If I had to pick a side, I suppose I would cast my lot with the older and wiser set who are cheering the APA’s decision to classify the sublime Boreas Ponds tract as a road-accessible wilderness, balanced by an adjoining swath of Wild Forest offering sucor to wielders of mountain bikes, snowmobiles, Falcon Heavy rocketships and any other toy that might strike their fancy. » Continue Reading.
As with most people, my time is not always my own. To a degree, my day is molded around my two dogs, whose hikes in the winter have been limited by the recent extreme cold and the balls of ice that built up in between their toes.
Booties are not an option since their breed, Bouvier des Flandres, goes by the nickname of “Bouncing Bouviers,” and getting them into footwear would be like trying to put mittens on a hummingbird. They have this characteristic that Alan Greenspan would call irrational exuberance, and while this can be endearing at first, putting up with it for extended lengths of time turns into something of a challenge.
If I drop the animals off in the morning for an appointment, I will usually be told, “Sure, pick them up at the end of the day if you want.” But invariably my phone will ring at about 1:30 in the afternoon and a harried voice on the other end of the line will say “COME GET YOUR DOGS!”
So while one of the first items on my Adirondack to-do list has been to learn to snowshoe, it’s taken a while to work out the logistics. » Continue Reading.
You know you’re starting to acclimate to the North Country when you see the thermometer reading 24 degrees and you wonder if it’s even worth building a fire.
At this particular moment, anything above 20 would seem like a steam bath. As I did my morning chores, the mercury hovered (which feels like the wrong word) at 12 below; the horse droppings clacked against each other in the muck bucket like billiard balls, and a couple of eggs had frozen and burst before I came to collect them.
We do not take the cold lightly. We have read all the literature, bought all the appropriate gear and taken all the appropriate advice. But while maintaining the proper respect, there is also something attractive about the cold. It’s a fine line, I know. But we have come here from a region where, as Mark Twain said of India, “hot” is a relative term and used to distinguish temperatures that would melt a doorknob from those that would just make it mushy. » Continue Reading.
We live in an age when a considerable duplication of services could be eliminated by merging the Congressional Record with the National Sex Offender Registry. So squalid behavior in Washington is no longer a surprise, with the hands of the politicians groping their way into all sorts of unwanted places, from middle-class wallets to the web to western public lands.
Now that I have lived through half of one, a century doesn’t seem like that long of a timeframe, so forgive me when I say it’s “only” been a hundred years or so that the last great conservative occupied the White House. Also, forgive me for being tone-deaf to political nuance, but to my mind if you want to call yourself a conservative, you actually have to want to conserve something. » Continue Reading.
I voted for the first time as a New Yorker this month, mainly to vote against the constitutional convention, which might have opened the door to wholesale changes in the forest preserve, and, conversely, for a land bank that will allow small, common sense changes in the forest preserve.
I have to hand it to New York voters. Back in West Virginia, we never would have figured that out. As dearly as I love my home state, it is safe to say that the color gray simply does not exist. You’re either fer-it or agin-it, and the idea that fine tuning is not dependent on wholesale destruction, as a concept, simply does not exist. » Continue Reading.
I have a history of missing the big picture. When I see that a cleaning product “kills 99.9 percent of household germs,” instead of being comforted I worry about that one tenth of 1 percent. What’s that germ got? And will it destroy us all?
So I might be missing a perfectly logical reason why the Chicago-based Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC would think it a good idea to junk 2,000 flaking old oil tankers in the heart of the Adirondacks, where hikers and fishermen are seeking natural and spiritual repast, not a chain of rolling testaments to a (nearly) bygone era of dirty energy.
You wonder how this is this even possible in a land where, to hear some people tell it, you can’t even look at a spruce sideways, and the regulators sit around just waiting for you to commit some overt act that they can take you to court for. » Continue Reading.
Climbing Ampersand recently, I slipped on a rock. Fine. It happens. But not that much, not to me. Lacking other things to be proud of, I at least take satisfaction in a good sense of balance. This sense of balance was learned long ago, a factual nugget I reflected upon as I continued to hike, in the way that desultory, pointless thoughts float through your mind like breeze-buffeted wisps of milkweed on long stretches of lonely trails.
Growing up in rural West Virginia, our county’s school system didn’t have a lot of spare lettuce for playground improvements, so the janitor, Mr. Ryder — a taciturn, thickly muscled man man who was not tall, and whose darkly tanned face was deeply lined from too many years of mopping up crayon induced vomit — fashioned outdoor toys from the scrap he had on hand. » Continue Reading.
Maybe 15 years ago, having completed the 46 High Peaks and just becoming aware that there were indeed other trails in the Park, I was searching for new options when I stumbled across a brief description of the seldom-climbed Jay Mountain, the capstone of the Jay Range, smack in the center of the Jay Wilderness off of Jay Mountain Road between the communities of Jay and Upper Jay. Everything in Jay is named Jay. People even name their goldfish Jay. Less to remember that way, I suppose.
It was a mountain that, it was said, only “the locals” climbed, but if that were the case, those rascally locals weren’t talking. People whom I was certain had hiked Jay clammed up, guarding the secret with the same passion as one trying to keep the nuclear codes away from President Trump.
