Part 2 – Trail experiences; what we saw, who we met and what we did along the way.
There were many water crossings. Most had some kind of bridge or trail improvement that aided us in crossing. Without these structures the trail would be extremely difficult or impossible. Many wet and muddy areas had boardwalks or bog bridging, but there were just as many that didn’t have anything. These areas were difficult and the trail was a mess from hikers trying to avoid the deep mud. This is a dry year in the Adirondacks; we couldn’t help but speculate how wet the trail must have been last year. We also experienced a significant amount of blow down (trees across the trail), especially in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area and other southern portions of the trail. The section between Long Lake and Averyville had the least blow down. I believe that section likely received a thorough sweep after Hurricane Irene. Beaver activity was extensive along the entire length of the trail and made travel difficult. Overall, the trail could use more care and attention than it appears to be receiving. After my 26 years of employment with the DEC’s Region 5 Division of Operations I know how severely resources for work like trail maintenance have been cut. The NPT appears to be a casualty of this. Just to be clear, there are new bridges, including a replacement of the West Canada Creek bridge currently underway and some areas have new trail hardening structures, also the section between Wakely Dam and Stephens Pond has been totally relocated and is a vast improvement. The DEC has been able to complete specific projects using the Student Conservation Association, volunteers and by contracting with the ADK pro trail crew, but in general routine maintenance is lacking. We did meet a couple of SCA Backcountry Stewards, in the Moose River Plains, but their function seems to be education, not maintenance. Perhaps in the future the DEC will have them emphasize simple maintenance such as blow down removal. Well, enough about that.
It becomes evident that the goal of the early trail developers was to provide enough lean-tos along the way for hikers to simply travel from one to another. We did stay at lean-to sites for eight nights, although sometimes we chose to tent nearby. Sites with lean-to adopters were generally in better shape than those without. It is always amazing to see the junk that people leave behind under the premise that someone else might be able to use it. Some people just don’t understand the principle of “Carry it in, Carry it out”. Due to the Wild River designation of the Cold River the DEC may allow the lean-tos in that area to fall into disrepair and eventually be removed. In my opinion that would be a shame, they certainly do not affect the wild character of the river corridor. The Ouluska Pass lean-to is already so far gone that it is not salvageable. If DEC doesn’t change their minds about this, let’s hope they develop some nice tent sites in this area to replace the lean-tos.
We saw 11 other people on the trail; we did encounter others at trailheads, the campground and of course in Long Lake. We met one Assistant Forest Ranger at Cedar Lake and shared a lean-to with him for the night. He is currently a Paul Smith’s College student and a former Operations employee, so we had some common ground. There were only 3 other hikers specifically hiking the NPT, we met all of them in the last section. One was a section hiker finishing his last section; the other 2 were through hikers each completing the trail in 7 days.
We spent three nights in front country locations. At Wakely Dam a family invited us to dinner with them. It was a virtual feast after trail food. Jan took most of our gear from Wakely Dam to Lake Durant Campground were we enjoyed one of our pre-frozen meals, some beers and hot showers. The campground staff didn’t seem to understand that through hikers weren’t quite the same as their other customers. I felt they were missing a marketing opportunity. Our most significant break from the trail was the day we hiked into Long Lake and stayed at the Adirondack Hotel. Last year we had also stopped at the hotel during our canoe trip from Blue Mountain Lake to Upper Saranac Lake, so we already had friends there, including the bartender. The hot showers, soft beds and cold beers were a real treat. We had a nice breakfast with Jan the next morning. She stopped to meet us on her way to Albany. We appreciated the food drop and the ride back to the trailhead.
Being Paul Smith’s College forestry alumni, both Leo and I were fascinated by the abundance of large trees along the entire length of the trail. Most were Yellow Birch and Eastern Hemlock, but north of Wakely Dam we walked through the most magnificent stand of Sugar Maples I have ever seen. After awhile we really started to notice the many unique ways that trees grow on rocks.
The deer at this time of year have beautiful red coats, plus there are fawns with their mothers. We saw our share of them. Everywhere we went we flushed grouse hens with clutches of chicks. We learned to identify their calls and peeping. We never saw a moose, but did see some fresh tracks and found some winter droppings. We also saw coyote tracks and scat. Bear sign was plentiful and we were lucky enough to watch a yearling bear digging roots for about 10 minutes. He had a beautiful shiny black coat. The loons in the southern lakes were plentiful and vocally active.
Now you have an idea of what we saw and experienced. The last part of the blog will touch on the philosophical aspects of a trip like this. I will discuss some of the places along the trail that impressed me the most; using descriptions of these places to give you a feel for what it was like to be out there for nearly two weeks. Stay tuned.