Monday, October 24, 2016

Giant Mountain 10/22/16

I met Michael our first weekend of college. Pretty much every freshman wearing a Phish or Grateful Dead shirt buddied up that week haha. We've been great friends ever since and have shared many adventures, traveling across the country to see the Disco Biscuits and  getting together for our yearly Cabinfest event. He was one of the best men at my wedding. He caught the hiking bug so we climbed Mount Marcy together a few years ago and made plans to climb Algonquin.

Well the best laid plans of mice and men eh? The forecast went from overcast to 2 feet of snow to heavy winds and wind chill inducing gusts. I laid out some alternatives to Algonquin considering what a dangerous peak that would be in those conditions. We decided on Giant as a safer bet but we'd bail if the forecast was too brutal. On the night before everything toned down a bit so we decided to go for it. It would be a bit below 40 with consistent light rain and heavy wind gusts. Not exactly ideal but with all the gear and safety contingencies in place, I felt confident we could give it a go.

We hit the ridge trail at 7:15 under a light drizzle. This trail doesn't mess around. It gets right to climbing. There was much groaning from the old men and Koda wondering why we were so slow. The wet leaves made for slow and slightly precarious climbing. The first overlook gave us a dramatic but limited view up John's Brook Valley, over Chapel Pond and the imposing face of Round Mountain. The veins of yellow leaves shot through the forest evergreen made for a stunning sight.

We were grateful for the short lived flat terrain from the overlook to Giant's Washbowl. I was shocked to see the water levels very low and the outlet completely dry. When I hiked Giant several winters ago, the water on the outlet was quite high and the bridge icy, making for a nerve-wracking crossing. I assume this was because of this summer's drought. Back to climbing, we got to making our way up the set of switchbacks which follow the washbowl.

As we emerged onto the first set of rocky bumps that make up the Giant Ridge trail, I began to have some doubts as to whether we should continue the climb. The first section of the hike is pretty grueling and we were already all the way wet from the steady rain. Once out on the exposed rock, the rain got harder and whipped us in the face. Koda seemed to be the only one in his element. Though groaning often in his typical fashion I could tell Michael was committed to the hike so we continued on. Though we were starting a long series of scrambles over rocky crags and back into the forest for bits and pieces, it was easier than the initial unrelenting climb.

Small talk, jokes, snacks and the occasional slacking of rain made this section a bit easier on the spirits. We made good time though our gloves had become saturated and our feet were just starting to get wet. At this point Koda found a 3 ft stick which he decided to carry for about a 1.5 miles. We each caught a whack our 5 to the back of the knees. Back into the forest, my spirits certainly rose. It seemed like we were going to have a real shot at summiting though conditions were less than ideal. The beauty and protection of the forest was heartening.

The long ridge of Giant was as imposing as it was beautiful. As we got higher, we were much more exposed to the wind. and the alpine vegetation was covered in ice from the below freezing windchill gusts. Doubt once again began creeping in. Could we do it? Should we even be up here? Though Michael doesn't have as much experience with hikes like this he had a great attitude and a healthy determination that kept chasing my doubts away. The final rocky scrambles to reach the top of Giant were miraculously free of ice. This was my last concern.

The summit of Giant was....freaking gnarly. Deeply cutting gusts of wind came horizontally off the face of the mountain swirling the clouds into our faces. All the summit trees were heavily frosted with ice. Michael got down on his face and kissed the survey disc and we celebrated a hard fought climb. I've done a lot of high peaks hikes but few summit experiences compare to the relief and elation of making it to the top of Giant on such a trying day.

We relaxed on the summit for about 45 minutes, enjoying our lunches and taking in the view. Just kidding. We ran the eff off that howling beast. Once we found a protected spot we made some gear adjustments and caught our breath. One of my favorite parts of Giant (or any high peak for that matter) is the hanging moss on the stunted pine trees in the alpine zone. Hanging out there for a few minutes I felt more at home than I have in a long time. I'm so happy with my life and all the time I get to spend watching Hunter grow up but it was great for my soul to check in with the high peaks.

We picked our way down the scrambles and start fantasizing about being out of the wet gear, comfortable and warm. I started speculating out loud about if we were the only idiots out there climbing Giant that day. As the words were coming out of my mouth, we started hearing voices coming up the trail. From that point on we saw about 30 people including what looked like a high school group and a family with two kids under the age of ten. I tried hard not to be too much of a Ranger Rick but I did check in with folks to make sure they had the appropriate gear to not be in danger in trying conditions.

