Thursday, May 30, 2013

Memorial Day 2013: the Loj, trailwork, a banquet and Avalanche Lake

This weekend turned into one of those full Adirondack experiences: crazy weather, amazing people, great wild beauty, struggle and reward.

Friday, May 24
The forecast at first looked like showers on Saturday, some on Sunday and a perfect Monday. Each day as the trip approached, the forecast got worse until it became snow and rain all day Saturday, well into Sunday night....but still a perfect Monday. hahahahaha

Knowing it was going to be cold we did our best to pack for a wide variety of events and conditions. The car was loaded to the brim as we made our way towards our first stop of the weekend: dinner at Trappers Tavern in North Creek. My folks gave us a gift certificate for Christmas which was a great way to start our weekend. It had been raining since that morning and the weather broke enough for us to get into the restaurant. The rain picked up after and stayed with us as our loyal companions until Sunday after the banquet.

We chatted happily at dinner and the drive and did our best to keep a good attitude despite the fact that the next few days would be trying in a whole different way than our usual. The water was running like crazy at all the familiar places on Route 73. Roaring Brook Falls, the Boquet, Johns Brook were all white and frothy.

We checked in at the front desk of the Loj, received our lean to pass and made our way to our home for the weekend. It was raining steadily and we managed to keep our gear dry getting it to the lean to. Our spot was just over the outlet of Heart Lake along the old Marcy Dam trail. I'll have to try it out the next time we head in that way. It was totally strange and alien to be wearing jeans and a Carhartt jacket in a lean to (and sneakers!!!). If cotton kills I'd be triple dead.
a victim of cotton

Saturday, May 25
We both slept fitfully as is common for me the first night in a lean to. We listened to the relentless rain pound the lean to roof and splatter the puddles out front. The alarm woke us to a very cold morning. The lows each night/ morning were around 31. It was hard to get out of the bag and harder to get dressed. It was much colder than we both expected and Jeanette hadn't brought her rain pants. As we came to the realization about what a critical error this was, the steady drizzle turned to wet snow. 

The idea of being out all day doing trail work in only a light rain jacket was really upsetting and I felt dumb not encouraging her to bring the kitchen sink for this trip as I had. I suspected that we wouldn't be out all day since our last time hiking to Indian Pass during rain, we couldn't cross a creek after Rocky Falls and had to turn back. There HAD to be more rain this time! We also figured we could stop at the little shop at the info center and see if they had rain pants. She needed a new pair anyway.

Well we got there and the shop wasn't open yet. The summit steward coordinator Julia Goren (we didn't know who she was at the time) was getting her pack ready with one of the volunteers and we blurted out our entire story. We were doing trail work with the 46ers, stayed at a lean to the night before and were unprepared for our long day out in the snow and rain. In many was this was the crux of the hind site it felt like the point where things could have stayed bad. She coolly looked us over and said: "I tell you what, one time offer.....". She told us who she was and directed us to the trail cabin where we could borrow a pair from a big Tupperware box full of them in the basement.

I can't imagine a happier or more relieved feeling. We made our way over there with instructions to "tell them Julia said it was ok" if anyone bothered us. Obviously this is a woman who commands respect and rightfully so. It was a cool experience just checking out how the trail crew lived. It had a very college dorm feel with lots of acoustic guitars, beards and even a few skateboards down in the basement.  Jeanette found some rain pants and we scurried over to the trail crew.
fellow crazy people

We signed in with the group, got our equipment and had a nice chat with Joe Bogardus, one of the trailmasters for the 46ers. Jeanette and I met him first when we climbed Marshall, he was helping a friend maintain the herd path. We signed up for the emergency post-Irene Dix clean up and when we arrived Pete Hickey (another trailmaster), came over and asked us how fast we hiked....slow, medium or fast. At first I said medium but thought better of it and said fast. This meant that I ended up climbing Dix Mountain with Joe and Taras, two very serious hikers. It was a meaningful and humbling experience to say the least. Joe has offered us a lot of encouragement and advice along the way so it was great to see him again this important weekend.

