July 15, 2012

Backpacking at Bushnell Falls with Bears

My New Years Eve statement was that no matter where travel baseball takes us this summer and how much time it consumes....I am going to set aside a four day weekend to backpack.  Long before the snow was gone I made sure to take eleven days off from work at the beginning of July.  The first weekend of this vacation I was in Long Island for a baseball tournament and during a break from the games my daughter and I and my father drove out to Smith Point Beach.
On that day we were at sea level and in exactly a week's time we would be over 4,000 feet above the sea in the Eastern High Peaks of the Adirondacks attempting to knock of a few more peaks to someday reach our goal of completing all 46 of them.  My ten year old nephew was set to go with us this time.  He shopped with me for supplies the day before the trip.  He had his own money and spent it wisely...on a knife and a magnesium flint.  I texted my sister to alert her that I had allowed her son to buy a knife and a fire starter.  Brave...she said.  I just wanted him to buy whatever he wanted because I thought it would keep him from chickening out on me.  Turns out he did shed a few tears for his mom when we got to the lean to...but sleepiness kicked in and those were the only tears of the trip. From Him..I should say...yeah so backing up....we left on Friday the 6th at 4:15am.  Not being sure which end of the July 4th weekend would be the busiest at the trail head, I wanted to be sure to get a parking spot at the garden.  We arrived at 6:00am to find plenty of spots.  It didn't take long to get our gear loaded onto our backs.  We were on the trail by 6:20am.  The 3.5 miles to the John's Brook Lodge went quickly.  It is a nice rolling hill hike.  We rested near the brook for about 15 minutes right in front of the Lodge.  My nephew, Kyle had a snack and watched a bunch of butterflies.  He was eager to get to where we were camping.  I was excited to finally see JBL for myself.  Sometime it would be nice to stay there.  I could see a fire going inside and thought that would be nice in the early fall.  With only another 1.5 miles to go to the lean to at Bushnell Falls, we arrived at the site of our base camp by 11:00am.  Bushnell Falls Lean to #2 was right on the trail...as opposed to the occupied Lean to #1.  That's OK.  We kinda like interacting with the other hikers that will go trekking by us in the evening completing a day hike in which they still have a grueling 5 miles more to go. 
fast asleep
what i look like after seeing a bear
  We unpacked the sleeping pads and bags and got out the bear resistant canisters containing our food and prepared a lunch of Ramen noodles.  Too late to climb anything, we decide to let Kyle play in John's Brook.  It is a picturesque place to sit and listen to the rushing water.  Kyle skipped stones and studied the stones too.  The next stone more unique than the last.  He was in his element...the outdoors, unlike many of today's kids.  Over the next few days he amused himself in that creek by rock hopping, finding and feeding worms to fish and throwing stones into the many different sized pools.  On the first night of our trip we all followed the trail to the actual waterfall that the area is named for...Bushnell Falls.  The trail to it was very steep and sandy so on the way back we just climbed the rocks to the very far right of the falls and made our way back up the creek.  Soon it was time to cook our dinner and get it cleaned up before 6pm.  The ranger we saw on the way in told us that we would have no trouble with bears as long as we followed the rules.  No cooking after 7pm and proper use of the appropriate bear canister.  Now, my version of having no problem with bears is that if I followed the rules I would not SEE any bears.  The ranger told us of the bears at Marcy Dam bullying campers until they give up their food, which a family did the night before.  This causes the bears to become nuisances.  Oh..and that family was eating after 8pm.  Kyle was asleep before 7pm.  I was afraid he would wake up in the night but he didn't.  I went to sleep rather easily at about 8:30.  Saturday morning was overcast.  We were on the trail by 7:30am.  Soon after we started out it began to mist.  Then it lightly rained.  We headed up the Range Trail to Haystack.  It rained harder.  Soon we were all soaked.  With only .5 mile left before the summit of Haystack we had to make the decision not to summit the bare open rock mountain.  This was fairly easy to decide since it was much windier and colder above the treeline.  We thought it might clear up by the time we made the 1.3 mile hike over to the approach to Basin.  Nope, an hour later it was only raining harder.  Everyone we met that morning had a different weather report and lightning was not out of the question so we decided with only .7 to go to the summit of Basin that we best just head back to the safety of our lean to.  We took the Shorey Shortcut despite reports on the adkforum that it is steep and daunting.  A lady we had met earlier said she didn't remember it being "terrible" but admitted she could have just blocked it out.  Turns out that it is no steeper or more treacherous than any other trail in the high peaks.
Slant Rock where we rested before the final 2 miles back to the campsite
 We made it back to the lean to after a 7 mile hike in the rain at about 3:30pm.  Still not a complaint out of Kyle.  He liked to keep busy with the hiking and he is very observant on the trail.  We all changed into dry clothes and by the time dinner was done the sun was back out.  Tomorrow would be a better day for sure.  I hated the thought of having to retrace those 7 miles that we just did...but we also joked that it had been a practice run.  I have to add that by the time we got back to slant rock...a nice resting place and a true adirondack photo op site we met up with a family that had attempted to summit Haystack.  They confirmed for us that it had been sleeting on top of Haystack and that their children had climbed down the slippery rocky false summit crying hysterically.  One mom said they were nearly in the fetal position with fear and had her children not been crying she would have been.  PHEW...did I feel really good about NOT. CLIMBING. HAYSTACK.  Again, it was an early night after sitting by the creek in what little bit of sun we saw that Saturday.  Everyone was asleep by 8pm.
at the lean to
kyle and his grampa at the summit of Basin