We made great time on the hike back down the ridge in typical 'smelling the barn' fashion. The weather seemed to break a bit which was quite a relief. Hiking all day in the rain can definitely mess with your head.  We enjoyed some cool views down to the washbowl from the edge of the ridge.

As our legs started to feel the combined climb and descent we slowed a bit on the final hike out. Talk of hot food and drink was interspersed with making plans for future hikes. I'm impressed with my homeboy for not only rocking a serious hike in miserable weather but for being inspired to do more on a day that would make plenty of folks never want to hike again. Back on the final viewing ledge we both took in a truly breathtaking place which I feel so lucky to get to visit and share with folks I care so deeply about. Michael has been one of my best friends for nearly half my life and I'm so grateful to get to share this with him.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Peaked Mountain 9/24/16

It's been interesting and fun to adjust my style for planning a hike. With Hunter we leave town later and don't want to hike as many miles since he's stuck in the pack. I've made a new list of peaks that are closer to home and average between 3 and 8 miles. I don't want to sacrifice beauty though and between this hike and Moxam, I think we've actually seen more beauty in some ways than when we were focusing primarily on the high peaks.

We thoroughly enjoyed the drive up north with the fall color slowly creeping in. I always enjoy exploring a new area and from the map it looks like this access point to the Siamese Ponds Wilderness has a ton to offer. We've been working to depend less on Hunter sleeping through the drive and this time he spent the first portion of the drive awake and happy. I guess we've worried that if he isn't sleeping he'll be upset. He was definitely nice and chill. At the trail head we bundled him up, gave him a bottle and changed his diaper in the trunk haha.

At the trail register we noticed that Thirteenth lake is ringed with campsites. It looks like a very lovely place to camp! It's a very short walk from the lot to the shore of the lake where there's a picnic table and fire ring with a stunning view. Worth the visit even if you aren't hiking!!! We followed the trail around the lake to increasingly stunning views of this serene body of water  ringed with mountains. The whole family was in high spirits, immersed in the quiet beauty.

The trail twists along the shore of the lake with many fine views and several pretty amazing campsites. It reminded me of a slightly less brutal version of the trail around Flowed Lands, lots of little ups and downs avoiding the natural obstacles of the shore. We soon entered the deep woods along Peaked Mountain Brook. It was a very different form of lovely with many tumbling falls. At times it reminded me more of brooks in the high peaks with the water cutting incisions into widely exposed swaths of bedrock. It was super pretty and interesting but didn't photograph well with the dark forest. It was a steady climb and we worked to gain elevation until a bit of a break along the shore of Little Thirteenth Lake. The edges of this lake were grown in quite a bit with marshy vegetation so it was hard to catch a view of the lake itself.

The trail then winds along Peaked Mountain Brook through several old beaver meadows. We were several miles into the hike already and starting to wonder if we'd bitten off a little more than we could chew taking Hunter so deep into the woods. The trail just had such a deeply remote feel to it. Something I've always sought out but now had a completely different edge to it with Hunter in our care. He seemed quite happy and content though and we still had juice left so we continued on.

The second beaver meadow gave us our first look at Peaked Mountain and we were deeply inspired. What a craggy little bugger! Very interesting in comparison to the surrounding peaks which tend to have a more rolling nature. This gave us motivation to continue following the beautiful brook to the shore of Peaked Mountain Pond. I can't imagine a more peaceful or beautiful little mountain pond. It's truly a worthy destination on its own and the designated campsite there is extremely tantalizing for future weekend camping plans.

A dark cloud rolled over the pond as we made our way along the shore and gave a bit of an ominous feel to the start of our ascent. Immediately care needed to be taken with many short scrambles. The stakes are very high now that I'm carrying Hunter on these climbs. Slipping or stumbling is no longer an option. Nothing was too challenging though and we were soon exhilarated but views far off in every direction. I have a difficult time recalling an Adirondack Mountain with views stretching so far off into the distance. It was neat to see Blue Mountain to the Northwest.

