Archive for 2014

Navy Blues

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Albany, Industrial, Institutional, Memphis

Once we got out of the power plant, the rest of Amsterdam was more or less a bust. Without cars, or a solid idea of where we were going, the best we could do was guess and look around, wandering from one seemingly derelict building to another without finding any of them quite dead enough. We eventually settled for a stop at a bar downtown, and waiting for our bus to Albany and onward.

The bus finally arrived about half an hour late, and thoroughly packed, besides being the last one of the day. The driver wanted to leave us, and a few other travelers, stranded in Amsterdam but with some palavering he agreed to let us on even though there were no seats. As soon as the bus started moving, we were serenaded to “Fat Bottomed Girls”, belted out by, well, a fat-bottomed girl. The next 45 minutes consisted of “only in America” weirdness that would make even less sense in the written word as it did at the time. Once that was over, we did get to Albany though, and went to a Thai restaurant I’d eaten at a few times before, then on a bus to Watervliet for a night explore at AlTech Steel.

As soon as we got to AlTech, something felt wrong. It was one of those explores for me where I just started going through the motions, didn’t even bother to take a single picture the whole time (all of a few minutes) that we were there, and as ennui as I felt, Ben was downright creeped out by the place, all he wanted was a few shots from the roof, and I couldn’t find the way up, all the paths between the buildings consumed by night and summertime growth. That and maybe I was a bit too sober for AlTech, I’d never been there even remotely close to sober.

So we disposed of the rest of the night waiting too long at the bus station, then going to New York, and from there to Newark, and a plane to Atlanta, and another plane to Memphis. This was supposed to be the highlight of our trip: a rare tour of Memphis Marine Hospital, a more or less untouched and unexplored complex just south of downtown on the Mississippi River. We arrived at the hospital to the typical Southern hospitality, a table set out in front to welcome us, and an open door to explore as we pleased!

And it was everything I could have hoped for, even if I found myself there with an inert brick of a camera, and a point and shoot I’d just bought in Albany…

It only took me a few minutes to discover that my camera woes weren’t over. As if I didn’t have enough trouble already, the battery on this thing lasted maybe 1/10 as long as my actual camera, and it started spontaneously shutting off after every shot.

And then, having seen just half of one building, that camera failed completely, and of course, being an abandoned building, there wasn’t a working outlet to be found.

I was reduced to a smartphone for my photo-taking abilities. Not exactly my brightest moment. I should be better at this living in the Instagram generation but I’ve never really tried to take serious phone photos. Some people can do amazing things with an Android — for that matter some people can do amazing things with a camera and I manage mediocre things. Oh well.

Given the situation, I felt like it was my obligation to take a selfie.

This must have gone over so well in a Navy hospital?

Power Struggle

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Albany, Industrial

I’ve heard it’s possible that sometimes everything goes according to plan. I say bullshit. We made plenty of plans, big ones, too big even — exploring Albany, Memphis and Chicago in one crazy jet-setting weekend, taking advantage of some deeply discounted Southwest tickets. I was ready to give just about anything a try, I had a chance to meet up with a real explorer, and one coming all the way from England no less, so I aimed to impress, as much as I could at my level anyway, and went along as the plans got bigger and bolder.

The trip could hardly have gotten off to a more inauspicious start. Still half (or more) drunk from overdoing it hashing the night before, dumbass me set my alarm for when the train was supposed to leave, without setting aside any time to get to the station. I hauled ass as fast as I could there, got to the station 25 minutes late, and somehow managed to catch the train that was 26 minutes late. About halfway between Utica and Amsterdam the sun came up and I wanted to get some pictures of the foggy morning, and my camera would not turn on! I thought it might be the battery and plugged it in…still nothing happened! So I googled away frantically for any possible resets, and nothing seemed to work. Defeated, an explorer with no camera, I wandered over to a park and contemplated taking the thing apart, and eventually settled for whacking it against a park bench a few times in case the old sledgehammer fix might do the trick. It didn’t.

