As Ciara and I begin the more-and-more frequent discussions of our next long distance trek through the woods, I thought it would be a most splendid idea to get the last days and final arduous miles of our May 2019 trek of the Northville-Placid Trail (NPT) off my mind.. I mean, this is only running 9 months behind its original publish date.. final 55 miles.. here we gooo!
Day 6 – Part 2: Lake Durant (re-supply) to Salmon River Tent-Site
The afternoon remained crystal clear; blue skies with a touch of wind – just slight enough to dry our sweaty clothes and soggy gear. We all finished our cucumber and tempeh sandwiches, polished off the final gulps of fresh watermelon juice and stuffed down all the cold, crisp grapes that our hearts desired.
Were we really ready to don our 75 liter packs again? Our tired shoulder and back muscles creaked at the thought of being loaded up once again. Using the tailgate of Tuesday’s ‘pit crew’ vehicle, we reluctantly slid into our shoulder straps and slowly stood straight, bearing the full weight that we desperately tried to distance our minds from during the last several hours of down time.
Hugs were exchanged, perhaps even a few sweaty tears were dropped as we said our good-byes once again: our trail just out of the parking lot began immediately ascending into the forest to where the warm sun rays broke through springtime leaf cover.
Back on the trail, Ciara and I continued on and on.. recounting all of the lingering flavors and scents – all of the home comforts that Tuesday had graciously brought to us thru hikers, the tastes of home that we so badly did not want to depart with!
It seemed that if today had a theme it would be something to do with ‘logging‘; the path that we followed was tremendously scarred with such activity, each of us (and our pups!) climbed over downed trees, slogging our trail runners through sandy logging roads that I had actually remarked to Ciara, appeared nearly identical to the aftermath from the Mount St Helens 1980 eruption/landslide photos that I had seen while watching documentaries: the trail was absolute chaos to traverse.
One positive though, was the fact that there was no active logging taking place – no trucks or equipment to dodge as we made our way through this unsightly disaster area, which truly was a surprise given that we walked through on a Wednesday!
After several miles of following bright logging signs and dense blowdown, we reached the lovely sight of water: Tirrell Pond, where we happily swung north (left) along the pond for, there was a lean-to site but it appeared that the bridge to the campsite had long been washed out; very glad to not be traveling over this ponds’ outlet.. we continued left!
Tirrell Mountain appeared in the distance beyond the shimmering water and even when I had no experience rock climbing, I wanted only to dump my pack along the shore and ascend its glossy, gray granite slopes!
Reaching the tip of the pond we stopped momentarily to stand in the sands of what-would-have-been a fantastic tent site, complete with a beach – such a gem of a find!
Eager to find a home for the night, we pressed on into a forest that we thought would simply never end. We searched either side of the trail for what we thought would be an open grassy patch to pitch our tent, all we found was occasional blowdown (easily stepped over!) and a lovely, but dense birch forest on either side.
The miles passed so slowly as we made our way, sensing that we were truly alone for miles in either direction – we simply continued the only way the forest allowed, knowing (by my map) that there was “some-sort-of road” up in the distance.
After what seemed like an entire new day of trekking, our NPT bisected a quicksand-like desolate dirt road which stretched to both our left and to our
“Which way?”, Ciara asked – eventually she found the blue “NPT” trail marker stuck to a tree off trail with an arrow signifying we head toward a bridge in the distance.
Into the muck we sank, I actually felt somewhat guilty for leaving my shoe imprints in the road – but had no other way to travel unless we trampled moss on either side of the trail.. to the bridge we slogged!
On the other side of the bridge dipped a cut-off path wide enough for a narrow vehicle.. the best part of this spur road, however, was the sight of a fire ring several feet from the waterside.
This was home.
Packs were dropped again, tent set up, wood was gathered (the night ended with no fire).. and naturally, grapes were devoured! Just the sweet juicy goodness that we required after that walk in the springtime sun, and as we listened to Salmon River lap at the shoreline, together we lay there speculating what tomorrow may bring.
