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Ok, so this one is a bit overdue but I'm claiming the hurricane, the recovery from said hurricane and the following great east coast October blizzard, then of course the holidays as viable excuses. Better late than never?
Due to leave for a paddling/camping/hiking trip in the Adirondaks of NY state on August 30th with a plan to stay for five days and get back with time to regroup before the first day of school for my son & my wife (social worker, not student). We watched with dismay as Hurricane Irene rolled up the East coast making her entry in the history books. We took a bit of a pounding here in NJ, lost power four days before our planned departure. Lived on backpacking gear, headlamps, Snow Peak stove etc... listening to the radio reports for any info we could get. Most of the State was shut down due to flooding & downed trees, wondering if our planned vacation was in the toilet. After two days of trying, I managed to get hold of the rangers station the day before we were supposed to leave, who said the park was still closed but planned to re-open tomorrow, our departure day! Power still wasn't on so I figured if we're going to be without electric for several more days, might as well be in the woods.
Plan was for a five day/four night trip up to Lake George in upper NY State in the Adirondaks. Not an epic trip by any means... Kinda like car camping by boat. We reserved a campsite on Saint Sacrement Island in the middle of this 32 mile long glacial lake, right where it cuts through a corner of the Adirondak Wilderness. Parked the truck and launched the canoe from a tiny little town about three miles North of our destination island, this was the closest civilization gets to where we were going and just the way I wanted it.
After all the carnage at home and listening to the reports of even worse devastation in Vermont as we drove, we set off on the water in idyllic conditions.
So the canoe is loaded to the hilt with gear and food for five days+, myself, my wife and my eight year old boy Connor. We launch out of Hulett's Marina on the east shore & head south to St. Sacrement Island. It never fails to leave me in awe how clear the water is there. The Mountains rising steep out of the water on both sides of us was an impressive & exhilarating site and as a bonus creates a cell phone impossible area. Hugging the shore and looking into the thick woods of the surrounding hills, it looks like a primeval forest, untouched by mans greedy hands.
The section we are heading to is referred to as the Narrows, where a dozen or so islands are clustered together in a narrow section between Black Mountain & the Tongue Mountain Range. We pass a few islands on the way and as the last signs of civilization are behind us, the beauty of this place is inspiring.
We make note of the sounds of a waterfall we can hear in the woods but not see, about a mile yet from camp. Given the two dozen or so residences around the marina and many far to the south, not to mention the powerboaters, I wasn't keen on using the lake for a water supply.
Rounding a bend and watching some kids jumping off a cliff some twenty feet above the lake, the northern end of St Sac comes into view.
Most campsites here have a dock, as unfortunately, power boaters are prevalent. Our site shares a dock with an adjacent site, as most do.
The sun seems to smile on our arrival as we set up camp.
We make some time to go exploring the island, checking out some of the unoccupied campsites, taking pictures of the scenery.
While taking some pictures of the view looking north from the west shore of the island, I hear something that makes my eyes bug out. It's a sound that is absolutely synonymous with camping & the Adirondaks, Loons! Looking out, I see one floating along, then another appears from a dive, then another. We rushed to the canoe to see if we could get close. It turns out to be a mother with two young still not having mature feathers. I took some video of the echoing calls and we were treated to her sounds several times over the week.
We make dinner and watch the sun set over Five Mile Peak, a planned hiking destination a couple days from now.
We wake the next morning to temperatures in the high 40's (remember, its August now) & the prevailing wind coming straight into our site off the water. Water for morning tea is heating on the Gigapower stove. The sun lighting the sky but not yet high enough to pour down on us over black mountain, I don a fleece for the first time this year as I look for a good spot to hang my hammock chair that I made on my last trip. Gotta have someplace to lounge as I sip my tea in the cool morning air.
Mornings don't get much better than this.
As the morning breeze fades, the water lays down pretty flat & I can't resist taking the canoe out to explore the waters and little islands around our site. The water is crystal clear, easily seeing the rock bottom at more than 25 feet down.
We're aching to paddle around & explore the entire island. Going back up the North end will bring us close to that waterfall we heard on the way in and we've exhausted almost two gallons of water already. (August)
It's a bit dicey canoeing up to the rock ledge banks, getting out & bushwacking our way into the waterfall but it's worth it when we get there. We take turns pumping the MSR Miniworks & taking pictures.
The ground is so steep and so covered with pine needles & dead rotting wood, it's soft like a pillow, where there aren't any rocks. All around the waterfall is covered with mushrooms. I love how these mini ecosystems spring up around the waterfalls.
We head back south and continue past St Sac. to paddle around the different islands & survey the area.
Pulling up on an easy beach like access to an unused site on the island across from ours, my wife & son decide it's time for swimming.
Unfortunately after Hurricane Irene dumped so much water on the area, the water was quite cold for a Late August day.
The sun beginning to set behind the hills, we began prepping for dinner and as I readied the fire I set my camera on the corner of the picnic table, walking over every ten minutes or so to press the shutter. (It looks really nice in slideshow mode...)
It was worth the effort. But as soon as the sun was down, the breeze picked up and the temperature went to the chilly side. Once again, the first long sleeves and fleece jackets of the season came out. But it was nice sleeping weather and made it pleasant to climb into our bags.
After dinner and marshmellow roasting we enjoyed an exceptionally clear sky with a view of the stars that made me think about packing a telescope for the next trip. (Canoe camping and Ultralight have very little in common...)
