Lessons on Grace: Lost in the Dix Range

On August 19th at 9:30 a.m., I entered the Dix Range, solo, for an intended 18-mile traverse over its five High Peaks. I was running late. Many attempt the loop hike as a day trip, albeit a long one, so I had intended to start hours earlier than I actually did. Rather than change my plans, I would just have to hike faster. Simple.

My gear consisted of three liters of water in a CamelBak, three apples, two Clif bars, two lighters in a Ziploc bag, a Swiss army penknife on my keys, a great pair of Scarpa boots, and an athletic T-shirt and shorts. En route to the trailhead, I texted my father the GPS coordinates and told him that if he hasn’t heard back from me by 9:00 p.m., I have died and he should search for me there. It was a bad joke that would only get worse.

At this point, I had hiked primarily along the Appalachian Trail’s fully blazed trails, and climbed a half-dozen High Peaks before, all with clearly marked, easy-to-follow paths. I knew that some were marked less clearly, but I didn’t realize this route would be notoriously difficult to follow. The maps I had downloaded from AllTrails made it look like any other trail. At the same time, the GPS coordinates I was using as my starting point weren’t for the main trailhead, either.

Instead, I set out from the Route 73 entrance on an unmaintained herd path. However, High Peaks guidebooks dropped this route decades prior. Cairns placed across the river, sometimes hundreds of feet away and with no clear path of boulders to leapfrog across, indicated river crossings. At junctions, a large broken branch indicated the turn. For someone who frequently gets lost in his own hometown, this was like hiking blindfolded.

I lost a good hour and a half following this vague route and killed a large chunk of my phone’s battery while trying to follow the GPS track before I even touched a summit. Feeling the lost time, I started jogging.

After reconnecting with the Bouquet Forks Trail, I quickly summited Grace and South Dix. I arrived on the summit of my third peak—Macomb—at just shy of 4 p.m. At the summit, I met a quartet of women who were finishing their final peak. They graciously offered their map to cross-reference against my dying phone to figure out my route. The leader recognized the gravity of my situation: “Even if you ran the whole way, you couldn’t finish this five-peak loop before sunset.”

Then, my phone died in my hand. I put it back in my pocket, without saying a word.

The author meeting other hikers on top of tk. | Courtesy: Allison Kozel
The author meeting other hikers on top of Macomb. | Courtesy: Allison Kozel

Racing the Light

The quartet had entered the Dix Range from the Elk Lake Trailhead. At 4 p.m., they had just finished all five of their peaks, doing the loop clockwise and ending on Macomb. In retrospect, I should have abandoned my plan here and exited the wilderness with the group. That would have entailed descending the Macomb Slide with them to their car and bumming a ride back to my VW Beetle at the Route 73 entrance.

That is not what happened. I fully understood it was now impossible to complete the full loop with the dwindling daylight, but I felt I could haul at a clip and retrace my steps back to my car without relying on joining the group of women. I even congratulated myself for the compromise, believing abandoning my plan signaled maturity. Without realizing, I had simply downgraded from the impossible to the extremely difficult, sidestepping a surefire successful exit.

Giving up on completing all five peaks, I started running back down Macomb, retracing my steps over the three peaks I had summited earlier. After returning to Grace, I knew I had minimal light left, but knowing I was off the peaks and in the last several miles back to my car buoyed me forward.

But, the switchbacks on the river, already difficult to follow at a walk, were impossible at a jog. Ducking over and under boulders and waterfalls and navigating a route marked only by cairns, I lost my path, and doubled back. Was that pile of rocks a cairn? Was that branch intentionally broken to indicate direction? I found other herd paths that were not mine. I realized I was losing light fast, and was no longer sure I was even on the right river. Holding my hand to the sun, I had just fingers left of light before the horizon.

Running through my inventory, I realized I had almost no equipment at all: no jacket, tent, blanket, iodine tablets, or anything. My focus shifted immediately from getting out of the woods to surviving them. I decided I needed to get a fire going to keep warm when the temperatures would likely drop into the mid-40s.

There was no time for panic. I found a large downed birch near the bank of the river. It was perpendicular to its course and high enough off the ground to break the wind—perfect for me to lay back against. Then, I scrambled together firewood, until the last ray of light disappeared, and built a small fire in front of my improvised windbreak shelter. From 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., I fed the fire continuously, occasionally awakened by the cold whenever the fire began to ebb. I reached into the dark for my wood pile, fed, and adjusted the fire, before settling again into sleep.

The stars were infinitely clear. Any rustling heard throughout the night never felt threatening. I was never particularly uncomfortable. Though I never forgot the gravity of my situation, the solemnity and clarity of my home for the night filled me with a peace and awe that I have never experienced so intensely before. Though I had little with me, I had just enough for the night.

