Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Last 3 Peaks

One of the things on my very short bucket list was to climb all 46 high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains.  This was actually not a real “bucket list” kind of thing.  It’s just that I had recently learned that there was a list of high peaks and that I had already climbed 43 of them.  So it became more of a desire to cross the last 3 off the list more than anything else.  And the three were all located in a group and so it seemed reasonable to tackle them all at the same time.

I've got packing in the mountains down to a science.  I usually go into the woods for two nights and carry 27 pounds.  I used to carry a lot more weight but age and bad knees have forced me to eliminate all but the absolute essentials.  27 pounds are the bare necessities and I carry them from start to finish.  It is not easy to navigate some of these climbs with 27 pounds strapped to your back.

However doing three peaks in one trip called for a different approach.  We had decided to do this trip as a 3-day pack-in, make a base camp, and then climb the summits as day trips.  This allowed us to carry in more gear, leave it at the base camp and just wear a small pack with snacks, water and a few supplies.   Which was a blessing because these were some spirit breaking climbs.  Mountain trails are usually ranked on a scale of 1 to 7, 1 being an easy hike and 7 being quite difficult.   We did one 5 and two 6 mountains, none of which had groomed trails.  These were some of the guide directions:

From this area, the trail will get steeper for a while and MUCH rougher. The trail is over rocks and areas of persistent boot-sucking mud that will prevail.

The trail can be very wet with many deteriorating wooden corduroy laid in the trails. Caution do not to step off the wood trail maintenance. In some areas the mud can be 2 feet deep.

This was the "good" trail maintenance

The herd path reaches the lowest point near the 3400 elevation mark. Here you will encounter a vast swamp. There are many herd paths attempting to find a dry way through the swamp. I have found that traversing straight through it is the best.

The best way is straight through it?

At the bottom of the saddle, you will reach an open bog.  From this point on, it is a never-ending continual battle with the cripplebrush and upward travel that will teach you to dislike this mountain.

Are we lost?
They were right.  This section of mountains was dense thicket and swamp with no well marked trails.  We got lost quite a few times and often I would sink up to my ankles in muck   It’s no wonder we never climbed them in the past.

A rare dry place to rest

The weeks before this trip the weather was in the 70s during the day and the 50s at night.   But for the 3 days we choose, a cold front had settled in.  Day time temps were in the high 40s, which was great for hiking but at night it dropped into the teens.  Monday night it actually snowed.   And while my sleeping bag is rated for arctic conditions and kept me plenty warm, it was mighty difficult to pull myself out of it to use the “facilities.”   Which I might add - squatting in the woods was never an issue for me, however, my knees no longer bend enough to allow me to fully squat.  Awkward and literally freezing my ass off would be a polite way to describe my in the woods constitutionals.

So I spent my 3 days in the mountains wondering why I was there.  16 hours of hiking through swamps, scaling impossible rock formations and navigating non-existent herd paths.   Cold and wet and muddy.  And all just to cross off 3 peaks from a list.

Seriously?  That's the trail?

Now I've come home.  I've taken a long, hot shower, washed my clothing and gear (although I don’t think my boots are salvageable), and slept in my soft bed.   When I got up this quote was in my inbox :

At times we may feel as if we are slogging uphill through dense mud and thick tress, getting nowhere.  If we keep going, however, we will reach a summit and see clearly that we are finally free of the past.  

And I realized that in many ways that is why I go into the mountains.   Whether I am climbing a beautiful scenic mountain on a beautifully groomed trail, and sleeping under a canopy of stars,  or slogging through swamps and thicket,  I go because when I am connected with nature, everything else falls into place for me.   This is when I am in sync with the rhythms of the universe, of life.   This is when I can appreciate how far I've come in my healing and feel whole.   This is when I truly feel the spiritual within me and sense all that I want to be . . . and dedicate myself to becoming.

The Indian name for one of the mountains we climbed was “dismal wilderness.”  While I was out slogging through it, I was cursing it.   Now, as I reflect, I would give anything to be back on her remote slopes once again, listening to the sounds of the wind through the trees and the conversation of critters, smelling the damp earth, and enjoying all that living, breathing vegetation.

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order - John Burroughs

Yep, works for me.  Every time.


  1. Cold, damp, muddy, tired, achy, soothed and healed - you are now officially a 46er!

    1. Yep. And damn proud of it too : )

  2. I'm glad it works for you because, no. Just no. No slogging through mud. No getting lost in the woods. No having no bathroom. No sleeping on the ground.

    I need to find something that gives me that feeling without all the dirt.

    1. I always say "don't knock it til you've tried it" but yes, I do think everyone has to find their own bliss. And you WILL find yours.

  3. This sounds vastly unappealing to me. Neither my partner nor I are campers,so our daughter has had to experience that side of life with her Father.

    But..kudos to you! And I bet you slept like the dead...

    1. My girls go camping with friends but have never been backpacking. I do hope they try it at least once.

      And yes, there is nothing like the soft, clean sleep after returning from the woods. Peaceful AND comfortable.

  4. I admire your tenacity! That does not sound like fun! But, it sounds like it was fun for you - at least in retrospect.

    I know what you mean about nature being soothing and healing. I get that too, but I don't find it in the woods. I find it in the wide open spaces, the open range, the long empty valleys studded with bunch grass and sage brush. But, clean air, beautiful views, and the blessed absence of man-made noise... we have that in common.

    Sounds like a difficult but lovely adventure. Yay for crossing things off lists!

    1. And where do you find open ranges studded with bunch grass and sage brush? I would like to see that.

    2. All over the West, my friend! It's still like that here...

      Put me on your bucket list and we'll go meditate in the great wide open.

  5. AnonymousMay 16, 2013

    wow, kudos. That's such a cool thing to "cross off" the list. Wow. It looks gorgeous although too bad it was so cold.

    This whole post was beautiful, but this line hit hard: "This is when I truly feel the spiritual within me and sense all that I want to be . . . and dedicate myself to becoming."


    1. Thanks. I feel like I'm close to something deeply personal, some new personal growth.

      And, of course, the temps were warm again as soon as we returned : )

  6. AnonymousMay 17, 2013

    I think this is a cool thing. Very cool.

    I think there's a great deal about life that is hard in the doing but very worthy in the having done.

    I'm also reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed right now, so the pack weight is in my wheelhouse at the moment. (Okay, not wheelhouse ... but at least I'm getting it. ;)

    1. I read "Wild" shortly after my mother died. I couldn't believe how much she carried in her pack. Rookie mistake. The first time I packed, I carried so much I needed a chiropractor for the next two years. Now I've cut the handle off my toothbrush to save weight : )