Posts Tagged ‘Bushwhacking’

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dan Crane: Leaving Bushwhacking Breadcrumbs

Solitude and isolation are two reasons for journeying into the backcountry of the Adirondacks. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of modern life to spend some time in nature has a soothing and regenerative power unmatched by the likes of books, movies or video games. Unfortunately, the remoteness can prove a challenge if for some reason a backcountry enthusiast must be located in a timely fashion.

Although rare, situations may arise that require locating an individual in the backcountry. An emergency at home, failure to return on a given date or some other reason may require initiating a search with little information to go on. Such a search may be difficult to perform within the confines of a trail system; it may require a Herculean effort in a bushwhacking situation.

Leaving an itinerary with a trust-worthy individual is one way to prepare for such a contingency. Unfortunately, an itinerary is only helpful when it is faithfully followed and this may not always be possible in remote areas subject to blow downs, beaver-induced flooding and other natural disturbances.

Technology offers some solutions to this problem, although they may be expensive and/or impractical in a wilderness setting. Most personal locator beacons (PLBs) provide a tracking are self-activated; they are only effective when a button is pushed in response to a crisis. Some PLBs offer a tracking function (e.g. SPOT Tracker) but require a clear view of the sky and wearing the device on your back or head. Satellite phones could be used to check in with someone back in civilization but these are very expensive and intrusive to the wilderness experience.

Physically leaving some sort of trail behind is one time-tested strategy of allowing others to locate you in case of an emergency. This is called breadcrumbing, not to be confused with the same term’s use with respect to cooking, Internet navigation, GPS tracking or texting flirtatious messages to the opposite sex. All of these terms have obvious roots in the popular Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, where the siblings attempt to use small pieces of bread to mark a trail back home.

Breadcrumbing does not involve leaving a trail of literal breadcrumbs as you bushwhack through forests, around ponds and over beaver dams. The weight of all the bread alone would make such a feat totally unworkable for a multi-day trip. Plus, the temptation to devour the bread after a long day of fighting through dense forest would be overwhelming and impossible to ignore.

If it were possible to exercise enough self-control to use the bread as intended, there is still no guarantee something or someone else would not eat it. A menagerie of animals may devour the starchy morsels and thus obliterate the trail. This same predicament almost led to Hansel and Gretel’s untimely demise. Or worse, these animal beggars might follow the trail through the backcountry, turning you into a Pied Piper of sorts. This would be unhealthy for the animals and may lead you to running afoul of the law since feeding wild animals is illegal.

Instead of leaving actual breadcrumbs, just find other opportunities to temporarily mark the environment with your passing. It is important these figurative breadcrumbs be temporary in nature. Do not engrave trees, leave flagging or paint signs; these are examples of permanent markings and are generally illegal on public property.

Breadcrumbs can come in many forms, from as simple as footprints to as complicated as a message spelled out using natural materials. One characteristic they all should have in common is a form of personal identification and indication of the direction of travel. It is best to leave them in a conspicuous location where they stand out amongst their surroundings.

Footprints in mud or loose soil make ideal breadcrumbs. A dense mud or sand is preferable since these will resist erosion for a longer period of time and show greater detail. These footprints must last for the duration of your trip or they are useless in locating your position in an emergency.

My favorite form of breadcrumbs is a message constructed out of twigs, pebbles or conifer cones. A great place to leave these messages is on rock slabs located near lakes, ponds and streams as these water bodies are often used as landmarks while bushwhacking through the backcountry.

Typically, I leave the majority of my messages at my campsite just before I leave on the next leg of my trip. Even though I place my shelter in a location as devoid of vegetation as possible, there is always some impact whether it be crushed vegetation, compressed leaves or sticks vertically embedded in the forest floor (as tarp poles or stakes). This shelter footprint may capture the eye of anyone following my trail and thus draw attention to my breadcrumb message.

Any message left should include some unique identifier and a time stamp. I use my initials (which unfortunately are also the abbreviation for the last month of the year and the acronym of the New York State agency responsible for management of state-owned land) and the current date. If I am on a long trip I often leave an indication of the direction I am heading when I departed (e.g. N for north, SW for southwest, etc.).

This is enough information to identify myself (or perhaps fool them into thinking it is personally addressed to the Department of Environmental Conversation), the day I was last at the location and the direction I was heading.

The next time you venture out into the backcountry consider leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to mark your passing. This trail could be a tremendous assistance to anyone searching for you in case of an emergency, or at the very worst, retrieve your body. Also, it should allow all involved to avoid any cottages made of confectionaries and any old women living there.

Photos: Breadcrumb message at Oven Lake by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Five Ponds Wilderness: Cracker, Gal and West Ponds

The Adirondacks are dotted with many small lakes and ponds. Many of these are remote wilderness water bodies lacking any roads or trails to them. Since these water bodies have no obvious attractions, few people ever visit. Recently, I visited three such ponds: Cracker, Gal and West Ponds.

These three ponds are located in the Five Ponds Wilderness, south of the Robinson River and west of the upper East Branch Oswegatchie River. The nearest trail lies at least two and a half miles through dense forest to the west. The only way to reach these ponds is via bushwhacking through some of the most challenging terrain in the Adirondacks due to the extensive blow downs from the 1995 Microburst.

Although there are no trails near these ponds, this was not always the case. A trail once existed just east of Cracker Pond and eventually crossed Gal Pond’s outlet before climbing over Greenfield Mountain on its way to High Falls along the Oswegatchie River. After a cursory search during my recent trip, I found no sign of this trail remaining along the outlet. The trail has most likely been reclaimed by the surrounding forest. A historical topographic map of the area can be found here.

Cracker Pond is the southernmost and largest of the three ponds. It is irregularly shaped, with an island connected to the shore by a thick strip of vegetation. Snags and small shrub-covered islands are scattered near shore while many stately white pines tower over the pond along its perimeter. A series of several smaller beaver ponds lie off to the southwest.

Gal and West Ponds are in close proximity to each other about a half mile north of their southern neighbor. They are similarly shaped and connected to each other via a swampy stream. Unlike Cracker, these two ponds have a significant amount of open water with no snags or shrub-covered islands. They both have open rocks along the shore and at least one protruding from the water’s surface.

Gal Pond is unlike the other two ponds with respect to its aquatic vegetation. Pickerel weed and yellow-flowered water lilies are plentiful along its northwestern shoreline.

These lakes are reported to have low pHs due to acidification from acid rain. They are reported to be devoid of fish. However, this condition has not limited hooded mergansers from raising their young. Two different merganser families with multiple young were observed on Cracker and West Ponds. Hooded merganser’s primary diet consists of small fish, although they also eat aquatic invertebrates and amphibians.

Apparently the low pH has not impacted all aquatic life. Whirlygig beetles were common along the northern shoreline of West Pond. Based on the prodigious presence of the blood-sucking adults, the ponds are hospitable to the aquatic larvae of mosquitoes, black flies and deer flies. Amphibians were well represented as well, with green frogs, mink frogs, bullfrogs and spring peepers commonly heard calling during all hours of the day.

Evidence of beaver is plentiful at all three of the ponds. Several remnant dams were present at Cracker Pond, while both Gal and West had obvious beaver lodges. Gal Pond was reported to once have a 654-feet long and 4 feet wide beaver canal leading from the pond to a grove of yellow birchs and other hardwoods. But during my recent visit I observed no recent sign of any beaver activity in at the ponds.

