Sunday, June 19, 2016

Gear for the trail

My Long Trail hike is getting startlingly close, and at last my gear list is coming together. I have almost everything, except food, and what's left is easy to buy and doesn't require testing - for example, small tubes of toothpaste. It looks like such a long list!

A few items are luxuries - you'll tear my inflatable pillow from my cold, dead hands - but most of it is basics. I thought about ditching the sun hat, for example, but a bug net doesn't work well without it, and I'm not bringing sunglasses. For comparison, here is the gear list of a seasoned thru-hiker. (You may notice I'm going stoveless. I'm a lazy chef when it comes to camping.)

One question remains, though - what book(s) should I load up on my Kindle reader for evening entertainment, on the evenings I have the energy to read?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Backpacking Harriman

More rocks

We got back home from the Adirondacks, and I turned right back around and went backpacking in Sterling State Forest and Harriman State Park - part of getting ready for my Long Trail trip.

The trip started at the Bellvale Creamery, and was only two miles long that night. We hiked to the Wildcat Shelter on the AT and set up our tents.

The next day, the trip got difficult. The next AT shelter was 14 miles away, and they were hilly miles. (My watch indicated over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, but I don't know if that's accurate.) We encountered numerous AT thru-hikers and section-hikers, and I felt pretty slow compared to them. Also, my allergies acted up, and I got chafing in uncomfortable places due to poor apparel choices. It was a rough day, even if it was beautiful and the promised rain never materialized.

I went to bed alarmingly early and slept hard. We decided to take the shortest way out on our final day, which was about 7 miles. Overall, it was flatter, which made the going easier. We also enjoyed a great deal of laurel, which was in full bloom.

Mostly, my gear worked - I need to make a few small tweaks, but the basic setup is fine. Now, the question is just whether I can do enough miles per day to reach the end in the time I've allotted myself.

Smell the flowers

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A stroll around the VIC

Bog On our last full day in Saranac Lake, we decided to do a little bird-watching, and to that end we went to Paul Smith's College Visitor Interpretative Center. It has several miles of trails, and the 1.5-mile Boreal Life Trail is supposed to be good for birdwatching. It winds through both forest and bog. Well, we didn't see any birds, but we did see some interesting plants, as well as attractive scenery.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Hiking St. Regis (Saranac 6 no. 4)

St. Regis

St. Regis wasn't as nice a hike as the previous three Saranac hikes, through no fault of its own. We were beset by rain, plagued with a minor physical ailment, possessing a case of the grumps, and overrun by dudebros at the summit. I'm sure it's a very lovely peak if things work out for you.

Knowing there was a probability of rain, we set out anyway, and partway up the skies opened. The trail was, to put it charitably, dampish. There is some moderate scrambling, but the rain didn't seem to compromise our safety.

A ledge near the top offered what would be a nice view on a clearer day, and it wasn't far from there to the top. The tower at the top is being renovated, and while the stairs and essential structure have been repaired and deemed safe, the tower needs a new roof and glass for the windows. Technically, therefore, it is still closed, which seemed to deter none of the visitors.

We wouldn't break the rules, but if we had, it's possible we wouldn't have stayed very long, only to find on the way down part of a large group of college boys heading up because "they had earned it." Hey, boys, we all climbed the same mountain. Somehow, they managed to take up the entire summit, loudly.

(Reminder: Folks, share the summit. We ran into something similar on Baker, which only has a very small viewpoint. You're entitled to a few minutes at it (or longer if no one else is around), but this isn't like claiming land in the name of France, which never worked that well anyway).

In spite of the rain, we had some visibility; below is the clearest shot we got from the top.

This was the last of the Saranac peaks we were able to attempt on this trip. That leaves Haystack and - the toughest - McKenzie.

St. Regis

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Hiking Scarface (Saranac 6 no. 3)

Taking it in

After waiting out a day of rain, we tackled Scarface as our third Saranac peak. The trail descriptions indicated that the views weren't the most spectacular, but that the trail itself made up for it, and they were right.

The trailThe trail to Scarface starts off flat, meandering through evergreen-dominated boreal forest. Early landmarks include a railroad crossing (only used by a scenic railway) and the sound of gunshots from the nearby prison. Yes, you read that right - a nearby prison uses adjacent land for target practice. Eventually, the trail crosses over a stream on prison-built bridge. Later on, an old foundation is on the left side on the trail. Gunshots aside, the trail is tranquil, and we saw several newts.

