For this installation of Adirondack Field Notes, we welcome Kevin Ravas. Kevin is an avid hiker of the Adirondacks and the founder of the outdoor social media page, Go XPLR. You can check out Go XPLR on Facebook and Instagram (@go.xplr) and follow along on more of Kevin's adventures on his personal page (@daddykrav). Follow along below as Kevin shares his journey and experiences from hiking the Northville-Placid Trail last June.
Day 1: Northville -> Silver Lake Lean-to (only made it to Rock Lake)
Day 2: Silver Lake -> Hamilton Lake Stream Lean-to #2
Day 3: Hamilton Lake Stream Lean-to -> Spruce Lake Lean-to #3
Day 4: Spruce Lake Lean-to #3 -> Cedar Lakes Lean-to #3
Day 5: Cedar Lakes Lean-to #3 -> Moose River Recreation Area
Day 6: Moose River Recreation Area -> Lake Durant Campground
Day 7: Lake Durant Campground -> Caitlin Bay #2 (Long Lake)
Day 8: Caitlin Bay #2 (Long Lake) -> Cold River Lean-to #3
Day 9: Cold River Lean-to #3 -> Duck Hole Lean-to #1
Day 10: Duck Hole Lean-to #1 -> Lake Placid
My favorite part of the trail was having the opportunity to spend the night at a new campsite each night. The lean-tos are beautifully located and each spot is unique. One night you can fall asleep at a quite lake side and the next near a roaring creek. If you take a look at the route I outlined above, you can see the lean-tos we stayed at. I would highly recommend these sites to anyone interested in doing the trail. I think my favorite spot was at Cold River Lean-to #3, which looked directly over the Cold River toward a suspension bridge (not the lean-to right next to the bridge, the one further down the trail).
A great moment was arriving at Lake Durant State Campground. After not seeing anyone for 3 days, we were met by a paved road and some friendly faces. There was also the glorious moment of coming upon a water spigot as soon as we stepped onto the campground. I had to fill up my water bottle and dump it out just because I could. We were supposed to pass through the campground and onto the next lean-to, but I convinced Pam to spend the night. The running water and warm showers had me sold.
After spending the night at Lake Durant, we had to get up at 6am to make up some time to get to Long Lake (totally worth it!). Surprisingly, we made it to Long Lake earlier than expected and because we had some time to spare, we were able to walk into the village of Long Lake and see the town. Out of all the places to get ice cream, of course we picked Stewart’s.
Another great memory was having our dads join us on the trail. Pam and I spent the first week hiking alone, but on day 7 our dads met us in Long Lake at Catlin Bay to hike the last 3 days with us. This was perfect because Father’s Day was during the upcoming weekend. They also came at a perfect time because just before they arrived I was starting to miss the luxuries of everyday life. They came in with a restock of food and a brightened attitude that helped us make it the last 33 miles.
Finally, there was no better moment than the moment we finished and were able to check-out at the last trailhead in Lake Placid. We took our pictures under the trail sign and then went into town to enjoy a cheeseburger at the Lake Placid Brew Pub that I was dreaming about since day 1.
Besides forgetting my SD card for my GoPro and having to scour the town of Northville for a place to buy one (thank you CVS), there were plenty of moments of adversity along the trail. This starts as soon as you step on the trail.
A specific time was while hiking along a rerouted section leading into Benson, we started off hiking along a clearly marked trail with blue NPT markers. After a period of time, the trail became marked by red flags. Because there was no sign of a trail junction and thinking they must not have finished marking the reroute, we continued along this trail. After some time, I started to get nervous. I wondered what happened to the nicely marked trail! Eventually, this trail led us to a road with a bunch of uninhabited houses and that’s when I realized we were totally lost. This was very disheartening because it was only day one and I was worried about getting behind schedule, or even worse, having to call off the trip. We continued down the road and eventually came across some cross country ski trails and later a house with a man outside. It is the weirdest thing having to walk up to someone when you are genuinely lost and ask for directions. It turns out we had made it to Lapland Lake cross country ski area. He brought us into their main building where there was another man and they printed out a map for us. We were relieved when they told us that we weren’t far off from the trail, and it turns out we weren’t the first ones this had happened to. They said they had become the welcoming committee for the NPT! We were behind schedule, but were able to get back on our way.
