adirondacks

Another Adirondack Adventure

When you love the mountains, repeating the same hikes never gets old. Each trip brings a new adventure with changing weather, varying trail conditions, and different combinations of people and personalities.

This was my 3rd year organizing the Young Members Weekend at Johns Brook Lodge for the Adirondack Mountain Club, and was once again a fun and rewarding experience. Hikers joined us from as far away as Buffalo, Boston, and Washington, D.C., and we spent Friday – Sunday together in the Adirondack High Peaks. A 3.5-mile backpack in the rain brought us to JBL, where we dried off and spent the rest of the day getting to know each other, planning routes for Saturday, and enjoying music from our “JBL jam band.” One participant even hiked in his violin!

After waking up to French toast and bacon, our group of 26 divided up and set out for our destinations, which included Bushnell Falls, Mount Marcy, Skylight, Haystack, Basin, and Saddleback. My favorite part about organizing this event is allowing for flexibility and individualization, so each person can hike their own hike, summit the mountains of their choice, and be as relaxed or challenged as they’d like – all while making new friends.  

Trail conditions were wetter than any past trip I’ve done along this route to Haystack, and water was just high enough to make brook crossings tricky, prompting many of us to take our boots right off to avoid accidental submersion off the slippery rocks. Wide puddles, deep standing water, sticky mud, and flowing water in the trail, especially up above Slant Rock, forced us to take our time and focus on each step. The last half mile before hitting Little Haystack was like climbing a waterfall, and it was near impossible to make it to Little Haystack without wet feet. We’d been hiking in light rain and mist all morning, so the rocks above treeline ranged from damp to dry, and it seemed like we wouldn’t have a view.

Similar to last weekend’s morning on Algonquin Peak, for a few brief moments while we were on top, the clouds broke up around us, allowing for a view of Skylight in one direction, and an undercast in the other. We snapped photos quickly, as the view disappeared as quickly as it appeared. While it would be amazing to have had another clear, sunny day up there, hiking up into the clouds and watching them swirl around you creates its own unique, dramatic experience, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Our group descended toward Basin to avoid going down the waterfall of a trail section, and split up at the junction below the summit of Basin. A couple chose to continue over Basin and Saddleback to complete a loop, and others descended back to Slant Rock and met up with one of the Marcy groups for the hike back to the lodge, where the smell of grilled chicken welcomed us. Another night of games, music, and attempts at stargazing as the clouds cleared, and we’re already talking about next year.

Wilmington Weekend

A wedding on Whiteface Mountain brought us to the Adirondack High Peaks region this weekend, and the weather was perfect for spending every minute outside. We drove over from Vermont Friday afternoon and set up camp at Wilmington Notch Campground. If you haven’t stayed there, make a reservation, and be sure to check out its gorgeous waterfall!

WM-WilmingtonNotchfixed.jpg

Since we didn’t have to be anywhere until lunchtime, we got up early and caught the sunrise from Cobble Lookout before going into Lake Placid for breakfast. It’s a short, fairly easy hike with an up-close view of Whiteface Mountain, so it’s worth the effort and great for beginners and kids.

I’ll save our Whiteface adventure for a post of its own, but I’ll say it was so beautiful that we were in no rush to head right home after. We spent the evening debating what to do on Sunday, realizing the weather could range from perfect to socked-in summits. After scrolling Instagram and seeing a video of the insane number of cars parked along Adirondack Loj Road, we debated if it was even worth trying to head down that way. With the increasing number of hikers in the high peaks, we hate to contribute to the crowding, but I also realize it’s difficult to provide information and guidance as an Adirondack 46er correspondent if I don’t get out there and maintain some knowledge of the state of things. We haven’t visited the MacIntyre Range in a few years, so we decided to set out early and check out the alpine plants on Algonquin. We met a New Hampshire hiker along the trail and chatted our way up to the junction, where he and Ted started up Wright while I headed to Algonquin.  As views started opening up behind me, I stopped frequently and turned around to take it in, realizing how much I’ve missed hiking regularly in the Adirondacks. We’ve spent a lot of time in the Whites lately, but there’s really no place like home. I continued up slowly, trying to maximize the amount of time I had all to myself in the silence and stillness of the morning. I fully expected to find others on the summit, perhaps those seeking the sunrise, or at the very least, the summit steward.

