Backpacking: Day 1

On our first day in the woods, we set out, about 8AM, shiny and fresh with full packs and glad hearts. (Okay, you know right now that this isn’t going to end well…)

We drove to the parking lot and donned our packs after a quick trip to the outhouse for a luxurious last-minute sit-down pee (well, for me, anyway). Boots, check. Matches, check. Food, check. Bear canister, check. Water filter, check. Rain gear, check. Certainly, we had everything we would need.

At the start of the trail we met a generously white-haired, big-moustached fellow in rubber boots and red suspenders manning a team of white draft horses pulling a hay trailer with seats.

“Want a ride?” the fellow asked. “I’ll take you both as far as Camp Santanoni for ten bucks.”

“Nah,” we said, smiling. “Thanks anyway. We’re going to walk.”

“How long you going in for?” he asked.

“Three days.”

“A ride now’d shave five miles off those three days.”

“True, but we want to walk it all.”

“Well, I’ll take your packs for free, then. Load ’em up in here. No charge.”

“Wow, that’s very generous, but we really want to walk it, packs and all.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.” [foreshadowing alert!] “Part of the experience is to really beat ourselves up. We like that.”

Oh, how our words can come back to haunt us.

So…we walked to Camp Santanoni, five miles, no biggie. The camp was amazing. Huge, built all of native wood harvested from the surrounding forest. It was built on Newcomb Lake in the 1800’s by a wealthy family as a retreat, and no expense was spared. On the way we passed the Santanoni Farm ruins which had a barn, a creamery, a piggery, a smokehouse, an icehouse, a chicken coop, a turkey run, and lots of cleared land for vegetables. The farm operations stocked the Camp during its heyday. All of these buildings are within the area designated as “Wild Adirondacks” by NY state, and so they are no longer allowed to be privately owned.

But the camp is being restored by the town of Newcomb and it’s an amazing job they’re doing. It’s been placed on the National Historic Register and so will not be torn down. We also got an excellent tour by a young docent who is living there this summer and helping with the restorations. There were plenty of interesting old photographs, too, something Len and I both love.

After the tour, we ate lunch and continued on our way. After consulting with the docent (“wet summer, soggy north trail”) we decided to take the south trail around the lake and check out the Fish Rock lean-to there, which had come highly recommended. Upon leaving Camp Santanoni, we would not see another human–nor even footprints–until we staggered out three days later.

If the north trail was soggier than the south trail, it must have been really bad. On the south trail we had to cross beaver dams that had flooded whole sections of the trail…the trail itself was more of a stream with continuously running water…and at one point we crossed a bridge only to be dumped unceremoniously into a marsh. Now what? Well, there was nothing to do but cross it. We took a photograph of the trail–a two foot deep clear line of water surrounded by marsh grass and the very aptly named hobblebush. Even our gaiters were no match for this.

As it would turn out, though, the marsh was actually the easy (clean) part. Not so easy were the long stretches of black mud that sucked you down and threatened to pull your foot out of your boot. As we squelched forward (sschhlock! scchlooop! ssgllickk!) I kept hearing Ross Perot in his nasal twang saying, “That great sucking sound you hear is the sound of jobs leaving North America.”

A long, soggy trail does funny things to your head.

But four miles later we were rewarded–Fish Rock lean-to! Ahh. It was everything that had been promised and more. Situated right at a deserted point of Newcomb Lake, with Loons and Cedar Waxwings your only visitors. It was marvelous. We had a lean-to all to ourselves, a fire ring, even a bench that someone had carted (or canoed) all that way, placed right out on the biggest rocks at the water’s edge. The night was clear and lovely. We shared a meal of rehydrated Chili Mac and dried fruit. The weather was glorious and warm and we bathed in the lake leaving our clothes on shore. Then, as night fell we watched the stars pop out one-by-one and when the moon set, we lay back and watched the Perseid meteor shower. I saw three shooting stars and Len saw two, so I won (because it is, of course, a contest).

We forgot our soggy socks and dripping boots, our muddy gaiters and sore muscles and all of our responsibilities back home. We reveled in the glory of nature and solitude. It was wonderful.

…Stay tuned for Day 2.






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