The headlights swooped into Kate’s front yard and with them the first of many pleasant surprises that day: Dude & Trouble are not famed in hiker circles for their early starts.
Kate and I are morning people. I’d never had a girlfriend who could function at 4:30am, and here she was making sandwiches — big sandwiches. Both of us were raring to go; in fact I’d hardly slept with the excitement. Apart from that short-but-spectacular New Year’s hike in the snow on my first visit, the Adirondacks for me were an open book. Now the plan was to meet Pouch & Nemo at the trailhead upstate and plough through my first four chapters in one hit.
“Hey, Goat,” said The Dude.
“What’s up, Sis?”
And that was the formalities concluded. We jumped in their car and took off north up a still-quiet Interstate 87, the sky, clear and calm and inviting, taking form above the highway.
The crime novelist Elmore Leonard, who died recently, had a list of tips for writers. First on the list was Never open a book with weather. But Elmore is gone, this ain’t a book, and what if the weather is one of the protagonists in the story? I couldn’t tell you how many times that day someone would remark on how damned perfect it was. I mean, I’d lucked into a week of autumnal mildness for my visit to Saratoga, but temps this gentle and skies this clear in the late-Summer Adirondacks — well, these people grew up there, Nemo was on the verge of completing the entire string of 46-ers (the 46 mountains of the High Peaks region over — or once thought to be over — 4,000ft), and she said more than once she’d never seen better.
We turned onto a pine-bordered gravel road and went a few miles towards Elk Lake Resort. Most of this was private land, the resort’s, an arrangement between the state and property owners that permits hiking.
But apparently every hiker in the region was parked in the only lot near the trailhead. It was jammed — this awesome weather, etc. We found Nemo & Pouch, and the two bearded ones quickly elected to dump their packs, drive back to the road, lose the wheels, and run back.
We didn’t have to wait long before the beards bobbed back into view, their owners barely raising a sweat. Into the woods we went…
..taking the the Elk Lake Route, which started moist and muddy and soon had us in some lovely cool woods.
“Those guys hike fast!” Kate remarked later — but they were just warming up at this point. It was our first hike as a (cute — nay, adorable) hiker couple, and I found myself bringing up the rear, pausing often for pictures, then jogging to catch up with Kate.
Before long, some elevation and some views…
..and we left the woods to ascend via Slide Brook, this forbidding rock slide…
..where Kate first revealed an aversion to precipitous heights.
We took it slowly, helping Kate through a few sketchy spots, but most of us were enjoying this. I wouldn’t want to do it in mid-Winter, but after several nightmarish traverses in the High Sierra in 2010, spots that literally reduced seasoned hikers to tears, and in once case (Mather Pass) brought me close to total heebie-jeebies-induced paralysis, I found all this rock-hopping rather fun.
We rested here on Macomb Mountain (4,405ft / 1,343m), southernmost High Peak, named after a general in the War of 1812. This was the first of the day’s 46-ers and of course my first ever:
First of hopefully hundreds of summit shots as a couple:
One thing thru-hiking teaches you is efficiency: you can goof off, and often do, but you have to make your miles between goofin’, and with three more big ‘uns in store we didn’t even sit down on Macomb.
South Dix (4060 ft / 1237 m) was next, and this section was great too, with lots of exposed rock…
..before passing over the small, closed-in summit of the 37th-highest peak in the state with barely a pause — it was East Dix* that was the prize.
And what a prize it was. Dig that spread of perfect sky:
According to Nemo, it’s not uncommon to be up here and enjoy sweeping…nothingness.
“How’s this weather?” somebody would say — usually me.
“I know, right?”
I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to eyes, body and soul after the interminable Summer and compromised views I’d been used to to back “home”. And I looked hard — a few specks of distant rooftop was pretty much all there was to remind us of humanity:
We had our big sandwiches, basked in the silence, the mellow sunshine, and the beauty…
..while Trouble communed with the cosmos in her own way:
Then Nemo revealed a hidden path to the far side of the ridge, with its own pleasures:
..and Trouble demonstrated her own unique way of looking at the world:
Well, we had one more 46-er on our list, so I doubt it was much more more than an hour later that we backtracked to South Dix and slogged up through the woods to bag Hough (pronounced “Huff”) Peak, 23rd-highest mountain in the Adirondacks. Let me tell you, Kate and I might have houghed and poughed all the way up, but Nemo and Trouble bolted up that thing like there was a five-gallon bucket of Ben & Jerry’s at the top.
Our basking quota was all used up, and we turned almost immediately for the descent to the coll and the long haul back to the trailhead:
A longer hike going back (if memory serves, the entire loop was around 12 miles), but very enjoyable in dense woods. By the end of it, with dusk not far off, Kate and I were alone. The moist-and-muddy stretch seemed both longer and muddier, but it was great.
And it would only get greater: our very satisfied little group had some quality time in a brew-pub/restaurant in store a short drive away…
So…four down, a mere 42 to go. Stay tuned…
* * * * *
Some cool facts about Adirondack Park from Wikipedia:
- The park covers 6.1 million acres, about the size of Vermont and larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks combined.
- State land comprises 2.7 million acres, about 45% of the park’s area.
- About 1 million acres (400,000 ha) is classified as wilderness.
- * There are moves afoot to change the mountain’s name to Grace Peak, to honour Grace Hudowalski (1906–2004), ninth person and first woman to climb the entire 46.
And one cool fact not yet in Wikipedia:
- Nemo recently nailed the last few peaks remaining on her list, and is now a gen-u-ine 46-er!
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote