Welcome, welcome, welcome....
….to the first chapter of the blog on my new layout. There’s been some big movement on the Joe Wilderness front since the last update. Obviously, the website being the biggest. I’ve said it on Facebook and on Instagram, but lemme say it here now that we’re all together. A huge thanks to Ange and Ryan at Seale Strategies. They worked with me way outside of what they normally do and helped me get this thing off the ground. They’re both class acts and I’m so appreciative. On top of the new site, we did some good for the community right here at home in Cornwall. There may even be some new readers here for the first time because of that. With the help of friends, family, and some complete strangers, we put together ten backpacks full of gear to donate to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cornwall & District. The goal is to give these to some kids who’ve got an interest in outdoor activities and I really hope we get to schedule a Bigs & Littles hike together. We also launched the first ever Joe Wilderness t-shirt, with proceeds going to The Agape Centre in Cornwall to use towards their Hunger Hero program. Aside from maybe some college days between paydays, when our fridge was stocked with just mustard and huge amounts of Coca-Cola, I’ve never known what it’s like to go without a meal. And it has always been one of the issues closest to my heart. It’s never made any sense to me why so much food goes to waste, portion sizes in restaurants get out of control and yet there are people who don’t get regular meals. This was the reason behind my choice to support Agape with the t-shirts and I’m so happy to be able to contribute just a small amount. I just want to give a huge thanks to everyone who supported both of these initiatives. We also had a great day at Beer Bourbon BBQ Blues Festival at Nav Centre, handing out stickers (forcing upon?) and spreading the word about JW. Maybe I should knock on random doors to spread the JW word? People would probably like that. I could make handy JW pamphlets and everything. Supper is probably the best time because everyone is home, right? Nah, that would never work. Anyhow, to any and all new readers, welcome to the madness!
Right before this past week’s adventure, Stranger Things Season 3 launched. I could pretend you’re not reading this blog sooner because I’ve been super busy, but in reality, I was a week behind everyone on the new episodes and ya gotta do whatcha gotta do to avoid spoilers. I’m still only on Episode 7.
By now, you may have heard. We climbed the wrong mountain.
In a move that has provided me with moments of equal hilarity and severe disappointment in myself, on Day One this past week, we climbed the wrong mountain. I’m over it now, no longer disappointed, since Joel and I have since altered our plans. But I was in a funk for a few good hours. I can’t wait to tell you all about this Ray Finkle-like all-time bonehead play. Laces out, Dan.
Joel and I came in to Sunday with a plan to hike Sunday, rest Monday, hike again Tuesday. The weather was looking good until the last couple days beforehand, when it flipped on us, predicting thunderstorms for Tuesday. If we wanted to hit four more peaks, we’d now be doing two per day on back to back days. We we’re pretty game for that. After all…..
Without a doubt, I did less planning this time around than I’ve ever done. It has been such a busy few weeks, I didn’t check the trail maps closely enough and that was what led to the wrong mountain. To keep it simple, the map I was following had three little turn offs from the main trail. I knew there were three mountains in the area we’d be hiking in and I knew the two turn offs were for sure the first two mountains we wanted to climb. Which, by process of elimination, meant the third was the one I wanted to avoid. That third being Mt. Marcy, the highest point in all of New York State – 5,344 feet! I was saving that one to be my 46er finish mountain. I wanted to use the state high point as my finish point and I wanted to do it as an overnighter so we could be on the summit at sunrise. It turned out that on our digital map (hikers are mad at even reading that – I had a paper map too, the one I neglected in the past few weeks), that third turn off was a whole other trail. When I pinch-zoomed the map and took a closer look, Mt. Marcy was indeed exactly in our way. We had to either climb it (which Joel has already done!) or turn around and get zero peaks for Day One. I legitimately considered it, in my head, when we were only a few hundred feet away. I had put so much planning in to finishing on Marcy, I was so disappointed in myself for making such a ridiculous mistake. But Joel was a trooper, propped me up emotionally and made me realize it was all good. He didn’t even mind climbing Mt. Marcy for the second time. His first time was on a pretty cloudy day, so he had no views. So not only were we treated to a mostly sunny day, but Joel got the views he hadn’t gotten on his previous hike. So, win/win, I suppose. Plus, I think there is only person who can have too much Marcy in their life: Al Bundy.