Eventually Ben’s train came in, and we decided to walk to the nearest place that we might be able to get a camera, which took much longer than we expected, and all straight uphill to get there, on a surprisingly hot September afternoon, but I spent more than I would have liked and bought a point-and-shoot to at least get something out of the weekend, it seemed stupid not to with how much traveling I’d be doing!

We found our way from there to the Mohasco Power Plant, near but not quite on a massive mill complex currently being demolished. I was afraid to try, admittedly, with the workers being what seemed like so close, but there was a river in between, so I was convinced into going for it.

And it was everything I could have hoped for: rusty, crusty, greasy 19th century industrial steel!

Even the point and shoot was much less of a disappointment than I would have expected.

And it seemed at last we were on our way, we could pull it off and this would be the epic adventure we’d been dreaming of all summer…

The Mountain Wins Again

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Adirondacks, Concrete, North Country, Outdoors

I woke up the next morning to Jake shaking my tent, reminding me that we had a lot of climbing to do. Everything about the day was odd, from the unsettling rain coming back over the pond, to the sudden gravity of what was about to happen (after I’d already given up on it once just two weeks ago, I was actually on my way to #46?!), to an uneasy feeling of confused, incompetent leadership. I’m not one to value experience much when it comes to exploring, but the facts were there, I’d climbed more peaks than the entire rest of the group combined, and done it all in such unorthodox and epic ways, not to mention having spent so many summers in the Adirondacks, that they started looking to me, like it or not, as a knower-of-things.

We cleaned up as quickly as we could and went to Tupper Lake looking for breakfast, something of a lost cause on a Sunday morning in September with all the touristy places closed for the season and all the local places still closing Sundays in a town that size, so we ended up at the McDonalds in lower town, and then the Save-A-Lot next door for trail food. No one believed me at first just how much of said trail food (not to mention water, none of us had really brought containers appropriate for a 24-mile hike) we might need, but eventually we left with enough for a day on the trail, and the Adirondack skies cleared into that wonderful bluebird blue, and we were on our way to the Upper Works Trailhead!

Little did we know that that would be just the very beginning of our adventure. A few miles out of Long Lake on route 30, at least an hour and a half drive from Canada (and facing in the opposite direction, no less), we came across a border patrol checkpoint. They let half of us through right away, but our other car was behind us, and never followed us out of there. After about 15 minutes waiting on the side of the highway, we decided to go back and see what happened, and of course they were still stuck at the checkpoint. We told the Feds that these were our friends, and what was going on?, and they asked us to go back through the checkpoint then we could wait for them.

Of course it wasn’t so easy to get through this time. They had a drug dog looking for, and unsurprisingly possibly smelling, contraband, and just like that, we were stuck on the side of the 30 too, waiting for them to finish processing our friends! Luckily, they were rather helpful, having much bigger fish to fry than a bowl or two, which we had the opportunity to toss into the lake to just sting a little, and save everyone the paperwork. But the entire scene must have looked so suspicious – camping gear, cameras, gas masks, a bunch of mostly college kids wandering around (and Allen, of all peaks to claim to be going to – did we not even research our alibis?) While they searched us, of course, the other car left, not realizing we’d come back for them, and wanting to get as far from the checkpoint as possible, so by now we were in quite the hurry too, trying to get back with our friends AND escape without any tickets.

Did I mention these cops were the very model of Super Troopers? They apprehended us, and searched us, in the most farcical, condescending manner one could imagine, either making light work of us since we weren’t what they were looking for, just a few violations at most, or perhaps hoping to disarm us with humor and make us reveal something, even though we had no more to show. One of them insisted, all through this, that I was tripping, shroomy or both. I could hardly imagine going through that experience on mushrooms… although I really could have used some once we got out of there!

