For those of you unfamiliar with the Winter Freeze Out trip, it is an opportunity to experience cold weather camping and backpack camping. We will be sleeping in lean-tos up at Ward Pound Ridge. We will start off with a short hike from the visitor center to the lean-tos. We will have to carry everything we need in our packs. This includes food, cooking equipment, sleeping gear, cloths etc.. The one deviation from the backpacking theme will be that we will have to drive water up to the sites as there is no usable water near our sites.
If you do not have a backpack there are a limited number of packs in our storage room that can be borrowed.
The lean-tos have dirt floors so bring a ground cover to put your sleeping bag on. You should also bring a tarp to hang over the front of the lean-to, this will help you to stay warm.
You should each bring your own food. Make sure to eat breakfast before we leave and pack a bag lunch for Saturday. Bring food that can be cooked over a campfire or bring a personal backpacking stove. Examples of personal backpacking stoves would be Jetboil, MSR Windburner or a MSR Pocket Rocket. We will review this at the next meeting.
Food wrapped in foil is a great option for cooking over a campfire. Here are some examples
In late October, Troop 353 had the privilege of camping at the beautiful campsite North South Lake. Located in the Catskills, North South Lake is full of beautiful scenery of the mountains and water—but we would not appreciate this until Sunday morning. The troop first arrived at the park early Saturday morning, after a two hour car ride. Eager to set up and go on the hike, the boys began to setup camp under increasingly harsh weather conditions. As the scouts were constructing their tents, it started to rain and the wind coming off the lake was accelerating. This rain eventually turned into fast falling, ie blowing, snow. Temperatures started to decrease further as the boys scrambled to finish setting up in +20 mph winds while trying to stay dry and warm. It was definitely much colder than when we left the Tuckahoe Community Center.
After a quick lunch, we drove to the nearby trailhead. We were shocked by the extreme snow storm that was occurring just outside of our warm cars. The wind was accelerating through a funnel-like formation and blowing as much as 30—40 mph. Reluctant to get out of the sheltered cars, the boys eventually built up the courage to huddle together and start the hike through the somewhat snowy mountains.
To the troop’s surprise, the wind and snow wasn’t as bad in the mountains. This was mainly due to the trees providing a nice protection from the elements. The boys stopped at various points in the steep mountains to admire the scenery, but it was near white-out conditions and we had no idea how scenic the viewing points were! Although barely visible, the mountains and lake looked like something out of a movie–something that could only be experienced in real life. It was brutally windy and cold.
After the hike, the boys came back to the camp to start Troop 353’s annual golden spatula cook-off contest. Fire building was the #1 priority at that time as we were wet and very cold! As tradition, there is a secret ingredient that the scouts don’t know about until they cook. This year’s ingredient was the tomatillo plant, a Mexican plant similar to a tomato. Three patrols took part in this event: Dragon Ninjas / Wolverine Patrol, Phoenix Patrol, and the combined Sasquatch / Eagle Patrol
There were two parts to the cookout, dinner and dessert. The scouts competed with beautiful dishes such as a fancy macaroni & cheese and a steak plate with fried vegetables and the winning patrol (Sasquatch/ Eagle) topped it all off with a dutch oven cobbler!
After the cookout contest, the boys got ready for the long, cold night that they were about to face. The wind continued to howl and temperatures reached all time lows as the scouts tried to keep warm in their tents. Eventually they made it out alive in the morning. The morning showed hope for the boys as the sun came up and the sky was clear. We could see snow on the mountain tops behind the park. Temps were rising, though still freezing, and the wind was beginning to slow.
After cleaning up & packing up, we drove to the next drop off to take another hike along the famous Escarpment Trail. This hike was much more memorable for the scouts as it was warmer than the last one, and the views across the Hudson Valley were absolutely spectacular! Climbing up rugged rocks and terrain, the troop finally made it to one of the more scenic overlooks: Artist Rock. The sight was like none other! Scouts looked speechless at the wonderful sight in front of them. We were at the top of the world looking down at God’s gift. The autumn colored trees topped it off.
In the end, this trip was definitely one of the troop’s best and we learned a lot about “being prepared”. Scouts had a blast hiking the mountains in the snow and then viewing the spectacular world from on high. This is a memory the boys will definitely not forget! We strongly encourage you to check out more incredible video clips and photos on this trip, by “clicking here”.
