Tuesday, February 26, 2008

These Mission Plans Will Self Destruct in 5-4-3-2...

If you get no further than these words never forget..."there is more to life than the High Peaks Wilderness."

Even Dave was commenting on how crowded the Adirondacks can be before this trip, but I noted it's more that people flock to a few thousand acres of a nearly 4 million acre wilderness. If you seek solitude it surely can be found merely by crossing the High Peaks Wilderness off your itinerary and exploring some of the most diverse and most intact wilderness in the lower 48.

I don't really know exactly what to pin the collapse of this trip on but I certainly won't deny any responsibility in it's outcome.

Everything seemed planned well but at was a series of little issues that led to a complete failure.

The most important of which was the success of the trip required that we make it to a certain point the first day. There really wasn't a well thought out plan B for the first day. As I hadn't expected there to be a problem.

Secondly, route finding. For those seeking solitude, even Bald Peak is a reasonable overnight or single day objective. The reason, beyond Blueberry Cobbles there are very few tracks if any at all, and honestly I'm not even certain there were tracks up Bald Peak. The bigger problem was the before Blueberry Cobbles the previous groups seemed to have equal issues staying on the route as we did. So there would be false trails that ended in a return trip. This route finding cost us at least 1 hour, maybe more.

The fresh snow that fell the previous night was both a positive and a negative. On the positive end it allowed for us to avoid hiking on what was probably an icy trail below, on the negative end it meant we had to break trail. In spots the snow was soft and 3-4ft deep, in others it was either icy hard windblown or not very deep at all.

Finally, I have felt like I was getting sick for the past week. So Aim being "Miss Herbal" supplement pharmacist forced some echinacea tablets on me. I'm fairly confident they made me "more" jittery than I usually am the night before a trip. I fell right asleep Friday night but about 1 hour later I woke up and never fell asleep again. My heart seemed to be racing and I just couldn't fall asleep.

And the wild card that may or may not actually be the case, over estimating my fitness! It's hard to tell going on 1 hour of sleep, but I think my mind forgot how heavy a 40lb+ winter overnight pack is. And while some people are wondering how can you forget, let me give the men out there an example. You lift weights regularly for 6 months eventually benching 200 pounds, then the summer comes and you spend less time in the gym and more outdoors, when you head back indoors to the gym and weights, where do you put that bench press? Yep, right at 200 pounds, why? Not because you're stupid, but because your mind doesn't realize that your body hasn't bench pressed in 6 months, you only remember how relatively easy the number 200 was. It's not until you lift it the first time that you go, "holy shit batman, this is heavy."

So starting out with 1 hour of sleep, carrying a 40 pound plus pack just isn't going to be a great start. Usually my trips start out with not too much sleep the night before but usually 1 hour into the trip I am feeling better and just the excitement of being out in the wilds invigorates me enough to get through the day. Not this time, I felt like crap from the start and felt worse the more we hiked.

By the time we got to Blueberry Cobbles it was apparent I was not going to feel any better, and we were 1/3rd into the 6 mile hike to our 1st camp.

After some serious route detours we finally made it to the base of Bald and it's exposed rocky slabs to the summit. I grew tired of hiking with my MSR Denali snowshoes up the rock and at times icy slabs, so I stopped and switched to crampons. It was nice to not have to slide back with each step. When you are already tired, every bit of traction you can get is a plus.

There are only two styles of snowshoes I'd attempt to use on slabs with mixed rock, snow and ice, and both are made by MSR. I have the original Denali's, which many old timers snubbed their noses at back in the late 1990s when they came to market. Cheap plastic snowshoes, can't be any good. Well, 10 years later my Denali's are still ticking and unlike the only school shoes, I don't baby them. Rocks, talus, slabs, stream crossings, etc, these things just take the abuse.

MSR has come out with several evolutions of the Denali's mostly all are 90% of the original design that I have. For the most part the only improvement was the heel riser which raises your heel when climbing consistently steep slopes.

Dave, however, was using a brand new design, the Denali Lightning, that has some pluses and some negatives over my shoes. Pluses, even more aggressive traction that seemed to have less problems going up the mixed conditions rock slabs often found in the Adirondacks, the heel riser is built in, and the weight is perhaps a little less based on the flotation.

The negatives of the Denali Lightning are: 2 strap binding which doesn't hold the foot as well, the shoe is larger (25 inches vs. my 22 inch Denali's), while the decking is elevated and not bound on like the old school snowshoes, it is still a tarpaulin type material (probably Halpalon) that will eventually wear out over rocky terrain or trudging through spruce traps, and finally the size of the shoe isn't modular. Meaning the 25in flotation is set. My Denali's can go to 26 and 30inches with the additional tails.

