Mountain Day at Camp Abbensen has come and gone, marking the halfway point of Intercamp. I can describe the past week or so as nothing short of a rollercoaster ride, simply because of how much is asked of each leader at the camp. Camp Dudley has a model that is relatively sustainable for an entire summer; Abbensen does not. But because of the intensity of being a leader here, the teamwork and camaraderie among our leadership group is unique and special. Sure, there are moments when all I wish for is to simply coach a soccer match instead of having to learn a plethora of new extravaganza style games and take on different roles two or three times a day, but it is also refreshing to not always know what to expect each day.
My highlight so far was the “hike.” Three days off campus – two walking through farmlands and tiny villages, and the middle day paddling the Leine River. Everything was flat, except for the swamp on the first day, which was probably at a negative elevation. It was a far cry from the Adirondack hikes I am used to doing through Dudley. Still, it is a unique way to see Germany, and for me, I was actually revisiting places I had already traversed, because I did the same trip eight years ago. I remembered the swamp, the lake where we stopped for ice cream, the campsite locations, and all the rest.
Being out and about, especially with a few Dudley guys to chat with on the canoe segment, we did a lot of reflecting on differences between Germany and back home. For me, the single most frustrating difference has been the food. Bread, bread, and more bread. As someone who limits my gluten intake most of the time, I have struggled a bit with energy level and feeling healthy, and I attribute most of that to the bread at every meal. Nothing epitomizes Germany’s love of bread more than their campfire tradition: not S’mores or hot dogs, but “stick bread.” One wraps dough around a stick and bakes it over the open fire. Despite how sick I was of eating bread, the end result was actually pretty cool, and tasty too.
I know that the second week of camp, which is week three of being in Germany, will fly by. Soon we will be leaving Hannover for the round trip. But for now, I am loving that I was “thrown into the deep end” here at Abbensen. With a little flexibility on my part, it has been an exhilarating challenge trying to float.
Big, Bold, and Beautiful: The Boys Take the West Coast
I have safely returned from a whirlwind road trip on the West Coast. Though traveling finally got the best of me during my return flight home, each day during the trip presented innumerable sights to see, new adventures to take on, and well-deserved opportunities for the six of us to enjoy this unique, fleeting moment in life as we transition from college to the real world.
We all took different paths to get to where we are today, and that was epitomized by the various locations that the six of us came from and departed to. Nathan had been in Peru two days before launching the trip, Hank was on his way to Hawaii afterwards, and Alex was meeting his family in Vancouver. I am off to Germany in a week. We will all settle into different cities – Boston, New York, Washington D.C. – to begin jobs over the course of the summer. But for one week, we were all together on a grand adventure.
In total, I saw two iconic American cities, explored three national parks, grilled out and slept in my hammock three times at various campsites, and covered nearly 900 miles. I will describe the highlights in chronological order, and between the six of us, we did well documenting the trip.
Vegas was the most superfluous stop of the trip, even though it was the first for me. I knew that whether I loved it or hated it, the twelve hours I spent there would have little impact on overall experience. I would describe it as a pleasant surprise – everything from flying in over the desert, settling into a gorgeous six-person suite in our hotel, and even making a few dollars at the casinos. I can also see how it is such a trap. But the most defining feature of Vegas was the heat. It was 111 degrees when I landed, and even though West Coast heat had been described to me as more bearable because of lower humidity, the high temps hit me like a wall the moment I left the airport. I was happy to be out and about during the night when things were cooler, and happy to leave for California the next morning.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Electing to camp for three of the nights during our travels through California’s National Parks was the best decision of the trip, and two items made my experience truly outstanding: my hammock for rest and relaxation, and my Aeropress set-up for freshly brewed coffee each morning. Though the rest of the crew slept well in an enormous tent, I was happy to create space for myself – be it elevated between two trees or during the early hours of the morning before everyone else woke. Our campsite in Sequoia was on a river that rushed loudly from all of the snow runoff, and the clean water made fantastic coffee.
Exploring Sequoia and Kings Canyon consisted of a series of short hikes connected by an epic “scenic route” drive on Generals Highway. We rose to over 7000 feet on precarious switchbacks, barely wide enough for our large Ford Expedition, to access the Moro Rock trail, and then hiked it to gain 360 degree views of the park. Perched above the valley where we camped, the sequoia tree forest where we hiked, and with snowcapped mountains in the distance, I was amazed that it was all real. That feeling of disbelieve at the scale, scope, and variety of California never left.