Overall, backpacking is very tiring. You spend 8-hours a day with a heavy pack on your back and when you finally have the opportunity to camp for the night, you still have to worry about cooking dinner, setting up camp, or filtering water. It’s not easy, but eventually things begin to come more easily. Each day you get stronger, you understand what needs to be done and when, and you become more efficient in the process.
Still, the hiking is the most challenging. It’s hard to remain in high spirits all the time. There was a time when the guidebook called a section of the trail a “hikers’ delight” and the whole time we were on that section I couldn’t help but think hikers delight my a**. There are periods of time when the conversation was flowing between Pam and I, but there were also long periods where it was nothing but hiking. That’s when the trail songs come in handy. Some of my go to songs were the Scooby-Doo theme, “What I Got” by Sublime, and many camp songs I had learned from my days of Boy Scouts. (Why those songs? I don’t really know)
You’ll miss things like cellphone service, clean toilets, and warm showers. It’s also hard to not dream about pizza and hamburgers. I really had the biggest craving for a ham sandwich! But I’d take 8 hours of hiking over 8 hours in an office or classroom any day.
Surprisingly, we did not meet too many people along the way. There was a span of 3 days through the Canada Lake Wilderness where we didn’t see anybody! However, there was one person we met along the way that we will never forget. His name is Hobo, or at least that’s his trail name. It was night number two when Pam and I approached the Hamilton Lake Stream Lean-to, we noticed there were two men already posted there for the night, but there was no way we were walking any further so we approached them and asked if we could join them for the night.
The two men introduced themselves as Hobo and Brian. I have to admit I was a bit guarded around them at first. Hobo in particular is a big tall guy, long hair, and a bit scruffy. For that reason, my plan was to set up a tent over to the side of the lean-to, but Hobo insisted that we stay in the lean-to with them ensuring us there was plenty of room and I imagine he said something like “we don’t bite”.
We started to prepare our dinner over a warm campfire that Hobo had built where he was cooking some small trout on a fern branch. As the conversation flowed, I began to let my guard down. Hobo had told us how he spends the summer hiking the NPT. He takes his time, enjoying the fishing spots along the way, and once he reaches the end he turns around and heads back the way he came. He’s done this all summer long for several years now. He told us his stories about the trail which included encounters with bears and maybe even a sasquatch. You’ll have to find him along the trail to get the details! He also gave us some advice about the trail including which lean-tos were the best and spots to get cell service to check in with the parents. He was also kind enough to help Pam treat her blisters.
As the night went on, what started off as a light rain eventually turned into a thunderstorm. I was glad we stayed in that lean-to with Hobo and Brian. With them I felt completely safe. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t get a little bit creepy when it’s just you and your girlfriend backpacking through the wilderness. It was nice to have some company, if only for a night.
Side Note: Hobo told us he’s working on a trail guide for the NPT, so be on the lookout for that!
One of the hardest parts of backpacking is everything you take with you is going to be weight on your back. This includes food. Our goal was to have light, calorie dense food to get us through. On the NPT there is an option to mail food to the post office in Piseco to save some weight, but luckily our dads were joining us on day 7 of the hike so at most we had 7 days’ worth in our packs. We portioned out our food ahead of time and pretty much ate the same thing every day. A great tip is to pack your bear canister in a chronological fashion, so the food you will eat first is on top.
For breakfast, we had a different variety of oatmeal every day and added things such as flax seeds, chia seeds, dried fruit, dates, cinnamon, and chocolate chips to add some flavor and extra calories. We did not have an official lunch, instead we ate small snacks throughout the day. Eating small snacks is definitely the way to make sure your body stays fueled. Our snacks included Clif Bars, granola bars, trail mix, and we even found a great recipe online for jerky, which we made ahead of time. We also had one tube of Aldi’s summer sausage… and let me tell you, after eating a tremendous amount of oats and nuts, it was the best sausage I had ever tasted. Too bad I ate it all after about day 3. So note to self, next time bring more sausage!
The one meal where we managed to change it up every night was dinner. Each night we made sure we had a large, carb loaded dinner to help our body’s recover for the next day. At the base of these meals was some variety of pasta, potatoes, or rice. For example, put pepperoni and pasta sauce in potatoes and you’ve got pizza potatoes! Also, if you use your imagination, rice and beans with some Mexican seasoning almost tastes like Chipotle. The one dinner that was delicious, but didn’t necessarily thrill me was pasta mixed with onion soup and tuna fish. I figured if a bear was going to visit it would have been after eating that. Of course, you could just buy Mountain House or other freeze dried meals to have every night, but we’re broke college students so that wasn’t necessarily part of the budget. And just cause your backpacking doesn’t mean you can’t have dessert! We made sure to bring one Hershey’s chocolate bar for each day.
