Almanack Contributor Dan Crane

Dan Crane

Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pepperbox Wilderness: A Bushwhacker’s Paradise

Those looking for an area with outstanding bushwhacking potential in the Adirondacks would be well rewarded by checking out the Pepperbox Wilderness Area, located in the northwestern Adirondack Park just northwest of Stillwater Reservoir.

At only 22,560 acres, the Pepperbox is one of the smallest of the Adirondack’s designated Wilderness Areas. It is bordered roughly by the West Branch of the Oswegatchie River to the north, the Herkimer County border on the west, the Beaver River to the south and Raven Lake Road to the east. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up with in its remoteness, containing mostly forested rolling hills and extensive wetland complexes. The few state trails here are all located in the northern portion. The Pepperbox is named after one of its many scattered unproductive water bodies, which total about 270 acres. The remoteness, lack of marked trails and limited use makes the Pepperbox a bushwhacker’s paradise.

The Pepperbox’s western half is characterized by extensive beaver meadows and small beaver ponds while its eastern half contains larger water bodies such as Sunshine Pond and the Moshier Ponds. The central part contains extensive unbroken forest with Moshier Creek roughly bisecting the wilderness down the middle. The northern portion, with its two miles of trails and in-holding access roads, is a more recent addition to the wilderness area and can be considered its “civilized” part. The bushwhacking opportunities here are less due to these trails and roads and therefore this part of the Pepperbox is given less mention in this article.

There are several points of access into the Pepperbox Wilderness. From the north there are several trails which enter the Pepperbox and allow access to the few water bodies located there. Such small lakes as Jakes Pond, Spring Pond, Tied Lake or Greigg Lake are all accessed via foot trail or dirt road mostly from Bear Pond Road. Trailhead parking is available for access from the east out of Stillwater Reservoir, in the west from Sand Pond Road near the county boundary (Lewis/Herkimer) and from the south via Moshier Falls Road. With a canoe one could access the southern border via the Moshier Reservoir along the Beaver River.

The northeastern portion of the wilderness area is characterized by a plentiful number of larger water bodies. This area is best accessed from a parking area at the end of Necessary Dam Road via the hamlet of Stillwater Reservoir. A trail register is located here for recording your planned trip, which is an excellent idea when bushwhacking through a trackless wilderness like the Pepperbox. Although the road continues over the Beaver River as a well-maintained dirt road, it is gated at the bridge and available for driving by the owners of an in-holding on Raven Lake only. The road, now referred to as Raven Lake Road, is a convenient jumping off point for bushwhacking adventures into the Pepperbox from the east. Raven Lake Road acts as a border separating the Pepperbox from the southern portion of the extensive Five Ponds Wilderness (the southern Five Ponds offers outstanding bushwhacking opportunities in its own right).

A perfect way to access the Pepperbox off of Raven Lake Road is an old hunting trail situated between the first main stream crossing and where the road turns east. Although this trail is unmarked it is easily followed along its southern end. It passes just south of a large beaver vly and then turns north following along the eastern side of the same stream crossed back on the road. The trail passes to the east of the beaver pond feeding the stream before taking a sharp turn to the northwest. At this sharp turn it is very easy to lose the trail as many dummy trails at this point can testify. While navigating over a bog along the south shore of a beaver pond south of Sunshine Pond watch for chicken wire nailed between two logs on the bog mat to avoid wet feet and guide you to the trail again on the opposite side. After several attempts I have yet to be able to follow the trail after reaching the western shore of this beaver pond. Despite the lack of a trail beyond this point a bushwhacker is well situated to explore the many water bodies in this portion of the Pepperbox. Sunshine, Deer, Moshier, Duck and Pepperbox Ponds and the surrounding area will provide days of exploring for the intrepid bushwhacker. Click here, here, here and here for my trip report in this area back in May 2010.

A parking area at the end of Sand Pond Road allows access to the northwestern portion of the Pepperbox. This area appears to get little use, evidenced by the lack of a register here. A short old logging road from the parking area provides access to a brushed-out state property boundary that can be followed east over a hill and through a fern-dominated wet area to the border of the Pepperbox’s western boundary.

