Owl whacker

Three weeks ago we went to the Adirondacks, camping at Lake Harris Campground in Newcomb, intending to hike up two mountains: Goodnow and Vanderwhacker. We did the first but got rained out on the second.

During the last week of August I decided to go back. Question was timing: Last weekend of August, or first weekend of September? The latter was a long weekend, with no karate classes to miss. The former had great weather forecast — correctly as it turned out — versus a crapshoot for Labor Day weekend. I gambled on the weather (and we went to the State Fair on the last August weekend).

Well, it rained. (You may have heard of Earl.) Not as much as last time though; not enough to make us cut and run again.

Heather had other plans. Kenny and I left Saturday morning, early, hoping to get our first hike out of the way before any rain arrived. We arrived at the trailhead for Owl’s Head Mountain, near Long Lake, at about 10:30 am. Owl’s Head is an easy climb: 3.1 miles each way, 1150 foot ascent to a summit at 2780 feet. There’s a fire tower at the top, restored for use by hikers. Guide book says it takes three and a half hours.

We took about six. Partly that was because Kenny was having trouble getting his mountain game on. Our pace was slow, with a lot of rests. Partly it was because we spent over an hour and a half at the top. We always spend longer than it feels like. Besides lunch, there was the tower to climb and several benchmarks and a geocache to find. There were a couple more geocaches on the way down, too.

Still, the forecast rain held off until we were done, just: it started raining after we’d gotten in the car, but before we left the trailhead parking lot.

An early-ish dinner at the Adirondack Hotel in Long Lake, where we’d eaten once in 2008, seemed like a good idea to me. And to about 970 other people, judging by the cars in the parking lot and all up and down both sides of the street. A nearby pizza and deli were closed, and another restaurant looked full, and that was about it for Long Lake. I knew there was nothing in Newcomb or anywhere in between, so we headed 20 miles in the other direction to Tupper Lake, where we ended up at Tyler’s New York Pizzeria. A real dive, but our pizza was good.

What with all that, it was getting dark when we finally arrived at the campsite. The rain had stopped about five minutes earlier. We put up the tent by headlights, built a fire and roasted marshmallows, and went to bed. The stars were out.

Sunday morning I woke to more rain, sigh, but it ended early. We had breakfast and headed for Vanderwhacker. The trail there is a little shorter, 2.7 miles each way, but the ascent is 1650 feet to a summit at 3385 feet. Most of that ascent is in the last half of the distance. So: steep. The book says five hours. Only one geocache on the mountain, but several benchmarks, and an observation tower with a good view of the high peaks to the north.

I cannot recommend driving a Prius to the Vanderwhacker trailhead. Really not. It’s on Moose Pond Way, two and a half miles of the worst road I’ve ever tried to drive on: dirt and gravel studded with rocks poised to eat transmissions. Somehow we made it in and out with no evident damage to the car. We averaged maybe 7 or 8 MPH. (The really weird part was when we left, turning off Moose Pond Way and onto Route 28N. Driving 55 MPH on a smooth paved road, with my brain still in GO REALLY REALLY SLOW AND STEER AROUND ANYTHING IN THE WAY mode, felt all wrong.)

We started up the trail at about 8:45 am. The forecast said there might be a little rain, but it didn’t sound too serious. So even if we took, say, eight hours, we’d be fine, and I told Kenny so. But Kenny was a good deal more gung ho that day. I was surprised to reach the observer’s cabin, about halfway along (in distance, not ascent), in 45 minutes or so. Then came the hard part, but even that we were able to blast through fairly readily. We reached the summit only a little after 11:00.

A few minutes later, so did the rain.

By the time I got around to climbing the tower — after lunch — the rain was coming down, the clouds had rolled in, and the view was of a whole lot of white. Bit of an anticlimax, then. We did find two of the benchmarks — one dating from 1880 — and one of the reference marks associated with the third. That third benchmark, or its stem or drill hole if it had been destroyed, should have been easy to locate, but I couldn’t find it, nor the other reference mark. As for the geocache, we didn’t even look; we were getting wet, we were cold, we were more than ready to get off the summit. So we did, just before noon. Of course the rain stopped soon after. Kenny kept leaving me in the dust, or rather the mud, on the descent, and we reached the trailhead at 1:45, right on the five hour mark per the book. That left lots of time to look for a geocache (it wasn’t there, but a letterbox was) and a benchmark on the way back to camp. Then we set up a rain shelter for our picnic table, played some Icehouse games, cooked dinner, read, and went to bed. By which time it was, wait for it, raining again.

Monday morning was cold, but the rain had stopped. I’d pondered things to do but in the end decided to have a leisurely breakfast, load up the car, and head for home. Two more geocache stops on the way (found one), lunch in Rome, and we got home in mid afternoon.

Good weekend. Next year maybe a high peak? We may be ready for something harder than Cascade and Porter.

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4 thoughts on “Owl whacker

    1. True that I was not very physically active in my college years, but I’d been in the Boy Scouts right up through the end of high school and went on plenty of hikes and campouts; I also had good memories of climbing Blue Mountain in the Adirondacks with my father. And in 1981 I went backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park for about 3 days with, believe it or not, David Wolff. I think the inclination’s always been there, just not always acted upon.

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