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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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    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.

Indian Head

It was finally time to tackle another peak in the Adirondacks. It had been a weird winter – first Steph and I were both away. After that I had my wisdom teeth out, then Steph got sick, and I followed two days later. Plus, the weather was all over the place, lots of snow, weeks of barely 0C temps, one week of below 20C, back up to plus temperatures, and then rain. We’d been checking trail conditions on the Aspiring Adirondack 46ers Facebook page to see what kind of traction might be needed. The two weeks before we headed down, temperatures were in the single plus digits, and snow had mostly disappeared from lower elevations, but was still thick enough up top for snowshoes to be needed. Then the rain hit about a week ago, and the Friday before we were to hike, the temperatures dropped and it snowed a couple of inches. Snowshoes wouldn’t be needed, but microspikes (or even crampons) would be.

Seeing as we’re about 4 hours north, we always drive down the night before. When we’re climbing anything from the Adirondack Loj trailhead, or the Lake Road, we stay at Tmax and Topo’s Hostel. It’s a great hiker hostel – people go to bed early and get up early to get on the trails early.

So Saturday we were up and on the road by 6:45, before turning around because we had both forgotten something, and then back on the road again. We were making good time – no traffic, no sun in our eyes, lovely scenery….when a deer suddenly jumped out onto the road, and ran across it right in front of us. Steph had been thankfully looking in that direction, and was on the breaks in a heartbeat (which I don’t think either of us had at that point, because holy crap this is what they warn you about) and…we stopped. We stopped an inch from the deer as it ran pell-mell across the road and into the woods on the other side. And then we just sat there for a second, before driving away and trying to get our breathing under control.

So it was with that drama that we arrived at the Lake Road parking area, and walked towards the register. As we neared both it and the gate, Steph grabbed my arm to get me to stop walking, and said “deer” in a soft whisper. (You see, last summer when we were heading back to the trailhead from Cliff, I was staring at the trail, and Steph gasped and grabbed me, causing me to panic because I thought “BEAR” while she saw “deer”, so this time she didn’t want to startle me.) I still jumped, though, because I thought (stupidly, I know, but it wasn’t even 7:30 yet on a Saturday) that I was about to walk into a deer….and it was essentially a replay from  last year.

So we signed in around 7:20, with the idea of climbing Colvin, and if we had time, Blake. (We were willing, if somewhat reluctant, to orphan Blake, even if we needed to go back over Colvin to get it).

The road was well packed, well frozen, but had no snow cover. As we walked on, the cover became a dusting of snow, before finally the road was covered in about an inch of soft, white powder. There were very few tracks in front of us, and we ran into a few people, but for the most part it was quiet and still.

If you remember from my post on the first time we did Colvin and Blake, don’t take the first trail that says “Colvin.” If you do this, you’ll be one step ahead of us because we did take the first trail, and were way-laid by a small, but significant, water crossing. With the melt, and rain, from the previous weeks, the normally small crossing didn’t have what we considered a good fordable area. I’ve got balance issues when it comes to water crossing (I am not a rock hopper, I’m a rock-slipper-faller-on-my-knee-er). At this point we pulled out the map, realized that we should be on the other trail, and bushwhacked the 50 feet to the Lake Road.

Shortly down the road, we came to the junction that we had wanted all along. We followed the single set of footprints, before realizing that we shouldn’t just blindly follow someone else’s tracks because we have no idea where they were going. We were still on the trail, but we started paying attention to the trail itself, and to the markers along the route. We came to a normally small stream crossing, but again – the rocks were pretty icy, and the water covered the rocks just enough to make me hesitant to cross it.

We debated it a little bit, but decided not to risk it – especially seeing as it was only about 8:30, and we didn’t want to get stuck on the wrong side of the stream in the afternoon if there was any more melt.

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A bluebird day in the Adirondacks

From the junction of the Gill Brook trail and the short-cut, you can go up Colvin or you can go to Fish Hawk Cliffs, or Indian Head. Having never been to Indian Head, we decided to head in that direction. (When one door closes, another opens, and all). No one had been on the trail since the snowfall the day before – it was pure unblemished snow. “Hey,” we thought, “this will be good winter experience for finding a trail! With the safety of being on a marked trail, just in case.”

The trail was fairly gradual at first, and most snowed in, but just like the Lake Road, there was only an inch or two of snow. In a few spots, it had started to melt, and we tried to avoid getting our feet wet in the small puddles.

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Rippling ice over leaves on the path

We had a few moments were we thought we had lost the trail (some blowdown from winter storms had fallen over the trail) but we quickly got back on track each time. We came to one section that had small rock faces that were covered in ice, but it was easily by-passable, although we did put our microspikes on. The snow had turned into an icy, concrete-like mass – and below that was a layer of pure ice. It was definitely not bareboot appropriate.

Near the top is a steeper section that required a bit of finagling, including a ladder that had ice on only one side of the steps (the cliff beside the ladder was casting a shadow on one side of the ladder, causing the ice there to remain, while the other side was getting full sun.) The trail leads to s short junction with a look-out 75 yards to the left, and the trail continuing on to Indian Head to the right. We passed an open rock face, and followed the path as it meandered up and down, until we came to the summit. We sat for a quick food break, before heading back to the sunny rocks for a true lunch (chili!)

