Autumn leaves and snowy knees

Bless the Polish. These hardy people brought to the world one of my favourite trail-food staples: the mighty kielbasa. This packable sausage can be sophisticated when sliced on a bagel (another hiking necessity) or barbarically bitten off when a pocketknife escapes you – or when you’re just feeling particularly rugged.

I mention this because a good-sized meaty tube accompanied me on my latest hiking venture. My friend Graham and I drove down to the Adirondack mountains this past Friday for a blitzkrieg hiking session. Arriving at 1AM the night before, we awoke in the morning to find freshly-fallen snow outside our tent. We hiked a 16 km loop which included the Three Brothers mountains and Big Slide Mt (elevation 4240 ft).

The weather was fair, and from the summit it was clear enough to see the foggy cap of Mt Marcy in the distance.

But as we later discussed with a local resident back in the parking lot, the weather this time of year can change on a dime. Jack, an older gent clad in hiking boots (everyone wears hiking boots here) and a biscuit-beige fleece/cap, had lived in the area for upwards of 10 years and mentioned how spring and fall are the most dangerous seasons. According to him, about two to three people die every autumn on the mountains.

It’s a well-known story. Hikers – often novices but not always – will head out in blue skies and are found days later curled beneath a pine, dead from exposure. Whether they trip and get injured, get caught on the trail after sundown, or simply forget appropriate back-up clothing for when the weather turns sour, it often comes down to preparedness (people usually take more precautions in the winter, and thus the seemingly most dangerous months see fewer incidents).

Theoretically, any of those unfortunate situations could have happened to us.

Graham, who had never been to the area, hadn’t realized that when I said ‘pack warm’, I meant expect winter at the top (on some of the higher peaks there are signs indicating you’ve passed into an arctic-alpine zone).

However, it appears that I take on my mother’s role in her absence, because I’d brought multiple pairs of everything and was able to help him out with an extra set of leggings.

As for injuries, it’s a testament to our sprightly dexterity and pure dumb luck that we didn’t suffer any. On our way down, we got the wondrously dangerous idea that we would run down the mountain, parkour style. Don’t try this at home, kids (unless you’re a mountain goat. Then it’s okay.)

For the better part of the descent, we skidded down snow sheets and leapt rock to rock, narrowly missing ice-rimed trees and roots, always within a meter and a half of each other. Not to be dramatic, but one misstep – especially by the person in front – and it could have gotten ugly.

As it so happens, we made it down alive (… obviously). We got back to the car tired and soggy, but content. The mountain sky had done its work; we returned to Ottawa rejuvenated and ready to tackle school, work, family, the future.

For more pictures of the trip, see here

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4 Responses to Autumn leaves and snowy knees

  1. Alan McKinley says:

    Love your writing. It’s like being there.

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