Yaxha has far fewer visitors, so we were nearly undisturbed, other than the sounds of the howler monkeys in the trees, which are a little disturbing.  When all you see is jungle, and you hear a noise that sounds remarkably similar to the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, you really start to wonder who’s trying to prank you.  We got to climb a bunch of pyramids, enjoying the views from the top, before heading to lunch, and a boat ride across the lagoon to an island, and more Mayan ruins.  It was about this time that the rain began, so we quickly headed back to the car, and to Tikal. The rain did let up, so the BF decided to try the ‘canopy tour’ near the entrance to Tikal – he says it wasn’t nearly worth it, as it’s a series of nine, short zip-lines and nothing ‘canopy’ or ‘tour’ like about it.

On the Rio Dulce

The next day saw another early morning, as we headed to Santa Elena, for a bus to Rio Dulce, and then a ferry towards Livingston, and our hostel on the river.  The bus ride was short, quick and painless, and we arrived about a half hour before the boat left.  The boat ride was a bit slower – it’s very much meant for tourists – they swing by the fort, then a tree filled with birds, then stop to let local girls in canoes paddle up to sell souvenirs, another stop at hot springs, and then they pick up speed as they race down the various channels to drop people off at hotels.

We spent two days lounging river side, reading and relaxing, before heading into Livingston itself for a few days.  At this point we were losing steam – we’d been travelling fairly non-stop for a week and a half, so we were beginning to look forward to a few days of rest in Guatemala City before heading home.  Our stop in Livingston kind of felt like just killing time.

Not prepared for the hike up to Siete Altares

Still, we booked a tour out to Playa Blanca, on what turned out to be our greyest day in Guatemala.  We stopped off at Siete Altares, hiking up to the pool at the top (which was filled with collage age children, so we didn’t stick around), before speeding across to the beach.  We paid the 20Q entrance fee, and sat on the beach (getting bit by little sand flies) and enjoying the few rays on sunshine that broke through the cloud cover.  The weather turned nasty again, and we headed out 45 minutes earlier than planned.  The sea was choppy, but lots of fun as we headed back to Livingston.

Getting to Porte Barrios the next day, January 1, was interesting.  We waited at the dock for half an hour for the ferry to fill.  (Lucky us that we hadn’t arrived early – one couple had been waiting for an hour!)  But we eventually headed out, only to be pulled over by the navy – doing a spot check of licences and safety precautions.  Once in PB (ha!), we caught our bus to Guatemala City.  I’m pleasently surprised that all of our connections, for our entire trip, ended up being fairly painless.  Often we did have to wait an hour for the next bus, but in the grand scheme of things, an hour isn’t too bad a wait.  At least it’s not 3+ hours, right?

After that it was relaxing at our swank-fancy-pants hotel, who got us a driver to take us to the market so we could pick up souvenirs.  We went to the central market in Guatemala City, where we found everything we were looking for – t-shirts, ball caps, hammocks, toys, masks, coffee, texiles, etc, and vendors willing to haggle with us. But other than that, we were too tired to properly visit the city.

Still, we were sad to leave, especially since we arrived home to freezing rain and snow.  Which is why we’re going to Jamaica for Easter.

Pros                                                                 Cons
– sunshine, sunshine, sunshine                            – closure of shops/restaurants in
– La Fortuna at Atitlan (and Atitlan)                    Antigua over Christmas
– Volcan Pacaya                                                – Tikal
– Yaxha                                                             – Livingston
– excellent bus, ferry systems                             – boats are few and far between on
– safe                                                                 Rio Dulce
– friendly people, who don’t push you                 – non-haggle friendly vendors
to buy souviners                                                 in Antigua
-haggle friendly vendors in GC                           – waiting an hour for a bus

2/3s of the Santanoni Range

Order in ranking:  Panther 18, Couchsachraga 46

Our intention for the weekend was to climb the Santanoni Range (aka The Santas).  Our plan was to hike in and up the Panther Brook trail, as it is farther away than the Santa Express, pop over to Panther, slog it to Couch, book it over to Santa, and then down.  Knowing it would be a long day and an early start, we stayed in nearby Newcomb at a newly renovated B&B, The Hoot Owl.  It’s a 20 minute drive to the Santas trailhead, and the B&B is very comfortable – the owners told us to help ourselves to anything in the fridge for breakfast, seeing as we would miss the meal as we were leaving early for our hike.

