Pacing. Of the many things I learned I quickly realized the importance of pacing. In fact, pacing is everything. I settled into a rate of effort that I found I could sustain all day every day. This rate was just a fraction below that which I couldn’t comfortably hold for more than 10 seconds. Whenever I had to furnish a harder effort, say to get up a steep rock pitch on Basin, I would pause and count 3 or 4 deep breaths before continuing. I quickly learned to keep my eyes on the road at all times and to use foot placements and control my body weight balance so as to conserve energy. I made full use of my hiking poles. Going down, I always held back, one foot on the brake and used the poles to their utmost so as to spare the cartilage on the back side of my knee caps. I am convinced that humans evolved not to do extensive ascending/descending but to walk/jog for many miles on gentle terrain. Just think of the difference between ascending and descending 10,000 vertical feet as opposed to walking 10,000 feet on the flats.
Not getting ahead of myself. At first I found I had a tendency to think too far ahead and when I re-focused on the current mountain (getting up it or off of it), or even just the current pitch, I got into the present moment and really enjoyed the hiking, rather than think ahead, stew and calculate.
I liked knowing. In spite of what I just wrote I found that it was a lot easier when I was fully informed as to the upcoming and remaining ascent/descent in vertical meters by following my progress on the altimeter. My readings into the neuroscience of endurance running and “wanting” it badly enough has led me to believe that an informed brain leads to a stronger and more enduring hiker or runner.
Weather is king. The difference between high pressure, dry air and blue skies versus rain, wind and chilly and clingingly wet clothing is huge. I found that even with temps in the mid-sixties that being soaking wet and exposed to wind was enough to risk hypothermia. Boghollow and I ascended Henderson Mountain (2000 feet of gain, no trail in pouring rain most of the way) and we gained the summit ridge and crossed over to the blowdown-free west side to side-hill towards the summit. The wind was blowing west to east and I instantly grew cold now that we were no longer working hard to gain elevation out of the wind. We had to put on our shells and hats immediately.
Weather when bushwhacking is a bigger king. The difference between whacking through dry woods as opposed to soaking wet “car-wash” woods with slippery and sloping tree trunks and branches, having dry feet versus squishy and slippy-slidey shoes and socks is beyond description.
Suck it up buttercup. I did all the bushwhacks except day 15 in the Sentinel Range with map, compass and altimeter only. No GPS. I had previously hiked most of the whacks beforehand and felt I could nail each route. However, this was not always to be. I had a much rougher go of it than I was expecting on a few of the whacks. In these situations it was important just to suck it up and keep moving- no whining allowed! After all it was what I had signed on for. Using a previously recorded GPS track log or even just having my position on the display map would have simplified things greatly but that wasn’t how I wanted to do it. Getting hit hard by rain was another thing to suck up. Going out for 15 days straight you have to expect rain and deal with the discomfort.
As mentioned just above I only used GPS on the final day. I have nothing against technology or GPS and am not a Luddite. I could care less what other people do but my personal preference on whacks is to use map, compass and altimeter. This is not to make it even harder but to produce a richer and more “mindful” experience. When you can’t look at a GPS because you don’t even have one you learn to see a tremendous amount of terrain detail and you really learn to associate the subtleties of the terrain with the map. You find you can squeeze out huge amounts of information from a tiny sheet of paper with squiggly lines on it. It never ceases to fascinate me.
I made several but don’t know if anyone caught them. Descending Wallface towards Lower Wallface Pond, between the col after Moose Pond LT en route to Lost Pond Peak I got totally lost and had to force myself to calmly estimate my rough whereabouts and then to hypothesize my way to Roaring Brook. Ascending Street I turned north too late and got caught in the fir waves rather than come out just above them.
Being done for the day nice and early. When multi-day backpacking getting into camp early (two hours or more before sundown in August) is a huge pleasure. You have time to relax totally and to sit quietly and chill out while your brain switches itself off. After a while you can leisurely and slowly prepare for the night and get ready for the next day. I often was in bed by eight or even earlier and lay in my bag thinking aimless thoughts while I recovered. I discovered that this type of “absolute zero stimulation” was very relaxing and was never bored. In fact, it was just what I needed. How often do we do that in this day and age, ie. experience absolute zero stimulation?
Lean-to’s versus tarp tenting or camping. I love lean-to’s for their ease and convenience. Especially if it’s raining! Compared to camping it’s like staying in a hotel room. Some lean-to sites (as well as designated camp sites) however are kind of slummy. Ie. Panther Gorge = very low rent district. Also, if you have neighbors you don’t choose them and they don’t choose you. You find yourself being brought down to the lowest common denominator of backwoods technique and etiquette.
Designated campsites are great because unlike “wild” camping you don’t have to search around for a flat spot. The flip side is that these level sites are compacted and water pools in them. Not a huge problem with a good bathtub floor on your tent but a very big issue if you are tarp tenting. The problem with wild tarp tenting on the other hand is that on sloping terrain any flat spots will be water sinks. One hopes that the ADK duff will soak up all the rain. I did not have to find out the hard way!
