I’m not sure if you’ve ever taken the time to admire the common garden hose, but it’s a marvelous invention. Tactile, easy on the hands, strong enough to support body weight. I had never considered this range of applications until I found myself clinging to one below an Adirondack summit during a rainstorm.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Those familiar with the Adirondacks might recall Gothics Peak, one of 46 summits in the range with elevation over 4,000’. Like most peaks in the region, rough granite slabs cap the mountain, making ascent difficult even in the best of weather.
In an effort to make the route safer for hikers, the New York DEC affixed a permanent cable hand-line on Gothics western flank – complete with an outer shell of garden hose to protect hands. Though not terribly sturdy-feeling due to the sway of the flexible cables, the system makes the descent of Gothics a bit less tense.
“How did I get here?” I asked myself as I looked down the slick granite face. It was a typical fall day in upstate New York, the kind that brings to mind sleeping in under down blankets, drinking coffee and reading books in a bay window. Instead, breath curling into the cold pre-dawn hours, I had willingly walked away from the warmth of the Keene Valley Hostel with my hiking partner, Hunter. Our eyes were set on the 22 mile Great Range link-up. With 12 High Peaks and 10,000’ of elevation gain, this is one of the most demanding routes in the Adirondacks. Knowing we were in for a big day, we set out on a race against the sun. Here’s a look at the route:
Both Hunter and I thought of Adirondack Park as our backyard. We had graduated from a rigorous year-long training program with Colgate University’s Outdoor Education department, spending countless hours inside the Park. We honed our backcountry skills, earned a Wilderness First Responder certification, and practiced navigation in inclement weather.
We thought we were prepared to handle anything…until we inventoried our supplies about two hours into the four hour drive. Oh no. A map of the area and a water purification system hadn’t made it into my car, nor had Hunter’s rain jacket. The plan had been to travel light and fast, carrying small packs, and refilling water once we reached John’s Brook, which the trail follows for the last 8-10 miles of the trek. For a few minutes, we thought we were going to have to relinquish the goal, particularly in the face of hostile weather.
Even though necessities were left behind, we had one of the most important hiking essentials: each other. While it would have been easy to pick a mellower route, we thought through the situation. Trying to weigh the options, we pitted pro’s and con’s against each other. On the one hand, fitness was not going to be a limiting factor, and neither was food. On the other, the weather was intimidating, and we were still stuck without a way to purify water or navigate. Still, the desire to push on remained strong, so we got creative.
A stop at a local gas station solved the water problem with multiple 1-liter bottles, and a trash bag would provide at least some protection from the elements. The map situation was a serious drawback, but cell phone shots of a map hanging in the hostel gave us a good enough idea of the route.
While the hand-line on Gothics made that descent possible, there were eleven other peaks to surmount over the course of the day, many of which were almost as treacherous. When peering over ledges to study 10ft drops, my mind would rev ahead of itself. What if I slip off this boulder and break an ankle? What if Hunter takes a nasty spill? Will our WFR training be enough to get us out to safety? Will we make it out at all if night falls? In moments approaching panic, Hunter’s reassurance did more to keep me moving than anything in my sodden backpack. Passing bailout points over the course of the day, my competitive drive kept us from throwing in the towel prematurely.
With a bit of determination, a hefty dose of grit, and more than one helpful boost over a boulder or down a ledge, Hunter and I completed the route. Beating the sunset, Hunter and I finished 21 miles of trail, with an extra 2 miles tacked on to get us from the trailhead to town. We were wet, tired and ready for a meal that didn’t consist of protein bars or pop-tarts. Although parts of the trek had tested nerves and judgment, our communication and rapport brought us safely through 9 and a half hours in the rain.
One soaking rain coat, one bag full of empty water bottles, and one soggy hiking partner and I tramped through town, with one last goal in mind: a slice of well-earned pie from the famous Noonmark Diner.