Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bushnell Falls, the Wolf Jaws and Short Job: A Johns Brook Valley Sampler

Well the original plan was to climb Haystack but the mountains have the ultimate say and the weather often steers the ship. The forecast was less than ideal for Saturday. Based on the 3-4 different sources I use, I expected morning rain and for there to be a good chance we'd have a socked in summit. The Garden parking lot was MUCH more quiet then I had expected it to be. I guess the forecast had scared people off. We got Koda out of the car and I tied him to my back tire while we got our gear sorted and ready. The lady from the booth came over and gave Koda a biscuit. She was really sweet. He was too excited to eat it though so i put it in my pocket for later.

We were on the trail around 8:30 making our way carefully along a very muddy north side trail. This trail is always pretty muddy but the not-stop rain over the past few weeks, while good for the corn, has not been great for the trails. We reached our temporary home, the Goodwin Lean to at JBL, around 10:30 and dropped off our sleeping stuff and bear can.
Recently added Tram sticker. Best coffee shop in Utica (or anywhere possibly)!!!

the fam getting ready
A couple factors were starting to cause some unsettling feelings:
1) Jeanette's knee was giving her some trouble with a strange "snapping rubber band" feeling on the hike in.
2) By the time we hit JBL to fill up from the spigot (such luxury..thanks ADK!!!) it was 11. While I knew we had ample daylight to reach Haystack, I was wearing my packable daypack which has limited capacity and it was too small to bring our dinner/ cooking stuff. It started feeling like we didn't have enough time for the 10 miles to Haystack.
3) We mulled over our options (maybe Saddleback or Big Slide?) but decided to give it a go anyway. It's still hard to work these things out for us. I often have a very gung ho attitude (to a fault) about big hikes while Jeanette is more cautious and prone to anxiety. While this is not nearly as much a problem as when we were working towards the 46, sometimes it still creeps in and makes things tense and less fun....which is stupid!!! We are doing this for fun remember?!?! Oh well, brains and humans are far from perfect and we do the best we can.
4) The trails were pretty rough and the water was moving very fast and high. By the time we reached Busnell Falls, excitement for the mountain was NOT the feeling in the air. Not too far after the falls, the trail crosses Johns Brook. The water was very high and fast. All of the crossing rocks were completely covered in fast water.

That was the nail in the coffin. Jeanette didn't want to cross but encouraged me to go ahead anyway. I thought about climbing Basin instead (I wanted to scout it for winter because I'm nervous about the dog on the final steep section) but decided I'd go for Haystack anyway. Diverging from what you planned always seems to open the door to trouble. Despite some relief something still felt kind of off. I started the cross with Koda and felt pretty queasy about dragging him across the brook. about 2/3 of the way across, the water was well over the top of my boot (I was still dry inside thanks to my gators and a recent re-waterproofing of my boots). The next move looked to put me about knee-deep. That was it for me. I turned back just as Jeanette was walking away.

Finally that bad feeling (maybe it was least I'd like to think so) in my gut was gone. I had made the right choice. Of course it took trying to make the right choice. The words of one of my favorite bands in the world, Cloud Cult,  comes to mind: "Some of us can't change til every bone has been broken". I have a hard time doing what's right first. I often have to mess up before I learn my lesson. At least, these days, I don't have to mess up nearly as bad as when I was younger.

With the pressure off, we both chatted and felt much better and closer. We decided to visit Bushnell Falls since we skipped it on the way up, pressed for time. I'm so glad we did! It was a raging torrent and I was able to enjoy it much more thoroughly then when we climbed Basin and Saddleback since we didn't have anywhere we needed to be. We poked around a little, took a lot of pictures and laughed at Koda. He really wanted to swim but recognized that the water was too serious for his liking so he just poked around gingerly at the shore. Jeanette found a nice open spot on the side of the falls we hadn't noticed before so we hung out there for quite a while and shared some amazing Barkeater chocolate and some coconut water. 

flowing real good

moving boulders

secret nook


We made our way back to camp and enjoyed the trail so much more than on the way up with our tension and anxiety lifted. We stopped at many of the open spots on Johns Brook and enjoyed the flow of water while Koda played in some of the more slack water. We talked about other ideas for our day and in the end decided I'd check out Bennies Brook Slide again and Jeanette would relax and read in the lean to. In the end, she really wanted to just get away for the weekend and relax so she was actually getting more along the lines of what she desired. Koda and I wanted to roam the woods so we'd get ours too. Since this was the first time all three of us camped out together I wanted to get him nice and tired so we'd have a peaceful night.

