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Danielle Rootes is a photographer, hiker, and nursing student located in Saranac Lake. She recently completed a solo thru-hike of the Northville-Placid Trail in August of 2019. Danielle grew up in Petersburg NY where she frequently explored the woodlands that surrounded her home. In 2017, Danielle moved to the Adirondacks after becoming enthralled by the endless adventure opportunities that this park had to offer. Since her move to the Adirondacks, Danielle has honed in on her photography skills, became a licensed practical nurse, and explored many hidden corners of the Adirondack Park. Look for Danielle on Instagram (@chasing_trail_) for hiking and photography content from her adventures.
Was this your first thru-hike?
Yes, and hopefully not the last.
What was your itinerary?
The itinerary for this trip wasn’t concrete, it was the first thru-hike for me and I knew I wanted to complete the whole trail in 8 days or less. I had a general idea where I’d expect to sleep each night, but kept it open in case I became too sore or felt like I could push further.
What made you want to hike it alone?
I feel like you only get one life to live and you can’t always wait and rely on others to live it with you. I wanted to do something big on my own. I had never backpacked or camped alone before but have had years of practice with my skills and equipment. I wanted to put myself to the test! I wanted to do this trail two years ago and decided not to go for it last minute because of fear of being alone and a rainy forecast. After taking this on, I feel like I can do anything.
Pros/Cons of hiking alone?
Pro: You can hike at your own pace.
Pro: You don’t have to worry about offending others with your smells.
Pro: You’ll feel empowered when you do things on your own (hang a bear bag, start a fire, dry your soaked shoes).
Pro: You can stop as much as you like.
Con: No one to talk to/sharing responsibilities at camp.
I was so busy on the NPT that I didn’t become lonely. I had a lot to do every day when I got to camp. I had to eat, maybe start a fire to dry out my shoes, make sure my shoes didn’t burn, hang my bear bag, brush my teeth, set up my tent, look at the map, and plan for the next day’s adventure. When you’re alone, you have all the responsibility, there’s no one that’s going to hang that bear bag for you while you watch your soaked shoes in the campfire.
What was learned or a surprise (if any)?
I learned to be mindful that after a long day of thru-hiking, someone else may be occupying the lean-to or campsite you planned on staying in. It’s good to have a backup plan or have enough energy reserved to backtrack or push forward to the next site. Some people aren’t as open to sharing a lean-to with strangers as others.
Highlights of your hike?
Were there many people on the trail?
Not too many, there were some small groups of people in the West Canada Lake Wilderness area, but I mainly ran into a small group or a pair every other day.
Do you have any tips for others?
Day 1 | 12 miles:
I ended up finding myself a gorgeous private campsite at Woods lake. I had made good travel time for my first day. I started the trail at 10:45am and made it to my campsite by 4 pm. My pack was a solid 31 pounds at this time and I was feeling it right away, as the first couple miles of the first 12 were a steep climb. I crossed West Stoney Creek which was only knee-deep where I crossed. I met a woman hiking north as well. She and I talked while we filtered our water before we parted ways. Soon after arriving to Woods Lake there were a few sun-showers on and off before sunset. I had a “Ramen Bomb” for dinner, got in the lake to rinse off my trail sweat, and got ready for bed. I heard loons, owls and coyotes most of the evening until I woke up around 6am to begin Day 2.
Day 2 | 17 miles:
I woke up around 6am and was thrilled that I was dry. I looked out of my tent to find my bear bag was still intact and exactly where I hung it the night before. My first night was a success! I climbed out and immediately felt the tightness of my calves and the arches of my feet. I was packed up and on my way by 7am, but not before I could top off my water supply and catch this foggy morning glow. There were two older men in a rowboat dropping a line in for an early morning catch. I couldn’t help but grab a picture. I began my second day on trail feeling confident and eager to get to my second destination. I chose to hike as far as Mud Lake lean-to, which was 17 miles north. My first long day! I stopped by Canary Pond for lunch. Canary Pond has a gorgeous peninsula campsite with towering trees surrounded by blueberries. After lunch, I finished the rest of the trip to Mud Lake where I was able to set up camp and finally rest my feet. I was happy to sleep in my first lean-to on trail and have less to pack up the next morning.