No feature of the park filled me with more awe than the giant sequoia trees. We walked through the Giant Forest and saw the General Sherman Tree – the biggest tree in the world. As I learned, it is not the tallest or the largest in circumference, but the volume of its trunk and branches beats out all other competitors. I was most impressed by the immense variety among the giants: some had massive root systems, some sat in dense groves, some had large burn scars, and some had hollows wide enough to walk through.
The scale of everything in these parks, and in California in general, remained larger than life from start to finish. Even driving around, we passed through so many different climates and landscapes: deserts reminiscent of South America, hills like Scotland, rolling fields like Kansas on one side of the road and rows of orange trees like Florida on the other. The largest solar and wind farms I have ever seen. Mountains that will remain snowcapped all summer long. Each new landscape spelled out a new chapter of our adventure.
Yosemite National Park
Some of the best moments of the trip came around the campfire, grilling up a well-deserved dinner. I attribute my willingness to attempt to cook just about anything over an open fire to my many years at Dudley, where I had regular opportunities to grill out for campers. Plus, any food cooked out in the woods just tastes better.
We grilled three consecutive nights, and each time the feast grew larger and more delicious. I got the group hooked on sweet potatoes that we cooked by wrapping them in tin foil and nestling them among the embers, but the highlight for me was chicken smothered in a local California hot sauce.
Yosemite required the earliest wake-up of the trip, but beating the crowds and the heat was well worth the effort of rising before the sun. It was especially important because of the hike we had planned: Upper Yosemite Falls, one of the most iconic and strenuous ascents in the valley. The image of the falls above does not do justice to the scale and sheerness of the rock formations and waterfall. Our hike began at the valley floor, traversed switchbacks, descended close enough to the falls to feel its mist, and then rose again through a narrow crevasse between steep cliffs on either side. In an hour-and-a-half, we were a top the falls. We watched the rushing snowmelt drop 2,500 feet to the valley floor and witnessed the morning sun casting shadows and highlighting the rock formations around us.
Alex, Hank, Nathan, and I decided to push further to Yosemite Point, which was a mile and about 300 vertical feet above the falls. Again, we found the trek to be worth the effort. From the high point, we had sweeping vistas of all of the park’s iconic landmarks – especially Half Dome, North Dome, and Sentinel Dome – and we could also glimpse Yosemite Falls and the rainbow that emerged from the mist.
The descent turned into more of a run than a hike, as we sped around hairpin turns and cruised past tired-looking hikers on their way up. As the day continued to heat up, we were thrilled to have knocked out such a challenging and spectacular hike in the morning and that we would be returning to the lake by our campsite in the afternoon.
After a wild and exhilarating series of adventures in California’s National Parks, San Francisco came as a welcome final destination. We took the scenic route into the city by circling the bay and crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge, but not before we stopped to explore the Marin Headlands and glimpse the town of Sausalito, which climbs the hills surrounding the bay just like some of the most iconic villages on the Mediterranean.
San Fransisco became just as much an exercise in culinary exploration as it was an opportunity for sightseeing. In fact, the two went hand in hand. Half the crew had to leave the night of or the morning following our arrival, so Alex, Nathan, and I decided to spend our full day in the city walking and consuming as wide a range of gastronomic offerings as we could find. Our list included Pork Buns from a street food stand, Sand Dabs and Sole at Soto Marre, a cannoli, coffee at Sightglass and Reveille, oysters, and a few divine craft beers at Cellarmaker. In doing so, we covered a large number of miles and did our best to burn off all of the outstanding food we were eating.
I was inspired by the San Francisco coffee scene, and though it was expensive to have baristas hand-brew a single origin cup of coffee right in front of me, I appreciated the quality and craft that went into each coffee shop and each cup they served. On the other side of the coin, I also loved a feel for the local crowd at The Tempest, perhaps my favorite dive bar ever.
Of all our stops, San Francisco did not quite fit into my “big, bold, beautiful” mantra as neatly as the other locations, but we found plenty of beauty nonetheless. The trip left me breathless in more ways than one: I was equally astounded by all that I saw and exhausted by all that we packed into our days.
I left San Francisco with no regrets about committing to such a wild adventure and plenty of newly instilled desire to continue to travel. I would love to get back to the West Coast and do it completely on my own terms, but for now, I will have to “settle” with a month in Germany.