We got back to camp and I dropped a few more things to lighten my pack and we divied up the food. It was around 1 as I began making my way down the south side trail towards Bennies Brook. In about a mile of rock-hopping solitude we reached first Wolf Jaw and then Bennies Brook. I'm told Wolf Jaw Brook is worth exploring too. Another day....I knew that Koda would be able to climb anything on the BBS so that was the plan. We reached the new massive cairn and I paused to refuel and take in the massive power of the earth.
lots of work went into this one
We made our way up the initial pitches enjoying the wide open air and many tumbling water features. I let Koda off leash so he could pick the best routes for himself which often ended up being the ones I took too. He's a very smart and surprisingly cautious climber though he makes some moves I find very impressive and bold.
I like this

power moves

no big deal

around the corner
I find this to be a very special place and can't help but look around and take lots of pictures and often simply pause to take it all in. I feel very far away from it all and very at peace. It's a really nice beginners bushwack since it directly connects to trails on both ends. As I am still pretty new to hiking at this level, I feel like I'm exploring but with a substantial safety net.
can you see the small wormy thing in the drop?

another babble

Good Boy!
Despite my overall feeling that Koda would be fine with everything on this hike, as the pitch got steeper I started to get a little worried about him. He kept making really good choices though and was receptive to suggestion as far as route choices. I'm continually blown away by how much we communicate and how much he understands. He'd slip on a wet slab every now and then so I'd point to a dry section and say "Dry". I'm hoping he learns this command for future hikes!

climbing into the fog
I was starting to tire after our hike in with a big pack and the many miles we had already put in. I made sure to keep sipping my water and snack a little as we went. The top of the slide was made more dramatic by the thick fog obscuring it's terminus. I wanted to pick a hike that would be interesting on it's own seeing as how we'd likely not have any views so it seemed like I had chosen wisely. After about 3500 ft we were in the clouds. The last few sections I worried about Koda the most and took more roundabout ways than the last time I climbed this to ensure we'd limit exposure and keep off the steepest slabs. I was grateful to see the headwall and a small cairn marking the herd path exit. It was a really fun climb and he did great on it.
love this spot

the headwall

a view only an ADK enthusiast could love
The herd path took is right to the trail in less than 5 minutes and we faced our toughest obstacle of the climb: the last scramble up to the top of Lower Wolf Jaw. Man, I missed the snow here bad! Koda slipped pretty significantly on this part as it was very wet so we both made our way to the trees on the right of the trail. It was really nice to hit the summit ridge and walk on flat land. This was my fifth time on LWJ and my fourth time with no visibility. We have a rich tradition, this peak and I!!! I told Jeanette that I'd be back to the lean to at 7. She said that if I wasn't home by dark that she'd either start looking for me or contact the rangers. Since it was still very early (before 3) I would head over to Upper Wolf Jaw as well.

The decent went quickly (as it always seems to) and I enjoyed the sport of rock-hopping all the way down. The trails were very muddy and wet and I tried to stay off them as much as possible so I wouldn't make it worse. I had concerns about the Upper Wolf jaw ascent for Koda in the winter but all the tricky parts I remembered were not a problem for him and i knew they'd be even easier in the winter.

