The plan was in place. Allen Mountain. Hike 6.5 miles to the base, pitch a tent, eat, and get a good night's rest. Wake up, hike 1.5 miles to the top, hike back down, carry packs back to the car. What could possibly go wrong?
T arrives at my house. We fall asleep during the first half of the 3rd installment of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Return of the King, the 4-hour+ extended version.
Woke up. As if I weren't naturally excitable and unstable enough already, we french pressed a strong coffee brew and drank it down with some muesli. We packed up the car, bought batteries, Clif bars, pipe tobacco and Clint Eastwood cigarillos, and headed North. We stopped at Oscar's Smokehouse on the way and had them band saw a few salted & smoked pork chops for us, and bag it with some beef sticks and chocolate-covered bacon. Trail mix.
Arriving at MacIntyre's Furnace, we hit the trail from the parking lot trailhead at 11:00am. The bridge over the Mighty Hudson was out, and looked like it had been for a long time. We had to ford the river by snowshoe rock-hopping. Next, we made the precarious walk over Lake Jimmy. Someone had reportedly fallen through the ice here recently, but that could never happen to us because we are all hepped up on coffee. After we cross the lake, we noticed there was an alternative route that went a short way around the lake. Whoops we should have taken that. We hike past some old buildings, and past Lake Sally. While we hike, I am taking careful note of our exact location at all times. We don't have the luxury of a GPS, and I am worried that the trail will not be well-marked, not to mention that there will be some turn-offs along the way. As it turns out, the trail was well broken, and it was a simple lemming walk all the way to the top of Allen (actually we didn't quite make it to the top, stay tuned to learn why). During the next section, I got confused as to our exact whereabouts along the trail, but we just kept walking and soon enough we reached the turnoff towards Allen. As we hike, I realize that we might have a fullish moon tonight. My coffee mind starts churning. The sky is perfectly clear, and the weather forecast says that it's only going to get nicer as time goes by. The hike from our campsite to the peak is a mere 1.5 miles. How awesome would it be to stand on the top of a high peak in the wee hours of the night with a full moon lighting our way? Pretty awesome. "However", I tell myself, "this is supposed to be a mild and pleasant introduction to winter camping for T-Bone. Promise yourself. Do NOT bring it up, just stick with the original plan". We walked on flat terrain for a while, up a hill, down a hill.
During a break, I turn to T and say offhandedly, "Say, I think it's supposed to be a full moon tonight. The sky is perfectly clear. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?". (Technically, I didn't actually suggest anything, you see how I'm getting around my original promise to myself?) T replies, "uhhhmmmm... Teen Wolf"? He has no idea what I'm plotting, and I promised not to bring it up so I don't say another word.
We continue hiking and cross two streambeds. I had read online that "most overnighters camp just after the Skylight Brook crossing". Right after the crossing, we find a nice little clearing, just like the internet said. The clearing breaks all the rules - too close to the trail, too close to the water, but whatever, it sure beats trying to camp in the freaking mountainous forest. We diligently stamp down the entire area with our snowshoes, pitch the tent, and collect firewood. We happen to be staying directly on the border of the Wilderness Boundary (in which campfires are prohibited), so I figure it's like tennis. As long as the ball lands on the line, it lands in our favor. Campfire it is. We boil up a bunch of water and cook cous cous with a flavored tuna packet for dinner. The fire gradually melts its way into the snow until it's in a 4 foot hole and is basically smothered because it can't get any air. T is getting very cold (and frankly hasn't put on any warm clothes). If you have ever been camping with T, you know that he takes his fires very seriously, so he sets to work digging out the entire area (!!!) by kicking the snow away.
After an hour or so of arduous labor, T is revved up, toasty warm, and ready for action, and we have a veritable resort carved into the ground replete with 360 degree snow benches wrapped all the way around the icy fire pit. The full moon rests atop Allen Mountain, shining bright like a big sign that reads, "this way!". I mention the possibility of hiking Allen tonight, and T says, "let's do it!".
