The gate to heaven is a tunnel of birch trees.
|There is no photo of God’s Gate but this silver birch forest offers a glimpse|
My family has been hiking several years and we set a modest goal for our first overnight trip: to hike 4 of the 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks. Total distance was over twenty miles for two days with a lot of elevation change because of the mountains. (List of Adirondack Peaks and Details on the 46 High Peaks)
It was the first time we carried full packs.
This means we carry food, sleeping bags, extra clothes, tents, and a bear bag in addition to our water, filters, first aid, extra socks, sleeping pads, sunscreen, bug spray, and the list goes on. (Here’s a standard checklist, Backpacker magazine)
|Bear bag to protect food, another hiker said his canister was clawed|
The first day we hiked into the wilderness to set up camp, dropped off all we could then hiked to Mt. Colvin and Blake Peak. Our pace slowed to a crawl on the trip back so we had to hike with headlamps, a memorable experience which we told our children we provided free of charge. I fell once, gashed my leg, and lost my hiking shirt but we got in at 9:20 p.m.
The next day we broke camp, hiked Elks Pass, and climbed Nippletop, an aptly named peak. We did this with full packs, all of our gear. I took Advil that morning and found my shirt hanging on a branch. Hikers are great people.
Nippletop summit is 4620 feet and most of the last half mile was a vertical rise of boulders, tree roots, and rock face. My sleeping pad caught on branches, the weight of the packs bent us forward, shoulders ached, blisters developed. My husband’s pack looked like he was carrying another person piggyback and I worried about his health. I also worried about making it home during daylight.
Soaked in sweat, we made it to the ridgeline, dropped our gear, treated blisters, changed socks, and practically jogged the 0.4 miles out and back to the summit.
We made good time to Dial Mountain, so we stretched out on the warm rock, ate lunch, and bathed in the wind. The weather was remarkable.
Photos of a summit can never do it justice: the expanse of sky, the air, the perch on top of the world.
|Resting on Dial Mountain with a view of the Adirondack High Peaks|
It was downhill from here.
That’s the problem. Downhill is hard for me, so I popped more ibuprofen at lunch because my feet and joints ached. My husband gave me his hiking poles but I was inexperienced and awkward.
Muscle fatigue, the additional load, and the decline caused jammed toes and painful joints.
Somewhere in this misery, we began a slight ascent which was a welcome relief. A young stand of birch grew on Leach Trail after the 1999 fire. The gradual rise, stone and moss lined path, and the chalky white tree trunks were otherworldly.
I never witnessed anything like it.
The dropping sun sent shards of light into the leaves, twinkling like thousands of green butterflies above the cream colored trees. The trail meandered back and forth up the shoulder of Noonmark Mountain.
I leaned my head on a birch, its smooth cool bark cupped in my hands, and I looked back at my family, framed by the trees on the trail, and it was like looking down from heaven. I walked on until I came to a massive rock, glowing white in the dying light. The crest was a broad rocky outcropping and it gave us the most spectacular and sweeping views.
We weren’t sure where we were. Did we take a wrong turn?
The funny thing is this. The guidebooks, trail logs, and maps barely mention this; it wasn’t part of any objective or goal. We simple came into it.
My phone is my camera and it was powered off. I didn’t take pictures. None of us did, we were too tired. In an old fashioned way, I’m glad.
The vision is scored in my mind.
Much of the 1.6 miles down from there was soft ground, though steep and craggy in spots. It was excruciating because my feet were shot. The children were strong and one stayed with me, refusing to leave my side as I descended at a slug’s pace.
Like us, each child struggled during the hike, but their challenges were not only physical. A hot spot on their feet, fatigue, fear of the night, fear of bears.
We hiked 23 miles up and down mountains and climbed and descended 4000 feet together. This trip marked our 20th peak. That means 26 left to go.
* The closest thing I found to God’s Gate was on photographer Sean Carpenter’s website who also happens to hike in the Adirondacks. His photos are worth your time: Link to Sean Carpenter’s site.