Moose find the area favorable as well. An abundance of moose scat was present between Cracker Pond and its northern neighbors as well as along the northern shores of Gal and West Ponds.

These three ponds represent the very best wilderness experience the Adirondacks have to offer. Their remoteness ensures a peaceful respite from hustle and bustle of the modern world if one has the fortitude to reach them.

Photos: Peninsula at West Pond, Cracker Pond and Gal Pond by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.



Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Five Ponds Wilderness: Oven Lake

There are many places well off the beaten path in the Adirondacks. But there are few as remote or as difficult to get to as Oven Lake in the Five Ponds Wilderness. But for those willing to put the effort in, Oven Lake can be well worth the trouble.

Oven Lake is a highly remote wilderness lake located near the eastern edge of the Five Ponds Wilderness in the northwestern Adirondacks. The lake is nearly a mile long, oriented roughly southwest to northeast and has a unique shape. An undulating shoreline partitions the lake into several different parts. The lake’s inlet is a half mile long, straight channel connecting it to its southeastern neighbor Grassy Pond.

Oven Lake’s wild character is greatly enhances by its remoteness. The lake is located several miles from the nearest trail in the Five Ponds Wilderness. It is approximately two miles north of the terminus of the Red Horse Trail and over three miles east of the Sand Lake Trail. The lake’s distance from any marked trail is a significant reason for its lack of human visitors.

Oven Lake’s remoteness is not the only reason for its lack of visitation. The lake is nearly surrounded by significant blow down from the 1995 Microburst. The forests along both the lake’s eastern and western shores were highly impacted by the intense wind of the 16-year old storm.

The impact of this storm along the shoreline of Oven Lake can clearly be seen from aerial photographs available via Bing or Google maps. These blow downs make a nearly impenetrable barrier keeping all but the most ambitious or insane backcountry adventurer from visiting its shore.

The lake’s many unusual features make it ideal for exploring with a kayak or canoe. Unfortunately, its remoteness and surrounding aggressive terrain are difficult hurdles to overcome in getting a boat onto this wilderness lake.

I made the effort to bushwhack through some of the most arduous backcountry conditions to camp near Oven Lake for two nights this past summer. This trek required hiking into the Five Ponds Wilderness using a network of herd paths, and unmarked and marked trails before bushwhacking several miles through the vast interior. The off-trail portion involved bushwhacking through hardwood, conifer and mixed forests, over hills and around cliffs, avoiding thick blow down, crossing the Robinson River on an abandoned beaver dam and following along a series of stygian beaver swales.

On this trip I gained access following a series of beaver swales from the Robinson River located between Toad Pond and Crooked Lake. The beaver swales were fed by a boggy wetland located just a short distance from the southern portion of Oven Lake. This route allowed me to avoid most of the worst of the blow down along the eastern and western shoes of Oven Lake. My exit from the lake was via the northern end of the lake as I headed northeast toward Cracker Pond.

I spent two nights in the Oven Lake area; one night near the southern portion of the lake and the other near its northern terminus. The remoteness of the lake was accentuated by the presence of common loons, beaver, several river otters and a prodigious amount of moose droppings. The only evidence of human activity in the area was the remnants of a Mylar balloon found near its shore to the southwest.

Oven Lake is a perfect place to explore for a backcountry enthusiast looking for a true wilderness experience unlikely to be disturbed by the presence of other people. With its remote location and difficult surrounding terrain there is little chance of seeing another soul at Oven Lake except for the truly dedicated bushwhacker.

Photos: Southern portion of Oven Lake, hardwood regeneration along eastern shore of Oven Lake and River otters near northern terminus of Oven Lake by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.



Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Five Ponds Wilderness: A Moose Paradise

Moose have been swiftly returning to the Adirondacks in recent decades. These large ungulates were extirpated from New York State around the time of the Civil War. In the early 1980’s, moose started making a return to the state with an estimated population of 15 to 20 individuals. Their numbers have mushroomed to a population of over 800 today.

Moose are the largest living member of the deer family. Unlike most other members of the deer family, male moose have palmate antlers, which are used during the mating season to fight for the right to mate with females. Moose habitat consists of either boreal or mixed deciduous forests, where their diet consists of both terrestrial and aquatic vegetation. » Continue Reading.



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bushwacking the 46 High Peaks

A short while ago Spencer Morrissey completed a decade long quest of bushwhacking to or from every one of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks. Although when he got started he had not heard of John Winkler, he eventually met him at book signings and had the rare privilege on several occasions of exchanging hiking stories.

John E ‘Bushwhack’ Winkler (1941-2007), who received a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, preferred bushwhacking to trail hiking and over a span of 30 years climbed just about every bump, scaled most of the slides and visited many of the ponds and bogs of his ‘Cherished Wilderness’, the Adirondacks. Nevertheless his most famous accomplishment is climbing all of the 46 (over a 5 year span during the late 70s early 80s), from one direction or the other following a set of rules he had established himself but bushwhacking in at least one direction between each mountain base and its summit. A talented photographer, he came back with two volumes of extraordinary pictures. The volumes sport little text but one can guess many of his routes easily since every picture is worth a 1000 words. » Continue Reading.



Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dan Crane: The Year of the Mosquito

Biting insects are the price of admission for playing in the backcountry of the Adirondacks. But this year these pests seem to be more plentiful and ferocious than in years past. This is particularly true for the blood-sucking scourge known worldwide as the pesky mosquito.

Last month I experienced the large number and ferocity of mosquitoes first hand during an eight-day trek within the remote interior of the Five Ponds Wilderness in the northwestern Adirondacks. Saying mosquitoes were plentiful would be a vast understatement given the near-Biblical proportions of the blood-suckers encountered there.



In addition to the vast numbers, the mosquitoes also displayed a greater bloodthirstiness than I have witnessed in many years. Even places usually light in mosquito activity had more than their fair share of the vicious blood-suckers this year. And they were literally out for blood.

There are at least two possible explanations for this near-historical level of mosquitoes. One explanation involves the record level of precipitation during the spring and early summer, while another revolves around the precipitous decline of one of their chief predators.

Few residents of the Adirondacks will soon forget the record amount of rainfall this spring and early summer, with its concomitant flooding causing numerous road closures, some of which continue to this day. All this extra water accumulated in the backcountry resulting in overflowing water bodies, bloated streams and soggy wetlands.

The plentiful water provided a boom for mosquitoes and other blood-sucking pests, providing numerous opportunities to lay their eggs and ample habitat for their larval young.

The reduction in the bat population may be another possible explanation for the proliferation of mosquitoes in the Adirondacks this year.

Bats are flying mammals with webbed forelimbs that have evolved into wings used in flight. Bats are unique among mammals as they are the only members of this class capable of sustained flight.

There are nine different species of bats present within the Adirondacks and all of these consume insects, including mosquitoes, as their main source of food.

Although bats are not exclusive predators of mosquitoes there is evidence they consume prodigious levels of mosquitoes as well as other flying insects. Typically an individual bat can devour up to one third of its own weight in insects each night. That could potentially add up to a whole lot of mosquitoes.

Unfortunately, bat populations along the eastern United States have been devastated by the white-nose syndrome. This syndrome has been associated with the death of over a million bats in the northeastern United States.

The white-nose syndrome is named after the white fungus found on affected bat’s nose, ears and wings. Mortality rates of 90 to 100% have been observed in some caves leaving the long-term viability of some species survival in doubt. The Adirondack bat populations have not been immune to this devastating condition.