We went on all the way to Upper Works not entirely sure if the other car was following ahead of us at all, or if they’d gotten lost, or given up altogether (consisting of mostly non-climbers to begin with). The way to get there isn’t exactly intuitive either, involving a few county roads and a notable lack of signage at every important turn. Somehow, miraculously, they showed up at the exact trailhead, only about 30 seconds behind us! We were almost ready to go on without them too, it just seemed impossible that someone who had never been would find this place… so we had a huddle, after losing two hours to the Super Troopers, about what we should do, and decided that some of us would attempt Allen, and everyone else, a carload of people, could climb the much shorter Mt Adams, which, mind you, were the only two destinations possible from this trailhead, but a more or less perfect fit.

We started hiking in surprisingly cooperative weather, an easy, mostly flat logging road to the Allen/Adams split, where we took a group shot before we went our separate ways.

Getting to the base of Allen, climbing it aside, is quite an adventure in its own right. Just like finding the trailhead, there is an extraordinary absence of signs, not the least bit helpful to us when the climb was such a last minute decision we didn’t even think to bring a map! We guessed our way through bush roads and cairns and finally found the hand painted “ALLEN” sign that leads to another trail register and the start of the SECOND approach to Allen. Yes, really. After 6 miles, there is literally another trailhead to let you know you are STILL just beginning.

Seeing this, and realizing that #46 would be an epic on its own, even just being one peak, I started having some serious second thoughts of going any farther. I think I was sending all sorts of mixed messages to Hayden and Jake at this point. I didn’t know if I wanted to climb it, and I didn’t know if I could climb it — well, I knew I could (although I’d read more than enough about the “red slime” to be psyched out about the slides at the top) but it wouldn’t be nearly as quickly as two ex-cross-country-runners could manage it, and time was starting to become of the essence, as the distance to the peak went from long to simply incredible! And here I was, almost within reach of #46. Almost within reach of something that it had taken me only 11 days to go from promising I would never do until Christian came back east, to just as suddenly betraying my best friend of ten years, with whom (or at least, attempting to be with whom, as you might have noticed from my recent writings) I’d climbed nearly all of the first 45. Needless to say, around mile 11 or so, as the climbing got steep, I got to be a real mess, struggling disastrously to keep up with a much more athletic group, while intensely questioning whether I should be doing so at all, whether it was even right for me to go to #46.

It became a moot point after a while, as I let them get too far ahead to ever catch up with, and for some reason I kept going through the motions of the climb (probably the half of my brain that wanted #46 in the first place), making it to about 3900 feet before meeting up with them again in the opposite direction, coming back from a more successful, less dubious battle with the Bastard Peak. This settled it, even though I really already knew: I would be a 45er, and I would be a 45er for quite a while, probably.

Deflated and confused, that first mile off the mountain was far more of a struggle than it should have been, and this time I was legitimately slow, and not even sandbagging at all. I had already lost, or won, or whatever you wanted to call it. A physical defeat, a moral victory, a failure on the same levels as it was a success. But existential messes aside, the fact remained that it was getting dark, and we were still 9½ miles from the car. Or something like that, from what I remembered of reading the one ambiguous page in the Adirondack guidebook that described it, in insufficient detail so to preserve the mystery of the 46ers’ just dessert, the one everyone rightfully saves for last.

As soon as we lost the sun, we gained the rain — pouring, thundering sheets of it.

Finally, I was in my element. This was the kind of hike that I was meant for, the kind of struggle that got me and Christian to 45 in the first place!

I think this is something that one would have to experience at least once to understand, but once things get this hairy, when it’s just you, one or two friends, and the dark, wild mountains, there is something transcendent about it. The closest I’ve ever managed to come to describing it, and this doesn’t even do it justice, is that we become part of the forest, that we are transformed, for as long as we need to be, into wild humans. It’s not precisely the savagery that would come with a survival situation; not an adversarial feeling at all, but a feeling of belonging there, of it being a natural thing to do to hike for 20, 30, 40 miles at a time. Or maybe I’m just some kind of freak, and those of you who know what I’m talking about are too.