Credit: Lecco Morris
Credit: Lecco Morris

Searching for a Way Out

When I awakened again at dawn, the embers were down to nearly nothing. And, there was nothing left in my pile of dry wood.

So, I resolved to bushwhack to find my herd path and get out of the woods on my own steam. I began walking up and down one side of the river, spending several hours being torn apart by shrubs and overgrowth. I found dozens of other herd paths, following many of them until their ultimate conclusion: nowhere.

Sometime in the late morning, I realized it would be impossible for me to locate the path without more information, and that I was helplessly lost. While searching, I was wasting energy on a task I realized was fruitless. I cursed my lack of a map. I sat down and took stock.

Panic crept into my mind for a minute or two as I steadied myself on a rock. The sky above started to take the bruised color of filling clouds. Searching any longer for the path would be useless, but I needed to get out of the woods before I had to reckon with a storm.

In the early afternoon, I decided to stay put, hoping for rescue. In the river, a large sandbar mostly made of pebbles stood, flanked by a beaver dam on the downward side. I started making a signal fire from the driftwood. Remembering that birch bark burns oily and black, I leapt from the sandbar and scrambled up a mud wall. In those dozens of trips for birch bark, I cut long strips off a blowdown birch with my minuscule penknife.

I had less than a liter of water by this point, so I couldn’t risk lengthy sun exposure. Instead, if I heard rotors or saw a chopper, I would leap out from the shade to throw more birch onto the fire and would hope they saw the smoke in time.

For about three hours, I hoofed birch bark to the sandbar whenever I heard rotors up close, and threw pounds and armfuls onto the fire, trip after trip. Two or three times, I actually saw a chopper cresting the ridge. Eventually, I realized I needed to wrap my psyche around the idea that I might not be found for days, and thus would need to ration water for an unknown length of time. The deepening bruise in the sky also made me think the coming night would be a wet one. I couldn’t survive an unprotected windy night in the rain at sub-50 degrees, and had to make a lean-to.

By late afternoon, I was far from starving. However, in an effort to prepare myself for being stuck in the woods for an indeterminate length of time, I decided to find something to eat. If it came to killing an animal, I wanted to cross that line earlier rather than later. Although the frog lurking at the river’s muddy bank was too fast for me, I noticed many orange salamanders with black spots (later identified as Eastern red-spotted newts). I am aware that slow-moving, brightly colored animals are commonly toxic. However, in this case, I figured eating a few would be an okay way to test this rule.

I found two, said “I’m so sorry” aloud as I speared them with a stick, and cooked them over the signal fire. Because they were so unbelievably terrible, I presumed they were low-level toxic (I was right). Then, I attempted to figure out how to construct a lean-to.

The author on Macomb. | Courtesy: Allison Kozel
The author on Macomb. | Courtesy: Allison Kozel

A Cloud of Fire

As I schemed how I would build a shelter and what I would use, I heard the sound of a chopper quickly getting closer and closer. Heart pounding, I ran back out to the sandbar, waving my hands and screaming, “HELLO! HELP!” At the very moment the chopper crested the ridge, a voice 30 feet to my left exclaimed, “Philip Morris?”

“Is that a human? Yes! It’s me!”

“Are you injured?”

“No. What’s your name?”

“Pat.”

Out of the shrubs appeared a tall, clean-faced young man—younger than me. He had been in the woods for some time.

10 seconds prior, I was alone, having not seen another human for 24 hours. Now it was me and Pat, on a sandbar. An enormous DEC helicopter kicked up dust and leaves in a cyclone over the water.

Pat leapt over the river to the sandbar and radioed to the chopper, now directly overhead. I had intentionally chosen a sandbar large enough for a chopper to land, but hadn’t anticipated the downdraft over the fire and the embers shooting into the sky. For a moment, it felt like a war rescue operation. Pat and I jumped back to pour countless Nalgenes of stream water onto fire. The chopper came down as a maelstrom of sticks, leaves, and dirt swirled around us.

They strapped me into one of the four seats. Just like that, it was over. The chopper was unbelievably loud, and no one spoke. During the entire flight back to Keene, I didn’t spot a single sign of human habitation in any direction. I had ended up taking a tributary off the main river. My car, meanwhile, still sat several miles away, along another branch. Waves of green rolled in every direction as far as the eye could see.

The author and his rescuers. | Courtesy: Kathleen Morris
The author and his rescuers. | Courtesy: Kathleen Morris

True Professionals

After my parents hugged me, the entire DEC team took turns giving me bear-hugs. My mother, of course, had already promised them that if they found me, I would perform piano pro bono at a DEC event. While I was sure the DEC would ream me out for my lack of knowledge, they were simply glad I came out unscathed.

