Archive for the ‘The Great Outdoors’ Category

Last Day on the NCT

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Not long after we started the second day of our hike, we came upon an area where two tents were set up by the trail. It was well into the morning by then and we wondered why no one was about. Were the campers up late last night drinking and still sleeping it off, or was it just a base camp and they were out day hiking or fishing? It brought up an interesting topic about when you should see if someone needed help or be left alone to enjoy their solitude.

The trail was still muddy and slippery in places but the puddles were seldom deep enough to flow into our boots like it did in the bog. Mostly, we hiked along the steep banks of the reservoir except when an inlet would force the trail up a valley. While descending one ridge just before noon, we became hopelessly disorientated. Several trees had fallen over blocking the trail where it switchbacked down the slope. We could see a marker with an arrow pointing one way, but logically the trail should have gone the other. Karen scouted one way and I scouted the other, and eventually we figured out what had happened. One of the trees had fallen over with such force that it actually hit and twisted the tree with the arrow on it, changing its direction by 180 degrees. Karen wiggled the nails holding the marker to the trees and eventually got one of them out. We flipped the arrow over and tapped the nail back in with a stone. We felt proud that we had done a good deed for future hikers.

Through the trees across an inlet we could see a huge, flat rock by the shore. It looked like a perfect spot to take a break and have lunch. We weren’t sure the trail would go by there, but it did, and we made our way down to the shore. From the moment we sat down the Black Flies attacked us. They were in our eyes, in our ears, in our mouths, and the more you swung at them the more persistent they became. We both had on Deet but they just seemed to ignore that, so we surrendered our lunch spot to the bugs, grabbed our packs and retreated back into the woods.

Just before we reached Willow Bay Campground and the end of our hike, we walked through a beautiful section of hardwood trees. Cherry, maple, ash and oak spread their canopy high above the forest floor, blocking the sun and all growth except for a few ferns and hearty wildflowers. Once in a while there would be several trees that had toppled over, ripping huge bomb-creators with their roots. It always seems so sad that these giant creatures have to fall and die when they are so healthy. Karen asked me why they fall and I didn’t have a good answer for her. The area didn’t seem like a place where high winds would blow them over, and the ground where their roots held to wasn’t particularly soft. I guess it’s just a part of nature.

We could hear laughter and children playing as we got closer to the campground. The sound of cars whizzing by up ahead was proof that we had once again reached civilization. We were both pretty tired – Karen because she didn’t sleep very well, me because I am old. In the campground restroom we washed up and changed our clothes. I couldn’t believe how much mud had been flipped up on the back of my legs from the trail. It felt good to be relatively clean and walk without a pack.

We drove back to retrieve the other vehicle and on the way stopped at a back road restaurant for some greasy, fried food. The food was pretty awful but the waitress was nice. When I told her we were on one of our traditional Father/Daughter hikes, she became all misty and fawned over us like long lost family members. She kept saying things like: “Oh, my Dad and I used to do things together, too… I really miss him. That’s so nice what your doing…it gives me goosebumps.”

We said goodbye at the parking lot and I drove north while Karen drove south. For a little while we were in the world of nature, not worrying about jobs, bills or yard work. We survived rain, mud, insects, and even my little tent kept us secure and protected from bears and deranged mountain men. It was a good trip.

Hiking The NCT – Part2

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Karen and I couldn’t sit around and watch it rain so we walked down by the water to explore for a while. I wanted to show her where an old blacktop road leads down to the waters edge and is swallowed up by the lake. In 1960 the Kinzu dam built on the Allegheny River for flood control changed the landscape of this region making a vast recreational area. On sunny summer days, speedboats, skiers, and jetskis whiz up and down the lake, but today the lake was quiet except for the tapping of light rain. As we explored along the shore, it stopped raining and we returned to the campground to set up our camp.
Karen called my rainhat "Wilson"
One of my favorite things to do while backpacking is build a campfire. Any firewood left by previous campers was completely soaked from the all day rain. It would have been nice to hold our boots up to a fire to dry a little, but at least now that the rain had stopped we could change into dry clothes.

