Today we made our fifth attempt at hiking the three Adirondack high peaks in the Santanoni Range: Couchsachraga, Santanoni Peak, and Panther Peak. Each of our previous unsuccessful attempts have increased the importance of this event on our lives. It has been built up to such a point that if we were to die without completing this goal, the unresolved earthly conflict might well be enough to tether our spirit to the material world forever. We must complete these peaks.
The four preceding trips went as follows:
1) I was absent for the first trip, but apparently mud season had a strong impact on the trail to Bradley Pond. After a brutal hike to the lean-to through miles of shoe-stealing mud holes the party spent the night and cut the trip short mucking their way back to the car.
2) Our second attempt was made during what was popularly known in New York State as the weekend of the "Snowicane", February 2010. We were breaking trail through waist-deep snow, travelling at a pace of one mile every two hours. After we reached the main intersection between the peaks, we were unable to find any trails under the snow. We gave up as time started running out after falling in one-too-many neck-deep spruce traps.
3) Nobody counts our third try as a failed attempt, but personally I consider it to be our ultimate fail. After waking up late in a motel in Lake Placid, we drove two hours to the trail-head before we sat down and discussed the fact that we would probably be walking out of the woods at three in the morning, at which point we drove 2 hours *back* to Lake Placid to hike some less-impossible peaks. A wise choice at the time, but had we made the choice two hours earlier we could have avoided four hours of senseless driving.
4) This winter, we made a morale-crushing hike to the lean-to during a cold weekend that was only getting colder. One party member fell through some ice and soaked a foot. The usual water-spot near the lean-to was frozen solid. Eventually we hiked back to the hole in the ice that had gotten our foot wet and after treating the water it tasted like dead fish. It was below zero, and the forecast claimed that the temperatures would continue to drop roughly a degree every hour for the entire duration of our trip. Each of us was coddling one old injury or another, not wanting worsen our respective conditions. After a miserable cold evening we overslept in our cozy sleeping bags. In the morning we made the difficult decision to bail out and return another day.
H picked up a big sandwich grabbed some dinner before arriving at my house. He offered me half of the sandwich, and I happily agreed. I tucked him in with the first installment of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy: The Fellowship of the Ring and went to bed. After a blink of an eye, the alarm clock went off at 4:10am. I packed a few last items including my sandwich half while H showered. We had breakfast, coffee, and hit the road. On the way we grabbed more coffee at Stewart's. At JQE's, H says, "Oh, no! We forgot the sandwiches". I said, "I remembered mine." Uncomfortable moment. We packed up the car, went to Stewart's again for a fresh sandwich for H, and then were finally were on our North way.
Along the way, JQE says he told his wife she would hear from us by midnight. H says he told his 11:00pm. Over the course of the next 15 hours, we will discover that we are able to complete the peaks, but not within curfew.
We park the truck at the Santanoni trail-head. The parking lot is a muddy mess, which feels like a sign of foreboding for the mud-prone trail ahead. AL drives around in a few circles, searching for a dry spot to park the truck. We gear up, making our final decisions on what to bring and what to leave behind. Me, I'm wearing a wool sweater with light shorts and sneakers. H is ready to move in his zookeeper outfit and headphones. JQE is sporting brightly colored techwick. AL is wearing his scowl, a last remnant of a horrible flu that he has only barely recovered from. If you think he looks sad now, you just wait. Soon he will discover the two liters of Gatorade he put in his Camelback has been steadily making a sticky trail from the kitchen to the back of his truck, into his backpack, through the woods, and is soon to be completely empty leaving him thirsty and sticky-trucked.
The trail ahead is divided up into six dissimilar stages.
Stage 1: The Dirt Road
We are surrounded by an air of single-mindedness that we have not felt on any of our previous trips as we begin to hike down the first section of the trail. The Santanoni Range has wrung us dry through repeated failed attempts and the only way to penetrate the intimidation that we all silently feel will be through sheer determination. We march along an easy dirt road, our contemplation unable to grasp the trip in all of it's parts at once. Considered as a whole, the journey is impossible so instead the focus remains on the current footfall, followed by the next. The long, slow, wet-footed miles through mud, snow, and ice, the precariousness, intimidation, and minor setbacks cannot stand in our way as long as we continue to put one foot in front of the other. Thirty-five minutes into our hike along the road, we arrive at an arrow sign pointing into the woods.
Stage 2: Trail to Bradley Pond
The hike to Bradley Pond has always been a demoralizing affair. On each previous hike, we approached this area expecting it to be easy, but each time several unexpected factors make for a much longer hike than expected. Those factors have included heavy winter backpacks, breaking trail through deep snow, and a punishing elevation change. This time our packs are light and we are expecting the worst. The trail is basically a stream bed partially full of melting snow, so we end up with wet feet after repeated plunging missteps through the weakening snowpack. However, for once our fears are worse than the reality, and we make good time. We arrive at a marshy area that marks the turnoff for the herdpath to Times Square, the intersection between the unmarked trails to each of the three mountains. Ice still covers a shallow pond, and I start walking toward the visible trail on the other side. However, the ice is weak, and my feet break through. It doesn't take more than a few seconds for the snowmelt to chill my feet, but it's no big deal, I was planning to change into wool socks and boots anyway (and pants), just as soon as we get past this predictably wet area. We find an alternative route over the marsh across a small beaver dam that leads us to the start of the next level of difficulty.
