Saturday, May 19, 2012
I’d driven to the open campsites just outside Heart Lake and a little east of Lake Placid. It was the perfect jump off point to climb many of the best peaks in the Adirondacks without having to hike miles with a heavy backpack. It also meant that there was constant human traffic…the serenity was gone. In my condition though, it was this or nothing.
I’d taken Advil and climbed into my sleeping bag after studying the map for possible hikes the next day. I’d assumed I would be out of commission for my planned trip up Nye Mt. It was another absolutely perfect night to be sleeping under the stars, but the aches of a punishing day may sleep difficult.
I climbed from my sleeping bag about 6 a.m. and tried walking around the campsite. To my surprise, I actually felt pretty good. I was only 10 miles outside of Lake Placid and decided to drive into town, get a hot breakfast, and test my legs for a possible climb up Nye. I ordered the large stack of hot cakes…they were larger than the plate…and found that I couldn’t finish them. I made my way back to the campsite feeling almost normal and decided I’d climb. It was a shorter, easier hike and I knew it. I wouldn’t need to carry a fifty-pound pack for even a step and that was a positive development.
I hiked to the trailhead with my 15-pound daypack in about an hour and began the climb on this reasonably easy to find unmarked trail. I met a couple about my age at the start and they were asking questions about the starting point to the trail. They were without a map, daypacks, or good hiking shoes. They looked to be fit, but said they’d be walking slowly. When I heard the man telling his wife to be careful that a log was slippery, I figured they’d never see the peak and I’d never see them again. They just didn’t have the look of people who climb 4,000 footers…more of the neighborhood sidewalk type. And I never did see them again.
It was hot and humid and I knew I’d be needing more than the 90 ounces of water I’d started with. My map indicated that I’d be hiking next to a brook most of the way to the peak so…problem solved. I’m not one to concern myself over contracting giardia lamblia (beaver fever) from drinking untreated water. I will purify water that comes from standing ponds where beaver and other water mammals and waterfowl habituate, but this brook was not one of those. It sprung from somewhere high in the mountain I was climbing and was as pure as water got. I made a habit of stopping every ten minutes and taking several mouthfuls before moving on. It was the best part of the hike that day.
I climbed steadily and without pain for the next two hours and was approaching the peak when it happened. I was stepping over a downed tree when my left foot slipped and my knee wrenched to the left. I let out a scream and tried to bring it back under control, torqueing it to the right and screaming again. I began cursing out loud…I could probably be heard two peaks away…and wondering what I was going to do next. I limped around for a few minutes deciding I had to finish the climb…I was too close to turn around. I walked for the next ten minutes and the pain subsided but I wasn’t kidding myself. I knew I’d increased the tear in the meniscus and would be paying for it later. I arrived at the peak uneventfully…it had no views and plenty of black flies…and quickly began my descent. Even with the damaged knee, I managed to make the descent about 15 minutes faster. I have found that my ascent/descent times are pretty close to each other because I take more precautions on the descent, as I’m tiring. I managed the round trip in a little over five hours and finished it with another dunking in the clear, icy waters of the Opalescent.
I started popping Advil as soon as I returned to my campsite and decided to drive back to the Noonmark Café for dinner, which I ate it with an ice pack resting on my knee. It was still early, so I made my way to Lake Placid for a photo shoot before returning to my campsite to try and sleep. The ache in my knee would make this impossible though and when I finally got up around six, I knew my climbing and hiking for this trip was done.
As much as I love the Adirondacks, this trip has taught me the value of traveling with someone. If I’d re-injured my knee on Allen, I’d probably have had to spend a night on the mountain without shelter. No one was coming up behind me and it could have been a long and dangerous descent. My planning and preparation were hurried and incomplete…a deadly combination…and I know better. Things worked out…as they most often do…but there is no sense in tempting fate. It was stupid and I’ve learned. I’m not saying I’d never go alone again, but I will not attempt a trail less peak without a hiking partner, at least. Johnny Boy…get healthy - I need you.