We tidied up our camp and Karen spread some things out on the picnic table to dry. It was nearing dinnertime so we boiled water for our instant meal of macaroni and beef and ate it with some raw beans and carrots. We also had more coffee making sure it was decaffeinated this time. Karen went to get water and wash our cups while I set up the tent. When she got back and saw the tent for the first time, she had that doubting look in her eyes. “Are you sure that tent will be big enough for the two of us?”

I assured her that it was a two-person tent, however, I was always solo on other trips with it. I told her she could sleep on the picnic table under the tarp if she didn’t think there would be enough room in the tent. She didn’t like that idea either and informed me that I also had to sleep closest to the tent zipper. If something is going to get you in the night, it’s always best if you are the furthest away from the zipper. That’s where they always come in after you.

I was sliding in our air mats and sleeping bags when a lady from one of the camps came by to invite us over to their campfire. Somehow they had managed to gather and dry enough wood to get a nice fire started. We told her that we would try to stop by in a while after we got everything organized. Neither Karen nor I were enthusiastic about visiting but thought they might feel bad if we didn’t go. It was starting to get dark so we grabbed headlamps and walked to their campsite.

When we got to their camp, two more backpackers from another site had joined in and everyone was telling stories of their hikes. It was almost like a competition to see who had the story about the greatest backpacking adventure. One young lady told of hiking into the Grand Canyon – along the treacherous cliff face, through eighteen inches of snow – with such drama that we wondered how she made it out alive. They were nice enough and it was good to visit for a while, but we really didn’t come backpacking to meet other people, so after awhile we excused ourselves and headed back to our tent.

I slept well for the most part but Karen said she couldn’t get comfortable and tossed and turned continually through the night. The morning sky was of parting clouds and the hint of sun breaking through. It hadn’t rained at all during the night and that made it a lot easier to break camp and pack up. We breakfasted on dehydrated scrambled eggs and bacon and more Starbucks instant coffee, swung on our backpacks, and headed up the trail for our second day.

To be continued…

Have You Seen A Blaze?

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

This is a story I wrote last week about two adventurers who go on a hike in the wilds of Pennsylvania. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to post it here because it is quite long, but on the other hand, I haven’t written anything for some time and this should make up for it. I broke it into three parts, kind of like what Dick did with his journal of Big Bend, in an attempt not to exhaust the reader. I will post the second part soon.

