High Peaks Traverse
With the wife being in NYC for the weekend, I had to come up with something to keep me occupied. I tossed around different ideas. Expecting to be going solo, the name "Tarzan Weekend" sort of summed up what I was looking for. One thought was to run south as far as I could, staying in cheap hotels along the way, and have her pick me up on her way north. Another was to do a Great Range Traverse in the high peaks, which is something I've been meaning to do as a long and brutal day hike. Neither seemed to quite fit the bill. I grew familiar with all of the high peaks hiking the 46, but I only grasped each of the little mountain ranges as separate entities. I wanted something to tie it all together. The Seward Range is the furthest mountain group to the northwest, and Giant Mountain/Rocky Peak Ridge are the furthest mountain group to the southeast. In between lies, well, just about everything so the plan became: Start at the Seward trailhead, run alongside the Sewards, pass the Santanoni's to the right, scoot under the MacIntyre Range, between Cliff and Colden, Redfield, Skylight, and Gray, over Marcy, then alongside the Great Range, coming out at the Garden and running along the road to the Giant Mountain Trailhead. 38 miles, roughly 16,000 feet of elevation change. 50 miles by car. How to make that happen? I could drop off a car at the finish and bike to the start. However, that would mean biking for hours on Friday evening. The 38 mile hike I can handle, but I don't know what a bike ride like that will do to my legs. Luckily, two days before I talked to a friend who frequents the high peaks forums. He suggested getting in touch with RandomScoots. RandomScoots has a few cabins in the Adirondacks for rent, and on the side provides transportation to hikers on Adirondack adventures. He typically facilitates hikes along the Northville-Placid trail. I emailed him, and on short notice RandomScoots was 100% on-board with helping me out for a very reasonable fare. Incredible. Problem solved.
So what was I envisioning for this trip? Crisp, cool autumn air, multi-colored leaves scattered along the ground, some rain, maybe even a flurry of snowfall. I agonized over what to pack. In the beginning the idea was to run most of the way. Pack super-light, bare necessities only, and fly, nap, fly, nap, fly. Heck maybe I'd get near Marcy ahead of schedule, full of pizzazz, and run across the Great Range. I checked the weather forecast for Lake Placid (I should have checked the Santanoni mountaintop weather forecast). It called for temperatures down to the mid-to-high 20's, thunderstorms, and the forecast eventually changed to snow. My one-track mind had trouble perceiving the reality of that: it was going to be cold up top those mountains. I've come to understand that when the weatherman reports a low temperature, they're really only talking the early morning-to-late-evening hours. It usually gets colder than that if you're going to be outside all night. Also, temperature tends to drop 3.3 degrees per 1,000 feet of elevation. Lake Placid is over 3,000 feet lower than Mt. Marcy, so we're definitely talking sub-20 degree weather, probably colder in the wee hours of the night.
So I stood scratching my head staring at my light wool sweater, light windbreaker, light gloves, light wool hat. For a while. After lots of deliberation, I threw a big down jacket, winter gloves, and a heavy winter hat into the pile. I hated to do it because it meant I was crossing over into the winter pack weight and a lot less running and more hiking. With my sleeping bag rated to 30 degrees, I couldn't see any way around it. A safety net if you will. At this point I didn't expect to use any of the extra equipment, but in the end it was all essential.
What I chose not to bring for better or for worse:
1) Cooking equipment. I made a hummus wrap, a vegan chili wrap, a pb&j, and carried nuts, cold oatmeal, dried fruit, granola bars, a couple of goo packs, and a clif bar, and a little ginseng chew. Oh, and I bought a nice fat sub at Sorrentino's. Nothing that would require heat, so I didn't need a stove, fire, or cookpot.
2) Water. My primary water supply was going to be a LifeStraw. I'd scoop a cup of water out of streams and suck it down through a filtering tube. What I didn't realize was how cold it was going to be from the Cold River to lake COLDen on up to the higher elevations where the lifestraw would freeze in a jiffy. I carried two mostly empty 1-liter bottles in case I ended up hiking the Great Range, which has few water stops. Carrying a bottle ended up being very important.
