.: Ski XCOttawa.ca :: Skiing in Ottawa and Gatineau Park

Playing in mountains
By:  Edward McCarthy   (2007/07/14)

I talk quite a bit about the reasons why I ski, and it often comes back to the love of being outdoors. Skiing is a sport done outdoors (except, I suppose, in the ski tunnel), and almost all dryland training is also done outdoors. Ski training has always been a great excuse to go for muddy trail-runs, long bike rides, and even paddles around Meech. Sometimes, though, I really just want to get the heck out of Ottawa for a while. I just had the chance to do exactly that when I went for a four-day hike in New York State's Adirondack High Peaks region.

I've hiked in the 'Daks before, but this was a bit different. First, I went a route I hadn't been on before, except for the short section down the West side of Marcy. Second, since no one seemed able to come (I tried... either they're all busy, or good at making excuses), I went alone. This worried me a little, enough that I debated whether or not to go. Not only would I have no one to push me, help carry stuff, and share camp chores, I'd also have to deal with my own company for four days, except for trail encounters with other hikers. I brought a book.

The beginning of the hike was not promising. The town of St. Hubert, where I started, has a golf course, a lot of money, and not much use for hikers, forcing us to use a parking lot three quarters of a mile away from the trailhead. My day was suddenly longer, it was beginning to rain, and the ranger told me that the lean-to I was planning on using had seen heavy bear activity recently. I cheered up as I walked, however, as I got a chance to start playing with my camera which I recently discovered has a self-timer, and the small tripod that I "borrowed" from my dad after having given it to him for Christmas (he has yet to use it - I may have to repossess). Then the thunderstorm started... by the time I reached Wolf Jaw lean-to, I looked and felt like a drowned rat, and was very happy for dry clothes. The bears never appeared, but there was a mouse bold enough to walk up my hands - twice - as I tried to sleep. Four hours on the trail, and only about one of them dry.

The next day was a nice hike, but not terribly exciting. Past John's Brook Lodge, up Little Marcy and the back side of Marcy, and down for a photo shoot at Lake Tear of the Clouds before heading down to Panther Gorge for the night. Fortunately, the sun had come out, the skies were clear, and some of the views were amazing, but Marcy suffers the problem of many "biggest" peaks - it was busy, with more than twenty people at the summit when I got there. The view is nice, and the hike is fairly easy. I got some company this evening, though, as I met a couple from Vermont sharing the Panther Gorge site, and we had a little convivial Crown Royal. Seven hours on the trail, lots of mud, and lots of traffic.

My third day turned out to be the toughest, slowest, and most rewarding day of hiking I've ever done. I left Panther Gorge and went over what I now know is called the "Great Range" - Haystack, Basin, Saddleback, and Gothics, in that order. I already knew the walk up would be long and steep, but I didn't know quite how steep. It's quite a scramble, and interesting to negotiate with fifty-odd pounds of pack. The summit, however, was empty of people, and gave the most amazing views I've ever seen of the 'Daks. A storm had come during the night, but the weather was partly cloudy, and the visibility great from Haystack, with clouds only on the very top of Marcy. The summit of Haystack is, for the moment, my favourite place on earth. Back to the hike, though; having scrambled up Haystack, I thought the hard part was done. Not so! There was a fair bit of altitude lost down the north side, and the scramble up Basin turned out to be even harder than that up Haystack, though the view, again, was worth it. Next, Saddleback. A much shorter climb, but the trail was marked literally straight up a rock face for about a hundred meters. It was a route I would not want to descend without a rope. Gothics was another gorgeous view, but the hike up was eased by cables on the rock face. There are no lean-tos in this area, so I ended up making a bush camp on the side of a mountain, limited by the requirement to be below 3500 feet and out of private land. I made do, but it was not an ideal site by any means. Nine hours on the trail, and stumbling tired by the end of it.

Finally, I hiked out, taking the "Scenic Route" down from my camp on the east slope of Sawteeth to Lower Ausable Lake, and along the West River Path. Once down, this was an easy hike; I estimate it at a bit longer than the total hike the day before, and it took me about half the time. At the same time, it was beautiful and easily accessible, and I met some friendly hikers out for the day. It being Saturday, the ranger, who I'm pretty certain was about three hundred years old, told me he'd signed in eighty-seven people that morning. Wow! Five hours on the trail, and back to the car for lunch.

So, how was it? Well, having taken an unstarted book (South, Ernest Shackleton's account of the Endurance expedition), I, normally an obsessive reader, read only thirty-two pages and the preface. Even alone, I found it impossible to be bored in the wilderness. Just sitting and looking could keep me occupied, and kept me lifting my head from my book. Hiking alone let me let go of being competitive with fellow hikers, meant I didn't have to keep up to anyone, wait for anyone, or convince Tom that we had not, in fact, missed our trail intersection, and that we just hadn't gone as far as it felt like. It was strangely relaxing, and despite a total of twenty-five hours on the trail in four days, felt like a break from regular ski training. Now I'm ready to go back to normal Ottawa training, just in time for the highest week on my program. If you need a break - go hiking!

Interesting Reading. . .
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