There is nothing more satisfying than sitting down at your new campsite after a long day’s hike and enjoying a nice warm meal as the sun slowly begins to set.
We were told by a friend that the most wildlife you will see is on the road section of the trail, just after leaving Northville. Interestingly enough, on day one of the trail after getting lost, I was in the middle of recording a monologue with my GoPro while we were walking along the road to the Benson trailhead when this animal came walking out of the woods. It was pretty far down the road so I couldn’t really tell what it was. I noticed that it was fairly large, black fur, but as it stepped onto the road it slowly shook off its fur like you might expect from a dog. For that reason, I thought it was some kind of coyote or something similar. Either way, I unholstered my bear spray and took to yelling and blowing my whistle until it went off back into the woods. Later, we described the experience to Hobo and he said we probably saw a bear. So it was my first time seeing a bear in the woods and I didn’t even know it was a bear!
We saw plenty of evidence of other animals as well. Throughout the entire trail there are plenty of beaver dams. In the West Canada Lake Wilderness especially, there were plenty of animal tracks including coyote, bear, and deer. In the High Peaks region, we also saw plenty of moose tracks and yes… moose poop, but no moose!
For the most part, we had good weather along the trail. The temperatures in June were perfect for hiking and most of our days were spent hiking in the sun. It wasn’t until day 6 on our way to Lake Durant, where we got stuck in a down poor. Thankfully, we had the appropriate gear to keep our packs and clothes dry.
Although we didn’t face a lot rain, we did face A LOT of wet trails. The most difficult part is keeping your feet dry. Whether it’s the wet trails or sweaty feet, the hard truth is your feet will be wet and there’s not much you can do to prevent this. My best advice is to make sure you have multiple pairs of socks that you can change frequently. Next time, I will be taking more than two pairs of socks!
Day 5 was a particularly long day. We were hiking from Cedar Lakes to Moose River Recreation Area when I was faced with some intense knee and hip pain in my left leg. It was so painful that I had to stop often and even resort to taking ibuprofen (which actually helped a lot). On top of this, it was early June so the mosquitos and black flies were out with a vengeance. (Make sure you carry some strong bug spray!) I managed to push forward because we hadn’t seen anybody for 2 days and was excited to see some people at this “recreation area”. When we came upon the camp, it was barren and there was no one. This was pretty disappointing.
Still, the last few miles of the last few days were the toughest. At this point, I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was be done and enjoying a cheeseburger at the Lake Placid Brew Pub. Luckily, my dad was there behind me, pushing me to the end of the trail.
I also have some other quick tips that apply to the NPT, but really to backpacking in general. First, make sure you have a comfortable sleeping pad. Sleep is extremely important because it gives your body the opportunity to recover for the next day. Before taking on this trail I upgraded from a razor thin, zero comfort sleeping pad to a Big Agnes Air Core which is practically an air mattress. This was a great investment because I was finally able to sleep comfortably while camping. With the inflatable pads you just have to be careful not to flop on the pad to prevent punctures. I also prevent puncture by not filling the air to the max.
Second, make sure you take care of your blisters, but more importantly, take the proper precautions to prevent blisters in the first place. A mistake I made was buying new boots and not breaking them in beforehand. This led to major blisters forming during the first couple days. So, break in your boots and make sure they fit properly.
Finally, the most interesting tip is you can actually walk across beaver dams. This advice was given to us by Hobo. When you come across a wet area without a good crossing, take the beaver dam. They are actually extremely sturdy and work well as a natural bridge.
You learn a lot when you spend 10 consecutive days hiking through the woods. As an Eagle Scout, I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods, but never a trip of this magnitude. One of the most important things I learned or at least was reminded of is to appreciate the little things. There are a lot of aspects of everyday life that one can take for granted if you don’t remove yourself from them once in awhile. I also learned how to better survive and function while in the woods. Since the trip, my confidence while out in the wild has drastically increased. Finally, you know you’re good with someone when you can spend 10 days in the woods together and not hate each other by the end.
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