Now I've Seen It All...

These are some of the things I've seen and some of the things I've done while "adventuring" in the Adirondacks. Many of them involve stupid things I've seen other people do while in the woods. In most cases I will try to explain exactly why some of these things are of questionable intelligence, since this may not be immediately obvious to all people. I am not trying to prove that I don't make mistakes or that I don't make bad judgment, as this is far from true (see the last point below). I'm also not trying to insinuate that I am superior to other hikers, or that I am anywhere close to being a so-called "expert." There is no such thing as an expert, especially in the eyes of nature. No one is better than anyone else out there; its all about getting out and loving it.
  1. Between the beginning of winter on December 21, 1997, and the end of snow season around April 1, 1998, I spent 15 days in the Adirondacks on skiing or snowshoeing trips. I saw other people on the trail on 13 out of those 15 days. I saw at least one person wearing jeans on every one of those 13 days but one. In the summer when temperatures are high, the decision to wear jeans or other articles of cotton clothing is solely one of comfort. But in the winter, wearing cotton can spell the difference between life and death; for this reason it is commonly referred to as "death cloth." The problem with cotton is that it retains far too much water and takes far too long to dry when compared with clothing made of artificial materials, such as polypropylene, polyester, nylon, etc. When wet, cotton simply cannot insulate. Wet clothing dissipates heat from your body 25 times faster than dry clothing. In cold weather, or even cool weather, this can kill you.
  2. While descending between Nipple Top (4620ft) and Dial Mt (4020ft) on February 22, 1998, I passed a woman hiking without snowshoes or skis (mistake #1 - and illegal in the High Peaks in snow season) in jeans (mistake #2) by herself (arguably mistake #3). Wearing snowshoes or skis in 5 feet of snow only makes sense: this woman was "post-holing" up to her thighs on every step. She was clearly exhausted. As for hiking alone, this is a hotly contested issue that I will not take a side on. I will say that if you are an inexperienced outdoorsman, do not hike alone. On the other hand, travelling alone can be a very enlightening and enjoyable experience, if you are ready for it.
  3. While climbing Mt. Marcy (5344ft) on March 28, 1998, we arrived at Indian Falls, which was nearly flooded because of the recent warm weather. There were still several feet of snow on the ground, however. It was impossible to make the crossing of Marcy Brook at the usual spot; we had to walk a few yards downstream and jump across the stream from a large rock on one bank. Apparently one member of the group that had crossed just before us didn't quite make it. We saw him pull his soaked socks and boots off, don a pair of sneakers without socks on, strap his snowshoes back on, and continue up the trail.
  4. On the same day, we passed a pair of college-aged men on their way to the summit of Marcy. Both were carrying what looked to be very expensive gear; both had plastic mountaineering boots equipped with 12-point crampons. However, neither had snowshoes. Around 2:30pm, I passed them near the junction of the Van Hoevenberg and Hopkins Trails, about 1.25 miles before the summit. I arrived on the summit around 3pm. A little after 4:30pm, an hour and a half later, these two men showed up. We left the summit at 5pm, heading south towards Lake Tear of the Clouds where we spent the night, about a mile away. They were still on top when we left, hugging each other as if that would make snowshoes magically appear. Both were carrying only day packs, meaning that with just over two hours of light left, they probably had over five miles to go that day. Keep in mind that the last 1.25 miles had taken them over 2 hours. To this day I wonder what happened to them...
  5. One day while descending from Algonquin Mt (5114ft) towards Lake Colden on one of the steepest trails in the Adirondacks, we passed a group of five people ascending the trail. They had left Adirondack Loj at 11am and had traveled the 7 miles through Avalanche Pass in 7 hours. They had about two and a half hours of light left with almost 7 miles to go. They had no food left. They had no water left, and no filters to get any water. They had no flashlights or headlamps. When we asked where they had come from, the "leader" pulled out a road map to show us the route they had taken. We suggested that they turn around and go back the way they came, since that route is much easier than over the second tallest mountain in the state. They didn't want to. So we filled them up with water with our filters and sent them on their way. We would have offered them our headlamps had we not anticipated needing them ourselves later in the day. We seriously expected to read about these people in the paper the next morning, but we never heard anything.
