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Escaping the Ottawa winter of 2014

April 2nd, 2014 No comments

Escaping the Ottawa winter of 2014 With cries of “ENOUGH ALREADY”, I found myself finishing off the month of March with a snow shovel in my hand, once again valiantly heaving shovelful after shovelful of that darned white stuff (SNOW!!!) of to the side of the driveway. image Only days earlier, another blast of winter had deposited a fresh white coating a few inches thick over our front yard and everything else. Looked really pretty, but meant more shovelling and I was getting tired of winter clothing and shovelling. Now, it was finally time to head off on that winter vacation to Florida that had been postponed many times for various reasons.

Our plan was simple, drive south on the 416 to Ogdensburg, cross the border at that point, slant over to Interstate 81 and then head south on I-81 as far as it would take us. Plan worked great. By the time that we crossed the St. Lawrence River, the amount of snow beside the highway had diminished and we knew instinctively that it wouldn’t be too long before snow would be just a memory. Every winter, Canadians head south for relaxation and to get a bit of winter warmth. Collectively, they are known as “snowbirds” but, since we were driving, not flying, “snowbirds” wasn’t a perfect fit but, this trip, we had no objections to that concept.

The last time that I crossed the Canada/US border was in February when I was hauling three kayaks back to Vancouver from the Grand Canyon. Usually, I don’t get slowed down at the border. A few questions get asked, I provide simple answers and off I go. The February crossing was a bit more dramatic as the border agents decided that they would like to pull me aside to “inspect” what I was carrying in the truck. This time around, we were driving our Volvo C70 convertible with its limited trunk space completely filled with luggage, two golf bags, my camera equipment and, as an added feature, my Martin Backpacker guitar. My wife was driving when we reached the border so she got to answer the questions. “Where are you from?”, “Where are you going?”, “How long?”, etc. Then there was that moment of silence before “Pop the trunk”. After the February truck search incident, that delayed that trip by an hour, all I could envision was the task ahead of taking everything out of that tightly packed Volvo trunk space so that the Customs agent could check to see that nothing untoward was packed in the golf bags squeezed tightly into the furthermost depth of that trunk. The trunk was opened, the agent took a quick look and closed the trunk. A sigh of relief from my side of the car. Then, the agent asked my wife to open the trunk again. “Oh no, what now?”, I thought. Just wanted to check that it had closed properly the first time! That was a relief. No long process of unpacking and repacking would be needed. A few minutes more and we were on our way again.

Temperature about 0C (+32F).

As we drove along, we could see many birch trees bent over from the experience of being heavily laden with ice from a freezing rain storm that had passed through the area only days earlier. Many trees had the far worse fate of breaking rather than bending and broken tree branches littered the ditches in some locations. The roads were clear though as we drove to our first night’s destination and indulged in some MacDonald’s fries. Not a gourmet meal LOL) but the two large fries for $3.33 special was the perfect treat, especially since it was the only eating establishment in easy walking distance from our hotel.

The next morning, we crossed over into Pennsylvania with me doing the driving. At almost precisely 9:30AM, we switched drivers just as it began to rain. When driving in winter months and early Spring, rain is always better than snow or freezing rain so we weren’t complaining.
image As the day progressed, the temperature slowly rose. By the time that we stopped for a break we were enjoying more pleasant +50F temperatures and wife enjoyed her pot of tea. (Bigelow’s spiced orange tea in Carlisle, Pennsylvania at Kimberley’s cafe – a nice place to stop for a quick bite to eat)
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Our destination for the day’s travels was Charlotte, North Carolina so once we had stopped for our lunch break in Carlisle, PA, we were on our way again. Our travels would take us briefly into Maryland and West Virginia, though Virginia and then into North Carolina. Our trip options for this leg of the trip were I-81 or I-95 and we chose to follow I-81 to avoid the heavy traffic loads of the Washington area. As we travelled south along I-81, the temperatures continued to rise, the grass continued to get greener and by the time that we got into the valleys of Virginia and West Virginia, Spring flowers were beginning to appear and flowering fruit trees dotted the landscape and the edges of the roadway forests. Temperatures were in the low 80’s by the time that we turned south onto I-77. image image image image We left the I-81 near and headed south along the I-77. This section of the road took us to higher elevations and as we climbed the temperature dropped into the low 70’s. Definitely not unpleasant, but Spring was not as far advanced in these areas and the trees hadn’t begun to flower yet. We reached our destination of Charlotte, NC that evening and we were able to walk outside in high 70’s temperatures surrounded by green grass and flowering fruit trees. Definitely different than the snow-covered lawns we had left behind only a day and a half ago. image