The DEC team’s professionalism in the High Peaks cannot be overstated. From interviews with my parents, they had built a whole personality profile for me, had dispatched a chopper, and had teams on foot canvassing the area. The officer my parents had spoken to at midnight the prior night stayed on his shift and didn’t leave his post until I was found.

The world is a playground, yes, but comparatively requires a lot more respect and preparation. I have no illusions that a series of thoughtless, compounding errors built on cavalier overconfidence resulted in a huge mobilization of people, grey-hair inducing worry for my family, and a real risk to my life.

I hope that sharing this story makes similarly overconfident folks pause to prepare, and to recognize the humble station that humans occupy in the wilderness. I’ve resolved to never rely on my phone for a map. And, to prepare for only the most ideal outcome, I’ll no longer bring the absolute minimum of gear. To take off into the High Peaks at any point, whether you’re anticipating an overnight or not, it is essential to bring a print map, a good compass, multiple layers (even in summer), iodine tablets, a good knife, and more food than the bare minimum, and to arm myself each and every time with prior research. Physical capacity and good survival instincts are no substitute for preparation.

I survived the night and had a DEC Park Ranger find me. They choppered me out of the High Peaks from a fiery sandbar in the middle of a whitewater stream, framed by one of the Adirondacks’ most remote mountain ranges. While this enduring image humbles me, I’m still thankful for it. The knowledge I gained has put that much more of the wild world within reach.

Credit: Lecco Morris
Credit: Lecco Morris

The Rescue Report: A Broken Leg on Armstrong and Gothics

Accidents happen and plans go awry—That’s just part of what makes an adventure. But when they get really bad, oftentimes hikers need a little help. Thankfully, across the Northeast and the country, there are experienced professions in place to lend a hand when an adventure makes a bad turn. In New York State, that comes in the form of Forest Rangers from the Department of Environmental Conservation. But no matter how well they do their job, we would all probably prefer to not need their services and get out of the woods on our own. Luckily for us, the DEC is also a resource of information, regularly sharing the incidents that rangers respond to. Necessary reading for Adirondack explorers, we’re taking them a step further and adding commentary from experienced rescuers, emergency personnel, and backwoods folk, so that you might know what not do to the next time you’re outside, and how to avoid needing a rescue and being in the DEC report yourself.

Would you do something differently, have another suggestion for ways to avoid these situations, or a question about the best thing to do? Leave a comment!

View more incident reports from the DEC, here.

A Broken Leg on Armstrong and Gothics

Town of Keene, Essex County: On Sept. 17 at 1:50 p.m., Ray Brook Dispatch received a call from a hiker advising that her husband, a 68-year-old male from Hinesburg, Vt., had suffered a possible fracture to his femur while hiking between Armstrong and Gothics mountains. The male hiker’s injury was non-ambulatory. Phone coordinates obtained by Essex County 911 placed the pair near the summit of Armstrong Mountain. Forest Rangers were dispatched to coordinate the rescue effort. Three Rangers were picked up by a New York State Police Aviation helicopter and two Rangers were inserted on the summit of Armstrong Mountain. The Keene Valley Rescue Ambulance staged at Marcy Field with an Advanced Life Support crew. One Ranger was staged at Keene Valley Fire Department with a ATV in the event a hoist extraction could not be performed. The Rangers inserted on Armstrong Mountain hiked down to the injured hiker, stabilized his injury, and outfitted him with a rescue harness. He was then hoisted out by the helicopter and airlifted to Marcy Field, where he was turned over to Keene Valley Rescue for transport to Elizabethtown Community Hospital. The Rangers that were inserted assisted the remainder of the hiking group out of the woods six miles with their gear, and the incident concluded at 4:30 p.m.

Analysis: This is a great example of a well-coordinated rescue for a serious injury that went relatively quickly. A 6-mile carryout in rough terrain could easily take 12 hours or more and require many rescuers. A helicopter evacuation can often be much faster and safer for everyone involved in the rescue. Unfortunately, mountain weather and terrain can often prevent a helicopter from accessing an injured person in the mountains. It is important for recreationists to remember that access to a helicopter is not always possible and it should not be considered a reliable option in a backcountry emergency. Dealing with a broken leg in the backcountry is never an easy situation, but having a responsible hiking partner with some Wilderness First Aid training and supplies, reliable communications, and a thorough trip plan, can help greatly during a backcountry emergency.