The trip down was uneventful, although the snow and ice had started to melt more by this point. Where there had been small puddles of water previously, there were deeper puddles, and the snow had lost its icy crispness. We ran into a few more hikers on our way out – which we thought was unusual, until we looked at our watches and realized it was only noon. Our walk to the register was slow but smooth – we stopped a few places for photos, and just took it easy.

 

The Azores: Sao Miguel

This was an exceptional year for us, travelwise.  We decided to do summer trips, each one a week long.  We thought it would be great!  And while the trips were, it was somewhat exhausting – packing, travelling, unpacking, washing, packing, travelling, unpacking, washing…it just ended up feeling like we didn’t spend much time at home.

So after our end of June trip to Hawaii, we spent the first week of September on the Azorean island São  Miguel.  (The Azores are a set of nine islands, belonging to Portugal, located in the Atlantic Ocean.  Far, far from anywhere.)

Lots of people say ‘where?’ when we said we were going to the Azores, and after explaining the above parentheses, they said, ‘How do you know about these places?’ because I always seem to end up going places that other people have never heard of, or rarely think about.  I have no idea how I knew about the Azores, it was just one of those places that I’ve always wanted to go to.

We bought our tickets via the Sata website. Sata is the airline for the Azores, flying between the islands, and to Europe and North America (Boston and Toronto). Fair warning though – the seat pitch on the planes that Sata uses, is horrible.  31 inches, so if the person in front of you reclines their seat, say good bye to your knees.  But otherwise, it’s a good airline – the flight attendants were friendly, the food on the way to Ponta Delgada was ok (on the way home it was awful) and the flights were on time.

Town square

We started our trip in Ponta Delgada, the capital of São Miguel. While they are part of Portugal, they are also autonomous and have their own government.  The airport is very close to town (but don’t worry – there are no night flights, so the sound of airplanes landing/taking off will not disrupt your night) We were staying at hotel, VIP Executive, on top of a small hill, just off the downtown area.  This gave us the opportunity to explore the city a bit more, walking to and from the hotel.  The town has a few rolling hills, but the closer to the harbour you get (where most of the tourist sites are located) the flatter the city becomes.  There are quite a few cafés restaurants – some are located around the main square, others to the west, and then a lot around the harbour.

The widest sidewalk in Ponta Delgada

Ponta Delgada is small and compact, and it’s very evident that it was built for horses and carts.  Streets are narrow and windy, with cobblestone – meaning that even little old ladies going 5 km an hour squeal their tires as they go around curves.  Sidewalks vary in size but are mostly non-existent, forget walking side by side with your travel buddy.  The architecture is brown and white, very colonial looking.  It’s a very pretty town to wander in – even the houses look quaint, and the sidewalks tend to have tiled designs of white and grey.  (Easy to use as a navigation aid, in fact.)  You most likely won’t need a taxi to get around the city, but if you do – there is a taxi stand at the town square, and your hotel will be able to arrange one (say, if you wish to travel to a different part of the island, or to a different town.)

We were there at the tail end of summer, so it was still quite warm during the day (anywhere from 25C to 30C), so most restaurants had patios set up, even if those patios were only two tables and 4 chairs.  Most of these patios would have umbrellas over the tables to keep the sun off the patrons, but around the harbour the patios had roofs.

We popped into the fort one day (entrance fee of 3€) to see the military paraphernalia.  It was really interesting – there are a number of rooms to visit, in three different locations in the fort. They provide instructions on how to structure your visit – which rooms to visit first, how to get to the others – they are all located near each other, and there are also signs to help you find your way.  For military buffs, it’s definitely a must-see.  We enjoyed ourselves, but I could see it not being as much of an attraction to some people.  Towards the end of the tour, you can actually climb up onto the fort walls (accessed via a staircase) and look out over the city and working harbour.

Street art in Ponta Delgada

One tour guide that we had (when we did a half-day tour to Siete Cidades) told us that Ponta Delgada has a street art festival every year.  There certainly was a lot of different artwork on display around the city – and all of it amazing. We used some of it as a navigation aid, helping us find where to turn to get back to the hotel.  You never knew where you would find a new painting, they seemed to pop up in unlikely spots around the city.

On our first day, we noticed that a lot of people were swimming in the harbour.  There’s a section that is blocked off from boats, and people can swim (either do laps, or just splash around) as they want.  We also noticed that there was a platform that the  kids were jumping off of, into the water.  So of course Ross and I decided that we’re kids (well, we’re somebodies kids, right?) so one day we bought towels (travelling tip #34:  always bring towels.

Jump jump!

Even if you’re staying in a hotel, bring a towel.  Douglas Adams had it right.) and headed down to the harbour, where we proceeded to fling ourselves off the platform.  (We were, by far, the oldest people to be doing so.  The other adults were sedately using the stairs.)  It was actually a lot of fun, if a little cool at first.  Getting out was a little harder – the concrete steps and ladder are slippery with algae, and you had to time the climbing with the waves – wait while the wave comes in, then haul yourself up when the water rushes back out again.

There really isn’t anywhere comfortable to sit and dry off, other than a concrete step, or bench, but there’s plenty of room, and lots of other people doing the same.  For those worried about safety, there were life guards on duty while we were there.