Climbing Mt Marcy – Reaching the Peak

May 28th, 2013 1 comment

Climbing Mt Marcy – Reaching the Peak

It was now about 10:30 AM and I had been on the trail for about 2 hours and had reached the bridge above the Phelps Mountain junction. As I headed up the next section of the trail, it was not long before I would meet the snow and slush-covered portion of the trail that others had warned me about.

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As the snow on the hillsides above was melting rapidly in the warm air, the resultant water was rushing down the hillside and often right down the trail.  This created a mixture of snow, slush and water which was not only slippery but also very tough to walk through. Although there were signs of Spring, the mess under foot left little time to enjoy those signs.

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It is definitely not a good sign when the trail marker is attached to a downed tree but, at this point, the trail was still pretty easy to see so the marker wasn’t essential.

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With each step forward and higher up the hillside, the snow got deeper and generally wetter. My feet also got wetter each time that I had to step in a puddle deeper than my boot tops and, boy, was that ice cold water ever refreshing! In the winter, when I was last on this trail, my snowshoes would hold me above the substantial snow pack but, now, as I walked along, sometimes my feet would stay on top of the snow, other times both feet would sink in and still yet, other times, one would sink and one wouldn’t – a slow and difficult style of walking to say the least.

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At this point in time, I was still about three miles from the peak and already my speed had slowed to a snail’s pace and I was getting rather tired of the tough walking conditions. Unfortunately, the worse conditions were yet to come but, thankfully, there was no  wading through streams required, just a bit of balancing on logs across rushing water.!

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This sign didn’t make me a feel a lot better.  I thought that I had made a great deal better progress than just 2.0 miles from the Marcy Dam. A felt like stopping but trudged on through the snow and slush! I just kept thinking that, when I got to the top, the trip back to the tent would be so much easier being as it was mostly downhill from the peak.

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Eventually, I reached an opening in the woods and could spend a bit of time getting my breath and enjoying the fruits of my labor. So far, I had had met one fellow coming down from the peak and a young couple who had passed me in the woods were now ahead of me and were on their way to the peak. Not many humans on the trail today. No surprise!

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Although it was nice to be able to look out and see the many peaks that were now at my elevation or lower, looking out in the other direction wasn’t so nice, since the peak of Marcy was still quite a bit higher and I knew, from past experience, that I still had quite a bit of a challenge ahead of me and the clock was clicking faster all the time.

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Since the slow/slush/water combination in the trail was now knee deep or deeper in most places, it was time to put the camera in the knapsack and use the last of my energy and both of my hiking pools to keep trudging on.  Shortly after, another hiker came up from behind and, after some brief discussion about the wonderful hiking conditions, passed by and trudged on ahead of me. In the distance, I could see that Whiteface Mountain had a good amount of snow at its peak and, closer in, Cascades Mountain was likewise wearing a crown of white.  I had heard that those climbing Cascades the day before had found it to be a wet, muddy challenge.  Somehow, at this point in my climb I had very little empathy for them. At least my trail wasn’t muddy, I guess!

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When I climbed up to this point on snowshoes on an earlier trip, the wind was howling, visibility was near zero, and this sign post was just barely visible poking its top out above a snow drift.  On that occasion, the windchill was likely close to -50F and I turned back downhill, unable to see a trail ahead and not wanting to accidentally tumble off some cliff edge.  This time around, the temperature was well above freezing, only a gentle breeze was  blowing and I was determined to drag my tired body to the top.

