I took advantage of the long Columbus Day weekend to take a trip I had been planning for a while now, the West Canada Lakes Loop. Located in the wildest, least-traversed area of the sprawling Adirondacks Park, the WCL is a ~22 mile pond-hopping loop that found me in the midst of legendary peak Adirondacks foliage with almost perfect weather for my whole trip! Part of the loop follows the Northville-Placid Trail, the Adirondacks' famous ~130 mile traverse. I guess that makes me a section hiker and now I'll have to do the whole thing! I had a bit of time leftover after finishing the loop, so I decided to bag a few peaks and take in the beautiful Auger Falls on the Jessup River after finishing.
On the WCL, I only encountered three other souls - and coincidentally, one of them happened to be Carol Crooker, former editor here at BPL, which we discovered after chit-chatting for a bit. Small world! She was out testing the new Big Agnes trekking poles for Backpackgeartest.org.
I started my trip at 5:30 am leaving my hometown of Niagara Falls for a ~7 hour drive to the Snow Mountain trailhead. Though it's technically not one of the 46 High Peaks (the 46 peaks in the 'Daks whose summits are above 4,000 feet), at 3,899 ft it's right up there with the big boys. Also, since it's in a different region than the High Peaks, its prominence to the surrounding topography makes it seem much higher than it really is. The four-mile trail to the summit is relatively flat until the last mile, which makes for a very challenging final push. As it happened, the predicted rain held off for my entire drive and hike in - until that last mile. When the skies opened up, the bare rock slabs that made up the end of the trail turned into a bit of a stream! By the time I made it to the summit, I was enshrouded in a cloud and soaking wet. I had been looking forward to having a nice fire on the summit, but at that point all I could do was take shelter in the summit's firetower momentarily to change into dry clothes, pitch my shelter on the one patch of ground that wasn't bare rock or soggy earth, and force myself into bed. Fortunately, that was the only foul weather I would see my entire trip. In fact, it would be the only time I pitched my shelter. The next few days, I would either cowboy-camp or stay in one of the 'Daks' hundreds of lean-tos.
I awoke to a beautiful morning and checked out the summit for a bit, and since I was in the 'Daks, obviously I was full stocked with Hawk Vittles meals. I had their loaded oatmeal for breakfast which was delicious, as are all of their meals I have tried so far. My only criticisms of the meals are that the packaging they come in does not make for convenient in-bag rehydration, and if you don't add your own salt the tend to be a bit bland. Not for lack of flavor, just for lack of sodium (so I guess that would be a plus for many folks). I bring a Gladware bowl to rehydrate them in, which works quite well. After hiking back down to the car, I drove right to the WCL trailhead and got started on the loop. Surrounded by the beautiful fall foliage and complete silence, I hiked eight miles or so that afternoon and made my camp at the Sampson Lake lean-to. It was a bit of a bushwack to find, but using Backcountry Navigator on my Android made it a simple task. Conditions around the shelter were fairly wet from the previous day's rain, and it took me a while to get a fire going, but once I did it was smooth sailing for the night. I had Hawk's bison stew for dinner that evening which was hearty and flavorful, really rib-sticking, and an Oreo Cakester for dessert (good hiker food btw, very calorie dense and even if they get smushed their texture remains the same).
The next morning, I set out towards Cedar Lake, my destination for the evening. I had a leisurely nine mile day planned, though early on I faced my first obstacle - a ford of West Canada Creek where earlier in the spring the bridge crossing it had been washed out. Fortunately, the DEC was on the ball and set up a nice, taught rope to aid in the crossing. I took about 20 minutes to bag up all of my electronics and clothing, then got my feet wet. Not wanting to wet my only pair of pants, I crossed in my skivvies. The water was much colder than the 70-degree and sunny weather would lead you to believe. After crossing the creek, I walked through one of the most interesting parts of the trail. There was a stretch of trail that connected Mud Lake, South Lake, and West Lake that wove between boggy, marshy beaver habitat, and dense pine forest. Occasionally there would be a short side-trail to a campsite or fishing beach. I then dipped back into the dense mixed forest for the last few miles and found a nice campsite on the water of Cedar Lake. This time, the ground was much more dry. I got a cozy fire going and waited for the sun to set so I could put my new camera (Sony NEX-5, which even with its larger 18-55 zoom lens fits into the hipbelt pocket of my 2010 Ohm) to good use for some astrophotograhy! I hadn't had much time to practice that with my shiny new toy, so what I didn't realize is how fast taking 15-minute exposures will drain your battery! I brought five batteries for the trip and thought that would be plenty. Heck, I had been getting ~400 snaps per battery. Little did I know that each long-exposure shot would drain my battery close to 30%! I used two whole batteries that night. It didn't help that I cracked into the Wild Turkey 101 I brought for the trip while waiting for the stars to come out, leading me to leave the lens cap on for the first shot! I took a few shots, learning as I went along (the first one came out severely overexposed), then got read for bed. Despite the warm weather during the day, temps at night dipped below freezing and I awoke to a bit of ice in my water.