Anyway, the climb up felt so intensely wrong, but the endless, logically miserable slog through the mud was completely right, and whatever is wrong with me that it was exactly where I wanted to be? They wanted to get out, of course, and on a purely rational level so did I: I had work at 8:30, less than 12 hours away, and I’m still in the mountains! But I enjoyed every minute of that hike out, and even started going faster and faster (see, it wasn’t bullshit when I said I do my best 12+ hours into a hike… that’s just my normal, when I do it, I do it “right”)

And that was that, I’d managed to save two of my friends from ever having to climb Allen again, and here I am, still a 45er. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever go back for #46. The mountain made it vastly, abundantly clear that I shouldn’t — if the Ledge wasn’t a sign, if the Super Troopers weren’t a sign, if the struggle halfway up Allen wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what else I missed.

I’ll admit, I sandbagged this one. Whether out of self-doubt, or moral obligation, or both, I didn’t give it my 100% when I probably could have made it to the top. We all probably could have together, if we didn’t get stopped by the cops and had more time on the way up, and just a tiny bit less of a hurry. Someone, somewhere, will judge me for what happened on that mountain. I’m not even sure I did the right thing. I’m not sure if, or when, I’ll ever climb again — even less sure I ever want to go back to Allen. What matters the most though is we all went looking for adventure, and that’s exactly what we found.

Sunset Mills

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Concrete, Industrial, North Country

We continued on to the North Country, a merry band of adventurers, overwhelming the Five Guys in Watertown for dinner and soon wandering along route 3 to Deferiet. This place has been something of a curse for me: it’s my fifth time there, and I’ve never once gotten to it more than an hour before sunset, so I’ve always seen little bits and pieces of it at a time. This time was no different, getting there almost too late to matter. But I wasn’t about to let all those gas masks we bought go to waste, and there was already question of whether we’d explore the next day or climb something, so into the toxic mess we’d go even if we couldn’t see it all.

The Newstech company, the last users of the mill, left abruptly in 2004, taking the village of Deferiet down with them. Out of 600 or so residents, a vast majority of working-age villagers worked in the mill, along with hundreds of others from neighboring towns and the city of Watertown. Ten years after closing, only about half of the village’s houses are even occupied, with no retail to speak of, and an abandoned post office, firehouse and credit union bordering the mill. Deferiet did, however, have one last literal blaze of glory on November 29, 2009, when Fort Drum tested a few bunker-buster type bombs on parts of the complex, leaving massive craters of twisted steel and burned concrete next to more or less intact buildings, presumably a successful demonstration of the surgical precision the Army boasted on these bombs.

The offices didn’t do so well around water. The mold and mildew here are extreme, despite only having been closed for 10 years, and the offices even being somewhat operational through most of that time in search of new buyers or developers.


We only got very slightly into the rest of the building before it (of course) got dark on us…

So we continued on from there to our camp at Paul Bunyan pond in a slightly unsettling rain which stopped just in time to set up camp. By the fire, with some liquid wisdom coursing through us, we confirmed a very, very bad idea: we would climb Mt Allen tomorrow after all, the most difficult of the High Peaks, and the 46th and last of my Adirondack adventure…

Sweet Science

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Concrete, Industrial, North Country

This was one of those rare times that everything just happened to work out. It was unlikely enough that we managed to save the North Country trip at all, even if it’s a few weeks early and none of the people I invited actually showed up, Hayden pulled it off and got not only the biggest meet in a few years, but a way to get there too, and off we were! After a few stops on the way to pick up food, beer and gas masks (mostly intended for the paper mills later on in the trip), we found our way to route 3. It took some convincing to even try, but the 9th Sesqui-Annual Semi-Cold Urbex Camping Extravaganza started off with a wild guess of a location, something I’d heard was abandoned, and huge, but didn’t know if there would even be a way into. To our surprise, despite looking more or less solid from the highway, an entire wall was missing from a botched or forgotten demolition, and just like that, we walked right into the former Nestlé chocolate factory.