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It was definitely a tough climb for me and I had taken over 8 hours to make the peak. Certainly more than I had originally planned for and I knew that I was really tired at this point in the journey. As I looked back down the trail, I knew that I wouldn’t have much time to enjoy the view before slip-sliding back down into the slush below and trying to get as close as I could to the LOJ and trailhead before darkness set in.

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A few shots of the view from the peak at 5PM on a Tuesday evening – May 28, 2013.

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At 1544ft (1679 m), Mt Marcy is the highest point in New York State and standing there on that peak was a great feeling. I guess my next challenge should be Algonquin which at 5114 ft (1559 m) is the second highest in the Adirondacks.

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I was all alone up on the peak except for a trio of Juncos who were searching for tidbits of food among the rocks and snow banks. Most of the snow that had fallen two days earlier had melted off the peak and some of the melt waters were still waiting for me to find them on my trip back to the parking lot :-).

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Heading down again.

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The temperature was falling and the wind was beginning to pick up a bit as I was leaving the open rocks at the peak. I was certainly happy to be back into the shelter of the forest that surrounded the trail. The snow in this part of the trail was still deep, the slush was still a frustrating and slippery covering for hidden rocks and the water coming into the boots was still ice cold, but my focus now was on getting as far away from the peak a I could get before the sun disappeared and darkness made seeing the trail by head lamp a bit hit-and-miss and made every step on slippery rocks a bit of a challenge. It was time to put the camera in the pack and move a quickly as I could.  Four hours later, darkness caught up with me near the Phelps Mtn Junction but at least I was away from the snow and the slush before dark.

The next day, as I was driving home, I once again encountered an Amish buggy moving at its determined pace from point A to point B. The day before, I, too, had made it from Point A to Point B in a determined effort that left me exhausted but happy and satisfied.

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Climbing Mt. Marcy — Marcy Dam to bridge above Phelps Mtn Junction

May 28th, 2013 No comments

Climbing Mt. Marcy — Marcy Dam to bridge above Phelps Mtn Junction

I had left the parking lot trailhead of the Van Hoevenberg Trail at 8:30 AM and ran into no difficulties getting to Marcy Dam, 2.3 miles from the trailhead in the first hour. Now, at 9:30 AM, I was off to tackle the next section of the Van Hoevenberg trail. There is no specific section marker and anyone can divide the trail up in any fashion that they like, but, when I am out on a trail, I like to think in terms of sections so that I can better track my location, condition and travel times. When I was younger, the question would have been whether I would run the trail or walk the trail; now the question is whether I will walk the trail slowly or walk the trail quickly and will I have time and energy sufficient to get to the end and back :-).

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At Marcy Dam, you could see some snow on the peaks but there was no sign of the heavy snow that had fallen in this mountainous region only two days earlier. The trails above the dam were definitely wetter than the trails immediately below the dams but the snow had all melted in the two days and was now rushing down the mountains with a mighty roar in the rivers and streams coming from higher up in the valleys and mountains.

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It wasn’t too much further uphill when I began to see remnants of snow in the bushes to the side of the trail and there were definitely rivulets running between the boulders in the trail itself.  When I reached the high water crossing bridge, it wasn’t hard to make a decision about whether or not to go further up the river before crossing. Crossing at the high water bridge easily won out over any other possible options.

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With all of the running water sounds coming from all directions, the woods were actually quite noisy.  I was happy, though, that the noises that I was hearing were not the noises of mosquitoes or black flies buzzing around my ears.  With the cold weather and snow of the previous two days, the adult bug population had been knocked down quite a bit and I was having a relatively bug-free morning walk along the trails.

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Once I got to the low water crossing point , I took a look and decided that I might have been able to cross there if I didn’t mind getting my feet soaked in ice cold water. Glad I decided on the bridge crossing!

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Not far above this crossing point, snow began to become much more plentiful in the woods and by the time that I got to the Phelps Mtn junction, thee was no denying that I was going to have a much tougher trek for the second half of the climb than I had has so far.

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It was almost 10 hours before I would get back to the Phelps Junction location and by then most of the snow seen in the image above had melted and added to the water running down the trails.

Past the Phelps Junction, conditions underfoot began to deteriorate fairly rapidly and past the next bridge the trail was for the most part snow-covered, slush-covered, water-covered or, at times, all three. Thankfully, some of the trail maintenance crew had been through the day before and had chopped away most of the branches and serious blow-down obstacles.