3) Real shoes. I wore sandals and carried two pairs of wool toe socks, one light and one heavy. As an emergency backup I brought my winter running rig: Old torn up New Balance Minumus MT00's (nothing more than slippers with a bit of traction), cut up EMS shopping bags as a waterproof layer, and a pair of wool socks.
4) A compass. I can't find my favorite compass which I've had since the 7th grade. To replace it would be like replacing a dog, it just doesn't seem right.
5) A waterproof layer. I just picked up an awesome super-light running windbreaker, with huge areas without cover allowing for lots of evaporation in places like the armpits, down the back, and in the lower front.
Things that were really important, whether I brought them or not:
1) Two extra pairs of socks
2) A waterproof layer (which I didn't really have)
3) A water bottle and water purification pills, even if it's just a backup
4) Down jacket
5) Winter hat
6) Light headband to keep cool but cover ears while active
7) Winter gloves (very very important)
8) Warm but lighter fleece-type gloves
I took a half-day on Friday and drove to the Giant Mountain trailhead to meet RandomScoots at 4pm. As I approached the high peaks region, I could see some white at the tops of the mountains which took me a little by surprise. I was convinced that what I was looking at was nothing more than flurried deposits, it couldn't be real snow. I arrived at the parking area a few minutes early. A car pulled up right on time, a man got out and introduced himself. We shook hands and I hopped into his car. I fully expected to get someone telling me that my plan was dumb. Something like, "You'll shoot you're eye out kid". What I got was the complete opposite. I started talking about how awesome I was, having hiked all 46 High Peaks and my Wakely Dam Ultramarathon success. Within seconds, if this were a verbal arm wrestling match, he had the back of my hand pinned to the table. 46er? Ha! He's working on his 52x46er. Do you know what that means? Allow me to explain. My spreadsheet for completing the 46 high peaks consists of 46 rows, one for each peak, and a single column with x's for each completed peak. This guy has... Get this... A spreadsheet with 46 rows and *52 columns* representing each week of the year. So at some point in his life, the plan is to hike mount Marcy during the 1st week of a year, the second week, 3rd, all the way up to the 52nd week. So yeah, 52 Marcy summits, each one at very specific times of the year. And similarly for all the other 46 peaks, totalling 2392 summits. He has his 12x46er completed for each month of the year and is taking a little break from the 52x46er. What else? He ran the Wakely Dam Ultra, but not during race time. He ran it alone, just to see how he'd stack up to the competition. In his 50's he attempted a speed record for climbing all 46-peaks, and was on-target for the record after 36 hours of hiking, with 16 peaks when things started go awry. Skeptical? Yeah, me too. Until he proved himself to be RandomScoots the ADK Omniscient. I happened to mention seeing a deer on a trail munching mushrooms, the deer looking at me funny and refusing to budge. RandomScoots says to me, "let me ask you something. Did this happen to take place in the Ausable Valley?" It took place a few hundred feet from the Lower Ausable Lake. I guess that's the only place in the Adirondacks where deer behave like that. Wow. Ok dude, you've got my attention, I will never question you again! What does RandomScoots say about my trip? My attempt to outdo myself after a long life of outdoing myself? The ultimate culmination of my life and study? And complete measure of myself, man, vs. nature? He says, "you're coming out Sunday? You're not gonna break any records on this trip." Wow ouch! Even if complete this cockamamie scheme I'm still a wuss! Although I gotta say, what a great motivating way to start the trip.
The Seward Range Trailhead
RandomScoots drops me off at the Summer Trailhead for the Seward Range with a fond farewell. I am thrilled after an amazing encounter, what inspiration. RandomScoots. Random indeed! Or maybe it's anything but random: something to think about during the endless hours ahead. I sign into the trailhead and skim the names on the page I'm filling out. I see two familiar names. Friends of mine who are working on the 46 high peaks who I've hiked a few times with, and another is the uncle of a friend with whom I finished the 46.
The Ward Brook Trail
The trail is very wet and muddy. I'm wearing sandals with no socks. It's chilly, leaves cover the ground everywhere. My feet get cold, and a bit red, then suddenly become toasty warm despite dunking them in ice water at repeated intervals every 60 seconds or so. It seems as though smashing them into the ground with every step helps pulsate warm blood into and out of the foot keeping them 100 times warmer than my cold hands.