Pete Hickey confirmed my suspicions that we wouldn't be making it too far in and would clean drainage's as far as we could. At this point I also had a nice chat with pathgrinder, who I'd met for Taras' winter 46 hike of Dix. Sometimes I think that the Dix via Round Pond trail has some sort of twilight zone like effect on me. It's like all roads lead back to it.  So out we went, shrugging off the rain and snow while hoing leaves and muck from the drainage's. I'll now pay closer attention to these! There were so many on the trail and it really made a difference when they were clean. We made it a little of the way past Rocky Falls and worked our way back. In the last mile or so the rain slacked off and I entertained dreams of hiking in to Marcy Dam or something like that. Jeanette made no bones about it:  She would be taking her wet stuff off, getting bundled and staying in the lean to until Sunday morning. She even did the calorie calculations to make sure she could skip dinner at the Loj and make it till the morning.

Typical field conditions

as the snow fly's

frosty tril
Well, the sky opened back up as we hit the parking lot and with little fuss or fanfare we were both bundled up in the lean to. I paused at the car and made a french press of coffee (ahhh the luxuries of car camping) which we enjoyed with chocolate from the safety of our 3-walled home. The work had gone till around 1230 so we had a long day ahead of us. We hadn't brought any games unfortunately but both had a stack of books to occupy our time. I kept trying to convince Jeanette to come to dinner with me but she was set. Her boots were wet and she wasn't going to put them back on until it was sunny. You have to respect someone who sticks to their guns. During one of the slack periods, a red squirrel perched on the corner of the lean to eying us quizzically and wondered when these rude guests would leave him his prized pine cone gnawing spot back. 


and outside
I made my way over to the Loj around 5 with the promise of adult beverages. It was a really fun experience. You go into the kitchen and ask for a beer which the bring out to you in the great room with a loj pint glass. Beers cost $3.75!!!! Not surprisingly I got to chatting with several of the other guests about the high peaks and 46ing. Everyone was very friendly and the feeling of camaraderie ran deep within this place. A very nice gentleman from a hiking club out of Springfield, Ma invited me to have dinner with several other members of his group. We chatted about the mountains, enjoyed our dinner (I had more beer too) and smiled a lot. Everyone kept joking about Jeanette running off to the Crowne Plaza while I was eating. I said my goodbyes and headed back to the lean to. She was still there deep within her mummy bag. We turned in, once again listening to the rain fall in waxing and waning bands throughout the night. We both slept a little better.

Sunday, May 26
The next morning and the weather was...well, pretty much the same. The call of breakfast though.....We made our way over to the Loj early as I anticipated we'd be able to hang out indoors. The door was unlocked and Boy were we all smiles as we settled in on the nice padded furniture. We both enjoyed the luxury of their indoor plumbing and before you know it we were smelling all kinds of breakfasty smells. One by one my new buddies from the night before came down and met Jeanette. They all assumed she HAD gotten that room since her hair looked so nice. Breakfast and coffee were so far beyond amazing. Jeanette was positively beaming. There was lots of scrambled eggs, delicious oatmeal and fresh fruit. A bellyfull of hot breakfast and the knowledge that we wouldn't be hiking in the rain went a long way towards good morale.
once again...typical field conditions

When we initially planned the trip I figured we would climb Mount Jo on this day but instead we went into Lake Placid and did the tourist thing while waiting for my folks to hit town. We got a crepe and more coffee. took a spin out to Wilmington and did a little window shopping. The highlight of the morning: a wine tasting at Goose Watch! This is one of our favorites from the finger lakes and it was a very nice way to spend our afternoon.

My parents got into town around 1. They'd be staying at the Crowne Plaza Sunday and Monday. Memorial Day was also their 41st wedding anniversary so we were celebrating double. Since I started hiking in the high peaks I got my parents to start exploring the area too. My dad is an avid fly fisherman so he soon discovered the famed West Branch of the Ausable River. He's now taken several guided trips and loves buying flies at the Hungry Trout so we all went out to Wilmington. It's always great to see him in his element. We got back to Lake Placid and my folks checked into their hotel room. We oohed and ahhhhed over the lovely hotel facilities and headed over to the bar for some pre-game drinks and snacks. We got shifting and elusive views of Whiteface and Mirror Lake and watched the stream of hikers checking in.
glimpses of snowy Whiteface from the Hungry Trout

