Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Absence From The Backcountry

Sunshine PondAbsence makes the heart grow fonder.

Although this statement’s author remains shrouded in mystery, its profoundness cannot be understated. Despite its original intent, probably pertaining to lovers, it can equally apply to once familiar places or things now long absent. For me, as spring emerges from an obstinate winter, it applies to the Adirondack backcountry, whose absence has left a void in my life for the past year.

An unfortunate and mysterious injury to my left knee, nearly a year ago, forced upon me a compulsory convalescence lasting more than five months. During much of this time, simply walking was mildly painful, let alone anything as arduous as bushwhacking. Sadly, this period of recovery coincided with prime backpacking season, lasting into the late summer of last year. A recuperatory period followed for many months, leaving me finally feeling capable of braving once again the beauty and rigor of the remote and trail-less backcountry.

And not a moment too soon either. My last jaunt into the Adirondack wilderness entailed bushwhacking into Oven Lake in the Five Ponds Wilderness, visiting the Robinson River and the remote Cracker, Gal and West Ponds, back in July of 2011. There were several other trips since then (including a two-week trek around Isle Royale National Park, which holds a striking resemblance to the Adirondacks in places), but my thirst for an Adirondack adventure remained unsatiated since then. The knee injury inconveniently stymied my reunion with the Adirondacks, as it happened just several weeks before my first planned trip to the region in 2012. The Adirondacks has thus remained absent from my life, at least in a physical sense, as writing here at the Almanack ensures it is never too far from my thoughts.

Now as the temperatures rise, the migrant birds return, the leaf buds swell, the flowers and ferns force their way through the damp ground and the black flies emerge from their cool streams; these beacons of spring once again become a presence within the great wilderness to the north. I hope to join them.

This month, I plan to return to the Adirondacks after this long and painful absence, when I once again participate in the Onondaga Audubon Society’s Birdathon. That is, weather and my health willing. Just like two friends getting reacquainted after a lengthy absence, I will return to my familiar stomping ground as I spend a day searching for birds within the Pepperbox Wilderness, just northwest of Stillwater Reservoir.

My return trek closely resembles my two previous attempts within this area, with the notable exception of trying to bushwhack around Mosher Pond, which previously resulted in retreat (twice!) due to tangled blowdown, swampy stream crossings and a lack of available daytime, not to mention impending thunderstorms. Instead, my trek will start at Cropsey Pond, and visit places like Deer Pond, Sunshine Pond and perhaps Raven Lake. An easier bushwhack this year should provide an easier reintroduction to the area, and hopefully yield a lot more bird species.

Despite the excitement at revisiting the area after a year, there is a little part of me, buried deep down in the recesses of my mind, stuck between two psychoses, that feels a sense of trepidation. As two lovers separated for far too long, I wonder will the magic still be there. Will the forest bathing still feel as rejuvenating? Will the filtered stream water quench my thirst as well? Will the bird songs bring me as much joy as they did before? Will the black flies still feast on my blood with as much eager zeal?

I think these doubts have no merit. At least, I hope they do not. Despite my pining for an Adirondack adventure and the accompanying angst associated with it, there is one thing I am pretty certain about, the black flies will welcome me with open proboscises.

And missing the pesky buggers for over a year, I will welcome it. At least for the first few minutes.

Photo: Morning of Birdathon 2011 at Sunshine Pond in the Pepperbox Wilderness.

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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.

4 Responses

  1. Pete Nelson says:

    Dan, Dan, Dan:

    I had no idea you were so laid up and so long absent from the wilderness you love. I am sorry for that!

    I take back all my winter camping barbs and replace them with an invitation to bushwhack to Lost Brook Tract any time you like.


  2. Brad says:

    I feel your pain – been there w the physical injury. Don’t worry, it will all – both the good and the bad – come back to you in spades!

    You will once again have the pure feeling of the wilderness inside you…corny but true!

  3. Bill Ott says:

    I know exactly where your head is at, the sense of trepidation, the wondering if “that person” is still inside you. I just now got back from two weeks in and around the 5 Ponds. That person is still inside.
    I often feel my body has two people inside. You know who they are. The one person who lives the life that has been made for us, the other who lives the life we were made for.

    Bill Ott.
    Lakewood, Ohio

  4. PJ says:


    Make that “cannot be overstated.” It means that no matter how high the praise, it will not be an overstatement.

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