We pack up our stuff: extra lights, extra batteries, food, water, map, compass, warm clothes, matches, etc. T moleskins his heels to protect them from developing blisters. Yodelayheehoo up the steep hill, following the Allen Brook. We are moving quickly along the obvious trail, when suddenly a startled pheasant sitting quietly in the snow next to the trail gets scared half to death by our presence and cacophonously flaps past my head and away down the mountainside. I let out a loud shriek, and take a giant leap backwards. Later, on our way back down, we repeat the encounter with the very same bird, shriek and all.
I mention to T that I read a trip report where someone described the Allen slide as the longest 1/2 mile ever. T says, "what is that supposed to mean? This isn't so bad". I just tell him I'm not sure. Usually words like these lead you to their meaning eventually. We reach the slide. It's a bitch. It couldn't possibly be any steeper. In fact, it's too steep to stop and take a comfortable rest, and there are absolutely no handholds for 50 yards at a time. The temperature has dropped significantly, and the chill wind is blowing our way. The snowshoe path is perfectly packed down and smooth. The last group to travel the path descended via butt slide, leaving behind the bottom half of a long snow pipe. It was impossible to get any traction on this curiously smooth surface, so we really struggled our way up the hill. At times it was easier avoid the path altogether, and instead break trail alongside it. In the distance up the hill, I could see a lone tree. I used various tricks to slowly and patiently work my way up the mountain one slow step at a time, easily taking 3 failed steps for every successful one. I arrive at the tree, take a seat and check the time. It's midnight. I soak in the absolutely gargantuan view of the world. A pale glow traces the horizon line. The bright stars and full moon overhead illuminate the snow-covered mountainous landscape in it's glorious entirety.
Down below, T is having a rough time of the slide. His sweater is covered in snow, he is not making significant progress with each step. "What the &@#$?! This is &@#$'ing stupid! This is &@#$'ing ridiculous! Why do they allow the trail to be this way? They shouldn't let people butt slide down the trail! I can't get any traction! I can't make it up there". He was clearly at his absolute limit, and really frustrated. I mistakenly assume that he is hotter than hell and sweating profusely, one of the last in a long series of my mischaracterizations of T's situation. He eventually joins me at the Great White Tree. The moonlight reflecting off his face looks hideously colorless. He says, "Stookey I am FREEZING". Freezing?! Jesus, something is not right at all. He says we should go back, and I wholeheartedly agree. We gotta get back to the car ASAP. Unfortunately, from where we stand in our current state, "as soon as possible" is 16 hours. T is cold and talking irrationally. He mentions that he's stumbling a lot and slurring words a bit. He is definitely in the early stages of hypothermia, and we have a decent hike back to camp, not to mention a long cold night ahead of us. We butt slide down a lot of the hill more carefully than usual, and quickly T's spirits are back up. He's doing alright, and we make it back to camp. We stoke up a nice fire and sit around for a while drinking warm liquids before heading to bed. T gets the warm sleeping bag tonight.
T and I shiver our way to morning. We get up, make a fire, and spend 2 hours getting ready and packing up. Man, every little task while winter camping takes forever. We make quick work (4 hours or so) of the 6.5 mile trek back to the car. I started struggling at one point along the way. T kindly transfers some of the stuff in my pack to his, after which the hike was much better. The sun on our faces feels great. The views of the looming mountains are mood-lifting from deep in the valley. This could have been a great day to hike Allen if we didn't screw it up by playing invincible the night before. I am ashamed of myself for my failure to reel in my risky impulses. Luck was on our side last night - we were merely grazed by serious trouble.
The Ride Home
Starving and delirious on the drive home, we stopped at a zero-star restaurant in a small town along the Northway. The town, incidentally, has an exit from 87 but no on-ramp for reentry. You can visit, but you can never leave. We enter the restaurant and walk past the obnoxious toothless bearded local clientel, loudly expressing their unwelcome for tourist hikers like us. We take a seat next to the gas fireplace and study the mispelled menu. The best thing on it is frozen patty burgers. This could be our first major crisis of the trip: a potentially unsatisfactory dinner threatens to spoil an otherwise perfect couple of days.