Eventually, the trail starts going up, and there is some challenging scrambling. The photo on the left depicts the trail at its most rugged point. You can take a short break, as we did, where the trees open up slightly behind you, but the best views are still ahead.

Best view (not the summit)

An open rock ledge reveals the view above. It's a good lunch spot, and if you are just after a view, turn around here. But if you want to reach the summit, keep going. The actual summit is still a ways off, even though it feels like you're at the top.

The next major landmark is an unturned tree on a rock outcropping, pictured here, but this is not the summit either, even though it looks like the trail continues downhill. Keep going to the true summit, marked with a plastic disk on a tree, as seen below. (The trail finally looks like it ends here, but on close inspection I realized it does continue. It's poorly travelled and blocked by a dead tree, no doubt on purpose.)

Actual summit

All in all, this was a lovely hike, and we were fortunate enough to enjoy good weather ... unlike our next hike.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Hiking Baker (Saranac 6 no. 2)

Up Baker

Baker is the shortest of the Saranac 6, and while it's steep, it's relatively easy since there is no scrambling. So after we finished Ampersand, we decided to take advantage of the sunshine and do Baker the same day.

We saw quite a few families with kids on the .9 miles to the top. The photo above fairly reflects the terrain we were on. The top of the mountain is in the woods, so it didn't have the glorious vistas of Ampersand, but there is one ledge near the top with a window view:

View from Baker

Friday, June 10, 2016

Hiking Ampersand (Saranac 6 no. 1)


After five years in New York, I've finally made it to the Adirondacks! We decided to attempt the Saranac Lake 6 over a weeklong vacation.

On our first day, we tackled Ampersand, which supposedly had the best views - not to mention the best name. The weather was fantastic; in fact, the forecast at that point was saying it would be the only nice day we'd have. As it was a weekend day, we expected some crowds.

The trail started off reasonably, getting steeper and tougher as we went. In the photo above, notice the stone stairs.* From there it got steeper and turned into scrambling with hands required. I would recommend extreme caution in wet conditions, as we all know that wet rocks and roots can be slippery.

Peak view

Since it was a nice weekend day, we didn't have the trail to ourselves, but even at the top the trail wasn't crowded; there is plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the views.

*Note: Responsible hikers should always carry water and the other ten essentials. No backpack is shown here because I was carrying everything as part of my training for the Long Trail next month.

Ampersand peak

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Gear upgrade: Sleeping bag

When I first started backpacking, my biggest concern was price, with weight secondary. Over time, I've been slowly upgrading my gear. I replaced my 5500 cubic inches, 6 pounds 14 ounces backpack with one that was 4200 ci, 4 pounds 13 ounces. I upgraded my sleeping pad last year. Now, as I prepare to embark on my first long backpacking trip, I have been anxiously thinking about weight.

Ultralight backpackers try to get their tent, pack, and sleep system (bag and pad) down to 3 pounds each, or 9 total. I'm not an ultralighter, certainly. My tent actually weighs 2 pounds 12 ounces, and frankly I could only shave an ounce or two off without trading down to a tent that uses hiking poles or just a tarp. I don't use poles and I like my own bubble, thank you, so I'm satisfied there. I'll probably get a lighter pack eventually, but no hurry.

The real place for optimization is my sleep system. When I traded in my old bulky Thermarest-z for a warm Synmat, I went up from 11 to 21 ounces. And on top of that, I bought a 3 ounce inflatable pillow. The pillow is the best gear I've ever bought; a decade and a half of trying to make do with clothes piled under my head had not been successful. So even though I'd added weight, I was happy with the tradeoff.

But my sleeping bag weighs in at 3 pounds 12 ounces - rather heavy. Then again, it was bought for car camping. I have an aversion to mummy bags, as a fetal side sleeper, so I didn't think I'd find something light. Then I discovered the world of quilts.

Initially, I fell in love with the Enlightened Revelation, which has rave reviews and a low weight of one pound three ounces. But they're made to order and take several months to ship, which I didn't have the time for. Instead, I ordered the Sea to Summit Traveller, which is cheaper and only 14 ounces. It also packs down to a fraction of the size - see the photo comparing my old bag to my new one! (Map added for scale.)

Now the obvious difference is temperature; it's rated at 50° instead of my old bag's 15°, and I sleep cold. Even with a liner, this is not a winter bag.