Day 6 (part two) stats:
- 7.18 miles
- 3hr 44 minutes
- 722′ elevation gain
Day 7: Salmon River to Plumley’s LeanTo (Long Lake)
Awaking from possibly the best night of sleep yet on our multi-day trek, I briefly walked our road barefoot, letting the sand massage my constantly wet and shriveled up toes – I guess folks pay a lot of money for this kind of foot-treatment back home!
Coffee and breakfast complete, once again we packed up – neither puppy dog wanting to step into their harness – but we had miles to go; according to the map, today we would be reaching the actual high point of the Northville Placid Trail; unable to locate a name as we did not actually pass over a ‘summit’, but the trail traversed between the named peaks: Salmon Pond Middle-West Peak to the east and Salmon Pond West Peak.. to the west!
Prior to beginning the gradual climb to our ‘scenic view point’ however, we did encounter possibly the most beautiful open-grass field of the entire trek! Complete with a petitely arced bridge mid-field, we stopped to take many photos – the grasses grew nearly as tall as our pups packs and gently swayed in the morning breeze – it was surely a sight we will never forget!
Back on the climb though, and without knowing otherwise we could have mistaken this land for any gentle-grade mountain found in upstate New York: we had rocks, roots, vistas behind us, yet another magical place to find ourselves today!
We never actually found the ‘look out’ spot listed on our map, perhaps it was shrouded in springtime growth, needless to say we both greatly enjoyed what we had before us, no need for anything more! And as soon as we reached the crux, we began a steep decent down the northern side.
In the far distance we could even spot our next destination: Long Lake.. but how could it appear so many miles away? Neither my eyes nor legs wanted to believe that speck in the distance would be our next rest stop!
Descending from the Salmon Pond peaks, eventually we were kicked out onto muddy forest access roads where we awkwardly stepped into sunken truck tire tracks which we reluctantly followed for several more miles; our spirits occasionally lifted by signs trail side indicating we were growing closer to the town of Long Lake.
Remarking to each other that someday we would return to ski the beautifully remote trails which spider webbed in every direction, we continued until our hanging jaws stopped us dead in our tracks.
We had reached the longest boardwalk that I had ever encountered; nearly a full mile trek of log underfoot, meandering gently through boggy swampland on either side – I don’t think either one of us had seen a trail quite like this – to this day I am amazed at the craftsmanship that went into such a lengthy creation!
As the sound of auto traffic intensified, we talked to fill the air with the idea of lunch in our very near future.
It was a strange sensation to put feet back onto blacktop once again – which we followed out of town and past quaint residences or vacation homes, while we didn’t see anyone around it was nice to have each other!
Reaching the trail register at nearly the end of Tarbell Road, we dropped packs once again, layered with jackets and all collapsed onto the grass in search of lunch: oranges were top on the menu – still fresh from our re-supply with Tuesday yesterday.. and oh boy did that orange juice hit the spot!
Next stop: Long Lake!
Surprisingly, this is one area of the Adirondacks that I do not remember ever visiting as a child, but I am surely glad we did on this trek!
Crossing the outlet, climbing over boulders and rocks, we reached the trail and kicked our way through nearly a foot of last years fallen birch leaves, which lit up the trail with the brightest yellows, oranges, and speckles of reds – at that time there was no place I could imagine enjoying more!
I stopped to take photos of little white flowers with pink and purple stripes (Carolina Springbeauty.. or Claytonia caroliniana), mushrooms of all shapes and sizes lined the trail – it all appeared to be straight out of an 1800s post card!
Now, for the first time in what seemed like days we encountered hikers and other friendly folks out enjoying this incredible stretch of nature alongside the ‘Lake.
We had our choice of camp spots and lean-to’s but decided to cross our fingers, hoping that the finest of the lake would be available.. and much
to our delight – it was!
