Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Hot Dog Hike

(deviled eggs ready to take to the picnic)

The hikes that John Antonio leads for the Albany Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club are legendary, none more so than his annual "hot dog hike."   In recent years, I have gone on one of John's outings each winter.  As I read through this winter's listings, I instantly signed up for his hot dog outing.

(12 people, 4 cars, and lots of supplies)

I knew that everyone brought something, so I offered to make deviled eggs. To carry them safely, I needed a pack with a square-bottomed pocket for two egg cartons, each holding 12 halves of eggs.  Rummaging in my basement, I found my old Kelty pack, perfect with its angular frame. 

As we arrived at the trailhead, picnic supplies were divvied up: wood for a fire, charcoal for the grill, the grill itself, and more. Since I had lots of empty space in my pack, I took two small pieces of wood, and the bag of charcoal.

Then I saw Marie, who had a mystery package in her hand.  "It has to be held flat," she said.  She planned to carry her package for three and a half miles in her hand.  It fit perfectly in my pack on top of the charcoal. 

(See Marie's package on top? Newer packs have cylindrical bags.)

John has chosen a variety of locations for his hike over the years. This one particularly appealed to me -- a hike to two ponds in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness. With a forecast for temperatures in the 30s, John had written in his email, "Layers, layers, layers is the way to go. Remember it takes a bit of time for the grill to heat up and you want to be warm when we actually start to chow down."

We started hiking at a good clip, our microspikes allowing us to grip the groundcover of light snow and ice with ease. Before long, everyone shed their heaviest layers of clothing. Lighter hats, mittens and jackets came out of packs, while others were rolled up and stashed away inside.

(John read about Ragged Mtn. from Barbara McMartin's guide book)

Rugged rock cliffs came into view on a hillside behind the trees.  John took out his old Barbara McMartin trail guide and read to us about Ragged Mountain.  Our trail would go around the base of the mountain rather than up and over its rock face. "Not to be climbed in winter," advised Barbara.  John's instincts as a retired teacher were put to good use for our benefit, not that any of us planned to climb rocks today.

(Ragged Mtn. through the trees)

Before long we reached Tubmill Marsh, where a mill once stood that made wooden shoe-nails.  It was hard to imagine the activity that once took place here.

(Serene Tubmill Pond)

A leanto at the marsh displayed carved writing from as far back as the 1930s.  Tom, a leader for Lean2Rescue, studied the condition of the structure.  "It needs a new roof," he said.  By summer, he would have a group of volunteers in here with him to repair this leanto for another few decades.

(No cracks for black flies to get through!)

We were interested in the structure that had lasted here for at least 80 years.  "This one was well-built," Tom said.  He put his hand up to the logs and added, "The logs should be so tight that a black fly can't get through."  These certainly looked very tight.  Then he laughed and said, "Of course the entire front of the leanto is open."  For sure! Blacks flies didn't have to worry about squeezing between logs to feast on campers!

If the weather had been bad, we might have stopped here for our picnic, but today was fine, and it was still early in the day so we continued on.

(Seriously, they know where they are going!)

When we came to a trail junction, John took out his map to show us our direction, and to point out the gradual elevation marked by topographical contour lines.  Our destination was Lilypad Pond.

Rock Pond Brook bisected our route. With this winter's warm temperatures, little ice had formed.  We debated whether our microspikes were a help or a hindrance, but we all kept them on and crossed safely, without accidentally slipping into frigid water. 

(Marie decides which rocks to hop)

We passed small Honey Pond, abundant with evidence of wildlife. Moose had left tracks in the snow, and beavers had been very busy working on these large trees.  What striking evidence of chewing! Eventually, these trees would fall, and the beaver would break off all of the smaller and mid-sized branches for their homes and dams.  This part of the forest would open into a sunlit meadow of berry bushes and shrubbery until trees once again filled the space.

(Beavers have worked hard here)

After a couple hours of hiking, we reached Lilypad Pond, its leanto and stone fire circle.  Let the festivities begin!

We emptied our packs of their provisions and treasures.  John pulled out his chair and the grill, took the charcoal I had carried, and started a cooking fire. In minutes he had the coals lit and heating.

