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!