Thru-Hiking The Northville Placid Trail In April, PART 2
As we drove from Maine to New York we kept an eye on snow banks and relied heavily on the wonderful and ever bettering weather report. The nights looked to be cold, but the days, perfect. We were excited, ready, and anxious. Fast forwarding a bit, we met Jack at the Lake Placid Trail Head and he shuttled us down to Northville all the while telling us stories about the trail. This made us even more excited to get started.
It was 8 a.m as we thanked Jack and waved good bye. The sun was already warm on our faces as we double checked everything under the gazebo in town, making our last phone calls and talking with the migrating geese that had stopped for a quick swim. While we tightened our shoes and secured our packs we joked about how we should have had Jack drop us off down the road to alleviate the road walk out of town. (Ill never learn to appreciate walking on the road more ever than I did in lieu of this trail). WE WERE OFF!
Walking through Northville and across the bridge, the sun had us stripping a layer inside of a mile. A handful of miles down the dirt road later we got to the trail head. As we read trail signs, we were pleased to know we had covered the last 3.5 miles in under an hour. Breaking through a small patch of snow, in what I think was the wood’s attempt to tell us to turn back, we trekked over to the trail register happily writing our names and taking our first picture to send back home to our families. Day one was clear and gorgeous. The trail was holding up to its reputation of being gorgeous and was surprisingly dry and clear. Then, our first Adirondack initiation was upon us.
Approaching West Stony Creek, we were curious to see its condition. West Stony Creek was in actuality the only real concern I ever had. During my research I read it had the potential to be impassable, especially during the spring when waters would be higher due to mountain run off. Walking up to it, it was all of the 90 feet wide that it was said to be. After a quick search to see if we could rock hop, it was clear that the water was high enough that no rocks would be showing anytime soon, although it was thigh high at best. Undeterred by the rushing water, I started to strip down. Dustin asked me some advice on how to fjord a river, so I gave him the quick run-down. “Unbuckle your waist belt, face up stream, poles down, three contact points at all time and just go for it.” He insisted that I go before him to see how it was done. No big deal. Here I am, all strapped up and I smile as I assure Dustin I would see him on the other side. Two steps later, my body froze in an instant. An excruciating pain shot from my feet directly to my head causing me to come back out exactly where I went in, holding my head in an attempt to get rid of the brain freeze. I gritted my teeth, wanting to swear but lacking the ability to produce any words. Dustin sat in silence waiting for a report. My report consisted of a couple four letter expletives. To this day, in all of my 30 years, I have never subjected my body to water as cold as that. As I stood upon rocks to warm my feet and take away the pain, I had my first moment of doubt. I told Dustin “I just dont know… I honestly don’t think my body has the ability to go across this. I have literally never felt a pain like that in my life, and I am not sure if I can make it.” He proclaimed that having my shoes and socks on should help as I shivered on the shore. Then he tried… two steps and he turned around. Leaving the water while he moaned through his clenched teeth, visibly squeezing his trekking poles to the point that his knuckles turned white. I no longer felt it necessary to describe to Dustin my feelings.
We spent the next hour and a half walking upstream and downstream and back up stream. Hoping that in the time that had passed a tree may had fallen, or the water level had dropped a foot. That didn’t happen, but a mile downstream we found a tiny exposed island. We agreed it would be a good opportunity to split our misery into two parts, allowing us to warm up in between. We did in fact make it across, noting that it took us 3 hours through hesitation, bushwhacking, and warming up. That crossing, at the time, was single handedly the most miserable, self inflicted, trying experience I had been through. If Dustin was not with me, no doubt I would have turned around right then and gone home.
10 miles from the road, totaling a 14ish mile day, we arrived at camp still happy and excited for tomorrow. Happy, although still vocal about our dislike of the creek crossing. Feeling relatively great, we made dinner and turned in, agreeing to wake up early to try and make up some time so we could get a zero day somewhere we felt appropriate.
Monday morning. Having been lucky enough to start a day early, we were sure we had an easy hike and a peaceful 14 days ahead of us. While my teeth chattered I yelled to Dustin from my tent. “D-d-d-d-did you s-s-s-tay dry?” He laughed, replying that he in fact stayed dry (thanks to his new tent we picked up on our way out of town). It had to be 20F, which fortunately we were prepared for, but no less excited about. This cold, condensation freezing weather, would set the precedent for the rest of our trip. As we fought to leave our warm sleeping bags and tents, we persuaded each other with the weatherman's prediction of 70F and strong sun. Which it would in fact be, eventually.