Splitting-Up on Allen Mountain

Town of Newcomb, Essex County: At 5:03 a.m. on Sept. 17, DEC’s Central Dispatch received a call for Forest Ranger assistance from Essex County 911 for two hikers lost on Allen Mountain. The group of three from Rochester had planned to hike Marshall and Allen mountains, but one of the hikers suffered a minor knee injury while climbing Marshall. The subject stayed at the Calamity lean-to with his camping gear while the other two subjects decided to hike Allen Mountain. On the trail, the pair became lost and spent the night in the wilderness. The next morning, they hiked up Skylight Brook to try to obtain cell coverage and called 911 for help. Based on the coordinates provided, Rangers located the two hikers, who were cold but in good condition. They were escorted back to the Calamity Brook lean-to where they were reunited with their companion and hiked out. The incident concluded at 2:30 p.m.

Analysis: This situation is a near-miss after an unexpected injury changed the group’s travel plans. The hikers decision to split up, put two group members over 5 miles from from the injured member without communication resulted in an additional hiccup in the groups outing. The sum of unexpected outcomes and mishaps in the backcountry often lead to serious incidents with undesirable outcomes. Had the weather been worse, in this case, spending a cold, wet night in the mountains can lead to hypothermia or other injuries and the hikers could have faced a much worse outcome. When unexpected mishaps happen in the backcountry, it’s always best to default to conservative decision making and come up with a new plan.


goEast's Favorite Adirondack Weekend Adventures

Is there a better time to explore New York’s Adirondack Park than the fall? We can’t think of one. From the majestic rocky summits of the High Peaks to the low, loon-dotted, swinging lakes of the St. Regis Canoe Area, to a locally-brewed post-adventure beer in Lake Placid, a fall weekend in the Adirondacks has something for everyone. How much can you pack in between Friday night and Monday morning? Use these guides to our favorite ADK weekend adventures to plan your trip and soak up every last drop of that crisp Adirondack foliage.

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Our favorite hiking trip: Climb to the top of New York State

Climbing Mount Marcy is a rite of passage for many area hikers, whether it’s a personal goal on its own or a small piece of the pursuit to become an Adirondack 46er. Beginning from the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC) at the serene Heart Lake, this moderate, 14.5-mile hike passes scenic areas, like the old Marcy Dam and Indian Falls, before climbing for a half-mile on the windswept, rocky slope above treeline to a summit with spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding Adirondack landscape and adjacent mountains. Mount Marcy is a special place in the High Peaks Wilderness, more than five miles away from any road and a mile into the sky and reachable only by those on foot, thus making it a worthwhile journey into a wilderness as deep as you can find anywhere in the region. Need the beta? Read our Alpha Guide.

Honorable Mention: Test your navigational skills and climb 5 High Peaks via a series of herd paths.

Honorable Mention: Leave the 46ers to the crowds and get high on these less-than-4,000-footers.

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Our favorite paddling trip: Paddle a classic route through the St. Regis Canoe Area

The Adirondacks’ St. Regis Canoe Area includes some of the Northeast’s most pristine paddling opportunities. Enough waterways and canoe carries connect this massive expanse of lakes, letting paddlers explore and enjoy them for days on end. But, as one of the area’s most classic routes, Seven Carries takes you through a variety of wilderness ponds and wildlife habitats, giving you a great taste of everything this area has to offer.

The Seven Carries route was originally created as a transport route between the Saranac Inn, which has since burned down, and Paul Smith’s Hotel, now known as Paul Smith’s College. Now the route only has six carries and takes paddlers through three lakes and seven ponds. This one-way trip can be done in either direction and requires two cars. Although the route is a relatively short nine miles, some paddlers will want to turn it into an overnight trip to enjoy one of the many quiet, waterfront campsites on St. Regis Pond. Don’t put in without reading our Alpha Guide.

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Our favorite post-adventure activity: Rehydrate in Lake Placid

As with any big hike or paddle, it’s the trudge back to the parking lot that can get a little long. As winter daylight begins to fade on the back end of a long November trek, I’m sometimes cursing outselves for not trimming that one toenail that’s banging against my boot’s toe box or simply convincing myself that the hike down, with its steep icy sections, would be so much faster than the one up.

Then, my mind wanders to that first cold beer and hot bowl of chili awaiting me at one of the many Lake Placid eateries when we’re finally out of the mountains. Imagining the bartender topping off that big draft is the vision that keeps me going. Need suggestions? Read about the four best LP watering holes, here.

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Our favorite fall must-do: Check out the foliage, obviously

One of the things that the Northeast is known for is of course it’s extensive fall foliage. Fall is also a time when cool mornings and sunny weather draw many to the regions network of hiking trails. There is perhaps no better place to combine the beauty of Autumn and a passion for hiking than the Adirondack Mountains. The backdrop of the rugged Adirondack peaks, the reflections of its countless ponds and lakes, and the fiery colors of the regions hardwood forest create a spectacular scene around the month of October which is arguably unrivaled in the country.

While the massive Adirondack Park covering nearly one third of the state offers countless destinations, below are three of the finest places to combine great hiking and the warm glow of Autumn’s colors. Pick the best spots using our guide.