I walked up to the summit marker and looked around, and to my surprise, I was completely alone. The summit of New York State’s second tallest peak, all to myself, with an undercast in one direction and thin clouds dancing around me, obscuring the view and opening up again. Mount Marcy rose up out of the clouds and made her appearance before the next wave of clouds blew in again. I sat beside a cluster of closed gentians and waited for Ted to join me on the summit. Behind Ted came the summit steward for the day and then Adam, the hiker he had gone to Wright with, and then a couple solo hikers who sat quietly, appreciating nature with the rest of us. In that moment, it seemed hard to believe there are so many overuse, littering, and crowding issues, because this felt just as it did a decade or more ago.

It gave me some hope, that even though social media sometimes makes it sound and look like conditions are pretty bad out there, perhaps things aren’t degrading as quickly as it seems, and there are plenty of hikers out there doing their part to leave no trace and preserve these special places.

A New Kind of Adventure

I've hiked to the summit of Cascade Mountain too many times to count, and started avoiding hiking it in recent years as hiker traffic there has increased so drastically. What do you do when the trails are too crowded? Find a less crowded route. 

In order to keep expanding your comfort zone, and perhaps to prevent boredom, you have to keep pushing your limits and challenging yourself. Keep trying new things, harder things. So this month, I somehow allowed Ted and Joe to talk me into my first multi-pitch climb, and an ice/mixed/slide climb at that! I haven't climbed ice in two years, and I'm kind of terrible at rock climbing. I haven't been on a rope since a harness fiasco at the rock gym a while back, and a winter day with a single-digit high was less than appealing. But! The weather was otherwise sunny, no snow moving in, the roads were clear, and the nighttime temperatures well below zero in the Adirondacks would keep other climbers from getting an early start, allowing us time to take our time. Ted once said I shouldn't be afraid of the Trap Dike on Mount Colden because he felt it was well within my comfort zone, and he turned out to be right that I'd find it "a delightful playground of rocks." So when he insisted I'd enjoy this climb, I decided to give it a shot. 

One thing you learn about ice climbing as a party of three is that it's not fast ascent. Not in the way hiking or trail running is. The concept is straightforward; lead the first pitch, build your anchor, belay everyone up, repeat.  The reality is not as clean. It takes a good chunk of time to get your gear sorted out and your equipment on.  Ropes drag, get stuck or frozen, anchor building can get interesting, communication isn't always easy, plus there's the fact that everything just seems to move more slowly in the winter. The result is that much of your time is spent waiting.  Unlike summer rock climbing, during the winter, you feel every minute when you're not moving if you're not properly dressed. Early on, I made the mistake of looking down at Ted at the base of the falls, and in that moment, I realized how high I'd climbed already. I decided then that if I was going to make it up, I'd need to focus on what was right in front of me, and avoid looking up or down. It's way too easy to psych yourself out when you're hanging from a rope on an ice cliff. With the encouragement of my fearless leaders and an unexpected friend, Andy, who climbed up behind me with another group, I muscled up the technical part of the climb. 

Above the waterfall, we stowed one of the ropes and roped together to simul-climb a couple shorter, easier ice obstacles interspersed with hiking.  Even this was slow-going, as the terrain was uneven, filled with buried rocks, ledges, downed trees, and often deep snow. 