Day 3 | 25 miles:
It was 6am at Mud Lake. I'd already started to condition myself to wake up at sunrise and get ready for the day. Breakfast consisted of a @justins Hazelnut Almond Butter packet and a flour tortilla which existed all of 60 seconds. I was excited for today, it was the day that I would hike into the town of Piseco and climb out of the woods for the first time in 3 days. I would either succumb to the temptation of town food or continue to make a dent in my existing food supply in hopes to lighten the load for the future. I still felt sore, naturally, as I wasn’t used to carrying nearly 30 lbs of supplies, food and water for almost 20 miles a day. I was feeling more confident in my outdoor skills, and my physical and mental strength to keep plugging along on this trail. It was 10 miles to Piseco, and man was it beautiful. I got to see the sun peer through the ferns and the moss-lined trails and the bugs weren’t stirring just yet. I crossed a beautiful suspension bridge which was lit up with the morning sun. Shortly before reaching Piseco I saw my first bear on the NPT. After hearing a crash and rattling bushes I looked to my left and noticed the black bear quickly running away. I was happy to see that it was startled and took off. I was also amazed to see just how fast these animals can run and was thankful it wasn’t running toward me. I kept pushing forward over the last half mile of the trail into town where I finally saw roads and signs of civilization. I looked quickly both ways, looking for any signs of a diner or restaurant, but I saw nothing food-related. I kept following the road to the trail hoping I’d see something en route. I walked until I gained sight of the Piseco Post Office where some NPT thru-hikers would send a resupply box for pickup. A part of me wishes I had sent one there so I would have less to carry on my back. As I got closer to the Post Office, a man stopped his truck along side me and told me there are bathrooms to the right of the airport that I could use to get water and clean up. It was so nice of him to share that with me and I immediately crossed the street and hobbled up the road to do just that.
After soaking myself head to toe in that Airport bathroom I felt entirely refreshed. I rinsed off my hiking clothes and hung them on the outside of my pack to dry. I started to walk the remaining 15 miles to Spruce Lake. It was a rolling hill climb that felt never-ending. Once I started to see Spruce Lake I got a whiff of a campfire and was wondering if someone would be at the lean-to I hoped to snag that night. It turned out to be some SOBO’s at lean-to #1. I asked them if they have seen anyone set up camp at Spruce Lake Lean-to #3 when they passed through. One of the hikers said “Nope, but that’s a great spot though!” I thanked them, wished them luck and pushed on. I finally reached my campsite for the night and the lean-to was definitely on the top 5 of my most favorite campsites. It had a 180-degree view of Spruce Lake, gorgeous trees, and it felt like pure wilderness. The first thing I did was drop my pack and put my crocs on so I could dive in. I made my dinner, stretched, and got prepared for nightfall.
Day 4 | 19 mi
I woke up on this humid and hazy morning groggy from minimal sleep due to a thunderstorm and an unidentifiable critter that kept visiting my lean-to throughout the night. Any garbage that I had was secured in my bear bag high in the trees behind my lean-to. I had a feeling I would have this issue, as I found loose food wrappers in the lean-to upon my arrival yesterday. It occurred to me that previous hikers were less concerned about animals coming to visit them at night or perhaps they were just passing through for lunch and forgot to pack out their garbage with them. I stuffed the loose wrappers that I found into my bear bag after dinner to be disposed of when I reached Lake Durant Campground in two days. The trouble with finding wrappers and garbage left behind is not knowing how long it has been there and how accustomed the animals in that area have become to the available snacks. I was thankful that whatever came to visit me last night was able to be scared off by just moving around on my sleeping pad. I would hear the animal scurry off into the woods, only to return an hour later to try again. Frustrated and exhausted, I got up, packed, and put two propel packets and a snickers bar into the waist pouch of my pack. I got moving and worked my way through the wet morning brush that seemed to be clinging on to every last drop of last night's rain that it could. I tried to knock the water off the brush with my trekking poles as I moved along the trail, but my efforts only proved to slightly prolong the inevitable. I became soaked from the chest down in the first two miles of the day. My shoes began to slosh with every step that I eventually didn’t even attempt to avoid the mud anymore. I was really going through it today, and my morale was at an all-time low. I was sleep-deprived, sore, filthy, soaked to the bone and surrounded by horseflies. I made it to the top of a hill somewhere between Spruce Lake and the West Canada Lakes Wilderness when I braced myself with my trekking poles, face down starting to tear up. “I am losing my MIND.” I thought, “I have to get out of here.” The humidity here was packed tightly between the trees much like the down feathers in a quilted puffy jacket. It felt like I was breathing through a wet sponge and I couldn’t wait to feel the breeze again. I pushed on through to take a break at Cedar Lake lean-to #3 where I wrung out my shoes and socks. I fixed myself a tuna fish wrap with Cheetos tucked in for good measure. Believe it or not, it did the trick. I was in much better spirits. I had another 7 miles to go to Carry Lean-To, so I decided to wear my camp crocs and stuffed the insoles of my trail runners into them for more padding. I was crocin’ and rockin’ for 7 miles when I saw Colgate College with 12 people in the lean-to that I had planned to camp in. There was no room for me there, and I pressed on an additional two miles where I’d finally rest for the night on the Cedar River Flow.