Alpha Guide: The Seven Carries Canoe Route

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Follow in the footsteps and paddle strokes of guideboats and their passengers through some of the Adirondacks’ most pristine and historic wilderness lakes.

The Adirondacks’ St. Regis Canoe Area includes some of the Northeast’s most pristine paddling opportunities. Enough waterways and canoe carries connect this massive expanse of lakes, letting paddlers explore and enjoy them for days on end. But, as one of the area’s most classic routes, Seven Carries takes you through a variety of wilderness ponds and wildlife habitats, giving you a great taste of everything this area has to offer.

The Seven Carries route was originally created as a transport route between the Saranac Inn, which has since burned down, and Paul Smith’s Hotel, now known as Paul Smith’s College. Now the route only has six carries and takes paddlers through three lakes and seven ponds. This one-way trip can be done in either direction and requires two cars. Although the route is a relatively short nine miles, some paddlers will want to turn it into an overnight trip to enjoy one of the many quiet, waterfront campsites on St. Regis Pond.

Quick Facts

Distance: 9 miles, one-way
Time to Complete: Half to full day for most.
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/70572.html

Download

Turn-By-Turn

This one-way route can be paddled in either direction. For planning, it requires two cars, a shuttle trip, or even a simple 10-mile bike ride from one end to the other. The southern end is at the Little Clear Pond boat launch off Fish Hatchery Rd. in Saranac Lake (44.355377, -74.292138). The northern point is at the Paul Smith’s College campus (44.438584, -74.252560).

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Pond Hopping

Little Clear Pond is a great way to start this trip. This hatchery pond does not allow fishing or camping, so you can enjoy a serene 1.5-mile paddle that takes you past small islands, where you can keep your eyes out for fish feeding on insects on the water’s surface. The abundance of fish also attracts loons, which may randomly resurface from underwater fishing excursions just about anywhere. If you are hoping to get a picture of a loon, this is a great spot to have your camera ready.

As a note, the shoreline is lined with “No Camping” signs. So, trust your map to take you to the proper carry to get to St. Regis Pond, instead of heading toward any distant sign. For each carry, a sign tells you which pond it will take you to, so make sure you’re on the correct trail before you unload.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

At 0.6 miles, the carry (44.371689, -74.298986) from Little Clear to St. Regis Pond is the longest of all the carries. Well marked and defined, the trail begins with a short uphill climb. So, if you overpacked your boat, you may begin to regret some of that extra gear. To start the next paddle, follow the trail to an old boardwalk or dock, which will help keep you out of the mud.

Fitting with the carry to it, St. Regis Pond is the trip’s largest, although the most direct route to the next carry is a 1.2-mile paddle. The pond, which offers a terrific view of St. Regis Mountain and its fire tower, is lined with waterfront campsites along the outer shoreline. As well, the large island in the lake’s eastern part has a campsite that’s a bit more unique.

Many paddlers choose to make camp here for a night, or will even basecamp for a few days while taking paddle day trips elsewhere. Because of the difficult access, Ochre Pond, the Fish Ponds, and Grass Pond are even more adventurous and secluded than the Seven Carries. Regardless of which site you pitch your tent, the air will be filled with nothing but the sounds of water lapping on the shoreline and loons calling to each other.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The carry-over to Green Pond begins on the eastern end of St. Regis Pond (44.382231, -74.301641). The clear and well-traveled trail is short and sweet (110 yards), and is a nice change from the first carry.

The first thing you will notice about Green Pond, assuming you are paddling in the spring or summer, is just how green the water appears to be, hence the name. The lush forest and small pond reflect the foliage intensely, thus giving the water a deep green hue. However, be careful not to take out at the wrong spot and portage back to Little Clear Pond. Rather, the correct portage is located at the pond’s northeastern corner (44.384037, -74.296923). A short 250-yard carry over a small hump gets you to the next paddle at Little Long Pond.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

This one-mile paddle takes you through the winding pond waters, and you will easily see how it got its name. There are also a few campsites here to settle on, if you decided against staying at an earlier spot. The campsite on the pond’s northern end has a great south-facing view of the open water and is sure to get lots of sunlight. For the interest of fishermen, this pond is also regularly stocked with brook trout, rainbow trout, and the popular hybrid, splake.

The carry (44.394463, -74.288661) from Little Long Pond to Bear Pond is short and sweet at 250 yards.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Exiting the St. Regis Canoe Area

Paddling into Bear Pond is also exiting the protected St. Regis Canoe Area, though it is difficult to tell. The most obvious sign is a very inviting campsite on a small peninsula in the center of the lake, which is unfortunately on private property. This 0.4-mile paddle cuts through the lake to the northeastern corner for the carry to the final pond.