As we reached the bottom of the slide, it was becoming clear that we weren’t hiking out in daylight, and that this would end up being one of the most physically challenging ascents of my life.  In the summer, the slide is a steep, gritty, and often wet, rock slab with numerous loose rocks.  In the winter, it is about 400-450 feet of glorious low-angle ice with a good rest ledge near the middle.  Despite the good shape it was in, it still took nearly the last bit of my strength to get up it, with my calves borderline cramping with every step, my arms exhausted from swinging those axes. 

There was no real time for celebration though, the sun was setting fast and we still had a solid bushwhack to reach the summit. Only one other group followed this route all the way to the summit, as most people just rappel after the technical ice. It appeared that their group must have split up at some point, as the tracks in the snow diverged. Joe took what ended up being the easier, faster route to the summit, and of course, Ted and I chose the more convoluted path. When we finally reached the top, it was just dark enough to dig out the headlamps, and the wind was picking up, giving me brain freeze as it hit the side of my head. We hurried down off the rocks and into the trees on the hard-packed, maintained trail for a quick snack before half jogging our way back to the trailhead. A two hour drive home, and our adventure was complete. 

Calendar Feature!

Lake George from Black Mountain.

Taking photos from mountain summits and backcountry locations is never easy. It often involves early mornings or late nights, heavy backpacks, steep terrain, multiple miles, lots of sweat, and of course, the ever-changing weather. There's the frustration from poor trail conditions, and Ted's "It's right around the corner, you're almost there!" encouragement on repeat when we're nowhere near the top.  Sometimes, we work hard to reach the viewpoint, and there is no view. That was almost the case on this winter ascent of Black Mountain, near Whitehall, NY. 

It was mid-December, right after a big snowfall, and apparently before anyone had really snowshoed or snowmobiled into the area that season. Four of us set out to do what we thought would be a quick, 5-mile half day hike, but we faced issues right from the gate. There was between 2 and 3 feet of freshly fallen snow blanketing everything, weighing the trees and branches down so much they leaned over the trail, making it difficult to find and follow. With every step, we were sinking to our knees or more -- with snowshoes on. I don't know why we kept going, if we thought maybe there'd be less snow later on or what, but it never got better. If "Tough Terrain Ted" weren't there breaking trail, the girls most certainly would have turned around and ventured off to find some hot cocoa instead. On we pressed, for hours, flattening the snow beneath us, creating a packed trail that would make the hike out less work later. At one point, I sunk waist deep and struggled to get out.

Eventually though, we made it! In the time we thought it'd take to do the round trip hike, we were just barely reaching the summit. A bit disheartening, a look around presented nothing but shades of white and gray, and clouds swirled around the summit. All that work, and no view?! It happens, more than you'd think, which makes the summits with views that much more appreciated. Exhausted and in no hurry to head back down, we hung out for a bit, and waited out the clouds. Sometimes, they never clear, and sometimes, they open up the perfect window that makes it all worth the effort, and hopefully the camera is ready. Slowly, the sun tried to shine down through the clouds. As the clouds lifted slowly and swirled around us, we got short glimpses of the big, blue lake below. Realizing this trend, I got the camera out and ready. 

Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK)'s 2018 calendar is now available at  www.ADK.org .

Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK)'s 2018 calendar is now available at www.ADK.org.

The above photo was featured in a hiking piece in Adirondac magazine last year, and I'm excited to announce that it's now the December image in the Adirondack Mountain Club's 2018 wall calendar! In addition, an image of three-toothed cinquefoil from the Cascade summit is also included in the calendar's sub-theme on alpine vegetation. Sales from these calendars help support ADK's mission and programs, which aim to protect and preserve wild lands and waters throughout New York State. ADK builds and maintains trails, educates the public, and works to keep views like this accessible to the public. Pick one up today at ADK.org!