At the time of its first closure in 2003, the property was the world’s largest, and America’s oldest, working candy factory, and its closure came as a shock to not only Fulton but the entire industry, as production moved to Europe and a few smaller facilities in the Southeast, as a cost cutting measure. Demolition started this spring, but came to a screeching halt under legal and financial pressure from the city of Fulton, with the property suffering from tax foreclosure and an unforeseen asbestos problem. Unable to break ground on time, Aldi nullified their purchase of the factory, and now it sits in typical abandonment limbo, with no definite plans and nebulous, or no, ownership, and none of the potential owners wanting anything to do with it.

Immediately after entering, we realized we were onto something: not only had no one explored this place yet, but there wasn’t even much graffiti, and the smashy people barely even had a chance at it, except for the gaping demolition wounds.

Not to say it was pristine: much of the machinery was sold at auction, and what remains are the unsold lots, auction tags still hanging off, or the units simply too heavy to move or unsuited for any other location.

I think these were packing lines of some type, filling hundreds of bags (or bottles?) of product at a time through the grid of nozzles.

Nobody bothered to clean up on the last day of work. Some of the floors are covered in a thick, noisy layer of sugar syrup!

The scale of this place is truly incredible. There are nine interconnected, multi-level factory buildings, not even counting the substantial part that they did manage to demolish over the summer.

It was enough of a maze that sometimes we went in circles without even realizing it.

Unnecessary, ironic gas mask selfie? (I imagine this place didn’t even stink, let alone was toxic, but I’d just directed everyone else to buy them thinking we were going to the massively toxic paper mills!)

This was signed as the “bean hall”. I can imagine there being ceiling-high piles of hundreds of tons of cacao beans here, waiting for processing into chocolate… it did appear though that the bean-counters had been through, as unlike the sugary residue around most of the place, the floor was swept thoroughly clean of the deliciously bitter fruit.

…And then we got into pulling each other around on danger carts.

Yet Another Building — we didn’t even have time to try this one I don’t think

For some reason we crossed this little minefield instead

and tried to get lunch in the employee cafeteria but the kitchen was closed

We hurried out of this place having seen maybe a third of it. There wasn’t much choice, we’d found far more than we’d ever planned for, and we were barely even on our way to the North Country!

Apart From the Ledge, I’m Doing Fine

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Adirondacks, Outdoors

After last time, it seemed easy enough – I was only five peaks away from finishing my Adirondack 46, and only a few hours of it would be alone this time.  The train ride to Burlington was long, uneventful, and finally beautiful along Lake Champlain, seeing the Adirondack peaks in the distance. If only I’d remembered I brought a camera, I would have taken some pictures… i guess there might still be a next time. It turned out I was the only one going to Placid, so once I got off the ferry, the shuttle driver just asked me where I was headed, and bilked me out of an extra $20 for a direct ride to the trailhead, which I gladly accepted. And as far as taxi drivers go, I found quite the interesting one: he was the head of Bruce Springsteen’s roadie crew in the E Street Band days, until he got bored of Jersey and wanted to get away, and started driving a cab through the mountains, and also volunteering as the head of the mountain lion search in the county!

Heart Lake trailhead itself became almost metaphorical, I spent over an hour there before I could even find the way out, and finally broke down and bought a map.  Which was of no use to me whatsoever during the entire weekend.  Eventually I bumbled my way onto the Macintyre trail and up toward Wrights Peak, on an excessively hot, sunny afternoon. There were plenty of hikers on the mountain, even on a Friday, all headed back as I was going up, some giving me looks of relative insanity why I would climb with no chance of getting back in daylight, others too wrapped up in their own regrets and aching knees, clearly affected by something they found further ahead and conveniently choose not to tell me.  I found it just after the trail split toward Wright: it was wind.  ALL THE WIND.  Wright has a reputation for weather but I never expected it to be this bad; like something out of a Super Mario Bros level, it whooshed and whistled and howled and tried its very best to blow me off the mountain, sending me into a few tumbles.  But I still got to the top and back eventually for 42/46.

