The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted just about every aspect of life in recent months, including backpacking.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stay home. Ask writer Betsy Kepes. She spent a few days with a small group this spring on a trip on the Cranberry 50, a hiking route in the northwestern Adirondacks.
Kepes found the trip enjoyable, but it wasn’t without challenges. For instance, what do you do about sharing a lean-to or camping site with others during a pandemic? What happens when you make hot water? Should you share it?
Hiking the Cranberry Lake 50 during the Covid-19 pandemic are writer Betsy Kepes (greenish/blue shirt, off-white mask), husband Tom Vandewater (black shirt,off-white mask), and friends Amanda Oldacre (white shirt, black patterned mask) and Jim Burdick (gray/blue shirt black patterned mask). Social distancing and wearing face masks were suggested. Photo by Nancie Battaglia.
Editor’s note: This originally appeared in Mike’s weekly “Backcountry Journal” newsletter. Click here to subscribe.
Cooking stoves are crucial backcountry gear. They allow for cooking those high-calorie meals, the lifeblood of any hiker after spending hours trudging through forest, field and/or wetlands. However, stoves are only as good as their fuel, for without some type of combustible material, they are just a useless trinket cluttering up your backpack.
Determining the amount of fuel to carry is often more art than science – not enough, you have to force down soggy uncooked oatmeal, too much, and you beat yourself up for carrying the extra weight. Fortunately, Solo Stove has solved this dilemma by creating an attractive line of stoves that burns a fuel that is so readably accessible in the Adirondacks that there is almost never a reason to carry it. » Continue Reading.
Peaceful silence is one of the many reasons people explore the Adirondack backcountry. The quiet stillness, interrupted only by natural sounds, provides an ideal opportunity for recharging spiritual batteries, something increasingly crucial in the modern world where haste and expediency rule. This tranquility is fragile however, easily shattered by a jet flying overhead, the revving of a motor engine, a gun discharging or any other incongruent sound.
Another man-made and unnatural sound, although quite rare, completely shatters the illusion of solitude and remoteness, leaving any wilderness enthusiast shaken to their very core. This unwelcome intrusion does not come from an aggressive motor enthusiast, logger or other wilderness antagonist, but frequently courtesy of a fellow adventurer. It is a backcountry breakdown, and it can happen to anyone, at anytime, anywhere. » Continue Reading.
Rainy days in the Adirondack backcountry provide an ideal opportunity for contemplation. Often my own woolgathering collides with the remoteness of the setting to divert my thoughts to disaster – the possibility of getting lost, being injured or the victim of some other calamity. One of my favorite topics of worry and woe is my lack of a comprehensive emergency response plan.
Every backcountry explorer should prepare an emergency plan, as it provides the necessary information to facilitate locating you should you become lost or suffer a serious, immobilizing injury. Under more dire circumstances an emergency plan may mean the difference between a live extraction and a dead retrieval, or the worst-case scenario – an unmarked grave with accompanying animal nibbles.
I think a backcountry emergency plan should consist of two parts: a trip-specific itinerary, and also more general information to help locate me in the backcountry in the event of an emergency. » Continue Reading.
Lean-tos provide some of the comforts of home in the Adirondack backcountry – a respite from inclement weather, and a comfortable place to cook, eat and socialize. Unfortunately, a potential hidden danger lurks in every corner, and hikers may be unintentionally contributing to the problem.
The threat is the Hantavirus, a nasty virus in the Bunyaviridae family. These viruses infect, but leave unharmed, a variety of local rodent species. Unfortunately, the virus can produce a potentially fatal disease in humans, brought about by contact with rodent urine, saliva or feces. Deer and white-footed mice are frequent visitors to Adirondack lean-tos. » Continue Reading.
Sleeping bags are crucial pieces of outdoor gear; nearly a third of the time during an overnight backcountry trip is spent in one. A perfect bag provides for a good night’s rest, a necessity after an arduous day climbing through blowdowns, balancing on beaver dams and weaving through a forested obstacle course. Ideally, a sleeping bag should be warm, comfortable and convenient, yet still lightweight enough to carry wherever curiosity demands without agitating one’s own back. » Continue Reading.
Like most people, I began my Adirondack backcountry career wide-eyed and naive, almost completely ignorant of the dangers. My ignorance was largely irrelevant in those early days, as I mostly hiked with others and we rarely strayed from marked trails. That innocence was quickly shattered however, as a single traumatic event infused me with a backcountry anxiety that remains to this day.
Unlike common backcountry fears such as isolation, aggressive wild animals, or bloodthirsty insect hordes, mine is both rational and reasonable. Being crushed by a falling tree is the fear that plagues my mind. » Continue Reading.
Everyone seems to be in a hurry these days and the Adirondack backcountry is not immune to the hustle and bustle of modern life. Outdoor enthusiasts set a premium on their time, often racing to their destination, and trying to squeeze every ounce of excitement from their experience in the wild.