(Happy cook, with his grill and camp chair)

A few people had brought wood from home for a warming fire.  This was not their first rodeo!  Although it was my first, John has offered the hot dog hike for eight years. Only one person had been on all of the trips. Most had participated a few times.  They regaled us with previous years' temperatures and adventures.  Last year, when we had lots of snow and cold weather, near zero temps had been only for the stalwart.  I was glad that this day was a comfortable 34 degrees.

(Tom works on the fire)

To tide us over while we waited for the real food, a spread of munchies, including my eggs, lay before us on the leanto floor.  Chips of all kinds, dips, and other snacks took the edge off our hunger.

(Everyone brought something to share)

Oh, and what was that?  beer? and wine?  Sure enough, Dale's Pale Ale made an appearance, as did small personal-sized boxes of chablis.  Shouts of enthusiasm arose!  Clearly, nothing had been forgotten.

(A toast to another year of the Hot Dog Hike!)

While we waited for the grill to reach cooking point, we walked down to Lilypad Pond.  It felt very remote.  A couple of us had considered carrying ice skates to use here.  In the end, we decided that, this year, ice was not trustworthy anywhere, even here, and had left our skates at home.  Water lapped the edge of the pond, and the ice had the murky white color of a softer surface, not hard, clear ... or safe.

(We checked out Lilypad Pond)

Just around noon, the sun came out.  What a treat!  It filtered through the trees, crossed the pond, and felt bright and warm, complementing the heat of the wood fire, as we returned to the leanto. The fire raged, and better yet, the grill was hot.

(What a beautiful place this would be for summer camping)

John laid the dogs on the grill in a circular formation.  These were premium products from Rolf's Pork Store on Lark Street in Albany.  "Don't let Rolf hear you call them hot dogs," John said.  "These are frankfurters."  And they sure appeared to be more than your average dog.

(Just a touch of toasty black!)

The first perfectly roasted hot dogs slipped into rolls in a hurry.  It didn't take long to devour them, while another batch roasted on the grill.  Louie, Karen's golden retriever, had not been tempted by the array of snacks, but he was definitely interested in food now.  "Poor Louie," someone said, as Louie watched each bite consumed by others. He didn't remain "poor" for long; plenty of tidbits came his way.

(Lori, Karen, and Barb enjoying their lunch, while Louie watched)

Louie is a great hiker.  I have a "no dog policy" when I lead a hike, but I make an exception for Louie.  He never leaves Karen's side.  Neither squirrels rustling in the leaves, nor the scent of other wildlife, takes him from his post. "Louie is really enjoying today, being out here with us on his own," Karen said, remembering the 8-month old puppy they had left at home.

Tom stepped away briefly, and Marie unwrapped the mystery package that I had carried for her.  "A birthday cake!" someone exclaimed.  Indeed, Marie had baked a white cake with lemon-butter frosting for Tom's 60th birthday ... and she had brought hats and blowers.  Upon Tom's return, we joined in a raucous rendition of "Happy Birthday," and blew the blowers.

(Marie sets the stage for a party)

It's never easy to light candles outdoors, but these held long enough. With John's hands to block the breeze, Tom had a quick moment to blow them out.

We began to feel a slight chill, and stood in a circle around the fire. The birthday cake, and Karen's chocolate chip cookies, made the perfect ending to our lunch.

(Do Virginia and Karen's husband, Jeff, look like "pixies?")

Karen and I both poised our cameras on a log, to take 10-second timed photos, so that all twelve of us could be pictured.  Marie said that we looked "pixie-ish" in our party hats. Silly might have been a more accurate word, but, so what, we all sported big smiles, evidence of a fun and festive afternoon.

(Hot Dog hikers 2016)

Then we packed up for the return hike.  We had spent an hour and a half here at the leanto on Lilypad Pond, eating, chatting, and enjoying this year's event. 

The food and camaraderie gave us renewed energy for the three-and-a-half-mile hike out.  John said, "I will keep doing hot dog hikes as long as I can.  If everything else goes, we'll still do this."  In fact, John's hikes throughout the rest of the year are pretty special too, and he would appear to have many more years of hiking ahead, but who could argue?  He was host for much more than hot dogs, and we were grateful.

(Energized for the hike out)