Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tenkara in the high peaks wilderness, part 2

There I was pouring another wine tasting as usual. It was a typical Thursday night on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. "$15 champagne? Nope. How about some Prosecco? No, don't buy the Veuve Clicquot!"

On the way home I caught a ride in a new and "exciting" yet unsurprisingly dirty, smelly, rainbow-wrapped advertisement that was the L train. Just look at this wonderful scene. The holiday busy season was right around the corner too. Yeah, I was ready to skip town.

My friends and I had planned a weekend trip to traverse the ridge across Colvin and Blake's peak as an out-and-back, with a base camp below so we didn't have to carry packs. We'd leave Pinnacle for another time and a longer trek.

I knew it had been a little dry and that I wouldn't have an opportunity to fish any prime small creeks due to the logistics of our hiking plan and the lack of legal fishing access along our route (what a shame. What gives, Ausable Club?)

So instead, I decided I'd finish work early on Friday, drive up earlier than my friends and get a few hours in on the Ausable, figuring I'd miss the crowds due to the cold forecast. I'd then hike in alone to a pre-chosen campsite with a backup plan, just in case. They'd meet me very late as they arrived after work.

Things didn't really go as planned, starting with work not getting done early enough. Then the weather forecast went in a very negative direction, peak-wise. And it was going to be VERY cold at night. The bad weather would bring warmer air and relief from the cold, but likely would block our views. But nobody wanted to reschedule so the plan was on! We all relished the opportunity to escape our busy city week and packed the rain-gear.

When I got to the river, it was a little breezy and the temperature was dropping fast. I noticed this large spider. Is this a fishing spider? I quickly got my 11' Iwana set up and threw my line in. I fished stone flies for a bit, but didn't get any hits. I changed over to dries, throwing on one of my favorite Fran Betters patterns, a "Usual." I noticed my 2014 fishing companion, the Great Blue Heron, in our usual evening spot. He was having plenty of luck...

I fished a few pools in the next photo and landed 2 fish. Because I stupidly forgot my net, I had to use my hands to land the fish and take the hook out. Both fish wiggled away well before my freezing hands could juggle for the camera. Argh.

Then it happened. A work emergency. Someone was out of wine for the weekend and I was a long way away. I had to quickly pack up, get back to the car, and try to create a solution. After a few phone calls and a minor bug-out, the situation was solved. At this point it was dropping close to 40 degrees and windy, and the sun was setting. It was time for a hot meal at the ADK Cafe.

After an amazing meal I drove to the parking lot near Giant and the Ausable club, parked the car and got ready to hike. It was likely under 40 degrees and approaching the 35 degree low forecast for the evening. When I got to the sign-in at the end of the road, there was a new paper sign... can you read what someone wrote in on there in the photo, below... the "small print?" WHAT??? Luckily that's not where I was headed!

The night-hike in to camp was somewhere over 1.5 miles and definitely less than 3, but I lost track. The cold silence was overpowering at times. Then the wind would blow and you'd hear leaves rustling for miles. When animals were near, there was no mistaking the sound... My headlamp is quite powerful, and each time I was startled, thinking of the sign, I was soon easily calmed - I saw deer, a squirrel, a family of Raccoons. No bear. It was eerie... in some ways a harrowing experience, in other ways a beautiful and unique night hike for me to partake in alone. I was happy when I approached the cutoff with the stream-side section of trail, it would mask the little sounds that played games with my head. This is what it looks like in the day time:

I finally arrived at the pre-chosen campsite and was VERY annoyed and somewhat disgusted to discover a hammocker strung across the middle of the side-trail leading into the campsite. You can imagine my further horror upon discovering that some kind of hammock-gathering and possible general mess was occurring back here. Mind you, its now after midnight and everyone is asleep in their various hammocks. Like 6 or more of them. They had hung over all the tent-sites instead of taking to the trees around the tent sites on less flat ground, and therefore this site was out. Not ideal. Why was it so crowded? This wasn't a holiday or prime weekend and it was only Friday night.

I got to the backup site a few moments later with my stomach in my throat... what if it was full? What if a lot of people were out here this weekend? My friends weren't arriving for another two or more hours at least and we had no way to communicate. All was fine, one other small tent and a few other sites for their tents, so no problems. I set up my Solplex tent and hit the sack. Next thing I know my friends were here and setting up. I looked at the time... 4AM. Jeeze. I'm sure I'd hear the story the next morning.

I had to layer up in the morning while filling up at the stream. I love the blackrock gear hats... very warm, expert construction, great fit, and lighter than any hat I've ever had before. While filling up water, I heard stories of many delays from the night before but nothing exciting. At least it wasn't raining, right?

This picturesque, cold and crystal-clear mountain brook actually holds a select few beautiful wild trout. I've seen a few of them "hanging out" in some unnamed pools. Unfortunately, this is all private Ausable-club owned land, and therefore you cannot fish it. At some point there is a cutoff with state land, but likely that upper section is too washed out to hold any fish worthy of spending time hunting for.

We set out on the trail to the ridgeline in the morning fog. Some blue sky threatened to show through, but it was a real battle and the clouds were clearly winning. We ascended wet roots... while it wasn't raining, a fine mist hovered in the air. Mist floated here and there as the micro-climates of the forest fought the changing air temperatures. 

Even if the views of the valley were not revealing themselves, we had plenty to marvel at, with mysteriously flat and moss-covered cliffs that towered into the cloud of fog above.

Then the trail just goes up the rock to another col and an all-enveloping mist...

Soon we were at the top of Colvin and soaking in the "view."

I wanted to make sure to capture the emotion of this moment so I used my iphone's video camera. I hadn't brought my nice camera for this trip...

We didn't stay long, we still needed to get out to Blake's peak and back. We decided to find some shelter between the peak and the col on the other side to eat some lunch before summiting Blake's-peak. Some ants were also eating lunch with us, devouring a tree next to me. Everything was dripping but there was no actual rain falling.

The view from the col, then Blake's peak was upon us.

On the way back we could see some of the surrounding mountains and valley. Lichen covered everything... trees, rock, earth.

On the way back I was damp and tired so I didn't take many more photos. It all sort of looked like this:

Not so bad, eh?

We got back after dark and destroyed a few packets of ramen and whatever cookies we had left from the day. Hitting the hay early was not even a question and frankly I was extremely impressed with my friends having been so all-out after so little sleep, not only with no complaints, but eating it all up with joy. Now that's proper peak-bagging attitude right there. I don't know if I would have been as excited as they were had I come later with them... the extra two hours of sleep was likely keeping me going.

The next day we woke to some sun and the regret that comes along with being on the ridge, peaking, on "the wrong day..." it was nagging me. But is there ever really a wrong day for an adventure, I reassured myself? We were all happy about the experience the day before, views or no views, so I pushed through it with a smile.

On the way home I stopped at a favorite road side pull-off to snap a photo and spot for late-season fish. I was cold and saw no surface-action so I didn't even wet my line. It was more of an after-thought than anything else.

This lonely tree stood as a beacon in all of its grand color on this partly-cloudy day.

The hike was over, fall was taking hold in the mountains, and another few peaks had been crossed off our list. I said goodbye to good-ol' route 73 and headed home with a great feeling, knowing that soon I'd return to another part of the Adirondacks to fish for Native Brook trout in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. But that will have to wait for another post!

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