The North Country National Scenic Trail is a continuous footpath stretching over 4600 miles from the Adirondacks in New York to the Grasslands of North Dakota. Passing through seven States, 10 National Forests, and numerous State Parks, the NCT is a hiking trail that traverses some of the most beautiful areas in Northern United States. Forests of stately hardwoods, waterfalls, glens, and mammoth rock formations, are scattered along the trail throughout New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Scenic vistas of the Great Lakes and colorful cliffs along the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior greet the hiker through Michigan and Minnesota. And who can say “Cheyenne River” or “National Grasslands’ and not be tempted to do some wandering in North Dakota.
The NCT is within easy driving distance from several metropolitan areas, making it a great recreational opportunity for many people. Few people, however, have hiked the whole thing. Imagine my surprise when Karen called and said, “Dad, do you want to go hiking next weekend?”
“Oh, I would love to! Do you have any ideas where we could hike?”
She thought for a minute, “Why don’t we backpack the North Country Trail?”
“What? That’s over 4500 miles!”
“No, no silly, just the part that runs through the Allegheny National Forest. It’s about 90 miles. We could do it in sections over 4 or 5 weekends. After each hike,” she added, “you could blog about it.”
I didn’t have to think for long – several weekends of hiking, backpacking along the Kinzu Reservoir amidst scenic hills and vistas, walking on a famous National Scenic Trail, and spending time with my daughter. There was nothing I would rather do.
We made plans to drive up early on Saturday, May 22, and meet at Willow Bay campground on the PA/NY border. From there we would drive one vehicle south to strategically place ourselves a distance of two days hiking. I voted to make this first hike relatively short because of a winter of city-soft inactivity, and build up to greater miles as I optimistically became more in shape. The weather was predicted to be warm but with a chance of showers all day Saturday.
I arrived at the campground shortly before 9:00 am. The last time I talked with Karen – there is no cell signal in most of the Allegheny National Forest – she planned on reaching the campground around 9:00 am also. I parked and read some of the literature and maps by the check in gate as a lady opened the booth to collect camping fees. After about a half-hour I sensed that something was wrong. Karen should have been there. I started to worry and explained the situation to the collector. She was kind enough to let me use her landline phone and I was relieved when Karen answered almost immediately. Sure enough, Karen’s GPS had taken her to the wrong location and she was now over half an hour away. I was more relieved that she was OK than I cared about loosing a little time hiking.
When she finally arrived at the campground she said, “All I could think about as I drove here was…great! This is going to totally be in the blog!”
It was only a short while after that that she was waiting for me as I struggled with adjusting a broken hiking pole. Ironically though, the pole was fine, I was just turning it the wrong way. We finally entered the woods and began hiking north at about 11:00am. It was raining lightly but the temperature was warm. We put covers over our packs, donned rain jackets, and tried unsuccessfully to walk around most of the muddy parts on the trail. After a while, our shoes gave up the will to be dry and we walked with the squish, squish of wet socks.
Throughout most of the day the skies were cloudy and it would rain periodically. There were also long stretches when it wouldn’t rain. Sometimes it was hard to tell if it was raining or not because of the thick canopy of leaves. The trees would shed the rain for a while until they couldn’t hold back anymore, and then drip long after the rain had stopped. Most of the trail was well marked but once in a while we would lose track of where exactly it was. It was common for us to be talking and not paying attention and suddenly realize we had not seen a blaze marking the trail for some time. Then we would have to scout around until we found the markings again. Eventually it became a catch phrase to turn around and ask: “Have you seen a blaze lately?”
We hiked through a boggy section for a couple of miles and then ascended a long hill on an old logging path. Now and then we came to oil or gas pumps (we were not sure which) scattered along the hillside, and once in a while we could see remains of abandoned pipes. Most of the trail, however, was located deep within the heart of the forest with no trace of human touch. It was nice to hike in these areas of pure wilderness.
As we descended the ridge on the other side of the hill, the Kinzu Reservoir came into view through the trees. We were looking for a place to stop and have lunch when Karen stopped short and exclaimed, “Oh how cute! Don’t step on him! Look Dad, it’s a newt!”
I couldn’t see anything until Karen actually pointed him out to me. Apparently, they are bright orange, which to me – and I’m guessing my brother Dick – look like a green leaf, but to non-colorblind people they are quite easy to spot. All the rest of the day Karen would point out the newts so that I would not step on them. She took several pictures of the little lizards along the way, but just like the wildflowers and pink apple blossoms she photographed, I imagine my perception of their beauty is different from hers.
We stopped by the shore of the Kinzu and had some lunch. For some reason I had a desire for a cup of coffee. Karen had brought a couple of packets of rich instant coffee from Starbucks and we both drank a cup of the strong brew with our meal. Not long after that we were hiking up the trail like the machines in Ironman2. Were not sure how much caffeine was in that coffee but we joked that if one of us tripped and sprained an ankle, the healthy one would be able to carry the other out.
In the afternoon we entered Tracy Ridge hiking area. I had hiked here several times before so I knew we were getting close to the camping area where we planned to stay the night. We met one hiker – the only other person we would meet on the trail – as we descended to Handsome Lake camping area. We could see a couple of tents set up but it was raining quite steady by then and the hikers were hunkered down under tarps. We choose a site, rigged a makeshift tarp over the picnic table and unpacked things we would need for our dinner.
To be continued…

The Easy Way

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Jen and I recently moved to another apartment and as luck would have it, no free internet. I’m at a wifi hot spot right now and even having trouble connecting to my mail. I thought this would be an easy way to let everyone know that communication may be spotty at best. I will try to let everyone know when I get connected again.

Rainy Day at Niagara Falls

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

On Sunday afternoon I drove to Niagara Falls.  I had heard reports that the winter is a splendid time to view the ice formations caused by the cascading water and freezing mist rising from the turbulence.  I wanted to see a phenomenon called the Ice Bridge, created by ice and slush flowing over the American Falls and jamming against the Canadian side, sometimes reaching 50 feet thick and spanning the entire Niagara gorge.  The famous Ice Bridge, hanging ice formations, rising crystal formations, and throw in some history of the place… I needed no more motivation to go.

