From Bushwick to Bushwhack: UL Compromises deep in the ADK wilderness

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable From Bushwick to Bushwhack: UL Compromises deep in the ADK wilderness

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    Stephanie Jordan


    Locale: Rocky Mountains
    Wayne Ellett


    Locale: Eastern New York

    Thank you for depicting the Adirondacks as they truly are….tough to hike and yet so rewarding to take in. Friends in the West often laugh at the altitudes as I remind them of the terrain difficulties.

    You show how truly beautiful a place it is to get away and enjoy oneself. The remoteness once away from the Marcy and Algonquin crowds is so refreshing. Camping along a babbling brook and enjoying a campfire; nothing more to ask for.

    Richard Mock
    BPL Member


    Locale: The piney woods

    As a casual hiker still transitioning to lightweight/UL practices I definitely related to this report. I have hiked in the Sierras but live close to Bushwick (Brooklyn) and there is a big difference. Sounds like it was a pretty wet grueling trip. I used to 'cowboy camp' all the time but the emergence of all these tick borne diseases has got me shook so it is netted shelters or tents for me now. I also wear permethrin treated clothes and recommend the same to all. It was nice to read about a hike closer to home, I hope to revisit the 'Daks' again soon. My past trips there were mostly canoe trips but would like to do some backpacking there soon.

    James Marco
    BPL Member


    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Yeah, you had a tough go of it. The trail up to Sewerd was surprisingly difficult from Ward Brook. I don't think there actually was one. Just two or three spots where the actual paths sort of converged. My brother-in-law and I did this after a week of rain. We got rained on twice. You were lucky with only a couple days. It was very wet up there this year.

    It is difficult to imagine a spot where you cannot even set up a tent. Upgrades, water or downgrades…nothing is level 'cept the odd peak. That is pretty much the high peaks, though. By law, you are not supposed to camp above 3500' except at designated camp sites. 20mi a day? That is really a lot up there. The climbs I figured at about 1mi an hour, some less. If you have a good trail, you can make more, but between the boulders, blowdowns, slides and the water runoffs, it is difficult to say when and where. The NPT is a pretty good trail, though. You were a ways down to see the bridge.

    I try to think of this area as I would think of canoeing, and pack accordingly. Drybags for the bag, and sleeping cloths and food. Don't really care if the rest gets wet. Turning your shoe inserts into sandals saves carrying an extra set of shoes. I manage with my UL kit,except for the bear ball. Often, I chose sloped ground if the weather looks iffy, I know it will saturate everything. But, we do use tarps up there. We use bear balls even if they are not required.

    Good write-up, thanks for reminding me how nice it really is, up there. This is rugged and wild country for the most part.

    Dale Wambaugh
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    The forest and conditions are a lot like the lower elevation hikes in the Washington Cascades and Olympics, with thick timber and rough watery trails.

    You made a substantial change in routes. Did you leave a trip plan with anyone before leaving home and did you inform anyone of your change in plans?

    When you left your gear behind to go peak bagging, I gather that you only took water bottles and energy bars. Considering the weather conditions and the navigation issues you experienced, it seems you took some classic risks in getting lost along with a downward spiral of changing weather, no shelter or essentials and no one knowing your approximate location.

    One wrong turn could have been disastrous for your group, finding you in the dark, in a rain storm, without shelter or extra clothing.

    Adventures are great, but there's no need for risk taking like that when you have the gear at hand. Perhaps getting your pack weight down and/or taking a summit pack would help if you take on conditions like that again. Taking small pack with poncho or rain jacket, light fleece and the rest of the classic essentials could be a life-saving move.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Adam Klags
    BPL Member


    Locale: Northeast USA

    Hey Dale, thanks for the comments and suggestions. We actually didn't leave our packs for more than a few miles on the ridge. I agree with all the things you said about the dangers of being stuck alone and without extra gear – we all had rain jackets either on or tied to our waists, we each had a full water bottle, one energy bar and our cell phones. Worst case scenario we would have been a little cold and wet before returning to our packs at the trail junction, but luckily the ridge is easy to navigate, and with the dense forests it was actually hard to lose whatever version of "trail" there was :) We may look like noobs with our less than UL gear but we've been hiking these mountains for many years so at least we do our best to stay prepared and safe.

    In terms of the change in route, we did tell those on horseback, but there wasn't any way for us to get word to the rest of the world. We figured with 4 of us and our maps and compasses it wouldn't be an issue, since we are all very familiar with the basic trail system of the high peaks.

    This was an incredibly fun trip. Maybe I'll do another trip report on our Saddleback/Basin hike or the Dix Range adventure from last season…

    Dale Wambaugh
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    It still sounds like a classic setup for getting lost, wet, cold, and in a life threatening situation. With a wrong turn, some friction in the group, or a small accident with just one member, you could have found yourself without warm clothing, shelter, fire, or lighting. I don't think your trip sets a good example for backcountry travel.

    A few miles is a significant distance and time factor. It is good that you all took maps and compasses. You had rain jackets, water and a little food, but did you have any insulation, knife, whistle, fire starting items, and headlamps?

    Relying on cell phones is problematic and you should be self reliant. To really take you to task, if you counted cell phones as emergency tools, why didn't you call in your trip changes?