Gem in the Adirondacks

Could this January be any more exciting?  My photos have appeared in the Adirondack Mountain Club’s 2017 wall calendar (on two months!), Adirondac Magazine, and the Plattsburgh area’s Strictly Business magazine, where my face is even on the cover! I was interviewed for the magazine’s Insight piece about my work with the Adirondack Mountain Club and outdoor recreation. I’ve never been interviewed like this for anything before, so I remember having an immense amount of anxiety during our call, knowing it was being recorded, and feeling like nothing I said was coming out right. I nervously waited to see how the finished article turned out, hoping I’d been articulate enough.

On January 7th, I drove up to Heart Lake to work at ADK’s Winterfest. I got there early so I could take a co-worker up Mount Jo before things started, and then split my day between helping at the membership table and taking photos of the various events. It seemed like a pretty normal day, until I walked into the Adirondak Loj to get a program schedule for a volunteer. There on the table at volunteer check-in, next to the maps and schedules, was a stack of Strictly Business magazines, with my face in a small box on the cover. I knew this moment would come, but I wasn’t expecting it today. It’s incredibly strange to see yourself on a magazine cover. Half in shock of seeing it, I took a copy and headed back to the membership table, anxious to see the article.   It was beautiful, the layout was perfect, and I couldn’t be more relieved and excited at how well the article was.  I laughed as I realized that once again, Ted had made his way into another magazine, being one of the hikers in my photo taken on top of Cascade.

As if this wasn’t awesome enough, I got a call from Nathan Littauer Hospital on my way home from work one afternoon and I debated whether to pull over and answer it. I worked at NLH for six years while in college, helping with registration, medical records, and switchboard coverage, so I recognized the number, but couldn’t think of why they’d be calling now. Turns out, the photo contest my mom insisted I submit a few photos to a while back had finally concluded, and I won FIRST PLACE!  All 3 photos that I submitted would be printed on 30” x 50” metal! I was going to be elated just to get one photo in the top 12, so it would be hung on the wall of the new dialysis center, I couldn’t contain my excitement when I found I’d have 3 hanging up there.

The Gem in the Adirondacks photo contest was conducted as a way of gathering Adirondack photography from local artists to decorate the new facility and aimed to create a serene and peaceful atmosphere for patients. I left Lake George early enough to drive to Mayfield to meet my family, who all insisted on going to the Gloversville Dialysis Center’s grand opening celebration on January 12th.  I got a glimpse of one of my photos through a window as we were parking, and couldn’t want to get inside to see it up close. As I walked in the door, I instantly felt like a celebrity, with hospital staff introducing me to doctors and hospital employees, chamber members, and Mr. Kelly, NLH’s CEO. I was interviewed by a local newspaper, and Senator Tedisco even asked for a photo with me. I was overwhelmed at how many times I was congratulated and told how incredible my photos were.  I see my work framed all the time, but there was something really special about seeing those three hanging side by side in a public place, knowing those landscapes will provide a beautiful distraction for dialysis patients for the foreseeable future.  I feel honored to be a part of this, and am so grateful for this opportunity to give back to the hospital that taught me so much early on in my career.

Could it get any better? Ted finally scheduled his PhD defense, got a job in New Hampshire, and we're moving next week! AHHH! 

Fall Art & Craft Shows

Saturday, September 24 - Eagle Mills Art & Craft Show       

  • Eagle Mills Cider Company, 383 County Hwy 138, Broadalbin, NY 12025

  • 9am – 5pm Saturday, 9am – 4pm Sunday

 

Saturday & Sunday, October 8-9 - Gore Mountain Harvest Fest

  • 793 Peaceful Valley Rd, North Creek, NY 12853

  • 10am – 4pm

 

Sunday, November 20 - Soroptimist International Craft Fair

  • Gloversville Middle School, 234 Lincoln St, Gloversville, NY 12078

  • 10am

Creating Clouds

Living with an atmospheric scientist, there is a lot of nerding out about weather happening on a daily basis as each new model run comes out. Imagine the excitement when this arctic air mass moved through and dropped the temperature to -40 degrees F (not counting the windchill) on the summit of Mount Washington last night. Given the dangerously cold forecast this weekend, we opted to stay inside and enjoy a warm fire and a relaxing weekend of catching up on things. Of course, though, Ted was watching the weather observations all day, and at times worrying about the groups who ventured out to higher summits and exposed ridges above treeline. When we went to bed last night, the ASRC summit observation on Whiteface was -38 degrees F with 50mph wind gusts, amounting to a windchill of -85F! I can’t even imagine what that must feel like.

