Friday, May 27, 2016

Thomas Cole over Camel's Hump 5/21/16

My wife and I have been taking turns giving each other breaks from child care to tend to our souls. Sometimes its to do something social with friends, sometimes it's to pursue our outdoor passions. J recently shared a great hike of Mount Marcy with our friend Tara so I decided for my next outing I'd start back on my Cat 35 list.

J, Koda and I attempted this one a few years back in the winter but ended up turning back at Camel's Hump as one of us wasn't feeling good. I was excited to return and enjoy in a different season. I drove down  NY 32 from Albany and enjoyed a brilliant sunrise while listening to the Grateful Dead's recently released July 1978 box set. I was halfway through 7/3/78 when I started my drive so I got to start with a Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain which always gets me excited to climb a mountain.

The drive was a mere hour and 15 minutes from my door which was a welcome break from hauls up 87 to the high peaks. It was a lovely morning and we had the trail head to ourselves. It was nice to simply let Koda out the back. Even in places without leash laws like the Cats I like to respect folks right not to be sniffed by my hyper goober of a dog at 6AM. The beginning of the trail squeezes between private property. Lovely place to live or spend time I'd say. Koda quickly found someones man mad pond which borders the trail. He was very happy for a dip but got moving when I called him.

The trail follows what appears to be an old tote road at first (as many Catskill trails seem to). We made a hard left onto the more narrow trail where I signed in at the register. The morning was lovely despite the distant threat of afternoon showers. The whole forest had a fresh coat of vibrant green. I won't lie, its taken me longer to fall for the Catskills than for other areas. It always seems so bleak to me and so much evidence of man. I realized part of this perception was my own fault. I often hiked there in the shoulder seasons as a substitute for the Adirondacks. So I often found myself there in March or November in crummy weather. With the lovely late spring weather and all the new growth, I was deeply intoxicated by my path this day. I realized other days I've really enjoyed in the Cats were also in the spring. I've definitely found a much deeper appreciation for the Cats in the past year or two, especially since I've been working in Prattsville and Lexington.

We got quickly down to the business of gaining the ridge. I was huffing and puffing pretty hard. I've let my fitness slip and gained some weight with all the life changes that come with having a baby. I felt glad to be able to keep pretty much my usual pace, it was just harder to do hahaha. We climbed the first crag (which actually turned out to be the only really scrambly section of the hike) and I began to notice wildflowers everywhere. Red trillium and columbine were first ,interspersed with all those pretty little white flowers that seem to always cling along the sides of rocks. There was a nice filtered view at the top of the crag.

As we gained the Caudal/ Camel's Hump Ridge, the wildflowers along the sides of the trail reached riotous levels. Now trout lilies joined the mix and the occasional red trillium gave way to great bunch of the pretty primeval spokes-flower for wilderness areas everywhere.  the hiking was pleasant and my body felt grateful to be doing what seems to be its most natural activity.

I soon realized my photo set had a distinctive theme: Dog, trail and flowers. Nearly every shot I took had at least 2 of these elements. I couldn't help it. I love these things and they were quite beautiful on this day. On the Camel's Hump summit after checking the view towards Thomas Cole, I settled down to take in the panorama from the rock. Koda was content and after a few treats, entertained himself with a stick. I sat quietly and breathed it all in. The world and my head were quiet for a few minutes. Completely. With a high drive dog, a new and amazing baby boy and a whole adult life to manage I was actually able to enjoy a full moment of peace. I exhaled all my struggles and troubles of day to day life and breathed in the peace we seek in the forest. It's a moment I won't soon forget.

Koda and I hiked on along the ridge. It's a very beautiful trail with little erosion. Painted in strokes of bright spring green, I couldn't imagine a prettier place to be in the world. It was almost jarring to reach the elevation of the coniferous forest. You spend so much time in it in the Adirondacks. It's something I often miss in other forests. There I was and sniffed deeply the perfume of the pines. Is there a better smell? Well yes, but you feel me right?

We reached the summit of Thomas Cole around 8. Koda I kept going. Who am I to go against the wind? I followed after him and in about 10 minutes we were standing on the viewing ledge of Black dome. I didn't linger long as we had maybe pulled a bit of a fast one on the mountain gods, sneaking an extra peak. Koda and I trotted out of the woods, finishing our water supply on the way while taking in all the loveliness we had wandered through all morning noticing things we hadn't seen the first time through.

