Friday, July 27, 2007

Raiders of the Lost Vista - Adirondacks Day #2

I’ve hiked about 200 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. I’ve hiked trails in Kentucky, Colorado, Arizona and West Virginia. I even hiked the El Yunque rain forest in Puerto Rico. After all that, I can honestly say nothing was as physical or strenuous as the peaks I've hiked in the Adirondacks in New York.

Our second day in the wilderness started off a bit rough. Two of my friends burnt their hiking shoes in an attempt to dry them by the fire. Cha-ching. Another trip to the Lake Placid wilderness store.

While we're on the subject, Lake Placid is a pretty kick-ass little town. The 1980 Winter Olympics took place up there. So you can load up on a bevy of USA beat USSR hockey shirts. We drove by the historic arena where, arguably, the finest moment in the history of Olympic sports took place. It's very small compared to the 20,000-seat arena you see nowadays. But, nevertheless, you could feel the history seeping out if its concrete walls.

Oh, and to my disappointment, we didn’t see any huge crocodiles.

After purchasing some rather pricey new kicks and other supplies (including a water-proof map), it was noon by the time we headed back to our campsite at the Adirondack Loj.

We tightened up our shoes, grabbed our hiking sticks, walked right out of our campsite and hopped on the trail towards Algonquin Mountain - a 5,114 foot peak with an almost 3,000 foot ascent in under 2.5 miles. It’s the second highest of the Adirondack High Peaks behind Marcy and makes up a majority of what is considered the MacIntyre Range (with Wright and Iroquois both, of which, we didn’t summit).
As we headed up the rocky trail, the temperature hovered around 75 degrees and it was partly cloudy. We passed a number of rock faces, virtually zero people and a couple waterfalls (real ones). We even got to climb a couple 80-degree slaps of rock along the way. I kept scanning the sky for rain clouds. Surprisingly, it was clear. It appeared like we had fantastic chance of seeing a beautiful vista rather than another patch of fog.

Boy were we wrong.

Halfway up the mountain the clouds rolled in and it started to rain. This wasn’t that warm summer rain you saw in movies like Dirty Dancing and Say Anything. It was cold rain. Saving Private Ryan rain. The type of rain you feel when your storming the beaches of Normandy. The type of rain that saturates your bones. That type of cold rain.

I had a rain-soaked t-shirt on. To my surprise, I had brought along a long-sleeve Under Armor shirt and a rain jacket. It kept me warm for a while. Also, I was getting hungry, but we needed to reach the summit before lunch.
The hike was strenuous and long. I mean, we were climbing up steep rock faces that were in some places mossy and extremely slick. Out of the four hikers, two of us are joggers, two lift weights and another plays rugby. But, we were huffing and puffing like 60-year-old overweight smokers walking to the refrigerator.
We passed a makeshift ranger station with a cute park ranger eating a delicious-looking turkey-bagel sandwich. My mouth began to water. Not sure if it was for the park ranger or the turkey sandwich. Did it really matter? She gave us a brief lecture about staying on the designated path at the top and taking care not to mess up the fauna on the peak. Blah, blah, blah. I thought my mom was lecturing me.

Finally, something worthwhile shot out of her pretty lips "Only a mile to go. Hopefully you’ll get a nice few."

Yeah sweetie-pie. So do we.

Now the temperature was closer to 45 degrees as we breached the summit of Algonquin. With the fog, the rain and the cool air, the peak had an overall eerie feel to it. I almost felt like I was a character in that Stephen King short story The Mist (soon to be a major motion picture). At any moment, I was convinced a crazy tentacle was going to shoot out and suck me into the fog. It was surreal.
Visibility was about 15 yards. Sadly we did not see a view. But, to be honest, I didn’t fucking care. It was another day of adventure. Another day OUT of the fluorescent lights. Another day of living for this lowly copywriter.
Sleet began to pound as I opened up a can of tuna and crackers. I ate it like a fat kid eating cake. The winds picked up and the rain/sleet began to fall harder. Two of my friends succumbed to Mother Nature and zipped downhill. Nick and myself mulled over whether or not to press on and go down the other side of the mountain. It would have added an extra mile onto the trip, but it could have also been an easier way down. In the end, we opted to return the same way we went up, which was going to be challenge considering how hard it was.
I was sweaty, cold and wet as we started to descend. Within a 10-minute time span, I lost almost all feeling in my hands and toes. Not sure, but I assumed it was a small sign of hypothermia. So I shuffled down the peak about 300 feet down, shielded myself from the wind. pulled out my cooking stove, started it and warmed up my hands. Ahhhhhhhh. "And this is fucking July," I kept thinking to myself. With feeling once again in my hands and toes. I continued down the peak.

We were close to the end of the trail and came to a fork in the road. Coming down the Marcy peak trail was this guy who introduced himself as Matt, I believe. He and his wife lived in Saranac Lake, about 10 miles East of Lake Placid and the High Peaks region. We talked about the Adirondacks and hiking. He hiked most of the 46 High Peaks and then some. In general, he seemed like a pretty honest guy. So I took him as a good source of information.
"Soooo, lets say you had one more day left of a three-day trip and you knew it was going to be a sunny day," I asked. "Where would go to get a great view?"

Without hesitation he answered, "Dude, you’ve got climb Noonmark Mountain. It has the best view. Hands down."

After eating Fish and Chips and drinking numerous beers at a local BBQ joint, I decided to toss tomorrow's planned hiking trip to Mount Marcy.

Tomorrow we would climb Noonmark Mountain.
But would we finally get a view? Stay tuned.

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