Over the last couple of years I have witnessed the reduction in the bat populations first hand. Areas in the northwestern Adirondacks where I observed bats in the early hours of the evening now appear to be devoid of these flying mammals.

Recently, while exploring remote areas south of the Robinson River in the Five Ponds Wilderness I made a concentrated effort to observe some bats early in the evening. Unfortunately the numbers and ferocity of the mosquito horde limited my time viewing the early evening skies without putting both my physical and mental health at risk.

However during the early evening hours of six of the days where weather permitted I failed to see a single bat flying through the darkening skies. The mosquitoes took full advantage of the lack of these flying mammals by feasting on me until I was near the point of insanity.

An abundant mosquito population coupled with an increased bloodthirstiness may be the result of the prodigious amount of rainfall or the depletion of a natural predator — it is difficult to say. When you are in the backcountry surrounded by a swarm of these blood-suckers, reasons are not as important as the sweet relief that insect netting or a good bottle of bug repellent can provide.

Do not fret though; these blood-suckers will get their comeuppance with winter just a few short months away.

Photos: Mosquito by Joaquim Alves Gaspar, high water at Sand Lake by Dan Crane, and bat with white-nose syndrome by US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.




Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gear: The Smallest Personal Locator Beacon Available

Outdoor electronic equipment is not immune to the trend toward smaller and lighter electronics, which was apparent with the official unveiling of ACR Electronics’ newest personal locator beacon (PLB), the ResQLink™.

On July 21, 2011, the FCC gave its final approval for ACR’s ResQLink, the smallest and lightest PLB currently on the market. Consequently, the ACR ResQLink went on sale soon after the announcement. The ACR ResQLink is now the smallest, full-powered, GPS-enabled rescue beacon specifically designed for anglers, pilots and, especially, back country enthusiasts.

Personal locator beacons are electronic devices used to notify search and rescue personnel of an individual in distress who is far away from normal emergency services such as 911 (e.g. bushwhacking somewhere deep in the Adirondack backcountry). These devices interface with the COSPAS-SARSAT, the international satellite system for search-and-rescue (SAR), and can often be individually identified and precisely located when GPS equipped.

Personal locator beacons have saved numerous people’s lives in the back country and should be carried on any adventure off the beaten path, especially by solo explorers. By giving a precise location of an injured person these devices save time, money and reduce the risk to SAR personnel.

The ACR ResQLink is now the smallest and lightest PLB currently on the market (a distinction previous held by the McMurdo FastFind 210). The ResQLink measures at 1.3 inches by 1.9 inches by 3.9 inches, making it comparable to the size of a cell-phone. In addition, it weighs a mere 4.6 ounces. This makes it smaller and lighter than most people’s wallets!

At this size and weight, the ResQLink can easily be stowed almost anywhere in a backpack. Just make sure it is placed somewhere accessible and not at the very bottom of an overly-stuffed backpack. It could even be carried in a shirt or pant pocket!

Although small in size, the ResQLink has the full capability of a serious PLB. With the ResQLink, ACR has packaged GPS positioning, a 406 MHz signal and 121.5 MHz homing capability into a little package that can rapidly and accurately relay your position to the search and rescue satellite system in case of an emergency. The 66-channel GPS can even guide rescuers to within 100 meters or less of your position. In addition, an integrated strobe light provides greater visibility in the case of a nighttime rescue.

Like most ACR PLBs, the ResQLink is extremely easy to use. Just deploy the antenna and press the exposed ON button, preferably somewhere with a clear view of the sky. When not in use the metal blade antenna lies wrapped around the case and the ON button is hidden behind the plastic base of the antenna. This device is so easy to use that it can even be operated with a single hand.

The ResQLink provides two built-in tests to verify the device is functioning properly. With just a push of a button either the internal electronics or the GPS functionality can be tested before heading into the backcountry. These tests can reduce the anxiety regarding the device functioning properly after an entire winter in storage.

Unlike some other PLB products, the ResQLink requires no paid subscription but through ACR’s optional 406Link.com website it does have some limited messaging capability.

The ResQLink is made right here in the USA, comes with a 5-year limited warranty and has a suggested retail price of $325. But a cursory scan of the internet yielded typical prices as low as $279.

As a matter of full disclosure, I have not had the opportunity to use (or even touch) a ResQLink yet. The information for this article is a compilation of my experience with ACR’s MicroFix (a larger and older PLB), the literature provided by ACR on their website and some reviews on the Internet (including this excellent one).

The combined size and weight make the ACR ResQLink easier to carry than any other PLB on the market, especially compared to those previously offered by ACR. Since a PLB can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency, there is increasingly no excuse to avoid carrying one especially one as small and lightweight as the ResQLink.

Photos: ResQLink by ACR Electronics.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.



Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bushwhacking with Compact Binoculars

Imagine walking down a trail or bushwhacking through some dense underbrush. A flash of movement appears out of the corner of your eye that just might be a three-toed woodpecker (or any other bird, mammal, insect, plant or mineral of interest).

The backpack is carefully is removed, opened, and fished through in an attempt to find a full-sized pair of binoculars. After finally locating the binoculars, the case is opened and the binoculars are ready to be focused on this rare bird species (or mammal, insect, plant or mineral). Unfortunately, it is long gone and you are out of luck. » Continue Reading.



Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bushwhacking Cowboy Beaver Meadow

There are many places in the Adirondacks where one can get away from the crowds but few as remote as the Cowboy Beaver Meadow in the northwestern corner of the Pepperbox Wilderness.

The Cowboy Beaver Meadow is a series of beaver swales along the Alder Creek. Nearby one can find a lovely unnamed pond and several beaver created wetlands. But if you expect to find any crowds then think again; this is a rarely visited place. Other than the occasional bushwhacker or hunters during the fall this place probably rarely gets many visitors.

The Cowboy Beaver Meadow is an ideal place for those contemplating exploring the backcountry beyond the trails and trying their hand at bushwhacking. Bordered on the east and south by the Alder Creek, north by a dirt road south of Spring Pond and west by the Herkimer/Lewis county line this area allows for testing one’s navigation skills while providing enough natural/man-made landmarks to remain oriented on a map.

The origin of the name for these beaver meadows along the Alder Creek remains unknown. According to a posting on the Adkforum website, the beaver meadow was named after a mysterious cowboy who made his residence in the area around the time of the Civil War.

Gaining access to the Cowboy Beaver Meadow is a challenge. The easiest access is from the west out of Croghan via Prentice Road, a gravel road that eventually turns south and becomes the Main Haul Road. This is a fairly decent dirt road suitable for most cars but caution is required due to the occasional ATV traffic.

Although the Main Haul Road continues to the Soft Maple Reservoir, the Cowboy Beaver Meadow parking area lies at the end of Sand Pond Road located just south of the Sand Pond parking lot. Do not expect a sign or register here, although an old “Parking Area” sign nailed on a tree is present, it is now mostly obscured by new growth.

Historical topographic maps show the area once had a more significant human presence than it does today. An unimproved road once followed along the Alder Creek through the beaver meadow on its way from Long Pond to Crooked Lake. In addition, another road left the beaver meadow and headed up along Pepperbox Creek. A winding, low rock ridge resembling a beaver dam made of boulders that crosses the Alder Creek between beaver ponds is probably the remnants of this old road.

In addition to the rare human artifact there are numerous natural landmarks to investigate in this area, including the many beaver ponds along the Alder Creek, an unnamed pond and a hill with steep forested cliffs.