Before long I switch to my winter gloves, but my feet stay fancy free in the sandals. It's getting dark, and I put on a headlamp. I pass a few lean-tos (Blueberry and Ward Brook), and eventually reach an awesome lean-to with a place to tie up horses. For a while I'm running on a trail wide enough to drive a truck down. The elevation steadily rises, and before long I'm running on a thin covering of snow. My feet get progressively colder as they mingle with the ice. I start to wonder if I have taken a wrong turn, it feels like I am approaching a mountain. I check the map, this is a 2-mile section with a 500 foot climb. The trail is now a tunnel through the pines. The hill eventually crests, and I start descending towards Duck Hole. I pass an intersection with the Northville-Placid trail followed by the Cold River Lean-To. A sign outside the lean-to points in all directions with lots of words and mileages. My brain is a bit muddled so I stop for a bit to try and sort out this puzzle of arrows. My headlamp is pointing through the sign, toward the lean-to off in the distance. After I stand there for a few minutes, a headlamp emerges from the lean-to. A hiker introduces himself. He has been solo hiking the Northville-Placid trail from the beginning for the last 8 days. He hiked 20 miles today, and has 15 more to go to reach Lake Placid and will finish tomorrow. He has always wanted to make the trip, and finally took the opportunity. We talk for a bit, and I head to Duck hole.
I arrive at an intersection at Duck Hole. I could continue on my way, but instead I check out another trail to the nearby Duck Hole Lean-to. Looking over the edge of a drop-off reveals half of a wooden structure crooked and crumbled sunken in a river, massive by Adirondack standards. I recall stories about the beautiful Duck Hole, something about a dam breach during hurricane Irene. There is a strong sense of history here, rare in the U.S. and particularly in the wilderness! I am strongly tempted to stay the night at this lean-to, but I'm feeling strong and RandomScoots' chiding urges me onward.
I hang a right onto the Preston Ponds trail towards the northern tip of Henderson Lake. This is a bit of a no-mans land of the Adirondacks. I've never been anywhere near this place before. It is a wet swampy mess. The trail winds to-and-fro, clearly in this area the trees got dibs on territory before the trail. It's nearing midnight, my headlamp is dimming a bit. My uncovered feet are feeling the bite from thousands of cold water dunks. I find myself walking seemingly at random in a foot or two of water, holding onto trees to keep me from sinking any deeper. I am walking in completely random directions: south then west then north then west then east, and suddenly it occurs to me that I could be totally lost in a swamp right now. If I can't find the trail (with no compass) I'll be in really big trouble. I look around and see a trail marker confirming that I am still on track. This must be an area that has been dammed by beavers, submerging the trail. I'm on the trail, but to call this a trail is really stretching it. I'm cussing at this point, this is ridiculous. I gotta be approaching the north end of Henderson Lake, I just gotta. Finally I come to a brook crossing with Henderson Lake visible to the south. I cross the river, and come to an unexpected intersection. Trying to fit the area to the map, I take a left which takes me immediately back across the river I just crossed, only this time over a beaver dam in foot-deep water! Argh! This can't be it. So I cross back over the beaver dam, back down the trail and across the river where I crossed the first time. I am confused. I suppose the beaver dam must be the right way. So I cross again, then cross the beaver dam again, and continue down the trail. Which takes me right back where I started! I pause and realize that the original crossing was not the trail. Officially I should have only crossed via the beaver dam. Now I know what's going on and I proceed.
I see an odd cement structure in the distance with a "no campfires" sign on it. I'm tired. I stop and look around, and I notice a "Lean-to" sign high up on a tree. I follow the sign and set up my sleeping pad and sleeping bag. A flurry of snow covers the lean-to floor, which I brush off with a broom. I hang up my pants and jacket, set up my bear canister, brush my teeth, and chow down on some of my sub and crash for the night at midnight. I sleep well and wake up around 8am.