Stage 3: Herdpath to Times Square
The next goal is to reach Times Square, a pathetic trail intersection that only sarcastically lives up to it's name. The trail towards Times Square is poorly marked, except by a spine of ice left behind by a winter's worth of previous hikers all repeating the same route. The path regularly oscillates between dry dirt and deep snow, making for a catch-22 in which neither snowshoes nor bareboots are appropriate. The melting ice spine is on the verge of collapse, making every step a carefully planned endeavour. We must break a separate trail any time the ice spine precariously crumbles while trying to walk over flowing water. After gathering water at what might be our last opportunity, AL spends a few extra minutes getting ready while the three of us march on. Before long we hear untragic cries of, "Help! Help!" from below. The sound of a grown man, a friend, calling for help is such an unusual thing to hear. Unaware of what trouble he has gotten himself into, there is a moment while hustling to help when an unworldly feeling arises: a 50/50 mixture between mourning a terrible loss and laughing at a silly situation. AL had fallen through the snow into a very deep hole. H ran over and gave him a solid anchor from which he was able to pull himself out, and a bit of laughter soon ensued. "Get back in there we forgot to take a picture".
We continue up the steep trail, and soon reach a four-corners intersection. We take the most obvious one clearly marked by a crumpled glove. The walk quickly turns treacherous. I am staring at the ground watching my step, my forward vision blocked by the brim of my baseball cap, when a gnarled branch from a weathered tree stabs me right in the face, hard. I cry out, and everyone gathers around. I hear the murmering words "blood", "purple stuff", and "stick might still be lodged in there" from the people around me. All I have to say is, "I'm fine". I don't touch that side of my face again for another twelve hours when I am back home in my bathroom. I figure anything I touch it with is going to make it dirtier not cleaner so I just let it be. We continue along, and the path takes us to a small outcropping from which Panther Peak is visible. We had assumed that this was Times Square on a previous trip which caused us no end of trouble seeking trails that never existed. After a quick look, we were not going to make the same mistake again. With not much snow on the ground, it was clear that this was simply a place to catch a pleasant view otherwise useful only for confounding unsuspecting hikers from finding the all-important Times Square. We returned to the intersection, and someone noticed markings on the trees pointing out the directions to each of the three peaks. At this point as AL put it, it was like a scene in Indiana Jones where he solves the riddle that reveals the entrance to some golden city. For the first time we hold the keys and the three doors stand before us. We just need to walk.
Stage 4: Couchsachraga Peak
Near the main intersection is a small fork in the road with Santanoni heading left and Couchsachraga right. Over the course of five trips to this area, this is the third location I have personally identified as Times Square, each time realizing that I was previously wrong, but this time I'm more confident than ever that this is the place. According to ancient internet lore Couchsachraga is a Native American word meaning, "Dismal Wilderness". Wikipedia says, "There is no marked trail to the summit, which, being fully forested, has no views." It is the longest hike of the three peaks we hope to achieve, so we decide to tackle this one first to get it out of the way. We can see it off in the distance. It is significantly lower in elevation than Times Square, so we are actually descending to reach this peak. In fact, this is the lowest of the 46 official High Peaks. The High Peaks are the 46 mountains higher than 4000' according to inaccurate measurements taken a long time ago, and this one is lower than 4000' so technically it should never have been included in the list. All of these factors makes the round-trip hike to Couchsachraga long and anticlimactic. We are all happy to have this one behind us with a few photos to remember it by, and even more happy to have completed our first mountain in the Santanoni Range after spending so many days in the general vicinity.
Stage 5: Santanoni Peak
I had a rough time with some icy sections on Couchi, so when we return to Times Square, I strap on crampons. Next we are to tackle Santanoni, the tallest of the three peaks. The trail from here to Santanoni is roughly one mile each way. At this point I find myself in a strange mood. I need to be away from people for a bit. My first wind is running out, and we have an unfathomable distance still to hike. I have grown impatient with stop-and-go travelling. In a group of four people, someone is always needing to pause to change something: warmer clothes, cooler clothes, snowshoes on, snowshoes off, moleskinning blistered feet, or rifling through backpacks to find something. Without saying a word and wearing nothing on my chest but a t-shirt, I take a big swig of water and abandon my backpack with all my warm clothes, water, and food, and take off down the path which winds every which-way but is unusually recognizable. A minute after I start marching, I feel guilty and foolish. Guilty for taking off without saying anything, I am usually a strong proponent of the "stick together" mentality. Foolish for not at least bringing a bit of water and a warm shirt to a high peak a few days after winter's end. However, once I start, there is no stopping me. The trail is a very tall ice spine not much wider than my boot often with steep drops on either side so every occasional misstep means falling into a deep bramble pit. This is my first time using crampons which prove to be amazing for these conditions. With each footstep my foot feels locked to the ice spine. I reach the Santanoni Peak in 40 minutes and head back down. I'm fine at the moment, but it's chilly up here, and I'm going to get cold if I stick around for too long. Before long I see the rest of the crew. Perhaps we are all sharing an impatient mood. We're making amazing time and nobody is prepared for anything: no water or food, but at least they brought some warm clothes. The fact that everyone made the same choice makes me feel less guilty, yet no less foolish. We summit and take a few group pictures.