This part of the Pepperbox is dominated by a single unnamed pond and the Cowboy Beaver Meadow. The Cowboy Beaver Meadow is a series of old beaver vlys along the Alder Creek with little evidence of human activity. There are numerous places to cross the Alder Creek if one wishes to explore the steep rise on the opposite side. Between the pond and Cowboy Beaver Meadow is a hill with some steep cliffs to the east which should provide impressive views into the Cowboy Beaver Meadow below during the autumn and winter months when the tree foliage is absent. Keep an eye on the Bushwhacking Fool this winter for a trip report on my adventure through this area on Labor Day 2009.

The southwestern portion of the Pepperbox contains the extensive Threemile Beaver Meadow, numerous unnamed beaver ponds and a series of unusual glacial ridges. A parking lot and trailhead register are available here along Moshier Falls Road. Although the sign in the parking lot implies the trail to the Pepperbox leaves the parking lot, the true trail is across the street where it crosses bridges on both the Sunday Creek and the Beaver River.

The trail continues across the Beaver River and through a power line right-of-way before reaching the Pepperbox’s southern border where a sign warns that there are no marked trails beyond. As if mocking this official sign there is a well-used trail marked with gray paint slashes winding north into the unbroken forest. This trail remains easy to follow all the way to a large beaver vly east of the largest pond in the Threemile Beaver Meadow. North of this vly the trail loses its gray slashes and becomes less distinct though rumor has it one can follow it all the way to Bear Pond. I have tried this myself in the past with only limited success though I did manage to reach Bear Pond by bushwhacking a significant amount of the way.

Along the trail before reaching the large beaver vly there are several side trails to the west which gives access to the extensive Threemile Beaver Meadow. The Threemile Beaver Meadow is a beautiful and extensive series of beaver ponds and meadows well worth exploring.

A good bushwhacker can find many old herd paths in the Threemile Beaver Meadow area and there are even a few hunters’ camps scattered about, some recently used and others vacant for many years. This area appears to be heavily used during hunting season, and for good reason, as I have never seen a higher density of deer in the Adirondacks. Click here for a trip teaser about my recent bushwhack through the Threemile Beaver Meadow in September 2010.

To the north and west of the Threemile Beaver Meadow are a series of beaver ponds scattered about giving a bushwhacker numerous opportunities for exploration. For those interested in glacial landforms there is a series of steep and narrow ridges to the west of the beaver meadow. These ridges tend to end abruptly so one should use caution to avoid getting stuck out on one. The remnants of an old fire tower exists on one the highest ridges. The site of this fire tower, now merely the foundation and a few scattered boards, makes an additional interesting destination while trekking through this area.

The combination of hunting trails and unbroken wilderness makes the Pepperbox an excellent area for the beginning and experienced bushwhacker. So if you are looking for an interesting area to explore via bushwhacking then you cannot go wrong with the Pepperbox Wilderness Area in the northwestern Adirondacks.

Photos: Alder Creek along Cowboy Beaver Meadow, Sunshine Pond and Threemile Beaver Meadow by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking experiences at Bushwhacking Fool.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gear: The Perfect Bushwhacking Gaiters

A bushwhacker’s essential equipment list should include such items as a compass, a sturdy pair of hiking boots, a streamlined backpack and lightweight rain gear. One important and largely over-looked bushwhacking accessory absent from the list is the lowly gaiter.

Gaiters are protective clothing worn over the shoe and lower leg to prevent debris, mud, water, snow, etc. from entering the boot. Typically the amount of the lower leg covered depends on the season and activity (i.e. higher in wintry conditions). Bushwhacking gaiters tend to cover only the ankle during the warmer months primarily to keep debris and water from entering the boot.

It is critical for a good pair of bushwhacking gaiters to do more than keep debris out of your boots in the Adirondack though. Gaiters need to be waterproof not only for those rainy Adirondack days (which are more common than most would like) but for those early mornings where heavy dew has saturated the herbaceous vegetation in every beaver vly as well. While waterproof they still need to be permeable enough to keep the feet cool and dry. Durability is crucial for any piece of bushwhacking equipment and gaiters are no different. A rugged and durable gaiter will give the bushwhacker years of usefulness.

Integral Designs manufactures a pair of short gaiters absolutely perfect for the Adirondack bushwhacker. The eVent Shortie Gaiters are ultra lightweight, weighing at about only 2.5 ounces. They are made out of very breathable trilaminate eVent fabric so they will not overheat your feet. The breathable eVent fabric is an important feature since the gaiters lack both Velcro® and zippers, which makes them an effort to put on and/or take off as they require the removal of one’s boots. The lack of easy removal does increase their rain reducing potential however (read a description of my rain reducing method here). The insteps are reinforced with black supplex nylon to reduce wear and tear. The gaiters have a hook at the front for attaching to boot lacing plus shock cords which fit under the instep and around the leg to keep them securely in place. They come in two sizes (small/medium and large/x-large) and two colors (dark green and yellow).

I purchased a pair of Shortie Gaiters over two years ago and have been thoroughly pleased with them since. They keep my feet dry (combined with my Gore-Tex® lined hiking boots and rain pants) on both mornings with heavy dew and during intense rain fall. I have bushwhacked with the gaiters on in 80+ degree Fahrenheit heat and my feet never felt overheated or sweaty. The gaiters are extremely rugged as mine still have no rips despite my many backcountry adventures. They even survived a day of hiking along a scree slope in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains. Although very rugged, the gaiters are not indestructible as I severed an instep shock cord on my last bushwhacking adventure this past September. Mine are dark green gaiters as I found the bright yellow color too loud and offensive for this bushwhacker who would rather blend in with his surroundings than advertise a stylish choice of color.

The Integral Designs Shortie gaiters are ideal bushwhacking gaiters that will keep your feet dry and cool regardless of the conditions while preventing the inevitable debris from getting inside your hiking boots. Anyone planning on buying some bushwhacking gaiters for the Adirondacks cannot go wrong with these exceptional gaiters from Integral Designs.

Photo: eVent Shortie Gaiters by Integral Designs.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking experiences at http://www.bushwhackingfool.com/.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dan Crane: Adirondack Bushwhacking Safety

There is no way around it, bushwhacking in the Adirondacks is an inherently dangerous activity. The aggressive terrain, vast amount of wilderness, frequently changing weather conditions and the lack of wireless communication access makes dealing with any emergency situation a challenge. Although it is impossible to make backcountry exploration a completely safe endeavor, the principles of risk management can be used to identify, prevent and, if everything fails, ameliorate some of the possible negative impacts of those risky elements associated with bushwhacking.

Although much of what can be said about safety in the backcountry applies to both trail hiking and bushwhacking, the remoteness encountered by a bushwhacker makes safety precautions an even higher priority. The bushwhacker is typically far from assistance and therefore must be prepared to handle any conceivable emergency situation, or deal with the consequences. Managing the inherent risk involved in exploring the backcountry can be accomplished by being prepared for an emergency and taking the proper precautions should such an emergency present itself.

Whoever coined the expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” must have been referring to bushwhacking. And prevention of any problem in the backcountry starts with physical training. Any training for bushwhacking should include both endurance training and core strengthening. Endurance training, such as running, swimming, walking or hiking is essential to prepare for the exertion necessary to bushwhack over steep terrain for many hours a day, not to mention crawling through blowdowns, stepping over logs and struggling through tangles of witchhobble. Core strengthening involves working the thighs, hips, abdominal and back muscles. These muscles assist with handling heavy backpacks, balance when stepping over logs or crossing beaver dams and navigating through rocky terrain. Preventing injury by preparing your body for the effort involved while bushwhacking is worth more than a whole backpack full of first aid equipment.

My training consists of endurance training four to six days per week augmented by resistance training on four of those days. The endurance training typically consists of running a minimum of three to four miles each day although I sometimes experiment with cross-training by biking, stair-stepping or using an elliptical machine instead. The resistance training consists of one to two hours of either core strengthening (i.e. chest, legs, back) or arms and shoulder strengthening. Each of the two training styles (i.e. core and arms/shoulders) is repeated twice per week. I perform my training year round since it is easier to remain in good physical condition than to get back into such condition.

Physical training is not the only way to reduce the inherent risks involved with bushwhacking. Traveling in groups, leaving a trip itinerary with someone and avoiding unnecessary risks are age-old backpacking precautions that should be heeded when possible by the bushwhacker. Typically a group size of 3 or more is ideal so at least one person could go for help while another can stay with the injured person. Although ideal, it is not always possible to find enough people interested in bushwhacking to assemble such a large group. Bushwhacking in smaller groups (or even solo) should not be avoided but the risks involved will be greater and one should take extra precautions to reduce such risks.