The carry (44.399940, -74.284146) from Bear to Bog Pond is super short (less than 50 yards) and all downhill. In fact, you can see the water from Bear Pond seeping through the ground at the end of the trail and flowing into Bog Pond.

Bog Pond is the smallest of all the paddles. You may feel motivated to get through it quickly to get away from the bugs, but this amazing little pond has created its own ecosystem full of floating islands, tiny flowers, and carnivorous pitcher plants. It’s worth taking a few extra moments to observe and enjoy this incredibly unique little body of water.

The final 50-yard carry (44.400487, -74.280465) leads from here to Upper St. Regis Lake. The setting changes from raw wilderness to large open lakes with historic camps along the shores. This will also be the start of the trip’s longest paddle leg.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Wide Open Lakes

Paddling onto Upper St. Regis Lake, you can immediately tell the difference between it and the ponds you’ve been spending time in. To keep your wits about you, avoid any passing motorboats as you put into the lake. After launching your boat, keep the large Birch Island to your right side. Then, pass the island, and head NNE, which will lead you to a small, almost hidden waterway between some shoreline camps that connects to Spitfire Lake. Though this is the most direct route, being on the water allows you to see some of the Historic Adirondack Great Camps up close and appreciate the preserved North Country architecture.

Cross Spitfire Lake to the northeast, but look to the west to find St. Regis Mountain again, which was north of you earlier in the trip. Continue to the lake’s northeastern corner to access the thin and winding water passage that will lead you to Lower St. Regis Lake. Here, keep your eyes peeled for hunting birds of prey, such as hawks and bald eagles.

At the entrance of Lower St. Regis Lake, you can see the end of the trip across the water, at the site of the historic Paul Smith’s Hotel. Lower St. Regis Lake has far fewer structures along its shoreline, thus giving the college campus an even grander presence. The lake crossing is a bit farther than it looks, especially with your tired arms and a head wind. But, the calm shoreline is a welcoming finish to this classic canoe trip.


Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Kit

  • There are endless boat options for this trip. The best one is what you already have, but if you are looking for something new, the Perception Carolina 12 provides plenty of storage and stability. The longer length helps you glide easily through the water and save your energy for the carries.
  • The Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon Paddle has a blade designed for flat water tours, like the Seven Carries, and provides a smooth stroke. The carbon fiber-reinforced blade and pure carbon fiber shaft help save weight and keep your arms fresh all day long.
  • The NRS cVest PFD has plenty of pockets and storage to keep your camera and snacks handy during long tours. As well, the mesh back will be more comfortable while you lean back on the kayak seat.
  • The SealLine Boundary Pack has plenty of room to keep all of your camping gear dry while you’re out on the water. The integrated shoulder straps make carrying the pack much easier during the portages, as well.
  • There’s nothing worse than trying to relax at camp in the Adirondacks while being swarmed by black flies. Beforehand, treat your clothing and gear with some insect repellent, like Ben’s Clothing and Gear Insect Repellent, to keep the bugs at bay. The permethrin is odorless, and one application to your clothing will last for weeks. As such, you can spend time enjoying the ponds, instead of swatting mosquitoes and smelling like chemicals.
  • A day out on the water can give you a pretty good sunburn, even if it’s overcast. So, apply Sawyer’s Stay-Put Sunscreen to prevent yourself from looking like a lobster the next day. This sunblock is waterproof, which helps while you are paddling, and is easily packable, so you won’t have to think twice about bringing one extra piece of gear.
  • Try as hard as you like, but you will still get wet feet on this trip. Instead of dealing with soggy socks, wear a pair of Merrell All Out Blaze Sieve Shoes. These let your feet drain without compromising stability and traction on the trails.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Keys to the Trip

  • If you’ve never done a portage before, you will be an expert by the time you finish this trip. In any case, it helps to brush up on your portaging skills with some handy tips.
  • All of the ponds on this trip are pretty calm. However, the three larger lakes have a different temperament if things get windy, and on the St. Regis Lakes, the waves can be exacerbated by powerboat wakes. Make sure that you’re prepared to handle rough waters if the need arises, such as keeping your bow pointed into the waves and having a bailer at the ready to empty any water that may have splashed in.
  • In spring or fall, the water temperatures may be surprisingly cold. As a result, an unintended capsize or submersion becomes dangerous quickly. It’s a good idea to always keep your life vest on, even though it may seem like a harmless and easy paddle.
  • For pre- or post-paddle grub, nearby Saranac Lake has plenty of options. A personal favorite is the Blue Moon Cafe. A laid-back atmosphere and delicious food and coffee make this place a must-do.

