After returning to the Pepperbox Wilderness in search of a mysteriously missing tent stake from the Birdathon just weeks earlier, which metamorphosed into a reconnaissance trip into the nearby Five Ponds Wilderness, the urge to explore somewhere new is overwhelming. It has been a while since I got this feeling, the last time being when I journeyed to Isle Royale National Park by myself way back in 2011.
Luckily, the New York State voters provided me with an idea of where to go. In late 2013, a proposal 5 to amend the State Constitution was passed by a narrow margin, allowing NYCO Minerals, Inc. to take possession of Lot 8, a remote section of the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area, to extend their current wollastonite ore mine. Tree cutting should soon commence to allow for the exploration of wollastonite, and if found, the entire area will be converted from a lovely mature forest into a large, deep pit.
With the area living on borrowed time, exploring and recording what I see for prosperity’s stake (or just my own amusement) seems like it is now or never for this section of the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area before it is cut, bulldozed and blown up. This trip is unique for me, as never have I gone on a trip with such sense of urgency, where life and death are literally in play here.
Date: June 17, 2014
Length: 3.1 miles (3.1 total daily miles; 3.1 total trip miles)
Although, a nearby dirt road provides easy access to Lot 8, my plan takes a circuitous route. Using the Jay Mountain Trail, I plan on hiking up and over Jay Mountain and down into Lot 8 from the northwest, returning via a southern route that takes me over some other mountains and through Merriam Swamp, the only significant water body in the area. My limited bushwhacking experiences in a mountainous region add to the excitement and feeling of adventure.
Even though the drive to the Jay Mountain trailhead is longer than my typical journey, an early start eludes me. By the time I leave my apartment, it is around 11 in the morning and I drive nonstop all the way to the trailhead except for one short stop before leaving town. My single stop occurs at the post office, where I send my Asolo hiking boots off for a resoling after they got severely damaged during my Birdathon trip the month before. Given they are about nine years old, and Asolo is willing to do a courtesy repair free, I cannot complain too much. Emphasis on TOO much.
The long trip becomes even longer when finding the actual trailhead eludes me. It did not help that my directions to the trailhead are lacking, and the signage inadequate within a maze of backroads in the area. When I finally locate the trailhead at an intersection and organize my gear, it is around four-thirty in the afternoon, quite a late start for a mountain climb. It surely does not help with my plan calling for bushwhacking off the other side of the mountain for a good distance before making camp for the night. The overcast sky and the hot and humid conditions just augment my already exaggerated feelings of trepidation.
The signage and kiosk near the trailhead appear new, with the wood newly stained and the yellow lettering bright and vibrant. None of them show any signs of porcupines chewing on them or frustrated hunter’s shooting them – yet. Even the parking lot looks in excellent condition, with little associated litter, as if construction were recent.
With it late in the afternoon, lingering at the trailhead is not possible, and before long, I am setting out at a brisk pace. The trail starts climbing almost immediately, with a reprieve only at the very beginning when it weaves around a few rocks walls, even crossing one wall a single time. The surrounding forest is mostly eastern white pine and northern red oak here, very unlike what I typically imagine for this part of the Adirondacks. The stone fences and the tree species are more reminiscent of central New York, rather than the high peaks area of the Adirondacks.
Soon the climbing begins in earnest, and rarely eases up. The white pines diminish in the surrounding forest, with sugar and red maples taking over. As the climb continues, younger trees emerge as a more significant component in the understory, with larger ones present in the canopy becoming less frequent. Chipmunks are plentiful, continuously scurrying around on the forest floor, their snappy call ringing through the still air.
The weather conditions fail to improve much. The hot and humid air is thick with moisture, increasingly straining my breathing, especially with all the climbing. Moisture saturates my shirt, mostly, but not entirely, of my own making. Much more disconcerting is the darkness enveloping the forest as threatening clouds overwhelm the sky overhead.
Despite the feelings of urgency, my first rest arrives within forty minutes of the trailhead. The heat, combining with the immediate and constant climb proves too much for me, making a short rest a necessity. The threatening weather situation keeps me from dilly-dallying too long however, as after just a short few minutes, I am off and climbing again.
The climbing rarely lets up, with only a few infrequent level sections, or an occasional slight descent. One such descent leads to a small stream, which I cross easily. Spruce and fir trees slowly begin to appear in the surrounding forest now, indicating my increase in elevation.
