Wednesday, August 26, 2009

8/25/09: a good leg stretching at Highland Forest

After being skunked at The West Canada the previous night, you would've thought I would just mope around the next day. No need to dwell on the past - we will be back out next week so hopefully we'll hit the white fly hatch then. I do have another High Peaks hike coming up, and I really haven't worked out well enough. The stair climber and treadmill sitting in the basement have been so uninspiring to me lately. We have plenty of local parks with good hiking trails, fortunately.

Highland Forest doesn't open until 8:30am, a fact I discovered and sheepishly ignored at 7:00am as I pulled into the parking lot. No one around. Good. Just me and the wildlife - not that I could hear much over the sound of my gasping breaths as I pushed myself for a land speed record. The trail was pretty muddy from the rains over the weekend, and I think that slowed me down a bit. At least that was my excuse. I gave it my all, regardless, and finished the 8.7 mile main trail in 3 hours and 5 minutes. 21 minute miles on a sloppy trail. Not bad for a fat, old guy.

You ever noticed that the larger an animal is, the quieter they are in the woods? The noisiest creatures I came across were a few blue jays fluttering around. The quietest? All dozen or so of the deer I spooked throughout the morning. How can something that large bound silently through the woods as if watching TV with the mute button on? One of life's wonders, I guess.


8/24/09: The West Canada Creek

So, I'll keep this short and sweet. Bob and I headed to The West Canada in hopes of catching the white fly hatch. T'was not to be, unfortunately. In fact, it was a beautiful night, water temps in the mid 60's, perfect stretch of water below the yellow gate parking area, and very little action. We were encouraged with three white flies coming off and a decent Isonychia spinner fall. Bob got one ten incher. Me? Nope. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Not even a hit once. Stupid fish. Did mention that the wings at the Hotel Moore in Trenton Falls are outstanding?


Thursday, August 20, 2009

In defense of a finely tuned daypack...

You may have read my previous post of the Algonquin hike, when I had a wardrobe malfunction on the way up the mountain. Of all the comments from fellow hikers, the ones that got to me the most weren't the sarcastic ones. It was when they looked in astonishment and exclaimed how "lucky" I was that I had duct tape and cord to fix those boots. Yeah. It really did bother me a bit, because it implied that my repairs were by chance - as if I fell into some fortune that allowed me to repair my equipment and continue on. It may come as a surprise, but I DID pack my own daypack that morning, and the duct tape and cord are part of an essential kit that I carry for just such problems. It would take forever to regale you with all my experiences and anecdotes that have led me to carry all that I do. You'll have to take my word for it now and email me with questions if you like further explanation.

Here's a list of what I carry:
  1. Daypack: 2000-3000 cu/in with a thick waist belt and shoulder straps. I prefer a panel loading design with accessory pockets and lashing straps to keep everything organized.
  2. Shell Jacket: a waterproof, breathable parka to keep rain and wind at bay
  3. Insulating jacket: a polyester fleece jacket that will keep you warm even if soaking wet, to be layered under the shell parka.
  4. Clothing extras: a wool or poly fleece hat, spare pair of socks, bandannas, gaiters if the trail is muddy or snowy, gloves.
  5. Water: I use a 3 liter hydration system, and bring at least 2-4 liters extra. In the hot months on a strenuous climb I plan for at least 1 liter per two miles. I also bring along a water purification system to be able to treat more water as we go.
  6. Food: trail food should be high in calorie - especially in carbs for energy - and you should have more than enough to get through the day. You should also plan on enough to ration you through at least another full day in case something happens and you are forced to spend the night. Trail mix is an obvious choice, but beef jerky, power bars, cheese, pepperoni, summer sausage, all make great trail food.
  7. Headlamp/Flashlight: inevitably, you will find yourself needing to start in the early morning hours or end up losing daylight at the end of a hike. A flashlight is nice, but a headlamp is incredibly more convenient. Remember, the forest canopy will add about an hour of darkness to both sunrise and sunset.
  8. Trail book and map with compass: It doesn't take long to learn how to use a compass with your map, and your map is useless if you don't know which direction you're facing. Mine come with me regardless of how well groomed the trails are.
  9. Personal items: things like bug repellent, hand lotion, lip balm, sun screen, purel hand sanitizer, tissues.
  10. Medications: In a medium sized pill bottle I carry a few doses each of these medications - motrin, excedrin, sudafed, and regular tylenol for aches, pains, sinus headaches; pepcid complete tabs, gas-ex, and imodium for stomach problems; Benedryl for allergic reactions
  11. Hiking/Trekking poles: like ski poles, most are adjustable and have a smaller basket to help with mud. You'll be amazed how well these things will save your knees and allow you to move quicker. Granted, I look like a hiking praying mantis with them, but they are a joint saver. And they can be used to splint a broken leg or hold up a temporary shelter if need be.
  12. Essentials Kit: the magical bag! I will break down the essentials kit below...

The Essentials Kit is a grouping of various sub kits all kept in a small stuff sack:
  • First aid kit: very basic, it has bandaids, gauze pads, mole skin, an ace bandage, some antibiotic ointment, alcohol pads
  • Emergency overnight kit: a tube tent, a pair of space blankets, matches in a waterproof container, firestarter sticks, an emergency whistle
  • A basic repair kit: a length of nylon cord, a backpacking roll of duct tape, safety pins, a needle and spool of black thread
  • A leatherman or swiss army knife
  • Water Treatment system: I currently have a Steri-pen ultraviolet water purifier, but have also used a couple of other small micron filters. If you can stand the taste of iodine, you can carry potable aqua tabs.
  • Toilet paper: for when nature calls while out in nature. remember to bury it...
So that's it. When all is said and done, my pack is 20-30 pounds for a long day hike, depending on how much water and food I'm carrying. Yup, it's a lot and probably overkill, but you never know when your boots are going to fall apart, or something. I can say that everything on that list has been used on the trail, with the exception of the emergency overnight kit. That kit was set up because of one hike where a knee injury slowed us enough that we were almost forced into an emergency camp out on the mountain (an earlier Algonquin climb, ironically). Nothing like getting caught out in the woods when the night time temperatures were dropping into the 20's. So, when it comes to packing your daypack, the best thing you can do is follow the Boy Scout Motto - Be Prepared.

Happy hiking,


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Whiteface Hike, 2009

"You're traveling through another dimension -- a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination (and various trail landmarks). That's a signpost up ahead: your next stop: the Tourist Zone!"

The pictures:

OK, so I have to first come clean. If it wasn't for all the touristy stuff at the summit of Whiteface, I would have never found the love I have for the Adirondack High Peaks in the first place. I do have to say that even as a kid I did climb the two tenths of a mile to the summit from the parking area. It wasn't just the view that enthralled me, but rather the hikers that appeared out of no where from one of the summit trails. I was most impressed with their achievement, and I'm sure they enjoyed every bit of the awe I expressed to them. One day, I would hope that such a favor would be returned.

When Deb and I first climbed Whiteface and Esther, it was on a very overcast day with the summits blanketed in clouds. Because of the weather, they weren't allowing tourists up the Whiteface Memorial Highway. Despite the "above the clouds" view we got at the summit, we had shared it with only two weather scientists stationed at the research center. When we returned with Nick and Angela a couple of years later, life came full circle. We approached the summit to cheers, congratulations, and - as I expressed over two decades before - looks of awe from those who had driven to the top. And now here I am, another decade beyond that climb, with high hopes for this new group of climbers to have the same life affirming experience. Well......

It was an early start for all of us. But, unlike the Algonquin hike, I was the only one who got adequate sleep. The drive was ripe with anticipation and the breakfast at Howard Johnson's quick. We started on the trail by 8:30am, and walked promptly into the annoyingly steep mile long hike up Marble Mountain. After a stop for pictures and bug spray we pressed on. The trail continued it's steep ascent along the ridge of Lookout Mountain and it seemed like forever before we came up to the Esther trail junction. Only a couple of miles to go. Paul and I caught up with Matt, Frank, and Erin at a newly cleared ski run. It didn't seem like much longer and we were at the base of the highway retaining wall. I knew it would prove irresistible to Frank and Matt. I figured they would try to climb it. And, true to form, Frank got kinda.....stuck. Yes, it was pretty funny.

The final ridge walk to the summit was spectacular, despite the man-made reminders everywhere. The mountain falls away down into the valley with Little Whiteface and the ski center dramatically. It actually plays with your eyes, and pictures do not do it justice. Paul and I heard cheers from the tourists as our younger hikers rounded the corner past the summit buildings a few hundred yards ahead of us. As we approached, we were met by a couple from Florida with whom we had a very pleasant conversation with. But then, we dropped our packs in the middle of the zoo. Holy cow. Easily, over 100 people on the summit, all clambering to get their picture taken next to the quaintly, mountain-shaped summit marker. College girls doing yoga. A party for a 46er who just finished his 23rd round of the 46. Babies crying. A kid on crutches. All of this wouldn't been too bad, except that certain members of our group actually suffered dirty looks over a little mud and sweat while in the gift shop line from clean, pressed, and arrogant motorists. It takes all kinds...

After about an hour of the chaos and a couple of cold drinks we started back. Esther proved to be better than I remembered. The big bog in the col between Lookout mountain and Esther now has some narrow log bridges to help negotiate it. The hike down was exhaustively long. Marble mountain proved just plain painful. As we disrobed our gear, I was relieved to find my toes still intact. I have to agree with Matt, that - all in all - this trail was really pleasant hiking. Even the mud was better than what we dealt with on Algonquin.