Current Conditions

Have you paddled the Seven Carries recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


Project 100: A Wild Winter for the Good of the Mountains

While most Northeast hikers have heard of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, few are familiar with the Adirondack Hundred Highest (HH). This peakbagging list is made up of the 46 High Peaks and the next-highest 54 peaks, many of which are remote and trail-less. Anyone who has bushwhacked off-trail above 3,000 feet regularly in the Adirondack Mountains knows the challenges of backcountry navigation, treacherous terrain, and isolation.

Neil Luckhurst is a man who knows these realities better than most. Last winter, Luckhurst, 61, became just the second person ever to hike the ADK HH in a single winter season. The challenges of completing the list at any time of year are big enough. But, adding deep snow, icy cliffs, below-zero temperatures, and unplowed approach roads makes for an almost unfathomable task. Luckhurst was driven to accomplish this feat (which he dubbed “Project 100“) not only for himself but also as part of a massive fundraising effort for the nonprofit conservation organization he founded, the ADKHighpeaks Foundation. He raised over $6,500 dollars to support Adirondack conservation and other nonprofit groups.

goEast had a chance to ask him some questions about himself, the project, and the foundation.

Luckhurst finishing Project 100. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Luckhurst finishing Project 100. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

goEast: How long have you been hiking?

Neil: I began hiking in my early 20s in the Canadian Rockies. I stopped hiking altogether while going to school and starting a chiropractic practice in Montreal and having children. I have hiked, snowshoed, skied, and winter-camped in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Northern Ontario, the French Alps, and, of course, very extensively in the Adirondacks.

goEast: That’s a lot of hiking! You say you’ve spent most of your time in the Adirondacks. How many peaks have you climbed there?

Neil: Approximately 150. I bushwhacked the entire Adirondack Hundred Highest list, including the 46. In addition to that, I have bushwhacked another 50 peaks from the 3,000-foot list, and friction-climbed about 50 Adirondack slides. Also, I have done the 46 in a single winter three times and, all in all, have completed approximately eight full rounds of the 46.

goEast: Impressive! What was the origin of Project 100?

Neil: In the winter of 2001 and 2002, Alain Chevrette and Tom Haskins basically went out and killed the list. Alain did the entire HH list, plus another 30-odd peaks from the 3,000-foot list. Tom did the Lower 54, plus most of the 46er list. In my opinion, this stands as one of the most monumental achievements ever done in the Adirondacks and has rolled around in the back of my mind for years. With Projects 46 [Luckhurst climbed all 46 Adirondack High Peaks in 10 days] and Full Deck [a single, continuous backpacking trip to climb 52 peaks] well behind me, I was mentally casting about for something else to do. Out of the blue, I realized the Adirondack Hundred Highest single winter season was just what I was looking for as a new challenge.

Luckhurst on Cheney Cobble. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Luckhurst on Cheney Cobble. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

goEast: How many people have completed the Hundred Highest list in winter?

Neil: I only know of five people who have done them all over multiple winters, but there are probably more. However, in one single winter, as far as I know, only Chevrette has ever done this before. I have become the second.

goEast: So, what’s the ADKHighpeaks Foundation?

Neil: Originally, we were born from two internet message boards. One, Adkhighpeaks Forum was founded in 2003, and the other, ADKForum, was acquired in 2007. We started as a simple group of forest preserve hikers and recreational users that cared deeply about the wild places where we choose to spend our time. Over time, we came to realize that it is up to us to help improve the public lands that we enjoy, making them better for those that follow us. After all, we get so much joy and life-enriching rewards from these places that it seems only fitting that we do our part to return the favor any way we can.

Through our combined 5,000-plus membership, we began to look for ways to improve and have a positive impact on the forest preserve areas we use. In 2008, we began a grassroots, “pass the hat” effort, and with minimal effort, we were able to raise $5,000 to purchase needed equipment for the Keene Valley Fire Department’s Wilderness Response Team. The ADKHighpeaks Foundation was born from that effort.

We are now a major source of funding support for a number of endeavors, including the Summit Steward program, Fire Tower restoration programs, Search and Rescue team support, research grants, Adirondack Ski Touring Council purchases, and many, many more.

Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

goEast: Why is it important to you to do these “projects” as fundraisers?

Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

Neil: Over the years that I’ve been hiking in the Adirondacks, one thing that has struck me is how much work is done by volunteers. Trail work, lean-to reconstruction, SAR, public education, privy construction, and maintenance, etc. A lot of that hard work is done by volunteers. My way of giving something back for all the hiking I do is to raise money for the Foundation through these projects and via our web forum activities [by using projects as advertisements for the organization].

On a more personal level, my son Dominic and I did the 46 together as father and son. 10 years ago, he lost his life in an avalanche in the Canadian Rockies. The outpouring of sympathy from the Adirondack hiking community was incredibly supportive to my family and I. This made me decide, with Tim Dubois, to found the Foundation as a way of channeling this support into something concrete. These projects enable me to give back, as well as keep the memories of our hiking adventures alive.