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At the bridge above the Phelps Mtn Junction, I briefly spoke to three individuals contemplating whether to go on or go back. I passed them at that point and never saw them again. My assumption is that they decided to head back down when they encountered even more snow only a short distance higher up the trail.

Despite the sometimes slippery conditions, I was making reasonably good time and had covered the first approximately 3.5 miles in two hours. Things would not get easier after crossing this bridge!

Climbing Mt. Marcy – Trailhead to Marcy Dam

May 28th, 2013 No comments

Climbing Mt. Marcy – Van Hoevenberg Trailhead to Marcy Dam
(LOCATION)
Trail info (from ADK High Peaks Region guidebook):
Van Hoevenberg Trail to Mt. Marcy
Distance from Trailhead (one-way):
To Marcy Dam – 2.3 miles
To Indian Falls – 4.4 miles
To Summit of Mt. Marcy – 7.4 miles
Ascent: 3166 ft (965 m)
Elevation: 5344 ft. (1629 m)

I had camped overnight in the campground at the Adirondack LOJ.  Although there were still damp spots from the snowstorm of two days earlier, the warm temperatures had succeeded in melting the snow quickly. At about 8AM, the temperature at the trailhead was about +10C (+50F) and everything was quite pleasant.  However, the ranger and the trail workers had assured me that if I did reach the peak of Mt. Marcy today, I would only do so by trudging through a lot of snow and slush and would definitely get wet. The estimated snowfall from two days earlier was 2 feet of new snow on top of the remnants of the winter snow, now slush.

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Bears are a concern in the Adirondack Mountains and especially in the High Peaks Region so anyone planning on staying overnight is asked if they have a bear canister in which to store their food. Not the only rule!

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I have visited this area a number of times but the most recent trips have been during the winter months so this was the first time in a long time that I had actually walked the lower section of the Van Hoevenberg trail when it wasn’t covered in snow and all of the wooden bits across streams and soft spots are not visible underfoot.

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Although there were a few wet spots along the trail, this first section of the trail was well drained and there were many signs that the maintenance crew had been hard at work in the past day or two to assist Mother Nature in getting the recent snow melt to drain away from the trail.

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The morning was new, the air was fresh, my legs were fresh and I knew the lower portion of the trail so I headed upward in good spirits. Of course, any time that I felt that I might need to slow down my enthusiasm a bit, the camera came to the rescue and I would stop to take another picture or two :-).

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The trail maintenance folks guaranteed me that I would get wet but made no mention of the status of the crossing at Marcy Dam so when I arrived at the dam and found no crossing in place, my immediate reaction was – OOPS! After a few moments of disbelief, I saw the sign pointing downstream to a new crossing bridge.

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Once I got across the new bridge and headed back upstream to the opposite side of Marcy Dam I stopped and thought for a little while about whether or not I really wanted to get wet, cold and tired in order to get to the peak today. At the Marcy Dam elevation, it would have been so nice and comfortable to just sit for an hour or two and enjoy the scenery and sounds of Spring and the water flowing over the dam.

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Then I decided, what the heck, I could always turn back part way and come back to Marcy Dam of the going got too rough, so off I headed up Section 2 of the Van Hoevenberg Trail – Marcy Dam to Mt. Marcy. I didn’t know it at the time but later found out that only 8 of us would be trying to hike to the peak this day – 5 would make it and 3 would turn back.

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Heading for the Adirondack Mountains

May 27th, 2013 No comments

Heading for the Adirondack Mountains – May 27th, 2013

My goal for this trip was to reach the peak of Mount Marcy in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondack Mountains. I had tried to do that twice before on snowshoes in the middle of winter and had been unsuccessful both times. This time my plan was different. By going on the Monday of the US Memorial Day weekend, I figured that everything would be open, there would be space in the campground and the snow would be gone and the bugs would be moderate at worst.