Following a short spur trail toward the lakeside we set up ‘home’ for the night in Plumley’s lean-to, which had a short trail out front to filter water, another out back to a boulder where I sat watching ominous storm clouds roll in; all around we found debris that had washed ashore from neighboring lake homes as we roamed around, becoming explorers while we had packs off!
Our first night with the luxury of a roof over our heads, which came at the absolute perfect time – before long the sky grew dark grey and the rain began spitting on us overnight. Needless to say, we were content and dry in our sleeping bags while we slept the rain storm away!
Day 7 stats:
- 17.28 miles
- 8hr 46 minutes
- 2418′ elevation gain
Day 8: Plumley’s LeanTo to Duck Hole
Awaking to the pitter-patter of rain still bucketing down on the lean-to roof, I unzipped the tent door to confirm what I heard: it was raining. But I wanted coffee.. and no rain had ever stopped me from morning coffee!
Ciara and the boys slept as I filtered water, waiting for coffee water to heat up over the MSR stove – the sound of MSR Pocket Rocket will always remind me of these mornings as it resembled a jet taking off.. next stop.. Coffeeville, USA!
Within a short walk, we were offered an outhouse; despite its front door laying on the ground adjacent, we still felt blessed to have that little nook to get out of the rain and accomplish what was needed!
With a late start to the morning, we packed up like usual after concluding our long breakfast of tempeh with hot sauce (this treat really grew on us over our thru-hike, sure to grace our taste buds next trip, I hope!) and plotting out our next moves – we talked now with hesitation as we ruminated over warning signs on our map such as “Caution: Beaver Activity” and “Caution: Blowdown Area“.
We knew we were in for a slow slog as we prepped our minds for what was to come!
Once actually out on the trail though, we passed several re-routes which thankfully avoided several boggy areas. The sound of water crept back in, the rains had returned. With several minutes of dry walking, we had the time to once again equip with rain gear once again.
Upon reaching Shattuck Clearing, we thought we had seen the worst of it – in fact, up to this point.. we had not seen anything.
The deafening thunderous crash of river whitecaps broke any silence we had and before long, we could not hear one another yelling – despite being only feet away from each other.
This was Cold River.
When the map reads ‘Cold River’, they mean no joke – the air chilled as we lost elevation and continued toward the sound of chaos. Our spirits were lifted if only briefly at the sight of a suspension bridge crossing the raging river. Minutes earlier, as we walked toward the river, we spoke grimly – not knowing if we could get around this obstacle, we then considered the fact that we may actually have to retreat after 115 miles of walking this path.
We thought the worst was over. The river was crossed, we breathed calmly again – proceeding to all have a snack and sips of water, readying for an easy trek along the shore toward our next camp spot. Wrong again.
We entered the “Caution: Blowdown Area“, depicted on my topo-map, and this time the map was clearly not wrong. The rain came down in buckets turning the worn trail underfoot into a slick mud slide. Up and down, over wet terrain we went, over trees, under trees.. slowly progressing, our hands only growing increasingly numb by the minute.
Honestly, my mind was not in a good place at this point (yeah, yeah.. it’s nature, enjoy nature..). My numb extremities crawled up into my Gore-Tex jacket sleeve, using trekking pole straps just to keep each pole from falling away; hands nor feet could get any more wet.
I stopped dead in my tracks staring in bewilderment: the Cold River came up and over the Northville Placid Trail – trail markers off in the distance under feet of foaming river water.
With water cresting as far into the woods away from the river as we could see – there was no way around but through.
Cold. The river water was frigid, it took no time at all for me to question how this body of water came to be named. The air surrounding the river was growing icy as elevation dropped, and up to our knees we began.
Slowly the miles crept by, somehow we advanced down this trail – I knew the alternative – and there was no going back now: the only way out, was through.
I knew how far we advanced by the tributaries we had passed – next stop was listed as “footbridge“. Just prior to reaching the Ouluska lean-to where “we could dry ourselves there and build a fire there if needed“, I think I said out loud at least once – the cold blood from my fingers and toes began to skew my memory.
Just.. Walk.. Forward..