In Mayfield this morning, it was -16F (not counting windchill), which Ted deemed cold enough to try the “boiling water trick,” which we may have done 3 or so times for fun. This consists of boiling a pan of water, which brings it close to the evaporation point, and then tossing it into very cold, dry air where it instantly evaporates. The water vapor then undergoes rapid deposition to become the tiny ice crystals that make up the cloud you see rise into the air.  Check out the video! 

weekend waterfalls

This past weekend was a beautiful one. With it being in the 80's in Albany, and probably just as hot up north in the Adirondacks, it's easy for people to think the snow must be melted in the mountains and they become eager to get outside.

Spring is mud season in the Adirondacks, and brings with it high water and a mix of trail conditions, from hard ice to soft snow to deep mud. These conditions change quickly and aren't uniform, so it can be frustrating switching between microspikes and snowshoes frequently. For those who choose not to bring traction, they find themselves scratched up and exhausted from post-holing in the sections of deep snow. So when Ted’s officemate invited us to hike Dial and Nippletop on Saturday, after reading recent trip reports indicating these frustrating conditions currently exist up north, I decided to ride up to the Ausable Club with them and explore the drier trails along the river on my own.

Spring might not be great for high peaks, but it can be awesome for waterfalls and getting moving water shots. Ted bought me a 9 stop neutral density filter for Christmas last year, and I finally got a chance to practice using it.

I started by hiking up Lake Road and stopped at the flume, then cut over to Beaver Meadow Falls, then followed the river up to Rainbow Falls, crossed the dam, and headed back along Lake Road with a short detour along Gill Brook. The flume is very easy to get to and is just off the side of Lake Road, which is a private dirt road hikers must walk to access the trails off it. I spent some time setting the tripod, playing with camera settings, and swatting surprisingly few bugs. The surrounding trees shaded the area enough to get up to 20 second exposures with the filter, though there was more light at the rest of the waterfalls so a full 20 seconds wasn’t necessary later on. Over the course of the day, I shot between f11 – f22, ISO around 100, and experimented with shutter speeds between 4 and 20 seconds. At each stop, I started with whatever settings were set from the previous waterfall, and adjusted the settings based on whether there was more or less light and how I wanted the photo to look. The biggest downside to the longer exposures (or some of the shorter ones even), was the blur in the trees due to wind. I crossed a small, narrow bridge over the river just before approaching Beaver Meadow Falls, and I liked that the view offered the rushing water, rocks, trees, and the mountains in the background. I knew this would be a difficult photo to get with the constant wind, but I decided I’d live with the slightly blurred trees to capture the view because I really liked it. 

The most difficult aspect of the day was doing it alone. I thoroughly enjoyed being out there on my own, hiking at my own pace, taking my time with each shot and figuring out the settings. However, I can’t help but wonder if maybe I would have done even better if Ted had been with me. Ted is usually my assistant; he helps carry the gear, helps set up the tripod and is an extra set of hands for swapping lenses, filters, etc. He also has a better understanding of how the camera works and gives advice on which settings to adjust for more skilled shots. Rainbow Falls was particularly misty and a light shower passed while I was there, so I had to be careful to keep everything dry. That’s when I missed the extra set of hands the most! In the end though, while not perfect, the photos are beautiful and I’m proud to have done as well as I did without any help or guidance. I’m excited to be teaching myself photography and learn more with every trip.

