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’sHighlite 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Those looking for an area with outstanding bushwhacking potential in the Adirondacks would be well rewarded by checking out the Pepperbox Wilderness Area, located in the northwestern Adirondack Park just northwest of Stillwater Reservoir.
At only 22,560 acres, the Pepperbox is one of the smallest of the Adirondack’s designated Wilderness Areas. It is bordered roughly by the West Branch of the Oswegatchie River to the north, the Herkimer County border on the west, the Beaver River to the south and Raven Lake Road to the east. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up with in its remoteness, containing mostly forested rolling hills and extensive wetland complexes. The few state trails here are all located in the northern portion. The Pepperbox is named after one of its many scattered unproductive water bodies, which total about 270 acres. The remoteness, lack of marked trails and limited use makes the Pepperbox a bushwhacker’s paradise. The Pepperbox’s western half is characterized by extensive beaver meadows and small beaver ponds while its eastern half contains larger water bodies such as Sunshine Pond and the Moshier Ponds. The central part contains extensive unbroken forest with Moshier Creek roughly bisecting the wilderness down the middle. The northern portion, with its two miles of trails and in-holding access roads, is a more recent addition to the wilderness area and can be considered its “civilized” part. The bushwhacking opportunities here are less due to these trails and roads and therefore this part of the Pepperbox is given less mention in this article.
There are several points of access into the Pepperbox Wilderness. From the north there are several trails which enter the Pepperbox and allow access to the few water bodies located there. Such small lakes as Jakes Pond, Spring Pond, Tied Lake or Greigg Lake are all accessed via foot trail or dirt road mostly from Bear Pond Road. Trailhead parking is available for access from the east out of Stillwater Reservoir, in the west from Sand Pond Road near the county boundary (Lewis/Herkimer) and from the south via Moshier Falls Road. With a canoe one could access the southern border via the Moshier Reservoir along the Beaver River.
The northeastern portion of the wilderness area is characterized by a plentiful number of larger water bodies. This area is best accessed from a parking area at the end of Necessary Dam Road via the hamlet of Stillwater Reservoir. A trail register is located here for recording your planned trip, which is an excellent idea when bushwhacking through a trackless wilderness like the Pepperbox. Although the road continues over the Beaver River as a well-maintained dirt road, it is gated at the bridge and available for driving by the owners of an in-holding on Raven Lake only. The road, now referred to as Raven Lake Road, is a convenient jumping off point for bushwhacking adventures into the Pepperbox from the east. Raven Lake Road acts as a border separating the Pepperbox from the southern portion of the extensive Five Ponds Wilderness (the southern Five Ponds offers outstanding bushwhacking opportunities in its own right).
A perfect way to access the Pepperbox off of Raven Lake Road is an old hunting trail situated between the first main stream crossing and where the road turns east. Although this trail is unmarked it is easily followed along its southern end. It passes just south of a large beaver vly and then turns north following along the eastern side of the same stream crossed back on the road. The trail passes to the east of the beaver pond feeding the stream before taking a sharp turn to the northwest. At this sharp turn it is very easy to lose the trail as many dummy trails at this point can testify. While navigating over a bog along the south shore of a beaver pond south of Sunshine Pond watch for chicken wire nailed between two logs on the bog mat to avoid wet feet and guide you to the trail again on the opposite side. After several attempts I have yet to be able to follow the trail after reaching the western shore of this beaver pond. Despite the lack of a trail beyond this point a bushwhacker is well situated to explore the many water bodies in this portion of the Pepperbox. Sunshine, Deer, Moshier, Duck and Pepperbox Ponds and the surrounding area will provide days of exploring for the intrepid bushwhacker. Click here, here, here and here for my trip report in this area back in May 2010.
A parking area at the end of Sand Pond Road allows access to the northwestern portion of the Pepperbox. This area appears to get little use, evidenced by the lack of a register here. A short old logging road from the parking area provides access to a brushed-out state property boundary that can be followed east over a hill and through a fern-dominated wet area to the border of the Pepperbox’s western boundary.
This part of the Pepperbox is dominated by a single unnamed pond and the Cowboy Beaver Meadow. The Cowboy Beaver Meadow is a series of old beaver vlys along the Alder Creek with little evidence of human activity. There are numerous places to cross the Alder Creek if one wishes to explore the steep rise on the opposite side. Between the pond and Cowboy Beaver Meadow is a hill with some steep cliffs to the east which should provide impressive views into the Cowboy Beaver Meadow below during the autumn and winter months when the tree foliage is absent. Keep an eye on the Bushwhacking Fool this winter for a trip report on my adventure through this area on Labor Day 2009.