Alone while waiting for everyone to regroup near Times Square, I hear voices approaching from the wrong direction. It is roughly 6:15pm. Two unfamiliar heads appear above me atop a small rock face. "Wow, I'm suprised to see people right now". "Same here". The couple is staying at the lean-to tonight, and first decided to hike one of the peaks. Bare-kneed, one of them appears to be wearing boxer shorts for pants. I am in no position to judge with a thick column of blood dried to my face and having recently completed a series scold-worthy choices myself.
Stage 6: Panther Peak
We regroup and race up Panther Peak, which is only a fraction of a mile each way. It turns out to be shorter than we expected, something like twelve minutes up and ten minutes down and five minutes to celebrate the completion of the Santanonis. Finally.
It is after 7:00pm. It will be dark before long. Our 11:00 curfew is approaching, and we are all too physically fatigued to even think about calculating how long it will take to repeat the next four stages in reverse. Not that there is anything we can do about it now. Our only job is to get back to the car and not get hurt in the process. Everyone is pretty quiet as we descend the mountain. H and I get a bit ahead of the others. The trail is perfectly laid out before us until we get to a spot just before Bradley Pond. We poke and prod a few different directions sniffing out the trail. We climb and hop down a small cliff believing it to be the trail, but it is not. After climbing back up, we try another direction, but it is no good. Finally we find the right trail. We decide to sit down and wait for the others. We don't want them making the same mistake we did, or worse, heading the wrong way although we are not mature enough to do it without involving a certain amount of mischief. We shut off our headlamps and sit in silence. Before long we can hear AL and JQE in the maze asking all the same questions we did. "Do you see the trail?" "It looks like it goes this way". "No this can't be it". H and I giggle childishly in the dark. One of them eventually starts walking our way, then both of them do. AL notices us, but is too tired to successfully explain our presence to JQE's tired ears. H tries to startle them with a loud screech from his emergency whistle. Everyone laughs in appreciation of our funny joke (false). We return to the main trail, and make a long but speedy march back to the car.
We have not technically reached our curfew of 11:00, but it is 10:45 before we start driving. We are not within range of any cell phone towers, and the wives are probably already worried, and soon to be very worried. As much as we'd like to go go go and get to a coverage-zone, we had to pull over multiple times on account of the nauseuos stomachs of everyone in the wiped-out crew. Finally, we reached coverage, and let everyone know that we are safe. Next stop, McDonald's, followed by JQE's, and then my house. Showers, beds, and sweet sweet dreams. For once and for all, we can rest in peace knowing that this unresolved conflict can no longer trap our spirits forever to haunt the Dismal Wilderness.
The Cohoes Wave just off of Fulton Street in Waterford, NY is a well-known spot for kayaking, because the ruins of man-made features create large standing waves. A standing wave occurs when the underlying structure of the riverbed causes water to quickly rush downstream, leaving a void into which an influx of water is actually rolling back upstream on top of the downstream rush of water. The wave remains stationary, but is otherwise not unlike an ocean wave at the beach. Surfers have long sought places in the world where standing waves form.
I drove down before work and took a look at it. The gauge height according the the USGS conditions report was at 12.25'.
The water seems rough and scary looking, and is probably out of my league (at least on a day like today). 1000' after the wave, a large dam drops off, so one needs to be very careful in a place like this, like maybe by refraining from kayaking here. The following satellite photos show the Cohoes Wave. The image on the right is zoomed out to include the dam after the wave. Click on the images to view an interactive version.
To add to the other dangers, the water itself is some of the more polluted water in the area, so it's really not the first place I would go intentionally dunking my head on a warm summer day.
A video does a better job of capturing the turbulence in the water than a photograph does. The wave is on the right side. You can see the water rolling backwards upstream, forming the standing wave:
* Photos, Video, and Comments about Kayaking the Cohoes Wave from americanwhitewater.org
* Several online discussions about the Cohoes Wave
* Pictures of Kayaking the Cohoes Wave from RPI's Outing Club
* Current USGS Statistics for the area
* Youtube video of surfers on a standing wave in Hawaii
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.