Being on an island there is a bit of a need to conserve firewood. It was actually one of the things we ferried in with us from the shop at the marina. So for the most part, the fire was reserved for night time and cooking parts of dinner that were better on the open fire than the stove.
This morning was the one exception with sausages to be had for breakfast, the Snowpeak stove was on eggs and coffee duty with a small fire to handle the sausages. My new windscreen, improvised from the bottom of an extra large catering tray, was essential in this site and passed the test well.
We were going to need the extra energy as this was the day we planned to paddle about a mile South/west to the far shore and pickup a trail head from the water that would take us up about 1800 feet above the lake onto the ridge overlooking the lake.
Starting at Five Mile Point/350' (the level of the lake) we will climb to around 1300' within just 1.7 miles where we intersect the trail which runs the ridge of the Tongue Mountain Range. Another 1.7 miles should should bring us to the summit of Fivemile Mountain.
Looking at the shore from our island campsite, I can see the area where the trailhead is depicted on the map but can't see any sign of a trailhead, clearing or even a place to get out of the canoe easily. So, we start heading over toward where I've gauged the trailhead should be, and there is nothing at all apparent about it. We hug the shore for a bit looking into the surrounding area and my wife spots a red trail blaze approx. 35 yards up into the woods. Damn good eyes on that girl. Going back to where I figured the trail should hit the water, I find a tangle of driftwood & rocks that we can wedge into while I hold onto a tree, letting my passengers crawl out. A quick recon toward the blaze and we are right where we should be!
After lashing the canoe in a way that I'm satisfied it will still be there when we get back, we head into the woods.
It only takes a few minutes of walking to bury ourselves deep in the woods, looking at a trail that doesn't seem like it's seen another person yet this year. We march on and soon start to really ascend. And ascend...
This trail goes nowhere but UP.
Doing some research I found mention that the stone wall that was very apparently assembled here was built by a state conservation core of some kind and this was supposedly once a wagon road abandoned over 100 years ago. Can't imagine going down that incline in a wagon unless the wagon went first and the horses were going backwards, so I'm not sure how much I believe that.
So, we're pretty deep in now, the woods are dense and old and we still haven't seen any sign at all that anyone else has been on this trail in a long time. I've been looking in the mud at the stream crossings and other places for any footprints or recent wear on the trail. There is none. Now, going back a bit. Trying to find information about this trail and where to access it, I'm on the net at home doing google searches. One of the links I click on takes me unknowingly to one of these, report Sasquatch encounters sites with stories about people being "pursued by a thing" on these trails, with an apparent long history of "encounters" here. For the most part it is summarily dismissed as stupidity and I move on. But things are different now. It's not just me out there. I have a child now and it's thrown a whole new perspective on things like walking into the wilderness far from help. So I guess the nonsense was still wedged in a fatherly corner of my mind somewhere when as we're walking along I look up at a tree and there about fifteen feet off the ground is this.
It was one of those situations where you start to say "WTF" and then that stupid thing you dismissed and forgot about jumps out and says, "so you think it's nonsense huh?" and you start to look around and over your shoulders. So, I took a picture and thought, "wait till the guys on Trailspace see this". Then we moved on. (Don't anybody tell my wife about the Sasquatch thing, she'd never go in the woods again)
Getting closer to the top we come to a place where Irene decided to redecorate the trail a bit and really did a number.
Getting into the first plateau, a flat area filled in between two ridges at about 1600', the beavers dammed off a stream and made a swamp that was reminiscent of the PNW. From here up to the summit I was stopping every five minutes for pictures of Salamanders & all kinds of mushrooms.
I'd seen sever newer trail markers that had most of the nail still sticking out. At first, I though, how lazy, they couldn't hammer them in all the way. Then I saw this one, next to one of the original mid 60's blazes being swallowed by the tree and had one of those ahah moments.
Finally we move through some of the flatter areas before ascending another few hundred feet in spurts and when we emerge at a clearing that looks Northwest over the whole Adirondak Wilderness, it's so stunning, it almost looks fake.
And here it is pushing the zoom on my camera again.
We stopped here and started down not wanting to make the trip down and worse, the trip back across the lake, in the dark.
Making our way back across the lake in the twilight, the air was still and the lake had laid down like glass. A perfect end to the day.
Our last day was just resting and bumming around camp, swimming and fishing except one more paddle to the west shore to find another waterfall buried behind the curtain of pines. A last water resupply and another stunning display of nature.
How many powerboaters must roar right past this, never knowing its here just behind a screen of evergreens.
After dinner and near bedtime the wind had decided our break was over and picked up pretty good again but no more than other nights, at least when we went to sleep. I woke up around two to hear the wind howling pretty good. Got up to secure anything loose and drag the canoe further up onto land. About three am I woke again wondering if, while we were totally without communication from the outside world, the hurricane had spun around and came back on us. First time I've had to zip the fly down on the vestibule to storm proof the tent. The gusts had to be blowing 50 or 60 mph. For the most part our tent didn't budge, just got stuffy with the vestibule closed. Talking to the guy at the marina when we arrived later the next day, he asked if we had heard and police boats out there. Apparently a few Coleman condos were lifted off the ground, occupants and all and dumped in the lake by the wind.
Hope I haven't burned up Trailspace's bandwidth for the month.