Once we topped out on Bald Mountain 2 hours behind schedule and only 2 hours till sundown it seems to be prudent not to continue ahead. So we decided to back track and camp in one of the small cols that we passed on the ascent. Having taken nearly 5.5 hours to go the 4 miles and 2700ft ascent it didn't seem like a good choice to descend 500ft, and then reascend 1500ft to get to our planned camp 1.

My feelings on keeping yourself out of trouble are this, one bad decision usually doesn't lead to a tragedy but a series of bad decisions tend to end badly. The original goal was to be at Bald by 1pm and at Camp 1 by 4pm. We were way behind schedule and already new the conditions and potential places to camp if we back tracked. We didn't know the conditions ahead, and route finding would probably only become worse, as would trail breaking since undoubtedly no other group had passed Bald Mountain!

So Dave begrudgingly agreed to head back down. Definitely a disappointment for us both but I think the correct move.

We camped in the first depression below Bald Mountains final ascent. I'd actually had the ridge just above where we camped in mind so we could catch the sunrise, but with the forecast of 25mph winds overnight it seemed like a better choice to take the protected option.

We packed out a tent platform using out snowshoes, but a rarity for the Northeast, the snow never seemed to consolidate. Even after letting it sit for the usual 20 minutes after we stopped flattening the area we still ened up with very soft unconsolidated snow.

After setting up the tent the first order was to rehydrate. We were guinea pig testing my MSR hanger that I've only used once in more moderate weather. It's a titanium hanging kit that attaches to the Superfly canister stove.

Being a notorious vestibule cooker over the years I wanted something even more storm proof. Something that also increased the overall comfort level while camping in any winter weather, and something that would further reduce the amount of clothing we needed to carry on winter trips.

The hanging stove worked beautifully with the help of lots of research. I'll blog separately on it's wonders but lets just say it's superior to sitting outside in the wind and cold while wearing 10lbs of clothing just to melt snow and eat dinner. And the added bonus, is the tent hits about 35-40F and is bone dry, allowing your gear to actually thaw and even dry.

Oddly, I really wasn't hungry so I mostly drank lots of tea, apple cider, and ate just my freeze dried dinner rather than the whole meal of beef stew, mashed potatoes, and chicken noodle soup.

After 3.5 hours of melting snow, cooking, and rehydrating we hit the sack at 9pm. The Marmot Swallow is a huge 3 season tent, but with winter bags and bivy sacks it's just barely adequate for winter use. Still it vents well, and is big enough but moving around to get things setup is a real pain. My verdict on it, is that it's a n adequate all season tent, provided you don't get socked in with a heavy wet snow. The flat area just above the main vestibule would not do well to shed heavy wet snows. So this tent might be more of a all conditions summer tent (as marmot does market it) rather than a true winter tent.

Once we got things together we both slept like rocks. The overnight lows were just above 0F, and the morning temps at 7am were about 15F. Once the stove and the sun got going in the tent it was well over 40F as we were eating breakfast.

My boots seemed a little tight in the toes on the hike in so heated the liner just at the toes in a plastic bag in the boiling water for 10 minutes. The liner was pretty well perfectly heated and I simply crammed my foot in and stretched the toes a bit. 10 minutes later my toes had a little extra wiggle room on the downhills, so nice!!

We were on the trail before 9:30am after a little delay due to Dave spilling 16 ounces of tea in the tent and on my camera gear. Thankfully my Lowepro 65AW and my camera (a Pentax K10D) are both highly weather proof. I simply tossed the camera bag in the snow, camera and all, I we cleaned up the tent. Eventually I hung the 65AW and camera on a tree to completely dry out in the morning sun.

The hike out was a perfect day. Low 30s and perfectly blue skies, just a light breeze.

So while the trip as planned was a complete failure, it was a good workout, a good test trip, and overall two good days in the mountains. I think my brain just might remember for a few weeks how much energy it takes to carry that multi day winter pack compared to a 20lb winter day pack, and perhaps be a little more lenient in planning my next few overnighters. My knee was sore Saturday night, but only at the tibial screw site, and Sunday morning it felt like a $40,000 knee. So it's a work in progress, if only real work was this much fun!!! Besides, the planned trip will still be there next winter; yes, there will be a part deux!

And for Dave, a few shots of our 2005 trip to Marcy and Haystack (since I never sent him these):

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Milestones: Rehab and Rejuvenation In The Adirondacks

I haven't posted anything in a while, largely because I've been busy both at work and getting ready for my first winter backpack in over 2 years. Yep, February 2006 was my last overnight winter trip.

In 1999/2000 I spent all but 1 winter weekend in a tent in the mountains. That was a peak year but generally I've been lucky enough to get out on 5 winter overnights per year. The reason I backpacked less was ice climbing and occasionally skiing took up more time. For instance in 2002/2003 I climbed 100 days between Nov and June 1st, 40 on ice (that was a good year!

I was hoping this to be a winter like 1999/2000 but the truth is I miscalculated my rehab time. I feel like I was and am on pace, but it occurred to me this winter just how long it really takes to hit 100%.