The southwestern portion of the Pepperbox contains the extensive Threemile Beaver Meadow, numerous unnamed beaver ponds and a series of unusual glacial ridges. A parking lot and trailhead register are available here along Moshier Falls Road. Although the sign in the parking lot implies the trail to the Pepperbox leaves the parking lot, the true trail is across the street where it crosses bridges on both the Sunday Creek and the Beaver River.
The trail continues across the Beaver River and through a power line right-of-way before reaching the Pepperbox’s southern border where a sign warns that there are no marked trails beyond. As if mocking this official sign there is a well-used trail marked with gray paint slashes winding north into the unbroken forest. This trail remains easy to follow all the way to a large beaver vly east of the largest pond in the Threemile Beaver Meadow. North of this vly the trail loses its gray slashes and becomes less distinct though rumor has it one can follow it all the way to Bear Pond. I have tried this myself in the past with only limited success though I did manage to reach Bear Pond by bushwhacking a significant amount of the way.
Along the trail before reaching the large beaver vly there are several side trails to the west which gives access to the extensive Threemile Beaver Meadow. The Threemile Beaver Meadow is a beautiful and extensive series of beaver ponds and meadows well worth exploring.
A good bushwhacker can find many old herd paths in the Threemile Beaver Meadow area and there are even a few hunters’ camps scattered about, some recently used and others vacant for many years. This area appears to be heavily used during hunting season, and for good reason, as I have never seen a higher density of deer in the Adirondacks. Click here for a trip teaser about my recent bushwhack through the Threemile Beaver Meadow in September 2010.
To the north and west of the Threemile Beaver Meadow are a series of beaver ponds scattered about giving a bushwhacker numerous opportunities for exploration. For those interested in glacial landforms there is a series of steep and narrow ridges to the west of the beaver meadow. These ridges tend to end abruptly so one should use caution to avoid getting stuck out on one. The remnants of an old fire tower exists on one the highest ridges. The site of this fire tower, now merely the foundation and a few scattered boards, makes an additional interesting destination while trekking through this area.
The combination of hunting trails and unbroken wilderness makes the Pepperbox an excellent area for the beginning and experienced bushwhacker. So if you are looking for an interesting area to explore via bushwhacking then you cannot go wrong with the Pepperbox Wilderness Area in the northwestern Adirondacks.
Photos: Alder Creek along Cowboy Beaver Meadow, Sunshine Pond and Threemile Beaver Meadow by Dan Crane.
A bushwhacker’s essential equipment list should include such items as a compass, a sturdy pair of hiking boots, a streamlined backpack and lightweight rain gear. One important and largely over-looked bushwhacking accessory absent from the list is the lowly gaiter.
Gaiters are protective clothing worn over the shoe and lower leg to prevent debris, mud, water, snow, etc. from entering the boot. Typically the amount of the lower leg covered depends on the season and activity (i.e. higher in wintry conditions). Bushwhacking gaiters tend to cover only the ankle during the warmer months primarily to keep debris and water from entering the boot. It is critical for a good pair of bushwhacking gaiters to do more than keep debris out of your boots in the Adirondack though. Gaiters need to be waterproof not only for those rainy Adirondack days (which are more common than most would like) but for those early mornings where heavy dew has saturated the herbaceous vegetation in every beaver vly as well. While waterproof they still need to be permeable enough to keep the feet cool and dry. Durability is crucial for any piece of bushwhacking equipment and gaiters are no different. A rugged and durable gaiter will give the bushwhacker years of usefulness.
Integral Designs manufactures a pair of short gaiters absolutely perfect for the Adirondack bushwhacker. The eVent Shortie Gaiters are ultra lightweight, weighing at about only 2.5 ounces. They are made out of very breathable trilaminate eVent fabric so they will not overheat your feet. The breathable eVent fabric is an important feature since the gaiters lack both Velcro® and zippers, which makes them an effort to put on and/or take off as they require the removal of one’s boots. The lack of easy removal does increase their rain reducing potential however (read a description of my rain reducing method here). The insteps are reinforced with black supplex nylon to reduce wear and tear. The gaiters have a hook at the front for attaching to boot lacing plus shock cords which fit under the instep and around the leg to keep them securely in place. They come in two sizes (small/medium and large/x-large) and two colors (dark green and yellow).