It's cold. An inch of snow covers the ground. I'm warm in my sleeping bag, but I need to either be huffing it on the trail or nestled in my sleeping bag. If I stand around at all I'm going to freeze. I could really use a good breakfast and some water, but there's no time for that. I quickly pack up my stuff and grab my bear canister. I put toe socks on with my sandals and hurry down to the cement structure. Trails head in multiple directions. For the life of me I cannot recall which direction I came from. I stand there for a while trying to remember. I curse myself for not having a compass. I try walking towards the cement structure from each direction to see if I can remember which approach looks the most familiar. I have a guess, but I'm still not certain. I look at the nearby river and note which direction it's flowing. My map kinda sucks, and the contour lines are not quite visible so I can't tell which direction the river is flowing, but eventually I make an educated guess based on the elevations of nearby ponds that flow into Henderson Lake. Everything points in one direction, so I take it. I'm still not sure, but I figure I'll definitely remember the beaver dam before long if I'm going the wrong way. I get lucky, and I'm heading in the right direction. I'll get lucky like this a lot on the trip.
I'm now entering the area of the Adirondacks where building fires is prohibited. I am not using any stoves, or producing heat of any kind. My mantra is, "be the fire". I am the fire. I need to stay well fed, rested, and keep the fire burning by running or hiking aggressively.
Calamity Brook Trail
The hike to Lake Colden along the Calamity Brook involves 1,000 feet of elevation gain over 5 miles or so. If you'll recall that means a drop in temperature of how much? That's right, 3.3 degrees. 3.3 degrees is really significant this time of year because we're right around the freezing point. That means the snow is getting steadily deeper as I walk. The sandals provide no traction whatsoever so I am falling on my ass constantly. I need a cartoony "whoopwhoopwhoopwhoop" sound playing in the background as my feet are a constant blur of slipping and sliding. I'm wearing sandals with soaking wet thin wool socks, so my feet are mighty cold. Never numb, but chilly. I catch up to a couple hiking. The girls says, "aren't your feet cold?" I answer plainly, "yes" and continue on my way.
You might be thinking right now, "why on earth would you be wearing sandals with socks in conditions like this"? I'm not sure I can answer that to satisfaction, but I can try. If I were wearing boots they would be soaking wet. Permanently. There is a huge benefit to wearing footwear that dries off instantly. The more conditions I can use the sandals the better. So I'm testing the limits. And my feet held up totally fine, except that they felt cold. Not numb, not frostbitten, just cold.
A second reason is that I have worked really hard over the last few years to condition my feet to the point they are at now. They are the reason I can go on joyous adventures. They are like my children who I have raised, and now that they have matured I want to take them out into the world and show them around. Take them to Disney World if you will. Take them places they would never experience if they were not as strong as they are.
Thirdly, my A-game footware is my minimalist running shoes, significantly less shoe than sneakers. I had not foreseen hiking through this much snow and I have to get over Mount Marcy. Any kind of plan B probably involves a longer hike, or bailing out to Heart Lake and hitching a ride back to my car. Or perhaps hiking something that will be as bad or worse than Marcy, for example Haystack, which involves two separate peaks, which might be twice as bad as one. Marcy is just a single up-and-over. Therefore I'm committed to attempting Mount Marcy. It's going to be rough I know, and for that reason my best shoes and socks are staying in my pack for as long as possible because when I approach Marcy I'm going to start fresh and give it everything I've got. I figure that as long as I can get to the peak of Marcy, it will be a quick scurry down the other side. I will turn back as soon as it seems like it's too much and head to Heart Lake, but until that time there will be no hesitating. Let's do this.
It's 11am. I am wrapped in my sleeping bag at a lean-to in Flowed Lands, working on warming my feet.
I need a vessel of infinite warmth, and just such a vessel I have found. I quickly master the art of transferring heat from my nuts to my feet, using my hands as a go-between. I rest up and get thoroughly warm. I finish eating my sub, drink all my water, and when an hour has passed, I don my battle gear: wool socks wrapped in cut up EMS shopping bags (EMS shopping bags work incredibly well for this purpose, I've tried many types of bag and there's just nothing like these), in my loosely tied shoes. Wool long underwear and thin hiking pants. Wool t-shirt, medium weight wool sweater, and superlight hooded windbreaker. Heavy wool hat and ski gloves. In my pack I have an extra polypropylene shirt and my down jacket just in case, although I won't end up using these for this leg of the trip. I drop a few iodine tablets into my empty water bottle so I won't have to fuss with it later.