Before I detail the trip let me just say:  Couch gets a bad rap.  I think people hate it because it’s a lot farther than people think it is.  It took us 3 hours (not counting our break at the summit.) to get there and back.  But – it’s a pleasant hike, the mud isn’t bad (it was worse on Panther), and the bog is easy to get across – there were lots of logs and branches to step on to easily clear it.  Just be prepared for it to be a long hike there.

The drive to the trail head was foggy, and it was still pitch blank out when we arrived at the trailhead.  We signed in at 6:00, starting off on the gravel road that would take us to the trail to Bradley Pond, which is where the Panther Brook trail starts.  It was still dark at this point, so we had our head lamps out and of course managed to miss the trail.  So for any of you that might need to know if you see this sign:

Turn around and head back.  The trail will be on your left about 30 seconds later.

Clouds ringing the mountains

By this point it was light, and we put our headlamps away.  The fog was lifting as the sun burned it off, resulting is some great views from the trail.

The Bradley Pond trail is a relatively smooth trail, especially at the beginning.  Shortly after starting it, you come to a small water crossing, where a bridge has been….washed away?  Destroyed at any rate.  There were two planks set across the water, resting on rocks, that we walked across.  The water level wasn’t high that day, so rock hopping would also have been an option.  Not long after that is the “Dangerous Bridge” crossing – the planks that form the bridge itself and in good repair, it is part of the side of the bridge, leading to ground level, that have fallen away.  We rock hopped the crossing in the morning, but by evening the water level had risen considerably, so we shimmied around the dangerous part of the bridge, and hauled ourselves onto the bridge and walked across.  It held, but here’s hoping it’s replaced/fixed soon.

Junction with Panther Brook

Shortly after the dangerous bridge, the trail get wet, and muddy.  There were enough rocks to rock hop around the water, but gaiters were definitely a good piece of equipment for this hike.  We hit the cairn marking the turn off for the Santa Express two hours after starting our hike, and about an hour after starting the Bradley Pond Trail.

As we walked the trail became rockier and wetter the further on we walked, and we passed three sets of rotting corduroy wood bridges before we hit the junction with the Panther Brook herd path. Judging from some other blogs I’ve read, our path wasn’t as wet as it can be.  It was just a trickle of water at most points This junction is not too far from the Santa Express – we got there a half hour after we saw the cairn marking the Express.  We took a quick break, taking off a layer as it had warmed up a bit, and then started off towards Panther.

Careful on the beaver dam.

Just after the junction, you leave the trees and come out onto Bradley Pond.  Here, you walk across a beaver dam (was the beaver named Bradley?  Is that how the pond got its name?)  being careful, as the spit of land is rapidly eroding into the water.  Once across the dam, you enter the trees again and start an upward climb.  We did find that the trail here was a little hard to follow – there seemed to be some false herd paths in the area, going off in all directions.  Perhaps in the summer it’s easier, the fallen leaves at this time of year can obscure trails easily. With a bit of searching, we found the correct trail – slightly wider than the others, and bit muddier, and we were off, climbing at a moderate grade.

There’s a bit of up and down, although the rocks aren’t too bad yet, before you come to a set of impressive cliffs.  We walked along the base of them, making a joke about “Thankfully there’s no paint blazes” when what do we see?  Paint blazes. (Granted, the paint blazes were telling us to follow the trail we were on.)  After the cliffs we came to Panther Brook, which you have to cross – there’s a small cairn on the other side.  The water level was low enough that we just walked across the rock slabs.  From there on out, you follow the brook up.  A lot of times you are in the brook – walking up the rocks.  We were lucky that the water level was low, and our boots didn’t get wet, although they did get muddy fairly quickly.  There was another false lead, where it looked like the path led away from the brook, but we quickly figured out our mistake and continued up the rocks.  Eventually the brook peters out, and the trail continues, muddy, through the trees until…..it ends.  You come to a T junction with another trail.  This is Herald Square.  If you turn to your left, you’ll see a ‘P’ carved on a rock, marking the trail to Panther.