Upon waking, I packed up and got back on the trail, headed back to my car. It was then that I crossed paths with Carol. As I said, we chatted a bit and started to notice each others' gear, me with my ULA Ohm and she with her patched-up GG pack (Mariposa I want to say). I had to ask - "Are you a BPLer?". Boy was I surprised to learn that she was the former editor here! We traded stories of other close-by trails, talked a little gear, and then went off our separate ways down the Northville-Placid Trail. It was still quite early in the afternoon when I reached the car, so I decided to head down to Auger Falls, a close-by waterfall on the Jessup River that can be easily reached 1/3 mile from the road. I spent about half an hour photographing it, then headed back to civilization for a greasy diner burger.
I planned on visiting a friend in Syracuse on my way home that Sunday, so I had to figure out what to do with my remaining two days. I ended up taking a scenic drive through the High Peaks region and then car-camping on Raquette Lake at a beautiful site just off the road. That morning I drove to Cascade Mountain, one of the shortest hikes to a summit in the High Peaks. It was Saturday on a holiday weekend, and there had to have been over a hundred cars parked along the road near the trailhead! The trail was beautiful, it wound its way up the mountain crossing a few streams. It was quite wet in places but the awesome DEC had strategically place rocks almost the whole way up, making rock-hopping over the mucky parts a quite enjoyable task. At the top I was rewarded with amazing views of the High Peaks and a few puddles to soak my feet in. Sadly, by this point I was out of batteries for my new camera and had to take the remaining photos with my old point-and-shoot. I had a snack and then descended the way I came up. Returning to my car, I made Tupper Lake my destination for the evening. I car-camped on Horseshoe Lake that evening, purchasing a trunk-full of wood along the way to have a nice relaxing fire without having to gather anything. I slept under the stars again that evening, and woke to the sound of loons chirping maybe 100 feet from where I lay.
After packing up my groundsheet, pad and bag, I drove a quick 20 minutes to Ampersand Mountain. Though not a High Peak, Ampersand has some of the best views I've seen in the 'Daks. There is a sprawling vista to the North of the Saranac Lakes, great view of Whiteface Mountain to the east, and you can just make out Tupper Lake to the West and Long Lake to the south. It truly was a magnificent summit. The trail up and down was just as beautiful. After getting back to my car, I headed back through the town of Tupper Lake and paid a quick visit to my friend Anne Fleck, proprietor of Raquette River Outfitters. She was the one who initially recommended the WCL Loop to me, and has set up my friends and I on the coolest trips we've been on in the 'Daks. Finally, my adventure in the 'Daks was over, and I headed off to Syracuse to spend the evening with a good friend.
And now for pics!
The first of many DEC signs I would see on this trip. Actual distance was more like four mile to the Summit.
One of the many exotic-looking shrooms I would see on the trip.
Stream crossing along the trail up Snowy
Encased in clouds at the summit
My scenery for the evening - the inside of my wet shelter
My Copper Spur 1, fast-fly pitch. The only time I pitched it the entire trip. So basically 2 lbs I hauled around that never left my pack! I really do love this shelter though, it's a real palace for me alone, and I've slept two in it with packs (pitched fast-fly)
A typical portrait of almost any trail in the 'Daks. This was taken on the trail down from Snowy, but really it could have been taken almost anywhere I've been in the ADK.
View from the top of Snowy
View from Snowy's firetower
My home for the first night of the WCL - Sampson Lake lean-to
Typical of every lean-to in the 'Daks, users leave items behind to make future occupants' stays more convenient. Part of the spirit of the whole ADK region that makes it so unique.
As I departed that morning, one last shot.
The former site of a bridge, and current site of my cold, cold feet
Lovely fishing beach along South Lake
Along the NPT
This bridge was very long (and a bit wobbly). Lots of fun to cross.
The shore of Cedar Lake near my campsite
Beautiful clear (but cold) evening
Gorgeous (and loud) Auger Falls, on the Jessup River
It was really rushing!
Cool gnarly roots. Sadly, this was the last photo taken with my new camera before the last battery died. All the rest of the pics were taken with my old point-and-shoot.
From the summit of Cascade Mountain
The "parking lot" at the base of Cascade, as seen from the summit
Summit of Cascade as seen from the road
At 12x zoom
Sunset over Tupper Lake
The Droid - both navigation and entertainment! Paired with my favorite luxury item, my 5 oz speaker that lasts for 15 hours easy on three AAA batteries.
Lounging by the fire on Horseshoe Lake
Spectacular view from Ampersand's summit
The Saranac Lakes
Chillin, letting the summit winds dry my sweaty shirt
Typical ADK foliage
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my story and pictures. It truly was an amazing trip for me.