  6. While on a camping trip at Remsen Falls on the South Branch of the Moose River in April, I met several college-aged men who had decided 3 miles into the woods would be a good place to get drunk. They had packed in a case and a half of beer along with what looked to be about a gallon of vodka. Fortunately they weren't too loud. They asked me what the bag was that I had hung from a tree was for, I explained it was to keep the bears from getting my food. They decided that was a good idea; they had never heard of doing that before. Even if they wanted to hang a bear bag themselves, I highly doubt they would have been able to get a rope over a tree branch in their drunken state. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw them plunge into the frigid Moose River for a swim. At least they packed out all the empties.
  7. On a kayaking trip on Long Lake in the beginning of May, on a weekend that did nothing but rain, a friend and I encountered a group of 3 men and a young boy in motorized canoes (arguably the most annoying sound in the world: a constant buzzing that never escapes because the boats travel no faster than a human-powered kayak). They left their campsite on the north end of the 14-mile-long lake while we were paddling past; we arrived at the boat launch while they were just putting their canoes atop their vehicles. The paddle took several hours, and it rained more than half the time. It was also very chilly (by the way, the Cold River, which flows into the Raquette River just downstream of Long Lake, is in fact very cold, at least in the beginning of May), and the young boy had on a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt. He was drenched from head to toe when we arrived at the boat launch, and he must have been freezing. Again, its the cotton issue.
  8. I wouldn't consider this one stupid, but it is humorous nonetheless. While on a kayak camping trip in Lake George, we stayed on an island campsite. Since the chance of bears stealing our food from an island in the middle of the most popular lake in the Adirondacks was effectively zero, we didn't hang a bear bag. We saw some mice scurrying around, so we decided to hang a "mouse bag" about three feet off the ground instead. It was a hilarious sight, but the mice never did get our food. I wish I had taken a picture.
  9. This is another semi-humorous one, regarding the Long Lake kayaking trip above. We put in in Long Lake Village in the rain around 10am or so. Paddling at a leisurely pace in the rain, we arrived at the lean-to where we would spend the night at around 3pm. We beached the boats and began carrying out gear into the lean-to. When we were mostly finished with this task and rested in the shelter of the lean-to, it stopped raining. We decided to go hiking, so we paddled up the Cold River and hiked 8 miles to Shattuck Clearing on the Northville-Placid Trail. My friend had left his boots in his truck in Long Lake Village, not anticipating doing any hiking. The only footwear he had was a pair of sandals, which made for an interesting adventure. At any rate, for the entire hike it did not rain. As soon as we got back to our boats, it began raining again. We quickly paddled the mile downstream to the lean-to, beached the boats, and went into the shelter, where it promptly stopped raining. We cooked dinner, put up a bear bag, and went to bed, all with no rain. We woke up the next morning, retrieved our food, and cooked breakfast, all with no rain. We then decided to explore the area behind the lean-to. As soon as we stepped outside the lean-to, it began to rain. It didn't stop for a while, until shortly after we started paddling and were outfitted in all of our waterproof gear. We paddled for a couple hours with no rain. We then stopped for lunch on a beach, and as soon as we stepped out of the boats and pulled out our food, it started raining again. It was all very strange.
  10. I went on several camping trips in 1998 with a man by the name of Scott. He has a knack for hiking long distances and loving it, just like myself. Out of all the overnights we went on this year, we cooked dinner when it was still light out once. In February on Nipple Top in the High Peaks, we didn't set up camp until shortly before dark. Same with Marcy in March. On Long Lake (above) we arrived at camp with around 5 hours of light left. After setting up camp, we decided to go on a hike, and 8 miles later, it was dark. Again in May, this time backpacking in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness, we reached camp rather early, probably with around 6 or 7 hours of light left. After an 11 mile hike, it was dark. You get the idea.
  11. While about halfway down the herdpath on trailless Cliff Mt. in the High Peaks, we passed a group of 5 climbers going up. There would be absolutely no reason to be on this section of trail if you weren't climbing Cliff, so obviously that's where these climbers were headed. After the usual hello's, one of the members of the group turned to me and asked, "And where are you guys coming from today?" Both one of his climbing partners and I said "Ummm, Cliff..." in unison.