I was so happy to be able to get home to J and Hunter by about 11:30. Not having to commit 12 hours to climbing some peaks is one of the many allures of the Catskills Park. We started the drive home with Sugar Magnolia from 7/3/78. Such a run of the mill song the Dead played nearly every other show from 1970 on. This version may well be one of the hottest I've ever heard. Every place someone could rip it up or embellish the standard, they did. Throughout this run, Kieth Godchaux, the keyboardist is playing just about as well as I've ever heard him and this period, is past his prime in my opinion. He smokes it on this Sugar Mag and nearly everything else these five nights in the summer of 1978. I dedicate this hike to Kieth.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Porter from the Garden for my Winter 46 2/20/16

About the biggest thing in my universe going on right now is my son Hunter. He's three months old today and every day is a big, beautiful, crazy adventure. In some ways it resembles what's awesome about a high peaks hike: there's definitely some suffering but the pay off is so so so worth it. I took a month off from work at the end of my wife's maternity leave so we could delay daycare and to bond with my son. We play, dance to music, there's some napping and some crying. It's been more amazing than I could've hoped for.

So hiking hasn't exactly been at the forefront of my mind. Excitement did of course build in the days approaching. Sathi, Emily, Ben, Tara, Krissy and Koda my German Shepherd would be joining me to celebrate. Tara, Ben Sathi, Emily and I had shared many winter trails together. Krissy is a dear friend and was climbing her second high peak ever! Koda has been my loyal hiking companion for years and climbed around 33 of my winter high peaks with me.

 Another part of the celebration was exploring a new trail for me, the approach from the Garden trail head. The drive up started with warm rain in Albany which had turned to snow once sufficiently north. The final stretch from the High Peaks rest stop to the Garden it was snowing pretty good and the roads weren't in the greatest shape. The two groups hit the lot and got moving shortly after 7AM. We were only the second group to have signed in that day. The forecast was not the greatest and I think it kept some folks home.

We all started the day in microspikes which were perfect for the low elevation conditions. There was a few inches of fresh powder over ice. It was fun to start on new terrain as the route up Porter broke off from the trail which goes up the Brothers en route to Big Slide. We soon entered a forest of towering pines which lined the Slide Brook drainage. The crossing of Slide Brook was just the first of many unique and beautiful locations along this trail.

On the other side of the brook we worked our way out of the pine forest up moderately pitched terrain till we reached the old sugar shack and the dirt road. After we crossed the dirt road, the pitch got a bit steeper as the trail made it's way up the southern flank of Little Porter Mountain. Spirits were high, jokes were a plenty, brows were quite low. While the morning coffee was still pumping we were a pretty ridiculous crew. I've definitely had a blast on hikes but I can't say I've ever laughed as hard or as often as that first climb up Little Porter. We started having filtered views through the trees of the first Brother and beyond. I was getting more and more excited as we could see mountains to the south and east.

The final push up Little Porter followed along the base of some cliffs and rocky nubs, switchbacking up a weakness between features. I think a day hike just to explore some of this terrain would make for an excellent outing. Spirits were still high as we headed up onto the summit of Little Porter.

The direct approach onto the summit rock involved a little bit of a scramble up a crack with a climb of 10-12 ft. It was a bit icy so the majority of the group took an obvious workaround up there. Ben went right up the crack without any problems. Despite some strong winds crackling around us, the group was pretty stoked on the unique view from Little Porter. I was hard pressed to identify the surrounding summits which is rare for a nerd like me. It was nice to just take in the landscape. There was a mix of clouded in and clear summits which added further drama to the view.

We were still less than half way to the top so we started trekking on. From Little Porter the trail covered some very flat land along the eastern edge of Little Meadows. On the climb of Little Porter we had to do a bit of navigation work to stay on trail. Large sections are only sparsely blazed so care is needed, especially with a fresh coating of snow and no tracks to follow. On the Little Meadows plateau, navigation became even trickier. We spent a good amount of time trying to find the next blaze or other evidence of the trail like a cut branch or groove in the landscape.