I boogie to the bridge at the south end of Lake Colden where I fill up my liter water bottle. The walk along the Uphill Brook to the Uphill Lean-to is spectacular. It's a fairly steep hike with tall waterfalls to the left for the entire way. A perfect place for a cold shower in a warmer season. I stop and talk to a group of hikers on their way down. We're all shocked by the foot-deep snow we are traipsing through. None of us expected it to be like this. They asked me where I came from and I told them the Seward trailhead. They said, "I have no idea where that is". I wish I asked them which direction they came from so I know when I should diverge from their tracks, but I don't think of it until it's too late. I pass by a cairn, I'm not sure if it was marking the route up to Cliff or Redfield. With my eyes pointed at the ground, I blindly follow the tracks of the previous group. The intersection with the trail to the Feldspar lean-to blows right by without my noticing. At this point it is just dumb luck that the footprints I'm following take me where I need to go. It crossed my mind that if I happen to be going the wrong way, I'll take it as a sign that I should be going around Marcy, not over it.
Not surprisingly, it's slow going. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. Maybe a little too much. I start using a new mantra. "Go quickly but without haste". I really don't want to wear myself out or cause some major blowout like an injury or a heart attack. I take an occasional break on the ascent. I am relieved to see Lake Tear of the Clouds and the cairn marking the Gray Peak trailhead. A really cool spiral has been drawn in moss on a nearby boulder. Clever vandals. I know it's not far now to Four Corners where the official hike up Mount Marcy begins. I pass a group of confident hikers, well equipped dudes. Heavy mountaineering boots, microspikes, hiking poles, and big burly backpacks contrasts with my little daypack. They just hiked Skylight and will now hike Gray and stay in the Feldspar Lean-to for the night. They express concerns that if it snows much more they will need snowshoes. Shortly after I arrive at Four Corners. So far so good.
This is the test, the fate of the trip rests on the next hour or so. The snow here is maybe a foot-and-a-half deep. A small bit of climbing is required to get up some big round bouldery sections. Grabbing fistfulls of bush is a huge help, but probably a bit of an ADK no-no. The traction on my little shoes is astounding, they stick to the snowy ground like glue. For the first half, I'm surrounded by shrinking trees. I finally pop out into a windswept desert. Gigantic cairns clearly mark the way up the steep rocky slope. I scramble up mostly bare rock, whenever possible avoiding icy spots and snow drifts of potentially infinite depths. Amazingly the trail, marked with yellow stripes, is largely visible most of the way to the top. It is a fairly easy climb. Once at the top I am getting creamed with stinging blizzard wind. Snowflakes. Ha. They are moving so ferociously with the wind that they stretch out into long needles like stars in hyperspace. Walking forward with the wind is tolerable, but on occasion when I have to turn around and double back, the snowneedles want to tear off my face, you'd think I just opened the Ark of the Covenant.
Why not hang out a while and enjoy the view? Ha, screw that I gotta get off this crazy peak as quickly as possible. I spent a few seconds looking for the peak marker, but quickly give up and start taking a few steps downward. It's nearly impossible to tell which way to go. Visibility is maybe 20 or 30 feet and this side of the mountain is all snow drifts anywhere from a foot deep to waist-deep. A group of hikers approaches. We trade a few quick words, one guy rubs it in what a great idea it was to bring goggles on this trip. I am thrilled because I should be able to follow their tracks quickly off the mountain. My elation is very short-lived, however. I immediately realize that the tracks are getting completely buried seconds after they are made. Damn, I'm on my own here. I wander along and come across a signpost saying "leave rocks here" so I know I'm on the path. Further along I come across a large cairn. Excellent. I put my hand on the cairn and look around for the next one. I look all around and realize that I can't see anything but white. Forget the next cairn, I'm starting to lose all sense of direction! I start walking forward. I gotta get off this peak NOW! I walk 50 feet down the side of the mountain despite the fact that I see no indication that I'm going the right way. I'm ready to keep going when suddenly I stop dead in my tracks remembering the fate of this guy who did exactly that and ended up spending a long night on top of this very mountain. When I heard the story I talked a lot of smack about how stupid it was to just wander down the side of the mountain. But in this moment I was standing squarely in his shoes, and knowing his story may very well be the only reason I didn't repeat his mistake. As I paused there I felt his shadow pass through my body on down the slope. Every instinct in my body is screaming to just go, get off the mountain. But no, I need to back track and search around and find the real trail. I do so and pick a different direction, and eventually find the next cairn, and the next. I have to repeat the backtracking process a few times but eventually find the exit. As soon as I'm below the treeline I am reasonably safe. Yes my feet are a bit chilly as I bound down through two feet of snow, but at least I'm through the dangerous part. I have travelled this section of trail a dozen times in the summertime and know it like the back of my hand, yet with the snow cover it is completely foreign. It is usually an easy stretch, much like climbing down a staircase of rocks. However, with the rocks covered in snow, I can't use the staircase to any advantage. Instead the rocks are obstacles making for difficult travel.
