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

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