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Backpacker Magazine – September 2011

Deepest Daks

Journey through America's most accessible wilderness in search of untouched places, and you might just find peace of mind to match the lakes and hills.

by: Casey Lyons

Lewey Lake in the fall (Pat & Chuck Blackley)
Lewey Lake in the fall (Pat & Chuck Blackley)
Red Eft Newt (Adam Dixon)
Red Eft Newt (Adam Dixon)
Pillsbury Lake Lean-To (Tim Seaver)
Pillsbury Lake Lean-To (Tim Seaver)

For one in six people in America, “Adirondacks” defines wilderness. These woods, with their rugged but reachable mountains, forests, and fish-packed lakes, provide the counterpoint to all the parts of the Northeast beset with signs, cities, and interstates.
Leaf-peeping trips (starting in early-September in the northernmost parts of the park, then expanding south) anchor the seasonal must-do list. But daytrippers stick mostly to the fringes. Even in the hot months, the interior hangs with a silent immensity that’s hard to grasp and hard to resist, but sometimes hard to find.
As an efficiency-minded Northeasterner myself—I grew up in Connecticut—I planned this route to carry us to the deepest interior in the most direct way. It already feels far away, partly because the trail keeps disappearing, partly because of the rain.
Almost immediately after Adam’s failed jump (hubris be damned, I scouted a dry crossing), the cold October rain begins. It dumps on us as we pick our way across slick, moss-covered rocks over serial crossings of Colvin Brook. It taps our hoods as we reach the Northville-Placid Trail, heading south toward Cedar Lakes. We stop for a dry break in its lean-to at mile 10.3.
The water, scenic against a backdrop of conifer green and spent-autumn yellow, is blurry with tiny explosions. The lean-to sags in the rain like an old mule. Adam’s got the wild-eyed look of mutiny rising. We need fire.
A few minutes later, he returns with a sodden armful of branches and a bundle of stuff he’d protected in his jacket. I lurch into a thicket tinseled with ribbons from the paper birch above. With a few dry twigs scavenged from under the shelter and with our bodies as a rain break, we’ll have our fire.
As Adam sets his stream-soaked boot to braise, I think about what this five-miles-too-early camp really means: The weather is drowning the grand, 68-mile sideways-mushroom cloud-loop I’d come to do. Compromise comes early.
As I fall asleep under the leaky roof that night, I can picture teenaged me reaching back for the haymaker. It was always all or nothing back then. No one ever taught that kid to jab.
We open our eyes to more rain the next morning. Across Cedar Lake, fog clings to Good Luck Mountain and Noisey Ridge like smoke rising from 100 campfires. Last night’s thoughts seem silly, and the idea of an either/or world childish. It’s not either it rains, or you hike. Sometimes it’s both. I feel invigorated and ready to push deeper.
We suit up and head south on the Perkins Clearing Trail into a forest of young birch. Their skinny boughs hang like low-slung arches over a yellow-brown mosaic. The trail slowly disappears under half a foot of water that widens into a lagoon.
My heels slurp inside my boots with each step; I swashbuckle through. The bridge at mile 12.4 is washed out, and the grass on the lower side looks like slicked-back hair; we’re practically singing. We enter stands of older hemlocks and maples after we turn west on the Pillsbury Lake Trail. Adam spots a fire-colored red eft newt in the leaf litter. They only come out when it’s wet.

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Mountain Man
Jun 21, 2012

It’s very true that much of the six-million-acre Adirondack Park wilderness sees very few footprints. Most hikers don’t head very far from the roads or clog the well-known trails in the High Peaks. There are plenty of hikes that can lead you to a solitary peak or grant you your own private lean-to on a pond for a couple days.

John Naresky
Tamarack Guide Service

Nov 03, 2011

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