I thought I’d follow up my first introductory posting with a short biography of my hiking/backpacking/bushwhacking experience. Although I was an avid birder (we were called bird-watchers back in those days) since grammar school, I never developed an interest in actual hiking and/or backpacking until much later. I did spend a significant amount of time wandering through forested areas in Clinton, New York in search of birds. During all those years birding, I never used a compass or a map but just navigated by noting the surrounding typography and using other landmarks.
My first official backpacking experience occurred in August 1993 on a trip into the Five Ponds Wilderness in the northwestern Adirondack Park with three co-workers at the time. We hiked in from Wanakena, first on the truck trail and then on the old Leary Trail (closed after the 1995 microburst blowdown, although as of 2009 there had been work performed on clearing it) on the way to High Falls. The second day we hiked up to Cat Mountain and then exited the area on the third day. My preparation and equipment for this trip were woefully inadequate. I still remember the ill-fitting backpack, the heavy cotton clothing, the Timberland work boots and carrying prodigious amounts of dried beans (most of which were thrown off the top of Cat Mountain). Despite the nasty blisters on my feet, I was hooked on backpacking.
I learned in the following months that organizing backpacking trips required an amount of patience and resourcefulness I did not have at the time. It was difficult to get a group of late 20 to early 30 year olds together for a multi-day trip into the wilderness on a semi-regular basis. I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to be able to satiate my desire for more frequent backpacking adventures then I needed to prepare to make solo treks into the wilderness. Therefore, I started accumulating the necessary equipment: a better backpack, a gas stove, a head lamp, a tent, just to name a few. Initially, I went to state campgrounds (I remember a notable trip to Brown Tract Pond where the light bulb in my small flashlight fell out on my way back from the restroom during a pitch dark, moonless night) then I graduated to some of the busier and seemingly more civilized areas in southwestern part of the Adirondack Park (e.g. the Black River Wild Forest).
At this time, I started to collect and voraciously read a multitude of hiking guides (the Adirondack Mountain Club guides among others). The more remote the trail, the more fascinated I became with it. Terms like virgin forests or pristine would stimulate my imagination about giant trees and plentiful wildlife. During this time, I returned to school at SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry which required me to spend 5 weeks in the northwestern Adirondack Park. While attending classes in the Adirondacks, I got a couple of opportunities to travel deep within the Five Ponds Wilderness and I fell in love with the area.
By 1995, I was ready to head off on multi-day backpacking trips on my own. After a couple such trips, I experienced my most harrowing backpacking adventure during July 1995. By sheer coincidence I happened to be backpacking at Sand Lake (the deepest into the Five Ponds Wilderness one can get by trail) on July 15 when a serve thunderstorm struck in the early morning hours blowing down trees over an area of thousands of acres. The trails were so impacted I was airlifted by helicopter out of the area a day after the storm. It took several years to clear the trails and during that time I explored other areas of the Adirondacks (the High Peaks, Ha-De-Ron-Dah, Siamese Ponds and West Canada Lakes Wildernesses to name a few). Although I accumulated a vast amount of backpacking and hiking experience, any bushwhacking performed during these trips was over short distances and in limited circumstances only.
During the spring/summers from the late 1990s until the mid-2000s I worked as a field biologist sampling everything from vegetation to carrion beetles to birds. These jobs required navigating through forests, sometimes in remote areas within New York, Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin. During my limited time off, I would explore nearby areas hiking and/or backpacking. While in Wisconsin I traveled several times to the McCormick Wilderness in the upper peninsula of Michigan where the limited trail system required bushwhacking. These opportunities solidified my confidence navigating via map and compass (or in some cases with a handheld GPS).
By the mid-2000s, I was prepared to explore the Adirondack Park via extensive multi-day bushwhacking adventures. And I have been doing so ever since. Currently, most of my Adirondack bushwhacking trips have occurred in the northwestern part of the park, specifically in the near trailless Pepperbox Wilderness and the southern portions of the Five Ponds Wilderness (where the blowdown of July 1995 had very little impact).
And here is where the blogging of my bushwhacking adventures begins….