Sunday, September 11, 2016

Backpacking Women

(Denise, Gretchen, Sue, Martha, and Kendra ready to set out!)

Whenever something changes in my hiking life, I rethink my future in the outdoors.  Last year, when my daughter, Meredith, and I finished hiking the 46 high peaks of the Adirondacks, I thought about what we might do next.  Meredith and I definitely planned to keep hiking, but it would not be the priority that it had been, and so many things make demands on our time.

I knew that I wanted to continue to backpack into the wilderness, if for no other reason than to wake up to a sunrise by a remote pond.  I couldn't think of anyone who would want to do this with me, if Meredith were not available.  Then I remembered what I always remember: clubs exist just for this reason.  As a long-time hiking leader for the Albany Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), I decided to offer a women's backpacking overnight trip.

(Setting up the campsite)

The trip would be short but beautiful, with just 6/10ths of a mile of backpacking our gear from our cars to Round Pond.  Included would be a hike up nearby Noonmark Mountain from the same trail that we would take to the pond.  I also offered a second-day hike up Baxter Mountain, for those who wanted to fit in a little more before making the trek back home.

I limited the group size to six, including myself, and ended up with the most congenial, interesting, enjoyable, adventurous group of women I could imagine.  Each of them had a reason for choosing to do this trip.  A couple of women had never backpacked before, and wanted to try it out.  One of them was planning to hike the high peaks, and was considering backpacking in to some of them, as Meredith and I had.  Two others had backpacked in the past, and were contemplating getting back into it. They thought that my trip would be the perfect refresher.  Another wanted to sign up for an adventure travel outing in the West, that entailed hiking over mountains with full packs. She hoped to be able to gauge her abilities by joining this trip.

(Round Pond with Noonmark in the distance, upon our arrival at our campsite)

During the weeks preceding the trip, I sent emails with details regarding gear, food, and specifics.  With six people, we would need three two-person tents and three bear canisters (required in the eastern high peaks area). It happened that we broke easily into pairs. What an absolutely no-stress beginning!  And what's more, our couple of days defied the trend of this hot humid summer with a forecast of dry cool air!  Emails circulated expressing excited anticipation.

We were not all coming from the Capital Region, so we met at the trailhead, where we combined our shared gear and finished loading our packs...and then we heaved our packs onto our shoulders.  There is nothing quite so surprising as the heavy-weight feeling of loading a pack onto your back, or the weightless feeling of taking a big pack off.

(Kendra, Virginia, Denise, Sue, Gretchen, and Martha on Noonmark's windy summit)

The trail to Round Pond ascends moderately right away.  A few people made slight adjustments to their pack straps and became comfortable with the change in balance that an additional 25 or more pounds on the back creates.

Round Pond has a few designated wilderness tent spots, and we checked out all of them.  The first one was big enough for our three tents.  Not only that, it was closest to the pond.  Round Pond did not disappoint.  Despite its short distance from the road, it felt very remote and quiet, surrounded by mountains.

(A panoramic view of high peaks from Noonmark)

Setting up camp didn't take much time.  Besides being light, backpacking gear has to be simple!  We had lunch at the pond's edge, and then set off on the trail again.  This time, we carried little, just water and snacks, as we headed up Noonmark.

Noonmark Mountain is a mid-level hike at 6 miles round-trip with 2000 feet of elevation gain.  The trail is a typical Adirondack trail, built in a continuous incline, in order to reach the top in the shortest amount of distance.  There are a few rock scrambles, and we stopped regularly to take a breath.

Perfect weather and a spectacular view allowed us to see far and wide.  A stiff wind blew across the summit, just enough to cool us after our ascent, but not enough to make us take cover.

(Giant Mountain from the summit of Noonmark)

We returned to the campsite in time for dinner.  Now, late August, darkness would come by 7:30, and even earlier when the sun set behind a mountain.