From Ponta Delgada you have a plethora of tours to choose from.  We opted to a half-day jeep tour to Siete Cidades with Futurismo (they also do whale-watching tours).  The benefit (for us) in doing a smaller tour was that we got to go to places that the large tour buses couldn’t – for example, we headed up into the mountains to see two lakes in a  park.  We also got to go at our own pace – either spending more time somewhere or less time, depending on how we felt. It started out as a grey day, but the sun came out as we headed to Ferraria – where a hot spring meets the Atlantic Ocean.  During low tide you can swim in the ‘pool’, but unfortunately when we went, it was not only high tide, but also very windy, making it dangerous to enter the pool (we would have been dashed on the rocks had we tried.) For days when you can enter the water, there are ropes and a ladder available to help you.

View from the lookout
Siete Cidades

The other tour that we did was a whale-watching tour with Moby Dick Tours.  The day we booked to go ended up being very windy, so they shuttled us to the north of the island, to do the tour out of Rabo de Peixe.  (It’s only about 8 km from one side of the island to the other, so this isn’t as big a deal as it sounds.) We’ve gone whale-watching before (in Iceland) and if there’s one piece of advice I can give you (well, two.  I’m going to give you two) – 1) bring motion-sickness tablets.  It can get choppy out on the water, and you’ll be thankful to have them.  2) You’re most likely not going to see a whale leaping out of water, or the tail of a humpback.  Most likely you’ll only see the back of the whale as it surfaces.  If you think that sounds anti-climatic, it might be best to save your money.

On this whale watching trip, we ended up seeing a mama fin whale with her baby (it was one big baby), as well as a dolphin as we were coming back to shore. We spent close to an hour and a half watching the fin whales, they would breach, then go under, breach again.  I didn’t try to take any photos – it’s next to impossible to get a good shot, and you never know where they are going to breach.  I’d rather enjoy just watching them than stress myself out trying to get a photo.

Coming back to shore, we saw a beautiful rainbow over the coast of the island, which was unfortunate, as half the people on the boat couldn’t enjoy it. They were suffering from sea sickness (again, bring those motion sickness tables!) and were either lying down, or had their heads between their knees.

Our last few days we spent in Furnas, a town about 45 minutes away from Ponta Delgada (when the traffic is light).  Our hotel ordered a cab for us, and we took the southern route to Furnas, which cost about 45€, We were staying at Furnas Boutique Hotel and Spa, which from the photos looked faaaancy.  (It turns out that the place is very laid-back and chill, so we were comfortable in our jeans, hiking shoes and tshirts.)  We loved this place – the room was incredible, and even though we overlooked the restaurant and patio, we couldn’t hear any noise.  The room came with enough lights, which adjustable light, to give yourself a little light show (in fact, we did, trying to figure out which switch controlled which light, and how to get everything to turn off).  The hotel has two pools – an indoor pool, which is heated, and an outdoor pool, which is fresh, cool water.

We decided to do the hike around Lago de Furnas, a roughly 10km walk, round trip, from the town.  The first part of the walk is on a road, a winding road with no path alongside.  It felt a little unsafe at times – not quite dangerous, but often we questioned whether a driver would see us as they rounded curves.  Eventually we turned off that somewhat busy road to a quieter one that went along the lake.  We were given free entrance (I assume hikers get in for free, cars need to pay), and we stopped to check out the hot springs, where locals (and local restaurants) make Cozido – a local dish, where different types of meat and root vegetables are put in a pot, then lowered into a hole dug in the ground.  They cook for about 7 hours before being ready to serve.

The walk around the lake itself was very relaxing – it was a smooth gravel path, very even and very flat.  While the walk is 10km, it is not strenuous.  It is also shaded for the first half, but then becomes more open. Hats, sunscreen and water are definite musts for the hike, as well as comfortable shoes.  (Hiking boots not needed)

Halfway around the lake, we came to a small hill just off the trail.  We climbed the steps up, and found a large swing hanging from a tree.  Across from the tree was a lovely view of the lake, so we decided to take a moment and enjoy the solitude.  (In fact, at this point we had only run into two other people)  It was very quiet and relaxing, and a great place to take a rest.  The tires on the tree are to protect it from being damaged if it is hit by the swing.

After that the trail became more open, and eventually turned into a road (although we didn’t see any vehicles).  We passed a old church that had fallen into ruin (although it was still beautiful and picturesque) and started to notice more people, as there is a parking lot not far from this end of the trail. In fact, it’s possible to get a taxi to take you here and to walk back in the opposite direction, if the idea of walking 10km seems daunting.

As we rounded the lake, a sign pointed us up a steep hill (along a road, again) to a lookout over Furnas.  This part of the hike was strenuous – it was a steep grade, although it was partially shaded so at least we weren’t out in the direct sunlight.  We paused several times, before making it to the turn off for the lookout, which was a short walk off the road. The view was incredible, so we paused to soak it all in (and catch our breath), before heading down.  The down was just as steep as the up, but with the added insult of having loose gravel and leaves strewn over the cobblestone.  We took it slow, not wanting a fall to ruin our trip.