Snow had been balling up under everyone's spikes. Now that we were higher and on a plateau, there was almost 6 inches of unbroken snow over semi-frozen bog/ marsh. We kept talking about switching to snowshoes but the scourge of winter hikers, gear lag had struck and we kept struggling on. After finding and losing the trail several times, we reached a point where we really couldn't find it. The area had really opened up due to a marshy area with a stream running through it. We stumbled around a bit, breaking through the ice into shallow water, looking up the hillside to see if the trail climbed and scratching our heads. Ben found an old style blaze going up the hillside but not any good evidence of trail. We knew that it had been rerouted in 2000 so didn't want to over-commit. Eventually Sathi found a modern blaze paralleling the creek/ marshy area. My spirits rose, knowing we were back on track and I trotted forward, breaking through several more times. This would typically be frozen this time of year but this freaky nino has made for a strange winter indeed.

After so much sloshing around and breaking through we all finally decided to get our snowshoes on. I found some flat terrain and the group all started moving forward to make the adjustment. Here comes the calamity cascade. Krissy broke through the ice into shin deep water. She got her boots and socks off and put on fresh socks with Stewart's bags over them. One boot was saturated and one was damp. Her feet got pretty cold during the dunk and swamp but she said she'd be fine once we got moving. Then Tara broke a snowshoe strap. Then I broke a snowshoe strap. The she broke 2 more snow shoe straps. We hadn't been out much in the past year, her with a knee injury and I with the little one. Our gear hadn't been tested lately and failed dramatically. I have MSR Evo Ascent which have 3 straps over the top of the foot so I just ran one diagonally. Tara decided to just use her spikes and we'd tamp down the trail before and after her. We were quite a hot mess for a bit but some bright patches of sunshine helped take some of the sting out of it.
the scene of the incident
With that out of our systems we began to climb up Porter following a northwestern trajectory up some mild and lovely terrain. Large sections of the trail followed open birch glades unlike anything I have hiked in the high peaks. I felt more like I was on a Vermont ski mountain than an Adirondack high peak. We all exclaimed about how beautiful it was and stopped a good amount for pictures. We made our way across a small gully drainage and continued up through open birch and more and more sections of coniferous forest. There was stunning views of the great range, Noonmark and the back of the Brothers/ Big Slide ridge. This approach quickly made it to the top of favorite high peak approaches. mild terrain, beautiful and unique forest and total solitude.

The roaring of wind on top of the ridge intensified as we got higher. We knew from the forecast that we were in for some breezy conditions up top but the mild temperatures should make it a bit more bearable. The group got together at the col/ intersection with the trail from Marcy Field and got out layers and protection for the final push. The ridge was stunning in it's winter splendor. Drifts of snow were more pretty than challenging with the shallow snow depth. The wind was whipping in some fresh snow and clouds which seemed kind of perfect for a final peak of a winter round. We broke out of the tree line one by one onto the summit of Porter. A few folks were already there being buffeted by the winds. We each stood on the highest rock for a moment, bracing against the 50 mph gusts. It was incredible and dramatic and just exactly perfect.

Koda got his pigs ear and we all got out our beers. We had a sixer of Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose which was a super tasty sweet and sour summit celebratory brew. We also busted out our silly hats. That was the random summit celebration I could come up with hahaha. So we all had quite the photoshoot with Sathi's camera propped on his backpack and firing away. Another group summited while we mugged for the camera and were hopefully amused by our ridiculousness. After a quick snack we scurried off the summit and down the ridge a ways until getting out of the wind so Ben could whip up some noodles. We made really good time to a relatively flat and protected spot where we ate and relaxed. At this point a guy and his dog passed us in our nook about 20 ft off trail. They'd be the only others we'd see on this route all day. Koda didn't even notice the dog he was so tired. Once back on the trail he found the scent you could tell he was freaked he had missed the dog hahaha.

We had more and more snow falling as we got lower until we hit the Little Meadows section and it switched to rain. You could tell by the depleted snow pack it had been rainy and warm at the lower elevations for a while. Once we got to Little Porter there were large sections of mud and vegetation in the woods exposed that had been covered at the start of the day. It was pretty surreal. We switched back to spikes even with the intermittent dirt knowing it would be slick and messy.