October snow on Panther Peak

We had decided to go to Panther first, as it was closest, then to Couch, then to Santa, heading down the Express trail, and then out.  We practically raced through the trail to Panther – getting muddier with each step.  From ahead of me I heard Steph shout ‘SNOW’ and wouldn’t you know it – there was a light dusting of snow on the ground.  In fact, the evergreens were frosted with ice and snow.   It was a really enchanting sight, more so because it wasn’t a cold day (not a warm day, either, but we were warm enough in long sleeve shirts)

Just then we saw it – the giant muddy bog of doom, and just beyond the safety of a rock slab.  We first headed along the left side, which was shortest, but got instantly sucked into the mud.  (And yet again I was thankful for my gaiters.)  We reached the rock slab, gawking at the view, before racing in another few feet to take a photo with the summit sign.  Then it was back out to take in the view from Panther, which is phenomenal.

Panther Peak for number 38


Boggy bog on Panther

We didn’t stay long, knowing that we still had to hit Couch.  We walked back through the bog, staying to the opposite side, which wasn’t as boot sucking as the other, and headed past Herald Square to Times Square, where we arrived at 11:28, 5 1/2 hours after starting out.  From there we followed the ‘C’ carved into a tree towards Couch, running into four or five other groups also heading in the same direction, which would make for one crowded summit.

The trail to Couch wasn’t that bad – there were a few mud patches at the beginning, but then the trail dried up, and it was a pleasant hike through the woods.  There were three significant down-and-up sections – just when you think “Ahhhh, the summit must be close, I’ve probably gone down the 800′ and now this is the 300′ up” but no.  The third time this happens, then you’re close.  The infamous Couch bog is slightly past the mid-way point, closer to the summit than Times Square, but not exactly all that close.  It’s also not all that bad – we found plenty of logs and branches to walk on across the bog.  That doesn’t mean that we didn’t step into the bog, but thankfully the two times I did (once on the way to there, and once on the way back) it was near the end.  I only got sucked in upto my ankles.

Mud mud and more mud

Near the summit of Couch are two rock scrambles, one of which was wet as I went through.  I was wearing gloves, because so many of the logs, trees, rocks and branches were wet, so I just hauled myself up.  After the second rock scramble (mini-cliff), you’re at the summit.  (If you’re on the trail and begin wondering if you’ve passed the summit, the trail ends at there.  If there is trail in front of you, you haven’t missed it.)  Everyone we met said the same thing, “That was a lot further than I expected.”  Couch may be little, but the amount of work to get there is not.  It’s 1.4 miles from Times Square to the summit, and going back you have to gain a lot of lost elevation.  Most reports I’ve read said that on the way to Couch you lose 800′ only to gain 300′ to reach the summit – don’t forget the reverse of that!  That’s 800′ you have to re-gain on your way back.

I paused on the summit, the first of the five parties (15 people in total) to arrive.  I was alone for about five minutes before the next 4 people showed up, and hot on their heels were two other parties, 6 people in total.  Steph arrived next, giving us a total of 14 people on Couch’s tiny summit!  The other groups were on their first peak of the day – most were planning to do Panther next, one group was heading to Santa.  They left and the other girl Steph and I were hiking with arrived, giving the three of us time to relax and eat lunch on the summit before heading out, and meeting the final party along the way back.  (Actually, we would meet another man heading to Couch near Time Square)

Our trip back to Time Square was a bit slower, as we were starting to get tired, and the constant sucking of the mud added to the amount of effort we had to put into each step.  By the time we all got back, it was 2:47, giving us a total time of 3 hours 29 minutes to get to Couch, have lunch and get back.  We debated the wisdom of doing Santa – it’s a mile along the ridge, with 400′ elevation gain, to the summit, and then two miles down the Express.  From the Express trail junction, it would be another 2 hours, and one dangerous bridge crossing, to get back to the car – we figured on this taking us at least 5 hours.  On the other hand, if we were to take the Panther Brook trail, we would be on the trail for only 4 hours, assuming it didn’t take us as long to go down as it did up.  We knew that the sun would be setting at 6:30, so we made the decision to leave Santa for another day.