Partway down the mountain I come across footprints. A group of people had walked up most of the way but turned back. Tracks make going easier, and provide some comfort that I am not alone out here. I find my way to Slant Rock, and follow the long and confusing trail to Slant Rock lean-to.
Sleeping Bag Odyssey
I start sweeping snow out of the shelter, then I stop and assess my situation. I'm at 3500 feet of elevation which is still pretty darned high. The wind is howling, it is super cold, and snow is dumping. It is now 5pm and the sun will soon set after which the temperature will drop significantly. I know that if I travel another 2 miles the weather will be significantly gentler and will make for a much better place to rest. However, I'm in rough shape. There's a chance the next lean-to will be occupied. Here I have an available lean-to that will provide the shelter I need to survive the night. The problem is the timing. Once I get in the sleeping bag, there is no getting out until I'm ready to hike again. I am just not equipped for standing around even for a few minutes. I have decided that I don't want to take any chances with hiking in the cold dark. This means that staying at this lean-to is a commitment to lay here for the next 14 hours. Rather than face the next few miles with cold wet feet, I pull out the sleeping bag and cocoon up. I spend the next 14 hours like this, with my nose poking out of a tennis-ball-size hole in the top of the sleeping bag. I only step out twice to pee.
My water bottle is half ice. It is the only thing I have to drink, and I'd rather dehydrate than get myself cold and wet again by wandering through the snow to get more water. I stick the icy bottle into the sleeping bag with me. I'm now back to my mantra, "be the fire". I wear my winter cap and down jacket. I put the icy water bottle in the jacket and let it thaw for a few hours while I doze. Noticing that my upper body is warm but my feet and legs are cold, once the water has thawed I take off my down jacket and stick my legs down the arm holes and soon everything is toasty warm.
I'm getting a strong sense of commodities that are plentiful and commodities that are in short supply. Inside the sleeping bag I have a surplus of warmth and dryness. On the other hand I have accrued some debt in the wet sock department. Dry socks are my lifeline. One pair of dry socks is enough to get me through a good 6 hours of hiking before I need to take a sleeping bag break. I have one pair of dry socks in my bag, but I don't want to use them. When all else fails, it might save my life having one extra pair of socks to get me through another 6 hours of hiking. I wonder as I lay there if there is a way to convert my body heat into dry socks? I reach out and fetch my wool socks. They were soaking wet, and are now frozen solidly into shape. I put my warm hand in the sock. It slowly softens as my hand freezes. When my hand gets too cold I put the other hand in the sock and the cold hand on my nuts. I swap back and forth a few times until the sock becomes wet but warm, then take a nap with the sock on my hand. I sleep exactly one hour at a time and each time I wake up I start a new project. I put the sock on my foot and start with the other one. I put that wet sock on the other foot. I fan out my arms and legs, filling up the sleeping bag with cold air then pull everything back in again to get the humid air out. Throughout the night while I'm drying my clothes, I regularly use the sleeping bag like a bellows in this way. I imagine a plume of steam rising out of the small hole in the top of the sleeping bag as I work my drying factory.
At two a.m. I hear strange sounds, like someone talking through a megaphone in the distance. With the howling wind it's hard to tell what I'm hearing. I hear it again, and this time I perk up and stick my head out of the sleeping bag after which I hear nothing more. I say to myself, "no worries, you're hallucinating, go back to sleep".