The unnamed pond provides an attractive place for camping while visiting the area. Several islands exist within the pond although they are merely muddy, slightly raised areas covered with semi-aquatic grasses, sedges and other vegetation. Beavers and hooded mergansers frequent this pond and its islands.

Many dead trees choke the shoreline of the pond. Along the west shore sits a large, stick nest located at the top of one of these snags near the shoreline. This nest may belong to either a great blue heron or possibly an osprey but remained unoccupied during the late summer.

An elevated area between the pond and the beaver swales along Alder Creek provides an opportunity to gain some perspective on the area. The forested cliffs provide a destination but do not expect much in the way of views. Although the hills to the east beyond the Alder Creek can be seen through the tree canopy these minimal views are merely a tease since a clear view of the Cowboy Beaver Meadow remains elusive. A better view may be available during the autumn months after most of the leaves have descended from the canopy.

The Cowboy Beaver Meadow is the main attraction of the area. This meadow is a series of beaver swales following along the Alder Creek as it meanders toward the Beaver River to the south.

The meadows range from wide and relatively dry open, shrubby areas to just a narrow corridor surrounding the creek. Most of the creek is slow moving with many pools along its length but at some points, the tannin-rich water flows swiftly over bare rock with frequent small waterfalls. Opportunities for crossing the stream and exploring to the east of the creek are plentiful in late summer.

For those wanting to experiment with bushwhacking in a seemingly remote area should consider the Cowboy Beaver Meadow area within the northwestern Pepperbox Wilderness. The area provides a beaver pond, a series of beaver swales along the Alder Creek and human artifacts from bygone days. So, saddle up and enjoy!

Photos: Beaver pond within Cowboy Beaver Meadow, unnamed pond and rocky portion of Alder Creek by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.



Thursday, June 2, 2011

Outdoor Gear: Bug Season Head Nets

A recent weekend in the northwestern Adirondacks during May gave me a new perspective on surviving black fly season in a year with a prodigious amount of rainfall. The size and intensity of the swarm continuously hovering around my head not only necessitated a plethora of insect repellent but the frequent use of a piece of equipment that rarely sees the light of day: the head net.

Although a good head net is a necessity during black fly season, it probably should be carried at all times during the warmer months. A head net can sometimes come in handy beyond black fly season when camping in a mosquito-frequented area or anytime no-see-ums congregant on your head in large numbers.

An effective head net should be black in color and have mesh small enough to keep away even the tinniest of blood sucking insects. An elasticized closure at the bottom of the head net is helpful to seal off the mesh around your neck. In addition, it should be compact and lightweight enough to easily and conveniently fit within an overstuffed backpack on a multi-day trip.

The dark color of the mesh has little to do with making a fashion statement. The dark color reduces the amount of glare from the sun when wearing the head net. This can be of critical importance if you plan on doing any birding while wearing the head net.

Despite their porous nature, head nets can be very hot when worn. Although this can be an advantage on cold days when a hat is not available, it is usually an added annoyance on warm days especially with a swarm of ravenous blood-sucking insects about your head.

On those days when the swarm is especially intense, drinking and eating can be done without taking off the head net. Drinking should be done right through the mesh but it is best to refrain from drinking anything other than water since any residue left behind may attract larger, and potentially more dangerous, wildlife.

Eating is also possible while wearing a head net. With the right type of head net, eating can be accomplished by placing the food inside the head net and then manipulating the food article with your hands from outside the head net. This is an excellent technique for keeping the swarm of insects from landing on and potentially ruining your meal as well. Take care not to attempt to eat anything sticky this way though, as any residue left behind will create the same problem as non-water drinks.

A lightweight head net will alleviate any associated anxiety of carrying a potentially extraneous piece of equipment for the extremely weight-conscious backcountry explorer. Compactness ensures the fine mesh does not get ripped during the packing process, preventing a potentially painful breach in your insect protection barrier (repairable with duct tape, if necessary).

Head nets tend to come in two different types. One resembles a mesh hood while the other tends to incorporate one or more rings into the mesh so as to keep the mesh away from one’s face. The hooded type should be avoided as the mesh tends to end up resting on one’s face more often giving the ingenious little buggers an opportunity to do some blood-sucking.

The head nets using rings are definitely superior to the hooded type. The rings, made of hard plastic, foam or metal, keep the mesh away from the face and therefore provide more effective protection. The rings’ material should not be too easily bent or anyone with even a moderate case of obsessive-compulsion disorder may spend many hours attempting to get them back into their original shape.

Two head nets made by popular outdoor manufacturers are the Sea to Summit Mosquito Head Net and the Outdoor Research Deluxe Spring Ring Headnet.

The Sea to Summit Mosquito Head Net is a perfect example of the hooded type of head net. It is a very lightweight head net with a true black mesh that packs up into its own very small stuff sack. This head net weighs only 1.3 ounces and the typical prices online range from $8 to $10.

Unfortunately, this head net has one crucial flaw. With 500 holes per square inch the head net is completely ineffectual for no-see-ums. This flaw became painfully apparent to me on a trip to Big Shallow Pond in the Five Ponds Wilderness several years ago. This flaw makes the Sea to Summit head net ineffectual for use in the Adirondack for all those who do not enjoy no-see-um bites.

In contrast, the Outdoor Research Deluxe Spring Ring Headnet is one of the better ring head nets available from the major outdoor equipment manufacturers. The mesh is very finely woven; not even the runt of a no-see-um litter could possibly penetrate it. This head net packs down to a small size and is very lightweight, weighing a mere 2.2 ounces. This head net has a manufacturers suggested retail price of $19.

An important feature of the OR Deluxe Spring Ring head net is the aluminum ring sewn within the mesh located about chin-level. This ring keeps the mesh away from your face and therefore keeps the little bloodsuckers from biting you where the mesh rests against your skin. Unfortunately, it needs to be worn with a hat otherwise the blood suckers can easily bite your scalp through the mesh (and your hair) on the top of your head. When twisted this aluminum ring collapses into a smaller size so it can be packed within the attached stuff sack and stowed away in your pack.

One minor flaw of the OR head net is the color of the mesh. Although the mesh is dark in color, it is not quite black. It appears to be more charcoal in color and therefore does not provide all the reduction in glare possible. Unless the head net is going to be used in direct sunshine where glare can be an issue (e.g. birding), this should not be a major concern.

During the height of bug season it is important to use any means available to maintain your sanity when surrounded by hordes of blood-sucking insects such as black flies, mosquitoes and deer flies. A head net can be one of the best ways to protect your head and maintain your mental health during this time of the year. Just be sure to use one that is effective against all of the possible pesky blood-sucking insects present.

Photos: Outdoor Research Deluxe Spring Ring Headnet by Outdoor Research and Sea to Summit Mosquito Head Net by Sea to Summit.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.



Thursday, May 19, 2011

Audubon Society’s Adirondack Birdathon

They say it is the most fun you can have outside with your clothes on. And, no it is not bushwhacking through an Adirondack wilderness. It is the Birdathon, the National Audubon Society’s largest annual fundraising event and the globe’s biggest birding competition. It is happening soon and it may be taking place in some parts of the Adirondacks.

The Birdathon is a 24-hour long marathon competition to find as many bird species as possible within a given region. Species can be identified by sight and/or sound and you are free to bird for as many or as few hours within the 24-hour duration as you desire. Most people participate in teams but if you are of the anti-social persuasion then it is perfectly fine to go solo. » Continue Reading.



Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gear Review: Highlite Sleeping Bag

Having an effective sleeping system is crucial to any backcountry explorer. After a full day of hiking or bushwhacking it is essential to get a good night’s rest. The sleeping bag is the most important part of any sleeping system as it provides insulation from the cooler evening temperatures allowing for a restful night’s sleep.

A good backcountry sleeping bag should be light weight, compressible, insulating, and durable. Western Mountaineering’s Highlite down sleeping bag meets all those criteria and is an ideal bag for the Adirondacks from late spring to early fall. The Highlite is incredibly light-weight, compresses down to the size of a loaf of bread and is worthy of Western Mountaineering’s reputation for impeccable quality.

Everything about the Highlite has been designed with reducing weight in mind. In fact, this sleeping bag is the lightest one on the market. The Highlite comes in three different sizes based on a person’s height and weighs from 15 to 17 ounces depending on the size.

The sleeping bag is rated down to a temperature of 35 degrees Fahrenheit. It is insulated with 850+ goose down and has a total fill weight of 7 to 9 ounces (depending on the size).

The down is wrapped in a .9 ounce ExtremeLite™ shell fabric purported to be the lightest and densest (measured by threads per inch) on the market. This fabric appears to be dense enough to prevent the sleeping bag from losing any but a small amount of it precious down feathers. But with any light-weight fabric special care is necessary to avoid ware and tear.

The zipper is the weakest part of this sleeping bag. The one-way zipper is small and cut to half of the bag length to cut down on weight. Although the zipper works well but zips apart at the bottom, which can be irritating when it happens in the middle of the night and it becomes difficult to zip it up to avoid a mid-night chill.

The bag is cut in such a way as to reduce both excess weight and internal volume and thus increase the internal heating rate. This allows the bag to heat up more quickly, which can be greatly appreciated on a chilly evening.

The Highlite is purple on the outside and black on the inside. The dark colors make it easier to dry the sleeping bag in the sun on long trips.

As a bonus the Highlite is made in the good ole U.S. of A.

The Highlite is an awesome sleeping bag for the spring to fall seasons in the Adirondacks. This sleeping bag has been my go-to bag for many years. I have found it always comfortable and rarely needs any supplements like a silk liner or wearing extra clothing.

Although some people might hesitate using a down bag in the Adirondacks where the risk of rain is ever present but if one takes the required precautions (e.g. using a waterproof stuff sack, pack liner and/or pack cover) there should be no problem with the Highlite.

For a light-weight, warm, comfortable and well made sleeping bag for any backcountry adventure you cannot go wrong with Western Mountaineering’s Highlite sleeping bag. It will keep you comfortable on those chilly Adirondack evenings in most conditions but it will not weigh down your backpack or take up too much space.

Photos: Highlite sleeping bag by Western Mountaineering.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.



Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mud Season: Sloshing Through Wet Trails

April and May are traditionally considered the messiest part of mud season in the Adirondacks. This designation ignores the fact that any month in the Adirondacks without snow cover could be classified as such. Mud season offers significant challenges to any backcountry adventurer regardless of whether they stay on hiking trails or venture off-tail into areas less traveled.

Although April is considered the beginning of mud season, the actual season can shift significantly from year to year depending on the winter’s snow pack, and the average temperature and amount of liquid precipitation during the early spring. Elevation effects the arrival of mud season with it occurring earlier at low elevations and much later on mountaintops. But regardless of when it starts the results are eventually the same: wet and muddy trails, boots and legs.

There are many challenges for the backcountry explorer during this messy time of the year. These challenges require additional planning, preparation and in some cases caution. But there are a few benefits to being in the backcountry this time of the year as well. In addition, there are some important environmental impacts of hiking in mud season that need identification and management so as to ameliorate their negative impacts.

One challenge of hiking during mud season is the weather. The months of April and May often display the most variable weather both from day-to-day and year-to-year. This variability requires being prepared for almost any type of conditions imaginable from deep snow to driving rainfall. This often requires carrying a vast array of equipment for both the winter and summer seasons.

Depending on the situation crampons and/or snowshoes (see a review of perfect lightweight snowshoes here) may be necessary and an effective pair of gaiters is a must (see a review of a great pair of gaiters here). A good sturdy pair of hiking boots, preferably with a waterproof layer, will help keep your feet dry even in the muddiest of conditions especially in combination with gaiters.

I have some first-hand experience with the variability of the weather during spring conditions. Once while backpacking within the Five Ponds Wilderness during early-May I sloshed through a substantial snowfall. I was clearly unprepared for such weather conditions since I brought only my summer equipment for the most part.

Crossing streams in the early spring can be very challenging regardless of whether hiking on or off trails. In early spring, ice jams can cause extensive flooding while later in the spring streams can become swollen with runoff from the melting snow pack and the saturated soils. Look out for floating logs and flooded boardwalks as both can be frequent hazards on trails through wetlands during this time of the year.

There are some negative environmental impacts to hiking during mud season. The chief environmental damage from hiking in mud season is erosion. Although erosion can occur anywhere it is more extensive within the mountainous and heavy trafficked areas within the High Peaks. Soils tend to be more susceptible to erosion in the spring due to the alternating warmer temperatures during the day and colder temperatures in the evening.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation often issues a voluntary trail closure for areas above 3000 feet in the Eastern High Peaks. These closures are issued to protect trails from erosion as well as to protect fragile alpine vegetation during this time of the year. The effectiveness of these closures on trail use in this area is questionable.

When encountering muddy trails one should avoid walking around sloppy portions of a trail to avoid the muck. Typically, avoiding walking through ankle deep (or deeper!) mud just seems like common sense but it is best walk right through the mud to avoid trail creep and damaging nascent vegetation growing along the trail’s border. These fragile early-season shoots can be easily damaged by the aggressive tread of a hiker’s boot.

Because of all the negative issues of navigating through mud season I typically avoid any backcountry hiking in the month of April in the Adirondacks. Usually my own backcountry adventures start around mid-May although this is highly dependent on the prevalent weather conditions during mid to late spring.

Although there are many challenges and some negative environmental factors of hiking during mud season there are a couple of advantages to the adventurous backcountry enthusiast.

One advantage of exploring the backcountry during April is the lack of a certain plentiful Adirondack pest. Typically April is the last totally biting bug free month in the Adirondacks until the following autumn. At some point in late May the bane of the Adirondacks, the black fly will reemerge from the stream and rivers, and attack anything warm-blooded with a pulse. Soon other biting flies will join in on the fun and most will be present until the end of summer.

Another benefit of hiking in the early spring is the lack of foliage. Although many may see this as a disadvantage due to the lack of shade, the absence of the scent of fresh foliage and the comforting rustle of the wind through the leaves there is a real benefit to be enjoyed. Without leaves blocking one’s views some outstanding vistas once obscured now becomes visible. This is especially true on rolling hills where the trees often grow thickest.

Hiking through the backcountry during mud season offers the ambitious explorer some real challenges and a few advantages over some other seasons in the Adirondacks. It is important to be prepared for any and all weather conditions but the season offers some pleasant bug-free hiking with some seldom seen awesome views. But the more fastidious explorer should sit this season out and wait for the warm winds of summer to dry up the trails.

Photos: Muddy trail on Mt. Colden, muddy and wet Adirondack trail, flooded trail near Cranberry Lake by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Five Ponds Wilderness: The Red Horse Trail

The Red Horse Trail is a prime example of an Adirondack wilderness trail. Located in the southern portion of the Five Ponds Wilderness this trail stretches from Big Burnt Lake along the northern shore of Stillwater Reservoir to Clear Lake five miles to the north. The trail provides numerous opportunities to experience the wilderness from secluded lakes to wild streams and everything in between.

The Red Horse Trail is one of the oldest Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) established hiking trails dating as far back as 1922. At that time the trail went from Wanakena all the way to the Beaver River with a bridge traversing the Oswegatchie River at High Falls. Today the middle portion of the trail has been long abandoned but its course can still be found on a historical topographical map. Only the southern-most section of the original trail remains today.

The limited access to this trail probably has a lot to do with its wilderness character. The typical access is by boat via either Big Burnt Lake or Trout Pond. Both of these water bodies are inland bays of Stillwater Reservoir although at one time before the Beaver River was dammed they were independent water bodies in their own right.

There are many interesting sites to see hiking the Red Horse Trail. Along the trail are 3 large secluded lakes (Salmon Lake, Witchhopple Lake and Clear Lake), a lean-to (at Trout Pond), numerous wetland-crossing boardwalks, several beaver ponds, a northern whitecedar lined stream, old-growth northern hardwood forests and majestic towering eastern white pines. All in a length of only five miles!

Although the southern terminus of the trail is along the northern shore of Big Burnt Lake, Trout Pond appears to be the most popular access point due to the presence of the trail register and the nearby lean-to. A couple of sizeable designated camping sites exist along the trail in the direction of Big Burnt Lake.

The Red Horse Trail can be broken up into three different sections. The first consists of the section from Trout Pond to the southern edge of Salmon Lake. The second traverses along the edge of Salmon Lake and beyond until reaching the western shore of Witchhopple Lake. The third section stretches to the north and ends at the southern tip of Clear Lake. The amount of use of the trail appears to decrease with each succeeding section.

From Trout Pond it is only one mile to the southern edge of Salmon Lake. This section of trail is mostly level and parallels along the stream between Trout Pond and Salmon Lake. Unusual for the Adirondacks this stream is bordered by large eastern white cedars whose roots invade the trail and provide a hazard to the distracted hiker.

The trail meets Salmon Lake at its southern end at an old lean-to site. Although the lean-to burned down years ago an outhouse and two fireplaces still stand at the site. Since Salmon Lake lies north-south the view of the entire lake here is stunning.

After leaving the southern end of Salmon Lake the trail parallels the eastern shore of the lake although rarely in sight of the lake. Except for a couple wet areas (a legendary one is just north of the old lean-to site) the trail is mostly dry as it weaves its way through a mature hardwood forest. After about one more mile the trail rejoins Salmon Lake at its very northern end.

After leaving Salmon Lakes’ northern end the trail weaves through several wetlands via boardwalks before finally arriving at Witchhopple Lake. Some of the boardwalks here are half-submerged in water and can be quite treacherous due to their slipperiness.

At Witchhopple Lake the trail bisects a large camping site with plenty of open places for tenting. A large fire ring lies here and there is typically a plentiful supply of cut wood. This site appears to get a lot of use, probably during the hunting season. Litter is often plentiful here too with garbage, Styrofoam, old tarping and half burned rubbish strewn about. Despite the often filthy condition of this campsite the view of Witchhopple Lake is outstanding. Expect to be serenaded by loons and legions of frogs if you chose to camp at this site.

Beyond the Witchhopple Lake campsite is the most harrowing portion of the entire trail. The crossing of the outlet here is one of the most convoluted I have ever seen in the entire Adirondacks.

A series of small streams weave their way through tall gasses and reeds making it difficult to discern dry land from flowing water. Usually a maze of different trails weaves their way through the vegetation only some of which provide boardwalks over swift running water. The key to a successful crossing is to use a large downed tree located in the center of the vegetation as a bridge to make it over the widest stream at the northern edge of the confluence.

The northern most portion of the trail is the most remote and appears to get much less use than its southern segments. Some bridgeless minor stream crossings exist just beyond the Witchhopple outlet but should pose no difficulty for the intrepid soul who reached this point on the trail. This portion of the trail continues to gain elevation for the majority of its length through mostly hardwood forests with an occasional beaver pond passing.

The southern end of Clear Lake functions as the northern terminus of the trail. After a very slick crossing on a boardwalk the trail ends at a large camping site. Typically an old metal rowboat is located here. Summit Mountain can be seen looming over the northern end of the lake.

The trail provides addition opportunities beyond just hiking and backpacking. Canoeing and kayaking opportunities abound along the Red Horse Trail. In addition to accessing the trail via Stillwater Reservoir the three large wilderness lakes remain close enough to one another that the trail can be used as a canoe carry. Both Clear and Witchhopple Lakes provide access to even more secluded bodies of water to the north and east, respectively.

Although most visitors to the Red Horse Trail arrive by boat bushwhacking to the trail is always an option. I have bushwhacked from both the west (starting at the end of Necessary Dam Road) and the north (off the Sand Lake Trail). This option requires days of aggressive travel through remote wilderness with the northern route being the more difficult due to the plethora of scattered blowdown from the 1995 microburst.

Whether reached via boat or through bushwhacking the Red Horse Trail provides a true wilderness experience with plenty of natural beauty to satisfy even the most ardent outdoorsman/outdoorswoman. If one is looking for quiet and solitude far from the more popular trails within the Adirondacks then it is impossible to go wrong with the Red Horse Trail. Giddy-up!

Photos: Sign at Trout Pond, Salmon Lake and log crossing at Witchhopple Lake outlet by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.



Thursday, February 24, 2011

Camping: Hang Your Food or Lose Your Lunch

Hanging food is one of the greatest annoyances while camping in the backcountry of the Adirondacks. It requires finding a suitable tree, locating an adequate rock, tying a rope onto the rock and making multiple throws attempting to hang the rope on a specific branch in a precise location. At any stage in the process a number of things can wrong requiring starting the whole process all over again.

Unfortunately, not hanging one’s food can easily result in losing all your meals and ruining an entire trip. » Continue Reading.



Thursday, February 10, 2011

Locating Backcountry Campsite: Science or Art?

At the end of a long day of bushwhacking the backcountry, including crawling over blow downs, thrashing through thick hobblebush and balancing over crumbling beaver dams, it is time to locate a camping site for the night. Unfortunately, finding an acceptable camp site can be one of the most frustrating aspects of the backcountry experience especially when bushwhacking through remote and wild areas within the Adirondacks.

One mistake to avoid is bushwhacking late into the early evening hours and not giving yourself enough time to adequately locate a good site to set up your camp. There is simply nothing worse than searching wildly about for an adequate campsite at the end of an exhausting day of bushwhacking as the sun slowly sinks below the horizon. Be sure to stop early enough in the late afternoon to find a nice site and give you enough time to set up and enjoy the early evening hours. Typically I plan on stopping around 5 PM while bushwhacking to give myself the appropriate amount of time without having the feeling of being rushed.

The most frustrating part of locating a good campsite is finding a level enough area for a shelter so as to avoid sliding to one corner and tossing and turning over a back-breaking tree root. Avoid areas appearing completely level as puddles can form there and waking up in a pool of water during a late night thunderstorm can place a real damper on a good night’s rest. A shelter should be placed on crowned site in such a way as to move any possible rain water away from, instead of under your shelter.

When bushwhacking through remote areas abandon the notion of finding one of those perfectly level and open areas typically found along an established trail system. These spacious camp sites near trail systems were artificially constructed from many years of human use and are almost non-existent in the remote backcountry. Even if such sites once existed in these remote areas during the bygone logging days they have long ago been reclaimed by vegetation.

When setting up your campsite try to do as little site modification as possible. Any shelters should be placed in areas devoid of any vegetation, if such a place can be located in the Adirondacks. Any sticks, logs and/or rocks removed from the site prior to setting up the camp site should be placed nearby where they can be retrieved and replaced when leaving the site. The leave no trace ethic should apply to one’s campsite as much as any other aspect of your outdoor experience.

Most people prefer camping near water for the awesome views and the ease of transporting water to their camping site. Regardless of being far away from a trail system or not, the rule of being 150 feet from any source of water is still in effect. Since few journey into the backcountry with a measuring tape, a rough estimate of this distance is necessary. In my experience, distance estimates have a reciprocal relationship to the beauty of the waterfront view. Unfortunately being near water also means being surrounded by hordes of biting insects.

Safety is always a concern in the backcountry and choosing a campsite is no exception. One should always scan the tree canopy for snags that could become a widow maker while you sleep. Do not forget to scan the canopy for dead branches that could come crashing down on you and turn a night’s sleep into a permanent slumber. This is a greater concern in mature forests where giant trees tower over your campsite can hide a few large dead or dying limbs.

Choosing a campsite in the backcountry is more of an art form than a science. In the Adirondacks, the rough terrain, thick vegetation and often soggy soils makes locating an acceptable campsite a challenge. Give yourself an adequate amount of time to search for a comfortable site where you will get a much needed night’s rest. And if the site turns out to be less-than-stellar, just remember, you are only visiting and there is always a chance you will do better next time.

Photos: Camping sites in the Pepperbox Wilderness.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.



Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gear Review: Golite Pinnacle Backpack

A backpack is one of the most important single pieces of gear in any backcountry explorer’s equipment arsenal. The backpack’s fit is crucial for an enjoyable trip into the backcountry. But for bushwhacking adventures the backpack has to be more than just comfortable but must also be tough and durable enough to handle the onslaught of the worst conditions the Adirondacks can dole out. A severe rip in the backcountry could leave one trying to carry all their equipment in their arms, which is no easy feat in the dense Adirondack backcountry.

The extreme conditions encountered while bushwhacking requires a backpack to have the following characteristics:

• Durable
• Comfortable fit
• Light weight
• Adequate access
• Slim

An excellent bushwhacking backpack that meets all of the above criteria is the Golite Pinnacle. Golite has manufactured the Pinnacle backpack since at least 2007. The Pinnacle is the largest of the three backpacks in Golite’s UltraLite line. UltaLite backpacks are known for their combination of durability, minimalism and comfort. The Pinnacle has been recently updated with a larger front pocket and an improved suspension.

The Pinnacle is a spacious backpack with a volume of 4392 cubic inches but compresses down to about 1500 cubic inches via the ComPACKtor™ system. The ComPACKtor™ system uses two fixed compression anchor clips to compress the pack for shorter trips thus increasing the versatility of this exceptional backpack.

The Pinnacle is made from Golite’s Dyneema® Gridstop weave combining 100% nylon yarn with Dyneema® fibers to create a strong yet light pack fabric. Dyneema fabric has a strength-to-weight ratio 15 times greater than higher tensile steel making the Pinnacle highly resistant to tearing.

For those concerned with their environmental footprint will be relieved to know the Pinnacle is manufactured with Tier 1 recycled fabrics. Golite has replaced virgin, petro-chemical based materials with 50% Tier 1 recycled nylon. Golite’s efforts using recycled materials won them the Green Award of the 2010 Backpacker Editors’ Choice Awards.

The Golite Pinnacle has many other wonderful features important to any backcountry adventurer. Some of these features include:

• Double-Wishbone™ hipbelt connection transfers weight to hips.
• Zippered stretch pockets on belt for easy access to small, often-used items.
• Mesh on back panel, hipbelt and shoulder harness keeps you drier by moving moisture away from your body.
• Removable closed cell foam back pad.
• ComPACKtor™ system reduces internal volume eliminating the necessity of carrying another smaller pack for day hikes.
• Two side stretch pockets for convenient access to water bottles.
• Side compression straps with quick-release buckles.
• Two ice axe loops.
• Cinch and roll-up closure system with compression strap.
• Internal hydration sleeve with right and left tube ports.
• Adjustable sternum strap with whistle.
• Large front pocket with watertight zipper to keep your stuff dry.

The manufacturer’s suggested retail price of the Pinnacle is $175. The Pinnacle can be purchased currently online at Second Ascent and Mountain Plus Outdoor Gear for $140 with free shipping.

After some extensive research of the backpacks on the market at the time, I purchased a Pinnacle backpack in 2008. Since then Golite has made some changes to the backpack’s design improving its versatility (e.g. larger front pocket and small pockets on hip belt) and stability but unfortunately increasing its weight by 7 ounces.

I have found the Pinnacle to be an outstanding backpack ideal for bushwhacking with its slim design, lightweight and durability. Although highly durable the Pinnacle is not indestructible. Over the past few years I have found several small holes in the front pocket but other than these the pack remains in terrific shape.

The limited suspension and non-padded hipbelt restricts the maximum comfortable capacity of this pack to 40 lbs according to its manufacturer. The longest trip I have ever used this pack was for an eight-day adventure where my pack weighed around 45 lbs. Although this was over its maximum capacity I found the pack retained its comfortable fit even during fairly rugged bushwhacking.

The size of the back pocket limits the amount of equipment readily available as the Pinnacle has no lid with an additional pocket as do many conventional backpacks. Golite appears to have dealt with this issue in subsequent models by increasing the size of this pocket and adding smaller pockets along the hipbelt.

The Pinnacle has been my exclusive backpack since I purchased it. It has hiked the Northville-Placid trail, the John Muir trail in the Sierra-Nevada’s and on numerous bushwhacking adventures. During all these adventures the Pinnacle has proved to be a versatile and durable backpack.

For anyone looking for a lightweight, durable and comfortable backpack should take a serious look at Golite’s Pinnacle.

Photos: Pinnacle backpack courtesy of Golite.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.



Thursday, January 13, 2011

Beaver: Bushwhacker’s Boon or Bane?

Beaver are one of the very few mammals in the Adirondacks to transform their physical environment to meet their own needs (man being another more extreme example). These transforms can prove to be either a boon or a bane to a bushwhacker exploring the backcountry without the aid of a trail or path.

The most famous behavior of beavers is their propensity to build dams to pond water for protection from predators and to float wood, their chief source of sustenance. These dams offer the bushwhacker an unmatched resource for crossing wet area with a greatly reduced risk of soaked feet. These structures are so valuable that I have traveled a significant distance out of my way to cross one on more than a few occasions rather than ford across a bone-chilling cold, mucky stream.



After building a dam and flooding an adjacent area, beavers tend to clear most of the hardwood trees in the vicinity of their new home. Often this results in areas clear of most of the understory vegetation since beavers appear to prefer the succulent younger trees. Bushwhacking through these areas is often a welcome relief from fighting one’s way through thick coniferous vegetation.

Additional benefits from these beaver ponds results from the quest these large rodents participate in just to obtain a good meal. Often they journey far from the pond to find the exact type of trees they prefer and in the process they leave significant paths throughout the forest. Although these trails prove of little value within mature forests, they provide unmatched assistance to a backcountry explorer in blow down areas adjacent to beaver constructed water bodies. For such industrious animals the beaver finds the path of least resistance through even the most disorganized jumble of downed trees.