Bradley Pond

We headed back down the way we came, finding it even wetter than on the way up.  We assumed it was due to snow melt, as it had been a bright, sunny, warm day on the trails.  We moved a little quicker on the down, although not by much, as finding footing was difficult on the rocks – going up streams is always easier than going down, because going down you can’t see what’s below the rocks as well.  However, we shaved nearly a half hour off our time, arriving at the junction with the Bradley Pond trail at 5:00.  Steph’s ankle started hurting (from a previous injury), and the other girl’s asthma starting to kick in, so we decided that I would go ahead to the cars and get things (i.e. food and water for after the hike) organized, while the two of them would go at a slower pace.  I headed out, crossing the dangerous bridge this time, as the water level had risen enough to make rock hopping harder, and onto the road for 6:00.  Having down the hike in in the dark, I didn’t recognize many things along the way.  I hit the parking lot at 6:35, with just enough daylight left to change into non-mud encrusted clothing.  After that it was just a patient (if slightly paranoid “all alone in the dark and was that a sound?  Did I see something other there?  ARE THE DOORS LOCKED?!?”) wait for the other two to arrive.  I figured on them being out by 7:30; I saw their headlamps at 7:20.

– wear gaiters and gloves to ward agaist mud and slime
– Couch is a pleasant hike when you know that it will take forever.
– The infamous bog is not that bad – lots of fun log hopping it across
– Panther has a fantastic view from the rock face just before the summit

Total climbing time: 12 hours 35 minutes

Left trailhead at: 6:00, returned at 6:35
Summitted Panther at 11:02, Couchsachraga at 12:37

Sawteeth, Short and Sweet

Order in Ranking:  35

A few weekends back (I’m late getting this up), Steph and I set out to climb Allen, with the Santanoni Range as our Plan B.  We parked at the trailhead, and slept in the car, as is our custom when hiking some of the outer-lying High Peaks.

5:00 rolled up way too early, and we hit snooze a couple of times.  When we finally did get up, it was blacker than black outside.  The forecast had been calling for rain, and it looked like it was going to be right – thick, dark clouds obscured the sky.  We debated the wisdom of starting out on Allen, or even the Santas, in what was promising to not be a very good day.  Plus, we really didn’t feel like getting out of the car to eat, change and get our gear together.


We eventually decided to drive to the Sawteeth trailhead at the St. Huberts parking area, near the Ausable Club.  We still had Sawteeth to climb, and though if nothing else that would make a good Plan C.  We had no idea how long it would take us, or how far the hike was, but we had a map, and we’ve been down the trails by the Ausable Club often enough that we felt confident we’d figure out where we were going.


We drove along the I-87, and the clouds cleared enough to give us a glimpse of….red sky.  I don’t know if you know that saying, but Steph and I both do – “Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.  Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”  We figured the red sky was not a promising sign, and were glad that we had decided not to attempt our Plan A or Plan B.


We parked at the parking lot up the road from the golf club, and got our gear together, greeting one duo of hikers headed out, and chatting with another duo who pulled in around the same.  The four of us set out, as the clouds dissipated and the sun came out.
Hiking off down the Lake Road
We reached the trail register, and manager to confuse the ranger at the station by replying “Sawteeth” and “Dial” when he asked where we were going.  We quickly explained that we were two groups going in two directions – we had no plans to climb both Sawteeth and Dial.
We set off down the Lake Road together, the other two breaking off when they reached the trail to Dial.  They mentioned that if the weather held and they were making good time, they would try for Nippletop as well.  Steph and I continued along until near the end of the Lake Road, to the cut off for Sawteeth.  We did have a few moments of “which trail marker colour again?”  and “let’s just pull out the map” but we knew the trail we wanted was close to the end of the Road, so we kept going, eventually find the path that leads down to the dam – it’s the last trail on the right, about 20 steps past a trail leading off to the left.
Morning view from the dam
 At around 8:40, we took a quick break on the far side of the dam, enjoying the sun and the warm temps – taking off a layer, and lamenting that we had given up too quickly on our plan to hike Allen.  It was shaping up to be a good day.  We quickly headed back off, and took the quick route (not the scenic route) up Sawteeh – if it did start to rain later in the day, we wanted to be well off the summit and on our way back to the car.  We had another moment of “Um..which way do we go?” When we saw that sign post just after the dam – to the left the sign said “Sawteeth via Scenic Trail” and to the right “Rainbow falls” and a third sign pointing straight on that just said “Gothics and Sawteeth.”  We took a chance and went straight on – turns out we were right.
The trail was easy to follow, and we walked in silence for a while, just enjoying being outside.   My last hike had been with Steph and a group of 4 others up Gothics, Armstrong and Upper Wolf Jaw, and Steph had done Marshall with 3 others not too long before, so we were both eager to have some quiet time out on the mountain.  We rock-hopped across a couple of streams – the water level was low and they were easy to ford.  The trail itself started off at a moderate grade – typical Adirondack steepness, with various parts that were slightly steeper, and various parts that were a little flater. 