As we all awoke on our last day, we were all eager to go home. The night before we figured out that we needed to get on the water earlier than normal, so that we could hit our destination between 10am & 11am. It was still cloudy and cool and early in the morning getting in the water was not “fun”. The only other living mammals up at that hour were the loons! Now we know where the phrase “crazy as a loon” came from.
After studying our lake map the night before, we fully expected a short paddle to our pick-up point. The paddling route seemed very straightforward, we had a short, easy route along the “right” edge of the lake to a river that would lead us up to Saranac Village–our final destination. Or, so we thought…
As we slowly made our way towards our desired location, we kept heading into coves instead of the targeted river. We cut across what appeared to be cove inlets on the belief that the river entrance was “around the corner”.
A couple of interesting houses diverted our growing weariness as the morning wind began to pick up. We made our way through the lake, passing by many islands.
After several stops, it was clear that we were unsure as to where we were and where we were supposed to go. It was a bit shocking that our confident guide Kelly, whom claimed this lake area as his “home”, was so lost on the water. After over an hour of paddling, we suddenly realized that we had traveled in a giant circle and were near the canal, where we had entered the lake the afternoon before! We ended up paddling back and forth for about two hours before figuring out where to go.
Finally, to get back on track, the adult leaders asked a motor boat driver for direction, while cross-checking their paddling maps & GPS. The solution? Follow the easily marked boat lanes…back across the lake…ugghh!
The whole morning, the clouds were threatening and as we got across the lake into the beginning of the river channel, we were forced to stop at somebody’s lake garage due to some thunder that was heard. So, we all took a break, grabbed a snack, and played some more cards.
After a 45 minute wait, we were cleared to start canoeing again, so we all made the final push to arrive at our pick-up point. The next portion of paddling seemed to take forever, as we all saw civilization, but could not stop until we arrived at the exact pickup location. We passed many houses and camps.
Finally, we reached the pick-up point and though we were over an hour late, we didn’t care, as we could finally stop paddling and this concluded the trip!
Before we made our way back to Summit Base, we stopped for a quick lunch. During the long car ride many of us were able to enjoy a well-earned nap. Upon arriving at Summit Base, we were welcomed with a nice lunch & took hot showers before we headed out on our 4-hour drive back home.
In conclusion, the entire experience of this High Adventure Trip was extremely rewarding because of the mileage we were able to accomplish. Even though we did not travel enough to earn the 50-Miler Award, it still gave us an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. Not only had we traveled a vast distance in such a short period of time, we had also learned so much more and experienced what “real” camping was like. Despite the many challenges, it was an awesome and extremely memorable trip for us all!
The next morning all of our gear was packed away and put into the canoes as fast as possible, so that we could have an early departure. We all knew that today would be a day of extensive paddling, as we wanted to cover about 10 miles before reaching our next and last night on the trail. Tonight we were heading for a private island in the middle of Kiwassa Lake! Our actual destination appeared to be a short two hour paddle away, so to accumulate some more miles, we headed in the opposite direction toward Lower Saranac Lake.
For what seemed like several hours, we paddled, passing by many small islands. The wind had picked up considerably so we needed to stay close to shore. Our bearing was southwest, but we were paddling into a stiff breeze and we felt like we were getting nowhere fast!
After an exhausting morning, we stopped on the far shore at campsite that had a rock peninsula for a quick lunch and a few pictures.
After lunch, we turned around and headed back to our original riverside campsite, then continued down the river into some of the most remote wilderness of all.
Trees were growing out of rocks in the middle of the water and there were many fascinating natural sights. While we were expecting to see some 4 legged wildlife in this pristine wilderness, the only wildlife viewed were a wide variety of birds. The peaceful serenity of our picturesque setting distracted us from noticing our aching and sore muscles from paddling.
Suddenly, we came upon an extremely rare sight: a canal. Due to the presence of different water levels between two lakes, we were required to enter a canal and to be lowered down about 10 feet, so that we could continue on our paddling journey. The “lower locks” were extremely fascinating, as this was the first time that any of us had experienced this.
After what seemed like endless paddling, through connecting channels and across small lakes, we eventually arrived at our desired location!