100 yards outside of camp, after our morning coffee of course, the trail drastically changed. Snow was starting to pile up. The signs of a melting winter were obvious. The water was unavoidable as the day warmed up. For the next three days we had the hardest hiking we had ever experienced. With a 1inch layer of ice on top of a foot or more of snow, covering the sub-freezing mountain run offs, the hiking was treacherous and slow. The first few times we broke down through the ice, we did not have much of a worry. However, at the end of the day, we could feel our inside ankles hitting the ice as we went down through. Each time, the feeling growing intensely worse, as if someone was hitting our ankles with baseball bats every second or third step. Upon breaking through, our feet would be met with the frigid temperatures of running water and you could see the water lines mid-thigh on our pants.. Stepping back up onto the melting, mealy, loose snow was actually a treat from the freezing cold. Walking atop the ice literally felt warmer than the water on our dripping wet feet. Stopping every half of a mile to warm our feet for a moment, the pain eventually turned into numbness.
It was somewhere around the half day mark we got concerened. We had been walking since sun up and we had not made it 5 miles yet. The trail was becoming deeper, wetter, and less marked. We periodically had to stop, pull out our map, and reroute our way through blow downs and pond sized puddles that looked to be waist deep. We started to worry about not getting in our mileage when we remembered that since we had started a day early AND made up a couple miles on day one, we had the ability to stop some 6ish miles in and still be ultimately on schedule. We opted to do exactly that, struggling with frozen toes for the next couple miles to camp. Sadly the next couple miles would take us the rest of the day and we would arrive at camp less than pleased.
Waking up the following day, we found our shoes had completely frozen. Our gaiters welded with ice to the steps of our lean-to. The condensation on our tents literally hanging in icicle form. After an hour of roasting our clothes and shoes over our stoves, they were pliable enough to at least get on our feet. Though they lacked traditional shoe comfort, warmth, and appropriate support for another mile until they had melted completely. (Interestingly enough, this issue proposed my hiking partner’s trail name. Upon drying his socks, Dustin as he was once known, would inadvertently catch them on fire. He literally melting the toes off of them simultaneously. From then on, he was known as ‘HOT SOCKS’) Two days in a row we put in 10 hour days, only stopping to warm our toes, change our socks, and grab a bite to eat. No matter how hard we tried we were not able to cover more than 5 miles each day. I pondered how it was even possible to hike at half a mile per hour without making some sort of bionic man intro slow motion joke. I am used to my small days being 10 miles, my bigger ones at 30+ and over 10000’ of elevation change for the day. I just could not fathom this.
Not to bore you, our hike continued like this until we got to our first Hamlet, only to send us another 10 miles down the road to the next town. We desperately wanted a cheeseburger and hotel. Rejuvenated with clean laundry, 6 days’ worth of food, full bellies and somewhat warm feet we continued on. Sadly, the conditions hadn’t changed.
This continues on for quite some time and it was around mile 60, the end of week one, that a pre-existing achilles issue imposed itself. Having been familiar with the issue, I knew if I did not manage it with a fair pace now, that it would rupture and cause more of an issue than that creek ever could have. Turns out… it did rupture, but my foot was far too cold to notice the pain at the time, only giving me a slight discomfort and creaking noise. Mornings were painful, but it always seemed to become more manageable inside the first mile or two.
Having been humbled, cold, and miserable for more than a week we both sat in defeat in a lean-to outside of Long Lake. We shook our heads as we hesitantly agreed that this was no longer fun. As a matter of fact it had not been fun for a couple days. The idea that what was ahead could not be worse than what was behind, kept us moving in hopes that it would get better. It never did.
At 100 miles, as we sat for what would be our last dinner. There was no way we were going to make our cutoff date. I also realized at this time that two of my toes were changing color and that in hindsight, they had been numb for a few days. Our ankles were swollen to the size of lacrosse balls, black and blue from the blunt impact of the ice. The never ending water logged shoes reassured our feet stayed consistently wrinkled from start to finish. The pain in my achilles growing substantially every morning until it froze again. I had blown up both of my carbon fiber poles, not allowing me to take any weight off of my feet during the relentless routine of breaking through the surface. The NPT had won.
Don’t Leave Home Without Them
Below you will find a list of absolute essentials for hiking the Northville-Placid Trail. The word “essentials” an arguable one of course, so these are must have items.