Throughout the night I snack on a big hummus burrito. With only a few hours left of my 14-hour sentence, I try to dry my frozen gloves. They are very wet, and are by no means completely dry by the time the sun comes up. As they thaw I am oderiferously reminded that the last time I used these gloves was for ice fishing. Warm steaming fish odor fills my 1x8' home, but at least the gloves are a little more comfortable.
Johns Brook Trail
With the sun up I quickly gather my things and head down the trail. I stick my pb&j in my pocket along with a few other snacks. On the trail, I am shocked to find very fresh tracks. As strange as this sounds, the tracks clearly state a visible hopelessness. One set of footprints pounds directly through the deepest water holes, each footstep pressing onward with no regard to keeping warm or dry or any other kind of sensibility. The tracks make easy going for me. Not only is the snow packed down nicely, but I can clearly distinguish dry footprints vs. wet footprints so I know exactly where I can safely step without getting wet. Pretty much all Adirondack trails are so well-traveled that they make a small rut that acts as a stream for water to flow downhill. All of these trails act as streams so there is generally a steady flow of water everywhere you want to step. Avoiding stepping in water is generally impossible, so these tracks are a huge help.
I make amazing time trotting along to Bushnell Falls. I feel well rested, dry, and all-around fantastic, smiling from ear-to-ear. The trail passes directly through the lean-to there where a group of friendly Québécois are just waking up and are too busy boiling water and various other duties to hear me on my first hello. I say it louder and they turn around and say "you're too early, the coffee's not ready yet". We have a good long chat. At 2am a group of people passed through, soaking wet, and had a *very* long hike ahead of them. After reaching the parking area, 5 miles or so away, they had to continue on past Keene Valley to Keene proper. The voices I heard in the night weren't hallucinations after all. The Québécois were the tracks that had hiked most of the way up Marcy before turning back. They asked me where I came from, and I told them the Seward trailhead. They said I don't know where that is, but they turned to each other and deliberated in French for a while, when finally the woman said, "you came from the Seward range?". They marvelled at my tiny backpack and asked, "you fit a sleeping bag in there rated for these temperatures"? They looked at my shoes and said, "Wait, you're hiking in those? Do those have any traction? Did you say you're heading towards Marcy or coming from Marcy?".
I half jogged down to John's Brook Lodge where I took a bit of pleasure in sitting on a man-made bench before continuing along. The sun was shining brightly and it was a beautiful morning. I jogged and jogged with my eyes staring at the ground. In one moment I blinked my eyes and noticed that there was no snow on the trail. I looked around. There is no snow anywhere! Holy S, in the span of merely 3 hours I traveled from arctic tundra to a pleasant autumn morning! Unbelievable!
Soon I was at the Garden parking lot. I signed out, and dropped my bag next to the port-a-potty. There were no signs of bad weather when I stepped inside. However as I sat there it started raining heavily outside. I stepped out, picked up my bag, and started jogging down the road. It got pretty steep so I went with it and ran a bit faster. Then I got a bit of a sore feeling in my shin, my first and only malaise of the trip. For the next few hours, I walked carefully to the Giant Mountain Ridge trailhead where my car was waiting for me. I was surprised to find that the walk along 73 was amazing. It followed the climbing cliffs along the left side of the road, and then Chapel Pond on the right, all places worth checking out to be sure. A car pulled up on the side of the road and a woman hopped out up ahead. She walked over to a sign and stared at it for a while. She came up to me and asked, "this trail goes to Cascade right?" I looked at the sign. It read something like, "Giant Mountain via ?? Trail". I told her no definitely not, and showed her the map and pointed her in the right direction. She went back to the car and speeded away in the wrong direction.
I was psyched to finally reach the car. Thanks to RandomScoots I could simply drive straight home, no need to drive a few extra hours to pick up a bicycle at the Seward trailhead. I drove home and stopped at Druthers in Saratoga along the way. Yum! Now I'm home and super psyched to have had a wildly successful Tarzan Weekend. Hopefully this satisfied my craving for adventure for a while, youch!