Afterwards, my mom and I decided to go to vespers which I wasn't so sure about. I am a very spiritual person but don't really connect with organized religion. I was grateful to find out that this service was much more aligned with my beliefs than a formal church service. In fact, we just sang songs about hiking, heard a nice woman's story of becoming a 46er and acknowledged 46ers who had recently passed. I was very moved and very emotional. There was so much to celebrate and so much beauty all around me, both the place itself and the people. I won't lie, I was also a little tipsy. While we were waiting for vespers to start I got to meet Brian, summithat from the boards, who knew me from my writing there. I was surprised and forget sometimes when you're writing on your computer that someone is on the other end. He was a really nice guy and made me feel really good.

The ceremony was huge!!! It was this massive room PACKED with hikers and their families. I was really impressed by the absolute variety of people that became 46ers in my class. Truly eclectic. It's exciting to be part of a group that can't be quickly summed up or stereotyped. The food wasn't bad and I enjoyed the clip from the Grace Hudowalski documentary. As I am a bit of a patch pursuer (must have been missing out on the boy scouts as a kid) I was tantalized by the elaborate trail work patch accrual system. Two more trail work days and Jeanette and I get our 46 hour patch!!!

We were all pulled out into the hall and made to line up in alphabetical order. Lots of chuckling and memories of school while people shared stories of their climbs with those in their alphabetical vicinity. I spent some time reflecting on the experience that led me to this place. Flashes of hikes and "getting it" moments where I knew this was the kind of life I wanted. I was able to sneak out of line to cheer and snap a picture of Jeanette when she got her certificate. I  got mine and we went back to our tables after snagging some hugs from the ladies we'd been dining with at the Loj. Joe made his way over afterwards and congratulated us and I introduced him to my parents. I want to keep going on about how awesome Joe is here but I know it'd bother him hahaha. Humble is an understatement. Suffice is to say it meant a lot.

We walked my folks out and exchanged many more hugs and thank yous. It meant so much to me to have them there for this event. As we walked out of the hotel we could see the high peaks for the first time since we'd gotten there. The weather had broken. We were elated and danced under the stars for a minute, thinking about how amazing it was to do this together. I feel so far beyond blessed to have a partner that wants to do all of these big beautiful things with me and make them even more fun and funnier. We've laughed a lot, done some crying and rarely fought. Every time it really mattered in the woods, I knew she'd come through and she knew she could depend on me to do what was right. Most importantly, we shared some truly breathtaking moments, deep in the woods, far from civilization, 4,000 feet into the sky.  That's one of the ways that I knew that I would spend the rest of my life with Jeanette. Every time I was mesmerized or moved to my core by the beauty of what we were experiencing, I'd glance over and she was in the same place. Never bored or distracted or apathetic. After all the good food, nice times and cocktails we both slept heavily that night. I woke up to the nightly call and the moon was so bright it shone like sunlight patterns on the ground in front of the lean to.

Monday, May 27
not so typical field conditions

Bright bright bright sunshine! Life is fresh and new!!! We broke camp quickly, knowing we'd be warm and eating breakfast as soon as the lean to was emptied of us and our worldly possessions.  After breaking things down, putting on hiking clothes and and loading the car we made a bee line to Heart lake to get some morning light-infused pictures. Tendrils and drifts of steam rolled lazily on the lake and snow was visible on Street and Mount Jo. My mom was coming at 7:15 to drop my dad off. I made a reservation for all of us to have breakfast together and also got a bagged lunch for my dad so they wouldn't have to shop for him. They were floored by the morning views coming down the loj road and we all enjoyed the warm and cozy buffet breakfast. My mom took off for a day of relaxation at the hotel and in town while Jeanette, my dad and I made our way to the trail head.