View of Furnas from the lookout

Our last full day on the island, we took a taxi (10€, one direction) to Faial de Terra, to hike to Salto do Prego waterfall.  We arranged with the taxi driver (who thankfully spoke English), to pick us up in 3 hours.  If you choose to do this hike from Furnas (or Povoação) you can ask your hotel to make the arrangements with your taxi driver as well.

This hike, while a lot shorter at 4.5km, is a lot more strenuous. The hike follows a true hiking path, and is steep and, at the time anyway, muddy.  There are rocks and roots to be careful of, as the trail winds its way along the stream, and through groves of olive trees.  We climbed slowly, with periods of steep ascent, before hitting the junction with the trail to the waterfall.
We were the only people there when we arrived around 11 a.m. We tested the water and it was cooooold.  We decided to don our swimsuits anyway, to at least splash in the pool around the waterfall, and to explore the stream in the opposite direction.

We quickly became accustomed to the water, and spent nearly an hour wading around the rocks and exploring the area, before decided that we should get dressed and continue on – we wanted to have enough time to explore Sanguinho, an abandoned village along the trail.  After putting our clothes back on, we climbed up, and explored the area around the top of the water (there’s a small lookout up there, as well as a trail that continues on.)

Just as we had started back, we ran into a German couple who were heading to the waterfall.  In fact, on our way back, we started to run into more and more people.  We had had excellent timing, arriving early and having the place to ourselves.

Sanguinho, the abandoned town, had some houses in complete ruins while others were merely overgrown with vegetation.  The most astounding part was that it had been abandoned after it had been wired for electricity – there were numerous street lamps along the cobblestone road. Several of the houses had been repaired and renovated, and we saw many tents – some Googling after we got home, and I found out that there was an  ‘Ecovillage Design Education’ group based there.

Our final day (half-day really), we took a taxi back to Ponta Delgada, this time via the northern route, and only 35€.  We had lunch and got a few remaining souvenirs, before heading to the tourism office, were we had arranged for the Aerobus to pick us up – at 5€ each, roundtrip, it’s a great deal.  A big plus for people who end their trip elsewhere on the island, the Aerobus will pick you up at non-hotel locations in the city.  We chose the tourism office because it was easy to find.

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.

TL:DR
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

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

Back to the Sewards

Order in ranking: 34

Ok, I know that technically Seymour Mountain is not part of the Seward Range, however they are accessed from the same trailhead, and (sort of, if you take the wrong trail) follow the same trail partly. 

Our experience in the Sewards was not a good one (for a refresher, see here) and we weren’t looking forward to our Seymour hike, but it had to get done.  We had been planning to come down, stay at Johns Brook Lodge, and hike Gothics and Armstrong, so we figured why not come down a day early and tack on Seymour?

Typical Adirondack trail

As is our custom with out of the way trailheads (Upper Works, Elk Lake, and Coreys Road) we car camped the night before at the trailhead.  Bright and early the next day we quickly ate breakfast, drank a little coffee and finished gathering up our things.  We were off before 6 am (we’re getting better at this!), knowing that after this hike, we still had the 3.5 miles into JBL.

This time we started out  in the light, so we managed to find the trail that we had missed on our first go-around when we did the Seward Range.  The trail is marked with a small ‘trail’ sign – it’s easy to miss, especially if you’re hiking in the dark!  At any rate, the junction is about 15 minutes past the trail register.

After a little up and down, we came to the junction with the truck road that (if you turn left) will take  you to Calkin’s Creek Trail.  We continued on over the flat terrain, crossing a few streams (one with a rickety bridge, several others require rock hopping) until we came to Blueberry Lean-To at 7:55, two hours after our starting time.  From here, it was an easy walk past the cairn marking the Ward Brook trail up Seward (which we shook our poles at) and over to the Ward Brook Lean-To, where we stopped for a quick snack just after 8.  

Cairn and bucket marking the Seymour trail

There was a bit of blow down along the path – one in particular was a massive tree that required some negotiating – the branches were in rather awkward spots to get around.  Soon after this, we hit the cairn + metal bucket that mark the start of the herd path up Seymour.

 

We started to climb up the easy grade, enjoy the day and the hike.  The path was quite nice – it started out at a moderate grade, and got steadily steeper (although not rock face steep).  We certainly got a workout climbing up.

We hit the summit early, and walked past it a little to look out over the Santononis.  We took a few pictures then headed back to the summit for lunch (at 10:30).  We were alone and enjoyed the peace and quiet, until a group of about 5 guys showed up.  We headed back down, as there wasn’t much room up at the top.

 

View of the Sants from Seymour

  The walk down took us about as long as the walk up – 2 hours.  We ran into a family of 4 who were hiking up, but otherwise didn’t see anyone else on the trails.  It was a fairly uneventful hike – it’s a very cute hike (yes, I called it cute) – that can be broken into 2-hour chunks – it’s about 2 hours in from the trailhead on a mostly flat trail, 2 hours up the herd path to the summit, then 2 hours down, and 2 hours out.