Just after we hit the lookout for Rainbow Falls,  clouds began to roll in again, making it somewhat dim under the trees.  We commented on how if the clouds held, it would seem dark a lot quicker on the trail, and it was a good thing we weren’t out doing a long hike, like Allen or the Santas.  This trail was just as quiet as we’ve heard both Allen and the Santas are – we only met a few other people – perhaps two or three groups – in total on the trail.  It was a very quiet day out in the Adirondacks.  Given that this Saturday was forecast for rain, and the next day was supposed to beautiful, I’m not surprised other people held off on their hikes.



Not using the tree to climb, just to pose
 We hit the col around 10:10, and we stopped for another quick break and snack.   We were happy to see that it was only another .6 miles to Sawteeth, and were a little disappointed that the weather wasn’t going to cooperate for a quick jaunt over to Pyramid, but figured that could always be left for another hike.  Our snacks helped kick us back into gear, and we headed off to hit the summit.  The temperature was cooling off, and the cloud cover was a bit thicker than it had been.   We continued our climb, up and over a few open patches of rock that were very easy to rock scramble up, before coming to what we assumed was the summit.  I went a little further down the trail, but saw nothing else that came close – there was a sign that said “…” one way and “Lake Road” the other, and the distances matched up with those in the guide book, so we decided that that had to be the summit.  We sat down to eat some lunch, and watched the clouds blow in and over the summits of Pyramid, Gothics and the other high peaks.



There are peaks in there….somewhere
The wind also picked up around this time, so we hurried through our lunches and photos (making sure to snap a few of the clouds obscuring the other peaks) and back onto the trail.  We had to put our long sleeve shirts back on, to ward against the chill.  We hurried down, meeting only one group on their way up (doing a loop with Pyramid, Gothics and Armstrong).  As always, I managed to slip and slide my way down the rocks, although only ended up with one small scratch along my knee.
What a difference a few hours make!
We hit the dam and stopped for another quick break – pulling out the rest of our sandwiches.  As we sat, a large group of people (about 10) walked by, and into the forest.  At that was when the rain started.
We quickly packed up, headed over the dam and up to the Lake Road, as the rain began to pound down.  We were glad to be at the Road portion – there was no way, no matter how bad it got, that we could lose the trail.  Plus the trees along the road provided a bit of shelter (if not as much as we would have gotten on the trail.)  We marched along in our own worlds, just making for the car and getting as wet as a person can get.
We signed out, noticing that our hiking partners from earlier hadn’t signed out (we assume they headed towards Nippletop), and hoped that they would be back soon – the rain had let up somewhat, but it was still cool and wet.  We slogged our way to the car, and managed to get changed in the front and back seats, staying dry.  We threw out wet clothes into garbage bags, glad to have though ahead.
In all, it wasn’t a good day to hike Allen or the Santas, but we still have them hanging over our heads.  As for the “non-scenic route” – it was incredibly pretty and fun to hike.  It wasn’t a slog (as most of the hikes that we have left are) and it quiet.  There were no “ladders” to scramble up, but a few short rock scrambles that were fun.  It was a great short hike that I enjoyed, and would probably do again just to see what the view really looks like, when it’s not obscured by low-lying clouds!

These boots were made for hiking…
Total climbing time: 6 hours 14 minutes


Left parking lot at: 7:15,
Signed in at register 7:30, signed out at 1:44 returned at 4:42


Summitted Sawteeth at 10:40