    I noted that you did have some dissagreement in the group about your direction of travel. Group dynamics are very important in a scenario like this one.

    I didn't think you were noobs. In fact, many reports of lost hikers reports them as experienced. But you can hike well established trails in good conditions for years without any issues. It's when things fall apart that training and preparation kick in. Having the right gear with you is part of the preparation. Notifying someone of your trip and any changes is considered to be a fundamental by every backcountry organization.

    Sorry to be a joy kill, but I think it is important to note the errors in your ways when it was presented in a well known source for information on backcountry travel.

    John Nielsen
    BPL Member


    Locale: Lazy Mountain, Alaska

    Loved your article and pictures. Bushwacking is another thing altogether. It sounds like you are up to enjoying and progressing with this insanity. I grew up doing it in Washington and have since done it for years in Alaska. Books could/should be written on it. I don't know the ADK, but believe my experience could be helpful. Your pictures present familiar looking obstacles.

    Consider the following. You make reference to following established routes, start doing otherwise for short stretches. Getting off the 'trail' does not produce dead ends, just detours. The forest is very rarely really impenetrable. If a bear can get from point A to point B you can too. It just depends on using your wits and how badly you are willing to beat yourself and your gear. It helps to have the mentality and skills of a football running back. You also need to learn to read terrain and vegetation as an expert.

    You've made a great start down this journey. Most people don't want to go there and it may not be safe or healthy. But……….

    Cynthia Lovejoy


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    I really enjoyed your trip report. I live in Oregon and hike in the PNW. These kinds of conditions are very familiar to me. I understand your hesitation on the trail shoes conundrum. I find my UL Salomon trail runners still to be the best option, but I also take neoprene sock liners. Those really help to keep my feet warm even when all is wet.

    Great photos too, thanks again.

    Adam Klags
    BPL Member


    Locale: Northeast USA

    Headlamps, yes. We carry lighters for enjoyment of other things on occasion so while no fires are allowed in most of the high peaks region, and while I'd be extremely hard pressed to ever light one up there at altitude for any reason, if it came down to survival, I could have made a fire with zero effort. If someone had been injured, we had enough people to carry them and we stayed together to avoid being lost. Fact is I could survive out there with nothing that time of year, and you probably could too. Right down to the blueberries, raspberries, natural shelter and flowing water all around you, nature provides what you need. While your concern is appreciated, its more of a "concerned dad" point of view than a representation of reality. I never go into the wilderness unprepared, and neither do my friends. We are all ready if something goes wrong, and hope that it never does :) The only real dangers we faced were slippery roots and lightning. Things we were constantly aware of and doing our best to avoid. Part of being out in the wilderness is accepting this risk, mitigating it, and enjoying the feeling that comes with it. You can't plan for uncertainty, but we planned for safety. Also, confidence is key and while I don't want to sound overconfident, there's no way for me to get lost in the high peaks. I know the mountains almost all by appearance, I can orient myself on almost any trail there without a compass, and you're never more than 10 miles from the nearest road. Nothing like the risks faced in amazing open western landscapes like the Bob Marshall wilderness or the PNW. Hopefully I can get out there soon enough!

    Michael Fogarty
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    Awesome adventure, through very rugged, beautiful country. The Daks, will kick your butt for sure…..strait up or strait down…….switchbacks….lol…..Gotta get back out there again soon…..

    Jeffrey List
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    Bushwhacking at sub-alpine elevations in the Adirondacks or White Mountains of New Hampshire is MUCH tougher, on average, than places I've bushwhacked in the Pacific Northwest, including the Olympics and old-growth redwoods of N. California. Look up "fir wave" to get an idea. Fragile UL backpacks and jackets get shredded in no time. There is a definite weight penalty for gear that will hold up.

    Ditching backpacks and going for a fairly short summit out&back is fine, I think, when you're not alone and the navigation is straighforward. Solo it's a whole different level of risk.

    John Coyle


    Locale: NorCal

    Thanks Adam, truly enjoyed your article, especially since I grew up in Upstate NY and my dad used to take me camping in the Adirondacks. Never backpacked there, but hope to some day. I live in Northern California now, and to be honest 4000 ft. peaks are called foothills here in the Sierra, but I know how hard in can be to bushwack cross country, especially with the mud, slick rock and rain on poorly maintained trails. I can imagine how hard it must have been and you can be proud of your accomplishment. Keep up the good work!

    Dale Wambaugh
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    Adam wrote, "Headlamps, yes….."

    Excellent! This is good information to include in an article, "we dropped our packs and filled our pockets with essentials and…"

    It doesn't take much, but having the basics is critical.

    As to bushwhacking, I've only done it truly straight up and down. Hard to get lost that way. Dirty and scratched sometimes. And west side low level Cascade forests can be a thick as any jungle with vine maple, alder, blackberry, devils club, ferns, moss, nettles and lots of mud and running water, not to mention the big trees.

    Robe Valley and Stillaguamish River, near Granite Falls, WA.
    Robe Valley and Stillaguamish River, near Granite Falls, WA

    I've been raised with mountains, streams, and rivers for landmarks. People get lost in river valleys here, but I don't know how. You have up, down, and the water goes down hill. The flatter forests of the Southeast sound like a challenge to me— easy to walk around in circles.

    "I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks."
    —Daniel Boone

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