Did we find the footbridge? Yes, we did.. wait, actually – we were completely uncertain of where we were, I thought we had reached the footbridge – every aspect of our surroundings indicated that yes, we had in fact reached the footbridge.. where the hell was our damn footbridge??
Directly in front of us was another swollen river flowing into the Cold River – so with that, I knew exactly where we were.. the footbridge had broken away from our side of the shore and drifted down stream: we could clearly see what used to be a footbridge was now a collection of toothpicks half under water.
We grew desperate, cold, I began to panic. Seeing the lean-to across the river – we now had to find a way across, but how? Not a chance either of us could actually swim through this torrent! Dogs would be swept away in a second.. assuming they were crazy enough to follow human counterparts across this raging mess.
I began to scour the shore: searching for anything, for a sign of hope that we could proceed without certain hypothermia. Swimming was out of the question. I had a coil of rope.. but had not thought that I needed to bring enough rope to span a 30-foot river!
The only chance we had lay draped across the river, with violent waves lapping up and over: a log. Not a speck of bark remained on this log, it was completely glossed over by prior torrents of water and perhaps countless winters. Would it hold us? Not sure. Would it crumble into the white-capped river below? Maybe.. I was the first to jump at the chance to find out.
This log was indeed slick.. absolutely no denying that fact, but in that moment all extraneous thoughts fell away, all of life’s concerns trickled out of my mind and followed the path of the stream: it was me vs this icy log.
Unsure of how I actually survived this delicate walk – I tiptoed, then sprinted full-on while tread lost traction across the remaining half of the log as I felt my traction disintegrate below my trail runners. I could have knelt down to kiss that sand – never had I been so relieved to stand on solid ground!
My attention now went to my friends remaining on the other side – I swear, I was witnessing this river growing deeper as the seconds passed – as if trying to swallow this log, effectively keeping us from safety.
First, Crockett lunged himself onto the glossy wooden water crossing, pausing just long enough for confirmation from mother back on shore of a job well done. I desperately called his name until he proceeded toward me.
In all honesty, I have absolutely no recollection of the mind-bending seconds of panic surrounding Ciara and Boone crossing this log – I do however, recall very clearly thinking that today would be my first rescue mission, and I did not cherish that thought.
Once on the other side and all safe the hugs and kisses commenced – we survived possibly the scariest moment of my life in the woods, next thru-hike.. bring rope!
Geared back up, we began the 20-foot trek up to the lean-to; turned out there was a young couple sitting in the lean to the entire time.. and never heard any of our shouting or screaming over the crashing waves. We exchanged a brief recount of our trip thus far, all I knew was that they had made it to this point.. we could surely make the trek out!
I think my mind was numb for the next hour or two following that river crossing, unable to tolerate much more adrenaline than what it had just experienced.
We passed the site of the Rondeau Hermitage, a place of ruins and antiques that I had wanted to photograph for years leading up to our adventure – but as the rain proceeded to come down in sheets, we blew through that intersection without batting an eye.
The blue NPT discs grew extremely sparse now, at times I was even unsure that we were trekking the correct path – only to be reassured by signage indicating Duck Hole was just ahead.. thankfully we were still on the correct trail!
Not far out of Duck Hole, the snowy trail returned. Half rotten old snow, we post-holed with every careful step – slamming shin-bones into a hardened layer of crust found just below the surface.. it was no surprise that the lack of patience, hunger and sleep deprivation now grew palpable.
Convinced that we would find another gem of a tent site just prior to needing headlamps, we sloshed through more mud.. even slipping down the trail several times. Needless to say, our level of disagreement between one another grew until we both gave in and pitched our three-person tent along the side of the trail, certain that we would not encounter a single living hiker at this time of the night, here in such remote wilderness.
Goodnight bears. Goodnight moon.
Day 8 stats:
- 20.18 miles
- 10hr 1 minute
- 2343′ elevation gain
Day 9: Duck Hole to LAKE PLACID!!