The trails were super busy, as this particular trail usually is. The funny part about climbing Marcy by accident instead of Skylight & Gray (Marcy’s neighbors), was just how many people we ran in to. I can’t count how many funny looks people gave us when we told them on the trail that we weren’t climbing Marcy. One guy, when Joel and I were taking in views on top of the beautiful Indian Falls, actually pulled out a paper map and showed me – you have to climb Marcy to get to where you wanna go. I still had faith in my damn digital map. Not even a stubborn thing, which I would usually admit. I just felt like it would work out. I was wrong, in monumental fashion. Once we realized MY mistake and settled on climbing Marcy, the views were as impressive as I’d heard. I could have stayed up there all day. The summit of Mt. Marcy was the only time all weekend that I had anything resembling cell service. I knew Lauren was missing me (obviously). Saturday before we left, there was a minute where I thought she may not even say goodbye. Not only was she worried about this trip a little bit, but we generally don’t go more than a few hours without being in touch – three days was going to a very long stretch. I got an emotional goodbye before we left and I felt her strength needed to reciprocated – so I called her from the summit of Marcy while I had service. To check in, to let her know I was safely atop NY’s highest peak, to tell her I love her and appreciate the sacrifice of me being away more and more on these adventures. This was the first of many trips that are going to require multiple days to grab some peaks, but I know she and my whole circle have got my back. And that makes it easier to keep going.
After some great time spent chatting with other hikers and eating lunch, it was time to decide what to do. We spoke with the summit steward, Ian, who advised us that continuing on to Skylight & Gray was a death march. His words. As an amateur, I put a lot of stock in these guys’ and girls’ advice. They’re not on every summit all the time, so when you get a chance to speak with them, it’s a special time. So much advice, knowledge and friendly conversations come from them. They’ve climbed some of these peaks dozens (hundreds?) of times. I was confident, as was Joel, that turning back and heading back down the same way we came was the smarter move. People do all three of these mountains together all the time. I think it was definitely doable, adding probably about 6km to our hike, but I’ve been learning all summer to err on the side of caution and it’s paid off so far.
Hang on. Lauren’s out and I’m on bachelor mode for supper. So naturally, I’ve ordered in and need to put pants on and go to the door. What a hot ass day it’s been.
Day Two - I'm The Bear
The trail back down Marcy was the usual descent after a hefty hike. Quiet, chill, peaceful. We took another detour off the trail to see Indian Falls one more time. It was too awe-inspiring not to. I tried to get Joel to remember the Christmas song that had been stuck in my head earlier that day. Neither of us could remember – still can’t – but my brain had already shifted to Kanye and Nikki – not great, but a happy alternative to humming Christmas tunes in my head. My mom would love it. Because we left Cornwall on Sunday morning at 4am, by the time we got back to camp, we were pooped. We ate “add boiling water” dried meals. Had showers at the campground bathrooms and discussed what we’d do for the rest of the night. We joked about not making it until 8pm…..until we finally just gave up trying and went to bed at 7:32pm. #partyanimals
I think we both tossed and turned a lot in our separate tents, but I mostly slept well. When I asked Joel in the morning about his sleep, he mentioned it was decent with the exception of the bear.
I’m not even doing this on purpose, but hang on again. I can’t eat and type at the same time. So, Episode 7 while I eat. I’ll be back.
If anyone has heard Lauren on the radio, it’s now known almost Cornwall-wide that I snore. It’s a recent development in the last 6 months or so. I’m working on it. But when Joel said that a bear had been creeping our camp overnight, I was kinda shocked. Until he revealed that I was the bear and he thinks I kept the whole campground awake. Thankfully, he had brought some earplugs with him anyway, so once he put those in all was good and he slept alright. I guess in a tent, alright is about as good as it gets.
After a granola breakfast with some coffees, Day Two was underway. We’d decided to tackle Skylight & Gray, rather than our previously planned Redfield & Cliff Mountains. Since we’d done Marcy, knocking out the neighbors was logical. This time we’d take the same trail, but take a right at the fork in the road rather than a left. The fork in the road that if we’d done properly the day before, I’d have avoided climbing a mountain by mistake. Gray Peak was up first, since we anticipated better views on Skylight. We could see Skylight from Marcy’s summit and it looked amazing – a great place to finish our day. I’d been underestimating Gray Peak the whole trip and should have chiggity-checked myself before I wrecked myself. Gray was a major uphill beast!