Another benefit these mammals provide to the bushwhacker is the channels of water they often produce at the point where they exit from their beaver ponds. These areas usually provide a narrow and deep canal of undisturbed water ideal for filtering. This is often a great benefit around water bodies with indistinct shorelines where finding a deep enough spot close to shore is virtually impossible.

Not all of the habits of the beaver produce conditions helpful to a backcountry adventurer. When these adverse conditions are encountered the backcountry explorer might very well conclude the beaver is more foe than friend.

The most dangerous of these buck-toothed mammal’s habits is its tendency to leave behind the remnants of the saplings it feasted upon. These Punji sticks are often covered in leaf sprouts and thus difficult to detect until one of these spikes has been embedded into an unprotected knee. And heaven forbid if one should slip and fall backwards in such an area. Now THAT would be a million to one shot, Doc!

Although the area around a recently formed beaver pond can be cleared of a significant amount of woody hardwood vegetation (making it easier to travel through), over time this can result in an area thick in conifers many years after the pond has been long abandoned. For anyone who has ever struggled through these young coniferous forests can attest to the painfully slow progress these areas afford. The scratches, scrapes and nearly poked out eyes hurt too!

Unfortunately beaver dams often result in flooding that is not represented on a bushwhacker’s map or personal GPS. This may require an explorer to make significant changes to their plans when they encounter a flooded area where once their favorite campsite was located.

Finally, one of the beaver’s most shocking habits is its mode of announcing its annoyance with one’s presence. This tail slapping on the surface of the water can be so loud and unsuspecting that it has startled me on more than a single condition even when I knew the beaver was near. Only an air horn could possibly be more disturbing or unsettling.

The beaver by the nature of its habits has shown itself to be both boon and bane to backcountry explorers regardless whether they are a hiker finding his/her favorite trail flooded, a backcountry enthusiast crossing a stream on a dam or a bushwhacker doing his/her best to avoid Punji sticks surrounding the shore of a beaver pond. So depending on your circumstances you may find yourself calling the beaver a friend or foe on your next jaunt into the Adirondack backcountry.

Photos: Beaver dam, beaver activity and beaver tail splash by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.



Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Backcountry Explorer’s New Year’s Resolutions

As the New Year is almost upon us I thought I would take part in the time-honored tradition of making a list of New Year’s resolutions. But unlike those typical resolutions of “exercise more,” “lose weight,” and “change my career” this list will concentrate on backcountry exploration in the Adirondacks.

The following is a list of my 10 New Year’s backcountry/bushwhacking resolutions in no particular order.

1. Spend more money while in the Adirondacks.

Typically in the past, I race up to the Adirondacks, go on whatever hike/bushwhack I have planned and afterward depart for home almost immediately upon exiting the backcountry. The most I would purchase is a couple drinks and a small snack on my drive home.

This year I would like to try make more purchases either while in the Adirondacks or en route. Such items as gas, food for the trip and perhaps even some equipment could be purchased while in the Adirondacks.

For years I have had my eye on an Adirondack pack basket at The Natural Basket Shop in Natural Bridge but when I stopped in this year the price scared me off. This year I will have to pull the trigger on that purchase.

2. Spend more time exploring the backcountry.

This past year I only got out exploring the backcountry three times. All three were in the Adirondacks: one in the Five Ponds Wilderness for eight days and the other two times in the Pepperbox Wilderness for three and five days.

Sixteen days in the backcountry was clearly not enough so with the New Year I definitely would like to surpass this past year’s total.

3. Explore some new places.

Lately, I have been concentrating my backcountry explorations in the northwestern part of the Adirondacks, specifically either the Five Ponds or Pepperbox Wildernesses. This year I would like to branch out and at least visit one place outside of the northwestern part of the Adirondacks or somewhere outside the Adirondacks completely.

One possible location would be the West Canada Lake Wilderness, which I have hiked through multiple times but never investigated with the intention of bushwhacking before. Also, I have been seriously thinking of doing some backpacking within Isle Royale National Park in Michigan.

4. Try to stay healthy.

One of the reasons for the few bushwhacking trips this past year was due to back issues that struck me in the middle of the summer. Then during autumn I developed a strained groin and it went all downhill from there.

With the New Year I would like to try to stay healthy so I can enjoy more days out in the backcountry. To remain healthy I will have to work out smarter in 2011 than I did during this past year.

5. Avoid buying more expensive equipment.

I spent a good deal of hard-earned cash on a few expensive pieces of backcountry equipment this past year. The reasons for these purchases varied from replacing old equipment to enhancing my ability to describe my adventures.

The Garmin eTrex Legend HCx handheld personal GPS was purchased to replace my previous GPS, which had started to go on the fritz the year before. The Gitzo tripod head and legs were acquired so I could take better pictures to chronicle my adventures. And finally, I purchased a SONY recorder so I could avoid taking so many notes while bushwhacking through the backcountry. All of these expensive items were used throughout my three trips except the recorder. The recorder was actually more of an effort than simply writing the notes on paper. But it was useful for recording the morning bird chorus.

6. Give more money to charities dedicated to preserving wild areas within the Adirondacks.

This past year I was somewhat lax in my charitable contributions to Adirondack-centric organizations. During 2011 I would like to give more financial support to organizations devoted to preserving natural areas, protecting the environment and lobbying politicians for environmentally-friendly policies at all levels of government. Examples of such organizations are the Adirondack Council the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and the Adirondack Mountain Club.

7. Communicate my support for public land acquisition within the Adirondacks to my elected officials

Although I do not live within the Blue Line, I am still a tax-paying New Yorker and I need to let my elected officials know of my support for further land acquisitions and/or conservations easements in the Adirondack Park. This is particularly important with a new governor for whom conservation does NOT appear to be a priority, especially during tough economic times when funds are scarce.

8. Haul more garbage out of the backcountry.

There seems to be no shortage of irresponsible people in the backcountry who refuse to pick up after themselves. It seems as if I am regularly finding new sources of litter in the backcountry in the most unlikely of places. This litter ranges from candy wrappers to discarded equipment to balloons.

9. Do some backcountry volunteering.

During 2011 I would like to do some backcountry-oriented volunteering. I am not certain in what form this volunteering would take but such programs as the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Adopt-a-Lean-to or Adopt-a-Wild-Land programs would be a good start. Perhaps someone could suggest some other opportunities for volunteering in the Adirondacks.

10. Promote outdoor recreation especially backcountry bushwhacking.

In 2011 I want to continue to promote backcountry bushwhacking via this website and on my own blog at the Bushwhacking Fool.

Although 2010 was a good year for backcountry exploration these resolutions should ensure that 2011 will be an even better one. I hope everyone has a safe and fun New Year’s celebration filled with hats, noise-makers and helium-filled balloons. On second thought, scratch those balloons, I would hate to have to pick up their remains in the backcountry.

Happy New Year!

Photo: Conifer trees along a stream in the Five Ponds Wilderness by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.



Thursday, November 18, 2010

Personal Stuff Found On Adirondack Public Land

After writing about the illegally cut trees on Cat Mountain, which were neither dead nor down, I started thinking about other rule violations I have observed in the backcountry. One such rule violation I have frequently noticed is the storage of personal property on forest preserve in the Adirondacks.

The storage of personal property can usually be found in one of two different situations. It is either in small amounts scattered around lean-tos or in much more substantial quantities in wild and remote area where few will ever stumble upon these hidden caches. And although some of this property is probably abandoned, the majority appears to be in at least seasonal use. » Continue Reading.



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