Don’t quote me – but I think this final night I actually slept for 36 minutes.
It was a rough night, to say the least.
The sun was not even a glimmer of hope as I decided to myself “now I make the coffees!”
The gentle sound of both dogs waking to yawn, then back to sleep coincided nicely with the sound of Ciara’s clear frustration with me as she slammed over to the other side of her sleeping bag, I couldn’t blame her a bit; we were all over-tired, hungry, ready to trek out but were all still soaked to the bone from the prior days onslaught of downpour and sketchy river crossings.
I think she ate two bites to my nine as I cooked our final day of homemade black bean pasta, couscous and veggie something-or-another.
The only questionable spot on the map standing between the morning of day nine and Lake Placid was one final: “Caution: Beaver Activity“. In my mind, we took on the worst yesterday.. so at least I was convinced: today should be a slice of cake!
Departing the Roaring Brook area (where we camped for the night literally on the trail..), we started with possibly the fastest pace of the trip yet. I had Crockett still attached to my pack and possibly sensing the end, he pulled hard with every step, sending my pack straps straight into my hip bones; with each step my patience with him grew more and more thin.
Grin and bear it, I reminded myself.
Someday, I would like for all of us to return to the Wanika Falls area – it was truly a beautiful sight, but unfortunately we had a rendezvous with Ciara’s mama, Tuesday – so on we trekked at lightening speed. We could see the fast flowing falls in the distance cascading majestically down the mountainside, a place I would expect crowds.. but luckily for us, we found none!
Today’s stream-crossings were no less frequent: muddy trails, 10-foot brooks every quarter-mile or so kept our shoes and toes nice and cold (insert sarcasm here), but to our delight the sun was shining and our speed kept our tired bodies more than warm enough.
The trail meandered around standing water – Crockett almost taking me into each as he lunged for toads.. really anything that moved was fair game for his chasing – even blades of grass dancing in the wind were pounced upon!
We passed a trail crew during our final miles, thanked them for their hard work (secretly wishing they were ahead of us earlier in our trek!), the volunteers inquired about our trek up to that point. We were extremely happy to have met them.. until they shattered our reality with the words: “enjoy the next 5 or so miles!“. Ciara and I were convinced, per our map that we had gone further in the day, we were not ready to hear the grim news of five more miles to trudge.
Those miles were near silent, we walked over bridges and around bends in the trail, I tried to take in the beauty of it all but desperately wanted some joyful laughter between the two of us back again.
As we began to pass more day-hikers who smelled of cologne and cheap perfume, we both knew that our nine day exploration journey was nearing the end.. somehow, I was not ready for our trip to end. I was not ready to get in the car and be whisked back to the doldrums of everyday life. I craved the simplicity of survival, of walking, of filtering water and heating food. I secretly craved more trail.
We eventually happened upon the road, the trail head, the parking lot of cars with folks driving in only to take selfie photos with the Northville-Placid signage, which indicated: Northville, NY – 135 miles.
We had walked from Northville, I felt we earned our selfie with that sign.
Only we knew what we had endured during those nine days over one hundred fifty-three miles (according to my GPS tracks).
Others had walked our trail, but we had our stories, our blowdowns, our breakdowns, our love of the trail.
Today was our day, today we completed what we only dreamt for so long.
And with one text message, we found out Tuesday did not expect us until much later in the day.
Turns out Tuesday still had many hours before she could be here to get us.. so with the hike still fresh in our minds, we broke out a sleeping bag, curled up and sat next to Chubb River.. covered in mud, soaked with sweat, not ready to give up our trek yet.
With the morning sun beating down, we drifted off.. dreaming of our next long hike.
Day 9 stats:
- 10.6 miles
- 5hr 2 minutes
- 1070′ elevation gain
- 9 days, 8 nights
- 153.83 miles tracked by my GPS watch
- 18,460′ elevation gain tracked by my GPS watch
- 21,855 calories burned (according to Strava)
- Altra Superior 4.0 – shoes worn by both Erik and Ciara