I think a lot of people decided not to hike on Monday after the crazy weather so the parking lot was actually pretty quiet. Jeanette took her new camera out and busied herself with photoing all of the beautiful painted trillium. On our last hike in the peaks (Noonmark and Round) we had seen reds but no painted yet. Well they were everywhere so there were lots of opportunities to appreciate. So many so that my dad teased her about it for the rest of the hike. A few members of the trail crew blew by us including one fellow wearing purple tights and adult diapers. I asked the next guy coming through what the deal was but his answer was vague and elusive. Needless to say we were amused. The trail, understandably so, was the muddiest I'd ever seen it after all that rain and we began to see patches of snow as we got closer to the dam.
reduce, reuse, recycle

Put out the fire! Someone had some humor here

lovely little trickle feeding Marcy Brook

My dad was very impressed by the scenery and also the level of damage that Irene did both with the bridge and the trail it destroyed. This was my dads first time hiking in the high peaks. He grew up in Rome, NY and has been close to the woods his whole life. His whole family grew up fishing and hunting and built a hunting camp on the Big Moose Road in Eagle Bay, NY. While at college during the Vietnam War, he reacted strongly against the conflict, becoming a politically active pacifist and symbolically 'put down his guns' and quit hunting but continues to love fishing and the woods in general to this day. We went on many hikes and fishing trips all around the immediate vicinity of the cabin and he was a good instructor. I watched him picking up garbage for years and started doing it unconsciously. Thanks dad!

We followed the brook as the trail started having longer stretches of erosion and rock and some climbing. I knew my dad was in really good shape but of course I was worried about him anyway. I know how many of our friends my age I bring on hikes that have a hard time and today the trails were pretty rough. After Avalanche Camp, there was consistent snow cover as we wound up the trail into the pass. Going was slow and the increasingly deep snow was slippery as it wilted under 60 degree temps. We all kept our eyes on our feet and no one fell! I was completely impressed with my dad as he negotiated over trees and boulders, through the slush and over uneven plank-ways. We all chatted less and focused on the matter at hand. In my head, I kept preparing to turn back (later Jeanette told me she was too) as the snow got deeper and deeper. By the height of land there was nearly a foot on the ground vying for space with some of the deepest water I've seen on this perennially wet trail. Adding insult to injury, there were numerous trees down from the storm, often at critical points, blocking easy movement. The whole time my dad didn't complain or break stride. He in fact drove the pace much faster than I was planning and we arrived at the lake an hour early. When we told him we had wanted to quit he said it never crossed his mind.
more snow as we climbed

complete cover once in the pass

my handsome dad and lovely wife to be

The lake was it's usual stunning self and my dad greatly appreciated being there. The shore I'm used to was completely underwater so we hung at the edge of the trail and hunkered down for lunch. I was so relieved that we had reached our destination and that no one had gotten hurt or dejected. Spirits were high!!! Dads lunch from the Loj looked awesome and we enjoyed what we had packed. We all shared some salami and chocolate. Family! We basked for a while and eventually got our stuff together as a new group showed up so they could enjoy it. As we were poking around for a bit, something new caught my eye...There was flecks and sparks of Labradorite everywhere! Maybe it's because everything was more wet than usual and the water makes it sparkle more but all of a sudden every rock seemed to shine blue and gold. Simply stunning....

Spirits remained high as we made our way back. The snow was melting before our very eyes and the going was easier as several other people had tramped down the trail after us. I dug my camp saw out of my pack for the way back and took care of as much of the fresh blow down I could while staying to stay with my fast moving father and fiancee. Legs were getting more tired though as we came back out the pass and down to Avalanche camps. Our feet weren't picking up as high as they were. We made our way along the trail and as ever, the last bit before the trail head dragged a bit. I chatted my dad up about his fishing season and he teased Jeanette about her trillium obsession I've been dreaming of bringing my dad here for so long and was so glad that the hike went well and the weather was beautiful. If anything, the snow made the setting more dramatic and the hike more memorable. He isn't the kind of guy who balks at a challenge. He raised me after all!

I snuck off to the info center and got my dad an Avalanche Pass patch. Of any day to hike it, this was a truly patch-worthy outing. We drove him back to my grateful mother (See mom, I didn't kill him) who had been drinking wine, reading and gazing out at Whiteface while we hiked. We said our goodbyes, and made our way to a late lunch/ snack at the brewery. The had a very nice dinner at Great Adirondack Steak and Seafood after my dad showered and rested. At the brewery (black IPA was pretty solid) and on our drive home we smiled and laughed and remembered all the highs and lows of this weekend and our time in the high peaks in general. We felt full and rich in all the right ways.

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