Adirondacks, NY, part 1 of 5, 10/6-7, 2022

Fungi

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A note about this trip report: this is from October, 2022, 14 months ago. I've tried to post this a couple of times, but each time the photos I inserted appeared sideways. I couldn't fix them, so I eventually gave up. For some reason I decided to try again, and now it is working. I think the problem may be our lousy WIFI at home. I'm currently in a hotel, where the WIFI is much better. The bad news is that this is just part 1 of 5, and I'm checking out tomorrow. I'll try to finish posting these reports from home over the next week or so. If that doesn't work, I'll have to finish it in a couple of weeks, when I'm in a hotel again.

Also, this trip report starts with a lot of back story. If you aren't interested in that, skip the first section.


FINALLY, THE DAKS


I had been trying to get to the Adirondacks in upstate New York for years. Christy and I have planned trips there twice over the years. We had to cancel the first one due to an injury. Last Fall we planned a trip to New Hampshire and the Adirondacks. We spent a few days in New Hampshire, but then I got a sinus infection and we were faced with a forecast that called for a week of cold rain. We abandoned those plans, too.

We originally planned to make another attempt this Fall. This time we planned to combine Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park in Maine with the Adirondacks. It was a good plan, but it was not to be. Instead, I found myself planning a trip to the upper Midwest.

At least this time we were abandoning our Adirondack plans for a happy reason. Christy and I have been trying to adopt a newborn for 6 years. When we first started that process we had no idea how difficult, frustrating, and expensive it would be. In the summer of 2019 we got matched up with a birth mother, but that adoption fell through at the last minute. By early 2022 we were convinced that it was never going to happen.

In June of 2022 we finally got THE CALL. A family in Iowa had picked us out of hundreds of applicants, largely because of our passion for outdoor adventure. The birth father, Cam, chose us because he wanted his boy to grow up out in the woods – an opportunity that he never had.

We got to know each other on the phone and through text messages, but they were eager to meet us before the baby came. His due date was in early January, so we only had a few months to get together. We live in North Carolina, and Cedar Rapids is a 14-hour drive. Because I have limited vacation, the only practical time to meet was during our Fall trip. Including a visit to Iowa with a trip to New England and upstate New York didn’t make sense, so we decided to shift gears. I did a lot of research, and we planned a trip to Iowa and northern Minnesota and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We were looking forward to meeting Cam and the birth mother, Tuesday. We were also excited about returning to Michigan and exploring some new territory in Northern Minnesota.

We left for Iowa on Saturday October 1st. We took the scenic route on Saturday, through the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. We did a short hike there to Creation Falls and visited a couple of arches. We spent that night in Lexington, KY. We were leaving town the next morning when Christy found out that her Grandfather had died. What to do? Visiting Cam and Tuesday was our top priority, since rescheduling the trip would’ve been very difficult. We continued the drive to Cedar Rapids and arrived at Palisades-Kepler State Park that evening.

We set up camp, and Tuesday and Cam arrived a bit later. It was great to finally meet them! We made dinner for them, and spent the evening getting to know each other around the campfire. They camped with us that night, but Tuesday had second thoughts about the hammock we’d brought for her. She decided to sleep with Cam in their tent, but they didn’t have air mattresses. That would’ve been uncomfortable for anyone, never mind someone that was 6 months pregnant. Since we were in hammocks, we let them borrow Christy’s air mattress. That helped them have a more comfortable evening.

I made breakfast for everyone that next morning. Later that day, Cam, Christy, and I went mountain biking at Beverly Park. Beverly Park is very hilly, and the mountain biking there is a lot better than you might think. Afterwards we spent a little time in Czech Village / Newbo, and we took them out to dinner at Tuesday’s favorite restaurant in Iowa City that evening.

The funeral for Christy’s grandfather was scheduled for Wednesday & Thursday in Clearfield, PA. We cancelled all of our camping reservations in Minnesota and Michigan and drove directly to Clearfield on Tuesday. During the drive, Christy and I discussed ideas for the rest of our vacation. Going back to Michigan and Minnesota didn’t make sense. We thought about spending a low-key week in West Virginia, but Christy was dealing with Sciatica, and her mobility was extremely limited. Even sleeping in her hammock was uncomfortable. Finally she suggested that I go do something solo while she spent time recuperating and visiting family and friends.

I thought that sounded like the best plan, but where should I go? Hmm, what about…the Adirondacks? Lake Placid is only an 8-hour drive from Clearfield, PA. Sometimes life goes in full circle.

There were some complications though. First of all, I had packed for car camping, dayhiking, and easy backpacking in Minnesota and Michigan. I didn’t have ideal gear for hardcore, lightweight backpacking. My maps of the Adirondacks were at home. So was my bear canister, and bear canisters are required in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, where I wanted to go. I had our 2-person tent in the car, but my solo tent was at home. Alcohol stove? At home, but I had our Jet Boil. Yaktrax? They were at home, too.

Christy suggested that I invite her uncle Larry to join me. Larry and I had backpacked together in Wyoming in July and had enjoyed a great trip. I messaged him and asked him if he was interested in a backpacking trip on short notice. I was delighted when he responded that he was! Even better, he had maps of the Adirondacks and an extra bear canister that I could borrow.


AUSABLE PLAUSIBLE?

The last major thing to do was to plan an actual route. When I planned our original trip, Christy and I were going to car camp and do dayhikes. My priorities were Avalanche Lake, Indian Head above Lower Ausable Lake, and maybe some peak bagging. My initial thought was to come up with a 5-7 day route combining all of those features. That proved to be more difficult than I initially expected. The area surrounding the Ausable Lakes is private property. Some of the trails are open to the public, but camping is not allowed. Backpacking in that area would require careful planning and camping in some inconvenient places. On the other hand, I had limited time and marginal WIFI, so I didn’t have a chance to do much research. Ultimately I came up with the following plan:

Friday 10/7 – Drive from Clearfield, PA to a trailhead on Meadows Lane outside Lake Placid. Backpack to a campsite on the south end of Lake Colden that afternoon.
Saturday 10/8 – Layover, dayhike Mount Colden.
Sunday 10/9 – Backpack from Lake Colden to Panther Gorge, side trip to Mount Skylight.
Monday 10/10 – Backpack from Panther Gorge to the Wardens Camp at Upper Ausable Lake, cross the Ausable River, climb Mount Colvin, and descend to a designated campsite on Gill Brook.
Tuesday 10/11 – Layover, dayhike Indian Head & Fishhawk Cliffs, the Sawteeth, and The Gothics, then return to the campsite at Gill Brook.
Wednesday 10/12 – Backpack from Gill Brook to Lower Ausable Lake and on to Johns Brook.
Thursday 10/13 – Backpack from Johns Brook back to the Meadows Lane Trailhead, drive back to Clearfield.

Monday and Tuesday would be TOUGH, but Larry was ok with that, for some reason. I was a little concerned about our route on Monday, as there isn’t much information available on the internet on those trails. I found out why later – nobody wants to hike those trails. Most serious Adirondacks hikers focus on peak bagging, and if your goal is hiking summits efficiently, it makes no sense to hike from the Mount Marcy area all the way down to the Ausable River and all the way back up to Mount Colvin. Peak baggers will hit those various summits separately, not all in one combined trip.

Ultimately we just decided to go for it. Worst case scenario, we’d have to backtrack and miss out on Lower Ausable Lake.


COLD RAIN AND SNOW

Christy really was a good sport, encouraging me to go on this trip while she recovered from her Sciatica. She also let me borrow her car to get there. Larry was having some car trouble, and we didn’t want to risk breaking down on the way there or getting stranded. Christy knew that she could borrow her mom’s car if she needed to go anywhere. Larry’s wife, Nan, was a good sport, too. She got up at 5am to drive Larry an hour to Clearfield to meet me. We all met up at the Dunkin Donuts, where I loaded up on coffee for the long drive north.

The drive was mostly smooth, but it still took longer than I hoped. We were already behind schedule when we reached the south end of Adirondack Park. We saw a fair bit of nice fall color on the way, but it really started looking good when we got into the heart of the Adirondacks. I wanted to stop and take photos from several overlooks, but I knew that we needed to keep moving if we were going to make it to Lake Colden that evening.

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We drove towards Heart Lake before turning onto Meadows Lane. Meadows Lane passes through deep forest, and there were a few rough spots. We were lucky I didn’t bring the Prius! We parked in a pull off near the Marcy Dam Trailhead. It was already late afternoon when we finished getting organized and hit the trail. Making it to Lake Colden before dark seemed unlikely, but we were prepared to hike with headlamps if necessary.

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We enjoyed an easy walk to Marcy Dam. At the time we didn’t realize how rare that is in the Adirondacks. In fact, we had several trail runners pass by along this stretch.

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The remains of Marcy Dam are interesting, and there are some nice views from there up towards Avalanche Pass. There was some nice fall color up that way, too. We met the first of several rangers there. All of the rangers we met were primarily interested in two things: 1) did we have bear canisters, and 2) where were we headed?