We continued on downward. As the hours of daylight were running out my car load broke off from the other group and started chugging ahead a bit. I wanted to see Hunter before he went to bed and was glad for the group support in doing so. We made it out of the woods. We headed on down the road and got some Stewart's. I talked about Stewart's a lot. We listened to a lot of Grateful Dead music. I got to hang with Hunter before he went to bed. We had a small gathering and Jeanette gave me a small cake with a 4 and 6 candle on it. Ben and Tara made me an awesome woodcut and banner to commemorate. It was a perfect day.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Hammond B3 and the West Kill 10/22/15

It's easy to go longer periods of time without finding a "wow" show now that I'm over 300 shows deep into my Grateful Dead internship. I've been following a few veins though lately and yielding really good results. A thread about great versions of Feel Like a Stranger on phantasy phish (here's the link) had me wading around with delight in the 80's, checking out SPAC 6/27/85 for the first time as well as 3/9/81 MSG and 10/29/85 at the Fox in Atlanta. Lots of hotness in these shows, especially 3/9/81. I'll get back to that show a little bit more as we meander towards the Hammond B3.

Another era I was checking out was 1979. Since I had recently seen mention of a fire version of 'Jack Straw' at Brent's first show (4/22/79 Spartan Stadium, San Jose) in David Dodd's always interesting Greatest Stories Ever Told blog on (the story of Jack Straw), I wanted to check out this historic show and some others after it in 1979. I wanted to get a feel for Brent's early days with the band. What his first instincts were and how the band would react to this new energy and voice in the music. The Jack Straw WAS fire. There was a nice Stagger Lee in the first set as well. There was a great raw and primal energy of new connections being formed. The Scarlet>fire was very solid in all its hay day glory and the Set 2b segment twisted and turned nicely. The kid could jam. All wrapped up with an exploratory Shakedown encore. Pretty good start buddy!

An iconic shot of Brent Mydland in 1979 taken by Jay Blakesburg
The next show I listened to on this trail proved to be the gold we pour our hearts into sifting for. That "wow" show.  The Grateful Dead Played at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Saint Louis, MO on 12/10/79 . I started the show on the way to hike with my homegirl Randy and Koda on the north end of Thacher Park on 10/17/15. As I got out of the car Albany's first snow started to fall. I shuffled through the 5-7 shows on my phone at noticed 12/10/79 started with a Cold Rain and Snow. Perfect! Peggy-O sound good as always and an uptempo version of Merl Haggard's Mama Tried had us singing along. By Dancing in the Streets>Franklin's Tower I was all set to declare "best show ever" as live music fans are known to do at least 20-30 times a year. The sequence really was awesome with virtuoso soloing by Brent Mydland on the Hammond B3 Organ . I LOVE the sound of this organ and in the hands of Brent, beautiful things happened. He played the organ on almost every single track of this show and held out long, warm and full sustained chords as well as ripping solo lines. Scarlet'>Fire,  Let it Grow, He's Gone and Wharf Rat All got the treatment to dramatic effect.

We had an awesome hike soaking in the local color. My studies continued driving to work in Lexington, NY the next week. Still hot to soak in more of that Hammond B3 sound that had made 12/10/79 so amazing, I chose the next closest date loaded up which was MSG 3/9/81 I mentioned at the beginning. Well an interesting thing happened. Brent certainly played the Hammond but lots of electric piano as well as several of the other keyboards and voices in his arsenal. Stranger of course has that classic 80's analog synth sound that makes this song so accessible for Disco Biscuits and Phish fans. Althea was welcome as usual and CC Rider was accepted begrudgingly. I used to skip rider and little red rooster until I fell a bit deeper down the Brent hole. Now I take it as an opportunity to hear him rip up that B3 again. Bobby is forgiven for all his Bobby-ness on the tracks.China Cat Sunflower was especially interesting with a unique electro intro. I've never heard it played this way before. So in chasing down one particular sound or era, I stumbled onto a different one. More gold.