The short continued ascent to Algonquin seemed preternaturally easy; something was inherently wrong with climbing so quickly and almost effortlessly to 5000 feet.

And there it was, just before the top: that wind again, the huffing and puffing of Æolus’ hot breath, fouling the night air.  Wright’s wind was a mere annoyance compared to this one. I’d hoped to take some photos and have a snack at the summit, but all I wanted to do now was get the hell back below tree line, and hopefully manage to hold my light on my head before being completely screwed.  The pass between Algonquin and Iroquois calmed down quite a bit, yet once again approaching the summit I was leveled by hurricane force winds, and slowed to a crawl along the summit rock.  I didn’t remember exactly where the herd path down from here was, so I took my best guess and aimed for Marshall in the distance, which would be my second-last peak.  I quickly discovered that where I picked was most certainly NOT the herd path.  Or any path at all.  I was in green hell, still buffeted by wind, and now also feeling the scratches of scragglebrush and spruce traps with the fury of a thousand catnipped kittens.  Conditions stubbornly refused to improve as the slope only got steeper for the next half mile, two hours of more or less uninterrupted bashing and crashing through epic shiggy, occasionally punctuated by particularly salty curses when I fell down some longer drops.  Adding to my frustration, the whole thing seemed to be a dry ridge, with no visible water sources throughout, but having given blood, sweat and tears to the vicious bush, and completely out of water, I reached the trail, and easily found the herd path to Marshall.

As far as high peaks go, Marshall, at least at night, was nothing out of the ordinary, nothing even notable, its only view being a mediocre, dark, look back at Iroquois Peak.  But it didn’t matter; I had made it to 45/46, and on top of that, taken a brief lead ahead of my friend!  Excitedly, I skidded back down to the trail, and started looking for water while I waited for them to come up the peak.  I didn’t see much, but I heard a promising spring what seemed like only a few feet off the trail.  Ironically, it also looked entirely like the herd path from Iroquois I had missed so badly earlier.  It was a quick, steep climb, about three minutes or so, to where I could hear the water even more clearly, running down some drainage path over a few steep ledges.  Chasing the water, I took the plunge, figuring that the herd path must go through by the number of crampon scrapes slashing the edge.  The fall was a bit more than I had bargained for — I landed on a ledge 9 feet below. And there was no water. The drainage was out of reach, and was no more than a waterfall plunging down an enormous, sheer, cliff anyway.

It didn’t set in immediately just how bad my situation was.  I looked off the ledge, and could even see my herd path no more than 30 feet ahead.  Looking straight down, there was a ledge within what almost looked like jumping distance, and a not terribly sketchy downclimb next to it.  I took some time to prepare for the landing, and set up for the jump, and looked down one more time.  The ledge was gone!  Through the magic of forced perspective, a badly underhung ledge had appeared to protrude out invitingly, but when I actually stood above it, all I saw was a clear plunge down 14 feet or more onto a slippery looking chunk of chossy marble.  Fuck.

