The First Leg
1st Leg of the Bushwhack
The purpose of this hike was exploratory in nature…not just to locate pain thresholds. I wanted to find a route from Connery Pond to the Cascade Lake that only touched the road at the drop-off and exit points. My goal was to scout the terrain and become familiar with the area as well as log any helpful waypoints. I sought to make all my mistakes during this hike and not later when this is incorporated into a longer traverse.
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.
South Notch Trail
The bog was tempting to skirt as I tried to avoid the dense conifers that started at the edge of the water. I quickly chose the tall thin pines, however, after tiring of the soft moss. It was a strange area that had a mystical dark quality to it. My GPS showed that I was too close to the road for my taste, so I finally entered the bog again and crossed it in a more easterly direction before finally exiting into a beautiful open hardwood forest. This was comprised of mainly mature pines and golden birch. I increased my pace on the easy grade and open forest floor.
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
Old Beaver Dam along the Trail
I walked as fast as possible, trying to make descent time on this scouting hike. The path was easy enough and quite obvious, at least for a bit. I should have known it was too good to be true. The grade was easy as I came to the first bog, where several paths diverted. After easily locating the true path, I ascended a bit more sharply and came to an old beaver dam about five feet in height, but blown out by the water pressure at the bottom. The path beyond progressed in a multitude of ways. I explored each and after wasting about fifteen minutes trudged into the woods only to locate it again crossing the stream once more at UTM 18T 0586413 4902895. It quickly disappeared after a tree marked with survey tape.
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.
Bog .4 Miles from S. Notch
The slope and stream had turned me around and the GPS was not responding properly. My compass was the true aid that saved the day. I changed direction and re-ascended a bit only to find another stream running uphill. Using this new stream, the compass and a bright area in the sky I followed up more and more. Amazingly, I found the herd path again (only to lose it a few yards later…it was that bad). It was now more obvious that I would follow the stream bed and animal paths to the notch. The forest wasn’t what I’d call beautiful as I made my way in the light rain, but it was easy walking…just longer than I had planned. The various small bogs slowed my pace as the grade increase. Fresh bear scat enlivened my imagination briefly. All the animals’ paths converged as I got closer and closer. Finally, the path became obvious and traversed into an open pine area just east of an open bog located just a quarter mile from the notch. Slide Mountain loomed to the north. I walked through the soft sphagnum in a tired state.
South Notch; Slide Mountain is on the Left.
I wanted food, but was soon greeted by more pines and finally the notch.
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
The easiest route was straight down the hill, but the shortest route would be at a diagonal of about 160 degrees. It was amazing to look at the track on the GPS (which was now working) and see that the path of least resistance pulled me rather than the proper heading. I could see Black Mountain so I knew I was on track at least minimally. The undergrowth grabbed at me and slowed my tired progress. Gravity worked for me though. The grade was moderate and comfortable. About 2/3 of the way down, the ground changed and the glacial erratics increased…along with hundreds of spider webs… Tasteless spider webs.
Bridge over Nichols Brook.
Somewhere around 1:30, I intersected the old military road, now a ski trail paralleling Nichols Brook. I’m not sure what I expected, but the maintained wide trail was a beautiful site. The park between the Cascade Lakes was about two miles away as the crow flies, more as I crawled. I enjoyed the walk south and was surprised to find a variety of scenery along the way. The forest canopy that covered the easy grade of the winding trail opened after about a mile’s walk to a flooded area showing all the signs of beaver activity. The path skirted the area on the east side. Several more large beaver ponds spotted the area on the left, just below the incredible looming cliffs of the west side of the Pitchoff Ridge mountains. I’m not sure what I expected, but I really hadn’t thought about it. The cliffs and slides (technical skill required WWBF), were incredibly dramatic. It appeared as though the entire side of several of the mountains had just dropped away. I have no pictures of the area (though I will someday) because I was now hiking in a torrential downpour. The skies opened as the canopy disappeared along with any pictures I hoped to capture. Already soaked to the skin, I changed into a rain jacket, hid the camera bag in my pack and covered the entirety with a black garbage bag. Makeshift holes served to pull the arm straps through.
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?