Drivers speed along Wild Forest access roads, late for an appointment with who knows what. Snowmobilers fly down forested trails in what seems an unquenchable thirst for speed. Even hikers often dash (or actually run) down trails in a hurry to occupy their favorite campsites or make the best time as wildlife scurries out of the way.
With proponents of backcountry skiing, mountain biking and ATVing all looking more access, it looks like the need for speed is bound to accelerate in the backcountry. What ever happened to a nice short walk through the forest? Is it no longer exciting enough? Has the bar for adventure been raised too high to accommodate such a passive pursuit? Has it become old fashioned? » Continue Reading.
Trekking through the Adirondack backcountry is arduous; so much so that it’s a wonder it’s even considered a recreational activity. Whether you hike well-worn trails or bushwhack unbroken wilderness, the effort requires a massive amount of energy. It leaves you thirsty, sweaty, and bone-tired. After trudging many miles, most adventurers just want to stop and take a break for a while. There is nothing wrong with that; you earned every minute of it.
Resting is a natural part of the outdoor experience. After traversing for a few hours through the Adirondack backcountry’s dense forest and lakes, streams, bogs and blowdown obstacle course, even a super-hero would need a break once in a while. Taking a break displays neither weakness nor laziness; They are a necessity and provide the opportunity to recharge – the more grueling the adventure, the more rest breaks are necessary for recovery. » Continue Reading.
Imagine hiking for hours alone through an idyllic Adirondack setting, the sky is an azure blue, the birds are singing, the sun is shining, the black flies are biting, ideal conditions for spending time in the great outdoors.
When the trip’s destination finally appears, whether it is a seldom-visited lake, marsh, swamp or mountaintop, the thought of capturing this rarely glimpsed view becomes overwhelming. If only you’d brought that camera. » Continue Reading.
Few backcountry gear decisions seem as daunting as picking a shelter. Some prefer to sleep John Wayne style (under the stars), others prefer lean-tos, but most carry a shelter of some sort on their back – tents or tarps.
Tents are easier to set up (though I’ve seen exceptions), but are often heavier to carry. Compared to tarps tents offer less ventilation, critical when sharing the space with an aromatically challenged companion. Free standing tents are easier to set up and move – an important consideration in locating a good tent site while bushwhacking. On the other hand, tarps are better in rain. Erecting the tarp over your gear in an emergency can keep you and your gear drier. An open tarp provides more ventilation, which also allows for quicker drying.
A tarp system reigns supreme in the weight department, but smaller poles and hi-tech fabrics on new tents continue to chip away at the weight differential.
My history with shelters reads like something out of “A Christmas Carol”, with ghosts of shelters past, present and future. » Continue Reading.
In 1951, Dr. Roger D. Freeman found himself sharing a lean-to camp at Indian Falls in the Adirondack High Peaks of Essex County with none other than legendary Noah John Rondeau.
“I remember descending from Mt. Marcy to Indian Falls and I remember the rainstorm” that evening, said Doctor Freeman, who was taking a break from his studies at Colby-Swarthmore Summer School of Languages in Maine to traverse the Great Range in the Adirondacks. Freeman wished he had known the old woodsman he shared the shelter with was the famed Cold River hermit. “I didn’t learn that until much later,” he said. “He was friendly. He was an expert at building and keeping a fire going on a day when it rained.”
Freeman’s is just one of the stories in The Hermit and Us: Our Adventures with Noah John Rondeau (2014) by William J. O’Hern, which recalls the experiences of backpackers who visited Rondeau’s Cold River hermitage where he lived for over 30 years. » Continue Reading.
Never leaving a man behind is a common motto in the military world; it is even incorporated into the U.S. Army’s Soldier’s Creed. The saying is equally apropos for Adirondack backcountry adventurers, whose hobby has some commonality with the military way of life, except for the lack of gravitas. Although the prospect of leaving behind a comrade is unmatched in seriousness, it is not the only situation where leaving something behind in the backcountry arouses feelings of loss and guilt.
Despite the appropriateness of the motto in the backcountry, it rarely has much bearing on most adventures. Although groups separate on occasion, sometimes with disastrous results, this is not a common occurrence for most people. At least, I hope it is not; otherwise, rescuers would be constantly crawling throughout the backcountry, and/or bodies would be more common than deflated Mylar balloons. » Continue Reading.
Youth, inexperience and ignorance were in abundance when I first started backpacking in the Adirondacks many years ago. My knowledge of the proper gear and foods was seriously lacking, not to mention the total ignorance of how to pack effectively all that stuff for a multi-day backpacking adventure. I was not completely clueless though, as I could hike and identify birds. So there was that.
In those early days, my pack weighed in at nearly one-half my meager weight. The pack was too big for me, and it was overflowing with overweight gear. Its weight made my first trip an arduous struggle, with my feet blistered and bloodied by its end. Despite all the difficulties with the heavy gear, it took many years for me to replace it with lighter weight alternatives, which hopefully prolonged my hiking career. » Continue Reading.
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