Day 3: A Memorable Hike to Caitlin Bay — A Backpacker’s Paradise!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACompletely 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 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. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We hiked at a solid pace for at least another hour, crossing a few small creeks OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 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 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwoods 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Next:  Day 4, Dealing with Adirondack Weather — A Few Basic Lessons Learned

Hiking the Historic Northville-Placid Trail – Adirondack Adventure 2014 – Pt 2 *

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

NP Trail

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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….”  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Adirondack Adventure 2014 – Part 1

 

Adiron Park map

The Adirondack Park in upstate New York is a major recreational destination year-round.  It is difficult to grasp the enormity of this area.  Wikipedia defines it as follows:

“The Adirondack Park is a publicly protected, elliptical area encompassing much of the northeastern lobe of Upstate New York, United States. It is the largest park and the largest state-level protected area in the contiguous United States, and the largest National Historic Landmark…The park covers some 6.1 million acres, a land area roughly the size of Vermont and greater than the National Parks of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Great Smoky Mountains combined.…”

Our Council is fortunate to have a camp in the heart of the Adirondack Park and Summit Base near Brant Lake, NY is viewed as the outdoor gateway to the park for scouts from all over the country.  After several years of high adventure treks at BSA National camps (Sea Base & Philmont), other Councils (outer banks of NC & Colorado) & other countries (Bahama Sail School), our troop opted for an adventure closer to home.  Suffice it to say that the combo backpack & paddling adventure was every bit as challenging within a stunningly beautiful setting and at a very affordable cost as any trek pursued in prior years!  The following enjoyable description of the trip has been largely reproduced by the scouts that took the Adirondack challenge:  Andy M., Jason C., Jeffrey F., & Justin W.:

*****

In the summer of 2014 four of our senior scouts and two adult leaders courageously ventured up north to Summit Base to begin a week long high adventure trek encompassing approximately 45 miles of backpacking and canoeing in & around Adirondack Park.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In preparation for this challenging week the scouts first had to help raise the funds to make the trip affordable for them all.  During the Troop’s annual car wash at Chester Heights Fire House, the four scouts led the troop in having a very successful fundraiser, raising over $2500 for the troop and for the high adventure trip.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   In addition to funding the trip, the scouts prepared by going on a weekend long backpack trip in Harriman State Park where they were given a glimpse of what the trip would really be like–hard work!  The scouts would be exposed to backpacking and camping overnight away from the comfort of their cars like most weekend troop campouts are–we really were a bit nervous and not totally sure what we would face, but we were up for the challenge!  Fortunately, a watering hole deep in the park provided needed refuge in the +90 degree weather in early July.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Although preparation for this high adventure trip was not as tedious as most previous trips, all arrangements were finalized and the scouts were eager to start their first high adventure trip.

Day 1: Upon arriving to Camp Reed, everyone was greeted by the friendly Summit Base staff and we were introduced to our Guide for the week: Kelly, who would accompany and lead all the scouts throughout the entire endeavor.  To ensure that everyone would be capable of swimming in case of any emergency that could occur on the canoe portion of the trip, the scouts and adults were required to perform the standard BSA swim test.  Slowly but surely, everyone completed the test.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Next, our group underwent a comprehensive gear shakedown to ensure we had the proper gear for the grueling trip.  Although unpacking and packing all the gear was quite boring and endless, all scouts were prepared and were ready to take on the challenges of the next day.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After dinner at the Camp Buckskin Dining Hall it was getting late & all scouts returned back to our campsite in the more remote environs of Summit Base for the night.  Regardless of the structured and civilized campsite, little did the scouts know that they had had their sole encounter with wild animals for the week with little varmints successfully nibbling through plastic bags to eat the snacks needed for the remainder of the week and even chomping on a few exposed fingers in the middle of the night!  Ouch!  Despite the unexpected and unwelcomed visitors at 3am, our crew fell fast asleep (again!), eager to take off the next morning on a new adventure in the historic Adirondack Park!

Next:  Day 2, Backpacking the Historic Northville-Placid Trail

 

Annual Canoe Trip — Best Weekend of the Year!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our scouting year coincides with the school year, so we always plan a blow-out canoe trip bash at the end of June.  This end-of-year paddling extravaganza is extremely popular with our troop as guests and family are invited and alumni scouts often come out for the day.  It is not uncommon for us to have over 30 canoes and kayaks spread out along the Delaware River–it looks something like a Spanish Armada…except with water fights!  Getting everyone (including the many adults) paddle-ready, means lots of prep work:  BSA Swim test, Safety Afloat, Safe Swim Defense, review required equipment and parts of canoe and various strokes, and an actual paddle practice at a nearby lake.

Paddling down the Delaware River gap is indeed a national treasure.  The area is full of wildlife.  In addition to fish, we have seen deer, black bears and numerous eagles & hawks!  One year, several of us paddled through a massive 20 minute down pour–which was nothing short of exhilarating (except for the pesky flies afterwards).   There are plenty of places along the way to stop and enjoy lunch or a swim and it is not uncommon for scouts to spend more time out of the canoes than IN the canoes.  Typically, the other big challenge is ensuring the scouts drink enough water to stay hydrated under the summer sun.