At this point I’d started trying to ask for help from my friends, hopefully in the form of a catch on their way up Marshall. It was 2.30am, so there was no chance of finding anyone else out here, but I already knew they were night hiking like me, and to the same peak, so I texted them my predicament and coordinates and, knowing the futility of phones in these parts, started yelling, both to no avail, and began exploring alternate ways down.  Unable to see the bottom, and having nothing long enough to measure, I tossed a few little rocks over the edge to each of the potential landing spots, and timed their falls, coming up with a reasonable 7 feet to that first underhung ledge, 13 to my most hopeful landing spot, 19 feet to actual terra firma, and most devastatingly, a 34 foot fall onto scree if I missed the first committing move on either of my remaining prospects. I stood and sat above both potential escape routes time and time again, hoping that eventually one might look just enticing enough to take the plunge, or I might be just desperate enough to risk smashing up my body and having to get rescued, or being stuck out of sight on the mountain “127 hours” style until I dragged myself out on a pair of broken legs.  Needless to say, these all seemed like terrible enough ideas, and I stayed put on the ledge, opened up my space blanket that had spent 11 years in my pack ever since I first started teaching survival classes, and tried to sleep until sunrise, hoping my friends would find me there.

(sunrise from the Ledge. I could see Marshall — if only Christian could see me…)

Just after dawn, I’d started to hear some yelling, and screamed back as loudly as I could.  I’m sure they were close to me, but the wind was not in my favor, carrying their voices express to me but leaving me to exhort from my towering pulpit into only its gaping maw, lost far short of ever being heard! And in the light of day, I could see just how dismal my situation was: the ledges below me were all slanted, angled to funnel me into the big drop, almost no matter how I landed. I was truly cliffed out, and there was no escaping. It was checkmate, no way up, one bad, horrible, terrible way down.  I started using everything left in my pack to try to MacGyver a rope out of something that might be able to ensure I only fell the 13 feet at most, but all that got me was a demoralizing ka-CHUKKA-THUD from my pack falling the whole eleven yards, separating me from any supplies I hadn’t left myself on the ledge.  And I still didn’t have water, getting more and more dehydrated from my constant yells for help, so I decided to limit that for a while, and listen harder into the wind, only yelling when I thought I heard voices. Which was far too often, given the reality of the situation.

After about two hours of that, I finally heard voices that only got louder and louder, belonging to two backpackers on their way out of the mountains, French-Canadians named Dan and Ésau. At first they thought I was a kitten in a tree, and just needed a little assist downclimbing it —  the same thing I thought at first.  Ésau, an experienced climber, tried to reach me and nearly became stuck himself, quickly understanding what was wrong, so we started looking for a more complicated approach than their original plan of being able to talk me down the ledge with mere confidence and guidance. We made a few attempts with a rope and a few with trying to mitigate the landing, but any approach we tried together had just as much chance of dropping one or more of us down the big one as my own observations led me to believe, so the only choice left was to bring in reinforcements with proper climbing gear.  At least they could provide me with two things I badly needed: we were able to use the rope for me to to hoist my pack back up to my ledge, and they were more than ready to get rid of some of the excess water weight they carried with just a few hours left in their journey.  They continued on their way, past the ranger station, and I stayed on the ledge (of course) and tried to get some sleep as the wind and rain picked up outside my space blanket.

I imagine a few hours passed, and the storm nearly ended, by the time the first ranger, Sean, showed up.  He hadn’t expected to see someone more or less comfortable on the ledge; expecting someone hypothermic, or at least deeply miserable, he had been sent up there to comfort me while real, useful, help arrived, but but all we ended up doing was talking about climbing and music and the books we’d read, and sharing stories of Adirondack disasters past, while we followed the rope crew’s trek toward the pass on a walkie-talkie that was borderline useless up there.  After about an hour, the radio crackled with the news that Ray Brook headquarters would be sending air support. Aghast, I snapped at Sean to make them not send the choppers, thinking things were getting well out of hand. Sean reassured me that I’d probably get a citation or two, but air support or not I’d at least be able to get back with my group at some point, even if the rangers held me for a night or took me all the way to Saranac Lake hospital, which wasn’t unheard of, especially in bad weather rescues. Just for the sake of protocol, and their own jobs, he reassured me, not because I was necessarily injured or breaking any law, but being ejected from the mountains was a near certainty.