Day 5 | 12 miles
I have reached the halfway point of my trip and today called for low mileage. I have moved at a pretty good clip for the last four days and it was time to give my bones a rest. I slept a little later than normal, waking up at 8:30am instead of my normal 6am. My body was reminding me that it needed to recover. My shoes were still damp from trudging through the West Canada Lakes the day prior. I started the fire back up to finish drying my shoes and I began to pack up and get ready for the day ahead. The plan today was to reach Lake Durant Campground in Blue Mountain Lake. My shoes finished drying and smelled of the fire. I took my hiking clothes and held them in front of the smoke, they were smelling nasty again and the smoke seemed to mask it for a little while. I poured some water on the fire and made sure it was out before taking off for the day. I was leaving the Moose River Recreational area and heading into the hardwoods. Finally, the sounds of crinkling leaves and sticks beneath my feet. It was a nice change in comparison to the “Slish-Slosh-Slish-Slosh” sound I was used to. This section, I felt, was the trickiest. The trail was faint and had the dusting of many seasons of dropped leaves from years prior. I had to be more mindful here and look around for a trail marker frequently to ensure I was on the right path. I began to reach two thousand feet when I phone started pinging with messages. I put my pack down to take a look and saw a mushroom on the edge of a mossy log catching the sunshine. I grabbed a photo and was happy that I stopped here in the moment. It was four miles until I reached Blue Mountain Lake, and I still had to go over the unnamed three thousand foot mountain to get there. I was a little worried about the climb after eighty miles of continuous hiking but was excited to see if there were any sight of the Northern Adirondacks that I live in. On the map noted a “Scenic Viewpoint” and I was already envisioning a gorgeous view. When I finally made it to the top of this mountain there was a slight window opening through the trees and I could see the high peaks further north. It certainly wasn’t a viewpoint that I was expecting, but it was nice to see some familiar mountains ahead of me. I made my descent and walked into Lake Durant Campground and could smell clean people, hot dogs, hamburgers, and campfires. It was early still, only 1 in the afternoon, but all I wanted to do was shower and get some sleep. I bought myself a night's stay at campsite 4A. I walked there and saw a water spicket where I could fill up without a water filter. I set my tent up on the freshly raked campsite and I walked back up to the bathroom facility where I spent an hour washing all the dirt away and enjoying the hot water. It was just enough to make me feel like a human being again even though my shower experience lacked any kind of real soap. I used my bandana as a towel and squeaked out of the shower rooms all the way back to my tent site where I made myself dinner and got ready for bed. I managed to pass out before 4pm.
Day 6 | 17 miles
I woke up from my 14-hour recovery slumber feeling refreshed and clean for a change. I was ready to get to Long Lake today which is 17 miles north. I walked my way around gorgeous backcountry lakes, through grasslands that came up to my waist, and gorgeous footbridges. I loved the sounds of the grasslands, the breeze weaving between each blade, and the crickets and other insects chirping and chiming in. I began to realize that I only had two more nights left until I was back in Lake Placid. I felt like I had a system down and I knew that I was going to finish strong. I was starting to absorb all that this trail had to offer while simultaneously trying to not get my shoes wet again. I planned to get to Kelly Point, which sat on the northern end of Long Lake. Leaving Lake Durant campground meant that I only had one stop left to give in and pull out of this hike. I had no plans on giving up, but once I passed through Long Lake, I knew that was it. That is the point of no return. The only way out of the woods was to walk through it.
When I reached Kelly Point there was a group of three made up of a Father, a son, and grandfather. They were out on a boys-only trip. They came over shortly after I set up camp to introduce themselves. They paddled over Long Lake in their canoe to stay in the lean-to next to mine and teach some backcountry skills to the grandson. They asked about my trip and asked if I planned to go all the way through to Lake Placid to which I said yes. They told me I was almost there, and that Duck Hole was a beautiful spot. I told them I planned to hike to Duck Hole tomorrow for my last camp of the journey. They wished me luck and continued on to their camp activities. I listened to the grandfather teaching his grandson the basics of starting a fire, what to use for a fire, how to boil water, and cook in the backcountry. He was very knowledgeable and soft-spoken and the grandson was patient and attentive. I watched the boaters from a distance on Long Lake, and even had a few laughs at the party that was going on in a pontoon boat in the middle of the lake. They were laughing and joking with each other. It wasn’t the quietest spot, but it was nice to see others enjoying themselves on the lake and hearing some voices for a change. I made dinner and looked at all the carvings in the lean-to I was sitting in when I got word from home on the Garmin that thunderstorms were on the way. The storm progressed quickly overnight and made me hold my sleeping bag a little tighter as some of the thunder seemed to rattle the lean-to that I was laying in. I didn’t mind the rain or the thunderstorm, it made feel better knowing that the animals were laying low just like I was, waiting out the storm.