Leaving an itinerary with a responsible person along with the day you plan on exiting the backcountry are standard safety precautions that should be adhered to by the bushwhacker. It is best to give a detailed itinerary with the route planned and camping site locations although conditions on the ground often make it difficult to stick to such a plan. At the very least geographic landmarks should be given to define the area being explored (e.g. west of Moshier Creek, south of Pepperbox Creek and east of the county line). This narrows the search of the 6.1 million acres of the Adirondack down to a more manageable level.

Needless to say, unnecessary risks should be avoided as much as possible. When traveling through difficult areas, such as blowdowns, rocky conditions, stream crossing, etc. it is best to slow down and take your time, especially during wet conditions. At any point where you find yourself hurrying through difficult circumstances, it is best to stop and take a short break before restarting at a slower pace. This will drastically reduce the probability of an injury and reduce the chance of having to use your first aid kit.

I always leave an itinerary with someone I can trust before heading out into the backcountry. The itinerary consists of my planned route plus some side trips just in case I have some extra time. In addition, I always register at the trailhead since I typically start my bushwhack off an existing trail system. And I never pass on the opportunity to register in any lean-tos I encounter on my trip too. In areas where registers are not available I tend to write my initials and the date in small pebbles at key locations along my planned route just in case anything should happen along the way. I take these extra precautions since most of my bushwhacking adventures are lengthy solo trips which involve inherently greater risks.

Carrying a well-stocked first aid kit is essential for any bushwhacker. The ingredients of a suitable first aid kit for a bushwhacker are identical as those of the typical backpacker. There is a plethora of pre-packaged first aid kits available on the market to choose from. A cheaper alternative would be to create your own homemade first aid kit by purchasing those items necessary should an injury occur during an outdoor adventure. Some ideas for items to be included in a homemade first aid kit can be found here, here, here and here. It is not enough to carry a well-stocked first aid if one lacks the knowledge to use it in an emergency. For that reason it is a good idea to take a class in wilderness and remote area first aid. These courses are given by the American Red Cross and the Adirondack Mountain Club. Carrying a first aid kit and having the knowledge how to use it in the case of an emergency should leave you in good stead if an injury occurs while in the backcountry.

My first aid kit includes numerous self-adhesive bandages of all different sizes and shapes, gauze bandages, moleskin, alcohol pads, Spenco 2nd Skin® (for blisters and burns), waterproof surgical tape, a small elastic bandage and single-use Neosporin® packets. Also, I carry multiple doses of 200 mg ibuprofen tablets, Benadryl® antihistamine tablets, loperamide hydrochloride tablets (for diarrhea), pink bismuth tablets (for upset stomach) and 75 mg diclofenac sodium tablets (a prescription anti-inflammatory for my back). A space blanket, strike anywhere matches, birthday candles, a water filter straw, a needle and thread, several safety pins and some string round out my kit. In addition, I carry an emergency whistle, a small jackknife (with a blade, scissors and tweezers), sunscreen, lip balm and bug repellent in a separate stuff sack, which I keep in the outside pocket of my backpack for easy access.

Although a first aid can be effective for many types of injuries it is of limited usefulness if the injury is serious enough to prevent one from evacuating the backcountry. This is especially true for those who engage in solo bushwhacking adventures. In the case of a broken leg, sprained ankle or other incapacitating emergency it is wise to carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) when traveling alone. Personal locator beacons are tracking transmitters which aid in the detection and location via a satellite system. They can be used to determine the location of an individual in an emergency leading to an efficient and timely extraction from the backcountry. A personal locator beacon is one of the most important (and expensive) pieces of equipment a bushwhacker should carry when traveling alone but hopefully never use. It is essential the PLB transmit GPS coordinates so that a search and rescue can be reduced to a simple rescue. A PLB should only be activated during a dire emergency where the situation is grave and the loss of life, limb, or eyesight will occur without assistance. But remember, a PLB cannot assist you unless you are conscious enough to activate it, so carrying one should never be used as an excuse to undertake risky behavior.

Three popular manufactures of personal locator beacon products are ACR Electronics, Inc., SPOT, Inc. and McMurdo, Ltd. They typically range from $150 to $400 and some require the purchasing of a subscription service for specific functionality.

Personally, I carry an ACR MicroFix 406 GPS Personal Locator Beacon, a recently discontinued product. It weighs about 10 ounces and cost considerably more than the current products on the market. I cannot comment on how well it works since thankfully I have never had the occasion to use it. But it gives me the peace of mind knowing I have some way to communicate with the outside world in case of a life-threatening emergency.