Total climbing time: 8 hours, 16 minutes
Left trailhead at: 5:55, returned at 2:11
Summitted Seymour Mountain 10:10

Cloudy with a Chance of Summiting Colden

Order in ranking 11

I’m sitting here listening to the rain thunder on the roof, and watching a lake grow in the parking lot out front, so it seems an apt time to write a post about climbing Mount Colden.
Not that it rained when I climbed Mount Colden, but it was forecast to.
I was set to climb Colden the day after my Mount Marshall trip with ADK.  On the Sunday, the forecast was for thunderstorms (not good), but the forecast had been changing a lot over the days preceding it, so I thought I’d wait until morning and check the forecast for the day at the Loj.
I woke up to the pitter patter of occasional raindrops on my tent.  I hurriedly packed up everything, and went over to the Loj for a better idea of whether this was to get worse, remain the same, or clear up.  50% chance of rain was all the forecast said.  Utterly uselessly.  (Side note:  If I knew the American  version of Nav Canada, I’d go to their  website for an aviation forecast – it’s so much more detailed.)
I decided that 50% was ok – I’d head out, along my planned route – through Avalanche Pass, up and over Colden, and down via the Lake Arnold trail.  I figured I could evaluate the weather situation at Marcy Dam, and then again at Avalanche Lake.  From talking to the other hikers the day before, I had decided not to descend via Avalanche pass (and was I ever happy with that decision!)
Bridge along Avalanche Lake

The hike to Marcy Dam was great – I’ve done this hike countless times, but every time I still think “Wait….did the path turn this way here?  I don’t remember this little down bit….I though it went left, why are we going right?”  until I come to boardwalk area (that’s what I call it, I have no idea what other people call it) and then I feel confident that I’m on the right track.

I hit Marcy Dam in about 40 minutes – I must have been really motoring.  I had given myself a turn-around time of 12:30 – it rain and/or thundershowers were to start, I did not want to be anywhere near the summit.
From Marcy Dam towards Avalanche Lake, the trail continues relatively flat for about 1.1 miles, which is where the junction with the Lake Arnold trail is.  At about this point it starts to get a bit rockier – it’s hard to maintain a rhythm as you dodge between rocks, but it still isn’t too steep.  There were also lots of bridges over muckier and/or wetter areas.
When I hit Avalanche Lake, I was a little confused.  There’s no sign post telling you which way to go, and I couldn’t see any trail markers either.  I was also getting a little nervous, as I had only met people heading back to the trailhead (all of them had massive packs, so I assume they had camped at lean-tos), and the summit of Mount Colden (and in fact, most of the peaks) were covered in clouds.
I looked at my map and decided (rightly) that right was the way to go, and quickly picked up the trail on the edge of the lake.  I’d read on several forums (and in the guide book) that the mile of trail around the Lake was challenging, and to give yourself extra time to get through.  As I walked along, scaling boulders, shimmying down ladders, and trudging over the bridges, I made up a little song:

Hitch up Matilda
                You want boulders and rocks?  It’s got plenty
                It’s got ladders and bridges galore
                You want hitch-up matildas?  It’s got 20!
And I’m taking a few liberties there – there aren’t actually 20 hitch-up matildas.  It was actually a really fun portion of the hike!  There was one moment where I thought I lost the trail – I’d been skirting some blowdown when the trail disappeared……over the blowdown.  Once I figured that out, it was smooth sailing again.
I signed into the interior register at 9:50, and started my ascent.  The first little bit is uphill, but not terrible too steep.  It also evened out every now and then, so you didn’t feel like it was relentlessly up.  I flew through this, stopping once to eat a bit, but just kept going.  And then it hit.  It was like the trail just suddenly went vertical.  It didn’t it just felt that way.  Rock face and rock face, steep rock face.  I’d climb one bit, take a breather, climb another.  I swear it was an hour of just trudging up rock face.  Wet, steep rock face.  It thankfully wasn’t too slippery, but I could just picture myself slipping down, down, down – not getting hurt, just losing all my hard-won altitude!  (Second side note:  I did slip once, but only lost about a foot, and several layers of skin on my knee)
I came across a broken ladder (*sob* the only time I would have gladly climbed a ladder), and just kept going until…..I was in cloud.  I had reached cloud level, and just about then a ladder appeared, leading up a cliff, and then the tree line disappeared, and I was in the alpine zone.
I was slightly nervous on the exposed rock in the clouds.  I desperately did not want to step off rock – as far as I knew I was the only one on the mountain, given the previous days forecast.  I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, watching for yellow paint blazes (follow the yellow paint trail!), and keeping an eye on the surrounding rock.
At 11:21 I finally hit the summit, to some clearing clouds (not enough for a good view), and two other hikers (coincidentally from the same city as me).  We chatted a bit, ate some food, and then I was off on the L. Morgran Porter trail, incredibly happy not to be climbing down all those rocks faces.
Summit selfie, sun in eyes

 

The trail continues over the rock, and down into the treeline, before reaching a col.  It then climbs a little, goes over more exposed rock, and then veers sharply right to descend back down into the trees.  There are some paint blazes that lead the way, making it hard to lose your way.  It’s about 1.4 miles to the junction with the Lake Arnold trail, you’ll one sign points towards Lake Colden, and a little yellow marker with a hand-written “Marcy Dam, 2.6” is just under it.
I hit the junction  at 12:37, nearly an hour after leaving the summit.  The trail down had been steep in places, but easily handled – it was very similar to other trails in the Adirondacks – giant rocks in your way that you have to awkwardly step down, tree roots in your way, same old same old.  The Lake Arnold trail was similar – it honestly felt like 2 hours of “when is this going to end?”  There was nothing to break up the monotony of the trail.  I came up with another song (I got a little bored):
                This is the trail that never ends, it goes on and on my friends, some people started walking it,
not knowing what it was, and they’ll continue walking it forever just because…
Try getting that out of your head.