Since I was back at the trailhead before the others, I headed across the road and hiked to Roaring Brook Falls, where I relaxed for an hour or so and talked to families who also ventured in.  Back in the parking lot, I met back up with the three tired hikers, thrilled to have bagged two high peaks and finally made it back to the car. We hung out for a while in the lot, as we met two men, Dennis and Sonny, who offered us a beer and shared stories of their years of mountain adventures together. They are both in their late 60s, and Dennis identified himself as the first person to complete the little-known 770 list (770 mountains in the northeast over 3000 feet). They were visiting New York to do trail work on Dix with the 46ers on Saturday and planned to do a bushwhack up Knob Lock on Sunday. For having completed a hard day of trail work, I was surprised at how happy, upbeat, and enthusiastic they still were. Our day finally ended with a late dinner at Noonmark Diner and a two hour drive home.

After hearing about the trail conditions along the ridge, seeing Eric and Dani’s scratched up legs, and later reading Facebook posts by friends who encountered tough trail conditions, post-holed themselves to exhaustion, and didn’t make it to their summits, I never felt so good about my decision to stay in the valley. 

warming hut weekend

On winter weekends, the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Winter Host Program stations volunteers in a backcountry cabin to provide trail and weather information, hot chocolate, and more to hikers in the Johns Brook Valley. Hikers are given the opportunity to come in from the cold and warm up with a hot beverage on their way to the peaks or before making the last 3.5 mile trek back to the trailhead.  

Seven winters ago, I participated in my first outing with ADK, stood on the summit of my first winter high peak, and made my first visit to the “warming hut” on our way out. I was new to winter hiking back then, and didn’t have the best gear or knowledge of what hiking up steep terrain after a big snowfall might entail. It didn’t take long before I realized my water had frozen in my pack and I was carrying useless bricks of ice that offered no hydration. When the group decided to make a loop by descending to Johns Brook Lodge to stop by the warming hut on the way out, I experienced a huge morale boost as I drank hot chocolate and ate M&Ms. Who would have thought there was a HEATED place in the woods where people could stop for a break in the winter, get out of the cold, have hot chocolate, coffee, or tea served to them, and meet some really cool people?! What an amazing idea! That day provided just a small glimpse into the wide range of programs and fun opportunities offered by ADK.

Since then, I have continued to become more involved with different aspects of ADK, from leading outings to summit stewarding to serving on various committees. This year, Ted and I became Winter Host Program volunteers, and we returned to the “warming hut” at the Henry Young Cabin to provide the same enthusiasm and motivation that we’ve received as hikers in the past. Remembering my first visit to the hut, I even brought M&Ms and assorted candy to share with hikers.

We were paired with a couple from Canada, who were also new to the WHP, so we took turns with making the rounds and checking on the property and learned together.  They enjoyed a relaxing weekend in the cabin, and since we had sunny weather, Ted and I went for a quick hike up Big Slide one morning for some exercise. We broke trail up the same trail I descended seven years ago, which I haven’t been on since. The fresh, untouched snow on the summit glittered in the sunlight, and with the trees blocking the wind behind us, we enjoyed looking out at the Great Range for a while before descending.

We often find ourselves leaving the Albany area at 3 or 4am to make the drive up north to get on the trail around 6 or 7am and spend anywhere from 6 to 10 hours in the cold before making the two hour drive home at night. This was such a treat to do something different; to do a day hike up a high peak that only took 4 hours total, to spend a weekend in a heated cabin in the woods, and to be an exciting part of other hikers’ adventures. I love seeing the smiles as people discover the cabin and hear we have heat and hot beverages inside. Though we didn’t see a lot of people this weekend, we did see a few people we knew, which is always a nice surprise, and perhaps we even inspired a few younger folks to consider joining ADK.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to give back, to share my passion for the wilderness with new people, and to spend time in such a beautiful place. To learn more about the Adirondack Mountain Club, visit www.adk.org