Hopefully this discussion of the necessary precautions one should take while bushwhacking has not frightened anyone from heading off the trail. Although it is prudent to be as prepared as possible for any emergency it is still fairly safe being in the backcountry. The most dangerous aspect of any trip is most likely the drive to and from the trailhead. It is important to be prepared but not lose sight of the fact that bushwhacking is supposed to be fun and exciting. So get out there, get off the trail and enjoy yourself but be ready just in case.

Photo: Blowdown by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking experiences at http://www.bushwhackingfool.com/.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Primer on Adirondack Bushwhacking

The ways to enjoy the outdoors in the Adirondacks are legion. A pleasant drive through the mountains, a relaxing day by the lakeshore in a state campground, a soothing canoe ride along a slow-moving river or a vigorous hike on one of the many state-maintained trails are just a few ways to take pleasure experiencing the outdoors within the Blue Line. But few outdoor activities allow for the freedom to experience the Adirondacks on its own terms like bushwhacking does. Bushwhacking, or off-trail hiking, permits the exploration of almost all of the environments within the Adirondacks as long as they are accessible via foot travel.

Bushwhacking is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to clear a path through thick woods especially by chopping down bushes and low branches”. The Adirondacks surely has its share of thick woods with bushes and low branches (witchhobble and American beech saplings come to mind) but it is illegal to perform any chopping of live vegetation on public forest preserve property. Fortunately, a machete is completely unnecessary within the Adirondacks where the vegetation is never so dense as to require such extremes. Instead, bushwhacking should be defined within the Blue Line as navigating through natural terrestrial environments (i.e. forests, wetlands, beaver vlys, etc.) without the aid of any human-constructed landmarks such as roads or trails.

In the Adirondacks, bushwhacking only requires the use of a map and compass, a sturdy pair of hiking boots and a desire to explore areas where few have tread. If you are more comfortable with modern technology then a hand-held GPS navigational device can be substituted for the map and compass. Some find navigating with a GPS device to be tedious and prefer to learn orienteering skills to navigate through the landscape. Regardless of preference, map and compass skills should be mastered be everyone adventuring off-trail into the backcountry as GPS devices can cease functioning or run low on battery power. GPS devices equipped with digital topographical maps can be useful especially navigating during wet weather where paper maps quickly become saturated and disintegrate.

If extensive multi-day adventures are desired then traditional backpacking equipment will be required too. When purchasing backpacking equipment for bushwhacking purposes keep in mind the gear should be rugged, well-made, and lightweight. Bushwhacking inflicts greater wear and tear on your gear, so emphasizing rugged and well-made equipment will ensure years of use. Since bushwhacking is typically more arduous than traditional backpacking (e.g. the ground is less level, more obstacles to climb over or around, continuously being poked and prodded by sharp branches, etc.) it is advantageous to lighten the load on your back as much as possible. This can be accomplished by either leaving home unnecessary equipment or replacing heavier articles with lighter weight equivalents.

There are essentially two different navigation methods while bushwhacking. The shortest-distance method entails taking a direct bearing between two geographic features on a map (i.e. a hill, a stream, a lake or pond, etc.) and staying true to the bearing as much as possible as you travel over the landscape. Detours often are necessary to find an adequate stream crossing, avoid a steep section, etc. Dog-legging is the second navigation method, where one travels shorter distances and at different bearings in an attempt to avoid more difficult features on the landscape. Usually a combination of the two methods is necessary to efficiently bushwhack through the diverse topography found in the Adirondacks.

The Adirondacks affords almost infinite bushwhacking opportunities from state-owned forest preserve to private properties with recreational easements. Extensive areas devoid of trails or roads offer the greatest bushwhacking opportunities but trails and dirt roads can be useful to gain access deep into the backcountry. Herd paths (unmarked foot paths created either by human or animal activities) can be found in abundance in areas where gaining access to certain landscape features is popular. Trails, dirt-roads and bushwhacking can be combined to produce lengthy adventures over varied landscape often found in the Adirondacks.

Bushwhacking provides a multitude of opportunities for enjoying the outdoors in the Adirondacks regardless of whether one is interested in forests, wetlands, wilderness lakes or rugged mountain peaks. So pick up a map and compass, learn how to use them and get out and experience the Adirondack as only bushwhacking allows.

Photo: Old logging road by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking experiences at www.bushwhackingfool.com.


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