Along the mellowing summit ridge we encountered several lovely overlooks which guided us onto the craggy, multi-level summit. We felt a great sense of accomplishment for making the climb. We both feel like we've lost a step or two since Hunter was born and it was nice to know we still had the climb in us. We took pictures from the 2-3 different vantage points before getting Hunter out of the pack in a safe grassy area well off from the edge. He ate and played, truly enjoying climbing on the rocky features and...gnawing on sticks. We feel like bad parents at times letting him interact so deeply with 'dirty' stuff like this but feel in our hearts that this must've been what it was like for a long time before antibacterial soap and the sterilization of the first world. We also had to do our first high elevation poopy diaper change which went pretty well hahaha. We ended up hanging for about 45-50 minutes and met several small groups of folks, the first we'd seen hiking all day. During my research, I got the impression this was a popular hike, but it ended up being pretty quiet with a trail that didn't bear evidence of much traffic at all.

The climb down seemed to fly. Some of the features that felt difficult to climb were much more easily descended. We put Hunter's sun cover up which makes it much easier for him to sleep. He'd stayed awake for the entire hike thus far and we knew he was due for a nap. Within 5 minutes of hiking off the peak he was out like a light. Even with us talking loudly and jostling him while working down the craggy summit path. I'm hopeful this continued ease of sleeping in challenging environments is a trait he can carry in to later life. It makes so much of life easier if you can just pass out when you need to. The obstacles flew by as they sometimes can on the hike out and we made great time as the gradual loss of elevation rolled us out of the woods. With the light a bit better in the afternoon sun I attempted to gets some shots of the dramatic Peaked Mountain Brook. After about a 40 minute nap Hunter was up again and babbling happily as we reached the shore of Thirteenth lake.

We stopped at the picnic table at the head of the lake, gave Hunter a bottle and basked in the quiet beauty of the sunny fall day. It was a truly incredible hike and such a great thing to share as a family. J and I both hope so much that exposing him to nature at this age is leaving its mark in some way. We think it does. It's just given the two of us so much peace in our hearts and minds through the years and hope it can offer him the same in this challenging world we live in.

We had slightly underpacked food for ourselves so made our way to the North Creek Stewart's for an awesome late lunch/ early dinner of soup and the amazing seasonal pumpkin pie ice cream. It was a feast for the ages with Hunter downing a hefty portion of chicken rice soup. Unable to let go of the awesome day we headed over to Barkeater chocolates, which if you haven't visited yet, I highly suggest you do and got an excellent stash of truffles. With our Adirondack day now complete we made our way dreamily down the Northway and back home. This fall has been great so far and I can't wait to see whats next!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Rusk Mountain 9/23/16

After dropping Hunter off at daycare I went back home and scooped Koda up for the now familiar drive into the Central Catskills. I've talked about this route before but I can't say enough about what a pleasant drive it is. Each leg, each turn made is away from the urban, towards the simple and natural beauty. On this trip, as I made my way through Oak Hill, Wyndham, Lexington and Spruceton, the first flush of fall color could be seen on some trees.

I listened to the Grateful Dead's performance from 2/21/73 Assembly Hall, University of Illinois while snaking my way through fertile farm valleys and mountain passes. In many ways 1973 is the apex of their career for me (though I can find joy and beauty from 1965-1995). Their playing is so lovely and restrained. They are playing a lot of the more Americana-tinged material and their jamming is dynamic and jazzy. Not too shreddy, not too spacey. The Truckin'>Eyes of the World>Stella blue segment from the second set was especially good and I left it on to finish the Stella while getting ready at the trail head.

The hike begins on a wide gravel road along Hunter Brook. I love seeing my sons name everywhere I hike. The Catskills get bonus points for this. After the bridge I was on the lookout for the sharp turn. At the turn I poked around a little and consulted my map. I could see a faint herd path heading into the woods. From the description I'd read I know I wanted to cross the main drainage, a smaller one, and find my way onto the ridge. This herd path took me exactly where I wanted to go and though faint at times was easy to follow.

It felt good to be where I wanted to be. I was a bit surprised by how well defined the trail was as I had been expecting it to be more of a true bushwhack. I was not complaining though haha. I kept checking my bearing to make sure I was on the right track and began the work of gaining the ridge. The climb was very steady and was a test for my current fitness levels. My engine was running very hot and I was panting and sweating. The woods were a lovely back drop to my toil though. Koda was panting pretty hard too so I gave him half a liter of water. He'd been off leash since the trail and was doing a great job of scouting the route and following the scent track.

The last push on to the ridge was a bit steeper and of course more rocky. I could see open fields of nettle and prickers which this herd path dutifully avoided. Again, quite grateful to be following it. Once on the ridge several different herd paths sprung off or intersected the one I was on and suddenly my gift of a climb was a bit less sure. I adjusted my bearing and tried to make the right choices even though the paths weaved across the summit. I was really starting to doubt I had made the right choice when I popped out into the summit clearing. Relieved and excited I signed the log book, had a bite and fed Koda.