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Once again, I found myself heading over the bridge at Ogdensburg and into the Amish country which is directly south from there. I should have heeded the warning of the US Customs gent who put on a big smile when I told him that I was planning on tenting in the Adirondacks for a couple of days and planned to climb Mt. Marcy. When he then told me that the Adirondacks had had two feet of snow fall over the weekend, I thought that he might be joking with me! Turns out his knowledge of the weather was fresher than what I had heard.

RON_3203-Amish-and-modern RON_3204-Amish-and-modernMost times that I drive that way I see an Amish buggy heading in the opposite direction and occasionally I have to slow in order to safely pass one of their buggies going in the same direction as I am traveling. To watch them make their progress along the highway is an interesting occupation when I have the time. They may not be traveling at anywhere near the speed of the modern car but there progress is steady and they do eventually get to their destination.

I, too, got to my destination after passing through Saranac and then getting a closer look at snow on the peaks as I turned off of the highway and headed along the road to Adirondack LOJ.

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I have stayed in the LOJ on occasion and stayed in the campground on occasion. This time around I expected reasonable temperatures and dry weather so opted to stay in the campground.   As mentioned above, the US Customs agent was correct about the weather.  T3wo days earlier it had snowed all day and there were certainly a number of disgruntled hikers and campers who had battled the elements trying to reach their favorite peak. Some spoke of the mud on the Cascades Mountain route, others discussed how they turned back trying to reach the peak of Cobden due to the deep newly fallen snow. With respect to Mount Marcy, the story was the same, plenty of snow and slush on the trail but, according to the ranger and the trail maintenance crew, I should be able to make it to the top if I didn’t mind getting really wet!

So with that bit of reassurance, I set up my tent and spent the evening exploring the area around the LOJ.

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Hurricane Sandy

October 30th, 2012 No comments

Hurricane Sandy

My wife and I were in the Connecticut, Rhode Island and Cape Cod area last week. Weather was nearly perfect for vacationing. Waters were calm and beaches beautiful.

With Hurricane Sandy having already wrecked havoc in the Caribbean and threatening to impact severely on the lives of the citizens on the East Coast of North America, we were certainly happy that we were already scheduled to be leaving ahead of the storm. Some people we met on that trip were heading south to their homes directly in the path of the storm.  We could do nothing to help them except to wish them well and hope that the storm would not be as severe as forecast. Read more…

New England Trip 2012 – Day 3 – Champlain Canal & Buskirk’s Covered Bridge

October 18th, 2012 No comments

New England Trip 2012 – Day 3 – Champlain Canal & Buskirk’s Covered Bridge

After visiting the Saratoga National Historic Park, we continued our southward travels through the rolling hills of the region. The rain continued to fall as did the colorful leaves.  Occasionally, a gust of wind would unleash a blizzard-like effect as hundreds of colorful leaves would float across our path and land on the windshield of our car. Very interesting effect and very colorful!

Read more…

New England Trip 2012 – Day 3 – Schuylerville NY

October 18th, 2012 No comments

New England Trip 2012 – Day 3 – Schuylerville NY

Days one and two of our trip had featured clear blue skies and lots of sunshine.  As this shot from a corner in Schuylerville NY clearly shows, the weather definitely changed for Day Three of our trip. The village of Schuylerville (population about 2,000) is located on the west side of the Hudson River and was an important location during the Revolutionary Wars and the Battles of Saratoga of the 1770’s.  We had spent the night in Glens Falls and were now on our way to visit the nearby Saratoga National Historic Site when, despite the weather conditions, I saw the unique and colorful bicycle racks at the side of the road and just had to stop to photograph them! Read more…

New England Trip 2012 – Day 2 – Lake George

October 17th, 2012 No comments

New England Trip 2012 – Day 2 – Lake George

By the time that we got to Lake George, we were tried and a bit hungry.  We really hadn’t traveled very far but we had stopped at plenty of locations to look around and take photos. Read more…

New England Trip 2012 – Day 2 – Long Lake NY

October 17th, 2012 No comments

New England Trip 2012 – Day  2 – Long Lake NY

If I stopped for every spot that we came to on this day on the road, we would never get to our destination before dark so after stopping to take a few shots around Long Lake, NY, I put the camera away and drove on. Read more…

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