NCMC Winter Camp 2003
John Pond, which, according to the Adirondack Mountain Club trail guide, is “a beautiful sheet of water whose lean-to looks out to handsome cliffs in the distance across the pond.” The trailhead to John Pond is near the hamlet of Indian Lake in the Central Adirondacks, whose “rolling terrain and distinct waterways make it a gentle land where the experienced hiker soon takes up map and compass, leaving marked trails to seek out secluded waterfalls or discover those woods-protected meadows that indicate places of human habitation in the last century… The central Adirondack region is a land ideal for backcountry hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.” John Pond lies in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, which means it is off-limits to motorized vehicles, including snowmobiles, and mountain bikes. “Its 107,000 acres of forest have 67 ponds and lakes, 33 miles of marked trails, 47 miles of unmarked footpaths, and four lean-tos.” John Pond was also the destination of the 1996 winter trip.
January 24-26, 2003
Jack Semler, Bill Webster, Jay Tillotson, Tom Conroy, David Frandina, Adam Grenzebach and Peter Demmett. Readers will know the first five names from previous trips. Adam and Peter were making their first NCMC trip.
Getting to the Trailhead:
As everyone knows, the adventure begins long before the party shoulders packs, clicks into ski bindings and heads off into the woods. This year, Tom, coming from Connecticut, picked up Jack at Albany International Airport, where Jack had flown following a business trip in Boston. They arrived at the Val Haus motel near Gore Mountain and North Creek, where they met David, who had driven over from Vermont. They had dinner in North Creek at the Copper Kettle, a somewhat refined place that one would expect to find in Lake Placid or at a Vermont ski resort, rather than in the one-horse town of North Creek. Hours later, Adam and Pete arrived from Buffalo and unrolled their Therm-a-Rests on the floor of the NCMC motel room. Hours later, with dawn fast approaching, Jack and Bill arrived from Buffalo and went to their room.
The next morning they had a leisurely breakfast in North Creek and visited the town’s outdoor store, which had a climbing wall and an indoor pond. At one point, a rain and lightning storm was turned on over the pond. Raindrops fell into the pond from overhead pipes, white lights blinked on an off, and recorded thunder rumbled through the store.
Jack spoke with store personnel about good places in the area to camp, and eventually consulted both the UPS delivery man (what Brown can do for you now includes backcountry recommendations) and a local woodsman whom the store personnel were kind enough to reach by telephone. The UPS guy and the local woodsman had differing opinions, and the NCMC left the store undecided on a destination.
Returning to the Val Haus they packed up while the proprietor admonished them to get the hell out so he could get the rooms ready for the incoming guests. It seemed particularly unfair to rush Bill and Jay, who had not arrived until 4 a.m. All the rooms, by the way, had a sign that read, “If you wax skis in Room’s, you bought the rug.” It was unclear in which of the room’s possessions one was not supposed to wax skis! As Dave Barry says, an apostrophe in most signs one sees in America is a signal that the letter S is coming.
The three-vehicle NCMC caravan eventually pulled away from the Val Haus and headed for the trailhead to a place called Stony Pond. This would have been a new destination for the NCMC, but they were unable to find the trailhead off of 28N, north of North Creek. They decided to head for John Pond instead, and the group drove to Indian Lake and the trailhead to John Pond.
The ski to camp was easy on the packed powder underfoot. The five senior NCMCers used the lean-to, while Adam and Peter pitched a tent nearby. The lean-to had seen better days. It leaned slightly to the right as one faced it, and it was clear which way it would eventually collapse if left to its own devices and the elements. A number of the floorboards were also sagging or loose. But the aged picnic table alongside the lean-to made for an excellent cooking area. Water was procured from a hole in the ice near the outlet of John Pond, a spot that Bill remembered as being the water source on the 1996 trip.
Weather and Snow Conditions:
The temperature was around 10 degrees when they started from the trailhead on Friday, and was 15 below that night. The night was perfectly clear and the stars were awesome. The thermometer reached the teens on Saturday and fell to about zero the second night. It was snowing lightly on the last morning. The snow in the woods was about four feet deep and, thanks to a long cold spell, was powder. Although the trail was packed, the snow was excellent and waxing was easy. In short, conditions were pretty close to what the NCMC would order, although Friday night was fairly frigid.
Food Report Card:
Friday morning in his hotel room, Jay said that he was never going to spend another entire #$%^@#!*+ weekend cooking for the following %^$#@*&*&^ weekend, as he had on this occasion. He has also said after the last five or six Adirondack Canoe Classics that he would not be back the next year, so his declaration about food preparation was only a mild source of worry to his fellow NCMCers, who consider Jay a cross between Emeril and a burro who can bear massive loads of provisions. Jay came up big with his carrot soup and pasta primavera, although the pasta remained uncooked because the soup and primavera were enough. Grade: A+
David surprised the group with delicious homemade pizza with savory toppings that he heated to perfection in the BakePacker. He followed this success with mouth-watering hot apple pie in individual servings. He also brought plenty of gorp, hot chocolate and oatmeal, and hauled in some brandy. Grade: A
Jack brought a wonderful stew that Mary made for him. The ony problem was that Jack put the stew in plastic bags inserted inside Nalgene bottles. Trying to thaw this concoction out for cooking was excruciatingly difficult and time-consuming, and the sight of Jack struggling with the bottles and their frozen contents was heart-rending. It was delicious, however. Next time, Jack should follow Mary’s advice and use Tupperware. Grade: Mary, A+, Jack B+
Bill brought delicious cheese and sausage for the trail and for snacks in camp. Grade: B+
As usual, Tom struggled with breakfast. The brown-and-serve sausage he made in the BackPacker came out okay, but the frozen pancakes were mediocre, despite the assistance of some freeze-dried maple syrup. Since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, particularly when winter camping, a return to the drawing board is required, or the group can just throw up its hands and stick to oatmeal. Grade: C
On Saturday, the group headed off on the trail from John Pond to Puffer Pond, about four miles away as the crow flies. The ski was a gradual climb through hardwood forest. There were a few tricky spots, and a guidebook probably would have said the trail was difficult. They got within a mile or so of the pond before the trail markers disappeared and a thicket of beech saplings stood in their way. Turning around, they made quick work of the trip back to camp, as it was mainly downhill. Adam and Peter handled the terrain easily despite the fact that they maneuvered on skinny skis suited for groomed trails.
For Tom, situated in the middle of the lean-to, it was the land of the giant sleeping bags. To his immediate right, as he lay on his back, was David in his new minus 20-degree bag from REI. To David’s right was Jack in his very, very, very expensive Marmot Col minus 20-degree bag. It was filled with the superlative down that became available to the west with the fall of the Soviet Union. David had found the bag for Jack on-line just before the trip at some store in Ohio. It was so big and puffy that it looked the same whether it was occupied by Jack or not. One wonders if Mary will ever see the bill for this one.
To Tom’s left, Bill and Jay also luxuriated in their minus 20-degree bags. Tom, on the other hand, was sleeping in his old, broken-down EMS zero-degee bag. He had brought a summer down bag along on the trip, however, and had stuffed it inside the winter bag. The combination worked pretty well. All he was lacking was a couple of copies of the Sunday Times to stick between him and the lean-to’s floorboards for additional insulation below his Therm-a-Rest.
1.The relative benefit to society of a career in firefighting as compared to a career in chemistry was debated during the trip, but no consensus was reached. Bill noted that Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” was in part a tribute to firefighters, as in:
“Left the house this morning
Bells ringing filled the air
Wearin’ the cross of my calling
On wheels of fire I come rollin’ down here”
He went to challenge anyone to identify a song extolling the virtues of chemists, particularly of the entrepreneurial sort. For his part, Jack noted that Bill had majored in chemistry. He also noted that, unlike Bill, his livelihood was not dependent on the taxpayer.
2. Adam and Peter must have been stunned, amused, perturbed or all of the above by the “hurry up and wait” that is required on an NCMC trip. Not knowing how the NCMC operated, they kept themselves ready to go at all times for the next event, only to cool their heels for what must have seemed an eternity while their elders fussed with gear, lingered over breakfast, and made repeated trips to the bathroom. This was the case whether the group was moving around in North Creek before the camping portion of the trip, or hanging around the lean-to. The pair of young western New Yorkers had made an attempt to climb to Mt. Marcy earlier in the winter, and now were able, after that vigorous trip, to enjoy the more laid-back version of winter camping practiced by the NCMC, which entails a lot of conversation of the fault-finding variety over coffee and hot chocolate.
3. One of Peter’s skis delaminated on the trip and lost a tail. The old boards, bindings and all, were consigned to the big fire Saturday night and were fully consumed by the flames. They must have had wood cores.
It was, as they all are, a good trip. If the snow is good, and the lean-to is not too far from the trailhead, one destination in the Adirondacks is going to be as good as another, even if you have been there before. After the trip, the founders and David had lunch in Indian Lake at a modest bar and restaurant. Jack, delirious from the rigors of the trip, ordered six beers rather than five, but they managed to finish the extra beer. At least no one saw Jack speaking to anyone who wasn’t there!
Gallery John Pond 2003