Of course this only meant that I made up my mind that I would find the trailhead or die. Find it I eventually did, but it wasn’t within a hundred yards of where it was supposed to be, and was marked only by three sorry old stones masquerading as a cairn. I do believe it took longer to find the trail than it did to hike it. » Continue Reading.
Every two decades, New Yorkers go to the polls to decide whether they want to rewrite the language in their state constitution. Historically, they take a pass on this opportunity — in more than a century, only three constitutional conventions have been called by the voters, the most recent in 1967. And even in that year, the same voters who called for the convention decided they didn’t like the result and rejected the changes proposed by the convention’s delegates.
But if last year’s presidential elections and the rise of a self-styled populist to power were reflective of anything, it was that much of the electorate is irritated with business as usual and might be willing to take chances in the name of draining the swamp. » Continue Reading.
Many moons ago, not too far north of Old Forge, there was a tourist trap that — apparently believing that honesty was the best policy — gave itself the name of The Tourist Trap. It sold the usual fare of balsam-scented incense burners in the shape of a log cabin, birch-bark lamps and every piece of junk imaginable with a picture of a loon on it — all destined, in time, for some North Carolina yard sale.
As a child in search of a meaningful memento costing south of 75 cents, I invested in a “paperweight” that was a river pebble that had been covered with postage stamps and apathetically lacquered. This artifact stayed with me for a remarkably long period of time, serving not as a reminder of the Adirondacks, but as a reminder to stay out of tourist traps. » Continue Reading.
Last month we went to see Bill Killon’s documentary, “Colvin: Hero of the North Woods” at the Adirondack History Museum in Elizabethtown. Surveyor and forest-preserve advocate Verplanck Colvin has always been something of a hero of mine, and not because he has the funniest name associated with the Adirondacks. He doesn’t. He doesn’t even have the funniest name beginning with V, an honor that goes to — and I assume I will get no argument here — the mountain that goes by the name of Vanderwhacker.
It’s an excellent film, drawing on the observations of a veritable Mount Rushmore of contemporary Adirondack voices, and deftly and artfully edited by Killon to show Colvin’s strengths, weaknesses and complexities. In a classic touch, an Adirondack downpour lends a comforting background serenade to an interview with Tony Goodwin, symbolic, perhaps, of the waters that Colvin was so inclined to protect. » Continue Reading.
I am a firm believer in the celebrated “Ten Essentials” that every hiker should carry in his pack when he sallies forth into the bush — which for me generally amounts to a map, a compass and eight Advil. Of course the list of essentials includes a lot of other stuff, as well, and is readily searchable online.
It’s good to be aware of the list because you never know about weather, you never know about a bad step on a rock, you never know when you are going to need a little extra gas in the tank and, well, you just never know. It’s amazing to me how just a few steps off a well-beaten path can leave you feeling just as lost as Fred Noonan over the South Pacific.
But we all backslide a bit. I frequently fail to carry Essential #10, Emergency Shelter on a two-mile out-and- back to Baker Mountain. But within reason I’m pretty good about it, partly out of prudence, partly because I don’t want to get “that look” from other hikers on the trail, the one that says “Look Carol, he is wearing COTTON. To the STAKE with him.” » Continue Reading.
I try to stay away from the more popular Adirondack peaks during the summer season, because at my age I’m always afraid some college kid is going to stop me on the trail and ask me to sit for an oral history project.
But I figured I needed to climb Owls Head in Keene before it closes later this year due to overuse and the poor manners of hikers whose cars were blocking the driveways of homeowners on the privately owned property.
I had seen Owls Head many times as I descended from the Cascade lakes on Rt. 73. I’d always thought to myself, What a cute little mountain; I wonder why nobody ever climbs that? This shows what an idiot I am, because apparently about 7 million people a day climb Owls Head, part of the creeping Cascadeism that turns the stunning pass into a three-mile parking lot on the weekends. » Continue Reading.
Coming to the Adirondacks as a visitor for a week at a time, it felt as if I was always rushing to a trailhead or a boat launch or a fishing hole. I rigorously, almost militarily, mapped out my schedule to include hikes that must be completed and waterways that must be paddled, and heaven forbid that anything should get in the way of these forced, forested marches.
You miss a lot that way. For example, on each trip to the Upper Works for a crack at peaks like Marshall and Cliff, I would drive Blue Ridge Road from the Northway toward Newcomb without noticing its splendid array of creeks, waterfalls and feathery green tamaracks.
At some point in the last 20 years, ticks have moved up on the Most Feared Insect ladder, thanks to the spread, and the greater understanding, of lyme disease. Early on, lyme’s vagaries and a lack of medical advancement made for a tricky diagnosis; after standard blood work came up blank, doctors would tell men to suck it up, and women that they were hormonal.
Thankfully, we have a better handle on it today, and while the disease is still terribly problematic, we at least know what we’re up against, and someone who contracts it has a far better chance of being properly diagnosed and treated.
But even though, rationally, I know this knowledge is all for the good, my emotional side pines for blissful ignorance, when ticks were of no more concern than congressional oversight committees. It’s kind of a Wile E. Coyote situation, in which he walks off a cliff, and as long as he doesn’t know he’s walked off a cliff he’s fine — he keeps walking on air, until he looks down and sees where he is, and which point he plummets to the bottom of the canyon. » Continue Reading.