Maybe it was the 24km we did on day one, maybe it was never having hiked back to back days, the lackluster sleeping, whatever, whatever. But Day Two and Gray Peek took it’s toll. We’d discussed so many options on the really terrible, rocky, uphill terrain on the way to Gray Peak. We talked about how much it was going to suck to cross those water crossings again on the way down, how some of these “stairways to heaven” were going to be brutal coming downhill on the way back. This led us to discuss actually climbing Marcy again – this time from the other side – to save us from coming back down this way. Oh, how little we knew about the day ahead of us.
So, Gray turned out to be harder than we imagined. Joel says he was in a grump about it, but he was a trooper the whole time. He killed it. He worked so hard on this one. I haven’t even said it to his face yet, but Joel man, I’m proud of what you did on this day. We stopped along the way at Lake Arnold. Stopping at side trails has become a habit of ours and is a reason we’re a little slower than other hikers. If I’m never going to see this trail again, what’s an extra half hour stop to check out the beauty surrounding us? The lake was great. Mount Colden was sitting there, at the edge of the lake, just knowing we’d be back one day.
I know I’ve said before about lots of these trails and mountains being steep and having some huge uphills. But Gray has one of the biggest elevation gains of all the High Peaks. We worked hard with just a few stops. A while after Lake Arnold we came to Lake Tear Of The Clouds. This is the lake that is actually the beginning of the mighty Hudson River. It was gorgeous. We soaked our feet and had a snack for what we thought would be about a 20 minute “jaunt” to the summit. The jaunt was a whole lot of physically demanding climbing action. After about 40 minutes, we’d finally reached the summit. I had actually planned right at that moment to film a video, show you guys the view of Mount Skylight across the valley and then show you the view of Gray Peak after we’d climbed Skylight. To give you an idea of the views we’ve been experiencing this past year. But it was shortly after this that we’d finally decided that the day was getting too long to keep going. Joel’s knees were in the kind of pain my knees were in last year when I did Wright/Algonquin/Iroquois all in one day. His knees weren’t having it, and again, the safe thing to do was head back the way we came – about 13kms – back to camp. Even 2 or 3kms on bad knees is no fun. Downhill, over water crossings for 13kms was a killer. Again, Joel says he was miserable. And I empathize, having experienced that idea that you have to get out. There’s no other way back to camp except the way you came, on your own two feet. He wasn’t miserable. We were quiet, but we still had a pretty great time. We got to use the water tablets I bought a few months back finally. We used all of our 3L of water and filled up at a really well moving stream along the way. The water tasted a bit plastic-y, but it didn’t taste awful and having the ability to refill along the way and safely drink that water is a huge bonus for future trips.
Despite being slow-moving on the way down, we made it back to camp by about 8:30pm. About twelve hours after we left that morning. From Marcy Dam back to our camp was about 6km but it’s mostly easy terrain. This is the point where Joel hit one of those orange Mario Bros. question marks, got Star Power and was in invincible mode the rest of the way til we jumped on the flagpole. Figuratively.
Over two days we did 50.9km and collected two more High Peaks (one for Joel, cuz I suck and made him climb Marcy again). We had a ton of fun even though we didn’t hit the goal of four more peaks. The mountains will always be there. Along the way, after the Marcy screw up, I had some time to think about future 46ers. Joel and I have become a team. And even though I’ve put a ton of work in to my hiking schedule to try and be finished by October 2020, “always in motion is the future”. Plans have changed and I’m now going to wait for Joel to catch up with me (I’m at 16, I think he’s at 9). And we’re going to become 46ers together. Because that’s what teams do. Win together. I’ve said from the beginning how I never thought I’d be doing this. The hiking, the blogging, the social media, the charity stuff. But I definitely never thought I’d be doing it as part of a team and I couldn’t be happier with who my partner turned out to be. It’s going to be a wild ride. I may have to climb a couple mountains over again, but so be it. The rest will always be there. And that just means you get to spend more time reading about it. I’ve learned that every day out on the trails leads to stories I’ll remember forever. Sixteen down, thirty to go.
Just a couple last things before I let you get back to your night. Tomorrow marks 50 years since the moon landing. Those who know me know how much space and space travel inspires me. I don’t really have much to say about it. It just excites me.
And lastly. This is the first time that I’ve had a blog post that has a Comment section. I’d really love to hear from anyone who has bothered to read down this far. Drop a line, I’d love to hear what you think of the new site and anything in general. Or leave me some cool recipes. And now…..Episode 8. Finally. Thanks for reading y’all.