From the split it’s about 1.5 miles to the end of the trail, where you re-join the trail from the morning, following along Marcy Brook for 1.1 miles to Marcy Dam.  And did that trail ever feel nice after the rocky trails down!  Just going flat (ish) was a nice change of pace!

 

Total climbing time: 7 hours, 55 minutes
Left trailhead at: 7:38, returned at 2:33
Summitted Mount Colden 11: 21

The Legendary Mount Marshall

Order in ranking: 25

Ever since Steph and I decided to hike the 46 High Peaks, we’ve been hearing horror story after horror story after horror story of hikers not being able to climb Mount Marshall – having to turn around and try again (and again, and again).  We were told we would need a map and compass, and more than just a passing knowledge of how to use them both.  We were told there were so many false herd paths, that it was easy to lose your way, that it was difficult to get to and would be a long hike.

So we put off hiking it, thinking our skills just weren’t there yet.  We thought we would hone our skills on other unmarked trails first.  But we’re getting to that point where there isn’t much left – it’s time to tackle the legendary Mount Marshall.

But of course, as our plans have always shown us, there was a wrinkle.  The plan was to climb Mount Marshall in August – have a girl’s weekend camping at Wilderness Campground at Heart Lake, and do the hike then.  Then I went and bought a plane ticket to Mongolia for August, which squashed my attempting it in August.

Enter in ADK’s guided day hikes.  They had a hike up Mount Marshall at the end of June, conviently coinciding with the Canada Day weekend.  I signed up, and promised to give Steph an idea of the trail for her attempt in August.

First, a note about the guided hike.  There were 8 hikers, including myself, on this hike.  Besides myself and one other young woman (I’d say in her 20s) the rest were people in the mid-40s to 60s (I’m not good at guessing ages).  If you’re a fast hiker, a guided hike might not be the best idea.  If you’re a slower hiker, this is a wonderful way to meet people, and gain confidence for longer hikes, or unmarked herd paths.  Our guide was great – knowledgable about the area (gave me some great recommendations for GF restaurants in Lake Placid), the vegetation and the birds – he identified several birds by their calls, which I found impressive because I have no clue.

If you do go on a group hike, some things to remember:
1.  If you move a branch, don’t let it whip back and hit the person behind you.
2.  Keep your poles under control, don’t whip them back behind you and stab the person behind you.
3.  Be patient – everyone has their own pace, and you’re all on this hike together.

All of the hikers met up at the Adirondack Loj at 7 am, and after a brief round of introductions (“Hi, I’m Anya, from Ottawa.  This will be my 32nd High Peak”) and instructions (be respectful and patient, we go at the pace of the slowest person, if you want to leave the group, you can sign a release form) we set off towards the Indian Pass trail, skirting around Heart Lake and signing in at the trail register there.

Sign post for the Cold Brook Trail

Our guide set a moderately quick pace, but everyone had no trouble keeping up.  The first 4.9 miles are relatively easy (by Adirondack standards).  The terrain is flatish, with a few ups and downs, but nothing steep, no large rocks that break up your walking rhythm.  Just after passing through Scott Clearing (a large, grassy, meadow-ish area with few trees) we came to a sign post along the river marking the beginning of the Cold Brook Trail.

Here we began to slow down as this trail is no longer being maintained.  It is still marked with yellow disks, and is still relatively open, which makes it easy to follow.  There was a bit of overgrowth, but thankfully there wasn’t much blowdown.  The terrain, though, was much rockier and rougher, and started to climb, albeit gradually at the beginning, but getting steeper as we went along the trail.  We crossed Cold Brook 6 or 7 times in total – we were lucky and the water wasn’t too high, so it was easy to rock hop across (or if you’re like me and have terrible balance, it’s easy to turtle it across.)  We hit a few mud patches, but for the most part the trail was dry….unless the trail was in the brook (which it was from time to time) but at this point the water was only a trickle.  I enjoyed this trail – it was a fun challenge.  It was one of those challenges where you think “YEAH!  LET’S DO THIS!” and not “Oh dear god, what was I thinking?  Why am I doing this again?  Can I quit?  Will someone carry  me out?”

As we followed the trail, we slowed down a bit more, as it got steeper and rougher.  Not only did this allow us to “not blow a lung” as one person put it, but to also get to know our fellow hikers.  We chatted and joked as we ambled up to the height of the trail (around 1.7 miles), which is where the cairn marking the herd path up Marshall is.

Cairn marking the path up Mount Marshall

This is where the trail became steep.  Even then, it felt like an ordinary-Adirondack-level of steepness – there were rocks to avoid, rocks to step on, rocks to scramble over, but it wasn’t the steep scramble that you find on Saddleback, Colvin or South Dix.  This was your regular scramble over a giant boulder.  We took it easy here, as we adjusted to the new terrain.  More rocks, more scrambles, more dodges around trees.  And not once did we lose the trail.  I’m not sure how we could – this herd path was well defined.