Sunday morning's hike started out at 7:45 under a clear blue sky. We had agreed to take the Shorey Shortcut again and by now Kyle was in the lead and finding familiar sites from the day before. He called out that we were passing "lightning rock" because of it's zig zag crevice and another that he called "Empire State Building" rock. He found every toad on the trail and convinced us that it was one toad following us. The views of Basin and Haystack and the whole John's Brook Valley were amazing. I would recommend the Shortcut to everyone because of the views all along the way. We started up Basin at 11am. TOUGH. SCARY. CLIMB. for me anyway. I don't like to scale cliffs and although these are nothing compared to the famous col between saddleback and basin...I didn't enjoy them. I get vertigo as I scale the rock walls and then kinda panic. It didn't help that my nephew was a miniature spiderman and scaled the cliffs with ease...I was nervous seeing him in some of the positions that we were in. He was loving it and even trying to help me find the best route to get my skittish self up them. Thank goodness for the one very tall ladder. The summit was gorgeous but I was worried about how the hell I was going to get back down. I busily photographed my father with Kyle. Although this was Kyle's second high peak...it was his first with us. I was witnessing a precious moment. My son gets so much of my dad because of baseball and I was so happy for my nephew to experience this time with his grampa...doing something he enjoys and is really good at! We got down the mountain easily. I had panicked for nothing. We decided that we didn't have enough time to hike Haystack on Sunday and therefore it would be left for another trip. Dinner took place at slant rock and by 4:30 we were back at the lean to. We had a snack of pop tarts and coffee before hiding the bear canisters once again in their spot across the creek and wedged between some branches. On our final night of this long awaited backpack...we got a big surprise. Three of them I should say. We had all laid down for the night at 8:00pm. I normally look out the front of the lean to if I hear any little noises. Usually, as a I scan the territory there is nothing and back to sleep I go. Not this time. The black bear that my brain registered practically before my eyes even saw it was meandering down the trail right in front of the lean to. I yelled, "dad, dad" and just that bit of yelling kept him moving along down the trail. He slowed up when he got about 100 feet away and eventually crossed the creek where he began barking like a dog. Apparently he was calling to his friend/sibling and another bear joined him from down the creek. My father got up and followed them a little way as they were now in the vicinity of our food canisters. If anything they just stopped a nudged them before moving on. Well, this all happened very fast but now I was the one almost crying. I was very fearful of being in this situation but a small part of me felt a little lucky that we got to see a bear, which now that I am safe at home seems even more cool. I recalled hearing from many hikers that they had hiked for 25 years in the Adirondacks and never seen a bear and here we were seeing them UP CLOSE. Well, my father was calm and said that they ran on by and didn't even stop for a second at our camp because we had followed the rules and covered any sent of food or other items that might have intrigued them. OK...well that was not of much comfort to me at that moment. What was Kyle's reaction to the bear sighting? Ha...this kid who wont go to the bathroom by himself in his own house thought it was great! He grabbed his camera and got ready for the next sighting. In my agitated state I took the camera away from him. I must have thought that snapping a picture might anger them or something...I have no idea why I thought that was a bad idea although he did snap a picture of me right before I took it away...I did not need to be blinded by camera flash while vigilantly watching for more bears! My mother telling us we are crazy for ever spending the night in these woods played like a tape in my head and at that point I was ready to admit that she is indeed right; sleeping out there in a three sided structure wide open to all the bears in the Adirondacks who wanted to visit us was CRAZY. About 20 minutes after the first two toddler bears went by us another bear came from the opposite side of the lean to. I only saw it's head before I gave Kyle a reactionary slap on the back and yelled again for my father which scared this one off immediately. It was long gone before my father could even jump up from the floor of the lean to and yell "get outta here". Now I was totally freaked out. The first two could have been a fluke sighting but now I had seen three. I vowed to myself stay up all night..heck I would have packed up and ran out of there if I could have. Kyle went back to sleep. He was exhausted and must have figured the show was over for the evening. My father sat up with me for about an hour. In the meantime I begged him to set up our tent inside of the lean to. I thought it would at least prevent me from continuing to scan the now pitch black campsite and I planned to be the third deep camper from the front of that lean to inside of the tent. My father would have no part of setting up the tent despite my second whiny request. I started to fall asleep sitting up and finally just laid down figuring if the bears jumped into the lean to after us at least I would have a good case for telling my father that I told him so. I slept from 10:30pm until 3:00am uneventfully which allowed me to go ahead and sleep until morning. The post bear sighting day began at 7:00am. Monday morning...our day to hike out and go home. And boy were we going home with some stories. The bear story has been told far and wide...well OK between two families and a handful of coworkers. The bears don't hold a candle though to the special feeling that three generation hiking provokes. Everyone always tells me how lucky I am to have my dad as a hiking partner and my hope is that my nephew looks back on this weekend in the back country of the Adirondacks with his grandfather as being as big a deal as it actually was. I don't know too many ten year olds who would have weathered all of that with the excitement, humor, strength and curiousity that Kyle did. As for me...I hope that my "built in forgetters" and "euphoric recall" kick in and I will look forward to once again sleeping in the woods. What's a few bears?
ladder near the summit of Basin




the bear canisters safely tucked away

playing in John's Brook

three generations at the summit marker

4 comments:

Vanessa said...

OMG Corin, you should write a book. That was a great story, even though I already heard it from Kyle. He even told me you were so scared that you slapped him. HAHA. I truly do think he relizes how lucky he is and he will never forget this hike. I can hear him now telling his freinds when school starts. The will probable think Kyle is a story teller.

catharus said...

Wonderful story and experience for Kyle!

Mare said...

i agree with V, and i have said it before, you should write a book :) and of course you will...some day. your adventures in the high peaks with your dad is a great inspirational story even now. just think of what it will be to you and others later ;)

Michael said...

Sounds like an exciting trip and I am glad to hear that everyone (including the bears) are ok! Too bad you missed Haystack but when you get there on a calm sunny day you will be glad you did!