Our last night on the trail was on a very small, semi-private island in the middle of Kiwassa Lake, which was actually pretty cool, as we would be able to claim it as “ours” for that night! Since we arrived in the middle of the afternoon, it gave us plenty of time to set up camp, explore the island and relax.
On this final night, the scouts were to prepare everything on their own― without the help of any of the adults, including Kelly. The scouts were expected to build and maintain the fire, cook dinner, clean up, and hang the bear bag. Let’s just say that given all the practice we had had during the week, all of these tasks were handled very well.
At the fire, a few “infamous” skits, commonly performed by Troop 353, were presented. Afterwards, the traditional “Rose, Bud, Thorn” ceremony was conducted, as we all exchanged ideas of what we thought was the best and worst parts of the trip, along with what we look forward to doing.
Meaningful words were later spoken by the adult Scoutmasters and Kelly, as they explained about everything this trip should mean to the scouts and how it should be remembered for being such an amazing experience. From this, the scouts had embraced the fact that they had all accomplished a lot and learned a whole lot of new things, perhaps more than they thought was possible originally.
As the fire died down, everyone was very satisfied (and very tired) & we made our way to the tents, where we bedded down in the chilly Adirondack air to spent the final night on this amazing trip and easily fell fast asleep listening to wind whistling through the pines.
While we largely dodged the threatening rain on Tuesday, on Wednesday morning everybody woke up to the sound of rain hitting their tents. On this cold and wet morning, it was quickly decided to pack as quickly as possible so that we could begin hiking as soon as possible. So the first lesson of the day was how to deal with taking down a campsite in the rain–not something our troop has had the pleasure of experiencing much over the years. We did not appreciate the many challenges brought by the rain, as it soaked our gear and posed unexpected difficulties with packing away the tents, including adding extra weight to our packs.
It was raining fairly hard by 7am and we were so dis-oriented by packing away in the rain that one our colleagues mistook a camera flash for lightning. This added a much needed moment of levity in an otherwise pretty uncomfortable environment. A scout is cheerful–even under extreme conditions!
Miserable and wet, we all had a quick breakfast and headed back up the slippery +1 mile trail to the road to our pick-up point, where a truck and a trailer full of canoes was waiting to drive us +40 miles northwest to start the canoeing portion of our trip on Lower Saranac Lake.
Before departing however, we needed to replenish our food supplies, shed our hiking gear & get ready for the paddling portion of our trek, so we re-organized at a local beach in Long Lake Village under a gazebo. Just prior, we made a stop at a classic Adirondack camping good store, Hoss’s and Stuart’s (convenience store) where we were able to buy a warm, morale-boosting breakfast sandwich.
Our original input point was Middle Saranac Lake and we were to paddle up the connecting river through a canal to the southern end of Lower Saranac Lake & then up the 6 mile oblong-shaped lake toward First and Second Pond and eventually to our targeted lean-to on the river. During the long car drive, in between desperate efforts for a cat nap, our guide Kelly led us to believe that we should change our itinerary to launch our canoes much closer to our targeted lean-to campsite in order to hang up our wet gear to dry (as an updated rain forecast suggested that the rain would be letting up). Afterwards, we could get our mileage back up by paddling around the beautiful Lower Saranac Lake, enjoying lunch on one of the many picturesque islands there. Lesson #2.
According the New York DEC, there are over 55 state-owned campsites along the shore and on the islands. There are literally hundreds of lakes, ponds and connecting rivers in this area of the Adirondacks, which is part of the St. Regis Canoe Area. This region is a paddlers paradise and is often compared to the boundary waters of Northern Minnesota. Check out the map ==> Lower Saranac Lake
After an hour+ drive, we arrived at the designated public boat launch to begin our paddling expedition. We unloaded the canoes and our gear and then headed in a southeastern direction across Second Pond down a narrowing river to our targeted riverside campsite. As soon as we entered the water, it started to rain (lightly) again, but we were optimistic that this would soon pass, and besides we were no longer carrying 50lb backpacks. How bad could this be?
After a short 30 minute paddle, we made it to our campsite about a mile from the boat launch. There, we unloaded all of our gear and hung everything that was wet on clotheslines and the lean-to so that they could dry while we paddled around the lake. Right after this task was completed, we got back into the canoes and paddled back past the boat launch, through First Pond and eventually out to the big lake. Along the way, we observed lots of different birds, including some friendly cranes.
We paddled through what seemed like a maze of small islands and the reality of how easy it would be to get lost made us grateful for our detailed paddling maps. Lesson #3. Eventually we got to the open water of the lake and made a decision to stay relative close to the shore to minimize the physical exertion that would be required to paddle against the waves and wind and to seek refuge should we hear any thunder from the still threatening skies.
After about an hour we spied an ideal island at DEC campsite #22–time for lunch! On this small island, we relaxed, explored and enjoyed a lunch served, courtesy of our multi-talented guide Kelly. An intense discussion emerged pondering how those pesky, starving chipmunks could be present on this tiny island. We never came to consensus on this. After lunch, we mapped out a paddling route and decided to do more exploration. The topography was very diverse and we saw so many interesting campsites along the way.
Before we made it back to our campsite, we encountered rain yet again. So we sought some refuge under some trees near shore. Luckily, it did not rain extremely hard for too long, but we were definitely soaked. At least one of our crew learned first hand why experienced outdoor enthusiasts say “cotton is rotten”. Lesson #4. By the time we got back to the campsite a few hours later, the rain had finally stopped.
During our afternoon paddling expedition on the lake, Mr. Wauchope decided to stay behind to watch our gear and, unfortunately, complete some mandatory work for his job. When we returned, we found our gear was indeed safe, but it had been impossible to bring all the gear inside the lean-to, so much of it was still hanging up…and still very wet. Unfortunately, it was also discovered that Kelly’s backpack was left open outside of the lean-to and his bedding and all contents were soaked. Uggh!
Tensions rose and the scouts soon learned about how to manage group dynamics when unpredictable events occur. The wet gear was even more problematic as the campsite was picked clean of all firewood, so we could not even start a fire to dry out!
They say “Necessity is often the Mother of Invention”. At some point the group decided to look for wood on the other side of the river, where there was ample firewood. So an important excursion was made across the river. Finding a landing spot was tricky and very muddy, but once ashore it was easy to find enough wood to fill our canoe. A few wood gathering trips yielded quite the bounty! One of our scouts took great pride in pushing over a dead tree at least 20 feet high!
Now with plenty of dry firewood, we began the process of drying out our clothes and, importantly, Kelly’s sleeping bag! We were able to attach a tarp to the front of the leanto and used hiking poles to bring the front edge of the tarp near the fire, creating a convection oven effect inside the lean-to. Slowly but surely, the redirected heat from the fire began to dry out all the gear! Tensions eased. Lesson #5.
Later that afternoon it looked like the sky was finally clearing. With full stomachs and water bottles, as the night pulled in, we all stood around the fire drying off our clothes and we reflected on both the rugged beauty of our surroundings and how we overcame multiple challenges due to the atrocious rain. We fell asleep to cooling temps & a symphony of nocturnal wildlife calls. Tomorrow was going to be a brand new day! From a Scout Leader’s perspective, many valuable lessons were learned today–this was turning out to be a greathigh adventure trip!
Next: Day 5, Canoeing the Lower Locks on the way to Kiwassa Lake
Waking early in the morning again, the scouts packed up camp quickly departed their picturesque campsite along the Salmon River. Today was another 7–8.0 miles of hiking, except that we had to immediately traverse the 3000-ft ridge atop Blue Mountain and then back down the other side–and hopefully do so before the rain arrived.
The total elevation gain from our campsite to the top was approximately 1000 feet and although it took a solid +3 hours, the hike through the beautiful Blue Mountain Wild Forest was filled with breathtaking beauty. After about two miles, the scouts witnessed a stunningly beautiful sight as we entered into a large meadow that was dominated at one time by an active beaver population. Completely isolated, the pathway was surrounded by an area dominated by tall grass and enclosed by a ring of hilltops and trees. The scouts were amazed at this marvelous sight, taking their time to walk through the tall grass and wooden bridge dividing the two halves.
With still an estimated 1.5 miles to the summit, the scouts pressed on. The trail began to get steeper and muddier. Along the way, we discovered the remnants of a lumber camp, with decayed blocks of cement foundations. The last 1/2 mile was particularly tricky as we climbed up wet, muddy, rocky gullies. The mountaintop breeze was particularly refreshing given the amount of energy we were expending in the very humid environment.
It wasn’t very clear to us that we had reached the top as the tree cover was so thick, but if one looked closely through the trees (at left) there was a tiny sliver of a view of Long Lake in the distance to the Northwest. The flat trail that curved around the side of the mountain quickly began to descend through the Birch and Maple forest. Hiking downhill was even trickier given the steep, muddy surface and the fact that we had heavy backpacks. Those of us that had hiking sticks found out just how useful this trail tool can be!
Our trek of hearty hikers, made fairly solid progress all the way down the backside of Blue Mountain and by 12:30pm, we decided it was time for a well-deserved break for lunch. After such a vigorous hike and a relaxing lunch, we all began to fill a little cramping and soreness in our legs as we rose to continue on our trek toward Caitlin Bay. After lunch, a light rain began to ruin what had been so far, bright and sunny weather and we still had at least another 3 miles–at least we had relatively flat terrain and the thick tree cover shielded our group partially from the precipitation.
We hiked at a solid pace for at least another hour, crossing a few small creeks (some bridges were in better shape than others). With the light rain however, the bridges became very slippery. Our trail map indicated that we would go through some low-lying, soggy areas near the end, characterized by boardwalk trails to prevent damage to fauna. This area does not get much sunlight so the boards also had a thin layer of moss at times. Nearly all of us slipped on these unstable wooden planks, as we were becoming increasingly fatigued and sloppy in our hiking techniques.
Tired and sore, the scouts were eager to reach their next campsite, but eventually discovered that they would soon be caught in a dilemma. Finally after exiting the woods at the DEC registration box, the exhausted group stationed themselves alongside Hwy NY 28N, a large and busy road, to gather their bearings. At last, we could stop hiking! Fortunately, no one in our group had blisters, but we were tired. So, we were happy to take a break while our guide Kelly decided to walk into Long Lake Village 1.5 miles down the road to gather a few needed supplies.
Our group was only a mile from our destination and after our nice 45 minute rest, we thought we’d be at our Caitlin Bay campsite in less than half an hour. WRONG! Expecting a short walk from the highway, the scouts became furious when they discovered they had to hike up a steep hill for at least a half mile and then only to see the sign for the campsite which indicated it was at least 1.5 miles away! Uggh!! We had no choice but to continue to plod along. And hike we did, albeit downhill, for over an hour before crossing over a boulder-filled riverbed into our destination. During our rest, we had thought it would be “convenient” to set up camp, and take a leisurely stroll into town to pickup some treats. However, by the time we arrived, those thoughts had completely perished from our minds!
But the wait and hard work was worth it, as our group arrived to a calming and gorgeous campsite! It overlooked the Caitlin Bay and was beautifully set-up. It had stopped raining, but the skies were still threatening. Lean-to’s on one end of the campsite, and nicely positioned picnic tables to cook and view the peaceful water at the other end of this very large, spread out Adirondack campsite! There was even a hammock to rest upon.
The lake water was a comfortable temperature, and though we did not go swimming per se, we did wade in to cool off and to rinse our smelly clothes. And of course, we refilled our water bottles and treated them accordingly. With Mr. Wauchope grabbing a quick nap and Mr. McCandless exploring the area and taking pictures, the scouts had a relaxing game of cards (as became our end-of-day tradition) before Kelly decided we should probably prepare our dinner before it got too late and/or more rain arrived.
As always seems to be the case after a full day of backpacking, our dinner was delicious and “munging” was becoming at least partially tolerable. The scouts were even able to reflect the skills they learned the previous day during the group’s dinner (and another card game) and scoped out a suitable tree to hang the bear bag before dark. We waved cheerfully at another group of scouts that were paddling by at dinner time, knowing that starting tomorrow, the less physically demanding part of our trek (paddling) would begin. After a small campfire, we all were grateful that our hiking was over, that the predicted rain had largely held off and that we were all actually having a really great time and an adventurous trek. As we trundled off to bed at a reasonable time, nobody had any trouble falling to sleep!
Next: Day 4, Dealing with Adirondack Weather — A Few Basic Lessons Learned