At the end of the day, our caravan motors over to a nearby campsite at Ten Mile River scout camp where the scent of bug spray replaces the smell of sunscreen!  It is our tradition to have a yearend “spoof” awards at our post-dinner bonfire, recalling some of the funnier moments of many individuals during the prior 12  months.  The Annual Frank McCluskey Friendship Outing is destined to be a favorite for years to come!  Pictures say a 1000 words about how much fund this trip really is to everyone! Here are great pictures from 2011 and 2012!

Community Service — A Special Day for Special Kids 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is not every day that a child with disabilities gets to have a social outing at a local swimming pool. It is also not every day that a scout gets to “earn” community service hours for playing in a water park, but both are exactly what occurred in August 2013.  Scouts from Troop 5 Bronxville and Troop 353 Eastchester participated in helping children with special needs enjoy a few hours of FUN at the local water park, Tibbetts Brook Park.  The event was sponsored by the Tommie Cares Foundation (TCF), which focuses on selected sports (selected water & snow sports) for children with special needs.  The TCF was started in 2013 by the founder of the Tommie Copper organization, a line of copper-infused compression sports clothing.  The event was exceptionally well-organized and the pre-event training for volunteers on how to understand and play with children with special needs safely and comfortably was exceptionally practical and thorough.  Even though passing thunderstorms delayed the start of the event for an hour, there was no shortage of FUN activities inside waiting for the rain to pass.  After an hour or so in the pool, a special awards ceremony recognized every child!  It was a particularly happy moment for many children and families.  Not only did the scouts have a very gratifying time, but the special needs children had the memory of a lifetime!  Here are some more great photos here!

Historic Night for Troop 353 Adult Leaders

 

WPC photo 051214

On May 12th, 2014, Westchester-Putnam Council, BSA had their annual recognition dinner with the primary billing being the Court of Honor for the award of Silver Beaver for adult volunteers that have made exceptional council-wide contributions over time.  The Silver Beaver award is the highest honor an adult volunteer can receive in a local Council.  The Court of Honor MC was the incoming Council President, John G. Callahan.  John is also the founding Scoutmaster of Troop 353 back on May 1, 1992.  It was a very special evening for both the Callahan family as well as Troop 353 as seen in the photo above, as most of the troop’s prior and current Scoutmasters were present as well as a few Eagle scouts that started as Cub Scouts with Mr. Callahan!  Congratulations to John Callahan and all his family!

From left to right:  David Kindberg (Eagle Scout, Cubmaster Tuckahoe Pack 7), Mike Occhicone (Scoutmaster 2011–2013), Tom McCandless (Eagle Scout, Scoutmaster 2006–2010), Dave Flannery (present Scoutmaster), Mrs. Lynn Callahan (current Pack 7 & Troop 353 Chartered Org Representative), John Callahan (Troop 353 founding Scoutmaster, Silver Beaver 1999), Richard Schraudner (Scoutmaster 1998-2002, Silver Beaver 2006), Matt Keller (Eagle Scout 1999), Don Wauchope (Scoutmaster 2002–2005), John Clark (Eagle Scout 1999, Scoutmaster 2005), Andrew Callahan (first Eagle Scout of Troop 353, 1997).

High Adventure — Ice Climbing Challenge in the Catskills

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here in Southern Westchester County, we are blessed to live in such close proximity, from beach camping in Montauk to ice climbing in the Catskills.  And with the harsh winter we have had this year, combined with specific requests from our senior scouts, the time was right to revisit ice climbing after a two year layoff.  Indeed, it was two years ago exactly that the troop hired the highly regarded outfitter Alpine Endeavors out of New Paltz.   Their guides have some of the best climbing credentials and many are also EMTs.  Suffice it to say that not only are their guides well-qualified but they are terrific when working with youth and adults!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ice climbing has some similarities to rock climbing (you are belayed), but in many people’s view, ice climbing is technically more challenging and gratifying and FUN!  And FUN is exactly why our crew of 5 adventurous senior scouts and (two intrepid dads) braved the single digit temps that day just outside of Phoenicia, 50 miles northwest of New Paltz.  A few of the scouts had been ice climbing previously and felt at ease “on the pitch”.  The first-time climbers had to learn the correct techniques, including a firm planting of the toe spikes of the crampons as well as where & how to plant their hand axes.  And of course everyone had to be happy being up to 40–50 feet above the ground with only your toe spikes holding you!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  As their skills increased throughout the day, our guides Alan and Ron challenged the boys to try climbing with only one hand axe and many succeeded!  A few even tried climbing without any hand axe or gloves! Ouch!  We stayed warm by taking turns belaying or playing the role of backup belay and keeping the rope out any water and freezing.  Hot chocolate also helped!

By the end of the day, everyone had exhausted their energies but enjoyed a newfound sense of pride and satisfaction at mastering one of the neatest winter sports of all:  Ice Climbing!  For some cool pics, click here!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA