Long-distance hiking, peak bagging, and trail hiking are great ways to experience the out-of-doors, yet they’re also “been there, done that” pursuits for most hikers. More than 10,000 people have hiked the Adirondack Forty-Six, dozens thru-hike the Northville-Placid Trail each year, and adjectives used to describe High Peaks Wilderness Area have changed from pristine and wild to impacted and confining. Taking pride in being the black sheep of the hiking community and loving land where there are few traces of mankind, there is no Pacific Crest Trail in my past, no popular peak bagging list in my future. For me it’s all about pursuing unique forms of recreation that take me through the backdoor of beyond. Thus my latest conception: “name bagging.”
During the early 2000s I visited 45,000-acre Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area, and like most people I probably hiked Pharaoh Mountain or walked around Pharaoh Lake. I was impressed with such scenery. Later I navigated up a few trailless peaks and found them to be beautiful, lonely piles of rock hemmed by evergreen forests and dotted with wildflowers. Using my map and compass I trudged to a handful of remote ponds and found them beautiful and lonely as well, little ripples creeping across their surfaces while white pines stood guard on their shorelines. At one of these remote destinations I looked at my map of the wilderness area, saw what had to be about one hundred named features, and asked, “Why not visit them all?”
During the spring of 2011 I became the first to visit Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area’s 106 named topographic features. I was hooked on name bagging. After I explored that wilderness area with a fine-toothed comb I set out to tackle 70,000-acre Lake George Wild Forest’s ninety named features.
Lake George Wild Forest carries a poor reputation. Much like when someone mentions Grand Canyon National Park you may envision dehydrated hikers, crowded overlooks, and tacky concessionaires, mention of Lake George Wild Forest may invoke images of cooler-toting visitors, congested summits, and the Village of Lake George itself where “if you can’t eat it or wear it, they don’t sell it.” I may have been guilty of such stereotyping before I heartily explored this unique area. Now when I hear the term Lake George Wild Forest I think of Shelving Rock Mountain’s lost trails that don’t show up on maps, loons calling at Buttermilk Pond, the view from Number Seven Mountain, and my snowshoe tracks across frozen Spectacle Ponds.
While all the hikers were taking selfies on Buck Mountain and squabbling over roadside campsites along Shelving Rock Road I had the backcountry to myself, exploring it via snowshoe and foot, sometimes stepping where perhaps no one had stepped in a hundred years.
My two-year Lake George Wild Forest quest was completed this spring, the final feature being the runt of this area’s thirty summits, 1,070-foot Morton Mountain. I reached the top of this deserted and trailless hill on one hell of a hot day. Laying on the ground in the shade of a solitary eastern white pine that stood among shag bark hickories and American beeches, it was a well-deserved rest. Beyond the heat I had trail-hiked and bushwhacked more than 100 miles and climbed an awful lot of vertical feet to reach feature number ninety. But it was worth it, as all noble challenges are.
Morton Mountain is one 30 summits within this wild forest as are 28 bodies of water, 25 streams, 2 rivers, 2 points, 1 pass, 1 range, and 1 valley. Images of most of these named features, at least the ones I could remember, played in my mind as I lay under that broiling springtime sun. Along rocky ridgelines, into dismal wetlands, across frozen lakes, and through clouds of antagonistic insects I remembered chasing one named feature after another until there were none left to chase. The ending was bittersweet.
Considering the Adirondack Mountains have thousands of named features, I take comfort knowing there are more destinations out there than I have time to chase. With two pieces of state land done, I have two new ones to go. I like to think that I’m only halfway begun, not halfway done, with Hammond Pond Wild Forest’s 94 named features and Wilcox Lake Wild Forest’s 133. That way I don’t have to think about the end. Instead I can think about the journey.
Photos from above: Number Seven Mountain, Hudson River in foreground; Sleeping bag view of aptly-named Hemlock Ridge; Lake George from French Point Mountain; Springtime surge along Spectacle Brook; Early morning light on Gay Pond; and a nameless stream near Island Pond courtesy Erik Schlimmer.