I purchased a pair of Shortie Gaiters over two years ago and have been thoroughly pleased with them since. They keep my feet dry (combined with my Gore-Tex® lined hiking boots and rain pants) on both mornings with heavy dew and during intense rain fall. I have bushwhacked with the gaiters on in 80+ degree Fahrenheit heat and my feet never felt overheated or sweaty. The gaiters are extremely rugged as mine still have no rips despite my many backcountry adventures. They even survived a day of hiking along a scree slope in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains. Although very rugged, the gaiters are not indestructible as I severed an instep shock cord on my last bushwhacking adventure this past September. Mine are dark green gaiters as I found the bright yellow color too loud and offensive for this bushwhacker who would rather blend in with his surroundings than advertise a stylish choice of color.
The Integral Designs Shortie gaiters are ideal bushwhacking gaiters that will keep your feet dry and cool regardless of the conditions while preventing the inevitable debris from getting inside your hiking boots. Anyone planning on buying some bushwhacking gaiters for the Adirondacks cannot go wrong with these exceptional gaiters from Integral Designs.
To the east is Death Mountain. South of that is Slip Mountain. North of that is Bluff Mountain. So slip off bluff and find death.
Furthermore, without any official trail, and off any main road, these peaks are far off the radar. But after a visit last weekend — free of slips or deaths — I am proud to report that the Jay Mountain Wilderness is not only a lot more user-friendly than one might assume from its blank space on the map, but also that it’s well worth the visit.
To reach the trailhead — yes, there is one, though it’s unmarked — we drove through Keene Valley, passing hundreds of cars. Hikers were here by the flockload, it seemed, eager to take advantage of a sunny Saturday during fall color peak. » Continue Reading.
There is no way around it, bushwhacking in the Adirondacks is an inherently dangerous activity. The aggressive terrain, vast amount of wilderness, frequently changing weather conditions and the lack of wireless communication access makes dealing with any emergency situation a challenge. Although it is impossible to make backcountry exploration a completely safe endeavor, the principles of risk management can be used to identify, prevent and, if everything fails, ameliorate some of the possible negative impacts of those risky elements associated with bushwhacking. Although much of what can be said about safety in the backcountry applies to both trail hiking and bushwhacking, the remoteness encountered by a bushwhacker makes safety precautions an even higher priority. The bushwhacker is typically far from assistance and therefore must be prepared to handle any conceivable emergency situation, or deal with the consequences. Managing the inherent risk involved in exploring the backcountry can be accomplished by being prepared for an emergency and taking the proper precautions should such an emergency present itself.
Whoever coined the expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” must have been referring to bushwhacking. And prevention of any problem in the backcountry starts with physical training. Any training for bushwhacking should include both endurance training and core strengthening. Endurance training, such as running, swimming, walking or hiking is essential to prepare for the exertion necessary to bushwhack over steep terrain for many hours a day, not to mention crawling through blowdowns, stepping over logs and struggling through tangles of witchhobble. Core strengthening involves working the thighs, hips, abdominal and back muscles. These muscles assist with handling heavy backpacks, balance when stepping over logs or crossing beaver dams and navigating through rocky terrain. Preventing injury by preparing your body for the effort involved while bushwhacking is worth more than a whole backpack full of first aid equipment.
My training consists of endurance training four to six days per week augmented by resistance training on four of those days. The endurance training typically consists of running a minimum of three to four miles each day although I sometimes experiment with cross-training by biking, stair-stepping or using an elliptical machine instead. The resistance training consists of one to two hours of either core strengthening (i.e. chest, legs, back) or arms and shoulder strengthening. Each of the two training styles (i.e. core and arms/shoulders) is repeated twice per week. I perform my training year round since it is easier to remain in good physical condition than to get back into such condition.
Physical training is not the only way to reduce the inherent risks involved with bushwhacking. Traveling in groups, leaving a trip itinerary with someone and avoiding unnecessary risks are age-old backpacking precautions that should be heeded when possible by the bushwhacker. Typically a group size of 3 or more is ideal so at least one person could go for help while another can stay with the injured person. Although ideal, it is not always possible to find enough people interested in bushwhacking to assemble such a large group. Bushwhacking in smaller groups (or even solo) should not be avoided but the risks involved will be greater and one should take extra precautions to reduce such risks.