When I stop for a second brief rest, I notice something present that until now was almost completely absent. Black flies swarm around my head, either because of a nearby stream or the rise in elevation. With the high heat and humidity, I thought they might remain inactive, but I am sadly mistaken. Then again, what is the Adirondacks without blackflies; just another pleasant day in the woods. Who wants that?
As I continue climbing along the trail, evidence of my elevation gain becomes more apparent. Although the sky is still overcast, a steady wind blows through the surrounding forest now, the tree limbs slowly swaying with the breeze. In addition, glimpses of the view of the flatlands (well, relatively flat) to the west are abundant through the trees, which now have many striped maple and paper birch in addition to the typical higher elevation conifers.
At this point, it feels as if I am swimming in my hiking clothes. Not only are my hiking shirts wet (I wear a short sleeve shirt underneath my long-sleeved one), but so are my pants, all the way to my underwear. Not even the steady breeze is bringing any relief, as the air being blown in seems just as hot and stale as that which is blown away. I really should have brought some laundry detergent with me on this trip, and an extra dose of deodorant. A garlic-eating skunk’s ass will have nothing on me by the time this trip is done.
As the trees surrounding the trail start becoming more stunted, I find myself constantly hitting the edge of my boots on rocks and roots in the trail. I failed to notice this phenomenon early on, but with my backpack seemingly getting heavier with all the effort, not to mention being saturated in moisture, my view has become increasingly downward, as if the weight of the world is on my shoulders. If not the world, then at least the weight of Jay Mountain.
Since my Asolo hiking boots are off being resoled after they nearly fell apart at the end of my stake rescue and Birdathon reconnaissance trip, I had little choice but to wear my backup pair of Vasque Sundowners on this trip. Although lighter, they offer less ankle support and appear to be a little bit longer, thus explaining all the scuffs around the toes where they are failing to clear the many impediments imbedded in the trail.
Soon after a short steep section, the forest canopy opens up and I find myself at a trail junction. Here the signs indicate the way to the ridge (leading to the summit of Jay Mountain), a scenic outlook and back to the trailhead. Unlike the typical brown stained wood sign with yellow lettering, these signs are plastic laminated paper ones, nailed into a small dead tree. At least they still retain their brown color with yellow lettering.
The overcast sky has broken up a bit now, with patches of clear blue sky within a matrix of dense overcast clouds. The occasional sunshine just makes the humid and hot conditions even more unbearable. The only positive of the increasing sunshine is my mood, the panic due to the waning daylight hours abates somewhat, giving me the luxury of checking out the scenic overlook before heading toward the summit.
After a short climb over some exposed rock, I arrive at the scenic overlook, which does not disappoint. The commanding view allows an almost 360 degree view, with unbroken forest over mountainous terrain to the east and south, while more low flatlands spread out to the west, with occasional clearings due to human habitations. My current destination, Jay Mountain, stands out to the slightly south of east. The distance to the peak is like a slap in the face, as it seems so far off, especially with daylight quickly dwindling.
After a few photographs, I return to the intersection and continue east along the ridge toward Jay Mountain. The ridge is relatively open, although the trail occasionally enters lightly forested stretches, leaving me with a slightly vulnerable feeling. On the open rock, cairns mark the way, otherwise following the trail would be more challenging.
Despite the clearing conditions in part of the sky, the increasing darkness gives me pause on continuing. Stopping about half way to Jay Mountain, I begin contemplating my plan forward. Not only am I planning on summiting Jay Mountain, but then I need to bushwhack off to the north before turning east and heading to Hale Brook. That does not even take into account finding a campsite and doing all my camp chores before darkness overtakes me.
Given the late hour, the forecast of thunderstorms, and the increasingly dark patches of clouds in the sky, I think about turning around and making a hasty retreat down the mountain. Enough daylight still exists that I can probably locate a hospitable place off the ridge to make camp, allowing for a second attempt tomorrow morning. The downside being, my trip itinerary would need some modifications due to missing much of a day’s bushwhacking.
One thought jumps into my head as I watch the dark and foreboding clouds surrounding Jay Mountain.
With that, I turn around and head back the way I came, admitting defeat in the face of dwindling daylight hours. My first time giving up on my hiking goal for the first time since attempting to summit Redfield Mountain in the winter time many years ago.
Now I just need to locate a suitable camping site.
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