I was under the impression that with hard work I'd be good as new in 6 months, even talking presidential traverse in June or July, and while I was amazed how far I came, there was always that fear that I wasn't ready. And the truth is, the stronger my knee gets the more I realize I wasn't.

Now that uncertainty will last perhaps months or years more but there is a point where the knee will be 110% and only my mind will separate me from going full bore and trusting it.

Do you ever wonder why professional athletes generally stink the first year back from ACL surgery? It's because the real rehab time is about 18-24 months, and those guys are essentially paid to rehab 24/7/365. It's also why my original doctor was anti surgery because most people who aren't athletes simply don't have the desire to rehab an ACL injury. Unfortunately, if he'd ever listened to any of my concerns he'd have realized I am one of the freaks in the world that enjoys physical therapy and the rehab process (note to doctors: occasionally listen to your patients, they MIGHT know themselves better than you do).

In any case, I'm really excited about getting out for 2 nights and 3 days on whats probably a pretty easy 3 day trip that could easily be done in 2 days, and by really fit hikers 1 long day. I never sleep better than when 1mm of nylon separates me from the outside world, or better when I'm directly under the stars so I'd rather plod along at 6 mile days than do the whole 15 miles in 1 day.

This hike has some steep sections, most of the trip (3/4s) is near or above 3000ft. It summits 2 4000 footers and nearly 3.5 miles of the 7 miles to Rocky Peak Ridge is exposed ridge line. The best part, it's not in the High Peaks Wilderness, which happens to be the only place in the Adirondacks you pay to park, and also has rules that are actually enforced.

(map notes, mileage and elevation profile only for the red route, doesn't include yellow exit routes to finish trip)

The weather looks good and I know this trip is stellar since I've hiked all of it in separate day hikes multiple times, but never as a single continuous trip.

Some photos from the past on the route we'll be following or across the value towards the route (some of these are poor quality scans from poor quality photos, eventually I'll catch up of the film scans directly from the negatives)...

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Friday, February 8, 2008

A (Not So) Picture Perfect Day: Windham High Peak

Usually I'm not at a loss for words but my trip to my old stomping grounds last weekend was pretty unremarkable. Since moving to Saratoga County I really haven't felt the need to drive south when the Adirondacks are in my backyard. It took me as long to get to the Catskills as it does to get to say the Loj Parking lot in the Daks. About 1.5 hours.

I really wasn't pumped about heading south to hike, the conditions were unwinterlike in the north and they certainly wouldn't be better.

I was in the Catskills to eat dinner with Christian and Jess who were skiing at Windham.

The weather called for sunny skies and warmer temps but on the drive down the only sun I saw was a God beam shooting through a gaping blue hole in the clouds. Wow!! I was pretty excited if the rest of the day was going to look like that.

No such luck and the day only got more dreary.

After a day of rain and sleet my hike up to Acra Point, Burnt Knob, and Windham High Peak was pretty much over ice, and ice fallen from the trees to create a ball bearing affect on the trail.

Views were nonexistent. As you can see from the photo below, the mountain tops were in fog or low cloud cover. This was as good as it got, and by the time I got to Windham, in the back left hand corner it was completely fogged in.

Food, however, was plentiful. After my hike I stopped off at the Gulf Station on Route 23 where, believe it or not, you can get fresh filled canolis and old world style cheese cake. Truly the very best Italian deserts imaginable. I grew up in NY, spent many days in Little Italy stuffing my face full of pastries after Chinese lunches, and I can say the stuff at the "gas station" is by far the best pastry I've had. Made with real goats milk and not overly sweetened like the American pallet is used to.

Continuing down 23 to meet up with Christian and Jess at Mexican Radio across the Hudson River in the town of Hudson, I couldn't resist, and just had to have a fresh filled, crispy canoli. Yummy!!

Mexican Radio in Hudson is one of those NYC transplants. Apparently the people who own it decided the liked the Taconic's and Berkshires, and Hudson Valley and opened a second restaurant in Hudson.

Problem is, the food is good, but my guess is the menus are the same price in NYC and Hudson. So $17 fish taco's (an all time favorite of mine) are a bit overpriced. $5 drafts seem a bit high too, but again, they had a nice selection of local beers including Wolavers organic oatmeal stout and Chatham IPA.

My fish tacos were OK. Too much breading, I hate to say it but other than La Fondita on Long Island in the Hampton's, the Cheese Cake Factory has perhaps the best fish tacos for about the same price.

Mexican Radio wasn't without merit though, the flan was amazing. They say it's the countries best flan, and I'm a flan fan, so I'd agree, this was perhaps the best flan I'd ever had.

So my verdict on Mexican Radio: If $17+ entres that would typically cost $12-14 don't bother you, go for a bite, and enjoy the dessert!!

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