Backpacking New York: A Look Back at an Accidental Adirondack Ascent

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Evening descends on Lake Colden.
The old adage says that hindsight is 20/20. It's easy to look back and laugh and mishaps, but some part of you wishes you'd foreseen the result of your decisions and made slightly different ones. 

One of the most entertaining things about reading old trip reports is picking out all of the things I'd do differently. In the summer of 2006. I'd just graduated from college and was in the midst of packing to move to Alaska. A last-minute decision took us up to the Adirondacks for a few days and led to one of the silliest blunders I've made in my short outdoor career!

Dan and I spent this past Sunday through Wednesday in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks thanks to my Uncle Bill, trip planner extraordinaire. Our mission was to visit Mount Colden via the Flowed Lands and do as much exploring as well wanted. Even with his route advice, I didn't feel as prepared going into the trip as I wanted to. (We left the hot cocoa behind - tragic!) Everything felt rushed, which could have had something to do with my college graduation last week. But I'm leaving for Alaska in two days, and couldn't bear the thought of doing so without one last Upstate New York hurrah.

Our little home the first night. The sun came up in the morning!
After taking off from Ithaca on Sunday, we zipped up north and arrived in Newcomb in good time. The High Peaks were as beautiful as they've ever been. The mountains were cloaked in green, life exploding everywhere I looked. Making good time meant we were on the trail early, which is always a good thing with an impending thunder storm headed your way. The only problem was, we were on the wrong trail.

We followed the driving directions to Upper Works Road, a lonely secondary road that takes hikers deep into the western High Peaks. Instead of following it to its terminus and parking there, we parked in another small lot just south of it and set off. I knew it wasn't the trail we wanted, (the blazes were yellow, our trail should have been blazed red), and I'm not sure why I just went with it, but I did.

Mother Nature dumped buckets of cold rain on us, I was soaked and grumpy, I can think of a million reasons why I didn't question our route decision. We knew we were supposed to go up, and we were going up. "So we're fine," I kept telling myself. The trail ascended gradually at first, then steepened significantly. We climbed up and up, crawling on hands and knees over giant rock piles, boulders, waterfalls and fallen trees. At one point, we stopped because I couldn't figure out where we were on the map. I handed it to Dan. He looked at it quizzically, flipped it around a few times, smiled and said, "I think I figured out where we are, and you're not going to like it."

Arriving at the Flowed Lands lean-to, finally!
I laughed the kind of laugh crazy people laugh. This was a ridiculously tough climb, we'd done it in the rain with all of our gear, and I was exhausted. Whatever he was about to tell me, I wasn't ready to hear it.

It was supposed to be a leisurely stroll to Calamity Brook where we'd set up the tent and wait out the storm. But no. On the first day of our trip, in a monsoon, we'd climbed, (1800' in 1.6 miles I'd later learned), up an unmaintained trail to the top of Mount Adams. At just over 3,500' tall, it's not even one of the 46ers.

Dan figured out where we were because of the fire tower, indicated on the map by a teeny weeny triangle. The views from the top of were minimal, not that I was in any frame of mind to enjoy them.

We sucked it up, climbed back down, and spent the night in a little shack on the trail that likely used to be outpost of some sort. Having a roof was a blessing; we decorated the shack with our wet gear and got set up without getting more soaked. Unfortunately, the air was wet enough that nothing dried.

Monday was better. We put on our wet clothes, hiked back to the car and drove to the right parking lot at the end of the road to our intended starting point. The steady uphill hike to Calamity Pond and the Flowed Lands was tough, my body protesting from the day before. We stomped through ankle deep puddles of mud and hopped along giant rocks. It was great fun, minus the growing blisters on my heels and the extra 30 pounds on my back. The Flowed Lands lean-to came into view mid afternoon at which point the decision was made to pack it in for the day. A park ranger stopped in for a visit that night and brought great advice for the next day.

A beautiful day on Lake Colden. Mt Colden in the background.
Tuesday involved a leisurely, pack-free lap around Lake Colden with me nursing my blistered feet. They'd grown to the size of silver dollars, and I was grateful for the fact that all we had to do Wednesday was get back to the car. On the drive home, I couldn't help thinking I'd held Dan back the entire trip. I was tired, sore, blistered, and battling the stress that comes with an impending 5,000 mile move. It wasn't the send-off I'd hoped for, but it was a send-off nonetheless. Adirondacks, please forgive me. I'll be back to do it right someday.

So we climbed the wrong mountain. Meh. I can laugh about it now, but you can bet I wasn't laughing about it then! It turns out the fire tower on top of Mount Adams is a pretty neat structure with a lot of history. I've been back to the Flowed Lands area since, but still haven't been to the top of Mt. Colden. Anyone want to do it with me?

6 comments :

SuzRocks said...

We almost climbed the wrong mountain in the Tetons. I had the map- I just didn't look at it. We figured out that we had walked about 4-5 miles out of the way. Made for the LONGEST approach to the grand teton EVER.

Katie said...

that definitely sounds familiar! we did a lot of assuming, and that ended up getting us in trouble :) but it can mean seeing places you didn't expect to see! did you end up having a successful trip regardless?

Justin said...

Navigation errors are always easy to make.

My worst mishap involved an overnight backpack camped around 10,000' after the first snow of the season, only to find the fuel canister a friend gave me didn't work with my stove.

Katie said...

oooh man, that sounds rough! you survived to tell the tale, obviously, which is good, but yikes!

Evan said...

Nice post, good advice. Yeah definitely do Colden, it's a nice hike with beautiful views at the top. The western route is definitely a steeper climb than the eastern route. I will post story to our facebook page for Pure Adirondacks.

Evan said...

Nice post, good advice. Yeah definitely do Colden, it's a nice hike with beautiful views at the top. The western route is definitely a steeper climb than the eastern route. I will post story to our facebook page for Pure Adirondacks.