Bright and early the next day the scouts enjoyed a lavish breakfast prepared by a few counselors at Camp Read. Full of energy, the scouts were now ready to take on their first full day on their high adventure trip, when the real action started. We were headed out to hike a small portion of the historic Northville-Placid (N-P) Trail. The N-P Trail is 132 miles long and was the first project undertaken by then newly-formed Adirondack Mountain Club in 1922. The N-P Trail was completed two years later and donated to the State of New York in 1927 with the Conservation Dept. (DEC) becoming responsible for it maintenance and upkeep. Today the DEC, along with numerous volunteers and organizations, are stewards of the trail. “The trail passes through what many consider the wildest and most remote parts of the Adirondack Park, notably the high plateau that encompasses the Spruce, West Canada, and Cedar Lakes area, along that of the Cold River. The highest point the N-P Trail reaches (3008 ft) is at the crest of the ridge to the east of Blue Mountain (3759 ft) and of Tirrell Pond.” And these latter landmarks were our destination!
After an hours’ drive northwest of Summit Base, our van dropped us off Hwy 28 near Blue Mountain Lake to pick up the 16 mile segment between Lake Durant and the Caitlin Bay lean-to at Long Lake. (Click on the map at the left for more detail.) We all had to get our backpacks adjusted and get acclimated to carrying all our gear–nothing we had ever done on any weekend campout back home. The official Summit Base itinerary had our trek stopping at the north end of Tirrell Pond after hiking less than 5 miles of the segment, a destination we reached easily by lunch time. The initial hike was relatively easy and flat terrain through heavily wooded forest until we finally arrived upon the beautiful & remote Tirrell Pond.
Our group was happily hiking along side the remote Adirondack lake when a pontoon plane flew in for a water landing. The plane motored around then took off again and flew right past us. It seemed surreal that we were watching the ultimate in human presence against a stunning remote backdrop of wilderness–it looked like one of those aerial scenes from the TV show ” Alaska: The Last Frontier”.
On this our first day of hiking, our group was refreshed from a healthy lunch on the sandy north shore of Tirrell Pond and our ambition to experience more adventure inspired us to hike further. Importantly, we concluded it was probably a good idea to even out the expected mileage of Day 2, which entailed a 1000 foot elevation gain, cresting the highest point on the N-P Trail and then descending 1000 feet along with a forecast of rain arriving Tuesday mid-day. And, equally as important, a guide book we had indicated that there was “an informal campsite can be found jut past the bridge on the left .. at mile 7.3….”
So we decided to hike an additional 2.5 miles past our picturesque lunch setting and “hoped” that there really was a small available campsite for us to rest our weary feet for our first night in the wilderness. As we started again, we came across a trail sign that reminded us how far we needed to hike by the end of the day tomorrow to reach Caitlin Bay, so we felt good about our decision to press ahead.
In the heat of the day, our ambitious group headed north into the woods again and down long over-grown logging roads, and crossed some bogs with wooden plank walkways to end up on a remote dirt road. The air was extremely humid and there was no sound of mankind anywhere, just the “quiet” of nature. As we trudged along the dirt road, we had become so weary that we complete missed the peaceful and desolate campsite at the base of a bridge, next to a beautiful creek…just as the guide book indicated!
The campsite was intimate, and ran alongside a long creek in which the scouts were able to wash their clothing, acquire clean drinking water (through the pump, iodine tablet, or boiling water), and eventually to enjoy the accomplishment of completing their first challenge of the week. Despite the extremely slippery rocks and dense population of insects flying around the surface of the water, the scouts ventured off down the river to find a beaver dam at the end. This intricate structure was an amazing sight to see at the end of their first fun day.
After returning back to the campsite, Kelly taught everyone the basics of cooking food on this trip and how to effectively obtain clean water. He educated the entire crew on the directions of using the small, portable stoves and taught them the methods of using the iodine tablets and pumping water. One scout in particular got special use of the pump due to a shellfish allergy, making it mandatory to go through the exhausting pumping process to access clean water every day. The entire crew even learned of a new method of cleaning up individual mess kits through “munging” in which clean water would be poured into a dirty bowl to make a “nice, soupy” meal to drink the mess away. Yecchh!
After enjoying a delicious meal and feelings of disgust towards munging (One scout believed that hot sauce would be beneficial to the process. Heads-up: It is not a good idea), the scouts packaged all items from their pack that was either food, or had strong smells to prepare multiple bear bags. For most scouts, this would be their first attempt at setting up a bear bag to prevent not only bears from attaining the group’s food but also to prevent raccoons, other medium-sized animals and those pesky chipmunks from eating our food.
Our guide Kelly’s first few attempts of hanging the massive weight of our food and supplies were unsuccessful, and as it became dark, everyone slowly began to realize the futility of trying to hang bear bags in a patch of the woods consisting of only Lodge Pole Pines with no horizontal branches. Eventually it took Mr. McCandless’s decision to look for a more suitable area of the forest (in the dark) and Mr. Wauchope’s complex rope & carabiner system to hang the bags successfully high enough. (Scoutmaster’s Note: Many lessons were learned in this exercise!)
Through the ambitious extra mileage and the back woods lessons taught by Kelly, it was safe to say that our first day on the trail of this high adventure trek was a great success! We all had no trouble falling fast asleep against the soothing backdrop of the nearby babbling creek.
Next: Day 3, A Memorable Trek to Caitlin Bay — a Backpacker’s Paradise!
* – As largely written by the scouts on the trek.