On the scenic drive along Greene County Routes 20, 10 and 21 I was inspired to check out some hiking near to where I've been working in Lexington.  a quick cruise through and showed me I was 15 minutes from a trail head which could take me up West Kill Mountain. I took stock of what I had in the car and found my set up less than ideal but do-able. I had light hiking sneakers and enough food and water but I was wearing cotton work clothes, didn't have a map or headlamp. I figured with a good charge on my phone I could take screen shots of the maps and use the flashlight feature in case darkness crept in. I was apprehensive about heading out so unprepared but knew that countless folks go into these woods with that level of equipment and way less experience every single day and don't die. If I protected myself with extra caution, I could mitigate some of the risk. You just spend so much time building up your equipment and learning from unprepared days in the woods, it's hard to go out like a noob. Relying on a smart phone rather than a map and compass was an especially hard move for me to make. I felt a bit naked.

The drive out of Lexington to the Spruceton road trail heads was as lovely as the stretches of road I've been using to approach Prattsville and Lexington from Albany. Before long I was crossing and re-crossing the West Kill on smaller and smaller bridges. I got out of the car and did a quick time check, calculating 3 and a half hours until the iPhone weather app said sunset would be. I knew the first stretch of trail was on a former road so if I could get back to that point before dark, I'd be in the clear. The old road was quite lovely, decked out in warm yellow autumn foliage with the scenic West Kill babbling to the right. I decided I'd push my pace as hard as I could for the way up in order to hit my mark for turn around. 

I made good time up the road and was still able to enjoy my surroundings. It felt odd wearing light hikers as I'm much more used to a rigid, sturdy boot. It was nice to be lighter but I still prefer a more supportive situation. Diamond Notch falls was very pretty and worth visiting all on it's own. I didn't stay too long, planning to spend more time on the return. Once you cross the stream and start up the peak, the pitch greets you pretty early. The trail though was so so so nice. After my last big hike in the heavily eroded and seriously wet Santanoni Range, this dry, lightly traveled trail felt like a gift. I chugged away as the pitch got more serious, keeping my breath catch breaks under a minute and infrequent. 

About half the leaves were down so I got nice partial views to fuel the climb as I got closer to the ridge. The scrambles to gain the ridge were fun and I was soon sniffing the heady aroma of summit pine. Some fun up and overs later I found myself panting at the overlook. The view was surprisingly complex, thanks in part to the light and weather. The afternoon/ evening glow lit up the autumn trees while the cloud cover brought the light conditions to dusk-like and foreboding. I stopped and marveled but saved the extended visit for after visiting the true summit. I saw on sign on the Catskill hiking websites but didn't find one on the high point. After some poking around, I did find an old gnarled tree with about 78 nails sticking out of it I assume once held the sign. I headed back to the overlooks making sure to check out the north view as well. I sat for a long time on the south facing ledge looking out into the deep valley and snacking contentedly. 

I was able to hit my daylight turn around time so enjoyed the pleasure of not rushing out of the woods. I was really impressed with the quality and beauty of the trail both coming and going. At a light, knee-saving trot I made my way down until I heard the brook babbling. I still had over an hour until it got dark so I decided to spend some time at Diamond Notch Falls. It was a very peaceful and scenic place to zone out to the babble of the West Kill's upper reaches. It was a very pretty stream to follow, first by car and then by foot. I've been working on two separate projects on the banks of the Schoharie Creek so it was nice to spend some time with one of it's tributaries. The walk out along the old road may well have been the most beautiful part of the hike for me. The late fall colors of the leaves, along with the sunset slowly creeping my way made for a very warm visual, almost nostalgic feel. As if I had wandered this road in a past life or something.

Far too quickly I saw the glint of metal of my car in the parking lot. I drove into the darkness finishing out the second set of 3/9/81 with an absolutely gorgeous the Other One>Stella Blue>Good lovin'. The Stella blue was especially stunning. Stella blue peaks with a big major chord bridge toward the end with some of my favorite Garcia/ Hunter lyircs belted out with gusto by Jerry:

I've stayed in every blue-light cheap hotel,
Can't win for tryin'.
Dust off those rusty strings just one more time,
Gonna Make 'em shine.

To me, the song is about a long hard life lived that wears you down, yet the music, the beauty of life brings you back. This is one of these haunting images you can tell is so much about the soul of Jerry Garcia. A really biographical/ auto-biographical line. Despite the pain of addiction and weight of celebrity, on any given night the light would shine through his voice and his guitar and set the band, crowd and room on fire. It's easy to fit this metaphor over a hike or a pursuit of hiking. You're tired but if you dig deep, you can find that fire too.