One last thing about the tarp: mine is a simple 8×10 rectangle and great care has to be exercised in setting it up so as to avoid water “balloons” in case of rain and to try and avoid being in a wind tunnel in case of misty rain combined with wind, which would result in a soaked sleeping bag very quickly. My next tarp will have triangulat closures at each end. My sleep system (tarp, guy lines, bag, mattress and ground cloth) weighed just over 3 pounds. Not bad huh?
When to fold.
Safety and fun trump numbers and peakbagging. After a wet hike from Ward Brook to the Sawtooth 2-4 col and bagging 4 in rain we got dry with a fire but then it rained and blew hard all night. Our decision to head to Moose Pond without doing Sawtooths 1, 5 and 3 was wise and safe. After all this was my vacation. The decision caused all the stress to drain away. That day’s hike was memorable and great fun with Glen and I partnering wonderfully as a navigation team. It took us about ten hours anyway (very slow and painstaking in wet woods). Arriving early at the lean-to under blue skies was wonderful.
The beauty of backpacking. I have almost always day-hiked in the Adirondacks, which severely restricts how deeply you can go in. But with a light pack you can go further and faster and if exiting to a car you can go a lot later. Also, a day-pack feels a lot better than an overnight pack. The best of both worlds might be to go for 2 nights and to go very light. Ultra-lite really just means going without a lot of stuff. You don’t have to go cold and hungry either. For sure you will go slower but why would you be in a hurry anyway? Hurry for what? To get back on the Northway? To get back to work?
Warm weather versus cold. As a flip side to the niceties of back-packing I will say that once the temps go below 60 and beyond the game changes pretty quickly. I have camped a fair bit in the negative 40’s and we had spend 18 hours a day surviving and only spent 6 snowshoeing. But, we were outside 24 hours a day.
Fastest Known Times and unsupported hikes of the ADK-46. I find that my work challenges and stresses me enough as it is. When I go on vacation I don’t want to put huge deadlines and overwhelming physical challenges in my path. Maybe as I get older and my hormone levels decrease my drive discovers gentler outlets. That said, when I did Project 46 I had the time of my life and I really wanted to finish in 10 days.
Speaking of the 46.
In spite of being guided by the 46 for single season winter 46’s, doing a bushwhack round of the 46, etc. etc. I think the “46” is a blessing and a curse. People I meet on the trails seem to be blinded by the 46 and don’t understand that the Adirondacks are something other than the 46. On Big Slide I was asked if I had done “ all 46 ” and I softly and gently replied that there were a hundred peaks and yes I had done the hundred and another 30-40 peaks more. I said the 46 was just scratching the surface.
The trail conditions on the “trade routes” to the 46 are deplorable and the toilet paper and crap is disgusting. For the local region the 46 are a cash cow that draws in tourist money. It’s long overdue in my opinion that proper investments be made in that cash cow so as to clean up the GD mess. In fact, it seems to be getting underway now with planking and stairs, outhouses and thunderboxes being placed in critical areas. Good to see even if it takes the wilderness out a bit (dumbs it down). But hey, if you want wilderness à la pre-46 days then e-mail me and I’ll be happy to take you on a hike that feels like more wilderness than you might have bargained for.
Signage in the High Peaks = increased SAR callouts?
I was cleaning up at Panther Gorge when couple crossed the stream having come down from 4 Corners. She came over and asked if I had a map. Oh-oh. They had turned left at 4 Corners instead of right and continued all the way down. Before you slam them let me say these were very intelligent people who would have turned right if the signage in the High Peaks was what it should be. (I sent them back over 4 Corners with some of my food, some batteries, water purification tablets and instructions recorded on her I-Phone on how to get back to the Loj. They made it the next day after someone loaned them a tent and extra bag for the night). On Santa we met a professor of Earth Sciences who thought he was on Couchie.
Something is wrong. The answer to reduced SAR callouts in my (not overly) humble opinion is proper and unambiguous signage – everywhere on the 46. Costs money but the 46 are a cash cow and SAR callouts aren’t exactly free.
First of all, on behalf of LASAR, I thank each and every one of you who donated to this cause. Keep your eyes peeled for a personal message from me but don’t be surprised if it takes a while. I chose SAR because I felt it would resonate with the hiking public and people would kick in the price of a tank of gas, a six-pack or a post-hike snack at Stewarts or more. Once again, to all who donated, thank you from the bottom of our hearts (Neil and Sylvie, who shall grieve eternally for Dominic).
Single winter hundred highest, hundred highest through hike and the biggest of all: Manitoba Lakes in Feb-March (Lake Manitoba, Lake Winnipegosis, Cedar Lake, north rim of Lake Winnipeg then straight south to the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers). Check that one out on Google!