The burgers were tasty at R.F. McDougall's on the way home. Considering everyone except for me got only 3-4 hours of sleep before this 11 mile hike that included 4 mountains, 2 above 4000 feet. Way to go, guys.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Algonquin Hike, 2009

I came. I saw. The mountain kicked my ass.

Lately, it's been a challenge to post a large amount of pictures with my posts. So, to see the pictures from the hike, feel free to link to my Flickr photo set of the hike:

So, into the fray I go….

My Adirondack 46er quest began long ago. A product of a childhood love and fascination with the Adirondack high peaks, I was nudged into the journey by a patient of mine from about 20 years ago. Over the last two decades I’ve stood atop 10 of the 46 original “high peaks” – most of them more than once. Since I ruptured a disc 4 years ago, I’ve been out of commission when it came to high peak hikes. This was mostly due to my own fears. Sometimes when life gives you a really good kick in the ass, it’s easy to let the fragility engulf you.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the 46ers, I’ll bring you up to speed. On one of the original Adirondack geological surveys, there were 46 of the mountains that were over 4000 feet in elevation. Since those who climb mountains often have to find obscure reasons to explain why they desire to do so, the idea of a challenge to climb all the peaks above 4000 feet sounded good enough. Ironically, the survey was redone in the 70’s and found that 4 of the peaks were actually under 4000 feet, and one mountain that was previously believed to be under the 4000 foot benchmark – MacNaughton - was exactly 4000 feet. The original 46 list held despite the new information. Naturally, no self respecting 46er would accept such honors without also climbing MacNaughton….despite the “rules”.

Back to the quest. Sometime in the beginning of this year I was able to shed the apprehensions of past injuries and lose some weight. Time to get back to the task at hand. With my nephew Frank going off to college this fall, I felt some urgency in getting him up Algonquin – a peak that sparked his interest back 5 years ago when we climbed Marcy with his dad and cousin Matt. Paul couldn’t make it for this trip, but Matt was really eager to get back to the Adirondacks. It’s definitely in Matt’s blood – he can’t help it. Unfortunately, this will probably be the only peak I can climb with Frank this year, but Paul and Matt will be along for two other hikes.

The guys stayed overnight at the house so we could get an early start in the morning. Despite the disappearance of the Denny’s in Watertown, we managed a quick and decent drive to the Adirondack Loj and were on the trail by 7:30am. As I expected, I was fine until I had to start going uphill. We made it to the big waterfall in good time, and after a rest break I released Matt and Frank to go on ahead of their gasping and wheezing uncle and go hike Wright peak. Been there, done that anyway. About to the 3 mile mark, I started feeling like I was walking in flip-flops. Crap. I guess even a really nice pair of hiking boots will fall apart after 20 years. I pulled out the duct tape and did my best to put the pieces of my footwear back together. This will prove to be more than just an inconvenience as the day wore on. Eventually, it would slow us down so much that we finished the hike as dusk closed in around us. I met up with the guys at timberline and we continued to Algonquin's summit. Yup. Just as I remembered it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely beautiful up there but a little crowded on an August day. Still, there’s a surreal, “different country” feel that can’t be explained. 12:30pm. Not bad considering I’m old, fat, out of shape, and losing the soles of my boots.

At this point, I’m not sure that I didn’t go from being a die-hard hiker to just an idiot. I mean, there was Iroquois just over Boundary Peak. It didn’t look far. How hard could it be? Well, when your boots are being held together by duct tape and cord it could prove to be harder than it looked. Yup. That trail sucked. Granted, it wasn’t a maintained trail so I have no one to blame, but man! In most places the trail was only about a foot wide through thick scrub that did a number on your arms and legs. When it did open up, it was usually because no plants could survive in that depth of mud. We got a great look at the trap dyke on Mt. Colden from Iroquois peak and headed back after a little break. I got so tired that I just walked right through the ankle deep mud instead of the rock-branch-mud-slip ballet we usually do.

There was really only one point that I actually got nervous about my safe return. The gravity of the boot debacle became more annoying over worrisome as the comments from fellow hikers rolled in. If I had to hear one more crack about how my boots had seen better days or how lucky I was that I had duct tape (although I would think “smart” was more like it – it wasn’t like someone packed my daypack for me). I think one couple felt my icy lack of amusement when the husband prodded the wife to take a picture of my boots. It was good spirited, but not really what I wanted to hear at that point.