The second thing was primarily a function of making sure there would be enough campsites / shelters to accommodate everyone. We told our ranger that we were hoping to make it to Lake Colden. He asked if we had headlamps and mentioned that freezing rain was expected that evening. He suggested that we consider one of the campsites or shelters below Avalanche Pass, given the deteriorating weather.

We discussed our options as we headed towards Avalanche Pass. It was clear that we wouldn’t come close to making it to Lake Colden before dark. As luck would have it, light but cold rain began to fall right when we reached a spur trail to a shelter. I’m generally not a fan of shelters, but they are certainly far more appealing in bad weather. We decided to check it out, and found it deserted. The rain started to pick up, which was enough to convince me.

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It was a cold evening, and we made quick work of dinner. I slept fairly well that night – the sound of rain falling on the roof of the shelter was quite soothing.


IT’S ICE

We got up at first light the next morning, as we had a big day planned. Since we were behind schedule, we had revised our plan. Our goal was to hike to Lake Colden that morning and find a campsite. We would then hike up Mount Colden that afternoon.

As expected, everything was covered in ice. It was just a light glaze though, and the trails seemed fine. We packed up and finished the climb up to Avalanche Pass. Rime ice covered the trees there, making for a beautiful scene. Ice also covered the rocks, bridges, ladders, and boardwalks as we worked our way down to Avalanche Lake. Avalanche Lake reminds me of a Scottish Loch, or a Fjord. It is a long, narrow body of water squeezed between sheer cliffs hundreds of feet high. The lake was beautiful, but photos were difficult due to the sunny morning and harsh shadows. The best scenery was actually the icy trees and cliffs surrounding the lakeshore.

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This stretch of trail was busy with dayhikers, despite the conditions. The herd thinned out considerably though as we continued around Avalanche Lake. This stretch of trail is extremely rugged, with lots of boulders, ladders, and Hitch-up Matildas. Hitch-up Matildas are boardwalks attached to the cliff faces, suspended above the water. There was a considerable bottleneck of hikers at the beginning of the last one. The whole thing was covered in a glaze of ice, and the final section was missing its railing. It descends gradually to the shore, but there was no way to get down it without sliding into the lake.

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A large group of dayhikers ahead of us gave up on it and headed back. There was no reasonable alternate route for us though. I glanced up at sheer cliffs of Mount Colden towering above the lake, and I noticed that the sun was just starting to peak over the top of the ridge. We decided to wait. After a few minutes I cautiously started along the boardwalk. By the time I reached the final segment the ice was starting to soften. I used my hiking stick to break it up and clear it off the board. I waved at Larry and slowly worked my way down, clearing the ice as I went.

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The hike from there to the southwest end of Lake Colden was much easier. We passed a ranger station and enjoyed some nice views of a frosty Mount Colden on the far side of the lake. We reached Beaver Point at the southwest end of the lake a few minutes later. We took a side trail there leading to several campsites. All of them were occupied except one. That one was a little wet and muddy in spots, but otherwise acceptable. It was in deep forest, well away from the actual lake, but I wasn’t in a picky mood. We set up camp, had lunch, and prepared for an attempt on Mount Colden that afternoon.

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Full photo album: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjAo2Kd
 
Great start to a trip report, I really like the photos of the ice covered trees. Looking forward to the next part.

Friends of ours have adopted 2 kids (one from Russia) so I have a vague idea of the difficulties. I hope that everything worked out ok and you have a small poop monster in your house (that's what tell our kids that we called them when they were tiny).
 
Not familiar with much hiking east of Denver, so far as New England goes how does the scenery of the Adirondacks stack up? Are they more or less crowded than the Whites and so on? Large enough for long trips? To me it looks pretty incredible!
 
Not familiar with much hiking east of Denver, so far as New England goes how does the scenery of the Adirondacks stack up? Are they more or less crowded than the Whites and so on? Large enough for long trips? To me it looks pretty incredible!
High Peaks region can get pretty crowded at times with people attempting to complete their 46er list (46 peaks over 4K, with a patch when completed). There are several areas where you can do longer trips outside of the high peaks area … and plenty of opportunities for canoeing adventures. The Northville Placid trail is 140 miles long so there’s that opportunity as well.
 
Great start to a trip report, I really like the photos of the ice covered trees. Looking forward to the next part.

Friends of ours have adopted 2 kids (one from Russia) so I have a vague idea of the difficulties. I hope that everything worked out ok and you have a small poop monster in your house (that's what tell our kids that we called them when they were tiny).

Thanks! I'm really enjoying hiking with him, even though carrying him makes it a lot harder. It's a great workout!

I'm going to be in a hotel for a couple of nights in another week. I will probably just post the other 4 parts while I'm there.
 
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