Even though it had warmed to above freezing and there was a forecast of rain, I rationalized that the warm weather hadn’t affected the ice yet.  I prepared myself with a warm parka, an umbrella, and drove north on I190.  I always get mixed up a little on the roads near the Falls but I only had to circle around once before I found a parking spot only one block from the American Falls.  The nice thing about this time of year is that most of the things you do at the Falls are free.  The only drawback is that most things are closed.  It started to rain as I walked to the visitor’s center.

Inside the visitor’s center I studied the map of the trails down to the Falls and along the upper riverbank.  It seemed like a good idea to hike from the Falls up the river across a pedestrian bridge and around Goat Island to the edge of the Canadian Falls.  I would be able to visit both Falls and get in a good exercise hike to boot.  Outside, the rain now fell harder making the ice packed walkways treacherous.

There were a few tourists about.  Mostly, they were from other countries, speaking a language I sometimes recognized, and sometimes didn’t.  I guess that if you are on a vacation or are visiting Niagara Falls for the weekend, you have to use the time to see what you can no matter what the weather.  I noticed that most of them walked down to the Falls, snapped numerous pictures of themselves with the Falls in the background, and then hurried back to their cars.

A metal-pipe railing dotted with big silver binoculars lined the walkway at the edge of the Falls.  Below, I could see the Ice Bridge craggy and thick stretching across the gorge.  There were formations of ice like you would see in a cave full of stalactites and stalagmites.  Some icicles hung from the Falls and others grew out of the wall where water trickled from holes.  It was quite impressive and I would imagine a lot more colorful if the sun was shining.  The sun casts rainbows of color through the mist, but I was not to see that today.

Early history of the area tells of several times when the Falls completely froze over, and one time in 1848 when an ice jam above the American Falls stopped the flow for over a day.  One explorer investigated the cave behind the Falls and exclaimed the sight more than arctic but lunar.  Up until 1911 tourists and spectators were allowed to cross the Ice Bridge, even play upon the mounds of ice, but when the ice suddenly gave way and took three people downstream to their deaths, the authorities stopped the practice.

I’m drawn to the plaques beside paths.  I figure if someone goes to the trouble to make them and erect them, I should be courteous enough to read them.  And I have to admit that I find most of them interesting.  I could see a sign down the path a way, under the superstructure of the Rainbow Bridge, begging me to walk down and read it.  It’s not my attempt to bore you with history of the area, but it was amazing to me that this bridge has been rebuilt four times!  Once, when it was a suspension bridge in the early 1800, a strong storm from the southwest tore it down, then, the next one was torn off of its foundation by an ice jam, and a couple of times it was rebuilt just to make it bigger.

AS I walked to Goat Island I was thinking about how this place must have looked to the Native Americans – I usually call them Indians, but for some reason I felt like being more politically correct.  Bridges, towers, factories, roads and buildings of ever kind spoil so much of the beauty of this place.  You can’t look anywhere without seeing something manmade.  Before the Niagara Parks Department – the first State Park in the country – took over the Falls and surrounding area it was even worse.  Buildings and factories lined every inch of the gorge and riverbank.  Now the Parks Department has turned a lot of it back to nature.

The rest of my walk was mostly uneventful.  I had the island almost to myself.  By the time I reached the Horseshoe Falls it was raining harder, and even with an umbrella my pants were getting wet.  The Horseshoe Falls, or Canadian Falls, is more impressive than the American Falls with 90% of the water going over them.  We used to go to Canada for the best view, but the border is too much of a hassle to go across now. I continued on around Goat Island, passed Three Sister Islands, and followed the path to a viewpoint of Grand Island and the portage point where oxcarts carried goods overland around the Falls to Lake Ontario in the 1700’s.

It seems I learn a little more history every time I visit someplace.  I guess you could read all this and see pictures on the Internet, but there is nothing like looking down over the edge of the American Falls and imagining people crossing on the ice.  Aren’t you glad you came for a walk in the rain with me?