Near the beginning of the trail, one of the members of the group decided to bow out.  His legs were cramping up, and he didn’t want to risk our not making the summit.  I’m sure this was a rough decision for him, I know I felt bad that he couldn’t continue with us.  Our guide asked him to wait for us at the cairn, to be sure that he wouldn’t get lost on the way out, and to be sure that his leg cramps didn’t become worse as he descended.  At this point, we were not very far from the summit – I would guess maybe another 30 or 40 minutes would see us there.

We promised to be quick, and continued up the herdpath.  As we climbed, we could see Iroquois (“Ear-o-kwah” in Canadian, “Ear-o-kway” in American,  apparently) across from us.  Cold Brook actually passes between the two mountains.  Just as with the Cold Brook trail, this herd path up Marshall was free of blowdown, but lots of overgrowth.  It’s worse on the way back – the branches are much more “grabby” in the other direction.  It was also incredibly muddy when we went through – our guide nearly lost a shoe when he stepped into what we all thought was just a bit of mud.  Sank nearly up to his knee.

Great views of Iroquois

After being on this path for a little bit, you come out to an open view, and see a peak way off in the distance.  This is Marshall, but it’s the Nippletop Syndrome – it looks forever away, but it’s really less than a mile.  The path dips down, then starts climbing again.  Eventually the path came to a sort of T-junction.  You can go left (down) or right (up).  Left takes you down Marshall, along the Herbert Brook trail, right takes you up to the summit.

Immediately after this junction, the trail splits again.  You go right again and shortly after come to a large boulder on the side of the path, with a summit sign on top.

I’m glad that I signed up for an ADK guided day-hike.  It was lots of fun, it was great meeting other hikers, and I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I was on the right trail.  But I do feel that hikers that I talked to when I was first starting out were lying to me.  Mount Marshall, while being a long hike (~17 miles) is certainly not as fear-inducing as they had led me to believe.  The trail was easy to follow, there were no signs of other, misleading herd paths, at least not on the route that we took.

Group shot!

 

Total climbing time: 10 hours 59 minutes
Left trailhead at: 7:15, returned at 6:14
Summitted Mount Marshall at 1:00

The Dix Range and the Kindness of Strangers

Order in ranking: Macomb 21, South Dix 37, Grace Peak 42, Hough 23, Dix 6

Not three weeks after getting back from the ‘Dacks, Steph and I were back to climb as many of the High Peaks in the Dix Range as we could.  We were aiming for 5 (Macomb, South Dix, Grace Peak*, Hough and Dix itself) but would settle for four (all but Dix) if the weather, our legs, our stamina or the bugs didn’t cooperate.


The Dix range can be hiked from several points – You can access Dix from Round Pond (and originally we wanted to do a traverse starting from here), Grace from Route 73 (I want to find that trailhead, I’d love to do Grace Peak again), or from Elk Lake.  We decided on Elk Lake, and do a loop – up Macomb, to South Dix, and quick jaunt to Grace Peak and back, over to Hough, up Dix, and then down Hunter’s Pass.


We car camped at Elk Lake, and started off early in the morning – it wasn’t quite six when we signed in to the trail register.  We quickly hit the Slide brook lean-to – it only took us an hour to go the 2.3 miles.  We did briefly get lost once at the lean-to, so let me give you some helpful advice – when you see the first campsite sign, just prior to Slide brook, turn right, into the campsite.  That’s where the trail to Macomb is.  (For better instructions:  You will go over a wooden bridge, and soon after see the yellow campsite sign.  If you hit another bridge, you’ve gone too far- turn back!)  The Macomb trail is marked by a cairn.

View from the base of Macomb Slide
The trail to the Macomb slide is quite nice, although there were at least two sections of blowdown that you have to hike through.  You will see the slide off to your right through the trees as you approach it.  (Don’t worry about the gushing water of the brook – it slows to a trickle the closer you get – or at least it did when we went) 


Side view of Macomb Slide

We hit the Macomb slide at 8:10, an hour after starting out on the herd perth.   Wetook a quick break to have some trail mix, and so I could put on my GoPro to film our ascent.  The slide was a lot of fun – steep, but not too steep, and enough rocks that you can step firmly and not get bogged down by the scree.  It was a little eerie to hear rocks skittering down the slide as you stepped, and once I did dislodge a bigger rock that nearly landed on my foot, but all in all it was a lot of fun.  It only took us 45 minutes to get to the top – not bad! 


Shortly after the slide climb, we hit the summit at 9:05, where we paused to enjoy the view.  Then at 9:20 it was up and over to South Dix. We descended down Macomb, and hit a cairn, where we turned right towards South Dix.  From there we climbed up, and hit the rock face, where I put on the GoPro again, and we began our scramble up – again, lots of fun!  Just enough of a scramble to make it interesting, not so much that it was terrifying (Cliffs of Saddleback, I’m looking at you.)


Near the summit of South Dix we hit another cairn.  The trail to the right takes you to the (treed) summit, marked with a yellow disk on the far side of a tree, as well as an X and S. Dix.  (I should note that just passed (like 4 steps) the summit is a rock lookout with great views.)  Here we paused to put on sunscreen……and lose the GoPro.  (Not that we knew that at the time.  We found this out later.)  It had only taken us an hour to get to South Dix from Macomb – we hit the summit at 10:05.


