It has been over two decades since “The Trip,” and yet I still quiver with a mere memory of it. Although I retain fond memories of the journey, my heart begins to palpitate as I put these words on paper. It’s likely a case of mind over matter.
The Trip occurred in the early days of my career as a guide. It began innocently enough, with a request from an old friend who asked if I would be willing to guide a group of aspiring Adirondack ‘46ers. They were concerned with a proposed plan to knock off three trail-less peaks in a single day, including a round trip of more than 20 miles, over wet and muddy trails.
My friend assured me, the ladies were all in good shape, and they had aspired to become members of the fabled Adirondack '46ers, an organization of outdoor enthusiasts who have climbed all of the High Peaks.
Their plan was to climb Panther Mountain, Santanoni Peak, and Couchsachraga Peak, located in the southern reaches of the High Peaks Wilderness Area.
Santanoni, the highest of their proposed peaks at 4,607 feet, is believed to have been named after the Abenaki pronunciation for Saint Anthony, a common term among the French traders and missionaries who once traveled the region. By the time the group eventually reached the mountain summit, I was busy doing some praying of my own.
Couchsaraga, which is considered a High Peak despite an elevation of only 3,820 feet, draws its name from an Algonquin term which roughly translates as “dismal wilderness.” By the end of The Trip, it was a most appropriate description for a guide’s view of the hill.
Panther Mountain’s moniker speaks for itself, and although its elevation is listed at 4,442 feet, it proved to be the easiest of the batch.
After meeting at the trailhead in Tahawus, we began The Trip. In my eagerness to prove the worthiness of hiring a guide, I offered to carry the necessary supplies. I instructed the ladies, “Just toss it all in my packbasket.”
As directed, they stuffed gear into the old basket, and as a group, we happily set off. Almost immediately, I was surprised by their pace of travel.
After hiking several miles along an old road, we turned off onto the hiking trail to Bradley Pond. None of the ladies appeared to be the slightest bit winded, and they seemed to all have a noticeable bounce to their step.
In contrast, I was already reeling from the weight of the pack, as sweat dripped off my nose like a leaky faucet.
Soon, the trail narrowed, but after transitioning to single file, they returned to their steady, ground-eating pace. In short order, we reached the turnoff for the herd path, which is located a short distance from the Santanoni Lean-to. Glancing at my watch, I was shocked to realize we covered the distance so swiftly.
I simply couldn't understand how the ladies managed such a pace. I was in good shape, and nearly half their age, and yet, I was already spent.
After leaving the marked trail, we crossed a beaver dam and began a steep bushwack along an old ore bed. The route was direct, and it often required hand-over-hand climbing, and rock hopping along the streambed.
Previous travelers had created tunnels through the spruce thickets, and these paths often dead ended, or led to further intricate and intertwined labyrinths which went nowhere.
Finally, we reached the level ground between Panther and Santanoni, known as Times Square. The area provides an intersection for the routes connecting the three peaks. We decided to head straight on to Couchsaraga, and double back before enjoying some lunch.
In just 10 miles of travel, my pack had seemingly increased tenfold in weight. I considered leaving it behind at Times Square, but I lugged it along for fear that mice, squirrels or some other critter would pilfer our foodstocks.
After tackling the steep up and down route to Couchsaraga, the group took a few photos and we promptly returned to Times Square for lunch. To my relief, one of the ladies had pulled up lame with a twisted ankle.
“Thankfully, St. Anthony was listening,” I mumbled while panting for breath, “That should slow the pace a bit!”
Unselfishly, I offered to forsake the jaunt to Santanoni, in order to care for the young lady, and to have a moment of rest. The others agreed with my offer, and they promptly took off toward Santanoni at a steady clip.
I began taping up the suspect ankle, and soon we decided to test it with a slow stroll to nearby, Panther Peak. Surprisingly, I managed to keep pace with the wounded one, and my mind raced with thoughts of spraining a few more ankles.
After returning from Santanoni, the group regrouped and amid much laughter, the friendly banter began anew. I offered up fresh drinks for everyone, as part of my ongoing efforts to shed weight. Fortunately, I had some takers.
After a quick lunch, we again hiked to the summit of Panther for a short visit, and soon I announced it was time for the departure. With no sign of fatigue, the ladies took off as if shot from a cannon, and the banter never let up.
They stayed on my heels like bubble gum on a hot day. for the entire return trip. They were pushing me along. Finally, with the truck in sight, I staggered to deposit my tattered carcass on the tailgate. Shedding the pack offered a huge relief. I felt as if I was ready for lift-off.
I covered my recovery efforts by redistributing the gear. Out of my pack came a wide assortment of jackets, windbreakers, water bottles, socks, bags of Gorp, First-Aid supplies, a small tent, a down mummy bag and a portable stove. In an instant, a yard sale had appeared on the tailgate, and just as soon, it was scooped up.
As the assembly began to disassemble, I pronounced the day a complete success, despite the twisted ankle, and a few nasty scratches.
And, I sheepishly mentioned how impressed I was with the entire crew, explaining, “I'm not used to having company all day long. It seems I’m always waiting for people to catch up! I am thoroughly impressed, you folks were nipping on my heels all the way!”
Mischievous smiles slowly appeared, and laughter began as their impressive athletic resumes were revealed.
“Oh! Maybe we should have told you…” Then the finger pointing began, “She’s currently ranked as one of the top 10 marathoners in the nation. And she's a two time national champion in the 10,000 meter, and she won the US Track and Field Nationals for her age group...and she owns the US record for...”
Humbled by the company of such talented athletes, I attempted to explain the deep shade of red that was rapidly overtaking my pale complexion, was a result of overheating. For some strange reason, I don’t think they believed me.
Occasionally, I’ll run into one of the culprits at the Post Office, or the grocery store. And they always ask if I’m still up for another “Quick Trip.” My standard response is to make the sign of a cross, with two fingers and slowly back away.