Did I mention that we ended up with a beautiful day and Frank and Matt logged in three new peaks? We had a really good time, sharing a whole lot more with each other than any of us probably expected. I survived better than I expected, although I did take the next two days off from work because the trauma my feet suffered and over all sore muscles. Yup. It’s good to be back in the high peaks again. See you in two weeks.

A VERY muddy muddler

White fly patterns - Could we have a winner ???

You've probably heard of fabled insect hatches across the country. For some eastern rivers it's Hendricksons and Green Drakes. In the mid west it might be Hexagenias. Out west you have Salmonflies and San Juan Worms (ok, just kidding on the worms). But in my little neck of the woods - the West Canada Creek to be exact - we have a little known mayfly called the white fly. Also known as the white miner, the white fly is in the drake family of mayflies. It's cousins are the green drake, brown drake, golden drake, and the hexagenia limbata. Those mayflies tend to be the largest of the stream born mayflies, living in the slower, silty areas of the river. The white fly is the smallest of the group, ranging in the #12 size. Adding to the white fly's mystique is that it's common to have a prolific population in one river and be non existent in another similar river a few miles away.

The white fly hatch is also a little...well....unique. The hatch starts in the later half of August and runs through the first week or so of September. What makes it unique is that it will start down stream initially, and every day work it's way up river. The trick is being on the water in the right spot at the right time to catch the hatch. And I do mean HATCH. I would say that of all the hatches I've experienced, the white fly hatch - when I get it right - is truly a "blanket" hatch. It can be awe inspiring. You're fishing, the sun is going down, and suddenly you notice a bunch of ghostly, grayish white mayflies silently flying up stream. They hatch out of the water and into flight so quickly that you rarely see one actually coming out of the water. It can get so thick that it reminds me of snow being blown in a cross wind in front of your face.

As with any prolific hatch, the curse is that the fish have too much food to feed on. You may make the perfect presentation with the perfect fly and the fish will simply slurp the surrounding flies because they're everywhere. Naturally, we blame the fly and come up with new patterns every summer to do battle with. This year is no exception:

Back to the tying vise. I'll see you on the water...

July 13th: Evening on West Canada

You know you have a good friend when they sacrifice themselves as a reason to go fishing. I mean, I've had some perfect days to go fishing on my own, but the guilt of getting the "to-do" list done holds me back all too often. On the other hand, if my friend wants to go fishing then I'm obliged. It's kind of a law of nature or something.

There's too much nice water on West Canada Creek. I can't stress that enough. Even when the fish don't comply, it's still really fishy water. We decided to try out the "yellow gate" run - a designated parking/fishing spot down the road from the catch and release section on route 28. You can't miss it. An average sized barn really close to the road and a small dirt drive - through a yellow gate, of course - to a quiet parking area and a few small trails to the water. The river is wide here, and deceptively fast. We only had a couple of hours on the water, and the fish weren't really into taking our flies. Near the end of the night, there was a decent light cahill hatch that got some fish rising. Once again, I hooked up on a fish that wasn't a typical resident of this area of the river. I landed an 8 inch brook trout. Go figure. The water was 62 degrees, and the air felt about the same. Oh well, not a great catching day again, but good to get out. The beer was cold and the wings hot at the Hotel Moore on the way home. y the way, they run a Monday night special - a pitcher of beer and 24 wings for $11.95.

June 20th: The Litte River

So, Bob had his eye on The Little River for a while now. It's about a 15-20minute drive from his camp outside of Pticarin, NY. Route 3 crosses over it, and from the road it looked like pretty sweet H2O. We actually fished it at an area where we had to hike in about 1/2 mile to get to the river - granted it felt more like a mile on the way out. Also, I am not allowed to disclose the exact location of the parking spot and the trail to the river. If you want to check it out, I'd be happy to take you up there some time........but then I'd have to kill you, of course. Sorry, not my rules.

This was my first time packing in my gear to a fishing spot. I know you westerners do it all the time, but we easterners are usually spoiled with...roads. Still, it was nice to get off the beaten track. The river is on the small size for a river, more like a large stream in some areas. The promise of native brook trout kept those quirky smiles on our faces as we geared up. Given that this was a typical Adirondack river, the wading was pretty easy. The fishing was slow at first, but then Bob got things going with a couple of hook ups. I had luck on a big, bushy Adams Wulff. All in all, the brookies were small but accomodating. After lunch we were welcomed back to the river by a couple of ravens as we worked our way down stream. The fishing slowed but the relaxation was abundant. At one point I just sat down on a rock in the middle of the river and took it all in. Not a banner day of catching, but add in the Adirondack setting and just plain beautiful water and it was a great day. We packed out in the late afternoon and joined our wives back at the camp for a cocktail. Finishing out the day with Bob and Karen's family proved to be as fun as usual. It's amazing to me how one, day-long outing can feel like a full weekend.