Leaving an itinerary with a responsible person along with the day you plan on exiting the backcountry are standard safety precautions that should be adhered to by the bushwhacker. It is best to give a detailed itinerary with the route planned and camping site locations although conditions on the ground often make it difficult to stick to such a plan. At the very least geographic landmarks should be given to define the area being explored (e.g. west of Moshier Creek, south of Pepperbox Creek and east of the county line). This narrows the search of the 6.1 million acres of the Adirondack down to a more manageable level.
Needless to say, unnecessary risks should be avoided as much as possible. When traveling through difficult areas, such as blowdowns, rocky conditions, stream crossing, etc. it is best to slow down and take your time, especially during wet conditions. At any point where you find yourself hurrying through difficult circumstances, it is best to stop and take a short break before restarting at a slower pace. This will drastically reduce the probability of an injury and reduce the chance of having to use your first aid kit.
I always leave an itinerary with someone I can trust before heading out into the backcountry. The itinerary consists of my planned route plus some side trips just in case I have some extra time. In addition, I always register at the trailhead since I typically start my bushwhack off an existing trail system. And I never pass on the opportunity to register in any lean-tos I encounter on my trip too. In areas where registers are not available I tend to write my initials and the date in small pebbles at key locations along my planned route just in case anything should happen along the way. I take these extra precautions since most of my bushwhacking adventures are lengthy solo trips which involve inherently greater risks.
Carrying a well-stocked first aid kit is essential for any bushwhacker. The ingredients of a suitable first aid kit for a bushwhacker are identical as those of the typical backpacker. There is a plethora of pre-packaged first aid kits available on the market to choose from. A cheaper alternative would be to create your own homemade first aid kit by purchasing those items necessary should an injury occur during an outdoor adventure. Some ideas for items to be included in a homemade first aid kit can be found here, here, here and here. It is not enough to carry a well-stocked first aid if one lacks the knowledge to use it in an emergency. For that reason it is a good idea to take a class in wilderness and remote area first aid. These courses are given by the American Red Cross and the Adirondack Mountain Club. Carrying a first aid kit and having the knowledge how to use it in the case of an emergency should leave you in good stead if an injury occurs while in the backcountry.
My first aid kit includes numerous self-adhesive bandages of all different sizes and shapes, gauze bandages, moleskin, alcohol pads, Spenco 2nd Skin® (for blisters and burns), waterproof surgical tape, a small elastic bandage and single-use Neosporin® packets. Also, I carry multiple doses of 200 mg ibuprofen tablets, Benadryl® antihistamine tablets, loperamide hydrochloride tablets (for diarrhea), pink bismuth tablets (for upset stomach) and 75 mg diclofenac sodium tablets (a prescription anti-inflammatory for my back). A space blanket, strike anywhere matches, birthday candles, a water filter straw, a needle and thread, several safety pins and some string round out my kit. In addition, I carry an emergency whistle, a small jackknife (with a blade, scissors and tweezers), sunscreen, lip balm and bug repellent in a separate stuff sack, which I keep in the outside pocket of my backpack for easy access.
Although a first aid can be effective for many types of injuries it is of limited usefulness if the injury is serious enough to prevent one from evacuating the backcountry. This is especially true for those who engage in solo bushwhacking adventures. In the case of a broken leg, sprained ankle or other incapacitating emergency it is wise to carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) when traveling alone. Personal locator beacons are tracking transmitters which aid in the detection and location via a satellite system. They can be used to determine the location of an individual in an emergency leading to an efficient and timely extraction from the backcountry. A personal locator beacon is one of the most important (and expensive) pieces of equipment a bushwhacker should carry when traveling alone but hopefully never use. It is essential the PLB transmit GPS coordinates so that a search and rescue can be reduced to a simple rescue. A PLB should only be activated during a dire emergency where the situation is grave and the loss of life, limb, or eyesight will occur without assistance. But remember, a PLB cannot assist you unless you are conscious enough to activate it, so carrying one should never be used as an excuse to undertake risky behavior.
Three popular manufactures of personal locator beacon products are ACR Electronics, Inc., SPOT, Inc. and McMurdo, Ltd. They typically range from $150 to $400 and some require the purchasing of a subscription service for specific functionality.
