The First Leg
Deb dropped me off at 7:15 a.m. at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Route 86 near Lake Placid. I started my bushwhack with a 20 foot push through the dense spruce that lines Route 86. It quickly opened into a lush softwood forest littered with old blow-down and soft mosses. This was scattered on the bouldered ground in various areas. I knew I’d only have to ascent a couple hundred feet to get to the top of any given hill in this area just west of the Sentinel Range. Herd paths extending from the deer bedding area that was almost next to the road eased my passage a bit. The animals know the easiest route. I tested it a few times and proved it over and again. It felt like the deep woods even though I was only about a quarter mile east of Riverside Drive.
After 45 minutes of wandering south/southeast, I intersected the trail to Holcomb (once Malcomb) Pond. I followed it up the final hill and stopped at a stone ledge that overlooked the depression below. It was covered in the soft fog of early morning. I’d explore that another day. The forest beyond was mainly open if not a bit littered by trees. The topography consisted of the occasional small stone outcropping or cliff and mild ups and down. 15 minutes later found me on the old trail to the North Notch which I followed toward Riverside Drive briefly before opting out just before a stream. I located an old makeshift shelter nearby the swampy outlet of Holcomb.
Finally, at 9:15, I overtook the shoulder that I’d been skirting and descended to a small stream paralleled by the South Notch Trail…my first destination and a perfect place for a sandwich. I’d hiked within a quarter mile of the road for two hours. It was time to descend into the forest. My break lasted only long enough to eat.
South Notch Trail to South Notch
A nagging feeling told me to turn around, but I ignored it not wanting to give into tiredness. I took a heading of my GPS and progressed s/se into the hardwoods…hoping not to run into any dense vegetation. As 10:00 a.m. approached I knew I was in the deep woods where not many walk. Disturbed birds greeted me and a total silence except for my feet on the ground…and the light rain.
The blue sky that started with me had all but disappeared and my only visual aid was the not-so-obvious brighter area south of Slide Mountain ahead. I was too close to see a distant perspective and not close enough to see any details of where I needed to go. I finally ran into a small stream and followed it for a bit. After another fifteen minutes I checked my track on the GPS and realized I was paralleling my destination in too southerly a direction.
It was noon when I reached the true notch at UTM 18T 0588892 4902023. I had told my wife that I would be out by 1:00 p.m. That was not going to be a reality. And I was tired. The hike had been longer than I accounted for with several things working against me, although minimally. Amazingly, I got a full cell signal and immediately connected. It was good to talk to her, though I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the bear sign or that I was ready to get out. I only had to descend over a mile, walk a mile or so up the logging road at the bottom and bushwhack the Pitchoff Ridge…somewhere.
South Notch to Old Military Trail over Pitchoff Ridge
Thankfully, the ridge tapered off a bit, the farther south I progressed. I needed to climb over it to get to Route 73. I thought about navigating a route through some of the wooded cliffs, but thought better in the end. The more I progressed south, the farther I hike away from my exit, however. Immediately after and above, another beaver pond, I found an old road (UTM 18T 0588709 4898956) veering to the left. This was covered in raspberry bushes and herd paths that skirted the north side of a small pond. The most miserable part of my hike had now begun…
I began climbing the seemingly small hill (that really wasn’t) at a grade that topped 55 degrees. Small ledges covered in spruce, moss and detritus spotted the grade making it a miserable wet climb on all fours for over a half mile. Everything was slippery and the footing was unsure. Herd paths served to guide me. I was amazed at just what deer climb in their foraging. The grade never seemed to ease, but the rain finally did to a drizzle that only seemed to emphasize the thunder. Fog limited my vision to about fifty feet. I’d taken a GPS heading prior to this new challenge and been using a compass. Out of curiosity, I checked the GPS track to see my progress to the top only to find that it had completely lost satellite reception. I was electronically blind, but oh well, I had a heading so up and up I went, for over an hour.
At the point of exhaustion, since I’d not mentally planned for any duration on this day, the grade eased and raspberry groves appeared. It was still a push through clinging evergreens and spottily dense forest. There were a couple false summits to the ridge that teased my psyche until I finally reached the light at the end of the tunnel and began to trudge down. The forest had opened considerably and slipped and slid down the rocky wet terrain. Undergrowth covered the rocks. The fog didn’t help.
My goal at this point was a loop trail that connected the Northcountry School to the balancing rocks plateau on Pitchoff. I descended quickly and finally met with the trail only to follow it upward. It quickly intersected with the maintained trail and I rushed down. As I stepped out onto the open cliffs that overlooked the Cascade Lakes and looked down, I saw blowing clouds and the murky outline of lakes. Again, I drew a cell signal to call my grandmother’s house, where my wife was visiting…just down the road. It was passing 3:00 p.m. and, apparently, Deb had been driving back and forth looking for me for over an hour. I dashed down the ridge and plunged into my final bushwhack from the maintained trail to Route 73. It is an understatement to say it was steep! After a few small falls, I finally got to the road at 3:30. Deb appeared a few minutes later as I ate a sandwich and recaptured my breath. In a reflective moment, a thought dawned on me: the only one that I know that wouldn’t have my blood for dragging him on a hike like this is WWBF. I looked at myself and appeared in typical post-bushwhack fashion: soaked, muddy, scratched and covered in pine needles and bark fragments. My blisters (from the Great Range Hike) also reappeared. So much for another short walk! OK…what can I hike next?