We agreed to order a small bit of chili so as not to be rude and tide us over until we reach Saratoga for an actual meal. The look on the waitress' face revealed that we did not fool her. She could tell we were starving, yet we were not really eating. We finished our snack, and drove into Saratoga. After politely u-turning out of a sportcoats-only type of establishment, we hit up the Circus Cafe. These were seriously the best burgers ever. For a beer choice, I highly recommend the Circus Boy (Magic Hat Hefeweizen), but be sure to ask for a tall Hefeweizen glass.
Home At Last
We arrive at my house and finish watching Return of the King, all too happy to be in my house next to the remote control-operated fireplace watching a pair of foolhardy Hobbits in their deadly struggle up Mount Doom. Barefoot? Up a mountain dripping with lava? Seriously? Talk about two unprepared idiots!
This morning I cross-country skied at the Vischer Ferry Preserve in Clifton Park. It is a very friendly place to ski, with lots of long, straight trails, perfectly flat as it shoulders the Mohawk River. We had our first real snowfall of the season (in March!) so I just had to make a token effort to get out at least once. It was a beautiful winter morning.
I wandered down a dead-end trail or two.
While skiing along a main trail, a group of deer tracks crossed my path. Deciding to follow them, I wasn't sure which direction to go. I paused and took a long look at them, noticing that I could probably head in the direction that the two toes pointed. I followed the tracks into the woods. The tracks meandered over logs and under brush, and eventually sniffed around a swampy water's edge, seemingly searching for something.
My first thought was that they must be seeking drinking water. In fact, it looks like they were searching for a convenient place to cross over to the other side of the swamp.
After following the tracks a while longer, I came to place where the deer successfully forded a major section of swamp. Not the nicest place to ski, but screw it. I've skied worse. Actually, that is a lie. This is the ugliest 10 feet of skiing I have ever done.
After the mucky ford, I knew I was headed in the right direction. The approaching tracks were clean, the departing tracks were covered in mud. I am getting closer.
Before long, fleeing deer appeared on all sides of my vision's periphery, leaving me no chance to fumble my camera into action. I made chase. It was easy to distinguish the new frantic tracks from the old moseying ones. The new tracks kicked up mud with footholes at steep angles as the deer banked left and right, leaving leaping gaps of 10 feet or more between groups of footfalls.
I followed tracks in every direction, criss-crossing back and forth over all kinds of tracks including my own.
I crossed over my own path one too many times and gave up, letting the deer enjoy their victorious escape. Amazingly, I picked a direction and headed straight, and before long magically found the spot where I had originally diverted from the main path. I returned to the car and called it a morning.
I just woke up from a dream:
We were in a large homey apartment in NYC, or perhaps some foreign city. I went to the cupboard and grabbed a berry pint of "puffballs". There were a dozen or so people in the room including Herb, O, CR, and B. Carro. Each puffball was the size and shape of a small ice cream cone, the cone having a meringeuy interior and an almost tree barky exterior (like the stem of a mushroom that grew out of a tree) with a sugary coating not unlike that of frosted flakes. The round ball top of the ice cream cone was almost a bit doughey, like the giant puffball, and transitioned gradually into the meringuey cone. I pulled out the pint and offered them to the dozen or so people in the room.
Everybody took one, in fact there weren't enough so we had to split a few of them to go around. All agreed that they were delicious.
In the next moment, we had gone out to a Korea Townish area of the city, in fact at this point we could have been in an actual Asian city. Herb was leading us around to have us try different things. First, a few of us bought and shared a bag of large individually-wrapped Doritos, like maybe you were supposed to have just one (as if you could). Underneath red neon words stood the puffball ice cream cone counter. Ambient music surrounded the neon-pierced darkness and set the mood, a simple happy looping high-pitched electronic Asian ditty:
Nearly 1,000 acres of land surrounds the Colonie Reservoir (also known as the Stony Creek Reservoir). The reservoir serves as a backup water supply for the town of Colonie. Clifton Park was in negotiations with Colonie in 2009 to purchase the area, although it doesn't appear that any deal was made. When looking at satellite imagery of Clifton Park, the area stands out as Clifton Park's largest body of water and one of the largest areas of undeveloped land. Currently any recreational use of the land including hiking, kayaking, (etc.) is prohibited. It is unfortunate that this area is unused (as far as I can tell) and remains off-limits, when it has so much to offer.
It certainly begs the question, why is it off-limits?
I read that some states have laws against people visiting water that is used for drinking, for fear of contamination. Perhaps that could be why it is so aggressively posted. However, it seems odd because the Stony Creek runs through multiple golf courses just upstream of the reservoir, and the garbage dump (or "transfer station" as it is more gently known) is basically directly on top of the reservoir. The dump is the large grassy mound, clearly visible in the upper left corner of the reservoir in the above satellite image.
I hiked along the Plotter Kill, a small creek in Rotterdam that flows in the bottom of a very tall and steep ravine.
The ravine formed only 10,000 years ago as the area emerged from the ice age. I started at the Rotterdam Kiwanis Park (I highly recommend starting at the Plotter Kill Nature Preserve parking lot instead to avoid certain obstacles).
The trek involved going under a train track and the NYS thruway through tunnels. Fortunately the water level was low enough to allow reasonably easy passage. Two options were available for underpassing the train tracks.
The first set of tunnels lead to Drago's Cove, from which three tunnels bypass the Thruway traffic.
After the tunnels it was a relief to find a trail. There is a really nice loop trail that runs along the edge of both sides of the ravine covering several long miles.
I never saw them, but the park is home to several large waterfalls. I only managed to see some nice smaller ones along the way up the ravine.
Steep ravine walls and interesting rocky overhangs loomed overhead as I walked.
Frozen trickles collect into large ice sculptures.
Best not to look down while scrambling out of the ravine.
After a few hours of hiking, I followed a trail back into the ravine and across the creek and up the other side along a power line access road. The rough road was taking me in the wrong direction, but thankfully eventually crossed paths with the South Rim Trail, which I could take back to Drago's Cove.
The powerline access roads could provide miles and miles of walking, but not today.
The powerlines make for an ideal place to put a trail marker.
The ground was clear of ice and snow, except for the trail. Previous hikers packed the snow into a slippery Iceman wake. At one point as I walked, my feet slipped out from under me over the edge of a steep hill. I suddenly found myself butt-sliding down a hill for 15 feet or so before stopping my decent. Whoopsie!
A less than ideal tree bridge over the creek...
...gets me to the side I need to be on.
I work my way back through the tunnels to where the Plotter Kill confluences with the Mohawk River.
Nearby the Autumn Tree displays it's name gruesomely carved into it's severed thumb.
Did you know...?!
Saratoga Springs is home to the only active spouting geysers east of the Missisippi. As soon as I heard the news I had to go and see it with my own eyes. It is totally awesome, if you're into that kind of thing. The geyser water is safe to drink, too, but it tastes just awful. But it's good for you. It's minerally. Oh yeah, and it's naturally sparkling, too!
Click on the map for an interactive version:
On my way from the parking lot to Geyser Creek, I unexpectedly found myself in a familiar place. Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) - I haven't been here since Lallapalooza '92. It looks a lot smaller without Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and a million excited fans.
Back in '92 there was a big hole in the fence through which a mass of 10 ticketless gypsies were hoping to sneak into the concert. Despite having legitimately paid to get into the show, I recall getting too close to the hole and security came by and pushed me through it, turning me into a gypsy for a few short minutes. We gypsies agreed that if all of us ran at once through the hole past the guards and into the crowd, we wouldn't get caught. I led the charge and never looked back. Until now, that is. They have since closed the hole.
After arriving at Geyser Creek, I soon discovered that Kayaking down this beast to the Kayaderosseras Creek might be nearly impossible on account of the swampy mess in between. "Nearly impossible" pretty much means it's possible, right? Anyway, note to self:
Don't go down this hole near the northwest end of the park:
Otherwise you will have this to deal with on the other end:
A short distance down the path is huge tufa mound made up of mineral deposits from Orenda Spring. It was impossible to get a good picture that shows the size, so I guess you'll just have to go and see it for yourself. It's like a little piece of Yellowstone National Park right here in Upstate NY.
At the source of the spring is a nice spot where you can fill up a water bottle with the naturally carbonated stinky water.
Further down the trail is Island Spouter (also seen in the first picture at the top of this page).
I proceeded further along the creek. I came across ping pong balls that had washed up on both sides of the creek, three total. It seems like there is some kind of ping pong ball mystery to solve.
Beavers in the area are busy whittling down trees.
The beavers kindly built a bridge for me to cross a small tributary.
There is a long section of hiking that is getting censored from this entry. It was really rough going through a big boggy marsh. Eventually I cursed and crashed and splashed through to the other side and reached the Kayaderosseras.
After arriving at the main creek I popped out of the woods at Driscoll Road and made my way back to the car via busy roadways having seen enough of the wilderness for one day.
I explored a section of the Cooley Kill, a creek too small for kayaking.
I started out on a tributary of the Cooley Kill. Most of the first section was frozen over.
Ice bridges allowed for precarious stream crossings.
When the creek met with the Cooley Kill, the water was no longer icy, begging the question, why is the one creek frozen and the other is not?
I headed upstream in search of the answer.
The stream eventually disappeared into a pipe.
A long pipe.
Eventually I worked my way around through the Van Patten Golf Course where several small ponds perforate the Cooley Kill. The way I see it, the water is warmer because the ponds serve as large insulated storage chambers. Perhaps the nutrient-rich runoff from the fertilized golf course gives rise to biologic activity which would then generate additional warmth.
Cross-country ski tracks indicate that I'm not alone using the golf course for recreational purposes.
People were sledding down a long hill.
I reached a small confluence and chose to leave the Cooley Kill and follow the tributary.
The tributary quickly lead to a small pond.
I followed 20 turkeys as they scampered away. After they tired of my game, one-by-one the birds reluctantly spread their wings and hauled their large mass high up into the trees, perched for a moment, then flew off.
As the stream diminished it's way out of the pond-strewn golf course, the surface became solid ice again.
I tried to find the stream again, but by now it was very small and surrounded by homes. On my way back to the car I came across the Long Kill, and started following it through a Jonesville Cemetery.
Parts of the creek were freshly eroded, reminding me of Irene's recent impact on the area.
Jumbles of logs ward off would-be kayakers.
On the way home, I found Wonder Woman missing a leg. I thought she was pretty much invincible, but I guess not.
It doesn't seem right.
I picked up a used food processor and spent the day trying some different recipes for Pâté, Borscht, Potato Pancakes, and Sorbet. The Pâté and Potato Pancakes came out absolutely delicious. The other recipes were not bad, but could use a little refinement.
Chicken Liver Pâté with Caviar
The Chicken Liver Pâté was made using a recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Food Processor Cookbook. A tub of chicken livers was cooked with a diced onion at high temperature in a small amount of butter.
The cooked liver and onion was processed smooth with butter, mayo, mustard, lemon juice, hot sauce, salt, and pepper, then terrined with caviar and chilled. The result was delicious. I'm not sure I would do it any differently if I were to make it again.
The Borscht recipes I found called for using a lot of meat. The best Borscht I have ever eaten was made by the nice folks at Muza in Troy, NY. It was absolutely spectacular, and did not have meat in it as I recall. I took several liberties with the recipes and tried to make it without most of the meat. The flavor ended up lacking a little bit, but the result was not too bad.
Beets and other vegetables were simmered with beef marrow bones and herbs.
The stock was then boiled with cabbage, onion, and another beet with salt, pepper, tomato paste, and a small amount of white wine vinegar.
The Potato Pancakes were made using a recipe from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. The potatoes were shredded in the food processor, squeezed dry, and mixed with beaten eggs, onion, flour, salt, and pepper.
The mixture was dolloped into a bit of oil, flattened with a spatula, and flipped before they were served with apple sauce and sour cream.
Strawberry, Banana, Kiwi Sorbet
The sorbet was made using winter fruits from the supermarket.
The fruits were puréed and frozen in a shallow pan.
Once frozen, the fruit was again processed and re-frozen.
The winter strawberries and kiwis were not very flavorful. It would have been better with perfect summer fruits. The sorbet was a bit ice-crystally. Perhaps using an ice-cream maker to chill the fruit would do a better job of making a smooth sorbet.