A year ago today, I started the Trans Adirondack Route—a 235 mile hike across the Adirondack Park, the largest forest preserve in the Lower 48. I never finished it—the TADK has a notoriously high drop off rate—and was ashamed enough about it that I never did a write-up about the trail. A year later, I’m able to reflect on its beauty and enjoy the trail for what I was able to complete, instead of what I missed.
Created by a former Adirondack backcountry ranger, Erik Schlimmer, the route is an elegant look at the undervisited and well-visited parts of the Park. I had never been to the Adirondacks, and it’s a little off the beaten path, making the whole Park feel wilder than almost anywhere I’ve been on the East Coast. Furthermore, Erik told me that the ‘Dacks don’t have a strong backpacking culture—those who enjoy the Park tend to be dayhikers or peakbaggers. Those who do venture into the backcountry sections of the trail that require overnighting tend to be traditional, “heavy” backpackers. This means with the TADK, the thru-hiker has a rare opportunity to enjoy the park as few do.
I was the first person to attempt northbounding (the book is written for southbounders), and it was strange to be dropped off in front of a house on a dirt road—the official southern boundary of where the park starts. The Adirondack Park is an innovative mix of public and private property, making for a cool conservation model but sometimes less-than-ideal for exploration. The trail followed wide snowmobile tracks past tranquil ponds. The trail was still snowy and icy at parts, and in other parts, was boggy and marshy and required traveling through some very cold water.
The route connects existing trails with cross country and a bit of roadwalking, making for a fun mix of navigation. I didn’t feel like hitchhiking on this trip, so had planned only one resupply in Piseco, NY, picking up a package I sent General Delivery to the PO. The town also had a little store where some friendly locals asked me to sit with them and chat. The locals were somewhat used to hikers—the TADK shares some 100 miles of tread with the well-marked Northville Placid Trail (a 133-mile trail that should be on every Thru-hikes for the Working Stiff or Thru-hikes You Don’t Have to Quit Your Job For list).
My favorite part of the hike was the West Canada Lake Wilderness. Although I postholed my way through most of that area, I loved the haunting lakes. The highlight of my entire trip was watching a moose swim in the Cedar River. The Cold River country—relatively flat, dotted with three sided shelters, and including a cool bridge crossing of the rock-carving Cold River—was also a trip. This section also was subject to the mother of all blowdowns—what seemed to be an entire forest taken down by Hurricane Irene. The trail was flagged and appeared to be carved out of this mess of fallen trees, which made for obstacle-course like travel.
The entire trip, I didn’t see a human for a week except for my resupply in Piseco. Perhaps that is because all the locals knew better than to venture into the ‘Dacks in April during one of the biggest and coldest snow years on record. I didn’t get reception for most of the trip and enjoyed being out there, alone, on trail that hadn’t been visited by humans for months (according to many of the trail registers I read).
I ended my trip early, leaving on the Northville Placid Trail, to avoid the High Peaks. Anything over 2,500 feet had me postholing up to my waist. The worst instances had me postholing into snowbridges (which given the amount of water on the ADK, happened often). I hadn’t brought an ice axe and was hesitant to go cross country up Avalanche Gulch solo as I’ve never had Avalanche Training.
I’m eager to return to the TADK and finish the last 70 or so miles I have to do. Thirty of those miles are what I suspect are the most spectacular of the whole trip—the High Peaks. Forty two miles are paved roads, which, when it comes down to it, I don’t mind that much. Perhaps I will be lucky enough to return this summer or in the fall when the colors are alive. Until then, I’ll settle for the knowledge that I was rewarded by hiking in a new part of the country and getting to have the woods to myself.