Personally, I carry an ACR MicroFix 406 GPS Personal Locator Beacon, a recently discontinued product. It weighs about 10 ounces and cost considerably more than the current products on the market. I cannot comment on how well it works since thankfully I have never had the occasion to use it. But it gives me the peace of mind knowing I have some way to communicate with the outside world in case of a life-threatening emergency.
Hopefully this discussion of the necessary precautions one should take while bushwhacking has not frightened anyone from heading off the trail. Although it is prudent to be as prepared as possible for any emergency it is still fairly safe being in the backcountry. The most dangerous aspect of any trip is most likely the drive to and from the trailhead. It is important to be prepared but not lose sight of the fact that bushwhacking is supposed to be fun and exciting. So get out there, get off the trail and enjoy yourself but be ready just in case.
The ways to enjoy the outdoors in the Adirondacks are legion. A pleasant drive through the mountains, a relaxing day by the lakeshore in a state campground, a soothing canoe ride along a slow-moving river or a vigorous hike on one of the many state-maintained trails are just a few ways to take pleasure experiencing the outdoors within the Blue Line. But few outdoor activities allow for the freedom to experience the Adirondacks on its own terms like bushwhacking does. Bushwhacking, or off-trail hiking, permits the exploration of almost all of the environments within the Adirondacks as long as they are accessible via foot travel. Bushwhacking is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to clear a path through thick woods especially by chopping down bushes and low branches”. The Adirondacks surely has its share of thick woods with bushes and low branches (witchhobble and American beech saplings come to mind) but it is illegal to perform any chopping of live vegetation on public forest preserve property. Fortunately, a machete is completely unnecessary within the Adirondacks where the vegetation is never so dense as to require such extremes. Instead, bushwhacking should be defined within the Blue Line as navigating through natural terrestrial environments (i.e. forests, wetlands, beaver vlys, etc.) without the aid of any human-constructed landmarks such as roads or trails.
In the Adirondacks, bushwhacking only requires the use of a map and compass, a sturdy pair of hiking boots and a desire to explore areas where few have tread. If you are more comfortable with modern technology then a hand-held GPS navigational device can be substituted for the map and compass. Some find navigating with a GPS device to be tedious and prefer to learn orienteering skills to navigate through the landscape. Regardless of preference, map and compass skills should be mastered be everyone adventuring off-trail into the backcountry as GPS devices can cease functioning or run low on battery power. GPS devices equipped with digital topographical maps can be useful especially navigating during wet weather where paper maps quickly become saturated and disintegrate.
If extensive multi-day adventures are desired then traditional backpacking equipment will be required too. When purchasing backpacking equipment for bushwhacking purposes keep in mind the gear should be rugged, well-made, and lightweight. Bushwhacking inflicts greater wear and tear on your gear, so emphasizing rugged and well-made equipment will ensure years of use. Since bushwhacking is typically more arduous than traditional backpacking (e.g. the ground is less level, more obstacles to climb over or around, continuously being poked and prodded by sharp branches, etc.) it is advantageous to lighten the load on your back as much as possible. This can be accomplished by either leaving home unnecessary equipment or replacing heavier articles with lighter weight equivalents.
There are essentially two different navigation methods while bushwhacking. The shortest-distance method entails taking a direct bearing between two geographic features on a map (i.e. a hill, a stream, a lake or pond, etc.) and staying true to the bearing as much as possible as you travel over the landscape. Detours often are necessary to find an adequate stream crossing, avoid a steep section, etc. Dog-legging is the second navigation method, where one travels shorter distances and at different bearings in an attempt to avoid more difficult features on the landscape. Usually a combination of the two methods is necessary to efficiently bushwhack through the diverse topography found in the Adirondacks.
The Adirondacks affords almost infinite bushwhacking opportunities from state-owned forest preserve to private properties with recreational easements. Extensive areas devoid of trails or roads offer the greatest bushwhacking opportunities but trails and dirt roads can be useful to gain access deep into the backcountry. Herd paths (unmarked foot paths created either by human or animal activities) can be found in abundance in areas where gaining access to certain landscape features is popular. Trails, dirt-roads and bushwhacking can be combined to produce lengthy adventures over varied landscape often found in the Adirondacks.
Bushwhacking provides a multitude of opportunities for enjoying the outdoors in the Adirondacks regardless of whether one is interested in forests, wetlands, wilderness lakes or rugged mountain peaks. So pick up a map and compass, learn how to use them and get out and experience the Adirondack as only bushwhacking allows.
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