I didn't ask each person what she brought for dinner, although I was a little curious. I had emailed them many non-perishable, energizing, food suggestions, but I know that my choices would not be the choices of others.  Still, I saw very little peanut butter.  I did see some chocolate, however.  Some things are worth a little extra weight!

(Denise and Gretchen share wine at the campsite)

Bears were a chief concern for the group.  I helped each pair determine where the bear canisters should be placed -- a distance away from the tents, but not so far that we wouldn't find them in the morning, and between rocks or logs, where they would be less likely to roll away if a bear pawed them.  The news had reported that bears were marauding more this summer, due to the drought. Being extra careful with our food was necessary.

(Sue passes the time with a little evening Sudoku)

As darkness descended, we watched for stars.  Little had we known that we had an astronomy afficionado among us!  She pointed out the early bright stars and told us where the Milky Way would appear as the evening progressed.  I brought my sleeping pad down to the rocks by the pond and lay on my back, watching the sky.  Others brought something to sit on, and two women chose, instead, to relax in their tent and read by head lamp.

(Gretchen and Kendra filter water)

What a night for stargazing! The day's clear atmosphere extended into the moonless night.  Stars filled our entire range of vision.  Every few minutes the lights of an airplane crossed the sky. We were surprised to see so many.  Where might they be coming from or going to? 

The night was quiet, except for the occasional croak of a bull frog or splash of a fish.  And we had nothing better to do than to be here under a canopy of stars, "away from it all."

(Evening at Round Pond)

In the morning, most of the women professed to having slept fairly well, and to having been fairly comfortable, an accomplishment for sure!

I was really pleased that, even though the trip had been short, each person felt that she had learned something.  Two determined that, yes, they could backpack a few miles and camp on their way to climbing peaks.  Others had definite  new insights into how they would tweak their gear.  Perhaps less clothing, a different piece of clothing, a change in food choice, or whether they would prefer carrying a water filter or purification tablets.  The woman who was contemplating a western backpacking trip decided that her days for such strenuous hikes were behind her, but have no doubt -- this lady is out there and everywhere taking on new adventures!

(Sue and Martha ready to hike out)

We had our breakfast by the pond, as the mist rose, and the sun promised another perfect day.  This time I saw that we all had meals of yogurt, granola, fruit, or a hard boiled egg, a roll....  Heated food was not missed, but coffee was. No one had chosen to bring a stove. By the same token, no one admitted to a strong desire for hot water being one of the things they learned on this trip. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of people would add a stove to their list, should they decide to backpack again.

(Morning mist on Round Pond)

After breakfast, we packed up, folding tents and sleeping bags. Once again, we shoved and squeezed to fit everything into the small space of our packs.  Then we left the quiet of our pond, and set off for the parking area.

Two of the women headed back to the Capital Region, while the other four of us visited SubAlpine Coffee in Keene Valley.  This cafe just opened in 2015 and what a treat!  We all managed to bypass the delectable pastries in the case, having just had our cold camp breakfast. Coffee was the priority.  So was the comfy furniture.  We would have fallen asleep, if we hadn't left when we did. SubAlpine is a place to keep in mind.

(Gretchen and Kendra have snacks on the summit of Baxter)

In the end, three of us chose to hike Baxter Mountain.  Unlike the previous day's Noonmark Mountain, Baxter is easy and has numerous switchbacks, with just 1.1 miles one-way and 770 feet of elevation gain. We reached the summit in about 40 minutes.  Baxter's many ledges offer an astounding view for the amount of time and effort.  We relaxed on the summit through the mid-morning, bringing our overnight getaway to a pleasing closure.

(Views from Baxter are beautiful)

This outings was certainly one of the highlights of my summer.  Offering an overnight trip in the woods to a group of ADK participants had been a little out of my comfort zone, yet everything had gone wonderfully. I learned that it's not hard to find women who want to backpack, or who at least want to give it a try.  I am already mulling over ideas to offer next year, but, for now, I am very happy with my memories of this year's adventure.

(Mount Marcy and other peaks in the distance from Baxter)