 I had read about some cliffs to the west so set a bearing for where I thought the were and began down a bit of a herd path. It was spotty and I lost it several times but was able to stay on my bearing. After poking around for a bit and not finding them, I gave up and headed back. I looked at the map while writing this up and realize that they weren't where I thought the were. I thought they were still within the summits contour line but you actually have to descend a bit to get there. I should've made a note or taken a screenshot. Next time.

I decided to try out a different herd path on the way down and followed a track that took me due south off the summit. It petered out once off the ridge and I found myself truly bushwhacking. The going was certainly harder than the lovely path I took up but nothing too brutal. I was following a nearly due south bearing and after consulting the map realized I needed to adjust to the southeast to not emerge in someone's back yard on Spruceton rd. We stumbled on some older bear scat along the way.

I kept contouring slightly climbers left of my bearing in hopes of clipping the herd path and after descending off a familiar looking steep ridge, found myself back where the livings easy. I popped a squat in a particularly pretty spot and let the silence of the forest envelop me as Koda explored the drainage. When he came back up the hill I got moving again.

We ended up on a slightly different braid of the herd path that brought us back to the trail just bellow the big turn. The easy trail walking was very enjoyable along with the scenic and peacefully babbling Hunter Brook. I was glad to have had a successful climb but definitely want to continue to improve my backcountry navigation skills in order to take on more challenging peaks in the Catskills. This brings my total up to 13 with most of the northern and central peaks completed. I've never explored the southern Catskills and am excited to see a new part of the park 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Moxam Mountain 9/11/16

I've been reading about the new trail to Moxam Mountain for years and now that we're looking for slightly shorter hikes to do as a family it was the perfect time to explore. With the turn in weather towards cooler days both J and I caught the hiking bug again. We left Albany when it was time for Hunter's nap and pulled in to the trail head mid-morning. I've really loved exploring the Catskills but my heart feels most at home on an Adirondack trail. The trees, the smells and crisp morning air had myself and the whole family beaming from ear to ear as we made our way along the trail.

The first leg is a moderate climb up onto a small bump before climbing the summit ridge. We chatted, riding our morning caffeine high. It made me so happy to be in the Adirondacks with my whole family (sorry Koda, we just aren't ready to do the dog and baby thing). After 10-15 minutes of effort we were taking in the first of many stunning views.

After the series of overlooks the trail makes its way down to a marshy area and crosses a brook or two before it begins to ascend the ridge. This trail visits many different types of forest and gives a really nice sampling of all the Adirondacks have to offer. Some sizable glacial erratics dotted the hillside and added to the variety of scenery. Once on the ridge some moderate effort of climbing would yield view after stunning view. Reading about views of Gore Mountain was one of the things that brought me here and you could see it almost the whole time which was awesome. It was fun to chat with J about our many awesome days skiing those trails. The terrain was varied and fun, challenging but in the good way. Without too much toil we found ourselves at the famed viewing spot of the main rocky summit. It did not disappoint! What an impressive sight!

We loved the views down to the beaver meadows and the endless stretch of peaks off into the distance. The final climb up to the summit had many views to the south and west and filtered views to the north. I imagine with a bit of exploring you could find some views north to the high peaks. It's nice to have future explorations in mind. On the summit it was quite windy but we found a nice wind break below to enjoy lunch. We ate, Hunter ate (including sticks) and we soaked in the views on a perfect September day. It was so funny to watch Hunter explore the summit. We have a feeling he's going to be a climber!

Having Hunter with us makes me so happy. I know he isn't quite taking in or processing everything but I feel certain that something is happening and that it's positive. He's spent far more time outside than in front of screens and we are going to work to keep it that way. When we are out in the world, I just see such peace and calm come over him, especially in the woods. The forest has the same effect on me. I hope that he will continue to enjoy it as he gets older.

On our way down, the inevitable happened...Hunter passed out in the pack. I can't believe he can rest in that position but I won't begrudge him the rest after all that stimulation. It's pretty darned cute too. We made great time down the gradual ascent and Hunter started waking up as we got closer to the car. We gave him another snack and started our drive home still so inspired by our day, planning our next trip out. The weather is only going to get nicer and the leaves will start to change. Fall is coming!