Day 7 | 17 miles
I woke up with the instant realization that this trip is almost over. “I’m going home tomorrow,” I thought, and I feverishly packed up my things, stuffed everything from the lean-to into the pack, latching it shut. I put my pack on realizing my bear bag was still in the tree. “Nice move, D”, I said. I was so excited to get to Duck Hole that I almost forgot to bring my food. I ran over and grabbed my bear bag out of the tree and stuffed it in my pack. I’m on my way finally, and it’s 7am. The first sign I see is just before the Rodney Point Lean-to and it says “Lake Placid 28.8 mi” I started doing the math in my head while also thinking about the structural integrity of my joints at this point in the journey. “Can I just bust through 28.8 miles and go home tonight?” I wondered, and I had this idea on my mind as I hiked and even jogged partially up to 5 miles. After some time I realized it would be better to just stay at Duck hole tonight. I realized it was better to finish strong on my 8th day than crawl out in 7. After all, I was here for the experience, not the finish line. I slowed my pace and looked around a little more. I picked a few extra blueberries and got on all fours to take pictures of the colorful mushrooms I found. This was some of the lushest and greenest wild forests that I had ever come across in the Adirondacks. I was in awe of the beauty of it all until I slipped into the deepest mud hole of my entire life. It sucked one of my shoes off my feet and I sat there covered in mud, sweaty with horse flies once again pinging off the top of my head. I got up and started making the long wet journey to camp until I reached the Seward Lean-to on Cold River. I took my shoes and socks off and wrung them out. I ate some lunch and filtered some water from the Cold River. The water sure lived up to its name, and I loved seeing the eroded stone along the river bank from the many years of water washing over it. This was truly one of the most beautiful areas of the Adirondacks and here I was experiencing it first hand and foot. I began to walk the last few miles to Duck Hole where I would rest my head for the last time on this trail. I found my lean-to and it appeared to have just been built within the last year. You could still smell the wood. It was vibrant and beautifully built. I was happy to stay in this fresh new shelter knowing that someday it’ll become weathered and dark after decades of use. I started a fire to dry my shoes off and noticed a little brook just past the brush on the bottom of the hill. I had a few things to do to get ready for the night, but I knew I wanted to see what was down there. I finished unpacking and started to notice some golden hour sun on the trees across the brook. I walked through the brush which opened up to the most gorgeous view of Henderson Mountain. The clouds were ebbing and flowing over the mountain and the sun was shining. I stripped down and washed my tired body off in the brook, the water just deep enough for me to sit with my neck out, and clear enough to see the details of every unique stone beneath me. I started thinking about the fact that I was only a short day hike away from my final destination and how happy I was that I chose to stay here on my very last night. —And to think, I almost walked right past it.
Day 8 | 11.8 mi
Homestretch, I left Duck Hole by 6am. The brush was wet from the rain the night before, but I didn’t care to brush the water off ahead of me this time. I knew I was going home and normal everyday comforts were only a couple hours away. The last few miles were long, but as I got closer to the trailer register I couldn’t believe that my body carried me this far north for this long. I opened the trail register on Averyville road at 12:30pm on August 17th and saw all the entries of hikers before me who walked thru just like I did. Everyone in some way had a similar experience or difficulty that I did and still made it. I was happy that I believed in myself to give this trail all that I’ve got. I was happy that I didn’t let myself get so low that I’d give in. I was happy to now walk among those who made it through the good, the bad, the highs, the lows and everything in between. Here I was standing in Lake Placid 140 miles later, it was no longer just a dream.
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This interview was brought to you by PureADK Pioneer, Valerie Manne. Valerie is a designer, woodworker, and adventurer. Being an Adirondack native, the Adirondacks have been the place she calls home even when living 3,000 miles away. Although she doesn't live inside the park boundaries at the moment, she's constantly following up with what's going on and living vicariously through other social accounts.