  12. Similarly, on January 8, 2000 while descending Algonquin (elev. 5114 feet), we passed a group heading up that was moments away from breaking treeline. One member of the party turned to us and asked, "Is this the trail to Algonquin?" Also that day, we noticed climbers on the summit of Wright that were crawling to the very summit. It was quite a windy day on top of the taller Algonquin, but we had little trouble walking. We wondered if they were simply lacking crampons, but the summit of Wright didn't appear icy as Algonquin's was. When we descended to the junction with the Wright trail, we saw the same group descending, crampon-less as we had surmised. There were several parts of the trail that I cannot possibly conceive of climbing without crampons. However, once we got the summit we found it was much more than a lack of ice gear. Above treeline, the peak was being buffeted by winds so strong that many times we had to lean heavily on our ice axes in order to simply remain standing. When we reached the very summit, we also needed to crawl. However, even while on my hands and knees I was still putting too much surface area into the wind, and began sliding off the summit rock. I literally had to flatten myself onto the rock and shimmy the last 10 or 12 feet to the top. What an experience!!! Obviously we didn't stay long to enjoy the view. Earlier that day, while on top of Algonquin, we were greeted with a rare view of Marcy poking its rocky head out from the clouds - a beautiful sight!! After we reached the junction with the Algonquin trail and began our descent, we passed a group that was still heading up the mountain. It was after 3:30pm on one of the shortest days of the year, and they had more than a mile to go to the summit with around 1200 feet of climbing left. Then on top of that, more than four miles to travel from the summit back to the trailhead (they were not carrying overnight packs). I hope they had flashlights... (I bet the sunset was absolutely gorgeous from the top; it certainly was from along the trail on our way down).
  13. While camped atop Snowy Mt. January 1 - 2, 2000, a man and a young boy passed where we were setting up our tents. The boy was wearing sweatpants, which were completely soaked from the knee down, and no gloves. The man was also wearing prodigious amounts of cotton. It was around 4:30pm, it would be dark in another half an hour or so, and they had 3.4 miles to go. I hope they had flashlights too. Unfortunately, the sunset wasn't quite as spectacular as it was on Algonquin =) As they walked by, the man turned to us and said, "Out here for some winter survival, huh?" Yes, survival would definitely be a reasonable goal...
  14. While climbing Big Slide via the Brothers from Keene Valley in January, I passed a group of snowshoers heading up First Brother. The first thing I noticed was that they carried nothing: no packs, no extra clothing, no food, no water. I asked them if they were just going up Brothers, or all the way to Big Slide, which was a few miles further. The person I asked said "I don't know" and yelled ahead to another climber in the group, who had apparently organized the outing. He responded by saying, "I don't know, where does this trail go?" I explained that it headed up over three "lesser" peaks collectively referred to as the Brothers, and then on to Big Slide, a High Peak. He asked, "Does this trail go to Marcy?" No, I explained, Marcy was on a different and much longer trail. By this time, one of the members of the group was getting thirsty, so I offered some water. I headed on towards Big Slide only after this member of the group, who knowingly became easily dehydrated yet did not bring any water, consumed nearly a quart of mine. Fortunately I had brought plenty to spare =)
  15. Do not think that this means I have not done anything of questionable intelligence before. I have come off of Snowy Mt. in the dark in November; reached the summit of West Mt. near Raquette Lake just after dark on Columbus Day weekend in October; pitched a tent on the middle of the Great Range trail, 100 feet below treeline on Haystack, minutes before nightfall in February (this is no longer legal under the High Peaks Unit Management Plan); etc etc. On the other hand, I would like to believe that on every occassion that I have used poor judgement, I was sufficiently prepared to handle the consequences. I usually carry a sleeping bag and emergency blanket when I go on a long day hike, and on most hikes in the winter. I never leave home without a headlamp, even if I'm only going on a two-hour hike. A map and compass are essential, as is a knowledge of how to use them. Bring clothing to keep you warm, even if it is the middle of July. Water is essential; bring more than you think you'll need, or bring a filter. Or both.

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