Ten Feet Square

The rain increases. The fire sputters and fumes. All the trees are dripping, dripping, and the ground is wet. We cannot step outdoors without getting a drenching. Like sheep, we are penned in the little hut, where no one can stand erect.


And the night wears on. The morning opens cheerless. The sky is still leaking, and so is the shanty.


There are reviving signs of breaking away, delusive signs that create momentary exhilaration. Even if the storm clears, the woods are soaked. There is no chance of stirring. The world is only ten feet square.

- Charles Dudley Warner, In The Wilderness


In case you were wondering where the blog title came from, this is it: Charles Dudley Warner's wonderful discourse on life in the Adirondacks in the late 19th century, titled In The Wilderness. In it, he touches on subjects including: hiking, hunting, fishing, and Adirondack guides, including Old Mountain Phelps himself. His recounting of a Nippletop traverse is about as magical a hiking story as one can tell, but the whole book is worth a read for anyone who loves the Adirondacks.

The passage above is from a section describing an outing for (presumably) affluent people of his era. They are sleeping in and, presently, confined to a hastily erected structure, a rustic lean-to, intended to last for the length of their stay in the wilderness. As anyone who has spent any time "up north" knows, the Adirondacks are a wet place, and if you haven't come to embrace their eternal dampness, they are a dreary place.

For me, personally, they are a joy. Deep, black, sucking mud, fills the low spots, so deep and dark it stains your toenails if you dare to wear anything less than waterproof boots. If you catch them at the right time of year, the mosquitoes and black flies are horrific. As I have made the transition from slow hiker to slow trail runner, I've spent more time in the woods during their prime season, and without the benefit of DEET, which likes to melt the lightweight plastics we're so fond of. May is decidedly black fly season, and June and July belong to the mosquitoes. You can start to get a little relief come August, and by September they are a sleepy nothing. As deer ticks continue their northern advance, they may come to dominate October and November, but as of yet they seem to be confined to the southern areas. Camp Saratoga, which sits outside of the park by about 10 miles, is overrun with them.

As part of this transition to trail running, I've spent a bit of time experimenting with the alternative bug sprays available today. Picaridin works great until you start to sweat, and then it's useless until you spray more on yourself. Eventually you're so covered in the junk that you walk just to avoid having to reapply it yet again. There are myriad essential oils peddled by a variety of vendors, which work until you sweat, and then they don't work at all after that. (I did manage to knock a dog tick off of me with a direct hit of a spray based on Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, but there's no telling if that was the result of the oil, or just being hit with a spray.) I haven't spent too much time with permethrin, primarily because daisies tend to give me nasty reactions, and I can tell just from a touch if clothing has been treated with it. So far, the best thing I've found is to run faster (not easy when you're slow and running up a mountain), or to just walk and "make it so" with the picaridin.

The Adirondacks are so much more than their vibrant insect life, though. They are beautiful to behold, from a distance and up close. The glacial history of the area alone is staggering: eskers snaking through the Five Ponds Wilderness, a glacial erratic the size of a 2-story house perched near the summit of Ampersand Mountain, and staggering cwms on the side of the Great Range, and the sweeping face of Giant Mountain. (An esker is a snake-like ridge left behind by a river under a glacier. An erratic is a displaced boulder, picked up and dropped by glacial movement. A cwm, prounounced coomb, is a rounded valley on the side of a mountain, dug out by the action of a glacier.)

The natural history is amazing as well: these woods were razed, far and wide, by timber companies and by forest fires. Thanks to conservation efforts, you would hardly know it today. I remember hiking through the Tahawus Tract, on the way to Calamity Pond, in 2004, and being amazed at how open and barren the land was. Ten years later, when I returned, it was a young wood, maybe 30' high in most spots, slowly and steadily reclaiming the land for the forest.

It is for these reasons, and for countless others, that I love the Adirondacks. The Catskills and the Shawangunks also hold a place near and dear to my heart, and I'll touch on them quite a bit. I've also spent some time exploring the other nearby ranges, the Taconics and the Berkshires, and I hope to range further out as time and life allows. Until next time, though, be excellent to each other.