After what had to be two more hours, the climbers, Chris and the one with the radio, who I never heard called by name, except his callsign 5-4-5, arrived rather excitedly to what they were sure was a first ascent – not only was the rescue in Cold Brook Pass, a first for them, but I had managed to cliff out on a ledge that no rational being could ever reach, that had already defeated two pairs of free climbers.  On his second try, 5-4-5 reached the top of the wall and placed a rappel rope, and dropped halfway down to my ledge to tie a harness for me. Getting off the ledge was almost anticlimactic, a few seconds of easy rappelling to freedom, or so I thought.  As it turned out, despite the fact that the rangers found nothing to charge me with, and were in fact impressed with my survival skills and rappelling ability, they still asked to hike me to their cabin (in the exact opposite direction of my group), for “further processing”, and sent yet more rangers, Dilbert (seriously!) and 5-2-7, to meet my friends at the Upper Works trailhead and give them the news that their would-be companion had fucked up, and badly.

It turned out I wasn’t the only one to have some misfortune in this spot – a small plane crashed in this pass back in 1974, most of which was left to the elements 100 yards or so from where I went down. I realized almost immediately as we spent time bushwhacking to see this, that my emergency wasn’t the ordinary one: getting me out of the woods seemed like a low priority, and they were treating me as a hiker, not a criminal, already.

Amazingly, despite being in a hiking party with now four rangers, we got lost an astounding three times on the way out to Upper Works.  I first started to notice something awry when the trail started climbing and climbing, what should have been a substantial downhill to the Hudson.  Next thing we knew, we had made Hanging Spear falls, and were almost to the Allen herd path.  Once we figured this out, I asked if we could just call this close enough, and I’d wait here and they could send in my group.  They radioed back to the rangers over there, and I got the bad news: they hadn’t climbed Allen, and weren’t about to.  So we turned around despite it all, just about back to Lake Colden *AGAIN* and finally in the right direction, passed the Flowéd lands.  At the Flowéd Lands, it was Chris’ turn to get us lost, leading us across on a bad bridge, and right back again, adding an unnecessary fear factor and 15 minutes to the trip, and nothing of any use.  We hiked on quickly enough to Calamity Brook and the monument to old Mr Henderson who shot himself off his horse on a hunting trip in 1841, and at the monument, somehow managed to make a complete 180.  After half a mile (!) I pointed out to one of the rangers, aren’t we going upstream again. He of course didn’t doubt our direction, so I pointed out the moon setting in his “eastern” sky, which of course didn’t phase him, as he continued in the wrong direction; finally I stopped in my tracks, and declared, “Victim to 5-4-5. We have four lost rangers at Calamity Brook.”  Livid by this point, the old lieutenant, Ron, pulled out his compass, and a string of curses to make a bo’s’un proud. We’d been going boldly where we’d just gone before. And getting even later with every step.  So we turned around yet again, and got about halfway back to the upper works, to find out that now 5-2-7 was on patrol, looking for us, we were so badly late.

My walk of shame ended two miles from the trailhead when we got to Dilbert and his Gator, which I was plunked into the back of with everyone’s backpacks they were so glad to not carry the rest of the way, for a bone jarring ride back to the trailhead and Christian’s car.  5-4-5 and friends sent me off, believe it or not, with no citations, no tickets — only a recommendation letter and civil service info. Only hours after being rescued, I was being recruited to be a ranger! (If only my parents would ever let me go spend a few years living in the wild. Dream on… If it wasn’t for them I’d probably have taken up their offer right then and there!) My friends were so glad to see me alive, of course, but we were all exhausted and rather pissed off by the whole affair. I’d still been holding out hope that we could go for 46, but his friend wasn’t about to have it, especially starting a hike at 2am, even though that was completely normal to the two of us, so the whole episode ended painfully and ingloriously, with our dream of 46 peaks well thwarted despite a portfolio of cuts, bruises and blisters to have rivalled if not exceeded a successful trip, and by 7am Sunday we were back in Rochester, wallowing in our defeat.