Carin marking the path to Grace Peak

We hurried over to the Grace Peak, continuing on the path past South Dix’s summit.  We finally started meeting people – there were 3 guys on their way back from Grace Peak.  Until this point, we had been along, other than meeting people in the campsites near Slide Brook.  

The trail was clear, although the tree branches were overgrown, causing our poles, arms and legs to get caught.  Mostly flat, although with several small down and then up portions, you eventually come to cairn that marks where the trail from Rte 73 joins up with the herd path from South Dix.  Turn right to stay on the trail.   There was a very short rock “scramble” and several rocky outcroppings that I kept thinking were the summit, before we hit the actual summit of Grace at 10:50, with the summit marker being a yellow disk attached to the back of a large rock. Here we took a short break, refuelled, and enjoyed the view, the sun and the breeze.  Be careful on the way down – I missed the cairn and started down the trail towards Rte 73.  If it hadn’t been for Steph, I wouldn’t have noticed until it was too late!  Besides the cairn, and the E (for the former name, East Dix) carved into the tree, there were branches laid across the trail to indicate it was the wrong way.

Nap on Grace Peak
We headed back to South Dix at 11:10, meeting a few hikers along the way.  One man asked us if we had a GoPro, which confused us.  Why would he want to know if we had a GoPro?  Turns out….he had found a GoPro on South Dix.  He had originally left it there, hoping whoever had lost it would be back for it, then made the decision to pick it up, only to find that it was gone.  


Which is when I realized that my GoPro was not in my bag.  At some point between the rock scramble and the summit, I had lost my GoPro.  I ran screaming after the other hikers to see if any of them had it – shouting out (and I have a really loud voice) – “HAS ANYONE SEEN A GOPRO?”  One man shouted back that he had left it on South Dix, so I ran all the way back, only to find…..no GoPro.


Summit of South Dix

Steph met up with me on South Dix (as I said, I ran) at 12:10, and we headed back to the cairn a short distance away, and turned right to head to Hough.  We thought we’d take a break there and see if whoever had found (and picked up) the GoPro, would meet up with us. 


Summit marker on Hough

The way to Hough was also a little tree branchy, and at one point we tried to decide if we had to go up a rock face or around.  There is a little used trail around the rock face, for those who don’t want to climb it, which is what Steph and I did.  From there, you continue along past a few false summits, and eventually hit a rocky outcropping that is the summit of Hough (marked by a cross that says “Hough” hanging from a tree) at 1:11.  Here we took a break, took a nap, and listening to the buzzing insects – none of which bothered us, thankfully. 

Hough is the second rocky outcropping you’ll see as you hike over from South Dix.  We missed the first one (by using the trail that goes around it) but if you climb up it – don’t be misled!  You’re not at Hough yet.


Alas, no one met up with us on Hough.  So at 1:36 we headed off to Dix, descending to the hogback, where we took a quick break and had some food, then up, up, and up some more – climbing rocks, getting caught on trees, and sweating profusely.  At one point we came to an open, rocky area (not the Beckhorn, although at the time we thought it might be), and just stood there enjoying the breeze.  At 3:12, we finally hit Dix, and sat down to enjoy some food, and talk with the two guys already there. 
Our fifth and final peak of the day!
At 3:36 we began our descent, and let me tell you – Hunter’s Pass may be “less steep” than the Lillian Brook or Beckhorn paths, but it is still steep.  Very steep.  Our knees were screaming after only an hour.  And we just kept waiting for it to level out.  Waiting and waiting.  We hit the boulder field, and noticed snow, protected from the heat and the sun under the boulders.  Then….we ran out of water.  We had had 3 litres of water, each, with us, but it was a hot day, and a long hike.  Thankfully we always carry Aquatabs with us, so when we hit a clear stream, we filled  up our water bottles, threw a tablet in, and continued on.


We slowed down a lot for the hike out – my knee was hurting, and Steph’s ankle was hurting, so it took us 5 hours to descend Dix – we hit the parking lot at 8:24.  (And alas again, no GoPro was waiting at the trail register.)  We left a note about the GoPro, quickly got changed into non-sweaty clothing, and drove to the Adirondack Loj where we had a room booked.  A quick shower, a glass of wine, and we were out.  We barely had any dinner either – we had the remnants of our trail lunches – bagels, cheese, and some veggies.


You may be wondering what happened to the GoPro, and where the “Kindness of Strangers” comes in.  After getting back home, and telling the BF that I had lost the GoPro, I logged in to one of the ADK High Peaks forums.  And there I found a post about a “treasure in the Dix Range” – someone had found “a treasure” and if whoever owned it could identify it, they’d return it.  And yes, it was my GoPro, and yes the person returned it.  The GoPro is safe, and will never be allowed to go hiking again because it just isn’t trustworthy.

*Originally named East Dix, the name was changed to Grace Peak on June 12, 2014, to honour Grace Leach Hudowalski, the first woman to climb the 46 High Peaks.

 

Total climbing time: 14 hours 30 minutes
Left trailhead at: 5:54, returned at 8:24
Summitted Macomb at 9:05, South Dix 10:05, Grace Peak 10:50, Hough 1:11, Dix 3:12