I am not quite ready to wave goodbye to this month-long graduation celebration that I have crafted for myself, and I still have almost a week to enjoy in Westport. But when the time comes, I will be more mindful of my fortunes, and I will have all of these memories preserved to savor again later.
Exploring all that the Adirondack Park has to offer is, for me, as synonymous with summer as days at Camp Dudley and meals around my grandparents’ dining room table. The first iteration – pre-Dudley – consisted of family adventures to lakes, rivers, and short peaks. Once I began attending camp, my explorations transitioned into organized hiking and canoeing trips ranging from two to five days in length. These were the moments that got me hooked on the ADKs, especially as I began to plan and lead my own trips, trying to impart my love of the wilderness onto thirteen and fourteen-year-old boys. In the most recent years, I have returned to short excursions as a means of seeing new places in the mountains I love. This third iteration comes equipped with trail running shoes and a mountain bike, and I have realized that I can cover more ground running than I had previously thought possible. Though my progress towards my 46er may have slowed, I am getting out more than ever.
Because short hikes are often easy to complete, even on a whim, and still a ton of fun, I wanted to recommend my favorites. My disclaimer is that my excursions always begin in Westport, on Lake Champlain. Getting deep into the western High Peaks region is often beyond a half-day trip for me, so this list is inherently biased toward the eastern High Peaks. Still, I find each selection exhilarating and well worth the effort.
This 8.5 round trip trek is the epitome of what a run-hike should be. It starts easy, with the first 2.5 miles on a dirt road leading away from the Ausable Club towards Lower Ausable Lake. After the uphill “warm-up,” the trail branches off into windy single-track along a river, but because it remains gradual in elevation gain, most of it is easy to run. The final mile of the approach features a short, steep section and a quick jaunt along a ridge to access the view. And what a view it is. The high peaks of Colvin and Blake tower to the left, and Gothics highlights the Great Range skyline to the right. Below, the valley and lakes are stunning.
The most accessible and most summited 46er, Cascade is still an worthy climb despite the frequent crowds. Only 2.4 miles from the trailhead, which is halfway between Keene and Lake Placid, the Cascade summit is rocky and treeless – a rare occurrence for smaller ADK peaks. This allows for 360 degree views of the high peaks and into Lake Placid. But the best part of the hike, in my opinion, is a small flat boggy area that comes just before the final rocky scramble to the summit. It is unlike any place in the ADKs that I know, and when the light is right, it is magical.
Hurricane too short to be a 46er, but it is still a stout test. Whereas Cascade is moderately steep the whole way up, Hurricane’s 3.4 mile ascent features rolling topography in the beginning and gradual switchbacks in the middle section, which all contributes to great mountain running. Up top, the rocky summit is surpassed only by the fire tower – though the climb is the most nerve-wracking part of the entire hike, the views are worth it. Being one of the most easterly peaks, Lake Champlain is visible, and in the opposite direction, the whole High Peaks region unfolds amidst clouds or sun.
A round trip from the Adirondack Loj to Avalanche Lake can range from 4 to 5.5 miles, depending on how much exploring of the lake is on tap. This gradual, highly trafficked trail is wide in many places, which equates to a fast pace, less looking down, and more taking in the views. After ascending through Avalanche Pass, a view of the lake opens up as a sliver between steep cliffs on either side. Across the lake from the trail, the Trap Dyke landslide spills into the lake, and also presents the most precarious route up Colden. The lake feels bottomless, and a swim across provides opportunities to free-climb the rock wall and cliff jump from any desired height. Hikers often pass through the lake en route to or from some of the highest peaks in the ADKs, but the lake is well worth a trip of its own.
South Fork Boquet River
For a multitude of outstanding swimming holes, a hike up the South Fork of the Bouqet River is by far the best option. Though the best spots have undoubtedly received a wide range of names by locals, the Camp Dudley folks have our own nomenclature. There is “Shoebox” right at the start of the trailhead, which is off of Route 73 southeast of Keene Valley, the famed “Inkspot” a thirty-minute hike up the river, and the gloriously beautiful Venus Pools further up the valley. The trail leads all the way to Grace Peak and South Dix, but exploring anywhere from 0 to 4 miles up the river is an epic quest in swimming hole adventuring in itself.