The Top 8 360-Degree Adirondack High Peak Views

You’ll see a lot of things from the top of an Adirondack High Peak—endless summits, gray slides scarring mountainsides, alpine lakes, and deep gouging passes. But, aside from the stray ski jump peaking up above the thick carpet of trees, one thing you won’t see much of is civilization. More than any other range in the Northeast, the Adirondacks are alone, set far away from the region’s cities and towns. As a result, this makes the views from these bare (or not) summits all that much better.

No two summits offer the same perspective, however, so which ones are the best? See them for yourselves below, and then, start planning your next hike to one of these high alpine islands.

1. Mount Colden

There’s no quick way to get to Mount Colden, but the longer hike definitely pays off. You’ll climb into the heart of the High Peaks Wilderness, an area completely surrounded by giant summits, including the state’s two highest—Marcy and Algonquin—directly east and west of you, respectively. Peer down into Avalanche Pass and Lake Colden, and then out to the Flowed Lands, located just north of the Hudson River’s beginning. The hike from the Adirondack Loj will take you past the former site of Marcy Dam, where a clearing offers views down Avalanche Pass as if it were a gunsight.

 

2. Mount Marcy

Not having anything above you definitely goes a long way to making a mountain’s views memorable. In New York, Mount Marcy is the place to do that. The summit is completely bare and rocky for a few hundred feet up, meaning absolutely nothing obstructs your view of just about all the other High Peaks. To the east, gaze 1,000 feet down into Panther Gorge and Mount Haystack beyond. Catch views of Lake Placid to the north, and the river valleys to the south. Plus, the hike via the Van Hoevenberg Trail offers a smattering of worthy views, like Marcy Dam and Indian Falls.

 

3. Gothics Mountain

The Great Range peaks make up a continuous line extending from Marcy and Haystack all the way into Keene Valley. Here, Gothics sits smack in the middle. The summit has the best views of the Upper Great Range, including Haystack, Basin, and Saddleback, all lining up and pointing to Marcy. The Dix Range dominates the southeast, and Big Slide’s bald face sits alone across the Johns Brook Valley. Hike it from the Ausable Club and past Beaver Meadow Falls.

 

4. Mount Skylight

Marcy’s next-door neighbor to the south, Skylight has similar panoramic views from its bald summit, with one notable addition—Marcy herself, rising from behind Lake Tear of the Clouds. For reference, this article’s header image was taken on Skylight at sunrise. You’re pretty close to the High Peaks’ southern edge, which means, as you’re looking out, the mountains slowly shrink away and give you great views of the Upper Hudson River Valley. Hike this one from Upper Works, tracing the Hudson River’s path to Lake Tear, the river’s highest source.

 

5. Cascade Mountain

Cascade is one of the Adirondacks’ most popular “first-timer” peaks, and for good reason. For starters, while it’s a relatively quick and easy hike up from Route 73, the views from the top are spectacular, making it one of the 46’s best bang-for-your-buck treks. The rocky summit lines up with the rest of the peaks to the south and Lake Placid and Whiteface just down the road to the north. Make it a two-fer by adding the less-impressive Porter Mountain to your itinerary.

 

6. Rocky Peak Ridge

In this area, Giant Mountain gets most of the attention. But, its smaller neighbor, Rocky Peak Ridge, has arguably better views. Unlike Giant, they’re nearly 360 degrees. Plus, the view of Giant itself is impressive. Look down toward Keene Valley with the Great Range beyond, or try to pick out the fire tower on Hurricane Mountain, located on the other side of Giant. The bummer is there’s no quick way to get here. So, climb over Giant and through the deep col between the two, or approach RPR from the ridge to the east—longer but with consistent views all the way to the top.

 

7. Algonquin Peak

From Algonquin, the state’s second-tallest mountain, the views of the Trap Dike and slides on Mount Colden dominate. Beneath that, Avalanche Pass and Lake Colden slice a deep gorge into the valley. Above Colden, Mount Marcy’s bare summit towers over everything, with the Great Range extending to the left. Algonquin is part of the four-peak chain known as the MacIntyre Range, and thus, you can also tag Wright and Algonquin in one long day, with views extending across all three summits. Keep in mind that the range’s final peak, Marshall, isn’t connected by the same ridgeline trail.

 

8. Whiteface Mountain

Far to the north, Whiteface offers a unique perspective of the region. Immediately south, scenic Lake Placid is laid out, surrounded by smaller mountains. Beyond that, the High Peaks’ center, a jumble of jagged summits, clusters together. The views here are so popular that a road goes up to the top. But, for a handful of viewpoints on the way up, hike it via Marble Mountain from the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center.