The summit was socked in as well so we stood long enough to take in the deep solitude of the place and time. I could here birds singing and feel the breeze swirling the water vapor over the mountain range. This was Koda's 13th and 14th high peaks. I was very happy for our day as I made my way back down the trail. On the spot where you can see across the col to LWJ from Upper we were blessed with a fleeting glimpse of lush green and gray rock.
Upper Wolf Jaw

a fleeting glimpse
The trail down Wolf jaw Brook was actually much drier and in better shape than I could have hoped for and we made good time. I took some time and investigated the two slides you cross on the way down. There is so much to see. We were still a little ahead of schedule so I thought...hey, why not? and headed up the trail to short job. I'm sure this little spot doesn't get much attention considering everything else around it so the trail was in great shape. I was pretty tired at this point and a little delirious. I started chanting "short Job, Short Job, Short Job!" on my way up while Koda looked at me quizzically. It was neat to climb a little mountain all nestled in amongst the big guys and we were graced with some of the best views of the trip with tree-framed views of Bennies Brook Slide, the shoulder of Upper Wolf Jaw and the ample open rock on Saddleback and Gothics. We trotted back down and got back to the lean to 15 minutes before our 7 PM projected arrival.
"short job, short job, short job"

views below the fog
Back at camp, Jeanette had been lulled into a trance like state by the babble of the brook and had nodded off several times and dreamed of our return. We cooked quinoa, broccoli and some really nice natural nitrite free andouille sausage. Threw it all in a pot with some spice and olive oil until the quinoa absorbed the water. Variations on this meal is our favorite trail dinner. We fed the dog, read and relaxed. He was a little more stimulated than the last time in the lean to and walked around a little bit this time. He still settled pretty quickly and was asleep by our side. At some point in the night he went out and slept on the ground for a while (his tie-out is 20 ft so he can move around quite a bit) which bodes well for future hikes where we don't have a lean to. I know he's a dog and it's natural for him to sleep on the ground but every time something like this goes well it makes me happy. 

The next day we were woken at day break by super enthusiastic doggy kisses and blue sky. We quickly broke down camp with dreams of a leisurely Sunday in Albany (including brunch with friends) dancing through our heads. We passed several people on the way out heading in to Haystack including Biji from the message boards who was climbing haystack for his 46th!!!! I was glad for everyone that they'd have a nice day and did warn them about the creek crossing. I knew it was cross-able, but for us, it was one too many risk factors. 

We stopped at Stewart's for some much needed/ desired coffee and breakfast and made our way back home. Sometimes things don't go as planned and it's really nice when you're able to make the best of it. I keep trying to be a more patient person and not have to constantly do the biggest and hardest but the struggle against my inner meat-head is still there. Each time though, I feel like I learn a bit more. Here's to the journey....


  1. Very nice read from my office in Manhattan. Reminds me of travels with my wife long before we had children (who are now in college). I could be a bit of a meat-head myself; it's good to take a step back and to go with the flow of life. Peace!

    1. Thanks Larry! Ahhhhh, the ever present struggle of meatheadyness hahahaha. There are a lot of good aspects to that kind of drive as it often gets us to do things and see places that not everyone does. It's when the fever sets in that trouble can come.

  2. Nice report! I have a German shepherd who has done some lower peaks with me, but not any of the High Peaks as of yet, I am just getting started with six completed. Our most recent hike together was Blueberry Mtn. from Marcy Field, a steep little hike for him. I always worry about taking him, he has a very high prey drive and I would hate to lose him out there. Doing Dix this weekend from 73 and even though I really want to take him, my instinct is to hike alone for the HP's. Guess I am too paranoid to hike with my best friend! Take Care!! mattyfro1973 on

    1. Matt T, I understand your feelings about hiking with the dog. Koda has a decent prey drive too which kicks in more with other dogs than it does in the woods. We've scared up deer though a few times and he goes NUTS. When we do hike together it's certainly less relaxing for me. His energy is just so nuts really helps dealing with him at home if he can do a lot of hiking. Also, I've found that in the high peaks, people don't necessarily appreciate seeing dogs so I also understand your inclination to leave your buddy at home. Once he mellows a bit more and doesn't need to run as much, he'll being staying home by the fire more. Also, I love Blueberry from Marcy field!!! Porter and Cascade via this approach was actually Kodas first high peaks!