Some random notes from a recent trip to the Adirondacks, the purpose of which was to make progress on climbing the 46 high peaks. This trip bagged me 8 more, bringing the total to 37 out of 46, and hopefully I’ll be able to make a couple more trips this summer and complete the goal….
Saturday June 29
- With my ankle feeling a little sore, started with an easy day, the goal being to climb a single mountain, Big Slide
- Parked at Marcy Field, took the shuttle bus to the Garden, and then a steady climb to the top, where I encountered a boy scout group and their leader, the kids talking to parents on their phones and eating snacks. “Good luck walking barefoot,” one kid commented — and I’m thinking to myself how back in the day it used to be the kids who were running around in the forests barefoot, not 56-year olds — then the kid sees me moving confidently across the rocks and acknowledges, “I guess you don’t need it.”
- Bright orange flowers, which hawks eat in order to sharpen their eyesight, or so the story goes (orange hawkeye) and huge clumps of reindeer and gray reindeer lichen. The Adirondaks are a lichen paradise, with the specimens huge and lush (especially after a rain), they must do well with the strong sun, abundant moisture, and clean air high up in these mountains. Saw lots of species: old man beard’s lichen, common antler and ghost antler, variable rag lichen, yellow-green ribbon lichen, hooded tube lichen, pixie cups, dragon horn, and on and on
Monday July 1
- The goal is Esther and Whiteface. I resist the temptation to drive up Whiteface, which has a road leading to within 1/4 mile of the top.
- The trail starts out pretty gravelly (which is slow and aggravating), then it turns very steep. The path to Esther crosses through a lot of mud. The final climb to the summit crosses exposed rock slabs. Barefoot helps you appreciate the diversity of the environment. The mud gets a little tedious, no matter what you’re wearing, because you can’t always tell how deep it is or what kinds of sharp-edged rocks or branches are lying underneath. Hiking barefoot in the Adirondacks is an exercise in stepping lightly, which requires keeping your balance at all times. It’s slow and hard work, but always an adventure
- The vegetation changes subtly as you reach the alpine zone above the tree line. Today there are two new species for me: northern labrador tea and bog laurel
Tuesday July 2
- The goal is Phelps and Tabletop from the Adirondak Loj, a 13-mile round trip.
- Heading out along the smooth dirt trail to Marcy Dam, for the first time ever I spot a black-throated green warbler hopping along the ground. No mistaking it from the bright yellow head and black tail bars. It lets me get within 10-12 feet (but no closer) and then a boot-shod hiker comes clumping up the trail and frightens it off. The black-throated green warblers have two calls: “zee zee zoo zoo zee,” which is how the males warn other males to stay out of their territory, and “zee zee zee zoo zee” which is how they call to females. All day long these warblers’ calls ring throughout the woods, plus warbling vireos, red-eyed vireos, the plaintive whistling song of white-throated sparrows, chattering junco’s, and the black-throated blue warbler which sounds a little exasperated (“cheep cheep CHEEP!”).
- The path to Tabletop is unmaintained, it’s basically walking up an intermittent streambed, but it’s just a question of stepping carefully. Nice views from the top of Phelps.
- It’s a long way down. Barefoot teaches you to take short steps and keep the knees flexed, but for me it’s typically a slow pace especially descending on rough terrain. My chronically sore left ankle complains a little on the descent, so I reluctantly take the next day as a rest day.
Thursday July 4
- This will be a long day (17-mile round trip), so I put some thought into the preparations, including mapping out each leg of the route and memorizing directions, distances, and elevation gain. That way, wherever I am, I’ll know what needs to get done.
- There’s a long march in along Lake Road, which is dirt and gravel, and with conditions having dried out it’s a little more painful and slower than last time here. But the climb up to Sawteeth follows a pleasant dirt trail up a moderate grade.
- The climb up Pyramid is steep, and once up on the ridgeline, a mix of steep and moderate climbs and some exposed rock slabs at the top. I’m perfectly comfortable barefoot on this terrain, albeit slow. But there’s no water up here (I get thirsty and have to carefully ration my 1 liter of water until back below Sawteeth, where there’s a stream). And the bugs on Saddleback are relentless, forcing me to spray on bug repellent (which I rarely use) and then even put my shirt back on.
- It’s a long hike down. Regaining Lake Road, the gravel’s getting a little painful. I could tough it out at a slow pace (1-2 mph), but if I put on shoes I could cover the 3 miles back much faster (3+ mph) and so for the first time this trip the shoes win out.
- Then the long drive back home and stopping for a hamburger (my first food of the day).
- Back at home, feeling a little sad, I’d like to do a lot more of this, but after years of running my left ankle can only take so much. And now for a long and somewhat quiet weekend, and then back into action at work on Monday.