Last weekend we were in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York scouting out a bike race route, and got an offer of a free suite at a nice motel. Since we mainly come to the Adirondacks to bike, we don’t usually manage to squeeze in more than a short hike of an hour or two. But this time we had a whole day free, and right when the days were longest (and black fly season was on the wane). So I suggested to my husband and teens that we try to conquer one of the toughest of the High Peaks, Algonquin. At 5,115 feet, it is the second-highest mountain in the state, after Mount Marcy.
From the parking lot at Adirondak Loj, Algonquin is four miles away and about 3,000 feet up. As we discovered — in the 20 years since I last climbed the peak the trail seemed to have gotten longer and harder — the ascent of Algonquin involved hours of careful stepping over rocky terrain. And since the day swung between misty, drizzle, and downpour, we were often walking through the equivalent of a muddy mountain stream. Although I’ve tried to keep up with improvements in hiking technology, I found myself wishing for a few pieces of equipment I was lacking. So here’s my list of the gadgets and gear I hope to have on hand for the next time my family hits the trail:
1. Anti-shock trekking poles. Although I have been hiking since forever, one thing I never think to bring with me is a hiking pole. Luckily, one of the kids always stops to find a good solid stick at the trail head before we start (there are usually a few left by previous hikers), which reminds me to grab one too. I could not have made the climb last weekend without it — it helped me balance stepping across the wet rocks, and gave me something to push off of as I hoisted myself over some of the larger overhangs. But I realized almost from the start that my makeshift hiking pole was going to leave a nasty blister on my hand, and despite changing hand positions regularly, it did. How I wish I had one of these lovely, shock-absorbing, light-weight aluminum trekking poles with the padded handles. My mom uses one as a walking stick; I’ll have to pick one up before our next trek. This model even comes with a compass and thermometer!
2. Waterproof gaiters. One thing I did right was to make sure we all had sturdy, waterproof hiking boots. I actually got the boys some lightweight shoes that were more like heavy-duty sneakers. Although they didn’t have top-of-the-line Goretex waterproofing or Vibram soles, they stood up to repeated stream crossings and held a good grip on the slippery rock faces we had to scramble up. What I forgot, though, was the gaiters. These are lightweight coverings that wrap around your lower legs from boot-top to knee. While we didn’t need them for wading through the creeks, they would have been mighty handy when the rain soaked our warm, cozy wool-blend socks, wicking all the moisture from our legs down into our shoes. Gore-tex models like these Outdoor Research Cascadia Gaiters would have been ideal.
3. Nylon zip-off waterproof pants. In the old days, we wore wool. Wool everything, even in summer. It was great for staying dry, if hot and itchy. Today I own several pairs of nylon pants. They’re lightweight and dry quickly, even if they’re not as breathable as I would like. And the bottoms zip off to turn them into shorts. However, I forgot to see if the kids had any that still fit. They didn’t. At least one pair of nice chinos are now permanently mud-stained. So these zip-off nylon pants for the boys are now on my shopping list.
4. Walkie talkies. When it comes down to it, it’s amazing that I made it as far as I did. I hadn’t done a strenuous hike in 20 years, and I haven’t really done a lot of any kind of exercise this year at all. So it made sense to let the boys go ahead at their own pace, while my husband kindly helped me back down the four miles from the treeline to the parking lot. Although I had every confidence that the boys could follow the trail on their own, as the hours stretched on my husband seemed to get a little worried. And the Adirondacks are notorious for their cell phone dead zones. It was then that I wished we had stowed some lightweight walkie-talkies in our bags, just in case we got separated in the woods.
5. GPS. Although as a family we’re not that big on gadgets, and I get by with a map and compass just fine for most applications, I kind of wish I had a GPS with me last weekend. Not for the hike — we had no problem following the well-marked trail. But on the drive down from Adirondak Loj to the Noonmark Diner for some dinner and pie, we suddenly became convinced we had wandered off the main road (which turned out to be the only road) and ended up retracing our tracks for no reason whatsoever. A GPS for when we were all too brain-dead to navigate would have been helpful.
The husband and kids all say they want to conquer Marcy next. I know what I want to have for that trip. What’s your choice for must-have backcountry gear?
(Accommodations for this trip were provided by the Alpine Country Inn in Wilmington, NY.)