Now I've Seen It
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Sneakers are by no means waterproof, and the snow we were travelling
on was rather wet.
- Snowshoeing without gaiters, or even worse without
socks, is a sure-fire method to get snow in your boots. This must have
gotten very cold very quickly.
- We were only 4 miles into the trip at
this point; it would have made much more sense (and been far safer) to
simply turn around and attempt the trip at another time. My advice to this
person: "The mountain will be there tomorrow. Try to be able to say the
same about yourself.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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...
- 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 =)
- 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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