T-Lake Falls, Adirondacks
It's rare that we'll go to the same place twice. The Adirondacks are enormous, it'd take a few life time's worth of camping trips to cover even a small section of the 6 million acres within the "Blue Line." This outing was one of those new places, one more small increment in hiking a part of the park that hadn't yet muddied my boots.
Maps are incredibly deceptive. They're just paper and ink, just lying there, not speaking a single audible word. However, if you let them, really listen to what they're trying to tell you, there's a lot to be learned from that simple sheet of flattened wood pulp. Oh, I know, the contour lines are there, but those lines all bunched up on the 2D flatness of the paper map just looks so harmless. A full pack, a muggy morning, and the 3D realm that the real trail travels through have a painful way of reminding me that I'm little more than a middle-aged desk jockey, a weekend warrior.
In this map v. reality mis-judgement I wasn't alone. My usual backpacking buddy was along and had already looked at the map prior to the hike, too, and judged that the trail was "flat-ish." The new-to-backpacking guy (another desk jockey) and his son that were along this weekend have now learned that "flat-ish" is a relative term. We all have our own scale for flatness, and mine wouldn't call the first mile of that trail anything even close to flat... The best part of the beginning of the hike? When the uphill turns into level, and not a step before.
About half way to the falls, there's a lean-to. Lean-to's have a special place in my heart, having spent the past few years doing some work on them with a volunteer group, so we had to stop and check this one out. Didn't look like the roof leaked, the floor was there, but that's about it for the highlights. No view of T-Lake from the lean-to, gaps in the wall logs, roof shingles right at their last few days of life, etc. Anyhow, it was worth dropping in and seeing it. Maybe we'll return someday with some lean-to fixin' stuff ;)
Continuing on past T-Lake the trail is still pretty easy to follow, but has long since been abandonded by the state. While the state can't ban people from hiking out to the falls, they are not condoning it as evidenced by the discontinuance of maintanence. Over the years a few people have fallen from the falls, with fatal results, and the state doesn't want to make it very easy for people hike out there.
Arriving at the falls it's easy to see how some have fallen. The falls aren't a vertical drop-off. Water sort of slides over the flattened rock, rock that doesn't have a sharp, distinct edge demarking the beginning of a vertical abyss. Rather, for every little bit of forward motion the water makes, the angle of the rock increases. Like a decreasing radius turn for you race fans. A few steps forward, trying to see the bottom of the falls and soon enough you'd not be able to turn around and walk back, if you could stop at all. From there it's a 330 foot ride to the bottom, only about 50 or 60 feet of which is really vertical. Not a pleasant thought.
Regardless of the inherent danger of walking out on the falls, the place is beautiful. The view of the valley and the endless foothills beyond wiped any memory of that first uphill section of the days' hike right out of our minds. It's amazing how giant white pines, maples, and spruces look so soft, almost moss-like, on the distant hills. It's all in your persepective. There's probably a little life's lesson in there some where, like looking back at distant years and remembering them as easier and "softer" than they really were... Or something equally as sappy.
When it was time to decide on a camping spot, we hiked up the hill, parallel to the top of the falls. From there the hiss of the water could still be heard as it fell, but it was far from loud. We all pretty quickly decided it was decent music to sleep to.
My camp mates found just enough flat ground for their tents, cleared all the branches, ferns, twigs, and rocks. Of course, being a hammock hanger, I had none of that to do. Darn, huh? ;) A few minutes after arriving, I was putting my pad and sleeping bag in my hammock. Being done with sleeping quarters first just meant that I was on the campfire wood gathering detail first. Next time I'll work much slower at setting up my hammock.
Luckily, a huge black cherry lay where it had fallen in some previous season (not so lucky for the tree, I guess) about 100 feet from where we'd chose to have our campfire for the night. Cherry doesn't burn quick, nor bright, but holy crap does it burn hot. Think nuclear. For the brightness element not provided by the cherry, there was a dead fall white pine even closer than the cherry tree was. Tossing in some of that dry white pine on the cherry coals and I was sure they'd pretty quickly burst with light (and I was right.) A little work with the folding saw and we were "set" when it came to having enough wood layed in for a decent fire.
Camp fires are special. They're a lot more to them than a simple chemical reaction whose output is just a few gasses, some carbon, light and heat. There's something almost mystical, some quality that can't be pin pointed and certainly never duplicated. Food never tastes better than when cooked over a campfire, as evidenced by the bratwursts we cooked over the cherry coals (I always bring enough to share!) Similarly, conversations are rarely as spirited, or in depth, or comedic, or pick just about any other adjective, as when held by a campfire. That campfire was no exception. We'd solved the worlds problems at one point, and later laughed till a few breaths shy of the vomit point, and I honestly don't remember even the half of it all.
Sleep, as usual, was incredible. I never, ever, sleep as well anywhere as I do when sleeping while camping. A heavy downpour woke me, not in a startling way, but there was just a little something about the background din that got me to pry an eyelid open for a second. Come to think of it, the sound of the rain bouncing off the rain fly is probably what flipped the "must pee now" switch. Luckily, the heavy rain let up before my bladder did.
A low, misty fog, spread out on the mountain side in the morning. Unlike most fogs, this one followed the contours of the earth and sort of slowly moved downhill, like a slow motion slide. That sight certainly was a first for me.
Hiking out brought us to one pretty good uphill section, one we'd actaully forgotten about hiking in, and then that big hill back down to the car. We might break the rule about backpacking to the same place twice, and head back out here again when the leaves start changing to see if what we imagine the views would be like would be exceeded by the realities.